The main idea of this somewhat biographical book is to present resent history of Russia and Russian-American relations via the prism of initially young and idealistic American supporter of democracy in love with Russian culture and people who actively participated in Russian democratization after the fall of Soviet Union, who later become diplomat and eventually American Ambassador to Russia at the time when this country was in process of transfer from temporary democratic aberration to normal for Russia authoritarian rule. One of the most important objectives of the book is to justify actions of Obama administration in relation to Russia and demonstrate that these actions had no bearing on negative developments in this country.
- The First Reset
Here author narrates his story as an American who was born right after Caribbean crises of 1962. He grew up during Cold War, being indoctrinated into leftist politics and scared of Reagan. All this caused him to develop deep interest in Soviet Union, learn Russian, study International relations, and enroll in language program in Leningrad in 1983. In Leningrad author found Soviet Union neither scary nor oppressive, obviously it was true for American student in love with Russia. He came back in 1985, this time to Moscow to spend a semester there, somewhat losing his excitement about Soviet System and learning to recognize, at least somewhat, depravity of real socialism. This followed by description of the next few years of Gorbachev when Soviet system was falling apart while author worked on his PhD dissertation. The diminished political power of Communist party signaled coming of revolution and opened space for various democratic NGOs. Author could not stay away, so he moved to Russia and become an active participant of one such organization – NDI organizing meeting, supporting other logistics, and interacting with wide variety of people all this time being on Fulbright fellowship. In process he got into sights of KGB as probable American intelligence officer.
- Democrats of the World, Unite!
Just 2 months after completion of author’s fellowship in 1991 Communists tried coup and failed, opening gates for wholesale change not only in the political system in Russia, but also for complete dissolution of the Soviet Union.
- Yeltsin’s Partial Revolution
At this point in 1994 author moved to Russia with his wife and joined Carnegie Moscow Center, actively participating in political discussions with various political players, promoting democracy in mass media, and supporting Yeltsin and his administration through elections of 1996. After this the gap appeared and start growing between USA and Russia initially in international relations: former Soviet East European allies joining NATO, conflict in Serbia, and war in Chechenia. The final blow was Russian economic collapse of 1998 leaving Yeltsin’s regime in shambles and forcing peaceful and barely noticeable transfer of power to KGB forces represented by Putin.
- Putin’s Thermidor
Here author discusses Putin’s strategy of semi-restoration of whatever left of the former Soviet Union that included creative recombination of old Soviet power structures slightly repainted such as KGB renamed into FSB, formal retention of the new democratic institutions like political parties and non-governmental media, while making impossible for media to remain independent or for other parties really compete for political power. Even symbolic things were reshuffled into combination of new and old such as return to the old Stalinist era Soviet anthem from 1940s with the 4threwriting of its words. Also, very important was Putin’s deepening of market reforms in economy, albeit with retention and increase of top-level government control and forceful suppression of oligarchs who potentially could become base of competing political power. Author also describes USA-Russian relations of the period that moved from Putin’s sincere help on 9/11 at the beginning of decade to his anti-American speech in Munich in 2007. Author also refers to his writings about Russian affairs that caused protest from Russian Embassy and, as author believes, make him an enemy to Putin. However, the chapter ends with Putin formally complying with constitution and ceding kind of supervised presidency to Medvedev, while moving into less visible position of prime minister and retaining real power.
- Change We Can Believe In
This is about author’s participation in Obama’s campaign and formulation of reset policy towards Russia. Here is author’s formulation of its objectives:
- Launching the Reset; 7. Universal Values; 8. The First (and Last) Moscow Summit
The continuation narrates an attempt to actually implement this policy and achieve these objectives. Mainly it is about interplay between Obama’s diplomacy, Medvedev and Putin. Medvedev was Putin’s placeholder when Putin in compliance with constitution stepped down from his position as president. It pretty much comes down to good cop/bad cop game, which was somewhat successful for Putin since he got pretty much what he wanted.
- New START
This is about arms control treaty that was left over from Soviet/American improvement of relation in Reagan / Gorbachev era. Obama’s objective was officially: the world without nuclear weapons, but per author’s description there were significant problems from Russian side who sincerely supported Obama’s intention as long it was limited to American weapons and were very reluctant to decrease any Russian weapons and even pore reluctant to allow onsite inspections. Per author narrative it looks like main barrier to extreme decrease in American weapons was outside Obama’s administration – Pentagon and Senate. It is also interesting how they achieved ratification by the Senate.
- Denying Iran the Bomb
This chapter about Obama’s outreach to Iran has a bit misleading header. In reality it is more about strenuous effort to help theocratic regime to survive and assure international support for its legitimation. It includes lots of interaction with Russia in effort to increase sanction in order to convince mullahs that it would be better for them to follow Obama’s path of low-key acquisition of bomb with international help, but without much of blustering.
- Hard Accounts: Russia’s Neighborhood and Missile Defense
This is about difficulties of working with countries – former Soviet satellites convincing them that accommodation to Russia and Iran are in their interests.
- Burgers and Spies
This is about Obama’s meeting with Medvedev in 2010, which was seemingly successful, but then was negated by discovery of Russian illegal spies network in USA.
- The Arab Spring, Libya, and the Beginning of the End of the Reset
This chapter is interesting by author description of Obama’s administration approach to Arab Spring. They were pretty happy to see secular dictators like Mubarak and Kaddafi overthrown and substituted by representatives of Islamic movement. Interestingly enough it led to public disagreement between Putin and Medvedev with former expressing strong unhappiness about pushing out these dictators, while Medvedev demonstrating willingness to follow Obama to support “democratic” empowerment of Islamists.
- Becoming “His Excellency”
The final chapter of this part describes process of author’s becoming American Ambassador to Russia just when Reset policy start moving to dust been of history. It happened after Medvedev, despite making some weak noises about running for the second term, opened road for Putin’s return to formal power.
- Putin Needs an Enemy—America.
This part is about author’s tenure as USA ambassador to Russia at the time when Putin came back as president and decided that it would be beneficial for him to use America as symbolic enemy. Author describes how demonstrations against voting irregularity impacted Putin and his regime. This follows by description of harassment and use of link to American Embassy to accuse people in treason against Russia and in being American agents. There is somewhat interesting part of people that author knew during his activities in 90s as democrats that slowly, but reliably become Putin’s apparatchiks, executing very undemocratic policies against others.
