The main idea of this book is that contemporary development in societal arrangements in developed countries and technological development provided for increase longevity, which made existing lifecycle modes with predefined periods of childhood, maturity, and retirement outdated and unsustainable on the long run. Author proposed to substitute this model with the new one with much less segregated periods of activities when learning, working, and leisure/travel distributed much more evenly throughout lifespan and conducted continuously, so the person would relearn and probably change profession a few times, travel around the world not in retirement, but in young and middle age, and even avoid retirement all together by continuing doing productive activities that he/she enjoys nearly to the end.
It starts with presenting the new problem – significantly extended life span of western population. For example number of 100+ years old people quadrupled in 4 years. It extends complex social and financial problems of how to provide for people who are inactive, waiting for the end of life and assure sufficient levels of Social security and Medicare financing for these people. Author suggest that there is need to rethink meaning of old age and refers to her own experience when in her twenties she was immobilized for months after incident, staying in one room with 3 old women and learning about problems of people who cannot take care about themselves. This started her career in psychology, which eventually became centered on problems of aging. Author differentiates two different processes of aging: one for educated and affluent people who mainly remain active both physically and intellectually and another one for poor uneducated people without access to anything beyond various welfare handouts.
2 – What Is Aging?
Here author is discussing and trying to debunk 5 myths about aging:
- The “Misery Myth” that older people are sad and lonely
- The “DNA Is Destiny Myth” that your whole fate is foretold in your genes
- The “Work Hard, Retire Harder Myth” that we should rush to exit the workforce
- The “Scarcity Myth” that older people are a drain on the world’s resources
- The “We Age Alone Myth” that how we fare in old age is entirely an individual matter, and not a function of society
The debunking is going this way:
- People in old age are not miserable, they just change mode of living: value more simple everyday things, small circle of friends, stronger marriages, more specific and shorter term goals, and so on. All this makes people quite happy in old age.
- For this author provides multiple evidences that DNA, while important, is not definitive. One of this is:“A Harvard University study that’s been running since the 1930s, tracking the lifelong health of both Harvard graduates and people born in inner-city Boston, shows that longevity hinges largely on seven lifestyle choices, which, if made by age fifty, serve as excellent predictors of well-being after age seventy. They are not smoking, not abusing alcohol, getting regular exercise, maintaining one’s weight, and having a stable marriage, an education, and good coping mechanisms for dealing with life’s troubles.
- Here author supports idea that productive activity is very beneficial during aging process, but also that it is necessary because lack of financial security. So author promotes all kinds of part time and voluntary work.
- Here author states that it is not a problem and then for some reason discusses overpopulation, which is not happening in developed country and is in process of ceasing in undeveloped ones. Author rejects idea of intergenerational war for resources, as well as idea of older people keeping good jobs and preventing advancement for younger people.
- The final myth rejection based on numerical strength of baby boomers and increased easy of communication and transportation. However author stresses need for resource and its direct link to longevity: “The difference in life expectancy between the most and least affluent Americans nearly doubled in the last twenty years, from 2.8 years in the early 1980s to 4.5 years at the turn of the century. To pit extreme demographic variances against each other, affluent white women now live, on average, fourteen years longer than poor black men in America.”
3 – Reenvisioning Long Lives
Here author discusses need to review the notion of live as 3 Acts play: Growing and Learning with minimal if any participation in productive activities, Act II – full time productive activities, and Act III – leisure and decay with no productive activities.
Author suggests changing it into 5 Acts play:
- Beginning with government provided retirement saving account with the main objective being to prepare individual to lifelong learning and easy change of profession.
- The increased productive activities starting sometime in 30s, but not too heavy so they would leave plenty of space for art, travel, leisure and so on. Author think it would be a good idea to underwrite this pace by keeping parents working at least part time.
- Middle age when people actually take full responsibilities for their society and production of goods and services it needs. However author insists that it should also be moderate, leaving place for family and everything else.
- The turning point at social security age from mainly productive activities to some kind of minimized version of such activities with maybe “encore career” and/or voluntary activities.
- Resolution sometime in 80s, meaning slowly fading away while joining with young people in acts 1 and 2 to transfer knowledge and wisdom and do something good.
