The main idea of this book is that the current environmental obsession with saving species comes from really poor understanding of realities of the world and meaning of evolution. In reality the environment is constantly in process of change and it is always beneficial for some species and detrimental for others, so some go on to prosper and some go extinct. The idea that humans is some king of external factor in Earth’s ecosystem is ridiculous on its face because humans are part of environment and, as every other species that ever existed, they change environment by the simple fact of being alive. However, these changes caused by humans are on much higher scale than by other species and, most important, could be consciously controlled. So, the point is that human interaction should become more conscious and direct its impact to create much better environment with understanding that it is dynamic process and that extinction of some species and creation of new is natural and could not be possibly stopped.
PART I: Opportunity
Prologue: Gains and losses
This starts with the looking around out of window and seeing somewhat chaotic mix of species of everything alive from grass and trees to animals and birds, which is completely different from what it used to be even a several decades ago. Lots of species disappeared, pushed out by competition from other species and humans. But lots of new species showed, or old species invaded from faraway places and then prospered. Also, the human impact changed dramatically from killing animals to saving them not only for use in economy, but also for their own sake. The point here is that living world is complex, constantly changes, and humans should not attempt to stave off the change. They should rather ride the wave based on understanding of ecosystem dynamically then try to maintain status quo of the system based on the idea that it is perfect as it is.
Here author traces development and movement around the world of one specific specie: sparrows, that came from Asia and then moved elsewhere in close cooperation with movement of humans, in process evolving to fit different environments. Author uses this as example of coevolution and points out that it happens all the time with all kind of living things and that idea of environmentalists that there ever was a perfect condition, which was destroyed by unnatural humans, is just plainly not correct. His main point however is that even if humans decided to save environment as it is, it would not be possible due to complexity and variety of evolutionary processes that involves everything living.
PART II New Pangea; Prelude
Here author just states his purpose in this part to look at four human-caused changes in environment and demonstrate how some species become highly successful as result of these changes.
- Fall and rise
This chapter is about impact of humans killing animals for food and other products. The author starts with elephants and discusses reasons for their survival, unlike many other big animals that were extinct most probably by the human hunting. An interesting point here is that one of the reasons for this survival was their African roots where they developed in parallel with humans and learned how to avoid and overall deal with this extremely dangerous predator. Other big animals for example in America encountered humans when they arrived with already highly developed hunting skills, so these animals had no time to adjust. Here is a nice diagram of before and after:
Eventually human transformed the world and it is obvious now that everything alive, plants or animals are one way or another impacted by humans, some of them in very beneficial ways if they were found useful.
- Never had it so good
This chapter looks at impact of agriculture. Author starts it with discussion of butterflies, which are not directly useful to humans, but prospered by evolutionary adjusting to utilize abundance of cereals grown by humans. After reviewing this regular English agricultural environment author moves to tropical forest where he easily finds traces of human impact ,for example plants from other continents that would never get there without human interference. One of the most important inferences here is that humans, as well as all other animals and plant had never lived in harmony with surrounding environment by the virtue of being part of this environment continuously, at least until recently, trying to expand its own species as much as possible. The final important point here is that human impact changes environment by making winners and losers differently than would be without humans, but so everything else either alive or not so in these terms humans are not that different from any other natural phenomenon.
- Steaming ahead
This chapter looks at evolutionary success resulting from human-caused climate change. As example author uses other primates moving up into the mountings, wolves that move to areas they never inhabited before, and finally beetle that expanded to new areas on mass scale. However, author actually refers to general climate change that happens constantly, triggering huge changes in species distribution, evolution and even existence. Here is a nice illustration from the dig in very civilized area in England:
- Pangea reunited
This chapter is dealing with evolutionary changes caused by humans transporting everything conceivable, including all living things, all around the world. Author provides a number of examples of this process, but their number is infinite. In the last few hundred years humans developed tools for practically instant travel, so no wander that everything else uses these tools, whether they buy ticket or not to move around. As the result the whole ecosystem of the planet, actually more than that because it includes minerals, metals, and everything else, become much more dynamic so some species prosper in new environments, while others cannot survive in their original environment anymore because of new competition.
PART III: Genesis Six; Prelude
This part is about perception, which many people have, of current development as the sixth mass extinction caused by humans. The previous 5 extinctions were caused by geological and astronomical events. None of extinctions, however, was complete. At the time of the great many of extinct losers there were some successful winners, for example mammals after dinosaurs, so author here discusses who are survivals of current change and what new species this change brings to live.
- Heirs to the world
This starts with discussion of New Zealand’s successful conservation attempts to save original species that were endangered by new arrivals brought in by humans. Author points out an interesting fact that these animals actually consume plants brought in from Europe, making this the idea of conservation somewhat invalid. In reality it is not possible to recreate bygone environment, even if it is possible maintain parts of it alive, usually at high cost. Author then discusses various methods of regulating environment to bring it to the state preferable to humans, even if it would never be conservation of some original state.
- Evolution never gives up
This chapter reviews some very dramatic and massive changes of environment created by humans, but demonstrates that evolution often works in the complex and unpredictable way, resulting in unplanned and unexpected changes that sometime are beneficial for human objectives and sometimes not, but always uncontrollable.
- The Pangean archipelago.
Here author stresses that current changes do not really decrease diversity of environment, but just change the mix of this diversity making sometimes winners out of invaders, but sometime turning them into losers when local species develop successful adjustment.
The final chapter of this part is about hybridization that constantly producing new species out of old. He even refers to humans as one of such hybrid at least with Neanderthals for Europeans, but probably a great number of hybridization occurrences over millions years of human evolution. Author very reasonably rejects ideas of genetic purity with tree of live viewed with perfectly separated branches. Reality is very different with species forming, then merging, then splitting and always changing as long as environment changes. It is obviously possible for some species to maintaining themselves in environment when change is slow to nonexistent, but current impact of humans shaking the planet and its species inevitably causes accelerated evolution, at least for a while. It is basically healthy process and it is ridiculous trying to stop it.
PART IV Anthropocene Park; Prelude
This part is kind of summation of this book in which author calls to accept change as a natural part of live and instead of trying to restore some stable ecological environment that never really existed in the first place, humans should look ahead and think and act carefully to impact the ways change occurs so it would happen in direction beneficial for humanity.
- The new natural
Here author argues that humans are the part of nature, not something standing outside of it, so human actions are actions of nature therefore changes caused by humans are natural changes.
