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20191229 – The Evolution of The Sensitive Soul
Authors define the main idea of this book as attempt to answer the question: “How did minimal animal consciousness originate during animal evolution?”
. This attempt is based on identification of a marker that indicate transfer from preconscious to conscious animal. Overall authors define three levels from self-maintaining activities to complete consciousness: “nutritive soul” – plants, “sensitive souls” – animals, and “rational soul” – humans. Authors define this marker the following way: ”the evolutionary-transition marker for consciousness is unlimited (open-ended) associative learning (UAL). This, we argue, was the phylogenetically earliest manifestation and driver of the evolution of sustainable minimal consciousness. UAL refers to an organism’s ability to attach motivational value to a compound, multifeatured stimulus and a new action pattern and to use it as the basis for future learning. We argue that UAL is a good transition marker because the features that neurobiologists and philosophers regard as essential for consciousness are also required for UAL. If UAL is accepted as a transition marker, one can identify this capacity in different taxa and provide an account of the distribution of consciousness in the animal world—a major issue with important biological and ethical implications.“
Introduction to Part I: Rationale and Foundations
Here authors discuss main ideas of the book and present brief descriptions and objectives for each part and chapter of the book.
- Goal-Directed Systems: An Evolutionary Approach to Life and Consciousness
Here authors describe their evolutionary approach and provide nice picture of Aristotelian approach to differentiation of all things living:
After that authors discuss some epistemological issues of defining life and present table of history for this in XX century:
2. The Organization and Evolution of the Mind: From Lamarck to the Neuroscience of Consciousness
In this chapter authors go through work and thinking of outstanding researches: Lamarck, Spencer, Darwin, William James, Pavlov, and Skinner reviewing developments up to the recent time.
3. The Emergentist Consensus: Neurobiological Perspectives
Here authors review contemporary status of the field and identify areas of consensus. Here is the graphic representation:
Authors link UAL to consensus of seven properties characterizing consciousness:
- Global activity and accessibility of information
- Binding and unification
- Selection, plasticity, learning, and attention
- Temporal thickness
- Emotions, goals
- Embodiment, agency, and a notion of “self”
At the end authors suggest:” that UAL is the transition marker for consciousness has obvious implications for the distribution question. Discovering whether or not UAL occurs in different groups could provide an answer to the question about which animals can positively be said to possess minimal consciousness.”
Introduction to Part II: Major Transitions in the Evolution of the Mind
Authors start by presenting 8 levels of genetically supported information processing in living objects identified by John Maynard Smith and Eörs Szathmáry:
(1) From replicating molecules to populations of molecules in compartments (protocells);
(2) From independent genes to chromosomes;
(3) From RNA as both an information carrier and catalyst to DNA as the carrier of information and proteins as enzymes;
(4) From prokaryotes to eukaryotes;
(5) From asexual clones to sexual populations;
(6) From single-cell eukaryotes to multicellular organisms with differentiated cells;
(7) From solitary individuals to colonies with nonreproductive castes
(8) From primate societies to human societies with language
Then they discuss their approach to research as development-oriented (evo-devo), in which they identify 5 research themes:
- First, using the comparative method, it is developmental processes from the fertilized egg onward that are being compared, rather than the biological features of adult animals.
- Second, there is a strong focus on the effects of genetic variations on embryonic development and recognition that some variants can have large, saltational outcomes.
- Third, the role of developmental plasticity—the ability of the same genotype to generate different phenotypes in different environmental conditions—and the primacy of developmental responses in evolution are highlighted.
- Fourth, the generation of developmental variations and their maintenance and inheritance within and between individuals—play a role in evolutionary explanations.
- Fifth, physical, chemical, and cybernetic constraints on the direction, mode, and tempo of development, and their role in evolution, are emphasized.
Then they discuss role of phenotype in selection and model of exploration – stabilization perspective on selection.
Authors also provide here brief description of remaining chapters of the book.
6. The Neural Transition and the Building Blocks of Minimal Consciousness
Authors start this chapter “with the building blocks of learning, provide an overview of the transition to neural animals, and discuss the molecular and behavioral components found in cnidarians, from which simple forms of associative learning, and later UAL, probably evolved. Authors link the evolution of the nervous system with the evolution of mobility and muscles. They also stress the problem mobility opened up: once moving macroscopic animals had evolved, they had to distinguish between the sensory effects of their own movements and those that were independent of their own actions, a difficulty that led to the evolution of new modulatory interactions between sensory and motor neural centers.”
7. The Transition to Associative Learning: The First Stage
In this chapter authors ” describe the evolution of limited associative learning and the problem that this great adaptive innovation brought about—the problem of overlearning. This stumbling block was partially overcome by restricting learning to surprising, newsworthy discrepancies between expectations based on what has been learned and the actual, current effects of a new stimulus.”
Here is graphic comparison of authors’ model with previous:
8. The Transition to Unlimited Associative Learning: How the Dice Became Loaded
“Building on the discussion in the preceding seven chapters, this chapter considers the transition to UAL and to minimal consciousness. Authors describe the functional neural architecture that constructed UAL, which, they argue, is the architecture underlying the simplest mental representations, and describe the different realizations of this architecture in vertebrates, arthropods, and mollusks. UAL led to a great increase in adaptability, but like limited associative learning, it also led to a severe problem of overlearning, which was evolutionarily solved by modulating the animals’ memory and their responses to stress.”
Authors also discuss UAL in Bayesian terms, somewhat linked to AI developments and provide nice graphic presentation of functional evolution:
9. The Cambrian Explosion and Its Soulful Ramifications
Here authors position their “evolutionary proposal within an ecological context. They suggest that the evolutionary emergence of limited and unlimited associative learning had dramatic effects, acting as an adaptability driver of the Cambrian explosion. Once in place, the evolution of UAL led in some lineages (notably, birds and mammals, but also in the very different cephalopods) to the emergence of “Popperian” animals, creatures endowed with imagination.”
Here is general presentation of author views on Cambrian:
10. The Golem’s Predicament
In this final chapter authors “discuss the continuity between life and consciousness, examine the possibility (and implications) of constructing artificial conscious beings, and outline a further stage in the evolution of consciousness: the transition to the human “rational soul,” to human symbolic-based cognition, and to human abstract values. This last chapter takes the form of a dialogue, with a critical reader who questions authors’ interpretations and who wants to understand the implications of our proposal for neural and cognitive consciousness studies, for the philosophy of mind, and for ethics.“
Here is the table authors compiled to present totality of development from non-living materials to rational (human) consciousness:
MY TAKE ON IT:
This is very well researched, logically constructed, and very convincingly presented view on evolutionary development of rational beings. I pretty much agree with authors approach and I think that presented understanding of interaction between genotype and phenotype is very plausible and probably quite close to reality. The limitation of this book to sensitive soul and especially final discussion shows authors understanding, that I fully agree with, of necessity of expanding research into group functionality in order to fully understand evolutionary meaning of rational soul. I really hope that authors will move into this direction and produce as well researched and analyzed book on this next step, as this one.
20191222 – Upheaval
The main idea of this book is that a crisis that occurs in lives of individuals and history of countries is an important and difficult process with unpredictable outcome. The response to such crisis requires mobilization of all individual and societal strength and abilities to overcome successfully. From detailed analysis of history of countries in crises author is trying to derive some rules how to handle crises successfully and then suggests ways to deal with what he considered current and/or potential crises in USA and the World.
Prologue: Legacies of Cocoanut Grove
Two stories—What’s a crisis? – Individual and national crises—What this book is and isn’t— Plan of the book
Here author refer to tragic fire in dancing hall in 1942 Boston that killed some 492 people. This tragedy caused multiple people, either survivors or relatives of victims to undergo difficult psychological crisis, which not all of them were capable to overcome. Here is how author defines crisis: ”one can think of a crisis as a moment of truth: a turning point, when conditions before and after that “moment” are “much more” different from one another than before and after “most” other moments.” After that author expands this notion of crisis from individuals to societies, providing as example history of Rome: ”a historian of ancient Rome might apply the word “crisis” to only three events after the foundation of the Roman Republic around 509 BC: the first two wars against Carthage (264–241 and 218–201 BC), the replacement of republican government by the empire (around 23 BC), and the barbarian invasions leading to the Western Roman Empire’s fall (around AD 476).” At the end of prologue author presents plan of the book, which is mainly discussion of historical crisis in several countries and look at the future for USA and the World.
PART 1 INDIVIDUALS
Chapter 1. Personal Crises
A personal crisis—Trajectories—Dealing with crises—Factors related to outcomes—National crises
Author begins this chapter with personal crisis story that he successfully overcame with the help of his father. Then he provides kind of algorithm of how to deal with crisis and discusses each item in his list:
PART 2.NATIONS: CRISES THAT UNFOLDED
In this part author reviews history of several countries where severe crises occurred and then connects these histories to factors that he provided in the table.
Chapter 2. Finland’s War with the Soviet Union
Visiting Finland—Language—Finland until 1939—The Winter War—The Winter War’s end – The Continuation War—After 1945—Walking a tightrope – Finlandization—Crisis framework Chapter
Here author retells the story of Russo-Finland winter war of 1940 and its continuation until 1945. Finland lost this war but not until it inflicted severe casualties on the USSR and caused serious ideological and psychological damage, eventually resulting in Stalin’s decision to tolerate its limited independence. Author makes point here that overcoming crisis took difficult steps of accepting Soviet humiliating demands and learning not to irritate this powerful neighbor.
- The Origins of Modern Japan
My Japanese connections—Japan before 1853—Perry—1853 to 1868—The Meiji Era—Meiji – Reforms—“Westernization”—Overseas expansion—Crisis framework—Questions
Here author reviews another crisis, this time from XIX century when Japan discovered that its traditional isolation stop working because Western military become so superior that it allowed force imposition of trade rules. Japan leadership successfully resolved this crisis by dramatically changing their behavior not only opening country, but also actively searching acquisition of knowledge and skills that consequently led to liquidation of military and industrial deficiencies, so within some 50 years Japan was able to win war against Russia in 1904.
Chapter 4. A Chile for All Chileans
Visiting Chile—Chile until 1970—Allende—The coup and Pinochet—Economics until “No! ‘— After Pinochet—Pinochet’s shadow—Crisis framework—Returning to Chile
This is review of another crisis, this time internal crises in Chile when socialist Allende, after being democratically elected, start moving to communist totalitarian regime. Chile’s society resisted, leading eventually to military coup. Author manages to maintain reasonably fair narrative retelling not only negatives, but also positive economic development that brought in relative prosperity to Chile after market reforms.
Chapter S. Indonesia, the Rise of a New Country
In a hotel—Indonesia’s background—The colonial era—Independence—Sukarno—Coup—Mass legacies—Crisis framework—Returning to Indonesia
This chapter is about another crisis, somewhat similar to Chile when leftist coup was stopped by military and consequential massacre of everybody even remotely on the left. This time the dictatorship was not able to move effectively to market economy and suppress corruption, so no happy ending occurred at the time. However author describes how he visited this country recently and found a lot less corruption and working economy.
Chapter 6. Rebuilding Germany
Germany in 1945—1945 to 1961—Germans holding judgment—1968—1 968’’s aftermath— Brandt and re-unification—Geographic constraints—Self-pity?-Leaders and realism—Crisis framework
This chapter about Germany concentrates on several crisis in this country and its post WWII history from division of the country to rise of Berlin wall to the fall of this wall. For some reason author pays lots of attention to students riot in 1968, but his main stress is on the change of this country from aggressive and highly militaristic to quite pacifistic.
Chapter 7. Australia: Who Are We?
Visiting Australia—First Fleet and Aborigines—Early immigrants
—Federation—Keeping them out—World War One—World War Two—Loosening the ties—The end of White Australia—Crisis framework
The final chapter of this part is about Australia, which did not have such tragic and bloody crises with wars or coups, just slow moving identity crises. This was pretty much recognition that Australia is not part of Britain any more and old mother country does not have neither resources nor will to provide protection and support. It was a slow process on both sides, but eventually Australia moved to practically complete independence, even if it still recognizes queen as formal head of the state.
PART 3 | NATIONS AND THE WORLD: CRISES UNDERWAY
In this part author moves to more consequential countries: Japan and USA and changes focus from looking back at historical crises to looking at ongoing crisis in these two countries, and what he believes could lie in the future not only for these two countries, but for the whole world.
Chapter 8. What Lies Ahead for Japan?
Japan today—Economy—Advantages—Government debt—Women—Babies—Old and declining—Immigration—China and Korea—Natural resource management—Crisis framework
This chapter is about what author believes is Japan crisis. The reasons are aging and decrease of population, debt, and not complete reconciliation with Korea and China after the war. He then moves through his list of crisis factors and checks pluses and minuses of Japan situation and crises handling.
Chapter 9. What Lies Ahead for the United States? Strengths, and the Biggest Problem The U.S. today—Wealth—Geography—Advantages of democracy—Other advantages—Political polarization—Why? —Other polarization
Chapter 10. What Lies Ahead for the United States? Three “Other” Problems
Other problems—Elections—Inequality and immobility—So what? —Investing in the future—Crisis framework
Similarly to analysis of Japan, only more detailed, is author’s analysis of USA that author provides in these two chapters. At the end he provides typical American summary:” What is going to happen to the U.S.? That will depend upon the choices that we make. The enormous fundamental advantages that we enjoy mean that our future can remain as bright as has been our past, if we deal with the obstacles that we are putting in our own way. But we are presently squandering our advantages.
Chapter 11. What Lies Ahead for the World?
The world today—Nuclear weapons—Climate change—Fossil fuels—Alternative energy sources—Other natural resources—Inequality—Crisis framework
Here author dutifully and obviously sincerely checks all the fears that academic class uses to scare people into agreeing for more taxes and more grants. He even provides very funny diagram describing how global warming works and a few numbers about resource depletion and population growth.
Epilogue: Lessons, Questions, and Outlook
Predictive factors—Are crises necessary? —Roles of leaders in history—Roles of specific leaders —what next? – Lessons for the future
Here author combines his two tables into one list and goes in details through each part at global level:
- Acknowledgment that one is in crisis
- Accept responsibility, avoid victimization, self-pity and blaming others
- Build a fence / selective change
- Help from other nations
- Use other nations as models
- National Identity
- Honest self-appraisal
- Historical experience of previous national crises
- Patience with national failure
- Situation-specific national flexibility
- National core values
- Freedom from geopolitical constrains.
At the end author discusses need for crisis for people to take situation seriously and do something to overcome it. He also stresses role of leaders, which importance could never be clearly identified.
MY TAKE ON IT:
It is a nice review of crisis situations, which nevertheless overestimates importance of crisis in many cases, underestimates human ability to handle them, and somewhat missing luck or lack thereof in crisis situations. I think that crisis situation itself is only indicator of how well entity, either person or nation, is adjusted to environment and how much resources, both tangible and intangible, this entity has for modification if needed. Author’s to do list is nice, but it would only work if both levels of adjustment and resource availability sufficient to overcome the crisis. Otherwise to do list is not going to help in the least. To take one of his many example at national level, the Japan Meiji success was possible only because it dealt with Western trading nations, which had no intention of conquest and subjugation while happily allowing Japan to acquire technology and know-how, the generosity for which these Western nations later paid a lot in lives and treasure during WWII. In case of Finland, its successful resistance in the winter of 1940 did not stop Stalin from winning this small war, but demonstrated that it would require resources for occupation and complete subjugation that Stalin, busy with Poland, Baltic States, and preparation for war, just was not willing to allocate. At the end of war Stalin decided that remotely controlled satellite placed within Western camp – kind of small trap door in Iron curtain, used as conduit for technology transfer and source of convertible currency would better serve his purposes than another soviet republic. In both cases success was not that much what was done by leaders of these countries, as what opportunities were open for them. Such opportunities were completely closed for others, like Poland or Baltic countries.
20191215 – The Coddling of American Mind
The main idea of this book is to demonstrate how contemporary American Academia violate or even trying completely eliminate the great Western tradition of free thinking and research, propagating untruths and hurting the young generation of students. It is also to demonstrate how this generation is already severally handicapped by development of super safe parenting, fear of exposure to reality, and social media that leaves young people with no experience of real social interaction by substituting it with remote electronic forms. The main idea also includes recommendations for how to move to wiser kids, universities, and eventually society by acting according to the rules and ideas of Western traditions that served well to create prosperous society that leftists are trying to destroy.
INTRODUCTION: The Search for Wisdom
Here authors explore untruth that currently taught to the young generations:
This is a book about three Great Untruths that seem to have spread widely in recent years:
- The Untruth of Fragility: What doesn’t kill you makes you weaker.
- The Untruth of Emotional Reasoning: Always trust your feelings.
- The Untruth of Us Versus Them: Life is a battle between good people and evil people.
While many propositions are untrue, in order to be classified as a Great Untruth, an idea must meet three criteria:
- It contradicts ancient wisdom (ideas found widely in the wisdom literatures of many cultures).
- It contradicts modern psychological research on wellbeing.
- It harms the individuals and communities who embrace it.
Authors also discusses in introduction their experiences as leftist academics who observed changes in universities from 1970 till now and got scared by massive debilitating impact on the young generation of massive indoctrination, suppression of free speech and free thinking and isolation of student from exposure to Western culture and its values.
PART I: Three Bad Ideas
CHAPTER 1 The Untruth of Fragility: What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Weaker
Here author discusses correctness of usual wisdom:” What does not kill you makes you stronger”, even if it is not absolute and critic its opposite that is in vogue in colleges right now. They refer to Antifragility, which is normal product of evolutionary process human development and retell how it is undermined by Safetyism, implementation of Safe spaces, and such. Their conclusions are:
- Children, like many other complex adaptive systems, are Antifragile. Their brains require a wide range of inputs from their environments in order to configure themselves for those environments. Like the immune system, children must be exposed to challenges and stressors (within limits, and in age-appropriate ways), or they will fail to mature into strong and capable adults, able to engage productively with people and ideas that challenge their beliefs and moral convictions. Concepts sometimes creep.
- Concepts like trauma and safety have expanded so far since the 1980s that they are often employed in ways that are no longer grounded in legitimate psychological research. Grossly expanded conceptions of trauma and safety are now used to justify the overprotection of children of all ages—even college students, who are sometimes said to need safe spaces and trigger warnings lest words and ideas put them in danger.
- Safetyism is the cult of safety—an obsession with eliminating threats (both real and imagined) to the point at which people become unwilling to make reasonable trade-offs demanded by other practical and moral concerns. Safetyism deprives young people of the experiences that their Antifragile minds need, thereby making them more fragile, anxious, and prone to seeing themselves as victims.
CHAPTER 2 The Untruth of Emotional Reasoning: Always Trust Your Feelings
This is about handling emotions and most important not to become slave of one’s emotions. One of expressions of emotional debility of contemporary students, especially leftist is disinvitation of speakers on campus. They provide nice graph for frequency of such idiocy:
Here is summarization of this chapter:
- Among the most universal psychological insights in the world’s wisdom traditions is that what really frightens and dismays us is not external events themselves but the way in which we think about them, as Epictetus put it.
- CBT is a method anyone can learn for identifying common cognitive distortions and then changing their habitual patterns of thinking. CBT helps the rider (controlled processing) to train the elephant (automatic processing), resulting in better critical thinking and mental health.
- Emotional reasoning is among the most common of all cognitive distortions; most people would be happier and more effective if they did less of it.
- The term “microaggressions” refers to a way of thinking about brief and commonplace indignities and slights communicated to people of color (and others). Small acts of aggression are real, so the term could be useful, but because the definition includes accidental and unintentional offenses, the word “aggression” is misleading. Using the lens of microaggressions may amplify the pain experienced and the conflict that ensues. (On the other hand, there is nothing “micro” about intentional acts of aggression and bigotry.)
- By encouraging students to interpret the actions of others in the least generous way possible, schools that teach students about microaggressions may be encouraging students to engage in emotional reasoning and other distortions while setting themselves up for higher levels of distrust and conflict.
- Karith Foster offers an example of using empathy to reappraise actions that could be interpreted as microaggressions. When she interpreted those actions as innocent (albeit insensitive) misunderstandings, it led to a better outcome for everyone.
- The number of efforts to “disinvite” speakers from giving talks on campus has increased in the last few years; such efforts are often justified by the claim that the speaker in question will cause harm to students. But discomfort is not danger. Students, professors, and administrators should understand the concept of Antifragility and keep in mind Hanna Holborn Gray’s principle: “Education should not be intended to make people comfortable; it is meant to make them think.”
CHAPTER 3 The Untruth of Us Versus Them: Life Is a Battle Between Good People and Evil People
This is about identity politics, which authors contrast with MLK’s common-humanity approach. Authors also discuss intersectionality and provide nice graph explaining this concept:
Here is the summary of the chapter:
- The human mind evolved for living in tribes that engaged in frequent (and often violent) conflict; our modern-day minds readily divide the world into “us” and “them,” even on trivial or arbitrary criteria, as Henri Tajfel’s psychological experiments demonstrated.
- Identity politics takes many forms. Some forms, such as that practiced by Martin Luther King, Jr., and Pauli Murray, can be called common-humanity identity politics, because its practitioners humanize their opponents and appeal to their humanity while also applying political pressure in other ways.
- Common-enemy identity politics, on the other hand, tries to unite a coalition using the psychology embedded in the Bedouin proverb “I against my brothers. I and my brothers against my cousins. I and my brothers and my cousins against the world.” It is used on the far right as well as the far left.
- Intersectionality is a popular intellectual framework on campuses today; certain versions of it teach students to see multiple axes of privilege and oppression that intersect. While there are merits to the theory, the way it is interpreted and practiced on campus can sometimes amplify tribal thinking and encourage students to endorse the Untruth of Us Versus Them: Life is a battle between good people and evil people.
- Common-enemy identity politics, when combined with microaggression theory, produces a call-out culture in which almost anything one says or does could result in a public shaming. This can engender a sense of “walking on eggshells,” and it teaches students habits of self-censorship. Call-out cultures are detrimental to students’ education and bad for their mental health. Call-out cultures and us-versus-them thinking are incompatible with the educational and research missions of universities, which require free inquiry, dissent, evidence-based argument, and intellectual honesty.“
Part II: Bad ideas in Action
In this part authors “show the Great Untruths in action. We examine the “shout-downs,” intimidation, and occasional violence that are making it more difficult for universities to fulfill their core missions of education and research. We explore the newly popular idea that speech is violence, and we show why thinking this way is bad for students’ mental health. We explore the sociology of witch-hunts and moral panics, including the conditions that can cause a college to descend into chaos.”
CHAPTER 4 Intimidation and Violence
Here authors move to contemporary left’s Orwellian ideas like “Words are Violence; Violence is Safety”. Here is authors’ summary:
- The “Milo Riot” at UC Berkeley on February 1, 2017, marked a major shift in campus protests. Violence was used successfully to stop a speaker; people were injured, and there were (as far as we can tell) no costs to those who were violent. Some students later justified the violence, as a legitimate form of “self-defense” to prevent speech that they said was violent.
- Hardly any students say that they themselves would use violence to shut down a speech, but two surveys conducted in late 2017 found that substantial minorities of students (20% in one survey and 30% in the other) said it was sometimes “acceptable” for other students to use violence to prevent a speaker from speaking on campus.
- The “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in which a white nationalist killed a peaceful counterprotester and injured others, further raised tensions on campus, especially as provocations from far-right groups increased in the months afterward.
- In the fall of 2017, the number of efforts to shut down speakers reached a record level.
- In 2017, the idea that speech can be violence (even when it does not involve threats, harassment, or calls for violence) seemed to spread, assisted by the tendency in some circles to focus only on perceived impact, not on intent. Words that give rise to stress or fear for members of some groups are now often regarded as a form of violence.
- Speech is not violence. Treating it as such is an interpretive choice, and it is a choice that increases pain and suffering while preventing other, more effective responses, including the Stoic response (cultivating nonreactivity) and the antifragile response suggested by Van Jones: “Put on some boots, and learn how to deal with adversity.”
CHAPTER 5 Witch Hunts
Here authors discuss history of witch-hunt and note that it happens when some ideologies came to dominate and then trying to retain this dominance forever. They provide graph demonstrating left dominance in universities:
They also discuss some recent events and provide summary of the chapter:
- Humans are tribal creatures who readily form groups to compete with other groups (as we saw in chapter 3). Sociologist Emile Durkheim’s work illuminates the way those groups engage in rituals—including the collective punishment of deviance—to enhance their cohesion and solidarity.
- Cohesive and morally homogeneous groups are prone to witch hunts, particularly when they experience a threat, whether from outside or from within.
- Witch hunts generally have four properties: they seem to come out of nowhere; they involve charges of crimes against the collective; the offenses that lead to those charges are often trivial or fabricated; and people who know that the accused is innocent keep quiet, or in extreme cases, they join the mob.
- Some of the most puzzling campus events and trends since 2015 match the profile of a witch hunt. The campus protests at Yale, Claremont McKenna, and Evergreen all began as reactions to politely worded emails, and all led to demands that the authors of the emails be fired. (We repeat that the concerns that provide the context for a witch-hunt may be valid, but in a witch-hunt, the attendant fears are channeled in unjust and destructive ways.)
- The new trend in 2017 for professors to join open letters denouncing their colleagues and demanding the retraction or condemnation of their work (as happened to Rebecca Tuvel, Amy Wax, and others) also fits this pattern. In all of these cases, colleagues of the accused were afraid to publicly stand up and defend them.
- Viewpoint diversity reduces a community’s susceptibility to witch-hunts. One of the most important kinds of viewpoint diversity, diversity of political thought, has declined substantially among both professors and students at American universities since the 1990s. These declines, combined with the rapidly escalating political polarization of the United States (which is our focus in the next chapter), may be part of the reason why the new culture of safetyism has spread so rapidly since its emergence around 2013.
PART Ill: How Did We Get Here’?
In Part III authors “try to solve the mystery. Why did things change so rapidly on many campuses between 2013 and 2017? We identify six explanatory threads: the rising political polarization and cross-party animosity of U.S. politics, which has led to rising hate crimes and harassment on campus; rising levels of teen anxiety and depression, which have made many students more desirous of protection and more receptive to the Great Untruths; changes in parenting practices, which have amplified children’s fears even as childhood becomes increasingly safe; the loss of free play and unsupervised risk-taking, both of which kids need to become self-governing adults; the growth of campus bureaucracy and expansion of its protective mission; and an increasing passion for justice, combined with changing ideas about what justice requires. These six trends did not influence everyone equally, but they have all begun to intersect and interact on college campuses in the United States in the last few years.”
CHAPTER 6 The Polarization Cycle
Here authors discuss polarization between political parties:
- The United States has experienced a steady increase in at least one form of polarization since the 1980s: affective (or emotional) polarization, which means that people who identify with either of the two main political parties increasingly hate and fear the other party and the people in it. This is our first of six explanatory threads that will help us understand what has been changing on campus.
- Affective polarization in the United States is roughly symmetrical, but as university students and faculty have shifted leftward during a time of rising cross-party hatred, universities have begun to receive less trust and more hostility from some conservatives and right-leaning organizations.
- Beginning in 2016, the number of high-profile cases of professors being hounded or harassed from the right for something they said in an interview or on social media began to increase.
- Rising political polarization, accompanied by increases in racial and political provocation from the right, usually directed from off-campus to on-campus targets, is an essential part of the story of why behavior is changing on campus, particularly since 2016.
CHAPTER 7 Anxiety and Depression
Being teachers, authors constantly interact with the young generation and they notice dramatic increase in metal problems:
- The national rise in adolescent anxiety and depression that began around 2011 is our second explanatory thread.
- The generation born between 1995 and 2012, called iGen (or sometimes Gen Z), is very different from the Millennials, the generation that preceded it. According to Jean Twenge, an expert in the study of generational differences, one difference is that iGen is growing up more slowly. On average, eighteen-year-olds today have spent less time unsupervised and have hit fewer developmental milestones on the path to autonomy (such as getting a job or a driver’s license), compared with eighteen-year-olds in previous generations.
- A second difference is that iGen has far higher rates of anxiety and depression. The increases for girls and young women are generally much larger than for boys and young men. The increases do not just reflect changing definitions or standards; they show up in rising hospital admission rates of self-harm and in rising suicide rates. The suicide rate of adolescent boys is still higher than that of girls, but the suicide rate of adolescent girls has doubled since 2007.
- According to Twenge, the primary cause of the increase in mental illness is frequent use of smartphones and other electronic devices. Less than two hours a day seems to have no deleterious effects, but adolescents who spend several hours a day interacting with screens, particularly if they start in their early teen years or younger, have worse mental health outcomes than do adolescents who use these devices less and who spend more time in face-to-face social interaction.
- Girls may be suffering more than boys because they are more adversely affected by social comparisons (especially based on digitally enhanced beauty), by signals that they are being left out, and by relational aggression, all of which became easier to enact and harder to escape when adolescents acquired smartphones and social media.
- iGen’s arrival at college coincides exactly with the arrival and intensification of the culture of safetyism from 2013 to 2017. Members of iGen may be especially attracted to the overprotection offered by the culture of safetyism on many campuses because of students’ higher levels of anxiety and depression. Both depression and anxiety cause changes in cognition, including a tendency to see the world as more dangerous and hostile than it really is.
CHAPTER 8 Paranoid Parenting
This chapter is about paranoid parenting that become typical in America:
- Paranoid parenting is our third explanatory thread.
- When we overprotect children, we harm them. Children are naturally antifragile, so overprotection makes them weaker and less resilient later on.
- Children today have far more restricted childhoods, on average, than those enjoyed by their parents, who grew up in far more dangerous times and yet had many more opportunities to develop their intrinsic antifragility. Compared with previous generations, younger Millennials and especially members of iGen (born in and after 1995) have been deprived of unsupervised time for play and exploration. They have missed out on many of the challenges, negative experiences, and minor risks that help children develop into strong, competent, and independent adults (as we’ll show in the next chapter).
- Children in the United States and other prosperous countries are safer today than at any other point in history. Yet for a variety of historical reasons, fear of abduction is still very high among American parents, many of whom have come to believe that children should never be without adult supervision. When children are repeatedly led to believe that the world is dangerous and that they cannot face it alone, we should not be surprised if many of them believe it.
- Helicopter parenting combined with laws and social norms that make it hard to give kids unsupervised time may be having a negative impact on the mental health and resilience of young people today.
- There are large social class differences in parenting styles. Families in the middle class (and above) tend to use a style that sociologist Annette Lareau calls “concerted cultivation,” in contrast to the “natural growth parenting” used by families in the working class (and below). Some college students from wealthier families may have been rendered more fragile from overparenting and oversupervision. College students from poorer backgrounds are exposed to a very different set of risks, including potential exposure to chronic, severe adversity, which is especially detrimental to resilience when children lack caring relationships with adults who can buffer stress and help them turn adversity into growth.
- Paranoid parenting prepares today’s children to embrace the three Great Untruths, which means that when they go to college, they are psychologically primed to join a culture of safetyism.
CHAPTER 9 The Decline of Play
This chapter is about necessity of play for development not only humans, but also animals and how American children now deprived of this necessity:
- The decline of unsupervised free play is our fourth explanatory thread. Children, like other mammals, need free play in order to finish the intricate wiring process of neural development. Children deprived of free play are likely to be less competent—physically and socially—as adults. They are likely to be less tolerant of risk, and more prone to anxiety disorders.
- Free play, according to Peter Gray, is “activity that is freely chosen and directed by the participants and undertaken for its own sake, not consciously pursued to achieve ends that are distinct from the activity itself.” This is the kind of play that play experts say is most valuable for children, yet it is also the kind of play that has declined most sharply in the lives of American children.
- The decline in free play was likely driven by several factors, including an unrealistic fear of strangers and kidnapping (since the 1980s); the rising competitiveness for admission to top universities (over many decades); a rising emphasis on testing, test preparation, and homework; and a corresponding deemphasis on physical and social skills (since the early 2000s).
- The rising availability of smartphones and social media interacted with these other trends, and the combination has greatly changed the way American children spend their time and the kinds of physical and social experiences that guide the intricate wiring process of neural development.
- Free play helps children develop the skills of cooperation and dispute resolution that are closely related to the “art of association” upon which democracies depend. When citizens are not skilled in this art, they are less able to work out the ordinary conflicts of daily life. They will more frequently call for authorities to apply coercive force to their opponents. They will be more likely to welcome the bureaucracy of safetyism.
CHAPTER 10 The Bureaucracy of Safetyism
This is basically about people who benefit from all this – bureaucrats:
- The growth of campus bureaucracy and the expansion of its protective mission is our fifth explanatory thread.
- Administrators generally have good intentions; they are trying to protect the university and its students. But good intentions can sometimes lead to policies that are bad for students. At Northern Michigan University, a policy that we assume was designed to protect the university from liability led to inhumane treatment of students seeking therapy.
- In response to a variety of factors, including federal mandates and the risk of lawsuits, the number of campus administrators has grown more rapidly than the number of professors, and professors have gradually come to play a smaller role in the administration of universities. The result has been a trend toward “corporatization.”
- At the same time, market pressures, along with an increasingly consumerist mentality about higher education, have encouraged universities to compete on the basis of the amenities they offer, leading them to think of students as customers whom they must please.
- Campus administrators must juggle many responsibilities and protect the university from many kinds of liabilities, so they tend to adopt a “better safe than sorry” (or “CYA”) approach to issuing new regulations. The proliferation of regulations over time conveys a sense of imminent danger even when there is little or no real threat. In this way, administrators model multiple cognitive distortions, promote the Untruth of Fragility, and contribute to the culture of safetyism.
- Some of the regulations promulgated by administrators restrict freedom of speech, often with highly subjective definitions of key concepts. These rules contribute to an attitude on campus that chills speech, in part by suggesting that freedom of speech can or should be restricted because of some students’ emotional discomfort. This teaches catastrophizing and mind reading (among other cognitive distortions) and promotes the Untruth of Emotional Reasoning.
- One recent administrative innovation is the creation of “Bias Response Lines” and “Bias Response Teams,” which make it easy for members of a campus community to report one another anonymously for “bias.” This “feel something, say something” approach is likely to erode trust within a community. It may also make professors less willing to try innovative or provocative teaching methods; they, too, may develop a CYA approach.
- More generally, efforts to protect students by creating bureaucratic means of resolving problems and conflicts can have the unintended consequence of fostering moral dependence, which may reduce students’ ability to resolve conflicts independently both during and after college.
CHAPTER 11 The Quest for Justice
Here authors expand on leftist understanding of justice and provide timetable of events that impacted their perception of current situation. Here is their summary:
- Political events in the years from 2012 to 2018 have been as emotionally powerful as any since the late 1960s. Today’s college students and student protesters are responding to these events with a powerful commitment to social justice activism. This is our sixth and final explanatory thread.