4 – The Social Side of Aging
This is about need for aging to continue maintaining social connection with other people, as absolutely necessary because humans developed to live and act in groups with no possibility of surviving alone. Author refers to multiple studies that demonstrate deleterious effects of social isolation. Author also discusses age related changes in social interaction modes from expansion of connections in young age with quantity preferred to quality to contraction of connections with age, with intense concentration on quality of these connections. Author also looks here at institutionalized connections like marriage and grand parenting.
S – Collective Supports: Social Security and Medicare
This chapter is more about social policies providing safety net for old and unproductive people with no savings. Author discusses typical calculation of these systems running out of money if nothing change and current trends continue. Author looks at different group of SSA recipients: wealthy for whom social security provides 30% of income, middle class for whom it is 50-60%, and poor for whom it is 80% and more. After that author weights in social security funding and reform discussion, making it clear that she believes it is not insurance program, but rather social support program. She also rejects ideas of its privatization. However, she does not go to anywhere beyond Simpson-Bowles Debt Commission with its suggestion to increase retirement age and similar “lets steal more from middle class” ideas. She demonstrates similar approach to Medicare.
6 – Investing in Our Future: The Case for Science and Technology
This starts with discussion about causes of increased longevity such as improvement in hygiene that increased averages without real impact on longevity of people who did not succumb to early age diseases. Then author moves to interesting part of epigenetics and new science of human life cycle that stresses need to start working on longevity of organism right after inception. This follows by discussion about continuing body conditions monitoring throughout lifetime that would allow early corrective interventions to prevent development of unhealthy conditions. At the end of chapter author complains that 90% of science developments directed to serve 5% of richest people in the world, meaning citizens of countries that conduct such research.
7 – What Might Go Wrong?
Here author expresses concern that current trend of increase in longevity should not be taken for granted and lists some scenarios how it could go wrong:
- We fail to imagine new models of live
- We spend like there is no tomorrow
- We fail to address current health threats
- We let the poor stay poor
- We forget to plan for the children
8 – Ensuring a Long Bright Future
The final chapter summarizes author’s opinion about successful aging, which is based on her experience in life and results of scientific research such as need to be active and effective in four key areas: Relationship: Social and Family activity; Finance: Work longer, save more; Intellectual Activity: Learn throughout your life; Health maintenance: Take care of your body;
MY TAKE ON IT:
Like author I also think that existing mode of aging and retirement is not sustainable, but not only in relation to life span, but also for overall society organization because the automation is already pushing people out of work place, while health maintenance developments are making traditional pattern of intergenerational resource transfer ineffective. I think that author is too much of a socialist, even if she does not really understands it, to offer any viable solutions in economic and financial areas, but her psychological and gerontological experience makes her advice for health, both physical and mental, in old age quite valuable. I personally practice what she preaches and can confirm that it works as advertised, at least so far.
The main idea of this book is to demonstrate validity of author’s understanding of consciousness that he developed during decades of working with mental patients, specifically with individuals who had brain hemispheres disconnected. This understanding denies not only some immaterial mind, but also some centralized organ or functionality of the brain that creates consciousness. Instead author sees human brain as complex combination of multilayered modules, which are activated in response to external and/or internal signals and temporary take control, supplying symbolic representations of its activity that we perceive as consciousness.