- Noah’s Earth
This chapter is about conservation or more precisely about futility of attempt to save something as it is by preventing any change. Normal development includes species going extinct and the new species being developed, rare plans becoming widely spread and widely spread becoming rare, and so on and on. We live now in kind of Anthropocene Part and we both inmates and custodians of this part, so the more knowledge and technology we have the more we can consciously do to make this world livable and dynamically modifiable in the direction we want, including creation and/or extinction of species.
Epilogue: One million years AD
This is highly optimistic epilogue that stresses, and quit convincingly at that, that while we do extinguish lots of species and know that, we really do not understand that we created a lot of new ones, even if mostly unconsciously. Moreover, author claims that it is quite possible that on final count the earth diversity increased due to the human impact, rather than decreased and there is plenty of reasons to think that future world of humans will be as diverse as they would want it to be.
MY TAKE ON IT:
I think it is a great approach to human / environment interaction. I think humanity is on its way to create self-contained production system when producing everything that human need would be restricted to full cycle closed systems with no impact on environment whatsoever. As example I would take production of energy when we are moving from primitive generation of heat from open fire in caves through coal fed electrical plants to small-scale thermonuclear devices that would consume miniscule amount of water and produce clean energy. It does not mean that human would ever become isolated from environment. I would expect that human impact on environment would actually increase and quite dramatically, but it would have completely different objective – instead of obtaining energy and material for survival it would be continuing dynamic modification of environment with objective to make it the most enjoyable for humans and other species that humans would like to have in this environment, probably even some species, specifically designed to make environment more enjoyable. Maybe it would even include some genetically modified lions that, when meeting a lamb instead of tearing it apart would start playing with it, distracted only by need to go and do some human designed exercise that would keep them fit and reward them with industrially produced meat of perfect nutritional value.
The main idea of this book is based on recent research and experimentation that demonstrates more and more clear that humans became the most successful species due to development of tools for communication and cooperation allowing them to act with incomparable level of coordination and therefore putting them in the Ligue of their own. This process did not occur at once, but was rather a long evolutionary process in which two close connected processes occurred: biological evolution of human body and cultural evolution of human groups. All this could be understood only if looked at together, when, for example, development of language was accompanied by changes in the body that made it capable to produce more and more complicated sounds and gestures, in turn creating evolutionary advantageous abilities for superior coordination between individuals in the human group.
Actually author provides a list of most important insights drown from this book:
Here author describes his journey from engineering to anthropology that included forays into psychology, economics and evolution, initially genetic and then cultural, so he refers to names relevant to my own interests: Kahneman and Tversky, Ostrom, Boyd and Richerson, Haidt, and Romer. It is also important that author has hand on experience with ethnographic field research.
- A Puzzling Primate
At the beginning of this chapter author makes a very refreshing statement that humans are not really that smart as they believe they are and that success of human species could not be explained by individual characteristics such as brain size. It is much better explained by the fact that humans are cultural species and as such capable accumulate and use huge amounts of knowledge divided between individuals. This knowledge actually distributed into multitude of different individual skills that are used cooperatively, expanded and rectified across generations, and saved in various material forms so they could be restored as needed even if they are not in anybody’s head anymore. Author also provides a nice layout of the book.
- It’s Not Our Intelligence
This chapter is unusual in its main idea that humans are not really that much smarter than other primates, except for one specific area – social learning. Here is graph of testing results demonstrating just this:
- Lost European Explorers
This chapter presents samples of another poorly understood reality confirmed by multiple natural experiments when people of one culture found themselves in the new environment and were not able to survive without specific local knowledge and skills developed by other cultures, native for the given environment. Author reviews a number of such experiments that occurred with European explorers.
4 How to Make a Cultural Species
In this chapter author classifies domains of knowledge and skills necessary for survival:
After that he linkes this with various features of culture that facilitate cultural learning such as: Skill and Success, Prestige, Self-similarity that lead to aiming for acquiring a specific role in division of labor by sex and other parameters. Author also discusses cultural knowledge accumulation and role of older individuals in transferring successful survival mores from generation to generation. Finally author also discusses methodology of such transfer: conformity and mentalizing.
5 What Are Big Brains For? Or, How Culture Stole Our Cuts
This is about cultural/genetic evolution and author makes a point that in humans, unlike majority of other species, culture is driving genetics and he provide a table of how exactly it happens with reference to chapters of the book relevant to each feature:
After that author concentrates on relationship between big brain and its function as kind of outsourcing tool when humans outsource expensive big digestive tract to fire and cooking, inherent body weapons and armor to tools such as spear and shields, and so on. It is also interesting that in process humans become optimized for long distance endurance running. Author demonstrates it by discussing muscle composition and other features of human body including incomparable thermoregulation that allows rather save hunting by driving animals into exhaustion. The big brain is also very useful for obtaining and using vast amounts of information about animals and environment via cultural transfer.
6 Why Some People Have Blue Eyes
This chapter is about relatively recent human genetic mutations and how they were distributed among various people. Most important, it is about culture/genetic interactions that author summarizes in such way:
7 On the Origin of Faith
Here author moves to an interesting view of faith, including faith and taboos of “primitive” tribes, is information transfer method, which is highly effective and does not require clear understanding of causes and consequences, but assure compliance with the wisdom acquired over very long periods of experience. It is also very positively referring to traditions, which served humanity very well until now when we get into era of fast changes and effective accumulation of information outside of human heads. The chapter ends with interesting proposition that cultural adaptation is as powerful tool as genetic evolution, but works a lot more efficient and fast, resulting in contemporary world in which the humans – animals that developed technology of language and overall culture become absolutely dominant.
8 Prestige, Dominance, and Menopause
Here author moves to internal details of how culture works, discussing two methods of influence: prestige and dominance and providing comparative analysis for them:
9 In-Laws. Incest Taboos, and Rituals
This is about kinship relationship in hunter-gatherer communities that includes not only blood relatives, but also complex “in-laws” relationships and their cultural meaning. The main point here is that there is a multitude of variations with one common feature – one way or another they culturally condition individual to act cooperatively to assure group survival and obtain kind of group insurance for individual survival.