- Obama and Me Photos
This is just a set of pictures relevant to author’s story.
- Getting Physical
This is more detailed narrative of multiple cases of harassment against author, his family and other Americans in Russia by Putin forces.
Here author is trying to present Obama’s administration response to Russian hostilities in many areas, but it really sounds funny, especially when author characterized as most important pushback attempts to remind Russians about good old times of reset and win-win relationships. Overall it was somewhat meaningless propagandist mini war.
- Twitter and the Two-Step
This is description of author’s seemingly successful attempt to use twitter to communicate directly with Russian public.
- It Takes Two to Tango; 21. Chasing Russians, Failing Syrians;
- Dueling on Human Rights
This is description of various failed attempts to maintain meaningful relations with Russia and several areas: arms control, business, human rights, and internationally, especially on Middle East. Author pays special attention to the story with Syria, trying present in the best light Obama’s actions or inactions.
- Going Home
By summer of 2013 author and his family run out of power and decided that enough is enough. This chapter describes process of resignation and disengagement from Russia and people there.
- Annexation and War in Ukraine; 25. The End of Resets (for Now)
This is about events occurring after author’s return home when US-Russian relations completely nosedived with Ukraine revolution against Russia propped forces, Putin’s annexation of Crimea, and little war against that country. All this caused implementation of sanctions against Russia and put it in the most hostile position against USA since the end of Soviet Union.
Epilogue: Trump and Putin
This is a typical dribble of Obama’s official against Trump, mainly repeating standard democratic narrative and demonstrating only that author has no clue about what Trump and his movement is, what they are trying to do, and why they actually quite successful in doing it.
MY TAKE ON IT:
It is a nice narrative of leftist’s travel from enchantment with Soviet union from afar, deep disappointment of close encounter, euphoria of semi-revolution or, more precisely, falling apart under the weight of corruption and dysfunctionality of the real socialist system, period of hope for something new and beautiful, not really fully conscious participation in the Obama’s leftist movement aiming to bring America in the same place where Soviet Union was before, and the first row observation position in the process of Russia going back to its traditional authoritarian roots. It is also a nice example of encounter of typical American academician with practically non-existent real live experience with tough KGB bureaucrat used to dealing with such naïve guys in interrogation room. It does not relate only to the author, who at least did deep diving into Russia for a while, but to the whole Obama team. It would be funny and a nice plot for comedy if not very sad consequences: much more strong and assertive authoritarian Russia, slow moving war in Ukraine, somewhat more energetically moving war in Syria, and reappearance of Russia as military power, albeit without any serious underlying economic power. In short – without Obama Putin would be history and non-authoritarian Russia would probably be much friendlier to USA.
The main idea here is to review history of corruption in Democratic society, especially in USA, and demonstrate how it worked in the past, how it works now and propose some technical measures to diminish corruption and some legislative measures that could curb it at least somewhat.
- THE UNITED STATES OF CORRUPTION
- Our Machiavellian Moment:Pay-for-Play Networks Republican Virtue
Author starts here with a movie plot when FBI set up sting operation when agent pretending to be foreign businessmen bribed American politicians. Then author somehow links it to “Citizen’s united”. From here author goes to real “Pay to Play” operations like Clinton foundation. Author uses this to present Republican Virtue as counter force that was acting in America since it’s beginning and actually was a part of the reason of its creation as reaction to corruption of British officials.
- Excusing Corruption:The Mutual Protection Association; The Polemarchist;
This chapter refers to Tocqueville who clearly saw political corruption in America and compared it with family centered aristocratic institutions of France that he preferred. The interesting thing here is an idea that politics is kind of remedy against American individualism, creating sort of mutual help society, which just one of many mutual help organizations that were so popular in America at the time, but now declined with expansion of government. Author also discusses here Polemarchism that he defines as different attitude of network member to fellow member vs. out-of-network others. He illustrates it by referring to rich experience of Clinton and Obama networks. Finally, author presents a point of view of Apologist who basically states that for example Clintons should be allowed to be corrupted, because they do a lot of good and/or because they comply with various formal procedures.
- The Silent Killer: Rent-Seeking; Measuring Corruption; The Cost of Corruption; The Rule of Law
To estimate cost of corruption, author refer to TARP and sugar subsidies, but does not come up with any quantitative estimate. It follows by discussion of rent seeking behavior, regulatory capture, and a couple examples of how it is done. Then author presents estimates of corruption via polling:
- The Dream of a Virtuous Republic: The Separation of Powers Federalism;
Money; Three Proposals
This starts with deviation to history and reference to earliest dreams of virtuous republic without corruption. After that author reviews ideas that were supposed to prevent this problem at American foundation, but mainly failed to do so:
- The separation of Powers
- Limitations on money in politics.
Instead author proposes his own 3 rules to curb corruption:
Il. THE SEPARATION OF POWERS:
- An Anticorruption Covenant:The Constitutional Convention Filtering Virtue; Choosing a Virtuous President
This is about Constitutional convention and how founding fathers tried to set up rules that would prevent corruption. Franklin suggested unpaid public officers so it would make it unattractive for individuals without sufficient wealth. Madison and majority preferred division of power with checks and balances and with general election of a virtuous president. It was expected that limited franchise would produce electorate of self-sufficient men who would not be easy to bribe, consequently assuring elected official acting in interests of common good for all people.
- What Corruption Meant to the Framers:Republican Virtue; Extensive Virtue; Governing Above Faction Private Virtue; Religious Virtue—and Vice
This is an interesting peace because 250 years is a long time and culture changed a lot. So, the notion of corruption was somewhat different. It was based, for example, on experience of king James who just used treasury at will and other processes of wealth transfer typical for monarchy – gifts, patronage, and such. Founders were looking to instill republican virtue, which meant work on behalf of public with no pecuniary interest whatsoever. Author defines supporters of this vision as Country party. Other vision was that individuals always greedy and it is inevitable that voters will be bribed. Therefore it is necessary to have powerful and wealthy leaders and independent voters so these leaders could not be corrupted. Author also discusses different types of virtue, as it was perceived at the moment, including, private and religious.