- People’s ordinary, everyday, intuitive notions of justice include two major types: distributive justice (the perception that people are getting what is deserved) and procedural justice (the perception that the process by which things are distributed and rules are enforced is fair and trustworthy).
- The most common way that people think about distributive justice is captured by equity theory, which states that things are perceived to be fair when the ratio of outcomes to inputs is equal for all participants.
- Procedural justice is about how decisions are being made, and is also about how people are treated along the way, as procedures unfold.
- Social justice is a central concept in campus life today, and it takes a variety of forms. When social justice efforts are fully consistent with both distributive and procedural justice, we call it proportional-procedural social justice. Such efforts generally aim to remove barriers to equality of opportunity and also to ensure that everyone is treated with dignity. But when social justice efforts aim to achieve equality of outcomes by group, and when social justice activists are willing to violate distributive or procedural fairness for some individuals along the way, these efforts violate many people’s sense of intuitive justice. We call these equal-outcomes social justice.
- Correlation does not imply causation. Yet in many discussions in universities these days, the correlation of a demographic trait or identity group membership with an outcome gap is taken as evidence that discrimination (structural or individual) caused the outcome gap. Sometimes it did, sometimes it didn’t, but if people can’t raise alternative possible causal explanations without eliciting negative consequences, then the community is unlikely to arrive at an accurate understanding of the problem. And without understanding the true nature of a problem, there is little chance of solving it.
Part IV: Wising Up
In the final part authors “offer advice. We suggest specific actions that will help parents and teachers to raise wiser, stronger, more independent children, and we suggest ways in which professors, administrators, and college students can improve their universities and adapt them for life in our age of technology-enhanced outrage.“
CHAPTER 12 Wiser Kids
Here authors discuss how to raise kids to be ready for real world. It is mainly to provide knowledge of this real world, train to rely on sober analysis, rather than emptions and feelings, develop resilience to opinions and even hostility of others, avoid confrontation because good and evil are inside people not between groups of people. They also propose a practical measure: do service or work before college.
CHAPTER 13 Wiser Universities
For universities authors’ recommendations are: defend freedom of inquiry; pick more mature students; look for viewpoint diversity, and educate for “productive disagreement”.
CONCLUSION Wiser Societies
In conclusion authors summarize the whole book in one small table:
MY TAKE ON IT:
I find in somewhat charming and encouraging that authors, despite being leftists, nevertheless are capable to think, analyze, and understand the harm the current takeover of higher education by the left is causing not only to students and universities, but also to internal peace of the country. The eye opening for them came from situation when more extreme leftists attack less extreme the same way as they attack conservatives. It looks like something called self-preservation kicks in, making them more reasonable. This self-preservation expands also to their children and way of live because being smart people they seems to understand that combination of debilitating education based on primacy of emotion, denial of intellectual freedoms, and aggressive attempts to suppress others could lead to such powerful pushback from these others that would force them to lose their comfortable way of life. Certainly, being leftists, they comply with compulsory requirement to say some lies about Trump and express their hate, but to me it seems like they do not have real passion behind this. Anyway, I think in general it is great development and whatever these people can do, and they are really trying, to return American education back to traditions of Western civilization would be a valuable help in this struggle.
20191208 – How to lie with Statistics
The main idea of this small book is to demonstrate how by using various presentation methods and statistical tools, which are technically correct, one can nevertheless create false believes in the mind of user.
Author provides a brief narrative of his encounters with people being misled by either misuse of statistical tools or by intentional use of such tools for this purpose and then moves to specific examples.
- The Sample with the Built-in Bias
Here author looks at income statistics for “Average Yale man, class 24” and demonstrates how misleading is this statement because it contains a bunch of imbedded biases. He makes an important point: “To be worth much, a report based on sampling must use a representative sample, which is one from which every source of bias has been removed.”
After that author discusses another issue with selection of representative sample: “The test of the random sample is this: Does every name or thing in the whole group have an equal chance to be in the sample? The purely random sample is the only kind that can be examined with entire confidence by means of statistical theory, but there is one thing wrong with it. It is so difficult and expensive to obtain for many uses that sheer cost eliminates it. A more economical substitute, which is almost universally used in such fields as opinion polling and market research, is called stratified random sampling.
“ Finally author demonstrates how difficult it is to meet these requirements.
- The Well-Chosen Average
The next point author makes is use of averages without clarifying what they mean. He provides a very nice graphic presentation for this issue:
- How to Talk Back to a Statistic
The final chapter is about overcoming manipulation with statistics and presentations by asking a few very reasonable questions:
- Who says so?
- How does he know?
- Did somebody change the subject?
- Does it make sense?
MY TAKE ON IT:
This is a great collection of manipulation tools from some 50 years ago. It is funny that despite huge progress in information processing these methods did not change that much. Practically all these technics could be found now in books, news, and on Internet. Sometimes it requires some effort to recognize such manipulation, but usually it is very primitive and obvious to any even slightly educated person. Unfortunately after 12 years of high school and often even after additional 4 years of college the general level of mass education could be estimated as much less than slightly, which created the basis for mass manipulation of people. Consequently lots of politicians and bureaucrats make a great living out of this manipulation. I think that American society is pretty close to saturation with this lies because the net result is deterioration of quality of live, which at some point could create some serious push for a change, including massive improvement in education that would prevent manipulation or at least make it much more difficult.
20191201 – Global Crisis
The main idea of this book is demonstrate that “Little Ice Age” of XVII century had huge impact on human history. The global cooling caused significant decrease in agricultural productivity all over the world and consequently mass starvation in many places. The consequence was an increased fight for survival that included wars, revolutions, and political changes. Author clearly intent to caution everybody about direct link between climate and human affairs, which requires constant preparedness to handle similar crises in the future.
Introduction: The ‘Little Ice Age’ and the ‘General Crisis‘
Here author briefly recount tragedies of XVII century: English Civil War, German 30 years religious war, French Civil war, Russian-Polish-Ukrainian struggle, Ming-Qing dynasty change in China, Mughal empire suffering from the draught, and so on. The only country that got away from this calamity relatively easy was Japan. Author links all this to climate change that had global character and provides nice table summarizing political consequences:
PART I. THE PLACENTA OF THE CRISIS
1 The Little Ice Age
Here author retells adverse climatic events of the period and then discusses typical response of people highly consistent with the level of civilizational development: the Search for Scapegoats. Author also discusses agricultural productivity, its reliance on climate, and human need in food for survival. With humanity at the time being at the early stages of technological development it was not feasible effectively prevent decrease in food supply, which led to Malthusian solution: massive deaths and decrease in population. The problem was not only death, but also impact on physiological condition of population. As example author provides graph of average height of French males born between 1650 and 1770:
2 The ‘General Crisis’
In this chapter author discusses how humanity responded to adversity: mainly by starting massive wars, which despite multiple disguises religious and otherwise, were pretty much straggle for resources. Here is well-documented example from Europe:
At the second part of chapter author discusses how various absolutist monarchies of the time handled the crisis.
3 ‘Hunger is the greatest enemy’: The Heart of the Crisis
Here author reviews details of agricultural production in several countries and its marginal character. Combined with societal conditions of the time any variance in food production quickly led to variance in population. Author also discusses role of cities as “urban graveyard effect”, which occurred when people failed to live off the land and move to cities in hope to obtain sustenance there. Here is example:
Author reviews this situation in multiple countries and their big cities, concluding that similar circumstances led to similar outcomes.
4 ‘A third of the world has died’: Surviving in the Seventeenth Century
Here author discusses various modes of destruction directly or indirectly caused by climate: massive suicides, increase in deadly diseases, infanticide and abortions, mass migration both voluntary and involuntary. Finally author stresses demographic effects that led to decrease in various cohorts of population.
PART II. ENDURING THE CRISIS
5 The ‘Great Enterprise’ in China, 1618-84; 6 The great shaking’: Russia and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, 1618-86; 7 The ‘Ottoman tragedy’, 1618-83;
8 The lamentations of Germany and its Neighbors 1618-88; 9 The Agony of the Iberian Peninsula, 1618-89; 10 France in Crisis, 1618-88; 11 The Stuart Monarchy: The Path to Civil War 1603-42; 12 Britain and Ireland from Civil War to Revolution, 1642-89
This part is country-by-country detailed history of crisis with all its famines, massacres, revolutions, wars, and tremendous suffering of people all over the world.
PART III. SURVIVING THE CRISIS
13 The Mughals and their Neighbors; 14 Red Flag over Italy; 15 The ‘dark continents’: The Americas, Africa and Australia; 16 Getting it Right: Early Tokugawa Japan
This part continues the history of the crisis, but moves to countries where it was somewhat less severe. It was still pretty bad, just a bit better than extreme cases. However one country: Japan was much more successful in handling it. Author provides a small table demonstrating this success by increase in population and harvests:
Author explains this success by referring to a number of measures that allowed start up Tokugawa dynasty to achieve this result. The most important was what author calls “Industrious Revolution” – massive intensification of agricultural process that allowed increase in productivity and overall output, consequently preventing or at least alleviating severity of famines that caused so many problems in other countries. Another important achievement was Tokugawa’s success in ruling in feudal lords (daimyo) by forcing them to stay close to the center and provide hostages, which made for effective control over their actions. Not a small part in this success was result of control over information flows, publishing, and religious activities. Author also stresses comparatively beneficial circumstances: Japan at the time was somewhat under populated so climate cooling had a lot less impact than in countries where previous period of population growth and expansion of agriculture to marginal productivity areas created potential for disaster, when harvest failed in these areas.
PART IV. CONFRONTING THE CRISIS
This part traces response to the crisis from different groups of population. Author cites LU Kun – Chinese bureaucrat of Ming dynasty who identified four types of rebellious people:
Then he follows on to discuss rebels breakdown along similar lines in different countries.
17 ‘Those who have no means of support’: The Parameters of Popular Resistance
At the beginning of chapter author provides table for France and graph for China that demonstrate massive increase in revolts during climate crisis:
He provides narrative of such revolts and looks at deterring factors that demonstrated some preventative power:
- First, the need to earn a daily wage formed a powerful restraint on rebellion: a family that did not work – whether because on strike, in rebellion, or unemployed – might not eat.
- Second, the vertical links of kinship, friendship, faction, patronage and ritual in each community created ties between the dominant and the dominated that discouraged violent action.
- Third, and paradoxically, any economic development within the community that increased social divisions also militated against collective action. Thus a shift towards producing crops (especially industrial crops) for export normally created groups of prosperous cultivators who, as long as strong demand for their goods lasted, remained largely insulated from the frustrations and sufferings of those still tied to subsistence farming; and this significantly reduced the likelihood of unified resistance.
- Fourth and finally, in most farming communities of the early modern world, the poor often depended for their survival on deference and subordination. Better-off neighbors were more likely to provide relief in time of need to those who showed constant respect and obedience, whereas neglect or surliness might lead to denial of charity and even expulsion from the community. However much the poor may have resented their subordination and humiliation, their circumstances compelled them to conform: they might try to negotiate the terms of subordination, but they rarely dared to challenge it.
Author also looks at such details as role of clerics, etiquette of collective violence, place and time of rebellions, weapons and emblems, and, finally, at outcomes: whether it ended in Concession or Repression.
18 ‘People who hope only for a change’: Aristocrats, Intellectuals, Clerics and ‘dirty people of no name’
Here author moves from the bottom to the near top of societies looking at such causes as crisis of Aristocracy, Education, that typically makes it difficult to accept low level station and lack of resources, and finally at people of “no name” who are practically situated outside of main society, but at some condition could invade it – good examples are Russian Cossacks (Stenka Razin) and Chinese pirates (Li Zicheng). Author also discusses in details legal and philosophical justification of Disobedience and violent revolts.
19 ‘People of heterodox beliefs … who will join up with anyone who calls them’: Disseminating Revolution
Here author looks at similarity between development of revolts and contagious diseases: both starting with some spark in local place, but then quickly expands when encountering large numbers of people without immunity and psychologically at the limits of tolerance. Author also discusses situation when fire moves across national borders, exporting revolution. Finally author looks in details on ‘public sphere’ in different countries meaning foundation of literacy, which is always instrumental in promotion of ideas, including revolutionary ideas. A very interesting note at the end of the chapter relates to the number of initial revolutionaries who in nearly all cases is exceedingly small, which is quite consistent with idea of spark causing huge fire.
PART V. BEYOND THE CRISIS
In this part author moves to aftermath of the crisis in late 1680s when despite continuing adverse climate effects well into XVIII century with continuing wars and revolts, wars and revolts decreased in frequency and intensity. Author rejects the idea that it was result of depopulation. He rather stresses human ability to adjust citing evidence of increased crises preparedness, new technological and organizational measures like quarantine that were applied and, most important, shift away from religious thinking to new way – scientific thinking that provided much better ability to handle adversity. The chapters of this part look at all these consequences.
20 Escaping the Crisis
Here author discusses personal reactions of contemporaries and kind of links it to what it would look like now: “ Many of those who lived in the seventeen century reacted to adversity and anxiety which they could neither explain nor avoid in much the same way as their descendants today: some killed themselves; others went to consult a therapist or a cleric; while others found solace in an absorbing pastime. All three categories are difficult to document, because they left few traces in the surviving sources. “
. Author looks at each of these groups
reviewing escapist measures used from emigration to suicide, prevailing psychological mode of melancholy, how it was documented in multiple diaries and other documents and so on. Finally author discusses how it happened that Europe shifted from mass wars to peace as result of general exhaustion.
21 From Warfare State to Welfare State
Here author moves to resilience and recovery starting with notes about Germany that was probably the most devastated part of the continent. Then he reviews similar situation in China and other countries. Finally he reviews multiple technological and economic changes that he characterizes as “Agricultural revolution, Consumer revolution, containment of diseases, advancement and periodic renewal of cities, often after massive fires, and other economic changes that led to increased prosperity.
22 The Great Divergence
Here author analyses reason for divergence between Europe and other parts of the world, citing mainly intellectual changes: development of universities, decrease in power of religious thought controls, overall increasing use of scientific method in all areas of life.
Conclusion: The Crisis Anatomized
In conclusion author discusses who were winners and losers of the crisis, which were somewhat different in different countries generally with peasants and others in lower classes being losers and soldiers and governments being winners.
Epilogue: ‘It’s the climate, stupid’
This stresses human dependency upon climate and discusses in details various occurrences of extreme climate variations. Author laments calm attitude of population to global warming alarmism and presents in details how analysis of London potential floods led to preventive intervention in form of building barrier, which despite being very expensive did prevent massive damages afterword.
MY TAKE ON IT:
It is an interesting history clearly demonstrating human dependency on climate in XVII century when technology was primitive, understanding of environment even more primitive and hate, that was periodically exploding in violence between various nations, religious groups, and classes was just a normal condition of humanity. We now live in different world and current knowledge, scientific method, and technology allows not only much better understanding of climate, but also multitude of measures that could allow handling many a crises in effective way. For example such thing as famine due to cooling, could be easily prevented by shifting agriculture to wormer places, or even moving it to controlled environment, not even accounting for human current ability to modify plants or even produce artificial food. I think that alarmist approach is not supported by demonstrated levels of climate understanding and often driven more by power plays and greed of pseudo scientists who derive lots of money and publicity, than by actually demonstrated problems. In any case, it is typical for people who spend time outside of real business environment attempting to find universal solution for multitude of problems, when in reality problems should be resolved one by one as they clearly present themselves.
20191124 – Impossible to Ignore
The main idea is to present and discuss in details 15 variables that author believes could be used to influence other people’s memory: “context, cues, distinctiveness, emotion, facts, familiarity, motivation, novelty, quantity of information, relevance, repetition, self-generated content, sensory intensity, social aspects, and surprise.
The end result should be ability of the reader to prepare and deliver memorable presentations that would have material impact on people.
Author provided a nice summary at the end of each chapter, so I would just go with it. Here is a couple of key diagram around which author builds the narrative:
CHAPTER 1: MEMORY IS A MEANS TO AN END Why Memory Matters in Decision-Making
- People act on what they remember, not on what they forget
- What matters most is what happens next. People need memory to predict their next move
- Memory guides action toward maximum rewards.
- To be on people’s minds, plug into their: Reflexes Habits Goals
- Establish a framework, and then decide which items must stand out. Weaken their neighbors.
- Consider the memory from the standpoint of proportions, not precision.
CHAPTER 2: A BUSINESS APPROACH TO MEMORY Three Steps to Influence Memory and Decisions
- Prospective memory, which means remembering a future intention, has remarkable advantages for any business because it keeps us viable: we stay in business when people remember what we say and act on it in the future.
- When people act on future intentions successfully, they complete these three steps, sometimes within fractions of seconds: they notice cues that are linked to their intentions; search their memory for something related to those cues and intentions; and if it is rewarding enough, they execute.
- The effectiveness of cues depends on how strongly they are related to a desired intention and how salient they are to draw attention at the time of remembering. • Memory, emotions, and motivation are influenced by the presence, absence, or termination of rewarding or punishing stimuli.
- People execute on intentions according to the following variables tied to rewards: effort, time delay, risk, and social aspects.
CHAPTER 3: CONTROL WHAT YOUR AUDIENCE REMEMBERS Practical Ways to Avoid the Hazards of Random Memory
- The forgetting curve hypothesizes that we lose information over time when we make no effort to retain it. We can lose as much as 90% after a few days.
- Unless we take control of the metaphorical 10% message, an audience will remember things at random.
- According to fuzzy-trace theory, people form two types of memories: verbatim and gist. Verbatim memories are word-for-word, accurate representations of what we’ve learned in the past. Gist memories include the general meaning of what has happened in the past, and they are less accurate and specific.
- Determine what type of memories (verbatim or gist) you would like to place in people’s minds and in what proportions.
CHAPTER 4: MADE YOU LOOK How Cues Pave the Way to Action
- When the cues you use to attract attention at Point A are similar to what people encounter later at Point B, the cues are more likely to signal action.
- Physical properties of stimuli such as unusual colors, textures, size, motion, loud sounds, harmony, or orientation of objects can force people to look “despite themselves.” These types of cues work because they do not require much cognitive effort.
- Create cues that are linked to existing habits (e.g., associating new information with a software application people already use) Attention driven by habits is potent because people can sustain it on their own, and once habits are formed, they do not require much cognitive effort.
- Use cues to direct attention inward and prompt audiences to focus on habitual thoughts. When you engage your audiences in reflective attention, you promote long-term memory because of a process called elaborate encoding.
- Link your message to people’s most important goals. Unlike reflexes or habits, goals require cognitive effort, but attention is still possible because goals are fueled by needs. Consider acknowledging that an audience may have conflicting needs, such as uncertainty versus structure, people versus privacy, and survival versus transcendence. • Tie your message to a current but unfulfilled goal. People tend to pay greater attention to and remember more of what is not finished because the brain seeks closure.
- Link cues to social desirability because impression management is a strong motivation driver. People tend to pay attention to what makes them look good in front of others.
- Ensure that people have enough willpower to pay attention to you (e.g., present important messages early in the day).
- Strengthen the association between cues, memory, and intentions.
CHAPTER 5: THE PARADOX OF SURPRISE The Price We Pay for Extra Attention, Time, and Engagement
- Our audiences form expectations so that they can predict the next moment. When you give them something they expect, you satisfy a human need for accurate predictions, which generates pleasure.
- Audiences form expectations automatically and mostly unconsciously based on what they pay attention to, memories of past experiences, motivations, emotions, and beliefs they form along the way. To get attention, tie your content to existing beliefs for a better future and provide effective tools they can use after consuming your content, such as checklists, how-to videos, or free software trials.
- Too much predictability can lead to boredom. Offer your audiences something they expect (and can predict), as well as something that takes them by surprise. Use linguistic, perceptual, cultural, or social norms to break conventions.
- Juxtapose seemingly unrelated but existing schemas to create surprise.
- Continue elevating your content to ensure you are meeting your audiences’ ever-evolving palate for satisfying experiences.
CHAPTER 6: SWEET ANTICIPATION How to Build Excitement for What Happens Next
- Use the word “imagine” to create anticipation and invite action. People don’t just think about the future; they feel the future, and emotion influences decision-making. • People feel more motivated to take action with a boost of dopamine. The presence of dopamine increases the likelihood that people have enough motivation to not only notice cues but come and get the rewards we’re promising and return to us again. • Dopamine is released when we help people anticipate a reward accurately, but also when we reserve room for some uncertainty. The area of the brain that predicts rewards is the same area that handles novelty.
- Dopamine spikes in the face of unexpected events. In general, uncertainty makes us uneasy, which is why it is often referred to as “tension.” We can tolerate some tension as long as (1) we know its degree, (2) we are reminded about the importance of the final outcome, and (3) we can tolerate the amount of delay until that outcome is realized.
- Unusual activities or performers with skills different from your teams’ are anticipation hooks and serve as strong cues that announce worthy outcomes.
- If the delay before realizing a promised reward is brief, find the right words for the reveal and practice them.
- Use foreshadowing, which means frequently giving signs of what will come next.
CHAPTER 7: WHAT MAKES A MESSAGE REPEATABLE? Techniques to Convince Others to Repeat Your Words
Criteria for repeatable messages:
- Simple syntax
- Tied to long-term goals
- Generic (no articulate prepositions or definite articles)
- Appeal to self-interest (make us look good to ourselves)
- Social currency (make us look good to others)
CHAPTER 8: BECOME MEMORABLE WITH DISTINCTION How to Stay on People’s Minds Long Enough to Spark Action
- Distinctiveness is important for long-term memory because isolated items draw more attention and rehearsal time. In addition, isolated items come to the foreground, reducing interference with other items, and also appear in smaller numbers, which makes them easier to recall long term.
- The more similar things are, the harder it will be to retrieve them later. However, similarity is important for the brain to detect distinctiveness.
- The brain is constantly looking for rewards. In business, when many messages are the same, we can create distinctiveness, and therefore improve recall, by being specific about these rewards, which we can frame as tangible results.
- If you’re not first to market, observe pockets of similarity in your domain and then strike with distinctiveness. Allow your audiences’ brains to habituate to similarity; it will be easier for your message to stand out.
- The more an item differs from other items, the bigger its effect. Select a property you want to isolate and increase its distinctiveness by at least 30% compared with neighboring items.
- Find opportunities to deviate from a reality your viewers have learned to expect. • Create distinctiveness by thinking in opposites. This is helpful not only because it helps the brain distinguish some stimuli more strongly than others, but also because contrast is a shortcut to thinking and decision-making.
- Enable self-generated distinctiveness.
- Achieve distinctiveness with a human touch and deep meaning.
CHAPTER 9: “I WRITE THIS SITTING IN THE KITCHEN SINK” The Science of Retrieving Memories Through Stories
- Memorable stories contain the following components: perceptive (sensory impressions in context and action across a timeline), cognitive (facts, abstract concepts, and meaning), and affective (emotion).
- Something is concrete if we can perceive it with our senses. If we can’t perceive it with our senses, we are talking about an idea or a concept, which is abstract. Balance both in your communication and, to avoid habituation, break the pattern an audience learns to expect.
- While abstract and concrete are opposites, generic and specific are subsets of each other, with generic being a large group and specific representing an individual item within that group. Zoom in on specific details based on your audience’s level of expertise (advanced audiences can handle abstracts better).
- Text and graphics have the potential to be equals in memory. Make pictures easy to label and text easy to picture.
- Pair abstract words with concrete pictures to ensure that your audience extracts a uniform meaning from your message.
- Use visual metaphors to explain abstract concepts. Steer away from clichéd metaphors by either giving an old metaphor a fresh meaning or using unexpected metaphors.
- Wrap abstract words in concrete contexts. Repeat information in the same context for verbatim memory. Vary the context for gist memory.
- Appeal to the senses to activate multiple parts of the brain and create more memory traces. The more personal experiences you share, the more opportunities to include sensory details.
- Avoid clichéd images. Instead, use vivid images to evoke tension, mystery, wabi-sabi, or nostalgia.
- Use strong emotions by showing an audience how to: Move toward rewards: pleasure, happiness, elation, ecstasy, love, sexual arousal, trust, empathy, beauty. Move away from rewards: frustration, indignation, disbelief, sadness, anger, and rage. Move toward punishments: apprehension, disgust, aversion, fear, terror, unfairness, inequity, uncertainty, and social exclusion. Move away from punishments: relief, liberation.
CHAPTER 10: HOW MUCH CONTENT IS TOO MUCH? How to Handle Content Sacrifice
- Clarifying what an audience must remember and do helps to filter unnecessary content.
- Keep it brief when an audience must identify with the content. Offer more when your listeners don’t have much information or context, and they must make an important decision.
- Earn the right to provide more information by offering value.
- If your content is long, alter your audience’s perception of time by offering visible signs of progress, shifting the audience’s focus frequently, and making the content aesthetically pleasing.
CHAPTER 11 HOW DOES THE BRAIN DECIDE? The Neurobiology and Neuroeconomics of Choice
- If your audience has been performing a task for a long time, link your content to an existing habit. If there are no habits related to your products or ideas, present goal-oriented information. When you do it repeatedly, you help an audience form new habits.
- Habits are formed by doing, not by not doing. Frame your messages in a positive way.
- Decisions typically include four steps:
- Identify sensory stimuli: What are they?
- Select an action that will maximize a reward: What is it worth?
- Act on the intention.
- Evaluate the results: Did you predict the outcome well?
- The values our audiences assign to different objects, people, and experiences can range from functional and concrete to something more abstract. People buy things because of emotional, epistemological, aesthetic, hedonistic, or situational value. Clarify these values for your audiences.
- Even unattended stimuli influence choice. There is no break from greatness for the communicator who aspires to be influential, because everything you share has the potential to influence decisions.
- Variables that have an impact on our choices include effort to get the reward (physical, financial, or mental), time delay until we get the reward, perception of risk in getting the reward, and social impact in relation to that reward.
- If your audiences perceive a high amount of uncertainty in their interactions with you, consider heuristics, such as availability, familiarity, or authority, to help them make quick decisions.
- Fast decision-making is also based on the perception of a stable environment and social factors.
- A balance between desirability and feasibility leads to more persuasive content. This is because feasibility will help people with their own decisions, and desirability will help them in their transactions with others.
- Develop content that hooks into rewards from the past but also provides sources for new rewards.
THE RIGHT TO BE FORGOTTEN AND THE INTENT TO BE REMEMBERED How to Balance Accidental and Purposeful Forgetting
The final chapter is about memory management: need to correctly define what is one need to keep in and what dispose off memory. It is also about Black Swans and need to be prepared by continuously modifying understandings and assumptions. Here is graph that author provides to demonstrate this idea:
MY TAKE ON IT:
I think it is a great tool to understand works of human perception, understanding, and memorizing of presentations. It well worth it to look through before any important presentation and ask question about how each part of it support or maybe not support the checklist provided and ideas presented in this book.
20191117 – Blueprint
The main idea of this book is that humans carry in them DNA based and evolutionary developed blueprint of their social behavior and that this blueprint had to be taken into account in all issues related to social engineering and societal changes. The neglect to do so could and did lead to dysfunction, sometime on the huge scale like WWI and WWII. So we would be much better off if we learn to understand it and comply with its requirements.
Preface Our Common Humanity
Author starts his book about common humanity with personal experience being an outlier in the mob, as an American kid and later as teenager in the middle of Greek nationalist demonstrations with anti-American feelings. He then moves to his experience as doctor and scientist that clearly demonstrated human commonality among all the groups regardless of how they were defined: ethnic, religious, national, or whatever. After that he expresses believe in possibility to overcome divisions because: “The fundamental reason is that we each carry within us an evolutionary blueprint for making a good society. Genes do amazing things inside our bodies, but even more amazing to me is what they do outside of them. Genes affect not only the structure and function of our bodies; not only the structure and function of our minds and, hence, our behaviors; but also the structure and function of our societies. This is what we recognize when we look at people around the world. This is the source of our common humanity. Natural selection has shaped our lives as social animals, guiding the evolution of what I call a “social suite” of features priming our capacity for love, friendship, cooperation, learning, and even our ability to recognize the uniqueness of other individuals. Despite all the trappings and artifacts of modern invention—our tools, agriculture, cities, nations—we carry within us innate proclivities that reflect our natural social state, a state that is, as it turns out, primarily good, practically and even morally. Humans can no more make a society that is inconsistent with these positive urges than ants can suddenly make beehives.“
Chapter 1: The Society Within Us
Once again author starts this chapter with recollection of his childhood playing with kids from different ethnic groups. It followed by discussion of commonalities and formulation of what author calls the Social Suit:
(1) The capacity to have and recognize individual identity
(2) Love for partners and offspring
(4) Social networks
(6) Preference for one’s own group (that is, “in-group bias”)
(7) Mild hierarchy (that is, relative egalitarianism)
(8) Social learning and teaching
The final point author makes here is that tremendous amount of variation between human groups generally is not coming from human genetic makeup, but universal commonalities, as they are expressed in Social Suit, do come from human DNA common for individuals in all groups.
Chapter 2: Unintentional Communities
This chapter is about unintentional communities that where created by unusual circumstances such as shipwreck leaving a number of individuals in isolation. Author analyses how ability or inability to self-organization had decisive impact on chances to survive in this circumstances. In order to support this point author reviews in details several such cases.
Chapter 3: Intentional Communities
This is analysis of different type of communities: intentionally created utopian and/or religious communities with well-documented histories such as Brook Farm, The Shakers, Kibbutzim, Walden, and finally Urban communities of 1960s. Author provides detailed scientific analysis of human networks formed in isolated community of scientists working in Antarctic station. The concise result comes to this: “In short, though the specific circumstances vary, two broad sorts of forces serve to promote the success of, or hasten the collapse of, communalist dreams to make society anew: intrinsic biological pressures and extrinsic environmental pressures. Pushed by the blueprint within us, and even if pulled by the forces around us, it is not easy, or feasible, to abandon the social suite.“
Chapter 4: Artificial Communities
The artificial communities in this case are product of social experimentation with use of Amazon Mechanical Turk. Author describes methodology of these experiments first in building Small societies, and then in use of Massive online games. Here are some graphic results:
Then author discusses use of topology to systemize variety of shell forms using multidimensional space that opens possibility to define all conceivable forms, even if they do not exists. Author then applies this methodology to discuss societies:” To do this, we would have to define the key axes, just like Raup’s three parameters. One important axis might be the hypothetical size of the society, perhaps defined as the size at which people actually know the others in the group well, even if they are not close friends; this could range from, say, zero (meaning that no one knows anyone in our imagined society) to two thousand (each person knows two thousand other people intimately). In reality, most people have about four or five close social contacts and know roughly one hundred and fifty people well—well being defined as familiar enough that they can pick up a conversation where they left off after an absence. This latter number is known as Dunbar’s number. Another axis we might focus on is the cooperativeness of the society or some measure of its proclivity for intragroup violence, perhaps quantified as the chance that two people would cooperate with each other when playing a public-goods game (using a percentage ranging from 0 to 100, 100 percent being the most cooperative). In real human societies, the chance is typically about 65 percent, meaning that roughly two-thirds of people are inclined to cooperate with a stranger when it comes to sharing a possible reward. But the extent of cooperative behaviors can vary somewhat across societies. A third axis might be related to the structure of the social ties—for example, the number of connections people have or the likelihood that their friends are themselves friends with one another (this is known as transitivity in the network, and it ranges from 0 percent to 100 percent). An alternative parameter for the third axis could be a measure of hierarchy or equality in the distribution of some key resource. Once we chose and defined our various axes, we could put all our examples—and, indeed, all
known societies—into such a grid with three (or more) dimensions.
At the end of chapter author makes the point: “genes may have come to work outside our bodies, having their impact at some distance from their source—like fireworks exploding far from their origin—helping to shape the societies far above the genes themselves. They may do this by affecting the human tendency to cooperate with and befriend others, to care for others’ children, to value other people’s individuality, and to love one’s partners. Because of this, in all the seemingly strikingly different human cultures around the world, in all the repeated opportunities to make new societies, we see the same core patterns again and again. Even the social organization and function of political units, like tribal chiefdoms and modern nation-states, are grafted onto this ancient heritage, and they must respect the principles guiding the organization of smaller groups. Rapidly invented, deliberately designed, or wholly novel social systems that seek to abrogate the social suite cannot be as functional as organically evolved ones.”
Chapter 5: First Comes Love
Here author moves to area of love demonstrating how exceptions in societal behavior kind of reaffirm existence of rules. For this author uses kissing as expression of love. It is pretty much common for all humans except for Tsonga people and some others in southern Africa that just do not do this. It follows by discussion of variety of sexual behavior: monogamy, polygamy, polygyny, and their impact on corresponding societies.
Chapter 6: Animal Attraction
Here author compares all this with animal attraction, reviewing pair bonding in animals. Author reviews male and female strategies and behavior genetics research. As example author uses Prairie Vole and genetically close Meadow Voles. Due to the small genetic variation the former are strictly monogamous, while latter are not. The extension of such research to humans demonstrated that genetic component is present in mating behavior.
Chapter 7: Animal Friends
Here author looks at deeper roots of connectivity, first at animal to humans and then between primates. For this he uses massive amount of data collected by Jane Goodall. In addition he provides contemporary analysis of social networks for various animas from chimpanzees to dolphins.
Chapter 8: Friends and Networks
In this chapter author discusses human networks and their strength, starting with example of men who protected others with their bodies during mass shooting. He characterizes this as inherent tendency to include other into self. Here is graphic representation of this idea:
After that author discusses patterns of friendship in 60 different societies. Based on research of genetic and fraternal twins author demonstrates inherited character of individual networking with others. Author also provides some statistical research data:” In 2009, we asked a national sample of households two key name generators (“Who do you trust to talk to about something personal or private?” “With whom do you spend free time?”), and we found that Americans identify an average of 4.4 close social contacts, with most having between 2.6 and 6.2. The average respondent lists 2.2 friends, 0.76 spouses, 0.28 siblings, 0.44 co-workers, and 0.30 neighbors in response to these questions. These numbers have not changed appreciably in decades, and we see similar results around the world.44 People have roughly four to five close social ties on average, typically including a spouse, perhaps a sibling or two, and usually one or two close friends. These numbers can change somewhat over the course of a person’s life (for instance, as people become widowed).“
The last part of chapter is about friends, enemies and universal bias to one’s own group, however defined.
Chapter 9: One Way to Be Social
This starts with example of failed human heart valves that contemporary medicine can substitute with valves from animals. Author uses it to demonstrate continuity of human and animal worlds. However after discussing similarities author moves to discussing individual variances in humans providing this nice illustration:
Author characterizes individuality and recognition of Self as mainly human feature seldom existing in other species, at least based on Mirror test. Then author discusses link between identity and grief, which is also characteristics of human and very few other species. The final part of the chapter is about cooperation in humans and animals, teaching and learning and so on, with conclusion that humans societies are not that radically different from other species as usually thought.