10 Intergroup Competition Shapes Cultural Evolution
Here author moves to the next obvious step – intergroup competition. The first question is how old this competition and simple answer is that it is well documented even in chimpanzees. The second – group expansion at the expense of others is mainly documented with farmers and herders at the expense of foragers, but it is because not that many foragers left and they are practically confined to small areas. However, there is plenty of archeological evidence that human groups expansion occurred on the huge scale initially at the expense of other species – a good example are Neanderthals, and then at the expense of other groups that were less competitive military, which is more than well documented.
This is discussion of rules setting and enforcing, something that author characterizes as specifics of our species:
There are quite a few interesting experiments that author presents in this regard, with some demonstrating automatic character of rule compliance, which actually decreases if people have time to think about it:
After this discussion author looks at the reasons for such automatic cooperation and concludes that it is a necessary tool for survival when individual survival and genes transfer to the next generation depends on one’s group survival and transfer of genes condicted by kin is good enough for evolution to support these features.
12 Our Collective Brains
By “collective brains” here author means totality of knowledge and skills of a group of humans distributed between their brains and/or recorded in some material form so that humans can extract information from these records. He demonstrates importance of this by retelling story of Intuit tribe that lost large number of elders due to disease and as result lost a significant part of their survivability knowledge. Eventually they were able to restore this knowledge only years later after contact with another tribe. Author also discusses similar case in Tasmania and laboratory experiments that demonstrated necessity of access to diversity of knowledge. Here is a graph demonstrating just that:
There is also somewhat interesting reference to Neatherthals who had bigger individual brains, but went extinct probably due to failure outcompete damber, but better organized humans.
13 Communicative Tools with Rules
This chapter is about human communication tools, most important of which is language. Author looks at quite a few important parts of this communication tool and provides a brief summary:
He also discusses how language and its development were impacting genetic evolution of humans.
14 Enculturated Brains and Honorable Hormones
This part is especially interesting because author discusses intermediate point between genetic and cultural evolution of humans such as genetically predefined learning process, which allows to learn one’s native language without accent in specific period of live, but then shuts it down. Author discusses livelong available ability to change one’s body and brain – famous example of London taxi drivers. Another interesting research referred here is on Chinese Americans and influence of unhealthy habits specific to this culture. Here is graph demonstrating this:
15 When We Crossed the Rubicon
Very nicely summarized his understanding of the history of cultural evolution in the table:
16 Why Us?
Here author discusses very important notion of bridge between animal and humans that we crossed. It is basically intertwining of cultural and biological evolution based on massive communications and cooperation between individuals that exceeds by far anything else that exist in any other group of animals. Here is the diagram demonstrating this bridge:
After that author discusses in details many of the boxes in diagram.
17 A New Kind of Animal
In the last chapter author discusses key changes in attitude to understanding humans and their development from direct linear and progressive path from genes via biology and psychology to culture and behavior to complex process with multiple feedback loops, when changes in culture lead to changes in biology and vice versa. Author also discusses uniqueness of humans and their comparison with other animals.
MY TAKE ON IT:
This is the most complete and well-supported look at the humanity and its roots that I encountered so far. The idea of interconnected genetic and cultural evolutions with multiple feedbacks is in my opinion the most realistic understanding of humans and their movement from an animal similar to any other to completely different creature that not only was able to expand and occupy all conceivable ecological niches, often pushing out or outright annihilating previously dominant species, but also achieved self-consciousness to such extent as mainly to control lots of genetic needs and features that no other known creature can do. Also interesting is that eventually we get to the point when human individual become able to control their own reproduction, produce practically infinite amount of food and other supplies on demand, use technology to significantly improve health, and, most important, turned everything upside down by turning meaning of individual live from successful reproduction, driven by blind evolutionary process into the consciously identified meaning of live being successful pursuit of happiness, whatever it means for any given individual.
The main idea of this book is to review 50 innovations that had significant impact on human live. The very important part of this idea is that author reviews not only technological innovations, but also societal and quite convincingly demonstrates that such inventions had maybe even more impact on quality of live than technological inventions.
- The Plow
It starts with imaginative scenario when civilization had to restart from the scratch. Author answers to the question where to start with reference to the first invention: plow, which become main tool of agriculture and consequently foundation of civilization. Then in introduction author defines how he selected inventions for this book – not according to their importance either economical or technological, but rather as illustration of some common themes relevant to nearly all inventions.
- Winner and Losers
The common theme in this part is approach to inventions and the new technology from the point of view of winners and losers of this invention.
- The Gramophone
This invention and its spinouts could be generically defined as recording of sounds and images has a number of very clear losers: all people who produce such sounds and images that valuable enough for other people to pay for. The obvious winners are majority of population that now has access to such information produced by the top talent at low price, often even for free even in situation when the person with the talent is long dead. Also, winners are top talents who now can sell their production to millions and correspondingly earn millions. Obviously, the biggest losers are mediocre talents who used to be able successfully compete in a limited locality with access to people close to this locality in time and space, but now have to compete with everybody in the world who ever lived.
- Barbed Wire
This invention dramatically changed human ability to control agricultural property either land or cattle and as such it facilitated Western development in XIX century. Obvious winners were owners and consumers of agricultural products, while squatters become losers with their chances of apprehending free land greatly diminished.
- Seller Feedback
This is about contemporary invention of feedback on business transaction via Internet when individuals not really familiar with each other have new ways to evaluate reliability and honesty of the person on other side of transaction. This invention basically involves a protocol of human relations that decreased cost and increased reliability of transactions and made billions of users of peer-to-peer transactions better off. Obvious losers are crook and unreliable people.
- Google Search
This invention is not really Google, but all computerized search dramatically changed information inequality between parties of business transaction when on one side is professional seller or buyer who has time and resources to invest into market knowledge development because he/she conducts multitude of similar transactions, while on another side is onetime customer who could not possibly do the same. As result traditional outcome was overpayment. In the new world consumer could spend a few minutes to obtain information and level playing field. As usual, the winners are multitude, while losers are professional information traders from used car salesmen to librarians.
Here author discusses not that much passports as tool of control over people movements, as immigration of labor and its pluses and minuses. He is firmly on the side of pluses even stating that some economists evaluated that free movement of labor would double world output. But after conceding that it would probably not going to happen any time soon, author defines winners and losers, by wealth of the country that issued passport.
This is mainly about all technology based on AI and robotics that could do multitude of tasks that used to be done by people. Obvious losers are people who lost their jobs, but author points out that robots’ bodies are not as good as their AI brains so humans still can find jobs cleaning toilets, at least for a while.
