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20180127 – Russian Revolution

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The main idea here is to provide the true history of Bolshevik coup and then revolution that was the first large scale triumph of new socialist ideology in XX century after the old mainly religious ideologies caused wars and mass extermination in previous centuries become mostly benign (at least in European societies) with advance of industrial revolution and materialistic scientific knowledge. I also this this book designed not only as historical narrative, but also as cautionary tale for the current and future civilizations about general fragility of orderly and humane societies and their vulnerability to ideological zealots that could use any significant problems to break thin layer of civilization and through everything into bloody mess.


PART ONE: The Agony of the Old Regime

  1. 1905. The Foreshock: University disturbances of 1899 as beginning of revolution Plehve and Zubatov, outbreak of Russo-Japanese War, Plehve assassinated and replaced by Mirskii: the great Zemstvo Congress (November 1904 “Bloody Sunday tsarism tries moderate reform; the debacle of Tsushima and talk of a representative body; university turmoil resumes and leads to general strike; Witte advises concessions; emergence of St. Petersburg Soviet; the October Manifesto; Witte forms cabinet and represses radicals; nationwide pogroms; 1905 as apogee Russian liberalism

This is about prehistory of Russian revolution going back to the beginning of XX century when the first disturbances were to begin. Author looks at the first protests by students that started as non-political but then, after meeting relatively strong suppression, produced significant number of people who were neither broken or annihilated, but had their career ruined. This resulted in them becoming revolutionaries. Then author moves to just a few years later when incompetence of Russian rulers led to dramatic defeat in the war against Japan, demonstrating military weakness of regime, “Bloody Sunday” that resulted in significant decrease of support for the system, and mass movement that forced creation of Duma and October “Constitution”. Author discusses various personalities and their approach to the problem that ranged from accommodation to public demands and cautious movement to some form or semi-democracy, to outright suppression. However, the attitudes and general condition of society allowed only very limited suppression that mainly increased psychological strength of revolutionaries – enemies of regime, rather than eliminating them physically or breaking them psychologically – the processes these revolutionaries brought to perfection when they come to power some 12 years later.

  1. Official Russia: Patrimonialism; Nicholas and Alexandra; the bureaucracy; ministries; conservative and liberal officialdom; economic development undermines autocracy; the army; the gentry; the Orthodox Church

Here author provides a very interesting description of pre-revolutionary Russia – the society that was definitely flawed and repressive, but functional with relatively moderate levels of corruption. There was little interference of government into economy resulting in healthy growth of industries. However, the unresolved issues of the majority population – rural agriculturalists, continuously produced disturbances in the country. Overall Russian elite was divided into conservative and liberal groups, with liberals getting stronger over time and pushing country to Western way of development. As consequence, the foundation or regime – aristocracy was consistently undermined by economic development of market capitalism. The problem was that aristocracy was not able any more to provide competitive military power that required industrialized army and military production rather than forces based on feudal holdings and aristocrats’ dependents. The ideological foundation of regime – Orthodox Church was also in decline as result of being part of official government. It demonstrated all signs of decay, typical for any ideology that became too bureaucratized.

  1. Rural Russia: Household, village, and commune; land shortage; industrial workers; peasant mentality; peasant attitudes to law and property; changes in peasant mood after 1900

This is about the majority of population that eventually defined the fate of Russia based on its worldview. This worldview was centered on the 3 pillars: family, village, and commune. The key absent feature was private property on land. The commune allocated and periodically reallocated land, mainly based on number of people in the family. The private property was for outsiders such as aristocracy and later individuals that left commune. Since such individuals often did much better outside than inside commune led to resentment, hate, and continuing aspiration to transfer all land to the commune. Culturally this population was strongly in support of authoritarian model of society, starting with family and going all the way to czar who was the father of the country. Author provides very interesting and detailed review of this most populous part of the people and their slow transfer to rejecting existing system for failure to provide additional land and overall failure to fulfil duties of the father.

  1. The Intelligentsia: Its European origins; societes de pensee; socialism as ideology the intelligentsia; the Meal of a “new man”; emergence Russian intelligentsia; revolutionary movement in nineteenth century Russia; the Socialists-Revolutionaries; Russian liberals

If peasants were the brown of future revolution that provided manpower, the intelligentsia was its brain. Author provides a very good description of this layer of population and demonstrates how they got to be highly hostile to the regime, mainly because regime, while providing for them opportunity for education and transfer out of peasant’s live of their parents, did not provide real opportunities for achievement and wealth. Also important was ideological part that was mainly developed in the line of socialism as ideal society where pure reason, obviously applied in accordance with ideas and interests of intelligentsia, would rule. The western, especially American way of application of knowledge and skills to business was considered contemptible and shameful. Very interesting is the history of intelligentsia revolutionary development when small parts of this group become professional revolutionaries, sometimes terrorists, while the vast majority provided moral and financial support.

  1. The Constitutional Experiment: Monarchy and constitutionalism; the Fundamental Laws of 1906; elections to the Duma; the First Duma; Stolypin; Stolypin represses terror; his agrarian reforms; the Second Duma and the electoral law of June 3, 1907; Stolypin’s political difficulties begin; the Western zemstvo crisis; Stolypin’s murder; assessment of Stolypin; Russia on the eve of World War I

This is a history of Russian development after revolution of 1905 until WWII when several attempts were made to eliminate growing pressure in society At first the attempt was via establishment of kind of constitutional regime in form of Duma and then via Stolypin reforms that were targeting to change foundation of Russian society via expansion of private property, dismantling of rural commune, and industrialization of the country. Unfortunately, these attempts failed due to their rejection by country’s aristocratic leadership that could not see that settlement after revolution was temporary and unreliable, by majority of population that still prefer top down authoritarian management, and, very important, by intelligentsia that saw capitalism with contempt and was striving to move beyond it to what they believed would be much more effective and efficient organization of society: socialism.