Chapter 10: Remote Control
This is about Genes’ use of bodies to change the worlds, as author puts it. Author stresses role of evolution in formation of human network and societies and then reviews various animal artifacts as example of evolutionary development of complex systems. The point he makes is that practically everything was developed by this process, therefore networks and societies are also based on evolutionary developed DNA.
Chapter 11: Genes and Culture
Author starts this chapter with description of impact of technology on productivity and cumulative nature of culture. This is followed by discussion of complexity and unpredictability of cultural development and how it depends on size of population and length of history. The final and most interesting part is discussion of culture and genes coevolution, the process that created us and the environment we live in.
Chapter 12: Natural and Social Laws
Author starts this chapter with reference to old image of body-politics when different parts of society correspond to body parts, kind of Leviathan. This follows by discussion of human societies link to nature and their separation in theological doctrines. Correspondingly industrial age views brought this link back to be dominant idea. Here is how author describes key change processes human ideologies: “It is not just the social sciences that are vulnerable to revision. New thinking and discoveries have upended many scientific claims, such as the number of chromosomes in human cells, the composition of the core of the Earth, the existence of extrasolar planets, the health risks of various nutrients, the efficacy of anti-cancer treatments, and so on. But the provisional nature of scientific discovery does not mean—cannot mean—that it is simply impossible to observe any objective reality. Over time, items of belief become formalized into hypotheses and then, after sustained testing and much experimental evidence, get widely accepted as facts: Cold, hard facts. The social sciences, like the natural sciences, advance. Their previous errors are not sufficient grounds for their present rejection. Especially in the social sciences, we need to determine whether it is the world that is transforming or just our understanding of it. For instance, just because the manner in which we understand certain core aspects of society is updated, (for example, if we invent new statistical methods or develop new theories and discard old ones) does not mean that those same aspects of society are somehow new. Some of these changes are even to be expected; the contingency we see in the social life of our species is in fact a contingency we evolved to be universally capable of manifesting. One of the ways humans differ from other primates, for instance, is in the variety of mating practices we adopt, albeit grafted onto the core practice of pair-bonding, as we saw.“
The author moves to discuss philosophical Isms: Positivism, Reductionism, Essentialism, and Determinism. Then author returns to his idea of social suit, which is to significant extent genetically human behavior, but it is far from being deterministic. It rather defines general framework of humans’ existence, but not its details and it is what author calls “blueprint”. At the end of chapter author looks at new technology such as AI and concludes that humanity is moving to hybridization of humans with machines, retaining however the blueprint as foundational feature. He ends this book with a word of caution: “Humans have always had both competitive and cooperative impulses, both violent and beneficent tendencies. Like the two strands of the double helix of our DNA, these conflicting impulses are intertwined. We are primed for conflict and hatred but also for love, friendship, and cooperation. If anything, modern societies are just a patina of civilization on top of this evolutionary blueprint. There is another reason to step off the plateau and look at mountains rather than hills. A key danger of viewing historical forces as more salient than evolutionary ones in explaining human society is that our species’ story then becomes more fragile. Giving historical forces primacy may even tempt us to give up and feel that a good social order is unnatural. But the good things we see around us are part of what makes us human in the first place. We should be humble in the face of temptations to engineer society in opposition to our instincts. Fortunately, we do not need to exercise any such authority in order to have a good life. The arc of our evolutionary history is long. But it bends toward goodness.”
MY TAKE ON IT:
I think it is generally not completely correct approach to look at DNA as blueprint of anything. I would rather compare it to the typographical letters in drawers with moving type. One can build whatever text is fit to circumstances, but only if there is enough letters of required types. I would also add that it is time dependent. It other words DNA contains potential, but not a blueprint, however sketchy, of result. In any case it is an interesting book, only slightly skewed by author’s expectation for encountering resistance when he states something obvious, commonsensical, and not fitting into some racist and intersectional doctrine dominant in leftist academia. Normal people who are making living not from academic positions and government grants do not require too much supporting material when they see something clearly consistent with their common sense developed via real life experiences.
20191110 – On Freedom
The main idea of this book is that freedom is good in theory and not really good in practice because regular people do not really know what they want or if they do think they know it, they could be wrong, or even if it would be good for them, it could be not so good for society. Therefore people should be nudged by some, not really specified, assumingly expert, external forces into doing right things, and if it is not enough, then coerced.
Introduction: Bitten Apples
It starts with discussion of Navigability, stating that difficulty of navigation in some areas is a major source of “unfreedom in human life”. Author considers it a blind spot in Western philosophy and seems to be ready to remove it. Here is his statement of intent: “While my main focus is on navigability, I shall also be asking these questions about freedom and well-being: What if people’s free choices are decisively influenced by some aspect of the social environment, and they are happy either way? In such cases, how should designers of the social environment—employers, teachers, doctors, investment advisers, companies, and governments—proceed? As we shall see, these questions are both difficult and fundamental.”
He also expresses believe that one of the most important is self-control which could be help via external intervention, which could be done to people so they would comply, “while retaining their freedom (and from a certain point of view, even increasing it)”
Chapter 1: What the Hell Is Water?
Here author discusses choice architecture ”—the environment in which choices are made. Choice architecture is inevitable, whether or not we see it, and it affects our choices. It is the equivalent of water.” After that he moves to “Nudges”, which he defines as “Nudges are interventions that fully preserve freedom of choice, but that also steer people’s decisions in certain directions. In daily life, a GPS device is an example of a nudge. It respects your freedom; you can ignore its advice if you like.
Author discusses real nudges implemented by government to direct people and identifies causes of, what he believes, is unreasonable resistance:
- Fear of government, which he rejects mainly because the private actors could be as bad;
- Need to decide for themselves what is good or not, which he also reject based on 3 issues:
- External manipulation
- People could deem as “good for themselves” some ugly things like racism;
- People could learn to “love Big Brother”.
After that author moves to the problems of the Nudger that he divides in 3 categories:
- Those in which choosers have clear antecedent preferences, and nudges help them to satisfy those preferences.
- Those in which choosers face a self-control problem, and nudges help them to overcome that problem.
- Those in which choosers would be content with the outcomes produced by two or more nudges, or in which after-the-fact preferences are a product of or constructed by nudges so that the “as judged by themselves” criterion leaves choice architects with several options, without specifying which one to choose.
Chapter 2: Navigability
This starts with Food Pyramid that later turned into Food Plate as example of improvement in “choice architecture”. Then author moves to the problem of navigation overall and life navigation specifically, discussing advices to poor to take responsibility by rich people who have little responsibility because their wealth protects them. Then he discusses a problem of destination: people often do not know where they want to go. At the end of chapter author discusses the problem of sludge by which he means decrease in Navigability.
Chapter 3: Self-Control
This is about failure of self-control and/or awareness of it such as all forms of addiction, present bias, unrealistic optimism, and others. Here again author maintains his main point that it is warrants external intervention, at least in the form of nudge. He reports survey of 200 people he conducted with 70% complaining on lack of self-control from which he infer that people would generally welcome intervention. He also discusses time line: “Preference at Time 1; make certain choices at Time 2; and regret those choices at Time 3. Perhaps an intervention will eliminate the conflict. Perhaps an intervention, or a nudge, will increase freedom”.
From here author infers: “In my view, there is no alternative to resorting to some kind of external standard, involving a judgment about what makes the chooser’s life better, all things considered. That judgment might require moral evaluations of options and outcomes. It might require some kind of aggregate judgment about people’s personal wellbeing. In many cases in which people think differently at Time 1, Time 2, and Time 3, we have to ask: “What is the effect of honoring one or another thought on the person’s well-being over time? … Valuing freedom of choice does not tell us what we need to know.
Chapter 4: Happy Either Way
Here author analyzes cases when “It is not clear if we have antecedent preferences at all. Perhaps we do not. We might have no idea what we want. We might lack important information, and if we have it, we still might not know what we want. In other cases, our after-the-fact preferences are an artifact of, or constructed by, the nudge. Sometimes these two factors are combined (as savvy marketers are well-aware). We are speaking here of “endogenous preferences,” and in particular of preferences that are endogenous to, or a product of, the relevant choice architecture. In such cases, how should we think about freedom of choice? And how ought the “as judged by themselves” criterion to be understood and applied?”
Once again author apply the same solution: external intervention in form of nudge. The final part is about what to do if nudge does not work. The obvious solution for author is coercion. Here is his logic: “hard paternalism, and no mere nudge—might end up producing an outcome akin to what we would see if consumers were at once informed and attentive. Suppose that the benefits of the mandate greatly exceed the costs and that there is no significant loss in terms of consumer welfare (in the form, for example, of reductions in safety, performance, or aesthetics). If so, there is good reason to believe that the mandate does make consumers better off. Freedom of choice fails. “
Epilogue: “Through Eden Took Their Solitary Way”
Here is author summarization: “Freedom of choice should be cherished, but cherishing it is hardly enough. Countless interventions and reforms increase navigability, writ large. They enable people to get where they want to go, and therefore enable them to satisfy their preferences and to realize their values. They operate like maps. Many other interventions and reforms, helping people to overcome self-control problems, are also welcomed by choosers. Such interventions increase navigability and promote freedom. They can be consistent with the “as judged by themselves” standard. Numerous people acknowledge that they suffer from self-control problems. They welcome the help. They exercise their freedom of choice in its favor. Sometimes people lack clear preferences. Sometimes their preferences are not firm. When a nudge or other intervention constructs or alters their preferences, and when they would be happy either way, the “as judged by themselves” standard is more difficult to operationalize. It may not lead to a unique solution. But it restricts the universe of candidate solutions, and in that sense helps to orient choice architects. To resolve the most difficult questions, it might make sense to see what informed, consistent choosers do, or instead to make direct inquiries into wellbeing. The first approach is best unless choosers suffer from a behavioral bias—and if choice architects cannot be trusted. The second is best if choosers suffer from a behavioral bias—and if choice architects can be trusted. For the future, we need far more careful consideration of the ingredients of wellbeing, informed by evidence as well as by theory. We need the arts and the humanities, social science, law, and theology.”
MY TAKE ON IT:
The big problem that I have with this approach is with author’s practically complete omission of what are these external, all knowing forces that always know what is good for us individually, or for us as society. Author does recognize the problem with “choice architects” imperfectability, but dispatches with this problem by saying that it requires careful consideration. I think no amount of consideration would be enough for one person “feel your pain” in reality. It is just human nature that, as once eloquently described: ”paper cut of a person’s finger is tragedy, but million people dead after earthquake in distant land is unhappy incident”. So whatever government “experts” want people believe, their own well being will always be tremendously more important for them than wellbeing of people they nudge or coerce in direction of their choice. Consequently I think that individuals who will enjoy or suffer consequences should do all decision-making, otherwise decision maker would never pay enough attention and effort for making good decision as defined by preference of outcome.
Actually author’s idea could be expressed in much more concise way just by following Orwellian traditions: ” Slavery is the Real Freedom”.
20191103 – Permanent Revolution
The main idea of this book is to demonstrate that traditional historical understanding of Western transition from medieval Dark Ages to Enlightenment is not exactly correct because early Reformation was much darker than Dark Ages and brought with it religious violence, suppression of human individuality, and lots of other nasty things on the scale unknown before. Author’s point, however, is that eventually it produced its opposite: Enlightenment as one and only way out from initial tragedy of societal self-distraction of the Western Europe that occurred in the beginning of the process. Here is how author defines this:
Permanent Revolution, then, addresses the competing claimants to Anglo-American (and global) modernity (i.e. evangelical religion and the Enlightenment), and poses the following questions with regard to the British Reformations: (i) how did we get from the first, illiberal Reformation to the Protestant proto-Enlightenment?; and (ii) why did we need to?
Three perceptions animate the argument: (i) that dissident, repressive, non-conservative sixteenth-century evangelical religious culture was revolutionary; (ii) that revolutionary evangelical culture was simultaneously a culture of permanent revolution, repeatedly and compulsively repudiating its own prior forms; and (iii) that permanent revolution was, as it always is, punishingly violent, fissiparous, and unsustainable, so much so that it needed to invent self-stabilizing mechanisms. In the seventeenth century, I argue, English Calvinist Protestantism necessarily produced its opposite cultural formation (what I call the proto-Enlightenment), against the punishing, crushing, violent, schismatic logic of the evangelical Reformation. The Protestant proto-Enlightenment made the permanent revolution of evangelical religion at least socially manageable and personally livable, even if the liberal order remained scarred by the effort.
Each part of the book looks at specific aspect of the period going chronologically through 3 steps:
- Appropriation of powers and carnivalesque, revolutionary energy (c. 1520–1547);
- Revolutionary grief (c. 1547–1625);
- Escaping revolutionary disciplines (c. 1603–1688).
PART 1: Religion as Revolution:
1 Revolutionary Religion;
In this part author first trying to demonstrate revolutionary character of reformation due to it’s nearly complete break with pre-Reformation past. Author looks at theological differences and finds that it kind of mirrors historical process of switch from multiple feuds coexisting via mutual obligation to centralized monarchies being installed all over the Europe. Here is author presentation of this contrast: “ The late medieval European Christian God was a constitutionalist of sorts: despite the fact that he could do whatever he liked, he freely made reliable agreements with humans according to which they could negotiate their way out of sin. Most (not all) late medieval theologies had imagined God working out from various combinations of his agreed, reliable, ordained power (potentia ordinata) and his wholly unrestrained absolute power (potentia absoluta). Of course the late medieval God had absolute powers at his disposal, but he freely decided to hold by his ordained, which is to say his established and rationally perceptible, power. Sixteenth-century Protestant theology was starkly different. The Protestant God acted, not coincidentally, like sixteenth-century monarchs, insisting on his absolute prerogatives. He actively repudiated any reliable agreements that would abrogate his “independent and unlimited Prerogative.”
Author also provides a comprehensive list of features that identify a process as revolutionary:
- Posited unmediated power relations between highly centralized, single sources of power on the one hand, and now equalized, atomized, interiorized, and terrorized subjects on the other;
- Looked aggressively upon, and sought to abolish, horizontal, lateral associational forms;
- Produced a small cadre of internationally connected, highly literate elect who belonged to the True Church, and who felt obliged by revolutionary necessity both to target the intellectuals of the ancien régime, and to impose punishing disciplines on the laity, who were expected, in this case, to become a “priesthood of all believers”;
- Generated revolutionary accounts of both ecclesiology and the individual life: both could achieve a rebirth, wholly inoculated from the virus of the past;
- Demanded total and sudden, not developmental, change via spiritual conversion;
- Targeted the hypocrisy of those who only pretended to buy into the new order;
- Abolished old and produced new calendars and martyrologies;
- Proclaimed the positivist literalism of a single authoritative text, to be universally and evenly applicable across a jurisdiction, if necessary with violence;
- Demanded and enacted cultural revolution, through iconoclasm of the repudiated past’s accreted, erroneous, idolatrous visual culture and by closing down its theatrical culture;
- Distributed the charisma of special place across entire jurisdictions, thereby legitimating the destruction of sites considered in the old regime to have compacted charisma most intensely, or to provide sanctuary;
- Actively developed surveillance systems;
- Legitimated violent repudiation of the past on the authority of absolute knowledge derived from the end of time. The saints were in a position confidently to judge and reshape the saeculum, or the world of everyday experience, precisely because, as elect members of the eternal True Church, they were saints; they beheld the everyday world from the determinist vantage point of the eschaton, or the end of time. They knew how to see historical error (it was in fact easy), and they knew the denouement of History’s narrative;
- Promoted the idea of youth’s superiority over age;
- Appropriated the private property of religious orders and centralized previously monastic libraries;
- Redefined and impersonalized the relation of the living and the dead, notably by the abolition of Purgatory and the prohibition on masses for the dead;
- And, by no means least, legitimated revolutionary violence by positing a much more intimate connection between violence and virtue than the Maoist dictum “no omelet without breaking eggs” would imply. In this culture, persecution and violence were a sure sign that the Gospel was being preached, that Christ was indeed bringing not peace but the (necessary) sword. The absence of tumult was symptomatic of somnolent hypocrisy.
- Violence was a necessary obligation within the logic of History.
- Permanently Revolutionary Religion;
Author identifies Protestant revolution with other revolutions, especially communist revolutions and Marxist ideology in which permanent revolution is permanent class war with revolution periodically destroying generations of revolutionaries. Author looks at several examples of destroyed destroyers during period of 1540s and 1550s, especially at live of John Bale in some detail. Then he proceeds to discuss struggle between Catholic Church and Protestant reformation in England that produced Anglican Church. Finally he looks at its reflection in works of John Milton and Thomas Edwards.
PART 2: Working Modernity’s Despair: 3 Modernizing Despair; 4 Modernizing Despair: Narrative and Lyric Entrapment; 5 Modernizing Despair’s Epic Non-Escape
Author first discusses nature of human despair and then identify general causes of such despair as disconnect between human effort and reward, which happens when society establish strictly enforced rules transferring wealth from its creators to elite. In chapter 3 author sketches the theology of this human depravity; the peculiar psychic cruelty of its necessary consequence (i.e. the doctrine of predestination, whether double or not); and the energy that exclusivism produces. He pursues that theological story up to the end of the reign of Elizabeth (1603). In Chapter 4, author turns to literary expressions of near-total subjection to predestinarian punishments, between 1530 and 1620 or so, in the form of brilliant, claustrophobic lyric poetry and endlessly recursive romance narrative, both forever unable to move out of or beyond the Cave of Despair. From 1625 or so, the promise of a recovered freedom of will and then Miltonic epic seem to produce an escape route from the punishing disciplines of predestination and its attendant despair. In the final chapter of this part author looks to the ways in which that apparent escape route to the proto-liberal future does not, in fact, offer its promised, full escape from early modernity’s despair. Rebellion against the early modern absolutist God and his revolutionary theology themselves took revolutionary form, and thereby remain profoundly scarred by the struggle.
PART 3: Sincerity and Hypocrisy: 6 Pre-Modern and Henrician Hypocrisy; 7 The Revolutionary Hypocrite: Elizabethan Hypocrisy; 8 Managing Hypocrisy?: Shakespeare, Milton, Bunyan, 1689
In this part author moves from despair to Hypocrisy stating that sectarian division brought continuing squabbling between clerics with claims of sincerity and accusations in hypocrisy created high potential for violence. Hypocrisy accusation and sincerity claims have a history within revolutionary moments, since the kinesis of revolution produces an intelligible sequence of phases, each of which seeks to exploit and / or to manage the impossible demands of revolutionary sincerity, and the impossible burden of avoiding hypocrisy. In this and the following two chapters, author aims to delineate the story of early modern English hypocrisy. As he does so, his essential argument is that sincerity and hypocrisy are of ecclesiological origin; that they are inevitable, unmanageable products of the centralizations and disciplines of revolutionary early modernity; and that the only way to deal effectively with the threat of hypocrisy (the Shakespearean solution) is to become a hypocrite. In chapter 6, author tells the story from its late medieval sources up to and including the first, energetic outburst of Reformation hypocrisy accusation in the first half of the sixteenth century. In Chapter 7, he turns to the subsequent, more somber trajectory of hypocrisy accusation, as it rebounds back onto Elizabethan evangelicals. Chapter 8 looks to hypocrisy management (or lack thereof), from Shakespeare to Bunyan.
PART 4: Breaking Idols: 9 Liberating Iconoclasm; 10 Saving Images and the Calvinist Hammer; 11 One Last Iconoclastic Push?
In this part author looks at iconoclasm that is typical characteristic of all revolutionary movements. In this particular case of reformation Protestants saw themselves as ancient Israeli who destroyed idols per God’s commandment. Author divides this process in 3 phases: “The kinesis of iconoclasm begins with energetic and irreverent evangelical destruction of physical religious images. That first phase of material destruction (c. 1538–1553) was, however, just the easy start, before a much more painful, unjoyful second sequence (c. 1558–1625) began. Iconoclastic hygiene around the absolutist, modernizing God targeted all forms of idolatry, not only visual images. It therefore worked its way into the liturgy, to be sure, but also into the most intimate recesses of the soul, breaking visual imaginations, and breaking the idols of false doctrine. In that second phase, lovers of the image needed to invent ways of managing the punishing dynamism of iconoclasm. One key form of management was to stabilize and rename our love of, and need for, salvific representations of others, and ourselves otherwise known as images… A third phase (c. 1625–1670s) is mixed: on the one hand, the counterrevolutionary is determined to replace the images; on the other, the revolutionary is determined to return to iconoclastic business, precisely in response to counterrevolutionary attempts to reinstate images.”
In chapter 9 author delineates phase 1, the carnivalesque, fun phase of iconoclasm (1538–1553 or so), before turning in Chapter 10 to phases 2 and 3: the less amusing matter of breaking the psyche’s images (c. 1558–1625); and the further, overlapping struggle between lovers and destroyers of the image in England (c. 1625–1670s).
PART 5: Theater, Magic, Sacrament: 12 Religion, Dramicide, and the Rise of Magic; 13 Enemies of the Revolution: Magic and Theater; 14 Last Judgment: Stage Managing the Magic
This part is about use of magic and art during reformation revolution. Author argues that evangelicals invented black magic primarily because they needed to attack Catholic sacramental practice, in which performative language (e.g. “Hoc est enim corpus meum”) makes something happen between earth and heaven. The Catholic Mass in particular needed to be described as juggling magic or as “hocus pocus” … This attack also applied to other sacraments, and from there extended to denigrate the entire Catholic Church. Author connects it to “linguistic performativity in all its forms” making “fundamental argument that, as early modern fears of sacramental and black magic rose, so too did drama fall, or at least shrank its own magic circle.”
Author looks at key areas of art to support this point: Chapter 12 is about theater, Chapter 13 narrates the evangelical persecution of witches and the correlative evangelical prosecution of theater in early modern England. Chapter 14 turns to the production and shrinkage of drama itself, from Marlowe and Shakespeare to Milton.
PART 6: Managing Scripture: 15 Scripture: Institutions, Interpretation, and Violence; 16 Private Scriptural Anguish; 17 Escaping Literalism’s Trap
Here author turns to ideological foundation of Reformation revolution: “Like most revolutions, the Reformation had its book and its reading practice. The book was the Bible, and the reading practice was literalism. Revolutions all usher in a new textual canon in their train, and they all, of necessity, locate interpretative truth in the literal sense. They must do that, since the revolution, by definition, constitutes a radical break with the past; the new society is determined by a document, either freshly written or rediscovered. The reading protocols for that document must be open and incontrovertible in the present; and the truth claim of any such document must not make appeal to a past reading community, with historically shaped interpretive practices. To recognize any historical determination of meaning would compromise the revolution’s claim to have started afresh, without reliance on any practice of the ancien régime. The society brought into being by the revolution, whether in 1517, 1688, 1776, or 1789, is brought into being by the document, not the other way around. The document must therefore be self-generating; must posit literalism as the hermeneutic default position; and must itself lay claim to literalist status. Its understanding of textuality is nearly the opposite of, say, English common law, and of English constitutionalism, both of which depend wholly on precedent, so much so in the case of English constitutionalism as to abjure any single codified, written document whatsoever.” After that author discusses information revolution of the time caused by implementation of printing press and movable type that made bible and other literature widely accessible, giving impetus to various interpretations and conflicts based on them. The chapters of this part “pursue less the material history of the book than the history of reading and community formation (and fracture). They pursue, to put it another way, the relation of textual interpretation and violence. The evidential materials author uses are less material books than, on the one hand, Reformation discourse about how scriptural writing legitimates or delegitimates institutional practice and spiritual status; and, on the other hand, Reformation literary texts that express, and sometimes seek to neutralize, the violence of early modern revolutionary Biblical reading.”
PART 7: Liberty and Liberties: 18 Liberty Taking Liberties
The final part is about author’s contemplation of Liberty. He writes: “I distinguish the main traditions of liberty in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Two are of especial importance: evangelical liberty and the so-called Neo-Roman theory of liberty, traditions that are, evidently, wholly heterogeneous in content. I will not parse which of these traditions was the principal force in the English Revolution (a task outside my competence in any case). Instead, I look first to the ways in which these wholly heterogeneous traditions in fact share formal properties in their understanding of Liberty as singular and animated… In sum, this final chapter aims to work out when liberties (plural) became Liberty (singular). I’ll also attempt to elucidate what the stakes of that change were. The essence of my argument is that singular Liberty is a product of early modernity: it comes into re-existence as a response to the theological and political centralizations—singularizations, if you will—of early modernizing Europe. Above all, it comes into existence as the response to two distinctively early-modern neoclassical resurgences: those of political absolutism on the one hand, and of theological absolutism on the other.”
Author also discusses role of Liberty, difference in its understanding (economic liberty and social choice liberty) in contemporary USA by different political forces, then links it back to early modernity and specifically to Protestant Reformation: “The key articulations of this longer narrative occur in the Reformations of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The key driver of this change in early modernity is as follows: as power centralizes and singularizes, so too does resistance to power centralize and singularize. As power claims absolutist prerogative, so too does resistance to power. The subjects of absolute power describe their condition as one of slavery. The past is described as the period of enslavement, enslavement either to the tyranny of the Roman Church, or to absolutist, or to potentially absolutist monarchical power. In response to those enslavements, singular, revolutionary, absolutist Liberty commands attention. The pattern also works in reverse: in response to a notion of singular Liberty defined negatively, as a savage state of nature, theorists such as Hobbes turn to the attractions of singularized, absolute Power. Promoters either of Liberty, or of absolutist monarchy, work within distinctively early modern singularizations of both liberty and power. Singularization of one produces a mirroring response in the other.”
Author also provides an interesting table for this thesis:
In conclusion author describes his work as analysis of history and foundations of Liberalism and that’s how he characterizes result:
“First, contemporary Liberalism looks unpersuasive in its account of its own history. When many liberal early modernist scholars go back to the sixteenth century, they focus on the following (for example) with approval: liberty, equality, free will, consent, the individual conscience, interiority and individuality, division of powers, rationality, toleration, reading, work, revolution. They focus on the following (for example) with disapproval: absolutism, predestination, hypocrisy, iconoclasm, anti-theatricality. “Protestantism” tends to be a code for the terms of approval, whereas “Catholic” encodes many of the terms of disapproval.
Second, Liberalism has not escaped the influence of its older sibling, evangelical religion. The reader will have noticed that in my chapters I consistently say that anti-evangelical movements “almost,” “nearly,” or “partially” succeeded in neutralizing the forces of permanent evangelical revolution. These qualifications are crucial, even if they cannot be fully substantiated within the bounds of the present book. If a revolution is truly permanent, then it leaves its scars on even the most resourceful alternative cultural forms that seek to neutralize and survive its punishing regime. For good or ill, liberals continue automatically to distrust institutions; overwork; calibrate agency with minute attention; fear inauthenticity; enjoy visual art in aesthetic conditions that remain partially iconoclastic; remain appalled at various forms of idolatry, even if the idolaters are now consumers; read to save themselves. Above all, many of us remain historical secessionists, vigilantly insisting on the legitimacy of the modern age, even as we find ourselves forever rowing against the current. We liberals remain children of our permanent revolutions; both energized and scarred by them.
Third, and finally, progressivist liberals stand in danger of damaging the good of Liberalism by claiming impossibly excellent standards for Liberalism. Liberals regard Liberalism as a worldview, or what Germans would call a Weltanschauung. A worldview proper implies claims about the process of history and the makeup of human being. A worldview claims to understand the historical process and to deliver humans from history, so as to liberate full human being. Christianity and Marxism are, for example, worldviews, with their separate salvation histories and anthropologies…
Liberalism is not a worldview. It claims no scheme of salvation history, or Heilsgeschichte, and has no developed anthropology. It does not offer itself as a category to sit beside a religious or political Weltanschauung. When those with a proper Weltanschauung (what might be called a first-order belief system), either religious or secularist, dismiss Liberalism as “hollow” (as they frequently do), they are missing the point. Liberalism is meant to be hollow. Liberalism is a second-order belief system, a tool for managing first-order belief systems. It is derivative (as its historical appearance would suggest), and secondary to first-order belief systems. It promises only to manage and mediate those first-order systems. The clash of first-order belief systems leads to violence; Liberalism promises to manage the violence. Liberalism is a tool, an instrument designed to govern first-order belief systems that tend not to negotiate. For this reason, Liberalism stands always in an asymmetrical rhetorical position with regard to first-order belief systems, looking cool and detached against its hot and committed first-order competitors. When progressivist liberals treat Liberalism itself as a first-order belief system, they produce what look like hollowed-out versions of first-order belief systems. Liberalism’s minimalist anthropology; the abstract, universalist legal principles that flow from that anthropology; its lack of a salvation history; its default positions of institutional distrust; its often impoverished conception of singular Liberty: each make Liberalism look weak as long as liberals claim that Liberalism is a worldview rather than a tool for governing worldviews.”
MY TAKE ON IT:
It is very interesting approach and I think it would be great if one could divide systems of believe in the first and second orders. However I think such attempts are possible only if and when mode of behavior linked to Liberalism: such as tolerance, non-violent discussions, and peaceful change of control over government, are the first-order believes and worldviews are secondary. The contemporary Progressivism is the product of Socialist ideology only slightly disguised as something different, kind of related to Liberalism, and not related to oceans of blood spilled on behalf of this ideology in XX century. Historically this Socialist ideology was very successful in using Liberalism to get power and then pushed it out of window. The only way Liberalism can survive is to recognize that it is the first-order believe system and start responding violently to any hint of violence, and intolerantly to any hint of intolerance. For example heckler’s veto should be responded to by heckler removal and punishment to compensate others for time lost. In the past the victory over illiberal forces came from competitive illiberal forces. I think the time is nigh to remove such forces from existence.
20191027 – The Age of Living Machines
The main idea of this book is to present the latest technological achievements of MIT and other American high tech institutions and then convince reader that bright future depends on giving them lots and lots of government money above and beyond of lots and lots of government money they are receiving now.
This refers to growth of population and need to overcome Malthus ideas about population growth outpacing resources, resulting in wars and starvations. Author points out that it was prevented by technological development of XIX and XX centuries and her believe that we need another technological breakthrough to prevent it in the future. Author also presents here the plan of the book with annotation for each chapter.
1 WHERE THE FUTURE COMES FROM
This starts with a bit of biography of how author became MIT president and then moves to ideas of integrating different scientific fields, with such integration providing for new discoveries and inventions. Author discusses the first such integration of physics and engineering and then promotes the new integration of biology and engineering.
2 CAN BIOLOGY BUILD A BETTER BATTERY?
This chapter introduces the nucleic acids, DNA and RNA, which serve as biology’s information system. Nucleic acids direct the assembly of biological structures and ensure the accurate transmission of traits from one generation to the next. Nucleic acids can be manipulated, and this chapter describes how nucleic acids of viruses have been manipulated for next-generation battery fabrication. DNA and RNA carry the instruction set for the assembly of proteins, the mini-machines responsible for many biological functions.
3 WATER, WATER EVERYWHERE A CANCER-FIGHTING NANOPARTICLES
This chapter tells the story of the discovery of protein, called aquaporin. Aquaporin serves as a highly specific channel for water flowing into and out of cells (in bacteria, animals, and plants) and is now being deployed in commercial water filters.
4 CANCER FIGHTING NANOPARTICLES
The technologies discussed in this chapter introduce one of the fastest growing areas of medicine—namely, molecular medicine—with its central premise that disease processes reflect perturbations in the normal molecular processes of our cells. Highly sensitive new technologies that recognize those perturbations make early disease detection more reliable and less expensive. Our complex biological functions, such as breathing, digestion, and hearing, are carried out by complex tissues composed of an array of different kinds of cells gathered and organized together, with the brain the most complex tissue of all.
5 AMPLIFYING THE BRAIN
This describes how the brain sends messages along nerves to move limbs and how new technologies can restore to amputees and victims of brain injury the ability to move their limbs.
6 FEEDING THE WORLD
This is the last technological chapter that returns us to the sum of the parts. For every living organism, the sum of gene and protein expression is revealed in its physical traits -its phenotype. Over at least the last ten thousand years humankind has selected and propagated plants and animals by evaluating their phenotypes. Here author describes new engineering tools that accelerate phenotype-based selection, promising to identify more productive and more resilient food crops in time to nourish the planet’s growing population.
7 CHEATING MALTHUS, ONCE AGAIN: Making Convergence Happen Faster
The final chapter discusses what author calls Convergence 2.0: combination of technical and biological sciences, which follows historical conversion of physics and engineering – Conversion 1.0. Author notes that all fundamental discoveries necessary for Conversion 1.0 were made before 1930, but somehow fails to mention that it was done with private support with no government money whatsoever. After that she greatly praises government role in its implementation, which was driven by military needs of WWII and then Cold War. Author then links scientific progress directly to government funding and call for its dramatic increase.
MY TAKE ON IT:
This book is interesting for me in two ways. One is description of current and coming technological achievements based on scientific research. The other one is author’s mode of thinking, which is probably highly typical for contemporary bureaucratic scientist who probably spent good chunk of her time in all kinds of competitive bureaucratic fights for funding. Understandably, the future of science in her mind depends on outcome of these bureaucratic games. I do not believe that it is correct approach. Government / Bureaucratic funding produces well fed, wealthy bureaucrats rather than well developed technology. I would like to see real breakdown of funding, which I have no doubt would demonstrate huge waste on meaningless projects like “Future impacts of increase in temperature from global warming on something in XXV century”. I think that America had very good scientific arrangement when Universities funded by private charities and reasonable tuition fees produced high quality fundamental science and well educated citizens who were capable developing new technologies and run successful businesses, while adjusting these technologies to human needs and making huge amounts of money in the process. Later on these successful people donated significant resources back to Universities partly to satisfy their scientific curiosity, something that well educated people usually develop, and partly to establish their legacy. The current system of government funding from money confiscated from productive people and allocated vie political and bureaucratic games is detrimental to development of real science and supports huge waste on pseudo science, which is always much more politically correct than real science.
20191020 – The Human Swarm
The main idea of this book is to look at formation, maintenance, and dissolution of all types of societies from ants to humans, their functioning and/or malfunctioning. The main points are:
- Society membership based on various parameters, which define individuals that belong as separate and different from those who do not belong, creating support for the former and rejection and often hostility to latter.
- Societies are tremendously different and it is questionable that there are ways to avoid clashes, even if interests are irreconcilable.
- There is some logical commonality in origin, maintenance, and dissolution of societies that could be understood by methods of science including “biology, anthropology, and psychology, with some philosophy thrown in for good measure.”