- The Welfare State
This is societal invention of moving responsibility for individual for his/her wellbeing away from this individual, family, and community to the government that would take care about everybody. Author links it to the motherly love with government being the mother, but still points out that it could be too much love so people could be spoiled. Author end this with positive reference to idea of guarantied income.
- Reinventing How We Live
This part is moving from winners and losers of innovation to their impact on our lives and overall functioning of society that changed quite dramatically in recent times.
- Infant Formula
Author retells an interesting story of this invention prompted by volcano eruption resulted in decrease of food supply, so some artificial concoction helped babies without mothers to survive. The resulting separation of infant feeding from mother’s bodies had profound impact on their survival, but also on availability of their mothers for work and other activities that would put distance between them and babies.
- TV Dinners
Somewhat similar effect had invention of industrial food processing that by now provided infinite number of fully or semi processed food freeing humans from necessity to spend a few hours every day preparing food from scratch, which is not very productive activity anyway.
- The Pill
This is about contraceptive pill that drastically changed stakes in sexual encounters by decreasing probability of pregnancy. It not only become foundation of sexual revolution, but also revolutionized economics by opening way for women into professions and other economic activities that demand allocation of time and effort inconsistent with continuing care for multiple children.
- Video Games
It is interesting that author puts video games into category of society changing inventions. He does it based on economic impact of the new form of entertainment that demands some programming effort, but provides a hugely popular way of waste available time, without which the time could be used in less benign for societal stability way.
- Market Research
This is another societal invention that has significant impact on economy. Market research became a tool of discovering and sometimes creating consumer desires, resulting in much higher level of satisfaction for customer and increased economic activity.
This relatively new invention was prompted by industrial needs, but it opened way for maintaining temperature controlled environment that consequently improved health by decreasing impact of high temperature and, as side effect opened hot South to settlement elsewhere in the world.
- Department Stores
Author presents department stores as invention of not that much concentrating lots of different merchandise in one place, as the development of different attitude to customer, moving from naked strive to sell to much softer attitude of presenting goods and politely helping customer to generate and eventually satisfy desires that they may not have before they start looking.
III. Inventing New Systems
This part is about generating new standards that greatly facilitate exchange of goods and services, by adding compatibility between them and allowing to build unique system and environment serving specific individual needs from parts produced by diverse providers.
- The Dynamo
This is about one of the most important standardized good – electricity and how it slowly over some 50 years substituted steam powered energy supplies in business and the huge impact it had on the methods of production.
- The Shipping Container
This is about the invention that did pretty much the same for transportation. The use of standard containers allowed practically eliminate reloads between different forms of transportation resulting in dramatic decrease of it costs, which in turn opened opportunity for globalization.
- The Bar Code
This is another supplemental information processing technology that allowed relatively easy tracing of smallest goods all around the world, making it another tool of globalization.
- The Cold Chain
This starts with reference to banana republics of Latin America, but then returns back to looking at technological achievement, in this case Cold Chain that actually means refrigerated transport, the technology that allows people elsewhere in the world enjoy bananas and millions of other things that would spoil without cooling. Besides opening for everybody everywhere all fruits and goods that this planet can offer, it provided good insurance against poor harvests and other things that caused lots of problems in the past, but now can be easily managed by transporting staff from the places where it is in abundance at the moment.
- Tradable Debts and the Tally Stick
Author refers here to the old Irish tool of recording debts and then discusses financial mechanisms of supporting trade, manly in primitive and exotic way.
- The Billy Bookcase
This is about another invention that author refers as IKEA’s – shift of final assembly to customers site. The big deal here is that by doing it manufacturer can package product in the most efficient for transportation form, sharing with customer savings on cost transporting a few cubic feet versus a lots of cubic feet of some goods like furniture. Probably the cost of final assembly by customer is much higher that it would be at the plant, but since people usually do not count their own time and effort as money, the method is quite popular.
- The Elevator
This is another technological improvement that greatly changed circumstances of human live. It practically opened the third dimension of space for human settlement. The small one or two-story building providing shelter to one family now can be substituted by multistory skyscraper that provides shelter to hundred families using the same amount of land. While it is not really such a great thing for many people who would prefer not to live on the top of each other, it is perfect for industrial and business facilities providing extremely high-density places for work easily supplied, protected, and cheaply supported.
- Ideas About Ideas
This part is about invention of metaideas, which are the ideas about processing information.
This is about an ancient method of writing – the first known method to represent words in abstract pictorial form. Probably nothing could compare with this invention because it moved humans to situation when they could maintain totality of knowledge infinitely higher than sum of knowledge in the heads of all living people.
- Public Key Cryptography
Here author jumps from ancient and hugely important invention to the recent and much less important invention in cryptography. It is nice and dandy, but it has limited application and could and probably will be discarded in the next few dozen years when and if need to keep secrets decrease.
- Double-Entry Bookkeeping
This is obviously more important and much longer living invention, but it is also becoming somewhat obsolete with the continuing progress in technology of capturing and processing information, when much more effective processes and controls developed all the time.
- Limited Liability Companies
Here author discusses invention of limited liability companies as a necessary condition for existence of capitalism supported by opportunity to limit one’s financial exposure and consequently provide more security for investment that was ever possible before.
- Management Consulting
Here author describes managerial consulting as highly value-added activity mainly based on example of its application in Indian textile factories and then quite skeptically discusses effectiveness of this business altogether. Eventually he concludes that it is necessary mainly due to government regulations.
- Intellectual Property
This is another recent (250 years) invention, which is not clearly beneficial. Author even discusses work of economists Boldrin and Levine who suggest ridding of it altogether arguing that it is more an impediment to business than support for new inventions.
- The Compiler
This final chapter in this part is somewhat technical. Computer compiler is the great tool that made programming a lot easier, but it is just one of the steps in development of information processing technology.
- Where Do Inventions Come From
In this part author looks at how inventions occur even if it is not the focus of this book. Author believes that inventions are not a work of a single genius, but rather culmination of multiple small changes merging into one qualitatively important change.
- The iPhone
This is one example – combination of Internet, new batteries, c radio communications, flat screens and lot of other things culminating in what is not really phone, but network integrated computer.
- Diesel Engines; 32. Clocks; 33. Chemical Fertilizer; 34. Radar; 35. Batteries; 36. Plastic;
These all are similar stories of step by step development in various seemingly unrelated area with following on integration into one new technology that delivers huge value in unexpected field.