  1. Russia at War: Strategic preparations and Russia’s readiness for war; early campaigns: East Prussia and Galicia; Russian debacle in Poland, 1915; changes in government; emergence of the Progressive Bloc and Nicholas’s assumption of high command bringing society into limited partnership in the war effort

This chapter is about Russian participation in WWI and calamity that it created. Russia was not ready for the war of such scale, neither culturally nor organizationally. This led to defeats on the front lines and significant difficulties with army supplies. Nevertheless, contrary to the common views, author demonstrates that these difficulties where in main successfully overcome in such areas as industrial production, providing military with enough ammunition and supplies. However, it was too late because society’s morals and cohesiveness dropped dramatically, opening gates for decline of discipline in military and mass disturbances ignited by the smallest problems. Russia was not the only country that came under pressure as result of the war, but while in UK and France democracy served as a safety valve prevented the explosion, in Germany strong middle class was able to defeat revolution, albeit temporarily, in Russia combination of mass peasant army, restless intelligentsia soaked in socialist ideas, and weak personalities in power led to conditions susceptible for complete breakdown.

  1. Toward the Catastrophe Inflation: the Brusilov offensive; rise of tension in the country;

Protopopov; the liberals decide to attack; Duma sessions of November 1916; assassination of Rasputin; last days at Tsarskoe Selo; plots against the Imperial family

This chapter is about pre-revolutionary situation in Russia when despite significant improvements in military production, army continued experience defeats, while leadership of the country was messing with Rasputin, court intrigues, and similar staff. The population meanwhile was growing anxious due to decrease in quality of live and especially inflation. Author present a table showing growth of inflation:

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  1. The February Revolution: Mutiny of Petrograd garrison; the Duma hesitates to claim power emergence of Petrograd Soviet and of its Executive Committee; Duma and Soviet agree on formation of Provisional Government; Order No. 1; abdication of Nicholas II; Michael refuses the crown; early actions Provisional Government; Soviet undermines the government; land, Constituent Assembly and war aims; revolution spreads nationwide; ex-tsar returns to Tsarskoe Selo; extraordinary rapidity Russia’s breakdown

Here author clearly describes a spontaneous character of the February revolution. It was not something planned and organized, but rather result of accumulation of public loss of believes in existing system of government’s ability to provide order necessary to maintain normal living condition. Interruption of supplies that created lines for food and fuel, inflation, and continuing agitation against government created environment were support of existing regime mainly evaporated. It was accompanied by incompetence of military leadership that managed to concentrate unreliable troops in and around of the capital city making it practically impossible to enforce any decisions that government would try to implement. The result was nearly bloodless removal of old regime generally supported by all parts of population. After describing how revolution proceed, author moves to detailed description of continuing power play between two emerging power centers: Soviets and Provisional government, none capable to take complete control over the country. As result no effective order could be established, negatively impacting both war effort and ability of population to make living. Interestingly enough support for war remained strong, contrary to usual description of this period in soviet historiography so it was not a significant factor in future rejection of democracy in Russia. It was rather inability of new elite to run country and its unwillingness to move quickly to establish some form of democracy that left huge vacuum of authority.

PART TWO: The Bolsheviks Conquer Russia

This part describes how the existing vacuum of authority was filled by a small, not really well organized, but dedicated, ruthless, immoral, well financed by enemy power, and, very important, highly ideological group of revolutionaries that had no limits in their readiness to kill and die in struggle for victory of their ideology.

  1. Lenin and the Origins of Bolshevism Lenin: Lenin’s early years; Lenin and Social Democracy; his personality; his disenchantment with Social Democracy; emergence of Bolshevism final split with the Mensheviks; Lenin’s agrarian and nationality programs; financial affairs of the Bolshevik party; the Malinovskii episode; Zimmerwald, Kiental, and connections with enemy agents

Here author describes Lenin’s personality as it developed from mainly apolitical son of self-made high-level bureaucrat who achieved heritable nobility, to highly political and ideological individual with somewhat misanthropic characteristics. Author stresses, that the turning point of this development could be traced to university of Kazan disorders that practically put end to Lenin’s career opportunities within existing system, pushing him into revolutionary movement. Interestingly author points to Lenin’s contempt to individual human lives combined with cowardice and deep care of his our wellbeing. As Lenin’s assets author listed hard work, organizational capability, and dedication to revolution. Lenin’s intellect was keen, but severely limited by his concentration on narrow area of revolution and theoretical Marxism. Important and obvious part of Lenin’s personality was complete immorality in all things big and small. This immorality was a huge asset that allowed Lenin not only successfully take over control of the party and then country by manipulating other people, but also to survive in power by playing off leadership of other countries from Germany to Britain and Japan.

  1. The Bolshevik Bid for Power: The Bolshevik Party in earls 1917; Lenin returns to Russia with German help; Lenin’s revolutionary tactics; the April 1 ~ Bolshevik demonstration; socialists enter Provisional Government; Bolshevik assets in the struggle for power and German subsidies; the aborted Bolshevik street action in June; Kerensky’s summer offensive; the Bolsheviks ready another assault; preparation for putsch; the events of July.3=S; the putsch suppressed: Lenin flees, Kerensky dictator

This chapter is about the first phase of Lenin’s revolution when he and his supporters return to Russia with German help that was provided in hope to use his movement to push Russia out of war. The first attempt to take power by Bolsheviks in the summer of 1917 was unsuccessful mainly because their nature as German allies working to undermine Russian war effort was disclosed. However weak provisional government and ideologically sympathetic members of other socialist movements helped them to get away with it, recover and start preparation for the second attempt.