Author starts with clear statement what he means by consciousness: ”Plainly stated, I believe consciousness is an instinct. Many organisms, not just humans, come with it, ready-made. That is what instincts are, something organisms come with. Living things have an organization that allows life and ultimately consciousness to exist, even though they are made from the same materials as the non-living natural world that surrounds them. And instincts envelop organisms from bacteria to humans. Survival, sex, resilience, and walking are commonly thought to be instincts, but so, too, are more complex capacities such as language and sociality— all are instincts.“He also states that consciousness is not property of some central mechanism in the brain, but rather property of local brain circuits. After historical review of the notion of consciousness and thinking about it in part I, author presents his understanding of technical architecture of the brain and it’s functionality. The part III moves in two directions – one, being somewhat philosophical, discussing animate vs. inanimate matter, and somewhat practical, discussing processes in the brain that typically linked to notion of consciousness. At the end of introduction author provides a wonderful analogy that very clearly presents his believe about work of consciousness: “Conscious linear thinking is hard work. I’m sweating it right now. It is as if our mind is a bubbling pot of water. Which bubble will make it up to the top at any given moment is hard to predict. The top bubble ultimately bursts into an idea, only to be replaced by more bubbles. The surface is forever energized with activity, endless activity, until the bubbles go to sleep.“
Part I: Getting Ready for Modern Thought
- History’s Rigid, Rocky, and Goofy Way of Thinking about consciousness
This starts as detour to history, discussing ancient Egyptians and Mesopotamians who assigned consciousness pretty much to all natural forces. Greeks where the first who separated “It” and “Thou”, creating philosophical foundation for scientific approach when “It” (Nature) has no intentionality, only naturally existing sets of rules – natural laws that work always the same and therefore could be understood and used in human action without fear that these rules could change. Author illustrates this point by looking at thinkers from Aristotle to Descartes. Especially interesting is approach dividing human consciousness into “It” of brain and “Thou” of mind.
- The Dawn of Empirical Thinking in Philosophy
This is retelling of appearance of contemporary scientific approach to everything, including consciousness, in mid-seventeen century England. Author looks at thinking of several individuals who developed philosophical approach based on more or less scientific method, all the way until XX century: Hobbes, Petty, Willis, John Locke, David Hume, Arthur Schopenhauer, Franciscus Donders, Francis Galton, and Wilhelm Wundt. The chapter ends with discussion of Darwin’s evolution and Freud’ unconscious mind.
- Twentieth-Century Strides and Openings to Modern Thought
The chapter for XX century starts with recognition of two camps: the rationalists and the empiricists and author presents position of each camp. Author also specifies positions of pragmatists who believed that action could be caused by mental state and behaviorists who assumed that mental state could not be known and therefore only action-reaction analysis is meaningful. The behaviorist’s ideas were quite dominant in America until late 1950s when attacks from psychology, language, communication, and improving technology that provided validity for neuroscience, pretty much moved these ideas to irrelevance. Author then reviews modern philosophical approach to mind/body from Vatican supported research to works of atheist philosophers like Dennett. Finally author discusses research pioneered by Francis Crick of DNA fame, looking to establish direct correspondence between any given mental state and correlate condition of neural network in the brain. This is pretty much author’s position and he formulates it in such way: “I will argue that consciousness is not a thing. “Consciousness” is the word we use to describe the subjective feeling of a number of instincts and/ or memories playing out in time in an organism. That is why “consciousness” is a proxy word for how a complex living organism operates. And, to understand how complex organisms work, we need to know how brains’ parts are organized to deliver conscious experience, as we know it.”
Part II: The Physical System
- Making Brains One Module at a Time
The main thrust of this chapter is that the brain is not one integrated whole, but really a multitude of loosely related modules that were evolutionary developed to fulfill different functions beneficial for survival and what we call consciousness is really sequential activation of various modules, which in any given point more important for organisms’ survival with other modules working in somewhat subdued mode as long as their functionality does not acquire higher priority. Author supports this point by demonstrating examples when loss of some functionality of brain follows by complete removal of knowledge of this functionality’s previous existence. Similarly brain is quite susceptible to creating fictional reality if it is necessary. Based on his research with divided brain, author proposes a model of unconscious brain and autobiographical brain with main function of former being to keep organism going, while main function of latter being to give some order and make sense of perceived signals in order to construct picture of future, design survival plan, and consequently activate subconscious modules to start implementation of this plan. Author discusses in some details this modularity and its advantages. Author also compares humans and animals and concludes that based on multitude of research data there is no clearly defined qualitative difference between them. The difference is rather quantitative – amount of neurons and especially connections defined as Neuropil volume is much higher in humans. The final point here is: “We are on the road to realizing that consciousness is not a “thing.” It is the result of a process embedded in architecture, just as a democracy is not a thing but the result of a process.”