- The Visible Hand
Here author returns to inventions that facilitate functioning of human societies and he stresses that it is based on institutions that are provided and/or supported government so the idea of invisible hand is not really applicable here.
- The Bank
The first such invention author looks at is a bank and it is a very ancient one so author traces it back to Templars
- Razors and Blades
This starts with a funny story of Gillette who started as philosopher writing against market and ended as founder of business empire. However, it is just a side show, the chapter is really about new method of selling invented by Gillette – cheap or free initial devise with need for continuing supply of expensive consumables.
- Tax Havens
This is another institutional invention that allows global businesses shopping around for smaller taxes, consequently shielding their profits from government.
- Leaded Gasoline 41. Antibiotics in Farming
This couple is used by author to demonstrate how invention could go wrong: lead gasoline poisoning people and unrestricted use of antibiotics develops drag-resistant bacterial that is difficult to handle not only in animals, but also in people.
This is about electronic currency and its use in developing countries to go around of usual corruption, for example by paying policemen directly to their iPhone rather than via their chief who take cut from these salaries.
- Property Registers
This is about property rights and their enforcement as condition of effective capitalist development in line with work of de Soto.
VII. Inventing the Wheel
In this part author admits that he did not touch a lot of the most important invention because they change the world way too much and could not fit into the limited space of this book. For example, invention of the wheel was so huge that would require many volumes to analyze. Here are a few of similar in their importance in author’s view:
- Paper; 45. Index Funds; 46. The S-Bend (sanitation); 47. Paper Money;48. Concrete; 49. Insurance;
Conclusion: Looking Forward.
This is about very limited ability of people to predict the future with examples such as book by Herman Kahn and Wiener in 1950 about year 2000. They predicted something that did happened, but also a lot that did not. However, the main lesson here is that process of continuing innovation is not only started, but acquired a huge momentum, so one could expect a lot of it in the future changing the way of live and bringing improvements both technological and societal that are not even imaginable today.
Epilogue: The Light bulb
This is an interesting approach to measure impact of invention of previous century by comparing value of $70,000 income in now and its equivalent in 1900. If adjusted to inflation it would be $1,962,800, so one could buy a lot more of goods and services that existed in 1900, but the problem is that so many important goods and services did not exist, that one would be crazy to accept such bargain.
MY TAKE ON IT:
These book’s inventions are interesting and important in their impact, but I’d like to point out that we are just at the beginning of the process and the most important part is restructuring of society. We are still moving from industrial type of society where real ownership of property is limited to very small number of people and majority had to make living by selling their labor. This method of society organization is becoming increasingly unsustainable because there is less and less need in productive labor either for goods or services. The current method of handling it by providing miserable level of subsistence to less educated and much better level of bureaucratic sinecures to more educated part of population would not cut it because all three groups: productive people, welfare poor, and bureaucrats are bound to be psychologically miserable: the first group because being robbed and the other two because of the lack of agency, which is necessary for human high quality of live. That’s why I think that a huge wave of societal inventions is coming with technological inventions being just a relatively unimportant supplement.
The main idea of this book is to trace high level logic of marriage from economic necessity to the being the tool of self-expression and propose the new notion of marriage: all or nothing marriage that would be flexible enough to be capable meeting needs of the contemporary world with its economic independence of women, value of individual choice, and high demand of investment into growing the next generation. All this is done by using vast amount of empiric data accumulated about contemporary marriage via statistical and sociological research of recent decades.
Preface: Panic in Evanston
Author starts with the story of the beginning of his development of the new theory of marriage, which started from request for article about marriage. Author looked at all forces that impact this institution and concluded that it is under serious strain and could buckle. More detailed analysis showed that while the institution of marriage is struggling, there is a reason for optimism because good marriages now are better than ever before. In short, he puts it as “all or nothing” theory of marriage. At the end author briefly goes to review of liberal vs. conservative approaches.
Part One Marriage Today
1 Temperamental but Thrilling
This chapter starts with reference to a couple of books called “Eat, Pray, Love” and “Wild”, both about women running away from seemingly good marriages. After supplying this narratives by reference to men doing the same, author looks at the history of marriage in America and identifies 2 great transitions: The sentimentality Transition of 1880s when industrialization allowed people to go above partnering for physical survival and the authenticity transition of 1950-60s when search for fulfilment and change of mores created wave of divorces:
Author links it to Maslow’s pyramid and then discusses Michelangelo effect when people try to create perfect sculpture from “ugly stone” of another person. He also connects it to weakening of social networks that before put pressure from outside to support a marriage and provides a nice graph demonstrating data about this:
Author also discusses another important point – the growth of demand to other people that is hard to meet for any conceivable marriage partner. Here is illustration:
At the end of chapter author discusses his believe that we are actually at the final stages of paradigm change and that the new paradigm is still marriage, only happier one.
Part Two Historical Perspective
This part is historical so author goes through periods:
- Pragmatic Marriage
Marriage for survival, with example of Lincoln parents and through various periods in American history:
- From Pragmatism to Love
This is about the next step: transfer from pragmatic marriage to search of love. This came with industrialization and huge improvement in survival rates leading to decrease in fertility that provided much more opportunities for women to live their live instead of constantly producing and burying children. This new love based marriage of industrial age came to fruition in 1950s and was undermined after that by 5 important factors:
- Women economic dependence
- Social isolation of nuclear family
- Lack of insight in one’s spouse due to different (working/non-working) live experiences
- Stunted psychological development
- Often subordinated sex drive
- From Love to Serf-Expression
This starts with reference to Sex and the City as a typical example of search for love and meaning in live, which somewhat impedes marriage and then moves to intellectual roots of this process and needs for self-expression. Here is example of results of study of this process:
Author also points out to probably the most important fundamental transformation of society that underlying these processes- change in male/female difference in method of resource acquisition from women being internal family support producer to being equally to men external market producer:
Author presents 5 challenges of the Self-Expressive Marriage:
- The Elusive Self
- The Porcupane’s Dilemma: hard to get close to warm each other
- The Struggle for Balance
- The Inexorable Rise in Demand for Sexual Fulfilment
- Men’s stanted psychological development
At the end of chapter author discuss emerging pattern of Fuly Functioning Couple and again refer to the Sex and the City pointing out that it eventually comes down to marriage.