  1. The October Coup: Kornilov appointed Commander in Chief; Kerensky asks Kornilov’s help in suppressing anticipated Bolshevik coup; the break between Kerensky and Kornilov; rise in Bolshevik fortunes; Lenin in hiding; Bolsheviks plan their own Congress of Soviets; Bolsheviks take over Soviet’s Military-Revolutionary Committee; the critical decision of October lo Milrevkom initiates coup d’etat; Kerensky reacts; Bolsheviks declare Provisional Government overthrown; the Second Congress of Soviets ratifies passage of power and passes laws on peace and land Bolshevik coup in Moscow; few aware of what had transpired

This is a story of Bolsheviks’ October coup that become possible due to Kerensky’s intrigues against Kornilov, concentration of unreliable troops in and around of Petrograd, and complete absence of understanding of reality on the part of SR – the most popular party in Russia.

  1. Building the One-Party State: Lenin’s strategy after power seizure; Lenin and Trotsky rid themselves of accountability to the Central Executive Committee of the Soviet; strike of white collar employees; the Council of People’s Commissars; accord with Left SRs and the breakup of the Peasant Congress; elections to the Constituent Assembly; decision to be rid of it; the dissolution of the Assembly; effects and implications; movement of Worker Plenipotentiaries

This chapter is an interesting recount of Bolsheviks’ solidifying their power despite absence of any significant support to their ideas among population. The tools used were simple: hide unpopular ideas that one believes in, use slogans and promises one does not believes in and has no intention to implement, but which are popular at the moment, concentrate reliable element of power structure in critical point and use it massively, quickly, without hesitation, and without any moral and other limitations. It took time to implement all this, so initially Bolsheviks allowed election of Constitutional Assembly, even if they had only minority in it. However by the time it was opened, they were strong enough to shut it down the same day. Here is result of this election:

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  1. Brest-Litovsk: Bolsheviks and traditional diplomacy; German and Bolshevik approaches to talks; divisions in the Bolshevik command; initial negotiations; Trotsky at Brest; bitter divisions among Bolsheviks and the German ultimatum; Germans decide to be firm; they advance into Soviet Russia; Allied efforts to win over Bolsheviks; Moscow requests Allied help; Russians capitulate to German terms; Soviet government moves to Moscow; terms of Brest-Litovsk Treaty; first Allied landings in Russia. American reaction to Bolshevik policies; principles of Bolshevik foreign policy

This is about Russian separate peace with Germany. By this time Lenin and his faction were strong enough to control central Russia, but majority of its members did not really understand the deep link that Lenin had with German intelligence and military command, so the Russian surrender was resisted within and without Bolshevik party. Obviously such person as Lenin could not possibly feel any duty to his German handlers and financiers, but he had one overriding objective to survive in power and capitulation to all German demand was helping this objective. At the end of chapter author summarizes key points of Lenin and Bolshevik actions during this process that later become keystones of Soviet international policy:

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  1. The Revolution Internationalized: Small Western interest in Russian Revolution; foundations of Red Army laid; further talks with Allies; German embassy arrives in Moscow; Soviet embassy in Berlin and its subversive activities; the Czechoslovak rebellion; Bolsheviks adopt military conscription; Czech advances; the Kaiser decides to continue pro-Bolshevik policy; the Left SRs plot uprising; they kill Mirbach; suppression of their rebellion; Savinkovs clandestine organization; the Yaroslavl rising; Riezler fails in attempt to reorient German policy; further Allied activities on Russian soil; Bolsheviks request German intervention; Supplementary Treaty with Germany; Russians decide the Germans have lost the war; the problem of foreign “intervention”

This is about generally poorly understood international help that Bolsheviks managed to obtain from practically all WWI belligerents. Germany continued to provide financial and material help including occasional military support in order to assure that Russia would not return to WWI. Western allies provided some support in hopes that Russia will return. Meanwhile Bolsheviks continued successful maneuvering between all sides on international arena, while achieving their objective of establishing one party rule by eliminating their former allies – Left SR from any positions of power. It ended with SR half-baked revolt that succeeded only in they own elimination. This chapter also discusses formation of Red Army that moved from kind of militia formation to regular army with commanding officers mainly military professionals from Russian army and conscripted troops. This formation proved to be decisive factor in Bolsheviks victory over multiple revolts against their power.

  1. “War Communism”: Its origins and objectives; “Left Communists plan implementation; attempts to abolish money; creation of supreme Economic Council; decline of industrial productivity; decline of agricultural productivity; efforts to abolish the market and the growth of a shadow economy; anti-labor legislation; trade union policy; effects of War Communism

This chapter is about truly communist economic policy that Bolsheviks attempted to implement. It included elimination of money, complete top down planning and control over productive activities, and multiple other socialist measures, which resulted in complete economic disaster. Here is a table demonstrating the scale of disaster:

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  1. War on the Village: Bolsheviks view peasants as class enemy; what peasants gained in 1917-18 and at what cost; food requisition policies and hunger in the cities; campaign against the village begins; May 1918; food supply detachments meet with resistance: massive peasant revolt; “Committees of the Poor”; assessment of the campaign

This is another chapter on economically disastrous results of socialist approach to power. It basically came down to outright robbery and even annihilation of the productive part of population, the process, which made Russia not capable to produce enough food for its population until the end of Soviet power some 74 years later. It is not that socialists managed to remove market. The market just became a black market with access only to a small share of country’s productive resources, when vast majority of resources coming under government control and used very ineffectively.