- The Beginnings of Understanding Brain Architecture
Here author uses human created complex machinery like Boeing 777 to demonstrate how complex is this machine with some 150,000 modules that actually designed to do a very simple thing – move people from one place to another. This follows by discussion about “The robust, the complex, and fragile” and tradeoffs necessary to make it all work and notion and exemplars of the Layered Architecture that allows such complex system to work effectively. This feat achieved by providing some autonomy to multitude of modules at multitude of layers, consequently providing for a multiple realizability of organism’s functions.
- Gramps Is Demented but Conscious
In this chapter author demonstrates that conscious is deeply ingrained and practically indestructible quality of organism, which would not be possible if it was some centralized functional organ or combination of organs. Author’s extensive experience in neurological wards demonstrated that regardless, of which part of brain is destroyed by disease, and author saw just about every part destroyed in one patient or another, the consciousness still survives albeit in all kinds of perverse form often depending on which modules still work and which are not. This relates on only modules in frontal lobe that differentiate humans from others, but throughout all modules of the brain. The conclusion here is: “The incessant interplay between cognition and feelings, which is to say between cortical and subcortical modules, produces what we call consciousness.”
Part Ill: Consciousness Comes
- The Concept of Complementarity: The Gift from Physics
Here author moves away from his specialty into more philosophical direction discussing development of Physics from Newtonian determinism to Quantum mechanics and Statistical view of causation. Author discusses complementarity between wave and particle representations of reality, consequently declaring his believe that this principle similarly applies to mental representation of human via duality of mind and brain.
- Non-Living to Living and Neurons to Mind
This is about differentiation between living and non-living matter. Author again brings in Quantum Mechanics with reference to Howard Pattee and notion of die Schnitt, meaning separation of subject (the measurer) and object (the measured). Then author discusses work of von Newman on symbolic representation of replication and evolution, which is basically anti-entropy process of increase in complexity – the key characteristics of living matter. Pattee extended it to DNA as true code. Author also discusses Semiotic closure, the link that spans the gap between living and non-living matter.
- Bubbling Brooks and Personal
Here author moves to the notion of personal consciousness and starts it with reference to his experience with separated brain hemispheres, the surgery that creates two personalities from one. Author describes in details how it was discovered via observation of disconnect in division of work between left and right parts. From this he makes interesting conclusion that there is no specific mechanism of consciousness neither for the whole brain nor for 2 separate for each hemisphere. It is rather consciousness works as cognitive bubbles with different system popping up to the front with each being capable to evoke consciousness. The author describes experiments that demonstrate this process in more details.
- Consciousness is an Instinct
The final chapter summarizes presented information and formulates the main conclusion that consciousness is an instinct. Author discusses various understandings of the very notion of instinct and concludes that it is just faculty of producing certain ends without foresight, which could be inborn or developed via experience or, most probably, resulting from combination of both. Author refers to article by William James some 125 years ago defining meaning of instinct and links this to his understanding of consciousness. At the end he presents his understanding of future development in such way: ”What will the neuroscience of tomorrow look like? In my opinion, the hunt for enduring answers will have to include neuroengineers, with their ability to eke out the deep principles of the design of things. Such a revolution is in its early days, but the perspective it offers is clear. A layered architecture, which allows the option of adding supplemental layers, offers a framework to explain how brains became increasingly complex through the process of natural selection while conserving successful basic features. One challenge is to identify what the various processing layers do, and the bigger challenge is to crack the protocols that allow one layer to interpret the processing results of its neighbor layers. That will involve crossing the Schnitt, that epistemic gap that links subjective experience with objective processing, which has been around since the first living cell. Capturing how the physical side of the gap, the neurons, works with the symbolic side, the mental dimensions, will be achieved through the language of complementarity.”
MY TAKE ON IT:
Interestingly enough, this book somewhat connects two arias of my interest: complex systems working in groups of individuals and psychology of individual based on complex system working inside the brain into one philosophically consistent model: successfully functioning complex systems that could not possibly be build as top down centralized system, but rather had to be build as multilayered networks of modules that are taking control of the system on time limited basis in response to external and or internal signals. These signals either by instincts or experiences makes it necessary for organism or group to transfer from the less preferred condition to the more preferred. In the case of individual it makes sense if, as author suggests, the consciousness of individual in possession of the brain is part of this module functionality, only loosely connected with all others. Similarly for the group role of functional module is played by subgroup of individuals capable effectively coordinate their actions to convince or force enough individuals to move in direction of new condition. In both cases the new condition may or may not be truly preferable, creating condition for evolutionary selection or removal of individual or group.