- The Promise of Virtuous Government:Reining in the Presidency; Electing a President; Impeachment;
This is about the debate that followed decision to establish powerful presidency that involved search for methods of limiting this power just in case when president happen to be not that virtuous. The first step was clear separation of power, preventing members of legislature to be included into executive power at the same time. It was done mainly to prevent corruption observed in British parliament. Another issue was presidential election, that was decided by Electoral College, which originally gave power to choose electors to the states and only over time moved to much more democratic form of nearly direct elections when majority within states and their weighted representation are deciding, leaving open possibility of minority of voter effectively distributed providing for majority in Electoral College. Author also discusses solution for vice-presidential position and election that proved to be ineffective and was changed early in the history of Republic. Finely, some serious attention was paid to Impeachment process to prevent Executive power from taking over.
- How Did That Work Out?Minoritanian Misbehavior; The Democratic Presidency Power and Corruption; A Grim Logic
The final part is about how did it eventually worked over the next 250 years and it is not the pretty picture. Congressmen bring home bacon, bribing voters and, as result, stay congressmen for live. Interest group capture legislation all the time, getting nice staff like indestructible sugar subsidies, and so on and on. Democratically elected president courting specific groups of population in strategically selected areas to obtain college majority and often does something in interest of small group of supporters at the expense of majority. In short American Constitution proved to be no match to human ingenuity in pursuit of corruption. However, it is still the best working system comparatively with all others ever tried.
- Federalism and Corruption:Bigness and Badness; Smalliness and Badness
It starts with discussion of origins of American Federalism. It was not an original intention of founding fathers, but rather necessity to accommodate small states without which any agreement would be impossible. Madison’s original idea of federal veto over state led to nowhere and eventually the principle of federal power as controller of interstate interactions rather intrastate live was established. Over time state power diminished and federal power grew dramatically and consequently corruption distributed among the state moved up to federal level. One exception is power of courts and author discusses in some details corruption of local courts in one specific case of money extorsion from Canadian company Loewen.
- The Mississippi Story: Mississippi Burning; Mississippi Cashes In
This is discussion of another clash between local Mississippi courts and Federal power, this one the older case of civil rights era. The second part of the chapter is about more contemporary story of tort lawyers’ extortion racket backed up by unwavering support of local judges.
- Designing a Virtuous Justice System:The Genius of the Framers’ Constitution; Genius Frustrated
This starts with discussion of design of American Justice system. It was based on 3 main decisions: selections of judges, their removal if corrupted, and allocation of judicial power between state vs. federal courts. All three decisions were based on multiple compromises and author briefly describes the final system established by the Constitution. After that author discusses complete diversity precedent established by Supreme Court in 1806 and how it allows everybody to sue everybody in any court, creating a mess and huge opportunities for corruption.
- The Silver Bullet: The Way Back; State Judicial Elections; A Judicial Aristocracy
After condemning American plaintiff friendly justice system in the previous chapter author points out here that there is no simple solution. He starts with discussion of McDonald coffee case that he presents not as aggreges as it is usually thought. The solution author proposes: state court should be permitted to compete in their judge made rules for out of state parties; Class action Act should be modified and author proposes how; State judicial elections processes should be modified. Finally, author praises American quasi-aristocracy of federal judges.
- Bribes: The Ordeal of Francis Bacon Corruption of the Heart; The Limits of Bribery Law
It starts with warning about problem of corruption of judges and then moves to the story of Francis Bacon, his bribery and eventual confession. After that author discusses contemporary bribery case when judge took bribes to sentence juveniles to prison terms in order to supply prisoners for private jail. The final part of the chapter is about political bribery when everything done without direct money transfer and often is not even possible to clearly identify as a bribe.
- The Republic of Defection: The Dismal Dialectic; Crimes of Democracy; The U-Curve
Here author compare what he believes are low and high trust countries: USA and Canada. He uses immigration issue in which Canada provided more assistance and on better terms than USA with wide support of all political forces. As crimes of Democracy author reviews cases of Dinesh D’Souza and his unusually harsh treatment and operation of political democrats in Wisconsin against Scott Walker. Finally, discussion moves to overall dynamics of Anti-corruption laws that usually are not very effective and often just become a tool for corrupted officials. Here is graphic representation of this dynamic:
- Policing Crony Capitalism: What Doesn’t Work; Disclosure Requirements;
Contribution Limits; Spending Caps
The next stop is Crony capitalism when government helps some private businesses at the expense of others. Author demonstrates how typical legislative measures: Disclosure, Contribution Limits, or Spending Caps work to this end.
- Three Reforms: Mandated Anonymity; Suspect Donors; Chinese Walls
Here author suggests a few reforms that he believes could help to limit political corruption:
- Mandated Anonymity – politicians should not know who gave them money
- Completely forbid donations from donors suspected in expectation of potential payback, such as government contractors
- Similarly to suspected donors, Chinese wall between donors, bundlers, or lobbyists and appointments to various government positions
17.The Heavenly City of the Enlightened Reformer
Here author reviews various schemas for keeping politics clean such as public financing or voter vouchers for political donations and demonstrates that they basically not really workable. Author ends quite pessimistically pointing out that in election of 2016 highly corrupted Hillary Clinton received majority of votes indicting that people in democracy do not really object to corruption that much.
MY TAKE ON IT:
This is an interesting review, but it does not touch at the core of corruption common for all societies democratic or not. This core is ability of individuals with place in political/bureaucratic violent hierarchy of society to use this place for control over application of violence resulting in transfer of resources produced by other people to themselves. The idealistic form of corruption, when these people use control over violence to satisfy not their material, but rather psychological needs by forcing other people do something they do not want or not do something that they want, somehow is not considered as corruption, even if it causes people often much more pain and suffering than any amount of taxes and bribes could ever do. It is also often demonstrates that power is fungible, meaning that forbidding something, for example homosexuality creates opportunity for individuals in power exchange laxity of enforcement for bribes.
This corruption is inevitable and will always be with us as long as we have violent hierarchy of society involved in any activity that is not prevention, retaliation, or retribution for violence. As long as such hierarchies of individuals in power are involved in the redistribution of resources and/or control over individuals, they will always use this power to satisfy their needs and wants, which is practically definition of corruption.
The main idea here is to discuss origin of live based on the new idea that it resulted not from random mix of different organic chemicals, but from similarly random dynamic interaction of constrains that result in origination of regularity and local rejection of the 2ndlaw of thermodynamics. Author presents notion of autogen – self-generator created by dynamic constrains of Autocatalysis and Capsid formation and defines it as the bridge between material world of cost and effect and living world of selves and aims they try to achieve. It is also an attempt to derive implications of this approach for multiple philosophical questions from determinism vs. free will to science and values interaction.