- The future depends on human ability to overcome limitations of struggle of one’s society against others and find accommodation and resolution of difference within societies and between them.
Author describes his objectives for each chapter in some detail, providing pretty good overview of the book.
SECTION I: AFFILIATION AND RECOGNITION
This part “takes in the wide range of vertebrate societies”,
that author is familiar with as biologist
Chapter 1: What a Society Isn’t (and What It Is)
This is about the role of cooperation in societies, which author believes is less essential than the matter of identity; societies consist of a distinct set of members in a rich tapestry of relationships, not all of which are harmonious.
Chapter 2: What Vertebrates Get out of Being In
This chapter covers other vertebrate species, especially the mammals, to illuminate how societies, despite whatever imperfections in the system of partnership that exists within them, benefit the members by providing for their needs and protecting them.
Chapter 3: On the Move
“The third chapter probes into how the movements of animals within and between societies are important to the success of the various groups. One versatile pattern of activity, fission-fusion, creates a dynamic that helps explain the evolution of intelligence in certain species, humans most obviously among them, and the subject will come up repeatedly in this book. “
Chapter 4: Individual Recognition
“Chapter 4 investigates how much the members of most mammal societies must know about each other for their societies to stay together. Here, author reveals a limiting factor in the societies of many species: all their members are obliged to know each other as individuals, whether they like each other or not, restricting the societies to, at most, a few dozen individuals. This sets up a puzzle about how the human species broke free of such a constraint.
SECTION Il: ANONYMOUS SOCIETIES
This section addresses a group of organisms that readily crash through the population limit of individual-to-individual familiarity: social insects. He states as one of his objectives to break down any aversions that the reader may have about likening insects to “higher species,” especially humans, by making clear the value of these comparisons.
Chapter 5: Ants and Humans, Apples and Oranges
Chapter 5 reports on how social complexity generally climbs with an increase in the size of insect societies with features like infrastructure and division of labor becoming more complex, a trend paralleled in humans.
Chapter 6: The Ultimate Nationalists
Chapter 6 looks at how most social insects, and a few vertebrates such as the sperm whale, demonstrate affiliation with a society by using something that marks their identity: chemistry (a scent) in ants, and a sound in whales. These simple techniques are not constrained by the limitations of memory, and thus permit the societies of certain species to reach immense sizes, in a few cases without an upper bound.
Chapter 7: Anonymous Humans
The chapter after that, “Anonymous Humans,” spells out how humans employ the same approach: our species is attuned to markers that reflect what each society finds acceptable, including behaviors so subtle they may only be noticed subliminally. By this means people can connect with strangers in what author calls an anonymous society, thereby breaking the glass ceiling in the size societies can achieve.
SECTION III: HUNTER-GATHERERS UNTIL RECENT TIMES
Chapter 8: Band Societies; Chapter 9: The Nomadic Lite; Chapter 10: Settling Down
This section asks what the societies of our species were like before the advent of agriculture. Authors covers people who existed as hunter-gatherers up to recent times, ranging from those who lived nomadically in small, spread-out groups, called bands, and others who settled down for much or all of the year. Although the nomads have gotten most of the attention and are treated as the gold standard for our ancestral condition, a readily defensible conclusion is that both options have been within the reach of human beings likely going back to the origins of our species. We can also conclude that hunter-gatherers were not archaic people living an archaic mode of existence. Their people must be recognized as essentially no different from us: humans, as it were, “in the present tense.” Despite traces of ongoing, even rapid human evolution in the past 10,000 years, the human brain clearly hasn’t been restructured in any fundamental way since the appearance of the first Homo sapiens. This implies that notwithstanding any human adjustments to modern life, we can look to the lifestyles of hunter-gatherers in recorded history and consider the nature of early human societies as the bedrock that underlies our own. What concerns author most are the extraordinary differences between the nomadic hunter-gatherers—equality-minded jacks-of-all-trades, who solved issues by discussion—and settled hunter-gatherers, whose societies often became open to leaders, division of labor, and disparities in wealth. The former social structure points to a psychological versatility we still possess, even if most people today behave more like settled hunter-gatherers. Two conclusions of Section III are that hunter-gatherers had distinct societies and that those societies were distinguished, just as societies are now, by markers of identity. What that means is that at some point in the distant past, our ancestors must have taken the crucial but heretofore overlooked evolutionary step of making use of badges of membership that would, in time, permit our societies to grow large.
SECTION IV: THE DEEP HISTORY OF HUMAN ANT
Chapter 11: Pant-Hoots and Passwords
For clues about how this happened, Section IV transports us into the past and also scrutinizes the behavior of modern chimps and bonobos. Author puts forward the hypothesis that a simple shift in how the apes use one of their vocalizations, the pant-hoot, could make that sound essential for identifying each other as society members. Such a transformation, or something like it, could have easily occurred in our distant ancestors. Ever more markers would have been added to this initial “password,” many of them connected to our bodies, transforming them into flesh-and-blood bulletin boards for displaying human identity. Having looked at how markers of identity originated, we are in a position to explore the psychology underlying those markers and society membership.
SECTION V: FUNCTIONING (OR NOT) IN SOCIETIES
Chapter 12: Sensing Others; Chapter 13: Stereotypes and Stories; Chapter 14: The Great Chain; Chapter 15: Grand Unions; Chapter 16: Putting Kin in Their Place
The five chapters of Section V, “Functioning (or Not) in Societies,” review a fascinating range of recent findings about the human mind. Most of the research has focused on ethnicity and race, but should apply to societies as well. Among the topics are the following: how people see others as possessing an underlying essence that make societies (and ethnicities and races) so fundamental that they think of these groups as if they were separate biological species; how infants learn to recognize such groups; the role stereotypes play in streamlining our interactions with others, and how those stereotypes can become tied to prejudices; and how the prejudices are expressed automatically, and unavoidably, often leading us to perceive an outsider more as a member of his or her ethnicity or society than as a unique individual. Our psychological assessments of others are many and varied, including our penchant for ranking outsiders as “below” our own people or in some cases as subhuman altogether. The fourth chapter of Section V elucidates how we apply these assessments of others to societies as a whole. People believe that the members of foreign groups (and their own people as well) can act as a united entity, with emotional responses and goals of its own. The final chapter steps back to draw from what we have discovered about the psychology of societies and the underlying biology to pose more sweeping questions about how family life fits in the picture—whether, for example, societies can be understood as a kind of extended family.
SECTION VI: PEACE AND CONFLICT
Section VI, entitled “Peace and Conflict,” takes on the issue of the relationships among societies.
Chapter 17: Is Conflict Necessary?
In this chapter author documents the evidence from nature, which shows that while animal societies need not be in conflict, peace between them is relatively rare, present in just a few species and supported by situations of minimal competition.
Chapter 18: Playing Well with Others
The second chapter then highlights hunter-gatherers to examine how not merely peace but active collaborations between societies provided additional options for our species.
SECTION VII: THE LIFE AND DEATH OF SOCIETIES
Chapter 19: The Lifecycle of Societies; Chapter 20: The Dynamic “Us”; Chapter 21: Inventing Foreigners and the Death of Societies
Section VII, “The Life and Death of Societies,” examines how societies come together and fall apart. Before writing about people, author surveys the animal kingdom, concluding that all societies go through some sort of lifecycle. Although, other mechanisms for starting new societies exist, the pivotal event in most species is the division of an existing society. The evidence from chimpanzees and bonobos, bolstered by data on other primates, is that a division is preceded by the emergence, over months or years, of factions in the society, which increases discord and ultimately causes a split. The same formation of factions, usually over the passage of centuries, takes place with humans also, except for a key difference: the primary pressure that severed human factions was when the original uniting markers keeping a society together were no longer shared, leading people to see themselves as incompatible. This section lays plain how people’s perceptions of their own identities change over time in a way that could not be stopped in prehistory, mainly the result of poor communication across hunter-gatherer bands. For this reason, hunter-gatherer societies split apart when they were tiny by today’s standards.
SECTION VIII: TRIBES TO NATIONS
Chapter 22: Turning a Village into a Conquering Society; Chapter 23: Building and Breaking a Nation
The expansion of societies into states (nations) was made possible by the social changes author lays out in section VIII, “Tribes to Nations.” Some hunter-gatherer settlements and tribal villages with simple agriculture took the first tentative steps in this direction as leaders extended their power to take control of neighboring societies. Author begins by describing how tribes were organized into multiple villages, each of which acted independently much of the time. The leaders of these loosely connected villages were not very proficient at sustaining social unity and curtailing social breakdowns, in part because they lacked the means of keeping their people on the same page with regards to identifying with the society—things such as roadways and ships that connected people with what their compatriots were doing elsewhere. Growth also required societies to expand their dominion over the territories of their neighbors. This didn’t occur peacefully: across the animal kingdom author finds little evidence of societies freely merging. Human societies came to conquer each other, thereby bringing outsiders into their fold. Occasional transfers of membership take place in other species too, but in humans such exchange was taken to a new level with the advent of slavery, and finally, the subjugation of entire groups. Now that we understand the forces that can cause small societies to scale up to large ones, including the nations of today, the final chapter of Section VIII evaluates how these societies tend to meet their end. What’s typical of societies put together by conquest isn’t division between factions, as we saw earlier for hunter-gatherers, nor utter collapse, though it can happen, but rather a fracturing that almost always occurs roughly along the ancient territorial lines of the peoples that have come to make up the society. Large societies may be no more durable than small ones, fragmenting on average once every few centuries.
SECTION IX: FROM CAPTIVE TO NEIGHBOR… TO GLOBAL CITIZEN
The final section carries us along the circuitous route that led to the rise of ethnicities and races and the at times muddy waters of current national identities.
Chapter 24: The Rise of Ethnicities
To become an interlocking whole, a conquering society had to make the shift from controlling what had been independent groups to accepting them as members. This requires an adjustment in people’s identities, in which ethnic minority groups adjust to the majority people—the dominant group that most often, founded the society and controls not only its identity, but also most of the resources and power. This assimilation would be accomplished only to a degree, for this reason: ethnicities and races—as demonstrated earlier in the book for individual persons and for societies as well—will be most comfortable together if they share some commonalities and yet differ enough to feel distinct. Status differences emerge among the various minorities too, and may change over the course of generations—though the majority almost always stays firmly in control. Bringing the minorities into the fold as society members entails allowing them to intermix with the majority people, a geographical integration of populations that not all past societies have permitted.
Chapter 25: Divided We Stand
This chapter tackles how modern societies have made the friendlier incorporation of large numbers of outsiders possible through immigration. Such movements have seldom occurred easily, and, as in the past, have assigned lower power and status to the immigrants, who may face the least resistance when they take on social roles that minimize competition with other members while giving them a sense of value and esteem. The identity immigrants had once treasured in their ethnic homeland is often recast into broader racial groups. The shift in perception may initially be pushed on the newcomers, but they can accept the changes because of the advantages of having a more extensive base of social support in the adopted society. The chapter closes by describing how criteria for citizenship have come to deviate from the psychology of how people register who has a rightful place in a society. The latter is heavily influenced by people’s attitudes about how important a society should be in providing for different individuals or groups versus protecting themselves—attitudes relating to patriotism and nationalism, respectively. Variation among the members in these points of view may well be required for a healthy society, even though it also compounds the social conflicts that make headlines today.
Chapter 26: The Inevitability of Societies
This raises the issue of whether societies are necessary. In making what inferences author can in this book, he admits up front that a unified field of study of societies is a distant dream. All too often, academic disciplines foster a habitual concentration on certain modes of thought and a disdain for the unfamiliar by dividing the intellectual world into mutually alien fields known as biology, philosophy, sociology, anthropology, and history, thus leaving much room in the nooks and crannies between for debate. For instance, “modernist” scholars of history view nations as a purely recent phenomenon. Author’s contention will be that the national pedigree has ancient roots. Some anthropologists and sociologists go a step further and see societies as entirely optional, with people forming such unions when it serves their interests. Author’s goal is to show that membership in a society is as essential for our well being as finding a mate or loving a child. Author frustrates somewhat in his own discipline of biology. He has listened to biologists adamantly oppose the idea that societies ought to be examined as groups of distinct identity and membership when their study species don’t quite match with this criterion—a passionate reaction that more than anything makes plain the cachet of the word “society.” Disputes among the specialists aside, readers of every political persuasion will find both good and bad news in the current science. Whatever readers’ social views, author urges them to consider insights from fields beyond their usual interests to become aware of how one’s own, often subliminal, biases and those of people around – writ large, across multitudes – might affect both the actions of a country and individual’s daily conduct with others.
Conclusion: Identities Shift and Societies Shatter
Here author summarizes his views on human relations within society and between societies. This includes absolute necessity of society for human existence, expansion of societies beyond limitations of individual recognition, with necessity of market to support such expansion. He then discusses treatment of aliens, and consequently relations between societies as based on levels of maturity of individuals and their society with more mature societies being more tolerant. Author also discusses issues of individual freedom and group freedom and how they relate to others using American experiment to make major points of his views. Finally he expresses caution for future developments that he believes currently moves away from pursuit of diversity to pursuit of national prosperity and fear that any discontent will be directed at outsiders. His hope is that human trend to cooperate to mutual benefit would be more powerful than trend to blame and attack others for any arising problems.
MY TAKE ON IT:
I think author provides pretty good narrative of history, formation, functioning, and/or dis-functioning of societies in animal world including humans. I think that we are in process of formation of one global society covering all individuals on this planet. Only I do not believe that it would be easy and fast process and I also do not believe that it would be done with kind of salad plate when different cultures remain mixed and separate at the same time. I think that it would be rather melting pot of formation of the one united society with one language and one culture formed on the bases of previously existing cultures providing very different input: some cultures huge and some very small. The process of such formation is unpredictable and may or may not include massive violence and forced accommodation to some norms. It also may or may not be very benign with individuals’ voluntary accepting features of preferred culture they think to be more beneficent for them. One thing I am pretty sure about is that it all depends on triumph of failure of ongoing American experiment, which is now endangered by uncontrollable cancerous growth of bureaucracy and administrative state that are suppressing individual freedoms, making peaceful accommodation all but impossible. Actually I hope that existing American society is strong enough to overcome this disease and consequently open the way to universal truly democratic society, but it is just a hope.
20191013 – Discrimination and Disparities
The main idea here is to restate once again author’s believes in complexity of the world and futility of applying simple and primitive solutions to many complex problems of contemporary society. Author goes one by one through hot points of contemporary discussions, demonstrating that in complex world only multitude of specific decisions made by individuals for themselves could lead to improvement, while violent intervention by power crazy leftists via government directives could only hurt everybody, eventually leading to dramatic decline of society.
Chapter 1: Disparities and Prerequisites
Here author presents an idea that the result of any actions depends on combination of prerequisites and demands of the moment. For example someone with 5 prerequisites to achieve something that requires all 5 will achieve it, while everybody else with either any 1 or 4 prerequisites will fail. Since these prerequisites not always and not all depend on person’s effort, the achievement is combination of luck and effort. Author provides very interesting result of Harvard longitude study of men with very high IQ, which demonstrated low correlation between lifetime achievements and IQ. Another peace of empirical data is the variance in achievement between twins raised in the same family. There is also high level of correlation between birth sequence of individuals and their achievements, with earlier born having higher achievements. Author also analyses history of Jews as high achieving group and points out that it was case at the very specific time period when their prerequisites fit to circumstances. Author also applies this point for institutions and organizations, demonstrating the same evolutionary fitness or lack thereof. Finally author discusses implications of these ideas, stating that various factors help or hamper developments, but not define them deterministically neither for individuals nor for groups.
Chapter 2: Discrimination: Meanings and Costs
Author defines two types of Discrimination:
Type I:” The broader meaning is an ability to discern differences in the qualities of people and things, and choosing accordingly”. This pretty much means evaluate people as individuals – effective, but very costly and not always easily available process.
Type II: This means evaluate people based on their belonging to some group, automatically assigning real or perceived characteristics of this group to individual – ineffective and often harmful, but low cost, intuitive, and very speedy method.
Author also discusses what he calls Discrimination IB – discrimination based on small number of group characteristics. As example author provides assumption of low creditworthiness and high insurance rate in localities with high crime rate.
After that author discusses examples of discrimination with interesting patterns when clearly ideological racists fought against discrimination that was detrimental to their own well being, like demand for segregated railroad cars when there were not enough passengers to keep it profitable: for example enough whites to fill 0.5 of car and blacks to fill 1.5. With discrimination one needs 3 cars, 2 being half-empty, while without only 2 cars.
Chapter 3: Sorting and Unsorting People
This is about human tendency to settle among people who could help one to manage life challenges. Typically it is similar people and author discusses such sorting not only on ethnic or racial basis, but also within communities: sometimes by place of origin and sometimes by business similarities. Author also discusses assumption that people immediately make about others by appearance. He provides a couple stories about rich blacks professors causing fear because they are big and black before people recognize them as rich and educated. Author also discusses government imposed sorting that unlike self-sorting is not possible remediate by better knowledge about individual.
Author also discusses methods of unsorting: Education, Residential, and equal employment. In all cases author points out to distortion brought in by government intervention, which actually causes problem for people who are really trying to rise. For example government programs of subsidized housing often leads to placement of disturbing people into locations with lower middle class population who are paying full price for housing in these areas at great sacrifices to provide safe environment for their children, only to see government nullifying their efforts.
Chapter 4: The World of Numbers
This chapter is about manipulation of statistics to promote some bureaucratic and/or political agenda. This is very typical when used to find racism where there is none: either in income distribution, crime data, capital gains calculations, and so on. The implication of such manipulation is often false believes, political support for ineffective and even harmful measures, and waste of resources.
Chapter 5: The World of Words
This chapter is about manipulation of words similar to manipulation of data and used for the same purpose: promote some political agenda and direct public resources into whatever schema manipulators desire to promote. Author presents a number of examples of such manipulation such as “Diversity” use to promote racism, Ex Ante substituted based on Ex Post events like explaining someone’s achievement by some unspecified privileges that nobody could see before the achiever obtained results. Another contemporary innovation of the left is use of word “Violence” on context where no violence could be occurring like in response to words or images. There is the whole are of manipulation when manipulator targets some ridiculous idea or notion linking it to opponent’s position, even if opponent never subscribed to this idea. Examples are “Trickle down economics”, “Racism”, “White supremacism”, and many others. One interesting example of such use is “Freedom” used with meaning of absence of fear, poverty, and poor health, even if none of these has anything to do with freedom of person to obtain information, to express self, to get job to escape poverty, or use treatment to improve health.
Chapter 6: Social Visions and Human Consequences
This chapter is the critic of prevailing social vision that diminishes individuals responsibility for their prosperity, health, and wellbeing or lack thereof. It includes absolutely unfounded assumption that results for everybody should be the same and if they are not, then some politico-bureaucratic intervention is justified to enforce equality of results. Author then discusses typical human consequences of such interventions and notes how what he calls “toxic vision” completely blinds people who religiously cling to this vision despite reality of multitude of factual data demonstrating failures of their programs.
Chapter 7: Facts, Assumptions and Goals
Author starts this chapter by stating that his goal is not really propose solutions, but rather “provide enough clarification to enable others to make up their own minds about the inevitable claims and counter-claims sure to arise from those who are promoting their own notions or their own interests.”
Correspondingly he discusses:
- Meanings and prospects of equality, which is inexorably linked to question of merit vs. productivity: do people deserve to get something that other people produce or they should be productive to get something. Another point is inequality of languages some of which are more developed then others.
- Disparities: people represent not only their inherent qualities, but also background, which are in some circumstances beneficial, but in others detrimental.
- Culture: author compares Scandinavia with Middle East and then discusses issues of culture clash when people from Middle East immigrate to Scandinavia
- Process goals versus Outcome Goals: the former highly beneficial, creating conditions for people to obtain what they want, while latter highly detrimental, prompting people demand something they did not earn.
- Social Justice understood as“(1) the seemingly invincible fallacy that various groups would be equally successful in the absence of biased treatment by others, (2) the cause of disparate outcomes can be determined by where statistics showing the unequal outcomes were collected, and (3) if the more fortunate people were not completely responsible for their own good fortune, then the government—politicians, bureaucrats and judges—will produce either efficiently better or morally superior outcomes by intervening.
- The Past and the Future: the look at history is both frustrating and aspiring because it filled with examples of decline of highly developed societies and blossoming of previously dormant societies and peoples.
MY TAKE ON IT:
As nearly always with his other books, I agree with main points that Tomas Sowell makes in this book. However I think that his position of not looking for solution is not sufficient. Presenting intellectual and moral deficiencies of contemporary left and their “toxic vision” should be combined with presentation of another vision, which would go beyond just asking for less government intervention, but also demonstrating how to decrease it and how to make people left behind to fight people of the government in order to protect themselves and retain the freedoms they still have.
20191006 – Big Business
The main idea of this book is to present kind of pro-business manifesto that would reject typical attacks against business and present reasons to believe that overall role of business and specifically big corporations is a lot more positive, than many people believe.
- A New Pro-Business Manifesto
It starts with the simple statement that without business nothing in economy would be created or moved. Then author proceeds to extoll particular virtues of American Business such as superior management practices: “It has been estimated that Chinese firms could increase their productivity by 30 to 50 percent and Indian firms could do so by 40 to 60 percent merely by bringing the quality of their management practices up to American levels.” After that author compares American Business and Government and concludes that former clearly works better than latter. Finally he states that he was prompted to write this book by massive attack against business from the left and from the right that led to low level of trust that it has with American public, which is even worse than trust in nearly all other institutions:
At the end of chapter author expresses his believe that business deserves better trust and his intention to provide prove of it in this book.
- Are Businesses More Fraudulent Than the Rest of us?
The obvious response presented in this chapter is “NO”, the business is no more fraudulent than regular people and probably quite a bit less than public employees. Author discusses a number of studies confirming this and then moves into psychological research demonstrating that CEOs are more trusting than regular people. He also provides some interesting data obtained from cross-cultural research demonstrating that people more exposed to developed market economy are more honest.
- Are CEOs Paid Too Much?
Author position here is that CEO properly paid that much because their decisions have huge impact on success or failure of very big businesses and these decisions are highly non-trivial. He discusses skill set of the modern CEO and here is some really funny citation:”The CEO is the modern world’s equivalent of a successful philosopher, as a good CEO must have a reasonably well-rounded sense of nearly the entirety of the contemporary human experience, whether as worker, consumer, funder, media communicator, or political activist. In reality, there is no other job that is as—yes I will stick with that word—philosophical. Good CEOs are some of the world’s most potent creators and have some of the very deepest skills of understanding.
Author also refer to interesting research on what happens when CEOs dies. The usual consequence: companies lose at least some value. The final point in this chapter is author’s attempt invalidate usual view that CEO’s time span of planning is too short and they are sacrificing long term prospective for short term gains.
- Is Work Fun?
Author looks at polls demonstrating that work is not fun, but then at work time data demonstrating that people work now more hours than they used to. There was also an interesting research checking hormones of people during work hours and at home for stress. It turned out that being at home often is more stressful than work.
Author concedes that not everything is perfect in work places and there is not very nice staff about harassment, companies taking advantage of their workers using market power, and so on. However all this often comes not from company policy, but from other employees. At the end of chapter author compares different organizational forms and finds that coop is not that good either.
- How Monopolistic Is American Big Business?
The analysis here provides that business is by far less monopolistic than people think and that really big and bad monopoly are government monopolies such as K-12 education.
- Are the Big Tech Companies Evil?
Here author goes through usual litany of accusations and responds:
- Competition in high tech did not disappear
- Tech Companies continue innovating
- Internet and computers does not make humans stupid
However there is one area in which author does have a very serious concern: loss of privacy, and he discusses it in details.
- What Is Wall Street Good for, Anyway?
This chapter is response to wave of accusations against financial business, usually by people who have now clue about finance role in contemporary world. So author explains:
- VC drive innovation – no startups without money
- Companies shares allow people participate in financing business and benefit from stock appreciation
- Comparatively to other countries Americans are taxed less and have reliable banking system.
- American financial system did not grow unreasonably big, but rather grows in proportion to increased wealth of society when ratio of assets to income is growing all the time.
- Americans have huge benefit from the scale of their financial system because it supports global peace and prosperity by assuring money, goods, and services flow relatively unimpeded.
- Crony Capitalism: How Much Does Big Business Control the American Government
This chapter is about business influence on government, and author makes very valid point that government constantly interfere into business imposing demands and regulations, so all this lobbying is pretty much business self-defense against predatory politicians.
- If Business Is So Good, Why Is It So Disliked?
In the first part of this chapter author discusses anthropomorphizing corporations. The corporations encourage this attitude by using symbols that aim to personalize them as trusting friends and supporters. It is especially obvious no when corporations are active on social media and use AI to interact with customer via humanlike conversations and images. However there is downside from personalizing and it is ease with which corporation as personal friend could be turned into enemy. There is the whole industry, which is built on vilifying corporations – Hollywood. The movies usually based on fight between good and evil and humans who pay for entertainment associate with good in movies. Obviously the good had to be represented by humans, while evil could not. It had to be represented by some abstract entity like Nazis or Aliens or most often by soulless corporations. Similarly even if majority of people are corporate employees, they tend to perceive whatever good comes from their employment, as their fair deserve and whatever bad as expression of inhumane corporate nature. Author final word is about social responsibility of business and this is how he puts it: “And what, in turn, is the social responsibility of business? I don’t think there is a single concrete answer to that question except the following: the social responsibility of business is to come up with new and better conceptions of the social responsibility of business, ones that will both boost corporate profits and further other social ends, including prosperity and liberty. You might say the social responsibility of business is to come up with the magic of a vision that will help us trust it more, whether as consumers or as workers. Corporations won’t succeed all of the time at this, but American business, by enabling so much wealth creation and by creating so many new opportunities, arguably has outperformed any other set of private institutions in all of world history.”
MY TAKE ON IT:
I think that the whole idea of anthropomorphized corporation is very harmful for the society because it allows really bad people to hide beyond corporation and often denies good people appreciation that they truly deserve. There are very complex and historically deep reasons for corporations obtaining personality including some legal and human rights like sue and being sued and recently even free speech. I personally think that this structure is outdated and just remains from time when it was impossibly to process information to the human individual level so one had to trust brand name of corporation or sue corporation for negligence of individual working for it. I think over the next few dozen years this approach will be gone and reward or punishment for good or bad actions would be directed not at the abstract corporation, but at the specific human actors.
I generally agree with author in his description and rejection of typical accusations against corporations, except for CEOs income. With all justifications that author provides, the reality is that CEO compensation decided by boards appointed by CEOs, consistent of current and formers CEO, who, quite normally, view the world through CEOs lenses. If we remove possibility of CEOs as a group having infinitely higher moral standards than general population, which in my view is negligible, we should expect them to pay themselves out of investors’ pocket as much as legal system would allow. However taxes are not a reasonable way to go because taxes just mean that resources transferred from corporate bureaucrats to government bureaucrats, which generally are usually lot less competent. Similarly any limitations on CEO compensation only serve to direct efforts at avoiding such limitations instead running corporation to benefit of owners. The only reasonable way, in my view, would be create direct and simple link between company performance and CEO actions in such way that poor performance would guarantee low levels of compensation, unlike stock options, which quite often provide enormous compensation for average performance and huge compensation for poor performance.
20190929 – End of Work
The main point of this book is that the work one does because he/she loves it is not really work, but rather enjoyable application of one’s energy. The consequence of increased prosperity is ability of people to do what they love, so the work would not feel like work, constituting therefore the end of work. The most important extension of this idea into the future is that non-routine works like sports, games, cooking, and such could provide joyful employment allowing doing what they love for people who will lose their jobs to automation.
Author starts this with description of the band in which players reached retirement age, but continue perform because they love what they do. It leads to the statement: “The central message of this book is that you’re not lazy, you’re simply in the wrong job. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Successful people will tell you that success springs from the pursuit of all kinds of work—with lots of failure in the process”. So author promises: “Whatever you’ve been told and whatever you believe about yourself, you have within you the work ethic, intelligence, and charisma that you marvel at in others. What’s missing is the kind of work that inspires the heroic effort of which you’re capable. I’m going to show you that that work is within your grasp and how to recognize it. Truly, the end of work is near.
CHAPTER ONE: Why College Football Players Should Major in College Football
This chapter is about Football players that make millions, but have to go through college, pretending that they learn something else. Author’s recommendation is to teach football as a profession.
CHAPTER TWO: Intelligence and Passion Don’t Stop at Football
This chapter is about basketball and baseball, both being also a pretty good source of income for top players. In addition author refers to book “Moneyball” and discusses high levels of special intellect required to be successful in all these games.
CHAPTER THREE: Education Isn’t Meaningless, But It’s Grossly Overrated
This chapter starts with very wise quote from Ludwig von Mises: “The successful conduct of business demands qualities quite other than those necessary for passing examinations—even if the examinations deal with subjects bearing on the work of the position in question.”
Then author proceeds to demonstrate using a few examples how musicians with no formal musical education like Beatles not just achieved huge success, but also changed how music is played. In addition to Beatles he discusses Rolling Stones and their impact on popular music. Author also brings in a few more examples like Brothers Wright, a few movie starts, Internet personalities and so on. The main point here is that education follows technological and cultural breakthrough rather that creates them.
CHAPTER FOUR: What Was Once Silly Is Now Serious
This chapter presents more examples of people following their dreams and doing what they love and achieving huge success. This time it is about cooking, restaurant business, and, once again, more actors that achieved success. One point added at the end of chapters is that new technology allows everybody make movie and post it on YouTube, or some equivalent for other professions, so barriers to entry become lower every day.
CHAPTER FIVE: Abundant Profits Make Possible the Work That Isn’t
The chapter starts with reference to high performing businessmen: Goizueta, Warren Buffet, Bill Gates and others who used their money for all kinds of charity, in process creating lots of jobs in non-profit organizations. Similarly author points out that without high profit there would be no high culture such as symphonies, universities, and such.
CHAPTER SIX: The Millennial Generation Will Be the Richest Yet—Until the Next One
Here author moves to discuss complains of current generation that they could not find jobs adequate to their education levels. He looks at this and other generations after WWII and concludes that they all were richer than previous ones, albeit not right away, but after some struggle.
CHAPTER SEVEN My story
Here author retells his story as college graduate of 1992, the time before Internet. Unlike ancient times when people were happy to find good enough jobs to earn living, author and his generation spend years or even decades looking for jobs that they would enjoy and make lots of money. In author’s case the search was successful.
CHAPTER EIGHT The “Venture Buyer”
Author starts this chapter with discussion of well known fact that nobody knows the future and government bureaucrats is not any better at predictions than capitalists. However people in free market environment evolutionary selected for their ability to move quickly to catch up in time with any new technology, trend or fashion making money from successful innovation. It is not only in production, but also in consumption. People with money, author calls them Venture buyers, buy new and exiting staff and if it is any good, promote it to everybody, consequently increasing demand, which in turn initiate economy of scale and improvements making this staff more and more effective and less and less expensive over time.
CHAPTER NINE: Why We Need People with Money to Burn
This is another bunch of examples that rich and semi rich spenders move progress either by using their wealth to invent things like brothers Wright, manage creation of new consumer products like Steve jobs, or do something else productive.
CHAPTER TEN: Love Your Robot, Love Your Job
Here author refers to the work of Henry Hazlitt and links his book to it:” I make three arguments in this book. First, everyone is intelligent in his own way. Second, everyone has a huge capacity to work if his work is matched with passion. Third, economic growth will allow work and passion to become one and the same for the greatest number of people. That’s why Hazlitt’s insight is so important. An “economy” is nothing more than a collection of individuals. When we take our economic thinking down to the level of the individual, we discover the secret to roaring economic growth: No individual is made more prosperous if local, state, and federal taxes shrink his income. What governments spend represents lost spending and savings for every individual.”
After that author moves to discuss technology and productivity growth that made contemporary world wealthy and his believe that it should cause game change from what it is now when people often do work they hate to the new game when people do what they like. In his opinion it would be world without laziness.
CHAPTER ELEVEN: Come Inside and Turn on the Xbox, You Have Work to Do
Here author recounts how in contemporary world people make good money playing golf, poker, or some X-box games. He presents the idea that such games require support like caddies who are high-level professionals in their own right and discusses real life examples at length. The inference from this is: ” The United States is already becoming a nation of happy workers, but we’ve only scratched the surface. The end of work has in a sense already arrived, but it could be so much better if our government taxed and spent more sensibly. You’re not lazy, you’re not stupid, and you’re not bereft of talent. You, like so many others, simply suffer a capital deficit. That can change if we demand that it change. If that happens, a life of enriching work will be our reward, and a certain reward for our children.”
MY TAKE ON IT:
Nice try, but somewhat light on thinking. At no point author try to compare numbers of jobs that will be lost to automation with number of jobs real or potential that could be created by sports, entertainment, and other areas that author believes susceptible to joyful working. The way reality looks now is that productive work removed by automation will be substituted not by some joyful jobs allowing people to play while working, but rather some miserly handouts like guarantied income and/or by soul killing miserable jobs of filing slots in some bureaucratic structure that pays better than this guarantied income in exchange for mindless conformity. I believe that there are better ways. These ways are not about doing something that one likes, even if nobody wants to pay for it, but rather about everybody having equal rights to natural resources including our biological DNA, cultural, and technological heritage so that people capable create wealth in amounts higher than average would have to buy rights for use of it from people who produced less than average.
20190922 – Genesis-The Deep Origin of Societies
The main idea here is to present idea of Eusociality that applies not only to humans, but also to other extremely successful forms of live –insects, especially ants. This idea helps to answer main philosophical questions humanity posed by referring to the process of evolution and not at the level of DNA only or even organism only, but at the level of society as whole with this process being broken into multiple levels, including competition between groups.
Author starts with defining the scope: “ALL QUESTIONS OF PHILOSOPHY THAT ADDRESS the human condition come down to three: what are we, what created us, and what do we wish ultimately to become.
“ Author believes that answers are in evolution and it is good not only for humans, but also for other forms of societies: ants and bees.
Chapter 1. The Search for Genesis
Here author presents his believes on key points for human self-understanding:
- Every part of the human body and mind has a physical base obedient to the laws of physics and chemistry. And all of it, so far as we can tell by continuing scientific examination, originated through evolution by natural selection.
- The unit of genetic evolution is the gene or ensemble of interacting genes. The target of natural selection is the environment, within which selection favors one form of a given gene (called an allele) over other forms (other alleles).
- During the biological organization of societies, natural selection has always been multilevel. Except in the case of “superorganisms,” as found in a few kinds of ants and termites, where subordinates form a sterile working class, each member competes with other members for rank, mates, and common resources. Natural selection simultaneously operates at the level of the group, affecting how well each group performs in competition against other groups.