Part Three: All-or-Nothing Marriage
- Personal Fulfillments and Marital Commitment: The Detente
This starts with discussion of marriage becoming tool of personal fulfilment in late 1700s when couples start forming based on love. This approach was expanding until 1950 when pursuit of happiness and meaning went beyond traditional arrangement. Author provides useful breakdown for these two objectives:
- Marriage at the Summit
Here author compares what he calls “Frightened marriage” with his idea of “All or Nothing” marriage. The “Frightened marriage” is basically the pattern that existed up until now when marriage was necessity for survival and raising children. Now, when industrialization freed people from domestic work, made it easy access to food, energy, and comfort, old forces that kept marriage alive are gone. Now the objective is much more self-actualization via work, entertainment, health maintenance, elaborate satisfaction of natural needs like food and sex, and on and on. Author provides a number of research results demonstrating that time spent by spouses together is declining as well as time spent on children. Author refers this phenomenon to decline in value of traditional marriage that was kept together by external needs, which he calls suffocated marriage. However, he is optimistic that it will be substituted by Enriched marriage, the one that is kept together by common interests of spouses and mutually enriching relationships that are beneficial for both.
- For Richer or Poorer
This is about economic foundation of the new model of marriage. He points out that marriage stressed most of all when economic wellbeing is stressed and links it to the levels of education:
Another interesting chart demonstrates that actuall cultural values are practically the same for all economnic classes of Americans:
Author also discusses a hypotheses that it could be explained by mental deficiencies of lower classes like low levels of self-control and such. As it should be expected, leftists attack it and put blame on external circumstances. Interestingly enough the very high income marriage is often similar to lower class in terms of instability. Author explains it by pointing out that very hihg income peope too busy working and interacting outside of home and find self actualization opportunities there.
Part Four Toward Stronger Marriages
- For Better or Worse
This is about complexity and unreliability of self-expressive marriage – humans tend to change with time and they are not necessary changing in synch, and it shows:
There is also an interesting phenomenon of looking at the process through rose colored glasses. The graph below demonstrates that people look at the past as the continuing improvement, when their actual reporting at the time shows otherwise:
The recommendation author comes up with is: “do not idealize and you will not be disappointed”:
This is about psychological tools that could be useful in achieving marital satisfaction:
Another hack is to take third party perspective. The third hack is Abstract Reframing procedure: convert any specific complement into statement of general admiration by a partner. This helps people with low self-esteem:
Also is effective tool expression of gratitude:
Overall author provide quite convincing data that use of these tools could be effective.
- Going All In
This is about details of handling complex self-expressive marriage. It goes through communications, responsiveness, various activities and such. It also cautions about possible negative consequences of “Going All In” such as revealing incompatibility.
This chapter is about recalibrating expectation from marriage if one is going to pursue this new high altitude and complexity marriage with its increased independence and each spouse that could require complex reconciliation procedures in all areas including sex, social interactions with outsiders, consensual non-monogamy. For the last one author provide an interesting graph:
The final graph here is on high value of low expectations for really bad cases, but higher benefits of high expectation if marriage is fulfilling.
- The Marital Buffet
The last chapter is pointing out that Americans now have a huge number of options in marriage and non-marriage, so it would help when one understands what they are before actually making the choice.
MY TAKE ON IT:
I like data richness of this book and generally agree that old institute of marriage needs significant upgrade in order to keep its validity in the age when necessity of domestic work, formerly domain of women or servants, had practically disappeared, in turn making hierarchical structure of family invalid. The effective marriage today got to be cooperative enterprise of free individuals kept together not by consideration of survival or economic necessity, but by huge physiological and psychological benefits that it could bring to these individuals. The value of having a spouse, as the second half of you, different but continuously attached to you for a very long time, could not be matched neither by short-term hookups nor my professional help nor by chemical enhancements. Certainly the process of selection of spouse as live-long partner could be enhanced by psychological and physiological testing that is rapidly developing all the time and by some additional tools that will be developed to support parallel development of individuals over their live time, but I do not think that there is anything else that could match such long term partnership in the level of benefits provided for wellbeing of individual.
The main idea of this book is to review history of American development after the Civil War until end of XIX century and analyze what and how impacted this development and turned America into the country it became at the beginning of XX century. The main points of analysis are the reconstruction and its failure, Western expansion, Indian wars and removal of Indians to reservations. The key for understanding of these events was an American ideology build around the notion of Home and competency, and eventual failure of classical liberalism to respond effectively to industrialization and substitute of independent farmer and planter / landowner with laborer and businessmen as key elements of society.
In introduction author defines main themes of this book: transfer of America from the world before Civil War with its slavery, provinciality, and people’s loyalty to their state to the world after war with its eventually failed reconstruction, massive industrial development, and transfer of loyalty from one of the states to the United States. No less important was process of slow, but continuing decline of traditional liberalism with its laisses faire market and rise of progressivism with its government intervention and struggle between organized labor and owners/management.
Part I: Reconstructing the Nation
Prologue: Mourning Lincoln
Author uses assassination of Lincoln as the starting point, describing how it impacted overall leadership of the country by bringing to power Southerner Andrew Johnson. At the end author uses census data to make a point of how relatively levelled was wealth distribution in America with even somewhat rich people having practically the same live style as relatively poor, in the society with absence of both very rich and very poor.
- In the Wake of War,
Here author present American situation after the war: Victorious North, Devastated South, and mainly unconquered West. Then he defines North objectives as establishment of National Unity, freedom of Contract for everybody, including fully emancipated freedmen. After defining these objectives, author describes realities of the South where emancipation and freedom of contract for freedmen were completely rejected by white population. Consequently, it led to continuing condition of low intensity civil war between North supporters and active blacks, especially ones with military experience, and majority of whites on the local level and similar struggle between Johnson and Republican congress, senate, and administration. In DC this was expressed with Presidential Reconstruction of Johnson, who intended return country to practically pre-war situation sans formal slavery and put high priority on rehabilitation of confederates. This pretty much failed due to activities of republicans at all levels, especially in legislature, but also on sites via Freedman bureau activities. The situation was multilayered: federal legislature was resisting presidential reconstruction, Southern state legislature was trying to return back to prewar situation by implementing black codes, and at the very bottom terrorist activities and overall violence on both sides ran wild. The last part of this chapter stresses how dominant at the time ideology of old liberalism failed to expand from North to South and include freedmen.