1 THE MYSTERY OF PURPOSE
Author starts with the statement that this book is about purpose and how it emerges from purposeless phenomena. The ambition here is to use science to provide explanation for this. Author defines here the main notion used in this book: self, which is practically everything living from grass to humans and then defines four questions:
- The Nature of Selves
- The Origin of Selves
- The Nature of Aims
- The Origin of Aims
He also defines reasons for this:
- Link between Selves and their aims.
- Link between Origins and Natures
After defining his objectives, author discusses attitude to these “mysteries”, commonality of everything living, the very notion of purpose, which he links to self-direction. He also discusses the mystery of live and the facts, that so far nobody was able demonstrate, of how non-living matter becomes living. Author claims that the question of origin of live is solvable and presents approach of his lead Terrence Deacon who concentrates on transition from Cause and Effects to Means and Ends behavior. The qualitatively different approach here is that Deacon removes assumption that one need addition to achieve new quantity, positing that it could be achieved by additional constrains, or in other words by subtraction. Author points out that molecules in a body are the same that elsewhere and therefore could move freely. Constrains are what limits these molecules to move only within body, creating conditions for self-regeneration, which is the key feature of living.
- THE BIGGEST MYSTERY WE EVER IGNORE
The mystery here is appearance of selves and their difference from non-selves. Author posits here the difference between non-selves and selves as difference between Cause-Effect pair and Means-Ends. Where former is just happening naturally, while latter defined by selves’ actions. After that, author looks at the notion of information as something specific for selves or machines working for selves. Author discusses bridge in human notions between selves and non-selves that is difficult to close and looks at various attempts typical for human culture to insert invented selves elsewhere where there are gaps in understanding of reality. It is especially interesting when humans hit transformation point from selves to non-selves as at the point of dying.
- DEACON’S SOLUTION IN BRIEF
Here author presents the brief version of his teacher’s solution to the problem of appearance of highly organized selves in the world of the 2ndlaw of thermodynamics. This solution is based on the idea of random constrains that occur naturally, limiting range of movement for molecules of non-selves, which in some cases could lead to increase of local orderliness. Author defines emergent vs. imposed constrains and posits that these constrains could lead to emergent self-regulation, which in turn could lead to regeneration and consequent establishment of circular self with somewhat dynamically stable conditions of birth – live with continuing intertwining of deterioration and self-repair – reproduction by creating another self that combines similarity with variation – death. Author concentrates on the notion of self-regeneration, which includes: self-protection, self-repair, and self-reproduction. Author introduces here idea of autogen that includes higher and lower levels of emergent constrains that causes self-generating selves.
Il. FRAMING, THER MYSTKRY
- TWO SOURCES OF CHANGE
Here author going into details of changes process. He discusses two toolkits: cause and effect, which is purely material and happens consistently all the time; and means and ends, which depends on selves and happens with great variety depending on selves and their internal and perception of external conditions at the moment.
This is look at what is self and author pretty much defines it as everything alive and then goes into discussing differences between human vs. non-human selves. Then he goes a bit into Descartes Body/soul (self) dichotomy. Somehow author comes to conclusion that selves are non-material based on the strange idea that living and dead bodies are materially the same (which they are obviously not).
- TWO GHOSTS, TWO MACHINES
This starts with discussion of supernatural ghosts that author obviously rejects and equivocal ghost or homunculi that kind of manage us from inside. This is also rejected as unscientific. The right approach is emergentism, which seeks to explain transition from one state to another via cause and effect dynamics to selves with time. After dealing with ghosts author moves to machines and defines them as either functional or non-functional depending on whether they serve selves or not. The final part is discussion of teleonomy, meaning impression of purpose, resulting from Couse/effect laws of nature.
It is about typical notions that make sense only in relation to selves such as: FOR-NESS, ABOUT-NESS, and interpretations of behavior.
Similarly, author discusses aiming as constraining meaning that when selves aim at something to de-liberate them from something else. Author looks at differences between human approaches to aiming, which is pinpoint aiming in both time and space, but it is much less precise for other selves. Author also discusses here determinism, which is rejected and then pairs: determinism vs. probability, and probability vs. possibility.
- EVOLUTION’S LIMITED LIMITING ROLE
The final chapter of this part is about evolution and author stresses its aimless character. However, he points out that only selves have aims that could evolve because of variance: generation, not replication. The final point here is that Darwin’s “Origin of species” is somewhat a misnomer because we do not know about origin, we only know about transformation. The origin itself – that is production of living self from non-living materials, is still a mystery.
III. DEAD ENDS, LIVE CLUES
- THE HISTORY
Author starts this with example of various functional causes going back to Aristotle:
From here author goes to discussion of Christian and Islamic attitude to causes and tendency to insert god into causal relationship whenever gaps in understanding occur. This tendency was greatly undermined by development of scientific approach, which makes god a lot less necessary for understanding the world and practically useless for predicting future outcome of actions.
- EVOLUTIONARY THEORY’S ELUSIVE SELF
The next stop is discussion of evolution. First it discussed from the Darwin point of view and then going to Dawkins with his “selfish gene” and “blind watchmaker”.
- INFORMATION ABOUT NOTHING FOR ANYONE
Here author moves to Shannon and theory of information, which is basically theory of imperfect communications.
- THE ENGINEERED GHOSTS IN OUR MACHINES
Here it is computer that is object of discussion or more precisely its ability to imitate humans and Turing test. Author seems to believe that computers could eventually become selves, but we are far away from that. Finally, author discusses “reverse engineering fallacy” that means science first. In reality engineering often comes first when something is done and works without doer understanding how it works. There is a nice statement here “The map is not territory”.
- SMALL IS DUBIOUS
The final peace is about small particles approach to the search of understanding of live in quantum mechanics and physics. Author provides a brief review of a number of approaches, none of which he considers valid:
- GROUNDING A SOLUTION
- PROCESSES OF EMERGENT ELIMINATION
This starts with discussion of materialism vs. naturalism. Author states that naturalism is wider notion because it includes absences, which materialism does not. Author also includes dynamic changes into natural, but not material phenomenon. Then he moves to interesting part of discussing processes of elimination vs. processes of production, with former being natural processes leading to creation of selves, while latter are typical for selves. Another unusual approach here is discussion of negative scientific breakthroughs. Author refers here to evolution, which works by eliminating unfit, information theory where message received is whatever left of message sent, and cybernetic self-organization, which eliminates states of the system inconsistent with its functioning. Finally, author moves to discuss selves’ emergence of new dynamic paths. The application here is to look from elimination point of view, for example instead of what makes something alive to look at what prevents something from dying.