Finally after that author discusses the key points of evolution: inheritance with variance and statistical selection of better breeders.
Chapter 2. The Great Transitions of Evolution
Here is how author defines the great transitions of evolution:
1.The origin of life
2.The invention of complex (“eukaryotic”) cells
3.The invention of sexual reproduction, leading to a controlled system of DNA exchange and the multiplication of species
4.The origin of organisms composed of multiple cells
5.The origin of societies
6.The origin of language
Author expresses his conviction that all teleological approaches to human evolution are false – the great transitions demonstrate that it is just natural process with no purpose whatsoever. He explains how each of these transition naturally occurred. Actually humans are not alone, huge number of other species moved along pretty far, with some all the way to level 5 and a few to level 6, albeit their language being very primitive, unlike human.
Chapter 3. The Great Transitions Dilemma and How It Was Solved
The dilemma here is about altruism and low probability of development of complex systems through multiple transitions. Author believes that it could be explained by evolution: “The solution begins with an appreciation of the enormity of the problem and the improbability, in fact near impossibility, of its solution. The great transitions together, composing the dragon challenge of evolution, lead through a field of extreme difficulty. Similarly, each of the transitions required almost unimaginably vast numbers of components (chemical compounds to simple living cells to eukaryotic cells and so on up), consuming long geologic periods of time, to create the next higher level. Each transition required, or at least was enhanced by, multilevel selection—occurrence of natural selection at the group levels added to selection at the individual level. “
Chapter 4. Tracking Social Evolution Through the Ages
Here author discusses formation of groups among various animals and their evolution. This process occurred many times so there is enough evidence to understand how it works. It seems to be done via: “…universal principle of modularity, the tendency of all biological systems to divide one way or another into semi-independent but cooperative groups. Members of the different groups specialize in function, even if just temporarily, in a way that serves the overall assembly as a whole and thereby on average benefits each individual singly”. Author believes that this process could lead to increase in groups’ complexity to the level, which is seldom achieved that he calls EUSOCIALITY. In Eusociality “the colony is divided into a “royal” caste specialized for reproduction, and a nonreproductive “worker” caste that performs the labor of the colony. Eusociality may be a relatively rare condition in evolution, but it has resulted in the most advanced levels of individual altruism and social complexity. It has conferred ecological dominance on the land by some of the species that possess it, particularly the ants, termites, and humans. “
Chapter 5. The Final Steps to Eusociality
Here author discusses evidence of Eusociality obtained from research of insects. He discusses difference between Eusociality and superorganisms such as Atta fungus and states that:” Eusociality, the organization of a group into reproductive and nonreproductive castes, occurred in only a tiny percentage of evolving lines, then relatively late in geological time, and almost entirely on the land. Yet
these few, leading to the ants, termites, and humans, have come to dominate the
terrestrial animal world. “
Chapter 6. Group Selection
Here is how author defines group selection:” Group selection is natural
selection of alleles (alternative forms of the same gene) that prescribe social traits. The traits favored by natural selection are those that entail the interaction of individuals within groups, including the initial formation of the groups. As groups of the
same species then compete, the genes of their members are tested, driving social evolution by natural selection up or down. A rich documentation of this process has been provided by both natural history and experimental studies. “
Then he provides support for this position both theoretically and referencing experimental studies in nature. Especially interesting are DNA studies on other Eusocial creatures – ants where prosocial behavior uses chemical communications based on DNA. Finally author provides some serious reasons for rejecting popular ideas of kin selection and inclusive fitness (Hamilton rule – General or HRG):
Chapter 7. The Human Story
The final chapter applies all this to human history: ”Humanity arose on the
African savanna from a line of australopiths by essentially the same route as the other known eusocial animals. A major driving force in social evolution was competition between groups, frequently violent. The final surge to the Homo level was enabled by the combination of an initially large brain, fire from the frequent lightning- struck savanna that could be captured and controlled, and the advantages of tightly gathered groups of cooperating members. “
To support idea of continuous process of violent competition between human groups author provides a very interesting table:
But it is not group violence that makes us human. Even more than that it was social interaction: ” From the earliest Homo formed, as brain size increased, the time devoted to social interactions likely increased. The trend upward has been inferred by Robin I. M. Dunbar of the University of Oxford. He used two correlations from existing species of monkeys and apes: first, time spent grooming as a function of group size, and second, the relation among apes between group size and cranial capacity. Extended to the australopithecines and the Homo line of species born from them, this method—admittedly tenuous—suggests that the “required social time” evolved from about one hour a day to two hours in the earliest species of Homo, thence four to five hours in modern humanity. In short, longer social interaction is a key component in the evolution of a larger brain and higher intelligence.”
MY TAKE ON IT:
I think that ideas expressed in this book are not just plausible, but actually completely correct. I do not see any other reasons for developing such huge and multifunctional tool for abstract thinking as human brain but for necessity to process complex tasks of strategizing, planning, communicating, and analyzing results. From current achievement in mathematics and computer science in modeling neural networks, it is clear that it requires huge amount of computing power. This is what evolution provided us with in the form of human brain. So far we used it relatively well, but now accumulated level of knowledge and skills become so big and sophisticated that it is a challenge for humanity to use it well enough to survive.
20190915 – First Freedom
The narrative here is to review history of guns in America, the role they played in its settlement by Europeans, and analyze features of American culture that to large degree were formed by constant need in self-protection, either individual or in loosely formed militias against hostile Indians and/or other Europeans. However the main idea is to reject attempts by the left to rewrite history of American adherence to guns and demonstrate that American freedom depends on people’s ability to have arms, without which it would be indefensible.
PROLOGUE: From Prey to Predator
It starts with David and his use of projectile against Goliath. From this point author discusses history of projectile weapons from sling and stone to bow and arrow and all the way to firearms of XIV and XV centuries.
PART I NEW WORLDS
1: First Contact
After prolog about firearms coming to Europe author moves to America and initial European invaders – conquistadors. These guys’ guns were useful not that much through their firepower as for psychological effects of their noise and lights, which scared the hell out of people not familiar with technology.
2: Pilgrims Progress
The next stop is for Pilgrims and their guns. Author discusses technology of “Mayflower gun”, which was wheel lock – when rotating wheel had generated spark needed to ignite charge. Here is how author describes main use of guns in colonial America: “Hunting, not war, was the main use of the gun in early America. By the turn of the century, Indian reliance on European firearms for stalking prey was also growing. As Native Americans gradually adopted the apparatuses, they became increasingly adept at fixing and maintaining the weapons—even, occasionally, making their own ammunition. However, Indians were never able to manufacture and craft iron, and this doomed their hold on the land.
. Then author discusses technological development that found very good acceptation in America – Kentucky rifle that provided longer distance and better accuracy at the expense of difficulty of reloading. Comparatively speaking it was hunting weapon, not really appropriate for military engagement, which at the time was based on marching columns and disciplined volley firing that followed by bayonet attack. This tactic was based on smoothbore musket technology that provided much faster reloading.
3: Powder Alarm
This is about powder in America. Author discusses its chemistry and production technology. The production of powder in America was very limited and was subject of British attempt on confiscation whatever inventory colonials have on one side and attempts to setup production by colonials on other side. Both attempts failed so America kept powder it possessed and could not produce much more but consequently succeeded by relying on French supplies.
Here author discusses beginnings of American revolutionary war and provides an interesting observation on why revolution would not be an easy thing to defeat: ” In 1774, Richard Price, the Welsh philosopher and intellectual who championed the American cause in Britain during the Revolution, pointed out that in the colonies “every inhabitant has in his house (as part of his furniture) a book on law and government, to enable him to understand his civil rights; a musket to enable him to defend these rights; and a Bible to enable him to understand and practice his religion. In that same year, an Englishman visiting New England wrote home that there “is not a Man born in America that does not Understand the Use of Firearms and that well . . . It is almost the First thing they Purchase and take to all the New Settlements and in the cities you scarcely find a Lad of 12 years that does not go a Gunning.””
5: The Finest Marksmen in the World
Here author discusses a special feature of American way of war at the time – massive use of snipers with rifles who were targeting officers. Initially it was quite successful and widely popular. However, as everything else, it caused changes in British tactics that explore deficiencies of rifles: their slow and difficult reloading that made coordinated action in battle very difficult. The fact that it was practically one-shot weapon that made American fighters vulnerable to bayonet attack caused its decline in popularity and eventual return to the regular method of fighting: in columns with musket volleys.
6: Liberty’s Teeth
In this chapter author refer to famous diary of Joseph Plumb Martin who went through all revolutionary war. He describes a war of muskets when both sides were armed by “Brown Bess” musket or equivalent weapon.
7: Freedoms Guarantee
In this chapter author completes his discussion of American revolution, its causes and history by noting that not a small reason for this was British attempt to disarm population. He links these events to our time by noting:“The First Amendment of the Bill of Rights lists the most vital freedoms of man. The second lists the only way to attain them and preserve them. Without the second, there is no first. It was in this context that the newly minted nation enshrined this natural right. The words written by James Madison in 1791, “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed,” would not be controversial until the twentieth century when a seemingly ungrammatical comma plunked in the middle of this sentence offered a generation of gun-control advocates a justification to question whether individuals were afforded the right to self-defense.
PART Il DISCOVERY
8: Go West
This chapter about American movement West starts with Lewis and Clark and their weapons. One of the most important was a small-bore cannon and couple blunderbusses. It follows by the story of Daniel Boone. Author describes how much attention and effort Lewis applied to have the best available weapons, which were custom made at Harpers Ferry Armory. Especially interesting was air gun that could be fired without reloading a number of times using magazine with some 22 rounds and enough compressed air to shoot 40 times. It greatly amazed Indians who already were familiar with firearms and new their deficiencies, which quite possibly discourage potential attack. Author then discusses establishment of mass production of weapons with changeable parts. One of the most important inventions of the period was bridge-loaded gun. It was the first known patented gun.
9: Peacemaker; 10: Bullet; 11: Those Newfangled Gimcrackers;
These chapters retell story of technological developments of XIX century: Colt revolver, Smith and Wesson gun with cartages, and Spencer repeating rifle,
12: Fastest Gun in the West
Here author moves to people who used these technologies: Bill Hickok, Billy the Kid, and a few others.
13: The Showman
The final chapter of this part is about gun culture expressed in entertainment with Buffalo Bill’s show as exhibit number one. It also refers to extermination of Buffalos, how it was done, and special weapon: Sharps Rifle used to do it. The final part of the chapter is about Annie Oakley and her unmatched shooting skills.
PART III MODERNITY
14: Hellfire; 15: An American in London; 16: American Genius; 17: The Chicago Typewriter; 18: Great Arsenal of Democracy;
These chapters retells story of several types of guns of the late XIX and XX centuries and their inventors. Author discusses here Gatling gun, Maxim machinegun, Browning rifles, Thompson sub-machinegun, and Garand rifle.
19: Fall and Rise of the Sharpshooter
In this chapter author moves from hardware of guns to software – tactics of guns use – mainly about sniper fire. American military revived sniper training and extensive use during Vietnam War and since then only extended it.
20: Peace Dividends
This chapter is about contemporary automatic rifles and it discusses ongoing competition between Soviet AK-47 and American AR-15 / M16. Generally these two are designed with different ideas of fighting in mind. AK-47 was designed with preference of low cost and reliability over accuracy, while M16 for accuracy and ergonomics. Author also trying explain reasons for initially poor reputation of M16 by bureaucratic incompetence during its roll out to the troops.
21: The Great Argument
The final chapter is about continuously advancing efforts of gun control by bureaucrats and politicians. However so far these effort mainly failed because guns so much imbedded into American culture that it hard to imagine that any confiscation attempt would succeed.
CONCLUSION: Molon Labe
In conclusion author discusses revisionist attempt by leftist historians to separate guns from American history and by politicians to promote idea of the Second Amendment as “collective right”. So far it failed in Supreme Court and in popular support.
MY TAKE ON IT:
I agree with author’s position, but I think it is not sufficient. The current trend to justify individual ownership of guns by reasons of self-defense and hunting opens it to continuing attempts for regulation and confiscation. I think founders understood that armed individuals are not sufficient for protection of freedom. Only independent organizations of armed individuals could protect it against enemies foreign and domestic, which means military for protection against former and militia for protection against latter. As for military it should be small and professional to be used exclusively against other countries and their forces. As for militia, it should be based on mass participation of all adult so no politician or gang of politicians could believe that there is any chance to deprive people of their freedoms. This mass participation in militia long gone and so was significant parts of freedom that Americans used to have. Whether it is gone forever, however, still remains to be seen.
20190908 – An Elegant Defense
The main idea here is to present contemporary understanding of immune system workings and humanize this discussion with real live example of 3 people who suffer from immunity system problems and one person who possess unusually powerful immune system, which allowed him to survive AIDs at the time before treatment was developed and the vast majority of infected people died.
Part I: Lives in the Balance
- The Ties That Bind 2. Jason 3. Bob. 4. Linda and Merredith
In this part author discusses a little bit on the nature of immune system and then presents stories of four people: his friend Jason who suffered from cancer at middle age, Bob – gay man who survived AIDS, Linda – high power workaholic who encountered rheumatoid arthritis, which is autoimmune disease, and Merredith, who has genetic version of autoimmune disease.
Part II: The Immune System and the Festival of Life
- The Bird, Dog, Starfish, and Magic Bullet
Here author starts with the origins of immunology, which started in Italy first with discovery of chicken bursa by Fabricius ab Aquapendente
and then in 1622 with discovery of lymph circulation. The next step was in XIX century when Metchnikoff discovered phagocytes and developed theory of immunities, which was supplemented by work of Paul Ehrlich who discovered antigens.
- The Festival;
Here author describes what he calls festival of life: permanent movement of cells in the body and some processes used to fix the problems that periodically occur.
- Festival Crashers;
This is about all kind of challenges to this festival: Bacteria, Viruses, Parasites, and Cancers. Then author discusses how body’s immune system handles these challenges. The common problem of this handling is the difficulty of correct recognition between hostile and own healthy cells so that body would not attack the latter (autoimmune illnesses) and would not protect malignant cells (cancer). Here is how author describes his task: “ It is the story of scientific discovery. It goes like this, in brief: scientists got an idea about these things called T cells and B cells, started applying big conceptual knowledge through life-saving vaccines and transplants, and then these imaginative and innovative immunologists delved into the tiny fragments of the immune system, the cogs, and built a blueprint of the machine. They understood, as I’ll describe, what inflammation is about, and the molecules that make up our communications network. With each advance of science came another practical step, like building medicines by replicating our defense cells, and then would come another extraordinary scientific leap, like the discovery only a few years ago of a second immune system.
- The Mystery Organ
This starts with the story of tuberculosis patient who died shortly before discovery of antibiotics and whose sister became medical researcher who discovered thymus – the mystery organ strongly influencing work of immune system.
9 The B-Word
This is about discovery of two different immune cells that body produced- B-cells originating in bone marrow and generated antibodies, while T-cell went through thymus and could direct actions against disease.
- T Cells and B Cells
This is about functionality of B and T cells with nice picture of both:
This is brief, but important part describing how vaccines work. They present immune system with relatively weak cell form of enemy that allow it to develop response to this particular problem, so when real virus hit, the immune system already prepared to defeat it.
- The Infinity Machine
This is about big mystery of immune system – how it recognizes good cells vs. bad that needs to be attacked. Turned out that immune system has preset pieces of DNA ready to create antibodies for multitude of different invaders.
This chapter is about transplantation of organs that was very challenging process before medicine achieved good enough understanding of immune system to be able suppress it enough for body accept transplant, but not enough to leave it defenseless against infection.
14 The Immune System’s Fingerprint
This is an interesting chapter about uniqueness of immune system and its ability to sent chemical signals externally, based on MHC gene. Among other things it was discovered that close enough MHC repels people from each other, while different attracts, providing chance for increased diversity.
This is another interesting and not trivial look at inflammation. Author links it to immune system and complex process of organism reaction to invasion with use of various more or less specialized killer cells: neutrophils, macrophages, and natural killer cells.
This chapter is about discovery of a molecule that controls fever in the body – leukocytic pyrogen, even if it is present in miniscule quantities.
- Flash Gordon
This is about interferon (IFN) – a medicine that is based on dead virus. It prepares immune system to recognize DNA of virus in case of infection and attack it.
- The Harmonious Way
This very brief chapter is about change in approach to immune system from perceiving it as defensive system that attacks intruders to understanding that it is kind of homeostatic mechanism that maintains overall cellular balance of the body reacting to violation of this balance in such way as to restore it.
19 Three Wise Men and the Monoclonal Antibody
This is about the research that developed process for isolating specific antibodies and produce them in volume. Such antibodies called monoclonal antibodies that could be potentially produced for any disease.
- A Second Immune system
This is the story of discovery of second signal system – innate immunity based on gene called Toll receptor that defines which cell attack and which should be not attacked. The understanding of immune reaction is now includes coordinated working of both: innate and adaptive immune systems. Here is brief description:
Part III: Bob: 21. Sex Machine; 22. GRID; 23. The Phone Call; 24 CD4 and CD8; 5. Magic; 26. The Prime; Part IV: Linda and Merredith: 27. Linda; 28 The Wolf: 29. Invisible Evidence 30. Best of Both Worlds (Sort Of); 31. Merredith;
This part of the book follows stories of 3 people that author selected for the “human interest” part of the book.
- Should You Pick Your Nose? 33. Microbiome; 34. Stress; 35. Sleep;
The 3 chapters about factors impacting immune system. They discuss correspondingly: need to train immune system in real life, so too much sterility in life and too cautious approach to raising children puts people at risk of having poorly trained immune system, resulting in allergies and openness to infection; value of microbiome that surround human body and provides vital support for its functioning, so overuse of antibiotic and other suppressors of micro organism could be not just harmful, but deadly; Finally minimization of stress and optimization of amount and quality of sleep are important factors in maintaining immune system in good shape.
Part V: Jason 36. A Word About Cancer 37.Laughter and Tears
In these two chapters author once again returns to the story of his friend Jason and Jason’s struggle with cancer.
38 The Lazarus Mouse
Here author moves to discuss interaction of immune system with cancer, which is practically comes down to its failure to attack cancerous cells. The research found that it seems to be possible to remove the restriction that disrupt this process and prompt immune system to attack, consequently leading to possibility of developing qualitatively new method of cancer treatment.
- Wound Healing
Here author discusses process of wound healing and suggests that cancer related to this process when immune system react to cancer cells as a wound and start protecting it.
- Programmed Death
In this chapter author retells the story of antibody development that would prompt immune system attack cancer cells. Here is author’s description of how it was done:(For those interested in the details, Lonberg and his peers, in the late 1990s, were figuring out how to cause the T cell to receive its signal at CD28, which is the spot where the “go” signal is received, and not at CTLA-4, where the “stop” signal arrives. Both receive their signal from the molecule B7-1; if B7-1 binds to CTLA-4, the immune system stops, and if it binds to CD28, the attack goes forward. In some cancers, “CTLA-4 is hogging B7,” Lonberg said. So the goal was to “displace” B7-1 from the CTLA-4 so that CD28 could bind. They did this by creating an ultra-specific antibody to bind to CTLA-4. When the antibody bound to CTLA-4, it pried loose the B7-1. Now the brakes would have been turned off. The immune system could attack the tumor as if it were foreign and dangerous, not innocuous and self.)
- The Breakthrough 42. Jason Races Time 43. Shepherd of Death 44. Trials, Personal and Clinical 45. The Other Shoe Part VI: Homecoming 46. Bob 47. Linda 4S. Jan and Ron 49. Jason Down the White Tunnel; 50. Jason Rises; 51. Apollo 11; 52. Home; 53. Jasons Way; 54. The Meanings of Life; 55. The Meaning of Jason
These final chapters retells current state of four people used to illustrate the book: author’s friend Jason died, but others keep going, indicating increased level of knowledge and abilities of current medicine.
MY TAKE ON IT:
This book clearly improved my understanding of immune system, how it works, what is current level of understanding of this system, and what could be expected in reasonably near future. The human-interest story was in my view a bit out of place, but it is not that bad. Anyway, the information from this book indicates that humanity is getting closer and closer to real understanding of immune system workings and therefore closer to eliminating practically all diseases known to humanity, including not only auto-immune diseases and allergies, but also immune deficiency diseases such as all kinds of cancers. It would be very interesting to see the results.
20190901 – China Vision of Victory
The main idea of this book is to use author’ experience on site in China to demonstrate that Chinese totalitarian regime is real danger to the world not only economically, but also politically and military. The point is that China’s objective to be dominant power in the world, if obtained, would inevitably lead to loss of freedom and democracy. This experience included talking with regular people that followed and greatly enhanced by subsequent education in political science with stress on China and research in details of Chinese leadership’s communications to the people formal and informal
Introduction: Chinas Vision of Victory
Author starts by referring to failed idea of China’s transfer to democracy in due time when it would become rich enough. This idea was the main driver of Western support of China’s growth, inclusion into international trade system, and, most important, tolerance to China’s violation of all Western norms. Instead of democratization the economic growth created believe in China’s leadership of their inherent superiority and expectation in short period of time to take leading position in the world both economically and militarily. Author stresses that unlike democratic USA it would not be benign leadership, that usually meant American protection for freedom in all its forms. It would rather mean world dominance of Chinese communist party leadership and suppression of freedom in all its forms all over the world.
After stating this main thesis of the book author describes his live in China, which he started at age 22 as backpacker travelling from place to place and learning people, culture, and language. It followed by some other travels, learning and communicating with experts, strategic studies at Oxford, and author’s maturation into expert and consultant. Author combines his presentation into two parts: the first Chinese understanding of self and their society historical destiny, which could be briefly summarized as “rule the world” The second part is about comprehensive planning and implementation strategy to achieve with objective. The total layout of book is implemented across 5 dimensions:
- A Vision of National Destiny
- Strategic Geography and Military Plans
- Economic and Technological Ambitions
- Growing Global Reach
- A Vision of a New World Order
Part I: “The Great Rejuvenation of the Chinese Nation”: China’s Vision of National Destiny
1.1 National Resurrection; 1.2 “The New China”: Mao Zedong; 1.3 “Hide Your Brightness, Bide Your Time”: Deng Xiaoping and Jiang Zemin; 1.4 “The Period of Strategic Opportunity”: Hu Jintao; 1.5“The China Dream”: Xi Jinping;
1.6 “The New China” Meets “The China Dream”; 1.7 From “the Peaceful Rise of China” to “Fighting the Bloody Battle Against Our Enemies’; 1.8 From “Able To Fight And Win Wars” to “Preparing to Fight and Win Wars”
This part is about Chinese perception of their own history and China’s place in the world the way it is promoted by communist party and readily accepted by Chinese people. This pretty much comes down the morality story quite similar to the story told to their people by German and Russian rulers. The story is that the great nation, superior in all areas to all other nations was denigrated by foreigners due to incompetence and corruption of previous leaders, but now is regaining its place under wise leadership of current leaders. Author goes through historical sequence of Chinese Communist leadership starting with Mao, demonstrating how initial strong believes in superiority of socialist ideology led to disasters of Mao years and how it was substituted by retreat from these ideals. This retreat included allowing somewhat market economy with communist party retaining power while permitting Western capital and knowledge inflow in exchange for cheap labor and shelter against environmental and other regulations. Author describes how this policy succeeded beyond all expectation in moving China to the level of industrial development tat was closing gaps with the West and causing current Chinese leadership decision that time arrived to through away mask of peaceful participant in international economic and political order and take what they believe is proper place of China – world wide dictatorship of Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Author provides plentiful evidence of Chinese leaders’ expressing these believes and, moreover, readiness to achieve this goal by all means necessary including military.
Part II: “Blue National Soil”: China’s Strategic Geography and Military Plans
2.1 The Military Rise of China; 2.2 New Technologies, New Frontiers; 2.3 Internal Security and Homeland Defense: China’s Traditional Military Geography; 2.4 The New World Map: Regional Expansion and Global Military Presence; 2.5 Toward 2049: China’s Vision of Military Power “Catch up to America, Surpass America”: China’s Economic and Technological Ambitions
This chapter is about Chinese military ambitions and it starts with something that so far was only rarely mentioned in literature: Chinese territorial claims. Something that pretty much disappeared in international relations since WWII. Here is the map of these claims:
Author reviews different areas of recent Chinese military development and concludes that building of military capable successfully conduct world wide conflict and win in it became clear objective of Chinese leadership. There is also pretty clear formulation of who is considered the enemy, and it is USA and by extension all countries that would refuse to accept China not just as superior power, but also as rule maker and dictator.
3.1 “Comprehensive National Power; 3.2 Made in China 2025: Mastering Future Industries and Going Global; 3.3 The Importance of Economic Power: Technology and National Strength; 3.4China’s Economy: Rejuvenation’s Engine;
3.5 China’s Ambitions in Technology and Innovation; 3.6 China Goes Global: State and Private Enterprise Take on the World; 3.7 Toward 2049: China’s Vision of Economic Power
This part is about economic power. Author provides graph representing past, present, and future economic balance of GDP between countries and regions:
It demonstrates vision of achieving economic superiority by 2030. It is not only GDP, but also technological superiority that Chinese leadership is expecting to achieve. The method used is to transfer technological achievement from other countries to Chine either via purchase or stealing IP, or forcing transfers as price to access Chinese market. So far this worked wonderfully for China allowing it to jump to forefront of technological advancement without spending really that much on R&D.
Part IV: FF Reo “The Ceaseless Expansion of National Interests”: China’s Growing Global Reach
4.1 Overview: China’s Need for the World’s Resources; 4.2 China in The Middle East; 4.3 China in Africa; 4.4 China in Latin America; 4.5 China in the Arctic and Antarctic; 4.6 The Indo-Pacific: The Indian Ocean Region and South Pacific States; 4.7 China And The “Major Powers”: The United States, Russia, India, Japan, and Europe;
This part is about China expansion of its influence around the worlds in search of resources, bases, and vassals. Author moves through all major geographical points demonstrating how it is currently in process.
Part V: “A Community of Common Destiny for Mankind”: China’s Vision for the New World Order
5.1 China’s Vision for World Order; 5.2 A Global “Middle Kingdom; 5.3 “Interior Vassals” and “Exterior Vassals” in the “Community of Common Destiny for Mankind”; 5.4 A World Transformed: A Day in the Life of Chinese Power; 5.5 2049: China’s Vision of a New World Order;
Here is how author presents main question of this part and the answer he provides:
“WHAT WOULD IT MEAN FOR CHINA TO RULE THE WORLD? The answer has been in front of us all along. It has been in front of us as we read the Chinese Communist Party’s statements, observe their strategies and actions, and come to understand the intentions behind China’s ascendency in this century. It is simple: China’s rise, in the minds of its leaders and many of its people, is not a rise, but a restoration. It is a restoration, simply put, of the power and prosperity enjoyed by the Chinese Empire. It is the restoration, as the Communist Party sees it, of an entire world defined by China’s supremacy. Most importantly, both as a political culture and as a civilization, China has plenty of experience ruling a world system. It is from the earlier time of supremacy that much of the character of current-day Chinese political thought and action derives.
Author also provides an interesting list of values of Western world that are completely unacceptable to Chinese communist party and are intensively suppressed by all means necessary:
Author also presents a vision of what world would look like if Chinese communist party will be successful in achieving economic, military, and ideological supremacy, and it is not a pretty picture.
MY TAKE ON IT:
To me the author’s warning about China’s ideology and objectives sound quite convincingly. Actually it is not that China specific, as author believes. Russia, Germany, and some others believed in their special destiny as world superpower coming from century or two of humiliations. I appreciate author’s understanding of complete support of Chinese people that party enjoys, which is kind of a feast for an American whose culture built on idea of people thinking for themselves. I also think that China is real and present danger to the free world, but I believe that we are already over the pick of this danger. Reason for my opinion is that China’s superfast growth was not generated by its system or even by its people. It was more consequence of China’s low labor cost and protection from regulations, especially environmental regulations ubiquitous in the Western world. There are a number of factors that made this calculation outdated, not last of which is Chinese leadership’s arrogance in announcement of China’s intentions. All together it lead to wide recognition of danger by the Western politicians and business, which in turn will most probably cut China off Western investment, technology transfer, and access to know how in many areas, most important military. The consequence will be beneficial for China because it will eventually send its Communist part to the same place where Soviet Communist and German National-Socialist parties ended – dustbin of history. The only question is whether it will happen within near term with CCP leadership starting process of peaceful self-dissolution with intermediate transfer to oligarchy or over long Cold War with the whole world consolidated around USA.
20190825 The Global Age 1950-2017
This is a history book, so the main idea is to narrate events in Europe from the end of WWII until 2017 and do it with reasonably factual approach.
- The Tense Divide
This chapter is mainly about events of the Cold War, especially when it was getting close to the Hot War. Author describes origins and conduct of Korean War and how it happened that it was UN, mainly USA, against North Korea and China. It also describes creation of NATO, with complex interplay around West Germany and its sovereignty. It followed by creation of Warsaw Pact combining militaries of Soviet Block countries. Finally author describes creation of neutrals like Yugoslavia, Austria, and a few more countries. The narrative then goes through nuclear competition, and process of settling of blocks’ areas of influence, including struggle over West Berlin that was completed with building of the Wall.
The second part of the chapter describes population attitudes to the nuclear weapons, including anti-nuclear movements and Anti-Americanism – both actively supported by Soviets. Author also describes anti-nuclear campaigns in the Soviet block. It is funny how both Western and Eastern Campaigns were directed against American nuclear weapons and neither one against Soviet nuclear weapons.
- The Making of Western Europe
This is about growing cooperation between countries of Western block and European Neutrals. It describes creation of European Economic Community (EEC) in 1957, decolonization, driven partially by liberation movement, partially by democratization of colonial powers, their military / economic weakness, and post-war change in population attitudes to colonialism. Author also describes various ways of accommodation between popular socialist ideology, capitalist economy, and democratic policies in Western countries. Author goes through details of this by regions and some big countries: Southern Europe, Scandinavia, Italy, Britain, West Germany, and France.
The second part of the chapter provides more details on “Imperial retreat” of UK during Egypt crisis and Suez mini-invasion. Similarly French fight in Alger and Vietnam also discussed. The chapter ends with funeral of Churchill in 1965, which could be considered the end of colonial era and after the war consolidation of western democracies.
- The Clamp
This chapter is about another consolidation – consolidation of Soviet Empire and non-democracies in Eastern Europe. Author starts with rejection of usual characterization of events after death of Stalin in 1953 as “thaw”. He provides different analogy – the Clamp. This clamp was somewhat loosened in late 1950s leading to emergence of some non-compliance with soviet ideology ranging from unionist movement in Poland to revolution in Hungary, all of which were suppressed.
Loosening the Clamp: The Soviet Union
This part is about internal Soviet loosening under Khrushchev when Stalin was denigrated, his terror methods and Cult were condemned as anti-party activities, and some very limited freedoms were allowed. Contrary to Khrushchev’s and his mainly young supporters believes the loosening of the clamp did not lead to increase of popular support and prosperity, but rather led to the situation when demand for improvement by far outstrip actual improvement in quality of live. Under Khrushchev soviet people leaved better than at any time since 1917 when communists took power, but they used newly acquired relative freedom of speech to express unhappiness as never before. Eventually this led to removal of Khrushchev from power and reestablishment of dictatorship, albeit in much less murderous form.
Here author describes clash between Yugoslavia dictator Tito and Stalin, which caused this country to move out of the Soviet Block and find some place between blocks, accommodating communist dictatorship internally with semi-market economy and economic and political interaction with the west. Probably most interesting here was ability of Tito to suppress ethnic enmity between different groups of population and non-conformist movements, providing for relatively prosperous society, at least during Tito’s lifetime.
Tightening the Clamp: The Soviet Bloc
This part describes how Khrushchev’s “loosening of clamp” was perceived in different countries of the Soviet block and how it was eventually tightened up, in some cases by using military power.
- Good Times
This is about prosperity of Western Europe in 1960s. One of the signs was that by 1963 West Europe exported twice USA share of the world manufacturing exports. Author describes how it happened, emergence of consumer society in the West Europe and massive move of integrating economies into one European market. This move included Marshal Plan under European Recovery Plan of 1947, creation of Organization for European Economic Cooperation (OEEC) by sixteen European countries, establishment of the Council of Europe in 1948, creation of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC),
and many other steps. The relations not always were smooth, and author discusses multiple problems and their resolution.
- Culture after the Catastrophe
This is about cultural development in Western Europe after the war. Author discusses pop music, rock n roll, and other art forms. The common feature for all was the breaking with the past and movement not only to the new form, but also to the new values. Instead of prevailing before the war nationalism new antimilitarism become the trend. There was also massive movement away from organized religion in the West. Overall the society had become more tolerant and liberal, but far less cohesive.
This chapter is about youth revolt against capitalism and traditional society in 1960s. Author discusses in details protest movements that got to the point of quasi-revolution, with some elements of society resorting to terrorism. Mostly it is about protests in Germany and France conducted by students with little support outside universities, which did not create real existential threat to Western society. It was different in the East were every easement of repression caused generation of movement to democracy, which had to be suppressed with open use of violence, as in was with Prague Spring in 1968.
- The Turn
This chapter is about the end of prosperity of 1950-60s that started with Arab embargo and oil crisis of 1973. It caused breakdown of economy in practically all-Western countries including USA. It went through monetary crisis, which removed gold standard then moved to deep recession caused by labor and other economic relationships build in the years of after was prosperity driven by cheap resources and need to rebuild after destruction of WWII. It was also very much undermined by generally accepted ideas of socialism or at least social democracy with its welfare state and multitude of benefits for not working. Eventually democracy triumphed in the West, causing communist powers to lose hope for the world revolution and recognize that their own economies can barely survive on their own. It was also political recovery of the West with Reagan and Thatcher turning decline around and making their respective countries more powerful than ever.
- Easterly Wind of Change
This chapter describes the beginning of end of Soviet empire. Prompted by new assertiveness of the West, natural process of old soviet leaders dying out, and general stagnation of economy, soviet elite decided to promote new leader – Gorbachev whose career raised mainly after Stalin’s death and by all accounts was true believer in socialism. The problem was that this true believe was so far from reality that each and every effort of Gorbachev to revive economy and political live of Soviet Union ended in disaster. Author nicely demonstrates that West went out of its way to help, rather than to use situation to win. They provided loans, political support, and very positive media coverage, but to no avail. The corrupt socialist system underwent improvement attempt by a bunch of true believers was doomed and consequently fallen apart. Author also discusses political and cultural developments of this period in western countries noting that new trend brought in by computerization started to have impact on everyday lives of people.