- Radical Reconstruction
This is about the struggle between Johnson who slowly, but surely moved in direction of reestablishment of slaveowners power against congressional republicans including radicals who promoted constitutional amendments to solidify victory in Civil War and make emancipation irreversible reality. This struggle included both legislative and ideological fight in DC and all over the country, and low intensity terrorist war in the South. The result was pretty much stalemate with Republicans failing to impeach Johnson, small mainly demobilized army incapable suppressing terrorist activities, and former slave owners taking power back, while emancipation amendments successfully moving ahead.
- The Greater Reconstruction,
This chapter starts with initiation of the next step in Indian wars – Chivington’s massacre of Cheyennes in Colorado in November of 1964. Just after completion of Civil War, US Army, while rapidly decreasing in numbers, nevertheless become very active in cleansing Indians from territories further and further to the West. Here is a nice map representing this process:
The interesting thing about it is that unlike all other countries of colonization period, American exceptionalism was demonstrated itself in complexity of this process when many of American military commanders and political figures tried to bring some order and legality, however shaky, to this process, by continuiously creating treaties with Indians and sometimes even attempting to use force against white settlers to enforce this treaties. Eventually only massive government intervention in the form of sponsoring railroad and western settlement assured conquest of these territories and relegation of Indians to reservations.
This is a very important chapter for understanding of America because it is about ideological notion of Home, which basically serves as cornerstone of American culture. This notion is much more that building where one lives. It includes competency of the person and his ability to build family and provide for it based on combination of property and work. In this family everybody: husband, wife, children had their roles and were valued by selves and others based on their ability to fulfil these roles successfully. The societally approved objective was not to get rich and powerful, but rather fulfil one’s role in live by achieving competency resulting in building the home, giving good start to the next generation, and retiring with comfortable means. Author discusses in detail how this process was developing initially, how it was supported lately, and provides a nice graph for one of the most important form of such support: homestead movement:
Author makes an important point that the most important objectives of reconstruction were turning former slaves and Indians into homebuilders similar to all other Americans and how both of these objectives mainly fail because of Southern resistance for blacks and cultural incompatibility for Indians. It also applied to other groups: Chinese, Irish, and other immigrants who did not share this concept of home as objective of life’s main effort and often would not be able to achieve it, even if they would want to because members of the idealistic republic of farmers that did not really exist outside of ideological construct of American society.
This chapter is about struggle of intellectuals of Gilded Age to reconcile American ideology of home and competency with realities of live. It went in multiple directions one of them being use of scientific achievement of age such as statistic to build new institutions such as insurance companies to handle randomness of luck. Another was via expansion of education, and yet another one via Social Science represented by ASSA, which author considers the most important classical liberal institution of the time. Finally, this period also included beginning of conversion of classical liberalism of free market and personal responsibility into ideology of supplemental institutions to alleviate individual problems via statistical redistribution of risk with the new liberalism of big government interfering to eliminate problems completely by using force and expert knowledge. Interestingly enough, it all coincided with the struggle against government corruption – usually local government corruption of Tammany hall type.
- Triumph of Wage Labor,
This chapter is about the coming of the new era when productivity growth in agriculture (250 hours per bushel in 1840 vs 150 per bushel in 1880), new goods and services that become available, made old ideas of farmers’ republic invalid. It was substituted by the combination of labor and capital with old middle class of farmers, while converting into the new middle class of small business owners and highly qualified employees, nevertheless losing its ideological and political influence. Author describes this process and allocates a lot of attention to the process of devaluation of labor that become increasingly wide spread due to the nature of labor at the low level of technology when it required little time and effort to get up to speed, making workers easily substitutable, and consequently decreasing their bargaining power to nearly 0.
The chapter starts with reference to Grant election in 1972 for the second term. Author stresses the local character of politics at the time, and that the Reconstruction as national issue was not that important for majority of people. Grant was still popular and won easily, but he did not have any big ideas to implement and was traying to accommodate different fractions of republican coalition. Author looks at various scandals that start developing at the time such as Credit Mobilier and them moves to actual panic that started with the crash of stock exchange in Vienna, which undermined European grain trade, causing financial problems in America that was supplying lots of grain to these markets. Combined with switch to gold coins only (Crime of 73), it caused serious recession through the end of Grant administration and beyond. It was especially severe because of the shift to wage labor that left little space for people to fall on when unemployment struck. By the end of panic in 1880 lots of people were worse off than 20 years before. Author also looks at legal developments and failed attempt to implement Civil Rights Act of 1875. The reconstruction ended with elections of 1876 without achieving real emancipation and leaving the South free to establish formal racial segregation.
- Beginning a Second Century
The chapter starts with Centennial exposition where demonstration of progress was combined with absence of Southerners and Indians. Then it proceeds to discuss limits of free labor in the age of monopolies and initiation of unions and strikes. Author discusses practical end of 200 years of Indian wars and kind of settlement with reservations, Indian affairs departments, and Indian dependency on government for mere survival after they were deprived of opportunities to continue their way of live. Author briefly discusses Southern problems, but mainly concentrates on issues of Catholic immigration and related development of new political and economic power – permanent wage workers like miners, steelworkers, and such who did not expect to become independent farmers or business owners and consequently saw the only way for improvement via higher wages and better labor conditions.
Part II: The Quest for Prosperity.
- Years of Violence,
This is about 1876-1877 when after the end of Grant’s second term North gave up on reconstruction in exchange for Hayes presidency and southern racists fully reestablished their rule in the form of segregation. Author describes it in part I, then goes to Indian Nez Perce war of 1977. However, the most attention allocated to economic development: Rockefeller and railroads. This also includes labor struggles, strikes, lockouts, and related violence. Author also discusses political organization of this time with fee-based government and fight between different parts of this political system for wealth and power.
- The Party of Prosperity~
This chapter is about Republican Party that claimed to be a party of prosperity based on tariffs and protected markets. They supported gold standard and correspondingly democrats were for easy money with the use of silver. This period also includes beginning of welfare state with pensions for Civil war union soldiers. Author looks at multiple strains of cultural development from suppression of Mormons into monogamy to beginnings of temperance movement, and expansion of education, including for women. At the end of chapter author discusses election of 1880 with all candidates pretty much scared by raise of monopolies and labor movement with Garfield eventually winning for republicans.