The main idea of this book is to demonstrate in greatly simplified form how AI works, how statistical methods used, illustrate it with multiple entertaining examples, and assure people that AI is coming, but it is not scary and will work together with humans even if it sometimes will control many functions controlled currently by humans such as driving, robotic surgeries, and so on.
Here author discusses AI and its popularity. Author defines it as trainable algorithm when programmer does not define how process goes, but rather how program trains itself by processing multitude of data and the rules of probability. Then he goes through a brief history of AI and discusses anxieties it created due to resent dramatic improvement in its performance.
- The Refugee
The chapters starts with discussion of Netflix, the company that excel in using probabilities derived from huge customer base to propose movie selection. It is using conditional probability to do it. The author retells the story of Abraham Wald – refugee from Hungary who developed statistical analysis methods to generate recommendation on survivability and consequently protection of different parts of a bomber plane, and improve quality inspection protocols to decrease production defects. His work with planes included adjustments for survival bias, by using same assumption for all types of damage and calculating survival probability. After that author demonstrates application of Wald algorithm to Netflix processing.
- The Candlestick Maker
This is about pattern recognition. It starts with the funny story of thieves stealing toilet paper rolls in Beijing, which led to implementation of face recognition in public toilets and draconian requirements it caused for people to present their face in readable by computer form. The author goes a bit into details of pattern recognition based on statistical evaluation of inputs and outputs. After that author moves to astronomy and the story of Henrietta Leavitt who developed method for calculating distance to starts by using pulsation and brightness. One of results was reevaluation of distance to various starts and Hubble’s discovery of Andromeda being far outside of Milky Way. From here author formulates key ideas of pattern recognition in AI:
- In AI, a “pattern” is a prediction rule that maps an input to an output.
- “Learning a pattern” means fitting a good prediction rule to data set.
Here is a graphic example:
Author makes a very important point that in image recognition AI now can outperform humans. For example image “Alaskan Malamute” produced 5% error rate for humans, but only 3% for AI in 2016, down from 25% in 2011. This result was produced by 22-layer neural network.
- The Reverend and the Submarine
It starts with components of intellectual designs that go into self-driving car and how its software processes external objects. Then it goes to robotics revolution and SLAM (simultaneous localization and mapping) problem. To illustrate the problem author retells the story of missing submarine Scorpion and search for it, linking it to multistep Bayesian processing. Then author also links it to various applications from investing to medical diagnosis.
- Amazing Grace
This is about languages both natural and programming. Author suggested that we had 2 revolutions – one for each language: programming in 50s and natural language now, going from purely algorithmic construction to more probabilistic one. With this development computers had been achieving parity with humans in speech recognition. Author looks back at history to find tipping point of this development and for some reason uses story of Grace Hopper. Then he moves to history of computer software development from compilers to speech recognition.
- The Genius at the Royal Mint
It starts with the use of coin toss in sports and then moves to discussion of probabilities and anomalies, that allow identifying cheating. As illustration author uses Newton and his tenure at royal mint when he tried to fight money debasement and clipping by using Trial of Pyx – when accumulated over year samples where tested by the jury of experts. This method was not completely effective due to variability and Newton failed to fix the problem. After that author trying to demonstrate that contemporary statistical method would easily handle this challenge.
- The Lady with the Lamp
Here author moves to Florence Nightingale and her role in improvement of healthcare system, and use of statistical methods to achieve this. Author even calls her “The Mother of Evidence-Based Medicine”. It follows by illustration of contemporary problems and discussion of how AI could fix a lot of them.
- The Yankee Clipper
Somewhat unexpectedly author starts this chapter by cautioning against excessive enthusiasm for AI and pointing out at its dependence on assumptions that could easily lead to greatly diverse solutions produced with the same mathematical tools due to slight variance in assumptions. As illustration author uses data for Joe DiMaggio and some other examples, concluding at the end: Bias IN – Bias Out. As the final word author suggest that AI, even if it is unbiased and does better job than humans in many areas, should not be allowed to make decisions on its own, but should rather be used as quality of decision multiplier for humans.