- Power of the People
This chapter is retelling the story of soviet satellite states crumbling without support of soviet military, because they had no support from their own population, which considered themselves under soviet occupation. Among this suddenly found freedom the great reshuffling of Europe occurred: Germany was reunited, while Czechoslovakia split into two. Soviet union itself was split into 15 countries, some of which like Ukraine came to existence first time in history, while others like Baltic States just restored independence they had before WWII. Author also describes reaction of western intelligentsia, not a few of which members mourning Soviet demise.
- New Beginnings
This chapter is about early consequences of Soviet empire demise and it starts with discussion of Balkan’s bloody civil war between parts of Yugoslavia. The second part of chapter is mainly description of process of coping with the ideological blow that western social democrats went through. For some countries like Germany it was difficulties of assimilating former socialist population of East Germany into contemporary world. This period ended on September 11 2001 with massive terrorist attack against USA.
- Global Exposure
This chapter describes events of the first part of XXI century that included global war against Islamic terrorist movements, globalization problems when opening of Western for Chinese products produced with Western capital and technology very cheaply due to cheap labor and absolute neglect of all and any environmental and legal restrictions imposed on western businesses by politicians. The obvious result was huge deprivation of working and middle classes in the West that by the second decade of XXI century started creating populist movements against globalization. Other issues author discusses a lot are EU problems. These were caused by typical for all socialists drive to move all decisions up, in this case to the EU leadership at the expense of localities. Finally author brings in “Putin factor” discussing partial economic and military revival of Russia with some aggressive actions against neighboring countries.
- Crisis Years
The final chapter describes financial crisis of 2008 and its consequences: massive bailout of bank, deep economic recession, austerity politics of debt overloaded countries, and such. The final point is about even more profound consequences of globalization including migrant issue, terrorism continuity, and finally political change in form of Brexit.
MY TAKE ON IT:
It is an interesting narrative of events that I lived through, so it all is very much familiar staff for me, especially starting in 1960 when, as any other 7 years old in Soviet Union, I solemnly promised to Soviet people and personally to Nikita Sergeievich Khrushchev to work and fight for the cause of Communist Party. This book looks at events mainly from social democratic point of view, but generally it is even handed, so this book is not screwed too much in any direction. It provides lots of information that would be very surprising for this 7 years old and I am sure that if he knew even a small part of the evil that was Communism, he would never promised to support it. As to the Western democracy, if looked at it as a stand alone system, it is far from perfect and even slightly below decent, but in comparison to the Evil of Communism / Socialism it looks like shining summer day vs. dark and cold winter night.
20190818 – The Human Network
The main idea of this book is to present contemporary understanding of human networks, how they are formed, behave, and facilitate relationships between people, including information dissipation, contagion, and power distribution between nodes. Lots of attention assigned to homophily – human tendency to attract to similar people as self and repulse dissimilar, and how it lead to polarization between groups of people. There is also discussion of “wisdom of crowds”, which depends on quality and diversity of the crowd as network, and intergenerational income mobility as result of maintenance of family networks across generations. Finally author presents his attitude to globalization as dramatic change in networks with some very significant consequences that may or may not be beneficial or dangerous.
- Introduction: Networks and Human Behavior
It starts with reference to the beginning of Arab Spring and the role of human networks in it. Author aims to discuss: “two different perspectives: one is how networks form and why they exhibit certain key patterns, and the other is how those patterns determine our power, opinions, opportunities, behaviors, and accomplishments.”
After that author provides examples of human networks in school, graphically demonstrating how networks split:
2. Power and Influence: Central Positions in Networks
In this chapter author discusses various position in networks, stressing importance of central position. Here is another graph demonstrating this point:
Author then discusses issue of centrality of individual in network and how it creates or undermines power. He provides a nice historical example when superior network led to the victory in power struggle:
3. Diffusion and Contagion
This chapter is about diffusion and contagion between different nodes in network. It starts with discussion of diffusion of plague and sexual diseases in networks of medieval Europe and contemporary school. Then author moves to vaccination and similar externalities that could impact the contagion process. He also discusses such measures as quarantine and their deficiencies.
4. Too Connected to Fail: Financial Networks
Here author expands these ideas to financial network discussing how failure of some financial institutions prompted failure of others during financial crisis of 2008. Here is graphic representation of the idea that distributed network is more stable than one that relies on a few core institutions:
Author then discusses regulation and externalities and poses the question whether crisis was like domino with pieces causing the fall of each other or like popcorn when conditions of market caused the individual pieces to pop up at approximately the same time, even if they were independent from each other.
5.Homophily: Houses Divided
Homophily here means love for people like self with rejection of people unlike self. Author uses Indian caste system to discuss separation of one village network sub-networks by caste. After that he discusses process of self-segregation and Shelling’s model of this process. At the end of chapter author discusses negative impact of segregation levels on overall productivity of society as expressed by GDP per capita,
6. Immobility and Inequality: Network Feedback and Poverty Traps
Here author discusses intergenerational income mobility in inequality using Gini and demonstrating how it changed over time:
He also looks at reasons for these changes that he finds in educational levels, changes in structure of economics when old manufacturing jobs disappeared, and role of job networks, which facilitate acquisition of a preferable place in network for next generation of its members. The chapter ends with call to fight homophily and inequality by increasing transparency of opportunities, providing education so people were qualified to move up and by removing barriers to such mobility.
7. The Wisdom and Folly of the Crowd
This is usual discussion of the wisdom of the crowd and need for diversity that is necessary for such wisdom to occur. Then author discusses polarization of news and political discourse in America, nicely supporting it by comparative diagram of voting patterns in US Senate in 1990 and 2015. The former shows relatively high number of votes cross party line, while the latter much lower number, making contrast very vivid:
8. The Influence of Our Friends and Our Local Network Structures
This chapter is about human behavior in crowds and the tendency of people to conform to majority. Author discusses different behavior of ants and lemmings, then providing examples of human behavior under carefully designed nudging, and that quite often achieves significant results comparatively with control groups. Author also discusses here clustering when connected nodes of network are linked to each other via multiple connection such as friends of a person are also friends between themselves. Here is a nice graphic presentation of this with and without clustering:
9. Globalization: Our Changing Networks
The final chapter is a look at contemporary world with extensive globalization when massive trade networks growth coincided with decreases in wars and increases in global GDP. To demonstrate increase of networking between countries author provides graph of military alliances from 1875 till now:
However the final thoughts are about disruptions, especially massive urbanization that dramatically increased density of networks, but also created conditions for growing impact of homophily and resulting polarization, which potentially could lead to explosion. Author ends by calling to develop better understanding of human networks and externalities so humanity could avoid such explosion and continue increase in productivity that linked to increase in networking.
MY TAKE ON IT:
It’s a nice book with decent set of facts and experiments description that provides more or less good picture of current understanding of human networks, their functionality, and impact on human relations and power distribution. Generally I think that presentation is correct, but it is somewhat minimalistic on the role of human individuals and their self-understanding and formation that has huge impact on functioning of networks. This leads to overuse of homophily as explanatory method for behavior of both networks overall and their human nodes. I believe that this is not exactly correct, and such thing as political polarization comes not from individual attraction / repulsion, but more for commonality of interest as they are perceived by individuals.
20190811 – Invisible Influence
The main idea of this book is to present multiple experiments demonstrating how human decisions are influenced by society surrounding individuals and how these individuals often do not understand or recognize this influence. It is also reviews human strive to differentiate self from others, but not too much, so one would find goldilocks’ place in live. Finally it is also to demonstrate how understanding of social influence could improve attempt to change behavior of some individuals, specifically poor so they would become more productive and successful in handling life’s challenges.
It starts with discussion about choices and huge influence of other people on one’s choices. As example author refer to lawyers buying BMW to show off that they belong to the group of people that buy these cars. Author did research and found that people believe that others buy BMW under influence, but not themselves. Another case author discusses is mating, which often occur with somebody close by – coworker high school mate, and so on. Author describes a few experiments that support that: “The idea that mere exposure increases liking may seem strange at first, but it has actually been shown in hundreds of experiments. Whether considering faces in a college yearbook, advertising messages, made-up words, fruit juices, and even buildings, the more people see something, the more they like it. Familiarity leads to liking.” Moreover he demonstrates that people could be reliably influenced without recognizing so. For example a set of words presented before reading personal description could define whether described person perceived positively or negatively, even if the description remains the same. After that author provides a brief description of each chapter.
- Monkey See, Monkey Do
Chapter 1 explores our human tendency to imitate. Why people follow others, even when they know the answer is wrong. Why one man’s soda is another man’s pop. How mimicking others can make us better negotiators. And why social influence makes Harry Potter and other blockbusters hard to predict, even for industry experts.
Author discusses here Ash’s experiments and similar experiments by Sharif demonstrating power of conformity. After that he digs into reasons for conformity, which he defines as need for information from others, need for social cohesiveness, and need to synchronize emotions to increase effectiveness of collective action. From here the discussion moves to negotiations when mimicry improves chances of success. At the end of chapter author makes a very interesting take on popularity noting that it is actually random event when some initial variance makes an item a bit more popular than other similar items, resulting and higher chances of additional attention, which increase popularity, turning it into snowball. He provides an interesting example with cars on empty parking lot. Whatever side of lot the first car use becomes more attractive to the next driver, so cars tend to concentrate around the first one parked. The final important point is that even the lonely dissident could free people from internal need for compliance, which is very well demonstrated in the same Ash experiments.
2 A Horse of a Different Color
Chapter 2 examines the drive for differentiation. Sometimes people jump on the bandwagon and follow others, but just as frequently they jump off once it gets too crowded. We’ll discuss why most sports stars have older siblings, why babies all look the same (unless they’re ours), and why some people want to stand out, while others are happier blending in.
So per author first born get more parents attention so they do better academically, but younger children are better in athletics because they are looking up to older siblings. Author describes a number experiments demonstrating that decision making highly dependent on what other people do. However he also points out to nonconformist behavior and individualism specific to American culture. Finally he discusses how all this used in sales providing people with goods that are unique and similar to everybody’s goods at the same time.
- Not If They’re Doing It
Chapter 3 starts to explain how these competing tendencies combine. Whether we imitate others or do something different depends in part on who those others are. We’ll discuss why expensive products have fewer logos, why companies pay celebrities not to wear their clothes, and why people pay $300,000 for a watch that doesn’t tell time. Why skin tone affects school performance and why small green frogs are the counterfeiters of the animal kingdom.
Here author discusses dog that was not barking, signaling with example of changing business use and people signaling belonging to something like ideology. As example of pure signaling he discusses extremely expensive watch that does not show time.
- Similar but Different
Chapter 4 examines the tension between familiarity and novelty, and the value of being optimally distinct. We’ll learn why prototypical-looking cars sell better, what chickens have in common with the thirtieth president of the United States, and why hurricanes influence the popularity of baby names. Why modern art might seem grating the first time we see it, but why, after looking at a couple Picassos, Kandinsky are more pleasing on the eye.
Here author also discusses goldilocks effect and how to get it exactly right for promoting something new – hide nature of radically new under disguise of something old and familiar so people would feel comfortably to try. If trial is successful, the advantages of the new could attract people to implement this new in their lives.
- Come On Baby, Light My Fire
Chapter 5 illuminates how social influence shapes motivation. Why having other people around makes us faster runners but worse parallel parkers. How our best chance at saving the environment may come from watching our neighbors. What cockroaches can teach us about competition and why losing at halftime makes professional basketball teams more likely to win
It starts with experiment on cockroaches demonstrating that even for them social influence has impact: on simple task performance improves, on complex task performance deteriorates. People are the same. So author describes how he and his team apply it to nudge people to decrease electricity use. After that there is interesting discussion of specificity situation when loosing in the middle of game sometimes increases chances to win the game overall, but in some other cases makes people to give up and then loose catastrophically. Author also discusses a bit visual versus audio perception and how to use this and other discoveries to control people and prompt them to act enthusiastically to achieve objectives of controller.
Conclusion: Putting Social Influence to Work
In conclusion author retells sad story of public housing in USA, which was created to eliminate slums and become slums themselves because they were build in poor areas for poor people, so the nature of social influence led to behavior that makes people poor. However when new approach was tried to move poor people into middle class area with vouchers in small numbers, it worked much better because new social influence was prompted behavior that moves people into middle class.
MY TAKE ON IT:
It is one of this books usually written by psychologists and sociologists that seek to understand impact of environment on human behavior, consequently using it to control and direct other people to behave the way controller wants them to. I do not believe that it is possible. The experiments and anecdotes provided in his book are mainly true and they do represent reality. However what is missing is the understanding that reality is very dynamic and so is human perception of reality, making it impossible to control people’s behavior with reliable levels of predictability. As author correctly notes there is mix of needs to conform and to be different making the very fact of interference highly impactful on results. In my opinion it all is pretty good for understanding, but of no use for controlling.
20190804 – Good Reasons for Bad Feelings
The main idea of this book is that current development of scientific thought is more and more conducted based on evolutionary understanding of biological and specifically human development, which is fully applicable to understanding of mental diseases and disorders. Author reviews results of multiple studies of mental and emotional disorders in view of his experience as clinical psychologist and concludes that evolutionary approach does promise to achieve much better understanding of these problems and possibly define good direction for finding fixes.
Here author describes his interest in application of evolutionary biology to explanation of mental diseases. Author is practicing psychiatrist and he is disturbed by slow progress in this area. So he is trying to use the new approach and believes that its fundamentally new perspective could be instrumental in finding solutions.
Part One: Why Are Mental Disorders So Contusing?
- A New Question
Author starts with description of one of cases he had treated when patient claimed that she cannot get consistent explanation of reasons for her problems and 4 different medical professionals provided different recommendations. This led author to understanding that psychiatry is quite confused. After that he discusses difficulties of mental diseases diagnosis and story of DSM from 1 to 5. He discusses relation between process of evolution functioning of human brain and refers to Tinbergen’s 4 questions:
Author also adds another question: “Why did natural selection leave our bodies with traits that make us vulnerable to disease?”
- Are Mental Disorders Diseases?
Here author continues discussion of diagnosis and posits question about nature of mental disorders. He looks at development of sequential DSMs in search of truly scientific definition but could not be satisfied with this. Here is how he defines the problem: “The core problem for psychiatric diagnosis is the lack of a perspective on normal useful functions that physiology provides for the rest of medicine. Internal medicine doctors know the functions of the kidneys. They don’t confuse protective defenses such as cough and pain with diseases such as pneumonia and cancer. Psychiatrists lack a similar framework for the utility of stress, sleep, anxiety, and mood, so psychiatric diagnostic categories remain confusing and crude.
- Why Are Minds So Vulnerable?
Here author provides 6 reasons and discusses them in detail:
Part Two: Reasons for Feelings
4 Good Reasons for Bad Feelings
Here author discusses evolutionary meaning of bad feelings and here they are: “four good reasons for thinking that symptoms have evolutionary origins and utility. First, symptoms such as anxiety and sadness are, like sweating and coughing, not rare changes that occur in a few people at unpredictable times; they are consistent responses that occur in nearly everyone in certain situations. Second, the expression of emotions is regulated by mechanisms that turn them on in specific situations; such control systems can evolve only for traits that influence fitness. Third, absence of a response can be harmful; inadequate coughing can make pneumonia fatal, inadequate fear of heights makes falls more likely. Finally, some symptoms benefit an individual’s genes, despite substantial costs to the individual.
Author also provides definition of emotions:” Emotions are specialized states that adjust physiology, cognition, subjective experience, facial expressions, and behavior in ways that increase the ability to meet the adaptive challenges of situations that have recurred over the evolutionary history of a species.” Finally he provides graphic representation and table:
- Anxiety and Smoke Detectors
Here author concentrate on specific type of emotions that cause lots of psychiatric problems – anxiety and discusses different varieties of it from phobias to PTSD:
He even applies apparatus from economics – The Marginal Value Theorem, to demonstrate how mood helps to obtain optimal time / effort allocation when picking up berries:
The final inference: “the capacity for mood can be said to have a general function: mood reallocates investments of time, effort, resources, and risk taking to maximize Darwinian fitness in situations of varying propitiousness. High and low moods adjust cognition and behavior to cope with propitious and unpropitious situations.”
- Bad Feelings for No Good Reason: When the Moodostat Fails
Here author moves to the area of pathology when mood variations incapacitate person either by depression or bipolar disorder or by some other malfunction. Author provides general description of such malfunctions:
Part Three: The Pleasures and Perils of Social Life
8 How to Understand an Individual Human Being
Author begins this chapter with the story of his experience when in the morning he did analytical jobs with numbers and parameters of multiple patients and in the second half of the day he worked with individual patients. He found it very hard to reconcile these two experiences. Eventually he understood that it requires two different approaches: “Explanations based on general laws that are always true he called nomothetic (nomos refers to laws, thetic to a thesis). Explanations based on historical sequences that occur only once he called idiographic (idio refers to individual unique events, graphic to description). “ It helped him to embrace the idea of psychiatric analysis based on live events, even if reaction to similar events is idiosyncratic depending on values, personality, and experience. Author also provides the breakdown of environment impacting individual into various social systems, emotional states, general and specific sets of influences:
- Guilt and Grief: The Price of Goodness and Love
This is about cooperation between people and emotions it creates. Here is how author summarizes its origins:” (1) Benefits to groups of unrelated individuals cannot explain the evolution of extreme human social abilities. (2) Benefits to kin who share the same genes explain most altruistic behavior. (3) Much apparent cooperation among nonrelatives is just individuals doing things that help themselves and that also happen to help others. (4) Extensive cooperation among nonrelatives is explained mostly by reciprocal favor trading. (5) Reciprocity systems shape costly traits for establishing a good reputation. (6) The previous five explanations explain most social behavior in most organisms, but not quite all. They represent a spectacular fundamental advance in human knowledge even though they cannot fully explain human capacities for commitment and moral behavior. Important additional explanations are offered by cultural group selection, commitment, and social selection“. Then he provides table for links between cooperation and emotions based on prisoner’s dilemma with points for win/loose:
Author then looks at Social Anxiety and Self-Esteem with a bit of discussion about psychopaths and their specifics. The final discussion of this chapter is about Grief and research on older couples that demonstrated surprising ease with which many people were able overcame it after a few months since the loss. Interesting point author makes about anniversaries. Often people experience unexplained sadness until they realize that it is anniversary of loss.
- Know Thyself—Not!
Here author refer to psychoanalysis, which he considers debunked and admits that there is something to its idea of repression. Then he proceeds to discuss psychological studies of the adaptive unconscious and how to access one’s own motives and emotions.
Part Four: Out-of Control Actions and Dire Disorders.
- Bad Sex Can Be Good—for Our Genes
Author starts with the sexual fantasy of the world in which everybody finds ideal partner and has perfect sex with them. Then he moves to discuss partner selection and its evolutionary meaning. On the side he provides evolutionary explanation of homosexuality as option exercised by family oriented species in conditions adverse for new family creation. In birds it means adults cold not build viable new nest and stays with parents providing support to siblings, consequently supporting 50% of their DNA. Author also discusses here sex frequency in marriage and problems when it is out of synch between partners.
- Primal Appetites
This chapter is about eating problems that author characterizes as failures of homeostatic control systems. From this point of view obesity is similar to the great many other diseases. He then discusses contemporary environment, which is very challenging to humans because of technological enticement of various kinds from candies and junk food to pornography and sex robots.
- Good Feelings for Bad Reasons
This is about people who consciously choose self-harmful behavior, which nevertheless satisfies their needs to feel good and enjoy whatever this behavior produces from alcoholic stupor to venereal diseases. He then discusses evolutionary meaning of drugs production by plants and use of drugs by humans.
- Minds Unbalanced on Fitness Cliffs
In this final chapter author discusses reasons for mental diseases and hopes for DNA decoding to fix everything that were dashed in the last 20 years. He then provides a graph for the Standard model of evolutionary fitness followed by Cliff-Edged model:
Epilogue: Evolutionary Psychiatry: A Bridge, Not an Island
The epilogue discusses Evolutionary Psychiatry as bridge between evolutionary biology and psychiatry, which is valuable for two reasons: “In the long term, an evolutionary perspective will transform our understanding of mental disorders in ways that lead to better treatments. In the short term, evolutionary perspectives can be somewhat helpful even now.” This helpfulness comes in the form of Cognitive Behavioral Therapies and better understanding of various disorders by psychiatrists.
MY TAKE ON IT:
I think that evolutionary approach is much wider than pure biology. It also applies to information systems, technology, sociology, and all other areas in which there are systems, continuously changing whether randomly or not with following up test for fitness. So it could and should be applied as major methodological tool to research and understand human beings and their mental conditions. I think that most productive way would be longitudinal studies on individuals throughout their lifetime to identify periods of perfect functioning, some positive or negative deviations, and dynamics of changes from one state to another. The treatment of mental problems without knowledge of what is normal for the specific individual is like trying to repair car without knowing its make, year, mileage, and details of how it normally works. Humans quite a bit more complicated, so need much more data collection to understand how individual psyche works when it is OK and what variation from this OK state developed that makes it fail.
20190728 – It’s Only a Joke, Comrade
The main idea of this book is to use history of humor in Stalin’s Soviet Union to analyze human need for agency in live, which is so important that people still were telling all kind of jokes unacceptable for soviet authorities even when there was real and present danger of being imprisoned or even shot as a consequence. Author also analyses what kinds of jokes were told and psychological reasons for each of them. Finally an important part is rejection of dualism when historians look for support / resistance for regime. Author believes that people mainly supported regime, but had to resolve to humor when contrast between official propaganda and personal experience was too big and people needed some reconciliation between these two.
Here author briefly describes the story and reasons he become so interested in jokes telling in totalitarian society. He describes political and economic situation of Soviet Union in 1930s and response of extremely suppressed people expressed via all kind of humor. Author also introduces notion of Crosshatching, which he applies to situation, trying to demonstrate how intersection of the dominant official and suppressed, but not eliminated unofficial discourses, values, and assumption created complex mix of soviet live.
PART 1: TAKING LIBERTIES
Chapter 1: Kirov’s Carnival, Stalin’s Cult
This chapter “explores the myriad ways Soviet people dethroned their leaders and brought them down to earthy reality, from the quietly subversive to the raucously sexualised and scatological, focusing on the irrepressibly carnivalesque responses to the murder of Leningrad Party boss Sergei Kirov in December 1934. “
Author characterizes is as kind of counterculture that provided people with some space to at least partially get away from official craziness.
Chapter 2: Plans and Punchlines: ‘The anecdotes always saved us’
Here is how author characterizes function of humor of the time: “At first glance, humour might seem anathema in such dark days, but, as Chapter 2 shows, in fact this was precisely when it was needed the most. From the Five-Year Plans to the bloody collectivization campaign, an endless slew of mandatory state loan subscriptions, and the growing suspicion that their blood, sweat and tears might all be for nothing (exacerbated by a truce with Nazi Germany), people’s everyday realities clashed painfully with regime promises. Just as contemporaries used anekdoty to read the regime’s often bloody policies through the incongruous lens of their everyday experiences, they used the blackest humour to cope with the fear of denunciation and the dreaded 3 am knock of the NKVD at their apartment door. People were not struck mute by terror during these years; in humour they found ways to deal with the hardships and uncertainties, rather than standing frozen and isolated in the headlights of the NKVD’s paddy wagons. If humour could not save them from the secret police, it could always save them from despair. “
Chapter 3:Speaking More than Bolshevik: Crosshatching and Codebreaking
This chapter is about specifics of soviet speak – the new language that was strongly promoted by soviet officials in order to wipe out history and even language that existed before communists came to power. However it was not only imposed from above, but also actively supported from below by majority of population who were seeking way to survive in attempt to become truly new soviet person. It proved to be impossible and old (real) way of thinking and talking proved to be quite resilient, creating mix of old and new.
PART 2: JOKING DANBEROUSLY
Chapter 4: Who’s Laughing Now? Persecution and Prosecution
This is about price of humor that people sometimes paid: “Chapter 4 shifts our focus from how joke-tellers perceived the regime to how the regime perceived the joke-tellers. It reconstructs for the first time how the Bolsheviks struggled to control and contain all unofficial humour, and reveals how its perception of humour changed from considering it a blunt instrument to a mind virus, which could infect all but the most ardent ideologues. This was a twisted evolution that was largely opaque to the general population, but even if some people managed to keep up with policy, it might already have been too late. If historians have long known that the Soviet legal system was capricious and unpredictable, the criminal case-files of those convicted for humour reveal that it also practiced retroactive ‘justice’. A joke that seemed acceptable at the time it was told could be reinterpreted months or years later as evidence of counterrevolutionary intent and could land even devoted Party members in jail. In such a climate of uncertainty and unpredictability, even though joke-tellers might know they were taking a risk, they had little chance of judging the true danger of their actions. Even so, the content of what they actually said frequently turns out to have been less important than who they were.”
PART 3: ALONE TOGETHER
Chapter 5: Beyond Resistance: The Psychology of Joke-Telling
This is probably the most interesting and important chapter: what were psychological reasons to say jokes and laugh in the face of death or at least prison term. Here is how author describes it:” Studying an extreme case can highlight elements of the ordinary. Everything exceptional, if it endures for long enough, becomes ordinary – that is, at some level accepted and understood as ‘how things are’. People seek to normalize and adapt to their circumstances – so they can find a degree of stability and predictability as they go about their daily lives – but this is not the same as blindly accepting them. Joke telling could even become a statement of your own existence in this climate of smothering conformity: ‘I joke, therefore I am’. This could be quite practical as well as psychological. Wit and anekdoty did not just pick holes in the fabric of the official world and its claims, but actually began to create new ways of looking at it – unofficial rules, which could help people, get by just a little more comfortably and successfully. These were ways to solve problems and get by within the system, rather than attempts to destabilize or to confront it. In-jokes became a secret language between those in the know, and, while pointing out what didn’t work in the Soviet system, many jokes simultaneously conveyed a kind of clandestine ‘ know-how ’ – hints and tips people shared which explained how to get by to their minimum disadvantage. Barbed as they might be, they were often simultaneously affectionate, expressing a desire that things should work as they were supposed to, rather than writing the system off at large. In this way, they were actively trying to find patterns within the confluence – the crosshatching – of both their own perspectives and official ideology.”
Chapter 6:In On the Joke: Humor, Trust and Sociability
The final chapter is about trust. Author rejects idea of Hanna Arendt that totalitarian system destroys private life. On contrary, author’s research demonstrates that private life become even more important because it was the one area where individual could be save – there were no data found showing family members denouncing each other to authorities. Moreover strong friendships also provided shelter where individuals could express opinions with little fear and doing so satisfy his/her need for at least some semblance of agency.
In conclusion author points out that his research demonstrated that society was not really “atomized” into bunch if individuals trembling with fear. It rather turned into some king of mix of intersecting multiple realities in one of which Soviet Union made huge progress and build superior socialist society, in another reality it was all for show and Soviet Union was the place of massive incompetence, corruption, and suppression in which individuals were telling jokes not that much to undermine regime as to save self-respect and some semblance of control over their lives.
MY TAKE ON IT:
This is a great research on human psychology under totalitarian regime in which ideology, while being generally supported by vast majority, nevertheless was so far away from reality that it was necessary to find some way to diminish cognitive dissonance that was done by using humor and jokes. Far from being method of resistance the humor was method to maintain sanity and reaffirm one’s agency by demonstrating to self and few trusted others ability to see ridiculousness of socialist environment and official propaganda. There is also another point that I’d like to make, which is the use of notion “real”. For soviet people telling jokes there was no contradiction between believing in ideas of communism and laughing over real live implementation of these ideas. The duality is kind of simple: “real communist” was incorruptible, but local party boss was highly corrupt. “Real” socialist plant was super-efficient, but the plant one worked at was super-wasteful. This tolerance of inconsistency was the great achievement of totalitarism, which by suppressing real information and supplying huge amounts of propaganda successfully pushed handling of cognitive dissonance into area of underground humor, consequently preventing population from facing real problem of failing system and extending existence of the socialist system for decades after its economic and ideological bankruptcy become obvious to anybody in possession of real and truthful information.
20190721 – Frontier Rebels
The main idea of this book is revive memory of mainly forgotten part of American Revolution that was not less or probably even more important than most celebrated revolutionary movement of coastal elites in Boston and New York. This coastal elite revolted against taxes, regulations, and increased government control. The other part of revolution was rebellious movement of frontier settlers who decided that British attempts to accommodate Indian tribes, while refusing provide military protection to settlements makes it detrimental for them, so they started revolutionary fight for independence.
PREFACE: THE CRISIS OF EMPIRE
This starts with the story of important mission sent in 1765 to Indians by British government under leadership of Robert Callender. The objective was to bring massive amount of gifts including weapons and ammunition to Indians in order to establish firm foundation for permanent peace with American settlements expansion stopping at Appalachia and Indian tribes maintaining complete sovereignty further West. The mission was practically destroyed by resistance of settlers who had no intention to limit their advance and who considered British attempts to stop such advance and settle the border with Indians completely treasonous. They believed that Indians would continue attack frontier settlements in any case. The people who stopped this mission were called Black Boys. Their resistance eventually grew into kind of frontier rebellion that continued on and off until it merged with coastal movement into one American Revolution.
- SETTING THE STAGE
This chapter is about prehistory of main events – the British / French 7 years war in which British were victorious and took North America away from French. However this victory left Britain economically deprived and in need for money. This quite reasonably prompted the Crown to make its colonial subjects to help with payments for their defense and start looking for settlement with Indian tribes that would sharply decrease needs in such defense. The latter was the main reason to arrange delegation with gifts to Indian tribes in order to convince them in British peaceful intentions.
- THE MISSION
Here author describes preparations for the mission, its main players like George Croghan, and complex machinations between government and private interests used to raise significant money required for the mission. Author also describes attitudes of Indian side somewhat tangibly led by Pontiac who tried establishing peaceful relations with British after French were mainly gone.
- THE CONVOY DEPARTS
Here author describes final preparations, content, and departure of the mission led by Robert Callender – one of Croghan’s business partners. Croghan himself was waiting them at Fort Pitt. The mission on its way moved to Conococheaque – an area close to frontier, were population was well familiar with Indians and was undergoing regular attacks.
- THE ATTACK
This chapter describes actual attack of Black boys against Callender’s mission with destruction of gifts prepared for Indians. It also includes one of the first direct clashes of Americans with British troops. When train came to Sideling Hill Black boys attacked it, but the British soldiers of 42ndRegiment successfully protected the train and disarmed Black boys. British, however, could not prevent destruction of much of convoy’s property. On the Indian side another leader Charlot Kaske did not believe in possibility of accommodation with whites and did all he could to stop new settlements.
This is detailed narrative of attack’s consequences when attempt to prosecute Black boys failed because of jury support for them. This story includes lots of legal and executive maneuvering and also some semi military confrontations around Ford Pitt and Fort Charles. It also includes details of Penn’s thinking and his politics of trying to find some way to accommodate both sides: British and settlers, which had directly opposite objectives.
This chapter starts with the story of capture of Fort Loudon commander lieutenant Grant by Black boys. The main point here was the struggle for settler’s guns captured by British troops in previous confrontation. Author describes general mood of settlers and provides support to this description in form of popular ditty describing these events as clash between patriotic settlers and treasonous authorities that preferred to support Indians against Americans. Author stresses that it was the same period of time in the summer of 1765 when coat cities were boiling excited by Stamp act.
This starts with description of Indian, more specifically Pontiac attempts together with Croghan to establish peace and stop settlements. It has a very interesting point about difference in notion of “father” between Indians and British. The former did not perceive it as someone superior in hierarchical order, but rather equal friend. This created confusion when British believed that Indians accept their rule, while Indians believed that it is just agreement coexist in exchange for gifts. Even when British authorities and people like Croghan were dealing directly with Indians, they would be satisfied with formalities because it supported their of objective peace and no more settlements. For them gift to Indians including weapons and ammunition were just a normal condition of peace. For settlers peace would mean complete cessation of Indian attacks against settlements, which settlers did not believe to be possible, so any transfer of weapons and ammunition to Indians meant treason of authorities against them. Therefore logically dependence on British would be detrimental for settlers.
- THE ELUSIVE PEACE
This is narrative of the following events when Penn broke with settlers as result of massacre against peaceful Indian tribe by Frederick Stump. Initially disgusted, by Stump’s actions settlers put him in prison, but their opinion changed when they found that authorities supported his punishment. Consequently mob broke prison and set Stump free. In turn authorities with William Johnson at the head turned against settlers even more. In October 1768 Johnson signed treaty with Iroquois at Fort Stanwix to establish Ohio River as natural border between Indian lands and settlements. As byproduct it included generous land grants to Johnson himself and his deputy George Croghan, making them the richest landowners in the area. It turned out to be not a stable solution.
This chapter describes the next confrontation when Black boys start patrolling highways near Fort Pitt to prevent transfer of weapons and ammunition to Indians. Some of them were arrested, leading to Black Boys taking Fort Pitt in September of 1769 and freeing their people. In following encounter the man was killed and Black boys leader Smith was accused of murder. Instead of escaping, he decided to comply with laws, stand trial and was acquitted. Then author discusses legal situation on the frontier, when settlers often ignored directions and legal requirements of British authorities and used their own courts and juries to resolve issues. Especially explosive was their rejection of authorities demand to give Indians the same legal protection as any British subjects. This was so much unacceptable for these British subjects that they start moving in direction of ceasing to be British subjects. The final part of the chapter discusses Indian internal struggle that eventually led to the murder of peace promoting Pontiac and raise of militant Charlot Kaske who believed that no real peace with settlers is possible and just wanted to win military against all odds.
- IMPERIAL FAILURE
This chapter moves to events in 1772 – close to revolution. The British authorities decided to stop protection of settlers and removed a few forts including Fort Pitt. The idea probably was that without military protection settlers exhausted by Indian attack would stop resisting and become much more compliant subjects. Another plan was set into movement was Croghan plan to create new colony: Vandalia. Ironically this plan failed in court when multiple claims on the same land forced administration to drop this idea. Croghan did not give up and continued fight, eventually getting approval for Vandalia in 1775 just when revolutionary war started in Lexington. After that author describes London political events of 1770s and events on the East Coast including Tea Party that made war for independence inevitable.
In this last chapter author discusses events and meaning of American Revolution for the West and events during period of 1777 to 1783 substituted British authorities with new American Authorities, which were a lot less concerned about Indians than about settlers, supporting Western movement all the way to Pacific with Indians being just a bumps on this road that were continuously removed.
This is an interesting part where author somewhat links these events of long time ago with contemporary issues when current American coastal elite, which for all purposes is not that different from historical British elite once again bumped into resistance of lower classes, which are also for all purposes not that different from historical settlers. He specifically looks at issue of guns ownership and control and provides an example of older man explaining to young students that it is not possible to keep freedom if one cannot keep guns to protect this freedom. In his final thought of this book author states that this direct confrontational approach to elite is legacy of American history and revolution and one should not treat it easily because such easy treatment by president Buchanan in 1850s was one of the causes of devastating Civil War.