  1. Murder of the Imperial Family: Russian regicide unique; the ex-tsar and family in the first months of Bolshevik rule; Yekaterinburg Bolsheviks want ex-tsar in their custody; Nicholas and Alexandra transported to Yekaterinburg; the “House of Special Designation”; murder of Michael as trial balloon; Cheka fabricates rescue operation; decision to kill ex-tsar taken in Moscow: Cheka takes over guard duties; the murder; disposal of the remains; assassination of other members of the Imperial family at Alapaevsk; Moscow announces execution of Nicholas but not of family; implications of these events

This is detailed description of events related to imperial family and its sad fate. Author quite reasonably points out that comparatively to the huge tragedy of millions of people, the murder of imperial family does not seem as very significant, but it has deep symbolic meaning as the milepost separating previous development of humanity that led to relatively organized society with at least some formal law and order to totalitarian regimes of XX century. It moved from situation during English or French revolutions when such things as regicide were committed with formal legal proceedings and public execution to outright murder of the family including children followed by denials, cover ups, and later justification with no legal formalities whatsoever.

  1. The Red Terror: Lenin’s attitude toward terror; abolition of law; origins of the Cheka; Cheka’s conflict with the Commissariat of Justice; Lenin shot, August 3, 1918; background of this event and beginning of Lenin cult; “Red Terror~ officially launched; mass murder of hostages; some Bolsheviks revolted by bloodbath; Cheka penetrates all Soviet institutions; Bolsheviks create concentration camps; victims of Red Terror; foreign reactions

The last chapter is about mass terror conducted by Bolsheviks that started soon after their take over. It is the gruesome, but necessary reading. Author points out a very strange fact of lack of serious resistance from victims of terror and even kind of cooperation on their part when both sides perceived what was happening as part of some huge historical processes that was unstoppable and inevitable. Interestingly enough, even in such environment there was some resistance to terror and torture even from some in party leadership, especially at the middle level. Eventually terror did not stop, but become relatively less virulent and more covered up with all forms of disinformation. This was somewhat necessary for both internal purposes to prevent desperate revolts or at list prevent their synchronization, but also for international purposes so all this socialist intelligentsia of western countries could pretend not to know about it and provide support to their spiritual socialist brothers doing hard Cheka work of nudging humanity to the bright future.


This is magisterial work on Russian revolution and even if I grew up in the society created by this revolution, it still provides quite a bit of new information about events and people that were integral part of the culture of this society. One of the most important lessons of this story is recognition of hugely dangerous character of intelligentsia and especially its misfits who could not find place of power they want in exiting society. The typical attitude to people like Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin, Hitler, and Mussolini before they came to power was such as if they were mainly impotent, often not even capable to make living. However they proved themselves smart, ruthless, and, most important, effective leaders capable to achieve their objectives when circumstances allow it. People, who perceive today’s aspiring Lenins, Hitlers, and Trotskys in American universities as somehow benign and call them snowflakes, should learn this lesson. These little outgrows on the body politics should be watched with full attention and full understanding of their malignant cancerous nature and, if necessary, treated as such cancerous outgrowths should be treated to prevent metastasizing.


20180121 – Moral Tribes

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The main idea here is to discuss contemporary moral conditions of humanity via parable of 4 tribes with different morals and attitudes, then propose “Metamorality” of “Deep Pragmatism” that would allow overcoming controversies between these tribes and eventually lead to their merge into one global benevolent tribe that would provide happiness for all.


Introduction: The Tragedy of Commonsense Morality

Author starts introduction with reference to tragedy of commons allegory of four tribes that handled commons differently:

Egalitarian Tribe 1 posited equal number of animals per family to use common pasture

Egalitarian Tribe 2 posited access to common pasture based on the size of family

Libertarian Tribe rejected idea of common pasture or control of animals’ number completely, allocating all land to private property

Socialist Tribe expanded idea of commons to everything including both animals and pasture so families would get whatever share of common product “elders” decide to give them.

Then author brings in disruption in the form of the new pasture that leads to complication and violence between tribes. Author first stresses difference in morality and attitude between tribes caused by their lifestyles leading to conflict when each side considers itself moral and other immoral. He calls this Tragedy of common sense morality. Author aspire in this book to obtain deep understanding of moral development from science and then to find way to use similarity of moral rules existing within tribes to produce “practical philosophy” that would help to eliminate the Tragedy of Commonsense Morality.

Author also provides a nice plan of the book, explaining what he intends to achieve in each part.

PART I. Moral Problems

This part designed to identify two main moral: “Me vs. Us” and “Us vs. Them”

  1. The Tragedy of the Commons

This starts with the reference to the original author of “The Tragedy of the Commons” ecologist Garret Hardin. From this point author discusses the problem of cooperation and then moves to the function of morality as a tool to provide evolutionary advantage via cooperation. However, morality is only for “Us” does not extend to “Them”, leading to all kinds of nasty staff from unpleasantries to atrocities. Then author introduces a notion of Metamorality, which he believes could provide universal moral rules and eliminate “Us vs. Them” problem.

  1. Moral Machinery

Here author reviews typical moral experiments: prisoner dilemma and “tit for tat” as the best solution per game theory, golden rule and family values, attitudes to strangers, sympathy to others’ pain, behavior change under surveillance even if it is imitated, tribalism, and inclusiveness for “members only”. At the end author summarizes moral machinery into a few mechanisms: Concern for others, Direct Reciprocity, Commitments to threads and promises, Reputation maintenance, Assortment and Tribalism, Indirect reciprocity, and Empathy.

  1. Strife on the New Pastures

Here author moves to discuss psychology of conflict either between individuals or tribes and then reviews terms of cooperation using Ultimatum game. He looks at factors defining human behavior in this game: terms of cooperation, honor requirements vs. harmony, biases in perception and notions of fairness. Author provides quite interesting graph demonstrating how communitarian vs. individualist increase difference in their estimate of climate change with more knowledge:

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At the end of chapter author states that humanity resolved lots of problems and then provide a standard liberal list of problems still outstanding.

PART II. Morality Fast and Slow

In this part author applies Kahneman’s idea of fast and slow thinking to morality, which he illustrates with analogy from old photography: auto focus which is fast but not that good and manual focus, which is slow but precise.