- SECOND LAW
This starts with an interesting question: what is more complex frog or blended mix of its parts? Author position is that blend is more complex because in one case parts are organized and easily identified, while in the mix everything is elsewhere preventing categorization. Author present is as 2ndlaw of thermodynamics – entropy. Normal movement from simple – organized staff to complex, mixed staff is according to this low, but the puzzle is how regularity such as selves were created in the first place. Author’s response is that it happens via irregularities that constrain path of movement, generating regularity. One of examples – paths development when more walked on path becomes more and more attractive for walkers, consequently becoming a road. Author’s here is that nothing added, but rather potential paths are eliminated.
- EMERGENT REGULARIZATION
It starts with discussion of material constrains like walls, which are defined as imposed constrains. Author present another form of constrains – self-organization as emerging constrains created throughout dynamics – something like turbulence created by mix of currents of the river or crown movement out of stadium. This follows by discussion of top-down causality and critic of notion of self-organization, which author wants to substitute with new term: emergent regularization. This emergent regularization means increase in constrains eventually leading to self-regeneration.
- EMERGENT REGULARIZATION VS. EMERGENT SELF-REGENERATION
Important point here is that emergent regulation is temporary and local effect, but it produces self-generation that from this moment on start producing highly regulated material. Author provides example of fossil fuel that is at its core such regulated material with high concentration of energy created by selves. After that author refer to Schrodinger’s idea of unknown laws of nature that possesses negative entropy – negentropy that would differentiate living from non-living material. Author’s point is that emergent regularization is practically doing just that. After that author defines self-regeneration as combination of 3 fundamental capacities presented in such way:
At the end of the chapter he discusses interaction between these 3, which is quite complex because they impose opposite demands.
- OTHER EMERGENT REGULARIZATION DYNAMICS
Here author surveys 3 types of emergent regulation dynamics:
- Benard Cells – regular pattern created by heated oil due to variance of temperature between layers of this oil.
- Autocatalysis, when there is closed loop of catalyst supporting chain of reaction leading to production of more of this catalyst.
- Crystals, which author calls frozen regularity. Author uses it as sample of aperiodicity somewhat similar to DNA.
At the end author discusses 3 what he calls “proposed missing links, falling short”, each of which has a camp of supporters:
- COUPLED REGULARIZATION PROCESSES
The chapter starts with reference to Kant and his machine’s motive power vs. life’s formative power, the last one being systemic with everything interconnected creating vector from means to ends. Deacon and author’s approach is different and based on idea opposite to usual: the whole is less than sum of its parts. In other words, it is the system of reciprocal constrains that author calls synergistic coupling. One candidate for such coupling is Eigen’s hypercycle – coupling of multiple autocatalytic processes. After that author discusses “Error Catastrophe” when various processes in the system go out of sync, which in author believe would prevent hypercycles from creation of live. Another candidates discussed are “autopoietic units” formed by autocatalytic processes that create membranes. Author believes that this is unlikely scenario due to low probability of such occurrence. Author provides more details on this, but concludes that all this is not enough to generate life.
- DEACON’S SOLUTION
- AUTOGENS: SELF-GENERATORS
This is discussion of autogen and its use as a model for origin of live. Here is pictorial presentation:
Author discusses autogen cycles and its dynamic constrain tendencies resulting in self-generation for which it meets all 3 requirements: Self-protection, self-repair, and self-reproduction.He also looks at information collection from environment and self-cleaning, concluding at the end that autogen provides for evolvable reproduction at the edge of chaos.
- EVOLVED AUTOGENS
This is the next step in the theory of autogen – adding selectivity to autogen interaction with environment. This obviously allows for evolutionary development because selectivity and choice is what allow for preferable survival of selves that do it more effectively. After that author moves to discuss replication and currently dominant origin of life theory based on RNA replicators. At the end author discusses hypothetical scenario for templates being incorporated into autogen providing for autogen lineages ability to inherit random monomer sequences.
- WHERE IS THE SELF?
The first question here is if autogen is self. So far it is all theory since an autogen is still to be generated in a lab or observed spontaneously arise in nature. After that author goes into discussion of reciprocity of parts in living body and so is autocatalysis vs. capsid formation could be considered reciprocal, creating entity that has an aim of not ending. Here is the illustration of such super primitive self:
At the end author points out that self is not really material object similarly to whirlpool, which is not material condition of material water molecules. Therefore, what author calls synergetic coupling of Autocatalysis and Capsid formation could start evolutionary process expanding all kind of entities that combine all three basic capacities: self-reproduction, self-repair, and self-protection.
- THE CONSEQUENCES OF SELF-REGENERATION
Author starts this with discussion of trying, which he defines as specific characteristic of selves’ attempt to avoid ending. He then moves to consequences of trying: emergence of good and bad, self-other relationship, foresight, and memory.
- THE INTERPRETING SELF
- CODES, SIGNS, INTERPRETERS
Here author is using autogen in attempt to analyze selves at their most primitive level so to avoid complexities added by evolution. He starts with functional constrains, the first one being a coincidence of autocatalysis and capsid formation being together (dynamic constrain) and the second: catalysts clustered together in autogen seed (static constrain). Consequently, author discusses information first theories of live, DNA and link of information transfer functionality to selves.
- KINDS OF SIGNS
Here author looks at nature and functionality of signs, symbols, and symbolic systems. The most important probably here is discussion of interpretations and the notion of only selves being able to interpret anything at all.
- A CONSTRAINT-BASED APPROACH TO EVOLUTIONARY THEORY
Author looks at implications of autogen theory and notes that template – DNA is redundant and this gives the freedom to explore. He also points out that evolution is basically theory of constrains because they are causing selective pressures and remove unfit. Author critics a simplified idea of evolution and promotes idea that selves at least somewhat drive evolution of choosing what aims they are trying to achieve. He is trying to provide an adjustment that is based on 3 R: Redundancy, Relaxation, and Repurposing.
- IMPLICATIONS FOR THE WILL DEBATE?