MY TAKE ON IT:
It is generally correct description of ideas and math in foundation of AI, but I think that idea of AI working always under human control generally not realistic. AI is too fast and takes into account too many factors for humans to understand what, leave alone how it is doing something, so any detailed control is just not feasible. At the same time AI is just a tool, which is not conscious and therefore has no objectives or ability for self-direction. In short Self-Driving car would drive one anywhere, processing more information in seconds than this person could process in lifetime. However this car would never decide to go on car trip across the country for fun. In short I believe that AI will take over all routine and semi-routing jobs that human do for living both blue and white color. However since humans are the only self-directing entity in humans created environment, they will always decide “Where” and “When” to drive, even if reasons “Why” will always be sketchy, leaving to AI complete control over details of “How”.
The main idea of this book is to formulate meaning of grand strategy that author defines as “the alignment of potentially unlimited aspirations with necessarily limited capabilities”and provide a wide ranged confirmation from history and art to support this idea. It mainly demonstrates superiority of flexible approach to ways and means to achieve adjustable objectives over rigid subordination of everything to overreaching objectives.
ONE – CROSSING THE HELLESPONT
This narrative starts with discussion of Xerxes decision to cross Hellespont despite advise of his advisor and uncle Artabanus, who pointed to unpredictable character of the future struggle. Xerxes’ position is: “if you were to take account of everything . . . you would never do anything. It is better to have a brave heart and endure one half of the terrors we dread than to [calculate] all of the terrors and suffer nothing at all . . . Big things are won by big dangers.”
From this initiation author moves to Isaiah Berlin and his discussion on hedgehogs and foxes, applying it to Xerxes vs. Artabanus and defining Xerxes as a big idea man and Artabanus as “how to do” man, who can see complexities of undertaking. This follows by discussion of Tetlock’s finding about predictability power of experts, which is very close to none. The author moves to the main point of the chapter – need to establish a proper relationship between ends and means and discusses how exactly hedgehog Xerxes and fox Artabanus both failed: “The tragedy of Xerxes and Artabanus is that each lacked the other’s proficiency. The king, like Tetlock’s hedgehogs, commanded the attention of audiences but tended to dig himself into holes. The adviser, like Tetlock’s foxes, avoided the holes, but couldn’t retain audiences. Xerxes was right. If you try to anticipate everything, you’ll risk not accomplishing anything. But so was Artabanus. If you fail to prepare for all that might happen, you’ll ensure that some of it will.
Next author brings Scott Fitzgerald and his definition of the first class intellect:“the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.”
, the quality both Xerxes and Artabanus were lacking. Author then goes into literary discussion of several famous artworks that he believes are relevant, consequently formulating the main point of this book. The final part of the chapter discusses training and planning as forms of preparation to action, stressing that it is not possible to plan for all contingencies and to be trained for all variants of the future, but both are necessary if not sufficient for concentration of resources and development of skills, which in combination with bold improvisation and effective behavior during action dramatically increase possibility of success.
TWO – LONG WALLS
Discussion in this chapter is built around Peloponnesian war and Athenian reliance on the long wall and Navy versus Spartans reliance on impromptu actions and improvisations. Author discusses strategic value of expensive defense infrastructure, which often froze resources in places that may turn out to be not very useful because the opponent would take walls into consideration and would go around them. There is also very important psychological component: Athenians build walls on the back of farmers around the city, who were not really protected by these walls, so this strategy led to resentment of Athenians’ most important allies. Another downside was that by moving resources to infrastructure they starved warriors of weapons, training, and professionalism. It democratized war by removing class of professional warriors, but deprived Athens of effective human military component. Author then reviews details of the war and demonstrates how exactly the failure of strategy produced actual defeat. At the end of the chapter author links the hedgehog strategy and its inherent failure to American war in Vietnam, which was a classical case of such strategy.