  1. Trolleyology

This is a long and detailed review of multitude of mental experiments with trolley and choice type decisions who to kill and how.

5.Efficiency, Flexibility, and the Dual-Process Brain

This is a bit of technical look at which parts of brain doing fast and slow processing in our dual-processing brain and how various tradeoffs occur, such as emotional response vs. reasonable, or reward now vs. reward later and so on.

PART III. Common Currency

This part introduces author’s idea of Common Moral Currency: the global moral philosophy capable to adjudicate among competing tribal moralities.

  1. A Splendid Idea

Author restates his parable of 4 tribes who go different way in setting up their rules and morals then comes up with “splendid idea”: do what works whether it is individualism or collectivism. Luckily author realizes that “works best” is conditional so he promotes consequentialism, utilitarianism, and pragmatism. After that he goes into detailed explanation of what he means and discussion on happiness: what it is, how it measured, and how to achieve it. At the end of chapter author looks for convergence to overcome differences and he finds it in attempt to move to manual mode and then attempt to ask key questions: What really matters and what is essence of morality. The answers he provides: “experience matters” and “impartiality is the essence of morality”.

  1. In Search of Common Currency

Here author discusses what he calls moral currency: common morality that would be acceptable for everybody. He is looking whether it could come from god or from common values or could be established by using some kind of mathematics or it could be defined via scientific research. He eventually comes to conclusion that perfect moral truth could not be found, but humans can find some ground to establish “common currency”.

  1. Common Currency Found

Here author declares that the common currency could be found in the modern new and improved utilitarianism and explains what it means.

PART IV. Moral Convictions

This part is about author’s believe that old arguments against utilitarianism could be challenged by new scientific understanding of moral cognition.

  1. Alarming Acts

It starts with the statement that Utilitarianism is just common sense, but the problem is that different people have different common sense, leading to over/under sensitive approaches to action and expressions of others. After that author returns a bit to trolleyology to discuss moral buttons of people and specifics of influence of side effects and what he calls “modular myopia”. He links it to dual processing and provides a nice picture to illustrate this:

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This follows with disussion of doing vs. allowing as in case of picking one’s own pollution, but living alone pollution of others. The final discussion of the chapter is about how to use various gizmos to achieve utilitarian objective by converting environment and situation in such way as to immitate circumstances when typical preferred personal behavior would coinside with objectives of controller. Something like convincing people that to fly on vacation and consequently producing more CO2 is a moral equivalent of killing a child.

  1. Justice and Fairness

Here discussion is going into the problem of Utilitarianism being too demanding, so author going into reviewing various ways to nudge people into doing what author thinks they should do such as: peer pressure, duty to help, extraction of personal commitments, appeals to justice, and greater good argument.

PART V. Moral Solutions

The final part is an attempt to substitute somewhat disgraced old idea of utilitarianism by what he calls “deep pragmatism” and demonstrate that this could conceivably work by applying it to his original parable of four tribes.

  1. Deep Pragmatism

Author starts by stating that the Deep Pragmatism is based on Metamorality, that is tradeoffs between different moralities of different tribes. He explains that such tradeoffs should be based on impartiality meaning that happiness or suffering of one person has the same value as any other person. This should be foundation for decision-making and it should be done with heads, not hearts. After that author discusses “Me vs. Us” and “Us vs. Them” problem. His solution is based on the idea of quick and slow morality or more precisely on matching application of them to the problems. So for “Me vs. Us” problem he recommends using emotional morality, while for problems “Us vs. Them” he recommends shift to manual mode: painstakingly find resolutions for controversies, because emotional morality is different for different tribes. After that author discusses brain research that he believes is supporting his ideas and actual moral issues from general such as use of rights to specific such as abortion. At the end he presents his liberal credentials, but still try to demonstrate his open mindedness and possibility of change.

  1. Beyond Point-and-Shoot Morality: Six Rules for Modern Herders

This is a summary and recommendations that author believes could resolve multiple controversies that exist between moral tribes and lead to some kind of accommodation and eventually better world through “deep pragmatism”. Here are these rules:

  1. In the face of moral controversy, consult, but do not trust, your moral instincts.
  2. Rights are not for making arguments they are for ending arguments
  3. Focus on the facts and make others do the same
  4. Beware of biased fairness
  5. Use common currency
  6. Give

He ends with the call to establish “a global tribe that looks out for its members… simply because it is good”.


It is a nice review of contemporary approaches to morality in western societies with some scientific background based on psychological research. The attempt to find some common ground that would make all moral tribes happy via “Deep pragmatism” seems to me quite futile, just because it somehow assumes that other non-western tribes could somehow join a common “Metamorality” ground. He kind of missing the simple fact that the person, who believes that the highest moral duty and the only purpose of his existence is to serve god and god directs him to kill infidels, could not possibly find any accommodation with infidels without forfeiting this moral duty. I guess, it is unless infidel is suicidal. I also think that typical liberal attitude to the government, as some benevolent entity standing somehow outside or even above regular human passions is illusionary. The government consists of human individuals and has no mind and/or heart outside of minds and hearts of these individuals who are generally much less decent than overall population due to the typical process of obtaining controlling position in government, which is quite similar in all forms of government.

I also find that it is funny how leftist conditioning of the author makes him blind to elementary logical lapses in in his analysis. For example even dimensions for this analysis such as “Egalitarian Communitarian” vs. “Hierarchical Individualist “ are ridiculous because Communitarian could not possibly be Egalitarian because any communally made decision had to be made by hierarchal process if not by formal with Big Man / Chief / Leader / Fuhrer at the top, then by informal hierarchy of sex, age, influence and such. Correspondingly Individualist could not possibly be Hierarchical because any decisions should be individual therefore unrelated to any hierarchical order.