Another issue is implication of this theory to the free will. Author claims that will is neither free nor determined, but rather it is complex source of action predefined by selves’ aims. He rejects an idea that motor neural activities occurring before conscious decision demonstrate absence of free will, it only demonstrates that organism is more complicated than simple top down hierarchy. After that author discusses categories, symbolic interpretations and unexpected consequences. While rejecting determinism, author also rejects simplified application of Heisenberg uncertainty principle to selves, stating that we have incomplete determinism in the probabilistic world. He also discusses theory of chaos pointing out that normally butterflies do not really create hurricanes. Finally he discusses a notion of strange loop, which is ambiguity of causes and effects relationship, concluding that “We evolved selves are strange loop also, tangled hierarchies of levels of representation. Our DNA is not full representation of all constrains, but rather loose set of molecular representation of temporal and developmental constrains not reducible to chemical dynamics.
- MAKING SCIENCE SAFE FOR VALUE
It starts with the discussion of Hume’s guillotine: oughtis not deducible from is. In other words science cannot speak to questions of value. Author suggest that if oughtmeans value for selves; they could be expressed via selves’ aims. Author then moves to science / religion contradiction and suggest that it should not prevent scientific approach to values, which is not deterministic and does not involve anything supernatural, but rather based on selves who have aims resulting in forming values and negotiating between each other over these values. He ends with the point that the higher value for humans should be self-preservation as the one and only symbolic life.
MY TAKE ON IT:
I find the approach via subtraction (constrains) rather then addition to the problem of origin of life very interesting, but very difficult to test in any conceivable settings. It does make a lot of sense and is quite possibly explanation close to reality. However I think that implication of it to all philosophical questions being a bit of the stretch, except for the idea of difference between living and non-living objects as between selves that have aims and material objects that have no aims whatsoever and just being moved by natural phenomenon of cost and effect. I think it would make sense to add that selves’ aims depend on their material condition in time and space, which defined by complex material cause – effect events that consequently prompt selves initiate action that seek to achieve aims via probabilistically predictable cause-effect events.
The main idea of this book is to analyze history of war and use of violence between human groups from earliest possible time to the present and look at its possibilities for the future use of violence for similar purposes. This analysis demonstrates that was used from the beginning of human existence and that it decreased with advance of modernity, but that there is no guaranty that this decrease is permanent.
Past Imperfect: Prehistory and History
- When Did It All Begin?
The question posited here leads author to review not that much history, but prehistory, that is going before last 1500 years of the existence of the states. The old philosophers’ answers: either Hobbs or Rousseau obviously just speculations without any empirical support whatsoever. So, author looks at archeology for answers, but does not find enough help there because primitive weapons used for hunting and fighting are practically the same. Human skeletons are also not that reliable because they become common only in the last 10,000 years when people start burying dead. More reliable evidence of war – fortification of settlements and traces of their violent destruction exist only in parallel with development of agriculture. However, research on contemporary hunters – gatherers and our close relatives – chimpanzees demonstrated validity of routine character of violent competition. Biologically odd notion that species don’t kill own kind is disproved many times over. In short – fighting and killing both organized as a group and individual seems to be with humans since the beginning.
After this review author discusses philosophical approach: Rousseauism and its expansion that tried to put observable fighting between tribes to interference of external forces whether researchers or colonizers (ideas of tribal zone). All this was thoroughly disproved by anthropological and archeological evidence. Author provides details of such research in Australia. Finally, author states his position that War and Peace are both Biologically Embedded, Alternative, and Complimentary Behavioral strategies for survival.
- Why People Fought in the Evolutionary State of Nature
Here author moves from establishing facts of fighting to analyzing reason for it. The obvious are: Competition for subsistence resources, fight for reproduction opportunities, Dominance, and Revenge. From reasons of fighting author moves to its consequences: resource consuming arms race with eventual Red Queen effect of running to stay in place. After that author looks at other war/peace strategies related to supernatural, psychological cause from playfulness to sadism, group promotion and survival. The final part is the discussion of evolutionary impact of fighting when it could be the best available option for survival.
- The Clash of the State-Leviathans
This is about massive state violence that came to live with advance of agriculture. Author discusses the first states that appeared about 5000 years ago and relatively quickly started growing in size and power. Author makes point that it is difficult to define which direction of the violence was more important: internal directed at state’s subjects or external directed at subjects of other state. In any case, however, that the violence had always been the very core of state’s existence is out of question. The interesting point here is that overall violent deaths decreased with advance of the statist form of society organization. In this author is completely in agreement with Hobbes: Leviathan provides more security. Also, is very interesting analysis of share of population involved in hierarchical violent state organization: basically1% of population to be organized, as an army and/or police, is typical throughout the history. After that author looks at different aspects of state based organization of society:
- Who gains materially, which is obviously individuals in control of violent machinery of the state. Author points out the important change: if in hunter-gatherer society struggle for resources was a zero-sum game, the states with their destructive capacities greatly increased conducted wars that created negative sum game overall with positive sum for winner and much higher negative sum for loser.
- From evolutionary point of view the state created huge sexual advantages for winners from soldiers’ mass rape of conquered to top leaders with huge harems. Current genetic research demonstrated hugely disproportional representation of some male genes in population – for example one man’s Y-chromosome assumed to be Chinggis Khan’s is present in 8% of population of Central Asia. Author also stresses role of sexual opportunities as motivational factor for soldiers.
- Motivation for achieving state power despite being a very high-risk position was very high-reward because it would provide access to all above. Author discusses evolutionary meaning of this high risk / high reward strategy pointing out that many the loser of power struggle had their line stopped altogether.
- There are also very important non-material benefits for the people at the top: status, prestige, and influence that come with them. All this provides huge psychological satisfaction that could not be neglected. Actually, multilayer hierarchical structure of state provides for identity and feeling of belonging that is important for even the lowest member of the society, especially if combined with some mobility for the most capable members of society.
At the end of chapter author discusses value and importance of war for state based society, stressing that contemporary attitude to war as senseless enterprise is ahistorical and could reasonably applied only to our time when war between top state is not win-lose, but lose-lose and not even a game, but certainty.
Flaws and Misconceptions in Disciplinary Grand Theories
This part is about the causes of war.