MY TAKE ON IT:
The author’s recovery of important, but often-missed part of American Revolution provides an interesting material for thought. The cruel and unstoppable movement of European settlers West was inevitably destroying Indian civilization, which was by far inferior numerically, technologically, and organizationally to fight successfully against this movement. I do not see how it could be different, all good feeling and compassion of British elite notwithstanding. For me it is interesting clash between two groups of people belonging to one civilization, specifically British Europeans that developed different believes who should be included into group of “us” and who should be treated as “others”. The settler had not doubt that Indians could not be included into ‘us’, while for elite the contempt and disgust of settlers was strong enough so to include Indians into the group of ‘us’ and suppress settlers who were not agree with this. It is understandable because this disgust of settlers came from somewhat familiarity, while good feelings and admiration of Indians came from the lack of familiarity. One should not discount purely financial consideration. For elite formal land grant meant little because of difficulties to use it, while protection of settlers meant loss of resources for causes elite had difficult time benefiting from. The Indian area free of settlers with clear border and peace meant profits from trade and little need for protection expense. For settlers peace with Indians meant loss of opportunities to acquire new lands and life under constant threat and real attacks every time when their interest clash with Indians. The free trade obviously would mean for settlers to deal with Indians who are well armed and equipped. In short interests of elite and settlers could not be reconciled.
20190714 – The Pursuit of Oblivion
The main idea of this book is to trace history of drugs use mainly in the Western world, present some technological history of variety of drugs and methods of their use, and use multitude of historical examples to demonstrate that consequences are quite different for different individuals. It is also history of government intervention with drug use, prohibition, and, generally futile, attempts to prevent such use.
Author starts providing definition of various types of chemicals impacting humans psyche:
Narcoticsrelieve pain, induce euphoria and create physical dependency. The most prominent are opium, morphine, heroin and codeine.
Hypnoticscause sleep and stupor; examples include chloral, sulphonal, barbiturates and benzodiazepines. They are habit-forming and can have adverse effects. These side effects are shared with tranquillisers, which are intended to reduce anxiety without causing sleep.
Stimulantscause excitement, and increase mental and physical energy, but create dependency and may cause psychotic disturbance. Cocaine and amphetamines are the pre-eminent stimulants, but others include caffeine, tobacco, betel, tea, coffee, cocoa, qat and pituri.
Inebriantsare produced by chemical synthesis: alcohol, chloroform, ether, benzine, solvents and other volatile chemicals.
Hallucinogenscause complex changes in visual, auditory and other perceptions and possibly acute psychotic disturbance. The most commonly used hallucinogenic is cannabis (marijuana). Others include LSD, mescaline, certain mushrooms, henbane and belladonna.
Then he briefly discusses prohibition and its counter-effectiveness, providing a number of statistical factoids.
ONE Early History
The contemporary story starts in 1670 when English sailors first encountered drug use in Bengal. Then author narrates discovery of opium, cannabis, coca, and other drugs. He also refers to drug use in history starting with Sumerian records, including Egypt, Greeks, Romans, and everybody else.
TWO: Opium during the Enlightenment
This chapter describes use of drugs during Enlightenment when they became a potent part of medical toolset. At the time drugs action was poorly understood so it was used without limitation and author describes numerous real stories of opium users of this period. Some of these users were destroyed by constantly increasing need to have drugs, but many others found some stable level of drug use that practically had little impact on their live, just slightly enhanced their perceptions and alleviated discomforts. The important point here is unpredictability of individual consequences, however with high probability of developing strong dependency.
THREE: The Patent Age of New Inventions
Here author describes significant changes in drug use that occurred beginning in 1820s. Drugs, as everything else, were industrialized being included into multitude of patented medicines and then produced and marketed on the big scale. Author also discusses here Chinese opium wars that were mainly result of economic disequilibrium between China that had plenty of products for international sale like silk and British Empire including India that had little useful for China and therefore paid silver in exchange of goods. It was clearly unsustainable and sale of opium from India was very useful tool to resolve this problem. As elsewhere in this book author narrate a number of personal stories of drug users mainly from the upper crust of British and French societies, once again demonstrating that consequences of drug use are highly individual and range from financial and health ruin to mainly benign enhancement of everyday perceptions, physical conditions, and mood.
FOUR: Nerves, Needles and Victorian Doctors
This chapter is about development of various methods of drug delivery into human body: digesting, smoking, injection and so on. It is also about differences in drug impact depending on the method.
This starts with description of coca leaves in recipes of various drinks. Then author describes a wave of Chloral addiction, use of amyl nitrite, and other stimulants.
This chapter starts with the story of dr. Pemberton – founder of Coca Cola Company. Then it moves to Freud and his unethical behavior promoting use of Coca. It is also about medical use of cocaine to treat depression and neuralgia. Author compares level of addictiveness of various drags, concluding that cocaine is more harmful than opium. It resulted in continuously growing stigmatization of cocaine and its users. Author describes the growing concern about drug use and results of various government commissions reviewing the issue.
SEVEN: The Dawn of Prohibition
This chapter is about beginning of prohibition. Author looks first at Moscow and London where at the beginning of XX century many thousands of patients were treated from addition. One of the interesting points author makes hare is that every new drug developed first was considered non-addictive and was used to wean people out from another drug. He reviews this process in details using development and initial use of heroin as example. About the same time in early XX century first contemporary restriction on drug use begin to apply.
This chapter is about the history of legal limitations on drugs as it developed from 1919 on in UK and then in parallel in USA: The Jones-Miller Narcotic Drugs Import and Export Act of 1922 further institutionalized and restricted drug supplies. The Porter Act of 1924 prohibited the manufacture and medical use of heroin.
As usual these developments included multiple controversies, but by the end of 1930 elsewhere in Europe and America governments prohibited drugs.
The production and transportation drugs was probably the first international trade when product cultivation was moving regularly from country to country finding new and new places where government control was very weak as in former colonies or very strong as in communist countries where government itself was the main producer and distributor of drugs to international market.
TEN: The Age of Anxiety; ELEVEN: The First Drugs Czar; TWELVE: British Drug Scenes; THIRTEEN: Presidential Drugs Wars
This was the age after WWII when drugs came into use massively and produced lots of feed to mass media and Cultural Revolution in Western world, which start destroying traditional values substituting sobriety and hard work as models of behavior with search for satisfaction via all means available including drugs. The political and moral reaction was traditional – attempt to forbid and suppress use of drug by police force. Author describes history of this process and multiple personal stories involved. There are a lot of details here, but they are generally retelling the same story of the failure of this suppression.
FOURTEEN: So Passé
The final chapter is about multiple new drug that are getting created all the time, their various impacts on human body and histories of typical loop: creation of the new drug, its penetration through the market, alarms caused by some negative effects like overdose deaths or some other negative consequences, prohibition, and indefinitely ongoing and generally futile fight to enforce this prohibition.
MY TAKE ON IT:
This very detailed and thorough account of history of drug discovery, production, distribution, use, abuse, and prohibition is quite interesting. It provides very good description of how many of drugs work, their impact on human body, and long fight of multitude of authorities in multitude of countries to prevent or stop their use. I generally agree with author that prohibition does not work, but I would go as far as it is possible to allow people to use whatever they want in pursuit of happiness, and if it is just chemical reaction inside of body that make them happy, so be it. I think it is meaningless and cruel to deprive some people of resources they produce in order prevent other people from hurting themselves. I think that example of one of the most potent drug – alcohol is quite obvious: some people never use it, some use it very moderately without any negative consequences, but some destroy their lives with alcoholism. I guess it would be no different with all other drugs, so it would be better allowing people decide what they want and obtain drugs if they want to and medical help to get off drugs if they want to. However I think it is very important that drug use started only when person is adult and can take responsibility of his/her action. Children should be educated at early age about potential consequences with visits to hospitals for addicts so that children had very vivid picture of consequences. Correspondingly pushing drugs to children should be treated as murder, since it does has potential to ruin human life.
20190707 – Government- Industrial Complex
The main idea of this book is to identify true size of government counting total FTE employees not only of government, but also of contractors and grants recipients. Author intends to demonstrate that American strive to limit government had resulted not that much in small government, but rather in big government-industrial complex in which many government tasks conducted by employees of private companies via government contracts and grants, making it actually less effective and more cumbersome, even more expensive. The solution author proposes is to increase number of government employees so they would do tasks that need to be done and in process actually save money on contracting overhead, complexities, and inefficiencies.
- A Warning Renewed
“Chapter 1 starts discussion by focusing on Eisenhower’s warnings about the conjunction of what he described as an “immense military establishment” with “a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions” and proceeds to a description of the methods used to calculate the true size of the federal, contract, and grant workforce. As chapter 1 argues, Eisenhower presented a framework for tracking the “unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought,” of any government-industrial conjunction, large or small, and even outlined a method for measuring the true size of government through head counts of federal employees and funding for contract firms and grant agencies.”
Here author provides description of methodology and results of analysis of head count and functional allocation of government employees in 2017:
Author also discusses how much there is hidden government-funded employment and provides a comprehensive list of reasons why nobody can even estimate these numbers:
2. The True Size of Government
Chapter 2 explores patterns in the number of federal, contract, and grant employees under Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama. The chapter starts with an overview of the measurement challenges in estimating the true size of government, a discussion of threats to accuracy, and a description of an estimating approach based on contract transactions and grant awards. The chapter also offers caveats on using the information and examines the data deficits that currently frustrate efforts to monitor the blended workforces that faithfully execute the laws from both sides of the complex. The chapter then turns to a history of the changing size of government under Reagan, George H. W. Bush, Clinton, George W. Bush, and Obama. Reagan and George W. Bush pushed the total size of government upward during war, while George H. W. Bush, Clinton, and Obama all harvested the peace dividends that followed. The chapter examines each president’s view of the federal workforce and explores patterns of growth and decline as the true size of government surged during war and economic crisis and compressed during peace and recovery. Readers are urged to pay particular attention to Reagan’s role in creating a Cold War peace dividend that reduced the number of employees on both sides of the government-industrial complex. Reagan also helped launch two decades of military base closing that gave his successors enough savings to hope for no new taxes and declare an end to the era of big government. The chapter ends with a quick review of President Donald Trump’s early relationship with the government-industrial complex and ends with a discussion of the federal personnel caps, cuts, and freezes that have done so much to alter the government-industrial balance. Although most of these post–World War II employment constraints had negligible effects on federal employment, they fueled public demand for a government that looks smaller but delivers more and the use of contract and grant employees as a work-around.
Despite difficulties of accounting presented in the first chapter author provides some official data on history of government-funded head counts:
3. Pressures on the Dividing Line
Chapter 3 examines the time limits, bureaucratic constraints, and political realities that drive federal functions and jobs across the dividing line between government and industry. Whether by accident or intent, the fifteen pressures catalogued in the chapter give Congress, the president, and federal officers ample incentive to use contract and grant employees in lieu of federal employees. The pressures also frustrate effective deployment of federal, contract, and grant employees. The chapter ends with a short discussion of the prospects for reducing the pressure through comprehensive reform.
This chapter is also interesting by author’s analysis of differences between direct and indirect government-funded employees. Here is result of one research:
Another interesting part here is the example of bureaucratic structure that includes some number of layers in bureaucracy and people that occupy them:
4. A Proper Blending
Chapter 4 starts with a short history of recent efforts to realize Eisenhower’s proper meshing of government and industry. As author argues, six of the past seven presidents focused on one-sided reforms designed to cut big government or discipline the contracting process. Obama is the only recent president who focused on both sides through a broad agenda for government improvement and aggressive reforms in the blend of federal and contract employees. Obama eventually retreated from both efforts, but provided an inventory of options for future two-sided action. The Chapter draws on this history for developing a “reset and reinforce” process that might be used for a regular reblending of the federal government’s federal, contract, and grant workforces. Based on rigorous annual head counts and workforce planning, this proper blending involves six steps:
(1) Clarify terms,
(2) Force both sides of the government-industrial complex to take social responsibility for their work,
(3) Track movement across the divide between government and industry,
(4) Sort functions based on careful definitions of which workforce should do what,
(5) Monitor and reset caps on the true size of the total workforce, and
(6) Reinforce the dividing lines between government and industry. Anchored by more precise inventories of who delivers what for government, this reblending process could ease long-standing limits on federal employment, while acknowledging the important role that contract and grant employees play in launching bold endeavors and achieving success.
Author looks in details t every one of these steps and concludes the chapter with question: who can deliver on these recommendations?
5. Conclusion: The “Next Gen” Public Service
“Chapter 5 ends the book with a discussion of the “next gen” public service. Even following a careful reblending using the sorting system presented in chapter 4, Congress and the president must assure that the government-industrial complex embraces a continued commitment to public service, a mission that matters to the nation’s future, and a workforce that bring new vitality to aging institutions. Federal employees are going to retire in record numbers over the next decade, but their departures will create a destructive “retirement tsunami” unless Congress and the president act now to recruit and train the next generation of public servants wherever they work in the government-industrial complex. Congress and the president must make sure that every federal, contract, and grant employee is committed to faithfully executing the laws, including laws they might oppose. Too many decisions about the choice and deployment of the federal government’s blended workforce are made without concern for cost, benefit, performance, accountability, and the underlying public-service motivation that should call all government employees to their work. Just as Eisenhower argued that the military-industrial complex was imperative to the nation’s safety, this book argues that the government-industrial complex is critical for supporting bold endeavors and creating lasting achievements. And just as Eisenhower also argued that a proper meshing of the military and armaments industry was the only way to protect liberty, this book asks how to align a much larger government-industrial complex than Eisenhower could ever have imagined. It is impossible to know whether Eisenhower would describe today’s government-industrial complex a conjunction of an immense federal workforce and a large contract and grant industry, but it is easy to imagine that he would say its size creates the same “grave threats” may be perfectly appropriate, if not much too weak.”
MY TAKE ON IT:
This book is an interesting artifact of American society demonstrating how deep is foundation of American culture that forces bureaucrats and politicians go to very long ends to hide size of the government. One should make no mistake that it is all about this hiding. Practically in any other country no bureaucrat or politician would think twice about increasing size of government workforce, but in USA such increase is done underground, even if per author’s tables this underground of formally private employees represents 5 out of 7 millions people paid by government. I well understand frustration of author who obviously would like all these people to be moved to government jobs in which he believes they would be more effective and productive. I do not believe that it would be the case, but I would also like to see the same happen. Unlike author I believe that most of these jobs have nothing to do with legitimate government functions and mainly represent malignant growth on American society, which simultaneously deprives its economy millions of potentially productive people and deprives millions of actually productive people from keeping significant share of result of their work. I would hope that open and clear presentation of government workforce and results of their activities would make it politically necessary really decrease size of government and move great many of its activity to private sector.
20190630 – The Goodness Paradox
The main idea of this book is that humans evolutionary developed via self-domestication, which occurred by process of elimination of troublemakers, either tyrannical or just non-conforming. The group’s elimination of such people created evolutionary pressure against tendency to resort to reactive aggression. Such aggression usually unplanned and happens within group, which undermines its survivability. At the same time competition between groups supported genes for planned aggression that would be directed either externally against outsiders or internally against individuals who become too powerful and therefore subject to elimination via conspiracy of a group of weaker individuals. These theses supported by multiple data obtained from genetic analysis and observation of two species of human close relatives: chimpanzees and bonobos.
Introduction: Virtue and Violence in Human Evolution
It starts with discussion of human paradox when individuals that clearly demonstrate nice and humane features and behavior at the same time can commit huge crimes against humanity. Author looks at ideas of inherently good human nature, spoiled by civilization and inherently evil human nature, constrained by civilization and finds both inadequate, albeit having some merit to them. Then author expresses his believe that one should look at evolutionary explanation of human behavior, which is defined by the fact that: “Human societies consist of families within groups that are part of larger communities, an arrangement that is characteristic of our species and distinctive from other species.”
At the end of introduction author describes plan of the book and objectives of each chapter.
Chapter 1: The Paradox
This chapter launches the investigation by documenting behavioral differences among humans, chimpanzees, and bonobos. Decades of research suggest how species differences in aggression can evolve. Aggressiveness was once thought of as a tendency running from low to high along one dimension. But we now recognize that aggression comes in not one but two major forms, each with its own biological underpinnings and its own evolutionary story.
Chapter 2: Two Types of Aggression
Here author is trying to demonstrate that “humans are positively dualistic with respect to aggression. We are low on the scale of one type (reactive aggression), and high on the other (proactive aggression). Reactive aggression is the “hot” type, such as losing one’s temper and lashing out. Proactive aggression is “cold,” planned and deliberate. So our core question becomes two: why are we so lacking in reactive aggressiveness, and yet so highly proficient at proactive aggressiveness? The answer to the first explains our virtue; the answer to the second accounts for our violence. Our low tendency for reactive aggression gives us our relative docility and tolerance. Tolerance is a rare phenomenon in wild animals, at least in the extreme form that humans show.
Chapter 3: Human Domestication
Here author discusses “the similarities between domesticated animals and humans, and show why an increasing number of scientists believe that humans should be regarded as a domesticated version of an earlier human ancestor. One of the exciting aspects of the biology of domesticated animals is that researchers are beginning to understand puzzling similarities that occur among many unrelated species. Why, for example, do cats, dogs, and horses frequently sport white patches of hair, unlike their wild ancestors?
Chapter 4: Breeding Peace
This chapter “explains new theories linking the evolution of physical features such as these to changes in behavior. Humans exhibit enough such features to justify calling us a domesticated species. That conclusion, which was first intimated more than two hundred years ago, creates a problem. If humans are like a domesticated species, how did we get that way? Who could have domesticated us?”
Chapter 5: Wild Domesticates
Author believes that some clues to human evolutionary development could be found in the behavior of bonobos. Author reviews “the evidence that bonobos, like humans, show many of the features of a domesticated species. Obviously, bonobos were not domesticated by humans. The process happened in nature, unaffected by human beings. Bonobos must have self-domesticated. That evolutionary transformation seems likely to be widespread among wild species. If so, there would be nothing exceptional in the self-domestication of human ancestors.”
Chapter 6: Belyaev’s Rule in Human Evolution
Here author traces “the evidence that Homo sapiens have had a domestication syndrome since their origin, about 300,000 years ago. Surprisingly few attempts have been made to explain why Homo sapiens arose, and as I describe, even the most recent paleoanthropological scenarios have not addressed the important problem of why selection should have favored a relatively tolerant, docile species with a low tendency for reactive aggression. How self-domestication happened is in general an open question, with different answers expected for different species. Clues come from the way that aggressive individuals are prevented from dominating others. Among bonobos, aggressive males are suppressed mainly by the joint action of cooperating females. Probably, therefore, bonobo self-domestication was initiated by females’ being able to punish bullying males. In small-scale societies of humans, females do not control males to the same extent as they do among bonobos. Instead, among humans, the ultimate solution to stopping male aggressors is execution by adult males.”
Chapter 7: The Tyrant Problem; Chapter 8: Capital Punishment
These two chapters are about the process of self-domestication, which author believes is based on “the use of execution in human society to force domineering men to conform to egalitarian norms, … through the selective force of execution was responsible for reducing humans’ reactive aggression from the beginnings of Homo sapiens. If genetic selection against reactive aggression indeed occurred through self-domestication, we should expect human behavior to share aspects of the behavior of domesticated animals beyond reduced aggression.”
Chapter 9: What Domestication Did
Here author “emphasize that the proper comparison is not between humans and apes, because too many evolutionary changes have occurred in the seven million years or so since we had a common ancestor. Instead, the proper comparison is between Homo sapiens and Neanderthals”
Chapter 10: The Evolution of Right and Wrong
Here author looks at reasons “why our evolved moral sensibilities often make people afraid of being criticized.” He concludes that sensitivity to criticism “would have promoted evolutionary success thanks to the emergence of the same new social feature that was responsible for self-domestication: a coalition able to carry out executions at will. Our ancestors’ moral senses helped protect them from being killed for the crime of nonconformity. The ability of adults (and particularly men) to conspire in the act of capital punishment is part of a larger system of social control using proactive aggression that characterizes all human societies.”
Chapter 11: Overwhelming Power
Here author discusses impact of types of aggressions on evolutionary selection of humans. “Since proactive aggression is complementary to reactive aggression (rather than its opposite), proactive, planful aggression can be positively selected even while reactive, emotional aggression has been evolutionarily suppressed. Humans can therefore use overwhelming power to kill a selected opponent. This unique ability is transformative. It has led our societies to include hierarchical social relationships that are far more despotic than those found in other species.”
Chapter 12: War
Obviously war is the highest form of proactive aggression and author discusses its specificity in this chapter: “Although contemporary war is much more institutionalized than most prehistoric intergroup violence, our tendencies for proactive and reactive aggression both play important roles, sometimes promoting and sometimes interfering with military goals.
Chapter 13: Paradox Lost
The final chapter “assesses the paradox that virtue and violence are both so prominent in human life. The solution is not so simple or morally desirable as we might wish: humans are neither all good nor all bad. We have evolved in both directions simultaneously. Both our tolerance and our violence are adaptive tendencies that have played vital roles in bringing us to our present state. The idea that human nature is at the same time both virtuous and wicked is challenging, since presumably we would all wish for simplicity.
Here author expresses his pain that his theory of self-domestication via elimination of troublemakers is kind of linked to capital punishment and therefore could not be feely expressed by western academic with fear of massive attack from the left. So he feels that the strong denial of support of this measure is absolutely necessary, even if his research demonstrate that consequences of capital punishment are highly beneficial for human development.
MY TAKE ON IT:
This is another very interesting approach to evolutionary roots of human species. Its concentration on aggression makes a lot of sense because it is what needed for survival in the natural world with its wonderful choices between the necessities to eat and real possibility to be eaten. I think ideas and research results presented in this book support approach to human being as the entity of dual types of evolutionary pressure: individual survival and group survival. It is very interesting that group survival required not only ability successfully fight outsiders, but also maintain cohesiveness within group. Author’s idea that this was achieved via elimination of too powerful and non-conformists looks very plausible, especially in the view of provided data. I think that this newly achieved realistic understanding of human nature would help in the current process if reformatting it to the new methods of production when old need for human labor is going extinct and new construction of society needs to be developed.
20190623 – Confessions of a Greenpeace Dropout
This book has two objectives. One is autobiographical to tell author’s story of growing up in logging community in the family of business owners, his education in environmental science that led him to activism and participation in creation of Greenpeace organization, which later become powerful anti-human advocacy group seeking limits on human use of environment and most of all power over other people, which in turn led author to drop out from this organization. The other one is to express author’s environmental views, which mainly come down to very reasonable approach trying to find way to build sustainable future by designing such forms of human interaction with environment that would create dynamically stable system supporting comfortable existence for humanity.
Here author briefly retells his story with Greenpeace, including critic of extreme movement to the left of this organization. More important, he formulates his environmental believes.
- First Principles
Here author defines his principles and provides his definition for relevant notions such as: Renewable, Sustainable, Clean, and Green. Then he critics all kind of environmental noise makers who are often driven by strive for power combined with some idealism, but not without greed for donations money and academic or political career. He also expresses here his attitude to Philosophy, Religion, Politics, Dogma, Propaganda, and Science. Then he discusses the “Precautionary Principle” and how often it is taken beyond any reasonable limit.
- Our Present Predicament
This chapter is a brief review of current situation, specifically global warming, species extinction, and such. He critic unreasonable and unscientific alarmism and contrasts it with his vision presented in this book.
- Beginnings; 4. No Nukes Now! 5. Saving the Whales; 6. Baby Seals and Movie Stars;
These chapters narrate author’s upbringing in the woods of Canada, his education and development as environmental scientist and creation of Greenpeace – organization that started by fighting nuclear testing by USA and France, but quite reasonably restraining it to Western testing because of unwillingness to spend rest of their life in Gulag if they would try doing the same for USSR or China. The Wales and Seals were the following up causes Greenpeace was fighting for with nice cameo of Brigitte Bardot who somewhat helped.
- Taking the Reins; 8. Growing Pains; 9. Greenpeace Goes Global
This is mostly about period when author was president of Greenpeace and how it developed into typical organization with power politics between different personalities, local offices, and ideological divisions. Author continues here narrative of their activities harassing waling fleets, oil companies, and such, but internal politics seems to be taking most of his attention.
- Consensuses and Sustainable Development Discovered
This brief chapter is about Greenpeace big win on seals hunting, but more about author’s discovery that the goal should be not stopping human activity, but rather integrate this activities into such interaction with environment that dynamic equilibrium between using resources and restoring them could be achieved.
- Jailed Whales, Curtains of Death, Raising Fish, and Sinking Rainbows
This is continuation of narrative about Greenpeace fight to protect baby seals and terrorist act against them by French authorities that exploded “Rainbow Warrior” ship, but it is also about author discovery of Aquaculture – fish harvesting in closed waters.
- Greenpeace Sails Off the Deep End
Here author describes the end of his affiliation with Greenpeace, which move into direction of the use of pseudoscience to raise alarms, money, and prestige while author moved into direction of building sustainable future by growing salmon – the process he describes in some detail.
- Round Tables and Square Pegs
This is about author’s participation in a number of environmental round tables in UN and elsewhere and his experiences in art of negotiation. He also mentions his first encounter with ideas of global warming and then describes in detail the second, after the salmon, fission between him and environmental movement – his support of sustainable forestry based on specific rules negotiated with business that was countered by the hate and accusation in treason. He describes attacks by environmental zealots who wanted logging completely stopped. He also describes hypocrisy of Greenpeace, which fought sinking of outdated oil platform to create marine habitat, while doing the same with its own outdated ship.
- Trees Are The Answer
This is about author’s position on wood, which he considers the most important renewable resource already produced in controlled environment similar to other agricultural product, albeit with much longer maturity period: decades instead of months.
- Energy to Power Our World
Here author reviews all known sources energy and concludes that any effective mix should include nuclear power, which is the only serious source of energy that does not rely on fossil fuel. He provides detailed analysis of all aspects of nuclear demonstrating that fears are overblown and by far.
- Food, Nutrition, and Genetic Science
This is similarly detailed overview of food production where author once again finds contemporary activism unscientific and harmful, especially in regard to genetic engineering.
- Biodiversity, Endangered Species, and Extinction
Here author addresses another panic promoted by environmentalists and quite reasonably notes that not only humans, but also all other species led each other to extinction, so there is nothing new about. The difference is that humans are the only species, which can and do consciously recognize the problem and act to remedy it. He also discusses how activist environmentalists capture more and more formerly scientifically sound publications such as National Geographic and turn them into sources of propaganda.
- Chemicals are us; 19. Population Is Us; 20. Sustainable Mining; 21. Climate of Fear
In these chapters authors reviews multiple areas where environmentalists fight completely save materials and processes that constitute contemporary industry and provide goods and services necessary for human live. He allocates especially significant amount of space to Climate discussion, providing multiple data graphs and concluding that, while human do have impact on climate it is not that significant, that the system is way too complicated and dynamic for scientists to be able reliably understand and predict its future changes at this point. So the hysterical alarms sounding all over the world combined with often successful attempts to generate financing, government grants, and regulatory power grabs that makes alarmist rich and powerful have no scientific foundations.
- Charting a Sensible Course to a Sustainable Future
In this final chapter author summarizes his believes about environment in such way:
- We should be growing more trees and using more wood, not cutting fewer trees and using less wood as Greenpeace and its allies contend. Wood is the most important renewable material and energy resource.
- Those countries that have reserves of potential hydroelectric energy should build the dams required to deliver that energy. There is nothing wrong with creating more lakes in this world.
- Nuclear energy is essential for our future energy supply, especially if we wish to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels. It has proven to be clean safe, reliable, and cost-effective
- Geothermal heat pumps, which too few people know about, are far more important and cost-effective than either solar panels or windmills as a source of renewable energy. They should be required in all new buildings unless there is a good reason to use some other technology for heating, cooling, and making hot water.
- The most effective way to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels is to encourage the development of technologies that require less or no fossil fuels to operate. Electric cars, heat pumps, nuclear and hydroelectric energy, and biofuels are the answer, not cumbersome regulatory systems that stifle economic activity.
- Genetic science, including genetic engineering, will improve nutrition and end malnutrition, improve crop yields, reduce the environmental impact of farming, and make people and the environment healthier.
- Many activist campaigns designed to make us fear useful chemicals are based on misinformation and unwarranted fear.
- Aquaculture, including salmon and shrimp farming, will be one of our most important future sources of healthy food. It will also take pressure off depleted wild fish stocks and will employ millions of people productively.
- There is no cause for alarm about climate change. The climate is always changing. Some of the proposed “solutions” would be far worse than any imaginable consequence of global warming, which will likely be mostly positive. Cooling is what we should fear.
- Poverty is the worst environmental problem. Wealth and urbanization will stabilize the human population. Agriculture should be mechanized throughout the developing world. Disease and malnutrition can be largely eliminated by the application of modern technology. Health care, sanitation, literacy, and electrification should be provided to everyone.
- No whale or dolphin should be killed or captured anywhere, ever. This is one of my few religious beliefs. They are the only species on earth whose brains are larger than ours and it is impossible to kill or capture them humanely.
MY TAKE ON IT:
It is an interesting story of man growing from somewhat mindless activism to maturity and understanding that human interaction with environment not one way movement when benevolent or evil humans to something to environment destroying or conquering it. It is not even two ways interaction, but rather humans being part of environment, as any other species changing it, making it more or less fit for them. The key here is that this part of environment has conscience and recently acquired powerful intellectuals tools: science and technology, which allow them more or less control their own actions, predict future results of these actions, and correct these actions in such way that would be the most beneficial for humans. It is also nice to see person, who spent decades in activism, recognizing that lots of this activism represents the worse that is in humanity – strive for power over other people and ability to take advantage of them.
20190616 – Science and the Good
The main idea of this book is to examine quest by scientists and philosophers for understanding biological, evolutionary, and historical origin of the notion of good and how to build “good society” based on of scientific foundation of morality. The conclusion is that science is far from meeting challenges posed by these questions and as of now science failed as well as religion failed before provide foundation for morality strong enough to be generally accepted.
Preface: The Argument, in Brief
Here author explicitly formulates his objectives in this book, which is to demonstrate failures of religion to bring order and peace, followed by similar failure of Enlightenment and science, then redirects this question to finding just “useful solutions“ that science can discover, which per author could lead to “moral nihilism”.
PART I: Introduction
1 Our Promethean Longing
Here author is looking at the question “ if science can be foundation of morality.
He discusses “the Dilemma of Difference”, which is resulting from the need to find common moral ground for multitude of different cultures that now encounter each other in common place of interconnected world of economics and politics. The difficulties are greatly increased by the problem of complexity that resulted from overload of information. Author then moved to the promise of science that was supposed to provide common language and objective methodology to define good and bad, but could not do so. After that author discusses his method and approach to the problem of finding objective and universal criteria of good and bad.
PART II. The Historical Quest
- Early Formulations
Author starts with 3 challenges to traditional philosophy that where posed by Europe social transformation: These challenges included:
(1) The inability of old ways of knowing—philosophy, religious authority—to resolve exploding moral and political conflict;
(2) A need for a convincing basis for shared international trade laws as global commerce swelled and broadened;
(3) A sense that the world was bigger and more complex—in terms of natural, cultural, and moral phenomena—than older medieval conceptions could account for.
Author looks at Aristotelian Scholasticism, then at the conflict and complexities of medieval Europe, which moved morality foundation away from the god mainly due to consequences of religious wars. The Enlightenment, Reason and Science seem to promise scientific solution to the problem of absolute good. Author looks at ideas of lawyers Hugo Grotius (1583-1645 and Samuel von Pufendorf (1632-1694) and philosophers Thomas Hobbs (1588-1679) and John Locke (1632-1704)
- Three Schools of Enlightenment Thinking And One Lingering and Disturbing Worry
The first school author discusses is Sentimentalism as represented by Anthony Ashley Cooper, better known as the Third Earl of Shaftesbury (1671-1713); Francis Hutcheson (1694–1746); and, of course, Adam Smith (1723–1790) among them. The central figure was David Hume (1711–1776).
The main point here is empirical impossibility in Hume’s opinion to derive “ought” from “is”. The second was Utilitarism with its Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) and ideas of nearly mathematical balance of pain and pleasure. Author also discusses consequent developments of Utilitarism with John Stuart Mills (1806-1873). The third and school came with Charles Darwin (1809-1882) –Evolutionary Ethics. Author looks at each school and especially at the logical and ideological problems that could not be overcome. A bit outside of schools framework author discusses attempts for empirical finding of solutions via behaviorism with its raise and fall during XX century.
4 The New Synthesis
In this chapter author moves to our time and discusses Sociobiology of Edward O. Wilson and its transformation into Evolutionary Psychology. It led to the new synthesis, which author defines in such way:
“This new-synthesis view of morality has four basic elements:
(1) Humean mind-focused sentimentalism,
(2) Darwinian evolutionary account of why the mind has the traits it does,
(3) Human interest–based utilitarianism about morality, all embedded within
(4) Strident naturalism committed to empirical study of the world.”
PART III. The Quest thus Far
5 What Has Science Found?
This starts with discussion of meaning of science and author properly stresses that science could not be settled on anything, ever. In relation to morality author suggested existence of 3 levels of scientific results:
- Foundation of morality that would settle existing moral issues
- Scientific facts that, while not settling issues would give same material to support or reject a moral claim
- Finding that would demonstrate origins and meaning of morality, even if they would not support or reject any specific moral doctrine.
He then discusses how different fields of science approach to moral issues like altruism, other-regarding behavior and such. After reviewing some finding from Evolutionary Biology, Psychology, Primatology, Neuroscience, and Social Psychology, he concluded that results are very modest indeed.
6 The Proclivity to Overreach
Here author refer to tendency to overstate scientific achievements in relation to morality when there are claims of achieving levels 1 and 2 when in reality they are not even close. After that author refers to a number of works that demonstrate philosophical and methodological limitations in this area. Then he discusses some cases of oversimplification such as oxytocin. Finally he points out to blurred boundary between “Is” and “ought”, in other words between empirical and moral statements, that so far nobody was able to breach.
7 Intractable Challenges
He details the following challenges for scientific approach to morality:
- The Challenge of Definition
- A Lexical Range
- Neuroscientific representation of “Ought” vs. “Is”
- The Challenge of Demonstration
- Happiness and Well-being
- An Internal Barrier
PART IV. Enduring Quandaries
8 The Quest, Redirected
Here author claims that scientific approach to morality should not be forfeited despite lack of significant results so far. He rather suggest that it makes some turns in more productive directions, the first toward a Disenchanted Naturalism and he provides duality of approaches between enchanted and disenchanted:
Then the second turn: The Original Quest Abandoned that author treat as failure of science to provide foundation for morality similarly to the previous failure of religion.