I think that all morality should come down to one basic factor: do not use violence against other people unless these people use, or clearly intend to use, or used in the past violence against you. There is also a need to assure equal rights for natural resources, but not right on the product of other people efforts. The last one is necessary in order to avoid fight for resources and could be mainly achieved by voluntary (market) exchange of these rights for resources between individuals who underuse and individuals who overuse such natural resources.


20180114 – Darwin’s Unfinished Symphony

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The main idea of this book it to review research results of animal cultures and, by combining them into one evolution based narrative, try to present logically consistent idea of how super complex and super successful human individuals and cultures come to be. This review leads to the idea that powerful brain was developed not for the problems resolution, but rather for transfer of skill and knowledge via human specific complex communication process of individual-to-individual teaching. This process provided immediate evolutionary advantage by allowing accumulating design improvements for tools and methods that become more and more effective and efficient over time, unlike inventions of other animals that have high level of attrition due to failure of communications and intergenerational transfer.



  1. Darwin’s Unfinished Symphony

It starts with the question: if human brains and culture are so useful for survival, why other species did not developed the same functionality? Why human culture is so sophisticated and complex while cultures of other animals are extremely primitive? Author points out that his specialty as a scientist of animal behavior and cultures led him to knowledge of high level of complexity of animal behavior that while extremely sophisticated, nevertheless could not support anything close to human abilities for cooperation, planning, coordination, and results analysis. All these actually put humans at the qualitatively different level than any other animals. Author also discusses here role of communication and languages. Finally, he discusses a bit of methodology, specifically the use of mathematical models.

  1. Ubiquitous Copying

Here author looks at the process of copying in various animals and demonstrates that this is widely used method in the live of practically all animals, even those that are considered very primitive. In short copying and similar forms of social learning are routine processes used just about everywhere and by everybody.

  1. Why Copy?

This is a discussion of evolutionary advantages provided by social learning and copying. The point here is that the only other way to learn is trial and error and it is very expensive comparatively to “monkey see monkey do”.

  1. A Tale of Two Fishes

This chapter is about experimental research on fishes’ learning / copying. It incidentally discovered how cost of learning plays into selection of behavioral patterns. Two similar species of fish with different level of natural protection armor developed different behavior patterns: well-protected fish would prefer to learn, while poorly protected fish would prefer to copy – learn from others. In this case risk is equal to the cost of learning. After that author goes on to discuss strategic learning when animal behavior dependents on its estimate of costs and efficiency of learning vs. copying.

  1. The Roots of Creativity

This is also based on the research of animals that demonstrated creativity, being a part of learning process. Animals try different things to achieve their objectives and when they succeed, other animals copy their behavior. There is no dramatic difference here from humans either in process of trials and errors or copying process. Author reviews results of detailed research on who, when, and how innovate and provides sometime unexpected results such as innovation being done mainly by adults, rather than by young. Another, not exactly unexpected result is a strong correlation between innovation and brain size. All these results point out at causal relation between evolutional advantage produced by the ability to innovate and brain size that this ability requires.


  1. The Evolution of Intelligence

This chapter starts with the reference to Alan Wilson who developed method of identifying relationship between species by content of DNA, which also allowed tracing ancestry. That’s how notion of mitochondrial Eva was established. However, author is more interested in Wilson’s idea of positive feedback between brain size and corresponding problem solving capability results in evolutionary advantage leading to increase in brain size closing the feedback loop. Interestingly enough, recent research of multitude of animals demonstrated that a big brain is not really that necessary for innovation since lot of small brain animal capable of doing wonderful things. The resulting hypothesis is that brain is tool for complex culture, communications, and cooperation rather than just for problem solving. Here is a nice graph demonstrating these ideas:

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At the end author discusses details of this process, specifically levels of error in copying including both: buiological and cultural levels.

  1. High Fidelity

After demonstrating that resent research debunked traditional ideas of human exceptionalism such as use of tools and problem solution, author moves to real human exceptionalism: ability to developed cultural artifacts and high fidelity with which these artifacts are transferred from generation to generation and between populations. Here is a representation of this:

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The rest of the chpater is about methods of achieving high fidelity of cultural transmission: intentional tutoring that is very specific for humans and have no comparable examples in other species.

  1. Why We Alone Have Language

This is a detailed discussion of one human specific artifact. Author defines requirements for the theory of explaining artifact of language in humans:

  1. It should account for honesty of the early language
  2. It should account for its cooperativeness
  3. It should explain how language was adaptive from the outset
  4. Concepts proposed by the theory should be grounded in reality
  5. It should explain generality of the language
  6. It should account for uniqueness of human language
  7. It should explain why communication need to be learned

After that author discusses just such proposed theory, which states that language was developed as necessary tool for teaching or in other words formal transfer of knowledge and skills from one human to another during cooperative activity conducted specifically for the purpose of this transfer. At the end of chapter author discusses experiment with teaching contemporary humans to manufacture stone tools specific to Acheulean culture – the oldest currently known (2.5 million years). This experiment demonstrated insufficiency of observational learning for skills transmission between teacher and student, therefore postulating the necessity of the language.

  1. Gene-Culture Coevolution

This chapter is about links between genetic and cultural evolution. Author uses such genetic feature as right or left-hand dominance to model evolution of this trait. Similarly, he discusses other studies related to lactose tolerance and such. All these and also sexual selection studies demonstrated that genetic and cultural evolutions are part of the same feedback loop expanding or constricting various features.

  1. The Dawn of Civilization

This starts with discussion of speed of change and then goes to defining human development as sequence of 3 stages: Biological evolution; Gene-culture coevolution that started with creation of language and teaching, and currently in process stage of the Cultural dominance in human evolution. The further discussion in the chapter is mainly about how did it happened and relates not that much to currently developed world, but even to contemporary hunter-gatherers and primitive agriculturalists. Even for them knowledge accumulated over millions of years allows, for example, consume food that would be poisonous without specific knowledge how to prepare it. Obviously living in contemporary society nearly completely isolates humans from natural environment.