- Anthropology: Why People Fought (if They Did)
First author looks at it from Anthropology point of view as rejection of evolutionary approach. He quite nicely demonstrates funny side of this rejection of evolution. After that he looks at interaction of Cultural and Biological evolution and generally concludes that this complex interaction more supplemental then contradictory, while in either case could be deleterious for survival. In the second part author concentrates on material causes of war as source of resources and anthropological attempt to reject it. He tries to demonstrate that this rejection is not valid and mainly caused by poor understanding of evolutionary processes.
- The Causes of War (or Their Absence) In International Relations Theory
This is another disciplinary approach to the causes. Author looks at works on power by political scientists such as Morgenthau who discussed human motivation for power from economics point of view, then Waltz who took more systemic approach, and a few others. After that author moves to 3D systemic explanation: man, the state, and the international system. Finally, he discusses analysts who expanded it to 3D+time.
The Modernization Peace
- Has War been Declining—and Why?
Here author posits question of why war declines and at least somewhat rejects usual explanation – nukes by pointing out that there were long periods of peace in Europe before:
Author analyses level of devastation caused by war, but concludes that it could not be explanation because even ancient wars were highly destructive. Among other reasons for relative pacification author discusses cultural attitudes changes, better understanding of loses and increase in value of live. This was expressed by growing negative attitude to fighting and decrfeased interest in marshal glory. Author looks in a bit more details at Kant’s “Perpetual Peace” and others and them moves to the idea that democracies reject war. This notion is not necessary true that was demonstrated many times starting with ancient Greek democracies. The next step is to claim that liberal capitalism leads to peace, but it is also could not be confirmed. Author also discusses war as the method to resolve Malthusian problem and movement to the peace as consequence of resolution of this problem via science, productivity, and welfare state. Here are results of correlation analysis between war and different society structures:
Eventually author concludes that it is not one factor, but complex interaction of many factors related to modernity, from commercialization to sexual revolution, that made war less and less attractive and pushed it away from reality of contemporary developed societies.
- Challenges to the Modernization Peace: Past and Future
Author defines purpose of this chapter as an attempt to look back at most puzzling development that occurred seemingly against current of more peaceful world and try to learn lessons for the future.
The first he look at great wars of XIX and XX centuries starting with Crimean war. These wars, with exception of Crimean war, that was bout territories, were about national unity, self-determination, and independence. They were expressions of powerful nationalistic movements that were in conflict with retreating imperial and colonialist movements that defined previous centuries. Similarly to nationalist movements and often intertwined with them were ideological movements such as communism and anti-colonialism. They all represented alternative to liberal democratic modernity, but all eventually failed either in military or economic competition with this world. It does not mean however that new alternative could not developed such as authoritarian system with limited economic freedom such as China. Author discusses balance of power and how it changed over the last 150 years. He also discusses cultural difference and provides an interesting cultural map:
The conclusion of chapter is that modernization peace is real, but it is not guarantied for future despite increased interconnection of the worlds.
Conclusion: The Logic of War and Peace
The overall conclusion of the book is that there is no enigma in existence of the war and that it always was one of the tools that humans use in competition for resources and power. Moreover it is not human specific phenomenon- many social animal apply group fighting. As such tool the war used if and when cost/benefit analysis seems to be promising for initiator of the war. In contemporary world with its nuclear and other powerful weapons it is hard to believe that it could be possible. Consequently the war clearly disappearing from use in developed countries.
MY TAKE ON IT:
It’s a nice review of the issue and I agree that war is just another tool in evolutionary competition for resources and that humans used it as other social animals to obtain recourses in all their various forms: from arable land to turning other humans into slaves. I also think that decrease in the use of violence, either individual or group, is deeply connected to decrease in probable benefits and dramatic increase of costs with increase in power of weapons and effectiveness of policing. I think that war as such, will disappear and that it will happen as soon as developed countries stop playing with weird notions of humanitarian approach to war and apply full power of their weapons against anybody who wages war on them. It would require more powerful jolt than 9/11, but I think religious zealots eventually manage to achieve it, provoking annihilating retaliation after which war will disappear as a tool for achieving anything.
The main idea of this book is that usual instinctive approach to communication with intent to influence people does not work and that the newest psychological research with the use of such technology as MRI provides insight into works of human brain that in turn provides new methodologies of influence, much more effective than the traditional ones. Author allocates a chapter to each specific technic of influence from the use of factual data to use of fear and tries to demonstrate how new and better technics could be used.
Prologue. A Horse-Sized Syringe
The Surprising, Baffling, Mysterious Case of Influence
Author starts with describing her work researching human ability influencing others in the lab by manipulating incentives, emotions, context, and social environment. The objective is to obtain insights in the human behavior. After that she moves to present an example of manipulation – image of horse syringe used on children. Trump used it in GOP debate discussing vaccination with Carson. Author makes an important point that while Carson was correct from scientific side, the image overwrote this and gives Trump winning points with people, even if he was wrong. After that author moves to very interesting point presenting results of brain-imaging demonstrating pleasure that was created by communicated one’s ideas and opinions to others, especially if it changes other’s behavior. At the end she stresses two important points: one is that people typically communicate based on their mindset and knowledge, while recipient always has different mindset and knowledge; the other is the huge gap between believing and acting, which is typically demonstrated by attitudes to exercise: everybody believes it is good for health, but much smaller number of people actually does it.
- Does Evidence Change Beliefs? (Priors)
The Power of Confirmation and the Weakness of Data
The chapter starts with example of Franco-American couple in which spouse has preference for own country and cannot convince another to switch position. Author claims that usual way of argument based on attempts to provide logical and data support for one’s opinion and argue for this is wrong. The reason is complexity and amount of data and human tendency for confirmation bias, meaning selective use of data – accepting whatever confirms one’s view and rejecting whatever denies. Author presents a number of experiments supporting this and makes an interesting inference: more intelligent people are better capable to find data supporting whatever opinion they already have and/or twist data to support their opinion. At the end of the chapter author comes up with recommendation to find a common ground that would provide higher value than supporting one’s views and then provide alternatives. He example: parents concerned with vaccine / autism issue could be convinced by hem probabilities of other diseases preventable by this vaccine.
Key inference here: don’t reject opposite opinion without trying to find common ground that could breach difference.
- (Emotion) How We Were Persuaded to Reach for the Moon
The Incredible Sway of Emotion
This chapter demonstrates emotional persuasion by using example of Kennedy’s Moon speech. After that author examines impact of emotions in lab conditions when watching spaghetti westerns. The next step is a review of use of synchronized emotions for persuasion, first by discussing how to get to synchronization either via recollection of meeting spouse, then mother/ baby connection and finally by reviewing Facebook experiment on manipulation of emotions. Finally, author discusses synchronization via common experience like watching move when pattern of eyes movement common not only between people, but also with monkeys.