THREE – TEACHERS AND TETHERS
Here author moves from Greeks to Chinese – San Tzu and their round about way of discussing strategy and everything else. The author finds here a way to tether a few principles to the practices, of which is many. The next teacher is Roman Imperator Octavius – great nephew of Caesar and very successful practitioner, since he did a lot and died in his bed of old age. Author reviews history of his actions in fight for power, especially fluidity of his alliances with Antony in fight with Sextus Pompeius. At the end of chapter author praises Octavius for his strategic success of turning dysfunctional republic into somewhat functional empire.
FOUR – SOULS AND STATES
This chapter starts with work of George Kennan who researched Siberian native tribes in 1870s. It is about divine representation of reality in the minds of people. The eye-opening event here is the ease with which Kennan nearly moved from his native Christianity into polytheistic believes of natives. This moves discussion from military and power struggle strategy to ideological strategy or strategy for salvation as Augustine and others practiced it. Author discusses “Confessions” and “City of God” in which Augustine concerned himself with tensions such as: order vs. justice, war vs. peace, and Caesar vs. God. Resulting standards that Augustine framed were presented in form of checklists that become foundation of his teaching. After that author moves to Machiavelli and his strategic advice to a prince, eventually offering analogy for Augustine as hedgehog and Machiavelli as fox who promoted the “lightness of being”. Consequently author discusses strategy of Borgia and his use of Machiavellian technics in power struggle. Author stresses importance of power balancing and provides corresponding quote from Machiavelli’s “Discourses”: “[I] t is only in republics that the common good is looked to properly in that all that promotes it is carried out; and, however much this or that private person may be the loser on this account, there are so many who benefit thereby that the common good can be realized in spite of those few who suffer in consequence.”
At the end author again invokes Berlin and his interesting interpretation of fraise of tolerance: “[T] here are many different ends that men may seek and still be fully rational,” Berlin insists, “capable of understanding . . . and deriving light from each other.” Otherwise, civilizations would exist in “impenetrable bubble[s],” incomprehensible to anyone on the outside. “Intercommunication between cultures in time and space is possible only because what makes men human is common to them, and acts as a bridge”
FIVE – PRINCES AS PIVOTS
The chapter starts with the statement that princes are always pivots around which society turns and thinkers such as Augustine or Machiavelli, while themselves being pivots of Western thought during their lives, were dependent on princes they served. Then author looks at two of them who competed in XVI century: Philip II of Spain and Elizabeth of England and strategy they applied. Here again author refers to rigidity of Philip and flexibility of Elizabeth to some extent explained by huge size and therefore inertia of his holdings and small size, compact, but with strong flexible arm of navy of Elizabeth’s realm. Her background gave her additional advantage of superb political training since her very survival was dependent on political skills and luck. Author refers to eventual triumph of Elizabeth as the strategy of small, but flexible force of England wearing out big and rigid force of Armada. One of the key elements of Elizabeth strategy was refusal to commit to anything as much as possible, always trying to leave place for maneuvering. At the end of chapter author discusses counterfactual novel about possible historical changes if assassin eliminated Elizabeth with all her foxy skills.
SIX – NEW WORLDS
Here author moves close to our time and discusses Monroe doctrine, which at the point of its establishment by John Quincy Adams in 1823 could not be realistically supported by USA due to its weakness. It is also interesting that at the time Spanish America, which USA were going to protect from Europe, was much bigger than its northern neighbor. Author stresses diversity of USA at the time when its states differentiated from each other far more than countries of Spanish America. Author discusses specificity of American population as it emerged from English development and freely developed in environment of benevolent neglect from mother country, allowing establishment of democratic institutions, armed and independent population, and unusual culture of self-reliance. Author briefly reviewing American developments starting from 1760s, which he separates into 2 revolutions – one of 1776 for independence and another – constitutional revolution of 1786-88, which created highly functional Union of the states with innovative method of rule via representative democracy. Interestingly enough, author stresses difficulty of this method confirmed by the fact that many countries find it extremely difficult to support, typically falling into some kind of authoritarian rule.