- People in Motion,
This chapter is about immigration and it starts with description of process for English immigrant. It then discusses immigration overall and its impact in late XIX century when newly arrived immigrant could not expect to get land anymore and generally should go to work in urban or extraction industries. It also provides a nice graph for the process:
Author dicusses positive economic role of immigration and how it was necessary to populate the country.
- Liberal Orthodoxy and Radical Opinions,
Here author looks at events of 1880s through prism of decaying ideology of classical liberalism that could not handle the new situation of expansion of non-propertied labor that had nothing to fall on in case of unemployment, possess no serious skills that would support meaningful bargaining power, and therefore had to agree to practically any conditions, even if these conditions could not provide sustainable living. Author discusses assassination of Garfield and ideological movements: Spencer, William Sumner, and overall American movement to obtain high level European education, especially in Germany. A special discussion is provided for Henry George and his ideas of right for land and universal tax on rent. Another ideological personality discussed here is Howells who communicated his ideas via popular novels. Finally, the last part of this chapter discusses fight over corruption and eventual road to Pendleton Act that created permanent bureaucracy theoretically ending spoils system.
- Dying for Progress.
This chapter is about hugely negative consequences of industrial development on environment, conditions of live, and consequently on health of American population. Here is a nice graph demonstrating this development:
- The Great Upheaval,
This is about that rise of labor movement, and specifically story of Knights of Labor and other similar organizations that at the time seems to be confirming Marxist analysis of human history and development. Nevertheless, even after major strikes and disturbances American system demonstrated its flexibility in accommodating to the new circumstances and successfully handling the Great Upheaval of labor within it framework.
This chapter is about various reform movements. It starts with anarchists, Greenback supporters, then moves to evangelicals, temperance movement, and most importantly, to labor movement. The big part of chapter describes anti-monopoly movement, which unlike many others had significant legislative achievements.
- Westward the Course of Reform
This chapter is about western movement and development. It was quite different from initial American development that was driven by settlers with little if any government involvement. The movement of the end of XIX century was government driven via huge land grants to railroads, but also huge expansion of public land ownership. There is a very interesting piece here about cowboys and huge difference between reality and cultural representation. In American culture cowboys represent rugged individualism, guns, freedom, and violence. In reality they were mainly corporate employees because corporations very quickly took over cattle rising. Also interesting is the story of tick resistant longhorns vs. more valuable, but less sturdy regular northern cattle. Overall the western cattle industry was highly dependable on railroads and eventually was not that profitable after all. Author also discusses here attempts to include Indians into regular American culture via Indian schools, development of mining and farming industries on the West.
- The Center Fails to Hold,
This is about political development at the end of century when socialist ideas start penetrating culture, especially intellectual circles, while previously dominant classical liberalism was in full retreat, not capable to handle labor movement based on inability of low skills individual to survive in the free market. The chapter also includes discussion on final expulsion of Indians from practically all valuable land and expansion of homesteads, however faulty it really was.
- The Poetry of a Pound of Steel
This chapter starts with Carnegie and his involvement in both material and ideological areas of American live. It is interesting how his growing involvement with ideas, which were pretty much feel good ideas of peace, brotherhood, education, philanthropy and such, practically pushed him out of area of material production that required competition, cost cutting, including wages and jobs, and similar unpleasant activities, which nevertheless were the only way to achieve efficient production. Author describes in details Homestead strike and other episodes of industrial struggle. A very interesting and not obvious note is that very nice philanthropic initiatives like creation of Carnegie libraries eventually came down to rich man deciding what poor man needs and directing resources of society to building something that was of no use for hard working laborer and later had to be maintained by taxes drawn from these laborers.
Part III: The Crisis Arrives
- The Other Half,
The other half here is the newly arrived immigrants and other laborers. Live of these people was unknown for middle class established Americans. It was later popularized via literature and journalism on the mass scale. This description typically ignored reason for this people to come, which was obviously better live than they had back in places of their origin. It was rather concentrating on perceived failure of free market in creating human conditions of live for these people and necessity of government involvement. Author describes formation of local political machines that facilitated process of immigrant integration, which while hugely corrupted, still helped them to improve their lives. The last part of the chapter is about acculturalization that rapidly occurred if not with immigrant themselves, then with their children.
- Dystopian and Utopian America
This chapter starts with Lizzie Borden and culture of American crime, then moved to Dreiser and world that he described. Then it returns back to South situation with lynching and growing segregation, and then political movements of the end of century, especially populism. However, despite all this, the chapter ends with Columbian Exposition and enthusiasm about America and its future that majority experienced at the time.
- The Great Depression,
This chapter describes the depression of 1893 and panic on Wall Street. It also narrates story of Pullman’s attempt to create perfect factory town with everything from housing to control over behavior provided by the company. Obviously, it did not work, so author next continue discussion of labor movement including new personages like Debs.
- Things Fall Apart,
This chapter starts with Mark Hanna and political maneuvering of McKinley and his tariffs policy. Then it continues describing labor relations and how people start adjusting their lives to unpredictability of labor market and need to maintain saving to handle it. Author also discusses public domain issues such as roads and public lands. At the end of chapter author looks at appearance of judicial activism and ideological background that gave birth to it – rejection of democratic governance as inadequate and ineffective and call for experts to take over.
- An Era Ends,
The final chapter is about the end of post-Civil War era that came with election of McKinley for the second term with Teddy as VP. Even when republicans triumphed in election 1896, their ideology of classical liberalism was in deep decline and mass government intervention into just about everything was just around the corner.
In conclusion author retells his main points: failure of liberalism to substitute slavery with effective system of contract labor, decline of independent agrarian producer, and raise of labor, capital, struggle between them, ideological movement to socialism, and consequently raise of government in all areas of live.
MY TAKE ON IT:
This as a pretty good and detailed history and I think it shows quite well that decline of traditional American culture and raise of government was a very logical response to industrialization and decline of opportunities for individual producers not only to compete but even to survive in the world of big business closely connected with government. It is also very interesting in demonstrating the extent to which removal of slavery was based on little supported ideology of abolitionism and necessities of war, rather than on rejection of this institution by either Southern or Northern societies, including southern slaves who put relatively little resistance to reestablishment of white dominance. Probably the most important, albeit not really obvious lesson here is that overall huge change of society that occurred after Civil War went amazingly smoothly with relatively small bloodshed. I think it demonstrates significant advantages of Democracy as the system that allows resolution of core issues of society via relatively peaceful interaction of its different forces.