Key inference here: Emotions are contagious, therefore should be used cautiously.
- (Incentives) Should You Scare People into Action?
Moving with Pleasure and Freezing with Fear
Here author moves to the methods of controlling people. She discusses experiment with hand washing when positive feedback worked much better then threads and punishments. Author also discusses here Attraction and Avoidance using experiment with chickens on treadmill, which run after food when it is moving away, and then run away from food that is moving in their direction. Similar processes happen to people. She also discusses freezing reaction even in case of emergencies that seems to be counter the need for survives as in deer in highlights case. Author’s explanation – it is just a method of survival by pretending to be dead to merge in non-living environment. At the end of the chapter she takes on marshmallow experiment from something different point of view: not usual willpower approach, but rather unpredictability of future, meaning that forfaiting a smaller reward now for future bigger reward is actually weighted by probability of this future reward to arrive.
Key inference here: Warnings and threats work poorly, encouragement and positive immediate feedback work much better.
- (Agency) How You Obtain Power by Letting Go
The Joy of Agency and the Fear of Losing Control
It starts with discussion of rationality of fear and disconnect between what people fear and what it really dangerous:
This follows by discussion of control and influence: both are being source of agency without which humans become stressed and fearful. There is an interesting point here about taxes, which are obviously very unpleasant part of live. Author suggest that by allowing people define what taxes used for greatly improves attitude – at least in lab experiment with students it led to increase in compliance from 50% to 70 %. Then author dig into the notion of control, defining it as choice common not only to people, but also to animals. The next point is that choice has price and this price paid when choice is not the best in investment and other areas of live. Author discusses a couple of experiments demonstrating that people generally do it consciously sometimes giving up agency for expected gain, but sometimes not. Finally, author makes another point that possession of control in live makes people healthier and happier. Author also added that experiments and just common knowledge show that people by far prefer and value the product of their own effort comparatively to the same product produced by others.
Key inference here: If one wants people to do something, the best way is to frame it in such way as they want to do it themselves. Agency makes people happy.
- (Curiosity) What Do People Really Want to Know?
The Value of information and the Burden of Knowledge
The discussion of information value starts with flight security announcement that nobody really paying attention to as example of important information missed. Then it moves to the story of individual losing important benefit due to unethical acquisition of information just to get it a bit earlier. Similarly, experiment on monkeys demonstrated that they also value information highly enough to pay for it. The next point is joy of anticipation for some good news and conscious evasion of a bad one represented by such typical occurrence as disease test avoidance. Another valid statistical example is people’s frequency of checking their investment accounts correlation with market movements. The final note is about our constant attempt to filter out unpleasant information and cherry picking of pleasant.
Key inference here: People want good news, so frame message as possibility of progress, rather than doom.
- (‘State) What Happens to Minds Under Threat?
The Influence of Stress and the Ability to Overcome
Author starts with examples of irrational mass panic: running people in New York, multiple girls simultaneously showing symptoms of illness without any indication of actually being sick. After providing examples of mass hysteria, author describes experiments on information processing under the stress, which demonstrated increase in acceptation of negative information under the stress. The next comes look at sport games where stress presented in very clear form, which author uses to discuss situation of playing safe vs. going out all the way when there is perception of nothing to lose.
Key inference here: Identify and prevent influence of others on your emotional state.
- (Others, Part I) Why Do Babies Love iPhones?
The Strength of Social Learning and the Pursuit of Uniqueness
Here author discusses tension that humans experience between strive to be unique and to be as everybody at the same time. She starts it referring to baby name selection and then moves to use of iPhone by infant to copy behavior of adults. She also provides some other examples of mass imitation such as a movie killing sales of Merlot. Another interesting example is that, despite deficiency for donated kidneys, people refuse the ones that were previously rejected. At the end she discusses theory of mind and stresses an important point: compliance with the group position that individual not really agree with drops dramatically if there is at least one person challenging the group.
Key inference here: Be mindful of (over) social learning and do not imitate choices of others.
- (Others, Part II) Is Unanimous as Reassuring as It Sounds?
How to Find Answers in an Unwise Crowd
This is about wisdom of crowd and cases when it works: crowd contains independent minds with divers experience; and when it does not work – crowd just a bunch of conformists. It starts with example of unanimous rejection of literary work that followed by individual acceptation of this for some idiosyncratic reasons, leading to non-conformist getting very rich like in example with Harry Porter.
Key inference here: voting should be not equal, but weighted by competence level of voter.
- The Future of Influence?
You Mind in My Body
This is about humans being social creatures that developed language so sophisticated that no other animals can match and then following it up with writing and now with computers. Then author describes experiment with connection between brains of two mousses, which learned to control each other actions. The experiment was then expanded to humans using non-intrusive methods and achieving successful communications. Author ends with claim that such direct connection is just imitation of our usual methods: language, mimics, and lots of other methods.
MY TAKE ON IT:
We seem to be experiencing overload of attempts to understand and influence people in all areas of live by using results of psychological research based on brain scanning. It is an interesting phenomenon because at the bottom of these attempts one can find reaction to failures of the last hundred years of collectivistic utopias. From the new Soviet or Nazi man that was supposed to be created by steely hand of totalitarian government to the soft nudging of people to do whatever elite of society believes is good for them, all these attempts hit hard into reality of human nature and go down in flames. This book is kind of combination of technics of influencing people and technics to resist such influencing. As such, both sets of technics are easily observable in mass media and political activities, providing for a nice entertainment. I, however, do not believe that these attempts could ever be successful. The reason for that is not that much complexity of human being, as complexity and fluidity of environment combined with continuing change in each individual’s mind and body while he/she is going through multiple internal age and circumstance related changes. At any given moment a multitude of people could be influenced by the same stimuli to move in different, sometime opposite directions so combined vector of movement is not possible to define. To do this would require defining psychological and mental status of all members of this multitude, which is not possible regardless of amount of computer power available. And since external force moving people in direction they do not want to go makes people unhappy and sometimes violent, the only reasonable solution, if one wants to achieve peace, prosperity, and maximum happiness, is providing as much freedom as possible and support it with availability of resources, without which the freedom is not real.