SEVEN – THE GRANDEST STRATEGISTS
Here author discusses theoretical strategists: Tolstoy and Clausewitz. He provides samples from both – writing about chaotic character of real battle and difficulty, or even impossibility, of making sense of any developments on the spot. Author looks at contradiction in their approaches when both promote determinism at the same time as being amazed by consequences of individual actions of actors such as Napoleon. After that author applies this thinking to Napoleon’s invasion of Russia and its consequences. Author provides concise summary for this: “(a) that because everything connects with everything else, there’s an inescapable interdependency across time, space, and scale— forget about distinguishing independent from dependent variables; (b) that, as a consequence, there’ll always be things that can’t be known— breaking them into components won’t help because there’ll always be smaller components; (c) that owing to what we can’t know, we’ll always retain an illusion of agency, however infinitesimal; (d) that while laws may govern these infinitesimals, they make no difference to us because we can’t feel their effects; therefore (e) our perception of freedom is, in practice, freedom itself.”
EIGHT – THE GREATEST PRESIDENT
This starts with comparison of John Quincy Adams to Napoleon in the scale and complexity of his initial intention when he became president with minority vote. It was also showed similarly clear lack of understanding of challenges of practical implementation of this vision. Then author praises Adams for his persistence after he lost reelection and became congressmen in petitioning against slavery and placing the Constitution within the frame of Declaration – all men were created equal. After that author moves to Lincoln and reviews his development into unusual non-patronage politician who put up containment of slavery as his key position, linking pragmatism with passion of realigning practice with Declaration. Author looks at ideological competition between Lincoln and Douglas in famous debates that made Lincoln into viable presidential material. Author also reviews developments of Civil War, discussing Lincoln’s underestimate of Southern resolve and his development as strategist. Unlike previous examples, in this case the big rigid and slow moving side of North won over flexible, mobile and tactically superior South, but only after slick generals like McClellan were substituted by dogged and commonsensical commoners Grant and Sherman who were fighting to win at any cost.
NINE – LAST BEST HOPE
This starts with description of fear of Americans that British Victorian Prime Minister Salisbury experienced together with contempt for democracy. He was afraid of Americans starting Napoleon like ideological war and would dream about helping Confederacy in order to keep America divided. Such interference did not occurred and ideological war also did not happen because of democracy, the system when regular people have say in politics, albeit in roundabout way. Eventually British increasingly democratic monarchy and Americans become more and more allied. After that author moves to Mackinder strategic paper “The Geographical pivot of History” and Mahan’s work on strategic significance of naval power. Author also discusses geopolitical and colonial strategies leading to WWI and then WWII and people who developed and applied them.
TEN – ISAIAH
Here author returns to the live and wisdom of Isaiah Berlin. He discusses Berlin’s role as analyst of American politics for British and his attitudes to Soviet Allies whom he correctly identified as the evil challenger to democracy. Then, after brief discussion of Roosevelt presidency, author moves to define liberty as positive: “hedgehogs trying to herd foxes” or negative:“foxes with compasses who “had the humility to be unsure of what lay ahead, the flexibility to adjust to it, and the ingenuity to accept, perhaps even to leverage, inconsistencies. They respected topographies, crafted choices within them, and evaluated these carefully once made.”
At the end author refers to political correctness and uses example of Robert Kennedy’s statement about unfairness of USA’s war against Mexico and its territorial gains, to which he was replied with question: “do you want to give it all back? Author uses this example once again to define grand strategy as art of proportionality: “the alignment of potentially infinite aspirations with necessary limited capability”.
MY TAKE ON IT:
I find the main thesis of this book about realignment of objectives and capabilities very reasonable and, despite its triviality, very difficult to implement. The many reasons for this include usually very sketchy understanding of objectives. The simple example is “the world peace”. At first thought it is great, but who would really want to live in the peaceful world based on Hitler or Stalin ideology, so any freedom loving person would wage war to the death on such “peaceful world”.
Another point of author – generally more successful approach of foxes vs. hedgehogs is also much more complex than it appears. The perfect fox has practically unlimited flexibility, but it is not possible in real live because of complexity of human action and its multistep character. This necessarily creates commitment that with each step forces continuation of initial direction. The simple example: any topographical allocation of resources based on plan A, makes it increasingly difficult to change suddenly to plan B that would require different topographical allocation. Overall it is a meaningful analysis of strategy albeit slightly overloaded with repetitive illustrations of the same point.