  1. Foundations of Cooperation

Here author moves to more detailed discussion of cooperation and its evolutionary explanations starting with kin selection, coercion, and group selection. Author makes a point that large-scale society depends on teaching for their very existence. Author also discusses how rules of cooperation develop and difficulties for many to change paradigm from biological evolution only for genes/culture mutual feedback evolutionary process.

  1. The Arts

The last chapter is about arts, their evolutionary role, and how innovation, copying and learning involved in producing its artifacts. Author looks in details at the development and contemporary condition of dance as a specific form of art.

Epilogue: Awe Without Wonder

In conclusion author states that he started at the beginning of his research into evolutionary processes of human culture with Awe and Wonder for it. After decades of research he does not fill Awe anymore because he developed what he believes a good understanding of this process and found answers to questions about uniqueness of humanity. This uniqueness comes from uniquely human ability to transfer skills and knowledge via intentional teaching, which created positive feedback loop when needs for improved communication and innovation lead to the growth of the brain that in turn allows creating more and more complex know how that in turn lead to increasing need for teaching these complex skills. Eventually this loop took humanity out of regular world of animals and made into what we are today.


I think that person-to-person teaching, as effective process of knowledge / skill transfer, is a very good candidate for explanation of continuing increase in human brain complexity and ability when each step provides for material evolutionary advantage. Interestingly enough it could easily be linked to another area of humanitarian research – analysis of innovation and technological development, which more and more often treated as cumulative process with continuing increase in effectiveness and efficiency, albeit with only occasional significant breakthrough to qualitatively different level.


20180107 My European Family

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The main idea of this book is to use author’s own genetic makeup and heritage to review history of human genetic development including movements of people, their mixing, the way humanity arrived to current genetic makeup overall, and specifically Scandinavian people that author belongs to. It seems that the final objective of author is to demonstrate that humans of all races are close to each other and that Scandinavians for example could find as their ancestors people from Middle East who brought in agriculture to the area where it could not possibly originate. The secondary objective seems to be to protect genetics from political correctness by limiting it to analysis of individuals, rather than races and populations.


Introduction: The Funeral

It starts with author attending funerals that caused her to contemplate on genetic makeup of her ancestors.


Chapter 1: The Troll Child: 54,000 Years Ago

This is about author’s imaginary first human child born some 54K years ago that was different from normal children of its tribe of pre-humans. Author calls it a troll child because it was supposedly quite different even in appearance.

Chapter 2: Neanderthals in Leipzig

Here author discusses Neanderthals and their input into the human DNA. However, the bulk of chapter is about mitochondrial DNA that allows tracing female lines. Author provides a nice diagram for this:

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She traces more specifically DNA by haplogroup and defines that she has group U5.

Chapter 3: The Flute Players; Chapter 4: First on the Scene in Europe

Here author describes her experience at archeological site in Europe dated at 45K. Some artifacts at this site like a flute made out of a bone indicate existence of music. She discusses the reasons for this and hypotheses that it could be explained by need to meet challenges created by Europe’s much colder climate than Africa, so genetic modification leading to need for self-expression helped in it. Author does not go into exploring how exactly it helps, but points out that there is genetic price for artists – increase in occurrence of schizophrenia, so it must be advantage because otherwise these artistic features would not survive.

Chapter 5: Mammoths in Brno

This is about archeological finding related to the human migration from Africa to Europe and encounters of contemporary humans with Neanderthals. One interesting idea is that there was massive climate change due to volcanic activities that decimated Neanderthal population and opened their ecological habitat for humans. In any case, the causes are not clear, but their disappearance about 39K ago seems to be confirmed quite well by archeological research. It is also quite possible that the cause was typical human activities – extermination of competitors for resources. For this author provides a hilarious discussion of the moral responsibility of humans for disappearance of Neanderthals.

Chapter 6: Cro-Magnon

Here author moves to Cro-Magnon – the first anatomically humans found so far. She describes Gravettian culture and museum with finding including sawing needles and other tools. The she links it with DNA data demonstrating her own connection to Ice age:

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Chapter 7: The First Dog; Chapter 8: Doggerland;

These two chapters represent somewhat deviation from genetic and cultural history of humans to discuss human long-time companions – dogs and how they became such companions.

Chapter 9: The Ice Age Ends

This is about the end of Ice Age that occurred some 11600 years ago and various challenges it caused for humans. These challenges included change of hunting patterns, since reindeers moved away, massive fields of ice converted into open waters and dividing previously undivided land for example separating American continent. Author discusses recent findings of DNA intermediate between Europeans and Native Americans. Finally, she looks at human cultural changes that allowed more than accommodate to climate change by developing boats and technics for fishing.

Chapter 10: Dark Skin, Blue Eyes

This is about confirmation of out of Africa ideas when DNA shows that currently rare combination of blue eyes and dark skin was actually quite common some 8,000 years ago. She also discusses usual ideas about need for vitamin D causing lightening of skin via evolutionary selection.

Chapter 11: Climate and Forests

This is an interesting discussion about change in vegetation caused by climate change, that lead in turn to change in weapons and hunting technics. Specifically, in dense forest spear is the most optimal weapon, but in open space – bow and arrow is much more useful, and that is what was developed by humans as evidenced by archeological findings.

Chapter 12: Sami?

Sami are ancestral and indigenous northern people somewhat despised by general population, but they actually provided lots of DNA input for contemporary population of Scandinavia. Author discusses this and also their linguistic influence since contemporary populations are just a few thousand years old and therefore quite traceable in language.

Chapter 13: Pottery Makes its Appearance Chapter 14: The Farmers Arrive

This as a brief review of pottery industry development as it could be traced from archeological finding and how it is represented in various areas from Japan to China to Europe and elsewhere. It demonstrates that pottery was not only linked to agriculture, but it actually appeared somewhat before that in form of various small items that could be carried on relatively easy. Interestingly enough, it seems to have not only utilitarian use, but also artistic and probably religious application.

Chapter 14: Farmers Arrive

This is not that much about general introduction of agriculture, its causes and consequences, as about specific northern attitudes that were somewhat upset by new DNA findings that undermined traditional believes in independent development of somewhat superior humans formed by challenging cold climate. These findings basically indicate that agriculture was not developed indigenously, but rather brought in by immigrants from the South.


Chapter 15: Syria; Chapter 16: The Boat to Cyprus;

These two chapters are about author’s travel to archeological sites in Middle East where archeologists found the earliest signs of agriculture, specifically facilities for grain stock accumulation, but also interesting side effect – domestication of cats that seems to occur with switch to agriculture and was caused by need to protect grain from mice.

Chapter 17: The First Beer

This is about another type of evidence of agriculture – facilities to produce beer. Author also discusses findings of sheep domestication on Cyprus going back to about 9,500 years BC.

Chapter 18: The Farmers’ Westward Voyagers

Here author discussed traces of farmers movement from Middle East up North to Sardinia, Italy and Spain, which somewhat coincides with genetic mutation allowing to consume lactose.

Chapter 19: The Homes Built on the Graves of the Dead

This is about findings in Anatolia that show clear change in lifestyles to be much more sedentary to the point that homes contained remnants of deceased people. Author also discusses various routes that farmers could use to move up North in Europe.

Chapter 20: Clashes in Pilsen and Mainz

This is the next stop on the movement to north – middle Europe, where author met DNA researches who confirmed genetic changes in population consistent with substitution of hunters with farmers. Similar findings came from isotopic analysis of food consumption.

Chapter 21: Sowing and Sunrise

This is about linear pottery culture in Germany, which started about 7500 years ago. Over 300 yeas people of this culture steadily moved North in Europe. Author also discusses the first traces of wheeled vehicles going back to 5600 years, which together with plow and animals like ox provided for superior productivity of agriculture.

Chapter 22: Farmers Arrive in Skane

Here author looks at the next pottery culture – Funnel Beaker culture that developed from linear. The people of this culture left traces in Scandinavia. She also discusses the question of why farmers moved north and point to a few reason such as superior flint sources up North that supported nearly industrial levels of tools production.

Chapter 23: Otzi the Iceman

This is about nearly perfectly saved frozen remnants of a man from about 5300 years ago that provided lots of information about live style, tools, and DNA of people from this period.

Chapter 24: The Falbygden Area

The next stop is in Sweden where another skeleton was found that provided valuable information about DNA of people who moved into this area. Once again author discusses type of people who brought agriculture to the North and it looks like she really wants them to be dark skinned with clear Middle Eastern origin.

Chapter 25: Hunters’ and Farmers’ Genes

The final chapter in this part is about Hunters versus Farmers, their different live styles, diets, attitude, and DNA. Eventually she presents herself as a sample of the mix with her own mitochondrion DNA pointing to reindeer hunters, while her paternal grandmother’s pointing to Syrian farmers.


Chapter 26: The First Stallion

This is kind of deviation from the main narrative about European genes. Author moves to Asia to look at horses and people, which lives are linked to them. In the process she moves to linguistic area discussion Indo-European languages and how it reflects movement of people and genes.

Chapter 27: DNA Sequences Provide Links with the East

Correspondingly this chapter moves to genetic specifics of haplogroups and chromosomes and how this genetic material mixed in author’s own inheritance.

Chapter 28: Battleaxes; Chapter 29: Bell Beakers, Celts and Stonehenge; Chapter 30: The Nebra Sky Disc in Halle; Chapter 31: The Rock Engravers; Chapter 32: Iron and the Plague Chapter 33: Am I a Viking?

These several chapters are mainly about material culture that produced various artifacts and how their archeological discoveries demonstrate mixing and movements of diverse people that eventually resulted in current human setting around the Europe.

Chapter 34: The Mothers;

This is a bit of personal narrative about author’s multigenerational mothers who were lucky to survive and reproduce resulting in eventual object of genetic and cultural combination that is the author of this book.

Chapter 3S: The Legacy of Hitler and Stalin The Tree and the spring

The last chapter starts with the story of Soviet murderous rejection of genetics and then somehow moves to pronounce decisive rejection of Nicolas Wade’s book that promotes thesis of genetic dependency of just about everything: average IQ, society prosperity, and even political system on genetic make up of members of the society. It ends with the call for individuals to research their DNA and hopes to avoid Soviet style rejection of genetics this time in the name of political correctness that posit genetic equality of all and ready to affirm this equality by all means necessary.


It is an interesting review of currently existing research and theories of human genetic development, humanity expansion around the world, and continuing mixing of human and pre-human population. I think that author’s continuing deviation and eventually plunge in the final chapter into ideology and politics is somewhat unfortunate because it brings in unresolvable ideological contradictions about genetics. It comes with typical reference to Hitler who based his murderous ideology on believe in overwhelming role of “blood” in defining characteristics of society as well as less typical reference to Stalin who based his murderous ideology on believe in overwhelming role of “class” and actually killed geneticists who dared to believe that DNA is important. I think that genes are important, play huge, but not defining role in “who we are”, and what kind of society we have. However I do not believe that it makes any more sense to define what is more important Nature or Nurture for formation of humans and their societies than discussion of which leg left or right is more important for process of walking. Let’s just try to fix whatever is not working right. So if it is DNA, let find the way to correct it and if it is environment and society let’s find what is not working and fix it too.