9 The Promethean Temptation And the Problem of Unintended Consequences
This is the summation of the narrative of this book, which provided plenty of evidence of science failing in the area of morality. At the end author recommends not to give up and try to find some foundation of morality that would overcome moral differences between people and cultures. It just requires more understanding, interaction, and discourse that would hopefully lead to some accommodation between varieties of moral views.
MY TAKE ON IT:
I think that the core of problem is that people do not really understand meaning of morality, which in my view comes from duality of human as a product of evolution of individual organism fully integrated into the group without which it cannot survive. Consequently it causes development of dynamic interplay between actions of individual directed to survival of organism and actions of individual directed to survival of the group. The morality is just a set of rules developed by individuals within group over long period of time that would provide for group survival even at the expense of individual survival. These rules are culturally transferred to every individual via process of socialization that individuals of each generation sometimes adhered to and sometimes change, depending on personality and place of individual within group and in lifetime point. If morality rules are sound in support of survival in the given environment and flexible enough to change with the change of environment, the existence of group will continue indefinitely and existence of individual would be successfully maintained at last until the next generation of individuals of this group matured enough to carry it on. The rules of the group morality that are not allow flexibility enough could lead to group disappearance with individual members of the group, if they survived group destruction, joining some other group and internalized the morality of this more successful group.
20190609 – A History of Fascism 1914-1945
The main idea of this book is to provide detailed analysis of nature and history of fascist movements in Europe and all over the world. These movements were somewhat popular in Europe between WWI and WWII, but a lot less than people usually believe. There is trend to call fascistic all kind of authoritarian regimes that are not really belonging to this category. Moreover author quite convincingly demonstrates that in between wars majority of fascist movements were successfully suppressed by rightist authoritarian regimes, so the most famous German Nazi and Italian fascists who obtained state power were unlucky exception rather than rule. Finally the overriding idea is to provide understanding of these exceptions and make sure that it would not happen again.
Introduction. Fascism: A Working Definition
Here author discusses use of the term and its meaning. He provides a very detailed definition and historical reference to various movements that could be defined as fascist:
Despite closeness between totalitarian ideologies – all beings collectivistic ideologies, author places fascism on the right and provides table comparing it with other right wing movements:
PART I: HISTORY
- The Cultural Transformation of the Fin de siecle
Here author discusses development of fascist ideologies and links it to the end of era of monarchies and empires that was prepared by European development before WWI and caused huge convulsion in period between1914 and 1945. Author looks at expansion of Marxist philosophy with its ideas of radical revolution and advocacy of mass violence, which coincided with development and popularization of racist ideas, somewhat derived from application of Darwinian ideas of evolution and survival of the fittest to societies and populations. Author makes an interesting point that it all become possible due to dramatic improvement in productivity that freed multitude of young people from the need to work hard just to survive and allowed them to spent time on ideology.
- Radical and Authoritarian Nationalism in Late Nineteenth-Century Europe
Here author discusses growth of authoritarian nationalism in Europe at the end of XIX century, which was directed against old monarchical imperial orders and promoted ethnicity based nationalism. First it obtained popularity in France and author reviews history of this movement. Then it was expanded to Germany where it obtained somewhat more sophisticated form with German school of political economy and volk traditions. It basically included massive state control over economy in interest of indigenous people with strong limitations on ethnic outsiders, especially Jews. Then author looks at Italy with its “Risorgimento” movement that was aimed not only to remove foreign control, but also create new superior society. It was expressed in Futurist movements that become ideological precursor of fascist movement. Here is example of manifesto from 1909:
However author stresses that it all was not the main foundational part of fascist movement. It actually came from the left from Revolutionary Syndicalism that was directed to more violent action with objective to implement socialism in contrast with existing popular socialist movements that were looking for peaceful transition from capitalism. Finally author allocates some space to Eastern Europe and Russia, but so little that he misses similar events in Russian division of socialist movement into Bolsheviks and Mensheviks.
3. The Impact of World War |
The WWI was the key event that created foundation for all fascist and communist movements of XX century and author provides quite comprehensive list of its consequences:
4. The Rise of Italian Fascism, 1919-1929
Here author provides details of fascist movement’s history in Italy including personal history of Mussolini, impact of WWI, and postwar crisis that pushed a lot of people into search of new solutions outside of constitutional monarchy of the time. There are plenty of historical details of party organization, development, and internal politics. There is also a very interesting analysis of class and professional participation:
The author reviews phases of taking power: March on Rome; Mussolini taking role of Semi-constitutional Prime Minister (1922-25); Construction of dictatorship (1925-29); and finally completion of Totalitarian state. In the final part of the chapter author reviews attitudes to the newly established Italian fascist regime from different quarters including communist and anti-communist ideologues. Communists were ambivalent, recognizing fascists’ similarity to their own movement with ambition to establish new society on ruins of old using the same violent methods, but also recognizing their anti-Marxist philosophy that would put nation above class. Kind of side effect of this ambivalence was tendency to use the word fascist as insult intended to denigrate opponents of all kinds, while at the same time building alliances with fascists when it was useful for communists.
5. The Growth of Nonfascist Authoritarianism in Southern and Eastern Europe, 1919-1929
This is country-by-country review of fascist movements in small countries of Europe. Important point here is that nowhere they succeeded in taking power on their own, being mainly suppressed by traditional authoritarians and conservatives.
6. German National Socialism
German version was famously much more successful. Author rejects idea that it was because of some specifics of German culture or history. It was rather time specific combination of defeat, economic suffering, and believes that army was not defeated, but betrayed. Author goes through postwar crisis of 1919-1923 when communist forces nearly took power, but were suppressed in bloody, but brief civil war. Author also discusses creation and development of Nazi party, which was invigorated by Hitler who turned it into genially cross-class mass movement. It however failed when it tried to take power in Bavaria, leading to decisive change to formal compliance with laws and attempts to take power legally via elections. Then author moves to reviewing period of stability 1923-1930 when Weimar was quite successful until it was economically crashed by the worldwide depression. However author mainly reject that Germany was uniquely hard hit. He provides table of unemployment in different countries showing that there was nothing unusual in its situation, except that after taking power Nazis did decreased unemployment and quite dramatically:
7. The Transformation of Italian Fascism, 1929-1939
Here author discusses history of Italian fascist rule and its transformation from popular movement to bureaucratic elite. Basically author presents opinion that the state kind of consumed fascist party and it become the prime object of support of all statists of the world including FDR and many members of intelligentsia in democratic countries that saw in this party-state combination much more effective method of society organization than messy democratic governance. Economic policy was relatively successful: “Compared with the pre-World War I norm of 1913, total production in Italy had risen by 1938 to 153.8, compared with 149.9 in Germany and 109.4 in France. The aggregate index for output per worker in 1939, compared with the same 1913 base, stood at 145.2 for Italy, 136.5 for France, 122.4 for Germany, 143.6 for Britain, and 136.0 for the United States. “ The fascist state even started implementing welfare programs, but it was never fully completed. Author also discusses expansionist policies, which were not especially successful due to overall military weakness.
8. Four Major Variants of Fascism
Here author discusses countries where fascist movements were powerful and popular: Austria, Spain, Hungary, and Romania. In all these countries authoritarians subdued fascist movement, even if they were initially very important part of coalition, like it was in Spain.
9. The Minor Movements
Here author looks at fascist movements in democratic countries like France, Britain, Low countries, Ireland, Scandinavia, Czechoslovakia, and others. Nowhere fascist movements were able to get close to power before the war. Only under German occupation fascist movements where somewhat in control, but only to the extent Germans allowed.
10. Fascism Outside Europe?
In this chapter author reviews countries outside Europe and mainly demonstrate that despite usual tendency to call any authoritarian regime fascistic, they generally were far from it.
11. World War II: Climax and Destruction of Fascism
Here author reviews WWII and how character of Nazi regime defined its conduct by Germany. Here is representation of different approaches:
Table 11.1. The Nazi New Order
- Direct Annexations: Austria; Czech Sudetenland; Danzig: Polish West Prussia. Poznan, and Silesia; Luxembourg; Belgian Eupen and Malmcdy: French Alsace and Moselle: northern Slovenia; Yugoslav Banat
- Direct German Administration:
- a) Civil: Polish Government General. “Ostland” (Baltic area). Ukraine. Norway. Holland
- b) Military: Belgium and part of northern France, forward military districts in the Soviet Union
- Tutelary Satellite or Puppet Regimes: Protectorate of Bohemia-Moravia: Croatia. Serbia. Montenegro. Greece. Italian Social Republic (1943-45)
- Satellites: Denmark. Finland. Hungary. Romania. Slovakia. Bulgaria. Vichy France. Italy (1941-43)
- a) Friendly neutrals: Spain. Switzerland. Sweden
- b) Distant neutrals: Portugal. Ireland. Turkey
At the end of chapter author discusses how military defeat led Nazis to attempt to expand the fascist movement into all European form so it would allow combining total resources of occupied Europe, but this was mainly unsuccessful.
PART I: INTERPRETATION
12. Interpretations of Fascism
Author discusses a variety of explanations mainly provided by ideologues of the left with the clear intention to link it to the right. Probably the funniest part is that a bunch of interpretations are quite opposite to each other. Here is the list:
Probably on conclusion, which is practically inevitable, is that, as any other complex societal phenomenon, it is just not possible generalize.
13. Generic Fascism?
Here author discusses difficulties of defining genus of fascism and presents 5 specific varieties that did existed:
- Paradigmatic Italian Fascism, pluralist, diverse, and not easily definable in simple terms. Forms to some extent derivative appeared in France, England, Belgium, Austria, Hungary, Romania, and possibly even Brazil.
- German National Socialism sometimes defined as the most extreme or radical form of fascism, the only fascistic movement to achieve a total dictatorship and so to develop its own system. Somewhat parallel or derivative movements emerged in Scandinavia, the Low Countries, the Baltic States, and Hungary, and, more artificially, in several of the satellite states during the war. The Italian and German types were the two dominant forms of fascism.
- Spanish Falangism. Though to some extent derivative from the Italian form, it became a kind of Catholic and culturally more traditionalist fascism that was more marginal.
- The Romanian Legionary or Iron Guard movement, a mystical, kenotic forms of semireligious fascism that represented the only notable movement of this kind in an Orthodox country. It was also marginal.
- Szalasi’s “Hungarist” or Arrow Cross movement, somewhat distinct from either the Hungarian national socialists or Hungarian proponents of a more moderate and pragmatic Italian-style movement. For a short time, perhaps, it was the second most popular fascist movement in Europe.
14. Fascism and Modernization
Here author discusses relationship between fascism and modernization or more precisely idea that fascism is reaction to modernization by people who are not able to adjust. Author provides data demonstrating that it was not the case, showing that fascism accelerated modernization as part of process of military preparation.
15. Elements of a Retrodictive Theory of Fascism
Here author confirms that all attempts to create adequate theory of fascism failed, but it was possible identify a specific set of circumstances consistent with its success. Here there are compiled in the table:
Epilogue. Neofascism: Fascism in Our Future?
Here author states that despite destruction of fascism in WWII fascists did not disappear and still exist, albeit on the margins of politics. He reviews their activities in several countries, but concludes that at this point it is not very serious threat. However author provides list of features that are typical for fascist movements and could appear in some other arrangement. Here is this list:
MY TAKE ON IT:
It’s a very nice historical research and it provides lots of facts and background that allows better understanding of this phenomenon. I think that, while overall reviewed and discussed, the issues of psychological environment that make people to seek revolutionary changes to existing order using extreme violence were not looked in sufficient depth. I also think that the key feature of Fascism as philosophy of group supremacy and suppression of individual should be discussed more. I would be interested in much more extensive look at the link between Fascism and Communism, but at the commonality of all group dominance / statist / welfare ideologies of XX century that seek top down control of society by bureaucrats and politicians. I think those have a lot more in common, even if some of such ideologies in Western world by far less murderous than Nazis. There is also clear connection between real danger of fascism and level of adherence to democracy in population. The greatest examples are probably consequences of taking power by collectivistic powers in Russia, Germany, USA, and Britain. In all cases communist / fascist / socialist parties took power either via democratic (USA, Britain), semi-democratic (Germany) or quasi-democratic (Russia) methods. Populations with deep democratic traditions (USA and Britain) were capable more or less recover by electing less collectivistic parties in relatively short period of time (1932-1952 in USA and 1945-1951 in Britain) when collectivistic policies proved to be detrimental to population wellbeing, despite multitude of antidemocratic methods like massive propaganda in support of regime and legal measures against its opponents. Populations with strong authoritarian traditions were successfully suppressed for decades so they could move away from totalitarian collectivism only after complete military (Germany) or economic (Russia) collapse.
20190602 Tomasello, Michel – Becoming Human
The main idea here is to review experimental data comparing human and great ape development and use it to support author’s believe that human specificity comes from qualitatively different process of development collective intentionality, which provides for human ability to create cultures and societies based on hyper cooperative processes.
Chapter 1. In Search of Human Uniqueness Chapter
It starts with Darwin and author discusses seemingly puzzling circumstance that unlike any other animals, humans created their own environment that includes technology, culture and religion. Author suggests that solution for this puzzle is unusually high level of cooperation achieved by humans. Author discusses ideas of Vygotsky about species-unique forms of sociocultural activity and links it to evolutionary developed biological specificity of human species. Then he defines his team’s specific proposal that this specificity was defined by common intentionality, which emerges during human development at about age of 3 years. At the end he defines his aim as to provide a “complete and coherent account of the process of becoming human”.
- Evolutionary Foundations
It starts with human evolutionary history and then proceeds to compare it to the great apes. Author defines difference in such way:” What they do not possess is humanlike skills of shared intentionality, such as the ability to participate in the thinking of others through joint attention, conventional communication, and pedagogy. Chimpanzees and bonobos—and thus the LCA (common ancestor)—are and were very clever, but mainly or only as individuals.
Then author moves to define shared intentionality and look at its development all the way until present when it becomes Culture and Collective Intentionality. Here is graphic representation if these ides:
Explanation in Developmental Psychology
Here author discusses 4 different types of learning and how humans are different:
“Typology of four types of learning and experience that play key roles—at different ages in diverse domains—in human cognitive and social ontogeny: (1) individual learning, (2) observational learning (imitation and so forth), (3) pedagogical or instructed learning, and (4) social co-construction (prototypically in peer collaboration).
Here author provides development diagram for complex movements:
II The ONTOGENY OF UNIQUELY HUMAN COGNITION
Here is how author describes this process overall:First, from around nine months of age, infants engage with others in acts of joint attention, which creates the possibility of conceptualizing entities and situations simultaneously from differing perspectives; then, later, they can even view things from an “objective” perspective. From early on as well, infants communicate with others referentially, inviting them to jointly attend to something, and this requires recursive inferences about mental states embedded in mental states; later they communicate with shared linguistic conventions. Again, from early on infants imitatively learn things through others’ perspectives, and later they come to understand pedagogy as an attempt by a representative of the cultural group to convey objective cultural knowledge. Finally, by the time they reach school age, children are capable of using all these skills of social cognition, referential communication, and cultural learning to engage intersubjectively with a peer in the kind of cooperative thinking and reasoning that are the source of all kinds of novel cultural achievements.
Chapter 3. Social Cognition
Author describes the mature human thinking as based on several dualities such as objective vs. subjective, true vs. false, and so on. Then author describes in details research that analyses how it happens step by step:
From Apes: Imagining What Others Perceive; Joint Attention; The Coordination of Perspectives; Becoming “Objective”.
At the end of chapter he also provides the graphic representation of this processes:
Chapter 5. Cultural Learning From Apes: Social Learning
Imitation and Conformity
Here author moves into the area that even further away from animals – cultural transmission of knowledge and skills. The humans so far are only one known species that formally teach young generation not just by example, but using language and other methods such as books, pictures, graphs, and so on. The topics are: Instructed Learning; Becoming Knowledgeable.
Chapter 9. Social Norms
This is an interesting discussion about normalization of human behavior when groups developed norms of behavior that they formalize and then pass from generation to generation. It is again feature highly developed in humans and mainly absent in apes:
From Apes: Group Life; Social Norms; Justice; Becoming Group-Minded.
Chapter 10. Moral Identity
This is another purely human feature that pretty much define humans as extremely group-oriented creatures. Author discusses the meaning of moral identity and how it is developed in humans via process of socialization. It is greatly different from apes that form partnerships, but in very primitive forms and usually directed on achieving not more than some local dominance. Obviously in humans it means a lot more because it places individuals “I” within group “WE” supporting both compliance with norms and their enforcement against non-compliant individuals.
From Apes: Social Evaluation; Self-Presentation and Self-Conscious Emotions; Moral Justification and Identity; Becoming Responsible.
Here author provides not only graphic representation of development, but also Venn diagram for moral decision making unique to the humans:
Chapter 11. A Neo-Vygotskian Theory
Here author reaffirms his conclusion that specifics of human ontogenetic process come down to hyper cooperative way of life, which is main difference between humans and great apes.
Global Theories of Human Ontogeny Shared Intentionality Theory
Here author reviews the following theories:
- Individualistic – human child as individual scientist developing theory of the world
- Sociocultural – human child as newly developed part of socio-cultural network being socialized via language and interactions with older members of the culture.
- Shared Intentionality – human child develops based on two sets of specifically human capacities:
Chapter 12 The Power of Shared Agency
Here author looks at evolutionary meaning of human species development as unique form based on hyper cooperation and collective intentionality. He refers to work of Maynard Smith and Szathmary that identified common characteristics of eight major transitions in complexity of living things with each transition characterized by two fundamental processes. Here is author’s characterization of these processes and their relevance to humans:
“(1) a new form of cooperation with almost total interdependence among individuals (be they cells or organisms) that creates a new functional entity, and
(2) a concomitant new form of communication to support this cooperation.
In this very broad scheme, we may say that shared intentionality represents the ability of human individuals to come together interdependently to act as single agent—either jointly between individuals or collectively among the members of a group—maintaining their individuality throughout, and coordinating the process with new forms of cooperative communication, thereby creating a fundamentally new form of sociality.
MY TAKE ON IT:
It all looks very convincing to me, which somewhat impacted my attitude to duality of humans with their separation / interaction of individual and group evolutionary fitness. I guess I was too much concentrated on individuality as reaction to surrounding pressures throughout to put group first in everything and everywhere. I think that development process based on collective intentionality adequately represents reality and should be taken into account. I guess it moves me to move focus a bit away from individual / group to individual / hierarchy-of-groups, meaning that key better functioning humanity is in forming such hierarchy in minds of all individuals that would give higher priority to more inclusive group over less inclusive competing groups. For example putting humanity overall over religious groups, consequently denying religious supremacy claims and compelling tolerance of other religious groups, if necessary by force. Similarly it could be applied to nation as higher level of hierarchy group over various ideological groups, similarly compelling tolerance between various ideologies. In short whatever internal hierarchy of group exists in the mind of individual, the overriding priority should be tolerance of other hierarchies of groups.
20190526 – China’s Crisis of Success
The main idea of this book is that China went through very specific Asian path of rapid economic development that was previously travelled by other countries such as Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and Singapore. This path is unique because it was based on fear of complete destruction that united population of these countries and allowed to go through suffering and deprivations that would not be accepted in normal times. Similarly to what previously happened to these other countries China now came to the tipping point when continuation of the same model of development become not sustainable due to both internal and external developments. At this point other countries changed mainly in direction of democracy or at least benign authoritarianism and found the new position of stability and prosperity. China however is different due to its size, culture, and ideology, so it is not at all clear what will follow.
Here author states his believe that China is approaching the crisis of success by which he means that the growth of last decade came to an end because it could not count any more on economic model that brought it this success. It is on the brink of transition similar to one experienced by other Asian tigers like South Korea and Singapore, but because of it’s much bigger and more complicated nature it is far from obvious that China will be successful.
1 China Model/Asia Model
Here author compares China and overall Asian models and expresses opinion that conditions, which create opportunity for dramatic growth of economy, are quite unique and could not be easily reproduced elsewhere. Such growth is normally based on dramatic and very painful dislocation of significant part of population and therefore could be conducted only in non-democratic countries and based on massive fear that alternative could be much worse than reform. It also required shared identity of the vast majority of population that recognizes its common fate and consequently accepts pain of restructuring. Author also compares success of Asian countries and failure of the Soviet Union, showing different priorities during change:
Then he looks at the core reasons for rigidity and centralization of economy that led all this countries into the crisis and concludes that it was somewhat result of believe in effectiveness of war mobilization model that allows concentrate resources on limited tasks of military economy when production concentrated on war material and population accepts whatever sacrifices are required. It does not work in complex consumer economy. The inference here is that concentration of efforts on economy is beneficial for the country, while concentration on military and politics causes stagnation. Here is interesting table of Asian development:
Then author reviews priorities within economy and stresses that success came when the human needs such as jobs and consumption have higher priority than everything else. He rejects the idea of priority of big scale changes from the top either in form of promotion of heavy industry or shock therapy of massive switch to market. However he supports idea of “rapid incrementalism”, which basically means just increase in economic freedom and opening of the market to foreign investment. The politics have vital, but secondary role. He also discount cultural prejudices noting that he saw a lot of idle workers in Japan, Korea, and China when people have no incentive to work, so the attempt to explain Asian miracles by cultural propensity to work hard in just nonsensical. Then author moves to China and stresses that the main differentiator was idea of “one country two systems” that allowed communist leadership utilize Hong Kong and some special zones to open link to world capitalist markets assuring flow of capital and know how to vitalize economics. Author also stresses that all economic miracles occurred within authoritarian systems, in which dominant party maintained strict political control. The final point in this chapter is that all this is possible only when people are poor and well remember fear of recent disasters. However when the country gets richer people much less inclined to accept deprivations and corruption, creating crisis situation. So far it happened everywhere and solution was usually move to more democratic and much less corrupt system. Author believes that China is now approaching similar point and outcome of this crisis is far from clear.
2 The Economic Crisis of Success
Here author retells story of Chinese economic success with the stress on recent history when Zhu Rongji and Jiang Zemin introduced critical market reforms in 2003. It reduced SOE employment by 45 million people. It moved economy forward, but then Hu Jintao and Wen Jinbao who expanded it to some rural areas, but allowed it to unravel, growing bureaucracy from 40 to 70 millions. It brought China to current Xi and what author calls “Crisis of Success” – when old drivers such as foreign investment, know how transfer, and export are becoming more and more limited. Crisis of 2008 convinced Chinese leaders that Western economic model is not that good and they start moving back to state controlled economy. Then author expresses his delight of the amazing new development plan and his contempt to silly “market fundamentalists” who do not understand that key to prosperity is government planning. Nevertheless author also states that only market could provide solution to the problem of complexity. In short, author supports “socialist market economy”. Then author discusses specific areas of transition: switch from export to domestic consumption, manufacturing upgrade, expansion of services, and development of credit-based finance. Author notes that Chinese leaders are usually have engineering background and it shows. Then author discusses Financial squeeze in the country where there is huge shadow bank market. Other issues that author discusses here are: demography, currency, Entrepreneurship, and Innovation. Author ends the chapter with overview where he simultaneously glamorizes China and states that the center of everything is going to shift there, but then stresses that it will take time and it is not yet tomorrow. At the end he expresses caution that China should avoid the fate of Japan that turned inward and started stagnate.
3 Critical Social Issues of the Transition: Inequality, Corruption, Environment, and Globalization
Here author moves to social issues and discusses Chinas inequality in many dimensions including geographical between rural-urban divisions, provinces, sex, and wealth inequality. Here is picture of regional divisions in wealth:
Author also discusses specificity of Chinese corruption, which he finds of better quality than corruption in democracies such as India. He also discusses Environmental issues that started having some impact on attitude of Chinese people. He also discusses globalization and admits that this process is at the core of China’s success story. At the end of chapter author restates that China’s economic and social problems are enormous and it is far from clear that its social structures would allow positive resolution of these problems.
4 China’s Governance Crisis of Success
Here author starts with Mao era failed attempt to jump ahead by using communist ideology and practice. This followed by changes after Mao when leadership start building institutions of functioning state, starting with limits on officials, establishing professional standards, and, most important, fine tuning the economic system that would be acceptable for foreign businesses so they could invest and actually move production to China being relatively comfortable with legal environment. Author especially stresses what he believes is China’s great achievement: stability via incrementalism when leadership moved very carefully, but allowed small changes in multitude of areas looking at what worked and what not. Author also discusses what he calls GE model – obsession with one key parameter, which was the Profitability for GE and Economic growth for China. He reviews specifics of Chinese model and democratic alternatives and finds Chinese by far superior for poor democratic countries, mainly India. Author believes that democratic elections in poor countries are captured by elite resulting in use of the state in elite interests combined with neglect of general interest. In Chinese model no capture is necessary and party bureaucrats are moved in hierarchy based on meritocracy that somehow make them working for common good, rather than their own narrow interest. He looks at example of other Asian countries like Korea, Singapore, and Taiwan, concluding that they’re all went through massive economic development using combination of authoritarian government and relatively free market. However upon achieving some specific level of wealth many of them switched to democratic rule under pressure of emerging middle class. Author counter this Asia model to disastrous post Soviet shock therapy driven by free market theoreticians and very reasonably concludes that it is much better.
5 China’s Political Economy under Xi Jinping
This chapter is the review of current situation as it developed under current leader Xi Jinping. Author points out that he was selected mainly as technocrat without strong political base. Author claims that Xi was given power to manage challenges of current situation when China become strong and decided that it can through away pretense of weakness and openly claim the leading role as raising power of the world. Author analyzes emerging powerful interest groups in China and new social forces. He discusses search for filling moral vacuum left by elimination of religion and bankruptcy of communist ideology, guest of private business and intelligentsia for proper legal system, and so on. Author expresses believe that China is at turning point. Old fears disappear, powerful interest group trying to increase their role in decision-making, and financial system become quite fragile due to massive debts. Author points out that Xi’s strategy of doing everything at the same time: reforms, anti-corruption, campaign, military challenge to USA in China sea, and so on is very risky. He discusses what happened in other Asian countries at this point in their development: Japan becoming rich, satisfied and apathetic, Taiwan moving to democracy peacefully, while South Korea via demonstrations and some killings, and finally Singapore finding interesting combination of state ownership of businesses, which are managed by independent boards. Author characterizes current point as “Complexity revolution” in China – dissipating fear, emerging hubris, economic and political complexity. He also provides list of 10 great paradoxes that China faces now:
6 What Will Happen?
Here author reviews different scenarios of future development: Reforms or their failure / Japan Scenario / Democratization / Communist power consolidation / Leadership split. None of these scenarios have clear and easy path and future is murky. Author concludes this book with this statement: “China is on the cusp of greatness, stagnation or tragedy, and the risks are so high that small, unexpected events could make the difference. That is the defining quality of China ’ s crisis of success.
MY TAKE ON IT:
I think author is absolutely correct in both his main points: China’s success brought it to tipping point when it had to change and nobody really knows how it will do this. I think, however, that despite very good analysis overall author is missing one key point: the rapid development of China occurred as result of massive transfer of manufacturing economy from West, especially USA driven by communist party’s making available cheap labor and environmental negligence to western businesses. Obviously taking machinery from Ohio, moving it to China and start producing with cheap labor with complete absence of environmental, safety and other regulations makes for rapid increase of “made in China” and decrease of “made in Ohio”. However this model is coming to the end because many factors: China labor is not that cheap any more, growing refusal to accept environmental deprivations force increase in production costs, population of Ohio shows signs of political awakening and is not agree any more to suffer for somebody’s high profit and cheap goods. There is also growing understanding in the West that China under communist party is not going to be peaceful and accommodating member of existing world order, but would rather demand not just leading, but dominating role in the world. I do not think that this would be acceptable for western population and the part of western elite that finds it acceptable will be eliminated from its position. I have no doubt that the world is moving to confrontation, actually it is probably already in it, but I think that short of nuclear war Western values would overcome Chinese outdated strive for dominance and within the next 20-30 years China would become just another part of free world. Alternatively, if Chinese leaders could choose Cold War in hope that current level of economic and technological achievement would be enough to with in such war, they could be sorely mistaken. I think it would lead to China’s defeat with highly negative consequences for its population, not least for its elite. The reason for this would be the same as in Soviet Union: unfree people normally are not those productive and definitely not happy. The Cold War between China, if it occur, would be about the same issues that with Soviet Union: which system if more productive and provides for better life. Communist dictatorship proved many times over its dismal performance in these areas, special Chinese case with massive Western investment and technology transfer of the last 30 years notwithstanding. Deprived of such investment and transfer China would not stand a chance.
20190519 – Through a Glass Brightly
The main here idea is to demonstrate how contemporary science destroyed multiple old paradigms that put humans into the center of everything. The secondary idea is that after proving human non-uniqueness, humans should know their place and use science to create somewhat minimalistic place for themselves within existing environment.
Part I: The Allure of Human Centrality, or, How We Persistently Try to Deny Our Place in the Natural World—and Fail
Prelude to Part I
Here author presents the main thesis of this book and what each of its two parts is discussing:
- Major paradigm shifts that involve diminishment of humanity’s self-image, and which have therefore been resisted with particular vigor, for example, heliocentric astronomy, the notion that human beings have been especially “well designed,” and so forth.
- Reassessments of certain previously held notions that deal with specific aspects of “human nature,” many of them still alive in the public mind; for example, altruism cannot be explained by evolution and must therefore be a gift from god, and people are naturally monogamous. Here, my intent is less to argue against human centrality per se than to take issue with an array of preexisting beliefs that have themselves been privileged at least partly because they place human beings in a flattering but misleading light.
In each chapter author is trying to present exiting paradigm, demonstrate why it is wrong and present the new one.
- The journey to Brobdingnag
Here author refer to Gulliver to characterize humanity’s descend from being the center of universe into being as everything else.
Old paradigm: Human beings are fundamentally important to the cosmos.
New paradigm: We aren’t.
- From centrality to periphery
Here author discusses anthropocentrism and modocentrism (central position of modern time), and all pain and suffering that caused people new understanding that none and nobody is especially unique. The paradigm change is:
Old paradigm: We are literally central to the universe, not only astronomically but in other ways, too.
New paradigm: We occupy a very small and peripheral place in a not terribly consequential galaxy, tucked away in just one insignificant corner of an unimaginably large universe.
- The meaning of life
This is about humanity as an exceptional species that can neglect procreation in pursuit of something else that they consider more important – meaning of life. At the first glance it does not make since since death ends life so nothing really matter, but humans come up with religion which virtually extend life into infinity. Author presents attitude of multiple famous thinkers to this issue, only to end with:
Old paradigm: Each human life has its own inherent meaning; it is up to every person to discover it.
New paradigm: No one’s life is automatically endowed with any meaning, simply by virtue of his or her existence; it is up to individuals who seek meaning to define and establish it by how they live.
- Well designed?
Here author provides critic of popular misconception that humans and overall our universe is well designed. Any more or less serious look at human body would demonstrate beyond any doubt that is not designed at all, but rather represent natural movement from one feature to another sometimes improving, but sometimes having deleterious effect. Author concludes:
Old paradigm: The human body is a wonderfully well-constructed thing, testimony to the wisdom of an intelligent designer.
New paradigm: Although there is much in our anatomy and physiology to admire, we are in fact jerry-rigged and imperfect, testimony to the limitations of a process that is nothing but natural and that in no way reflects supernatural wisdom or benevolence.
- The anthropic principle
This principle suggest that all physical constants of our universe so precise that any deviation, however small, would make human life impossible. Author discusses weak and strong forms of this circular argument and once again presents attitudes to this of a few famous scientists and philosophers. The result:
Old paradigm: The universe has been “fine-tuned” for life, especially human life.
New paradigm: There are many alternative explanations for this apparent fact, all of them based on a mechanistic rather than theistic conception of reality.
- Tardigrades, trisolarans, and the toughness of life
It starts with reference to Albert Schweitzer and his ideas of reference for life. Then author defines subject of this chapter that life itself is much more robust than individual life and could survive in practically inconceivable environments (extremophiles). This idea, as usual, brings us another paradigm change:
Old paradigm: Life is delicate; hence the fact that we are alive is testimony to our profound specialness.
New paradigm: Although individual lives are delicate, life in one form or another is remarkably robust; hence, aliveness isn’t in itself a statement of any living thing’s extraordinary importance.
7 Of humanzees and chimphumans
This is about cross-species experiments. Author refers to the first, unsuccessful ones done back in 1910. Now, with current understanding of DNA and life overall, it become much more possible, so author infers:
Old paradigm: Human beings, presumably because they have divine souls, should never be genetically combined with other animals, which don’t.
New paradigm (not really a paradigm so much as an impertinent suggestion): Creating a new and viable organism by combining human and nonhuman DNA might usefully open otherwise closed minds to the connectedness of human beings and other living things.
- Separateness of self?
This starts with debunking idea of homunculus, which author uses trying to claim that individuals are not really separate from worlds around them, but rather just a part of it. To support this thesis author uses not only science, but also lots of poetry. The paradigm change:
Old paradigm: Everyone is separate and distinct, an army of one.
New paradigm: Not so! The boundaries between individuals are arbitrary, artificial, and for the most part illusory. Our states are united.
Part ll: New Ways of Understanding Human Nature
Prelude to Part II
Here author moves to more detailed review of human nature as it developed under evolutionary pressures. Author concentrates on panhuman features that are common across variety of human cultures. He also discusses science as methodology opposite to religion and professes his intention to go wherever fact and experiments, would lead, even if this would hurt someone’s believe in human exceptionalism.
- Uniquely thoughtful
It starts with kind of catalogue of everything conceivable that humans are and do, but animals do not. Then he proceeds to demonstrate that actually just about everything of this could be found in animals and their behavior, albeit not to the same extent as in humans. Finally author discusses a few well known examples that demonstrate human irrationality and concludes that paradigm is changing:
Old paradigm: Nonhuman animals are unreasoning automatons; people, by contrast, are notable for even defined by their use of reason. Moreover, our species is unique in possessing an internal mental life.
New paradigm: Human beings have not cornered the market on complex cognition and an array of complex mental capacities; moreover, we are often downright irrational, and not merely when in the temporary “throes of passion” but also as part of our complicated human nature.
- Conflict between parents and offspring
Here author reviews conflict for resources between parents and children and between siblings. He starts with birds and other animals and then moves to humans. In all cases it is conflict between need to stay alive for individual and need to pass one’s genes to the next generation. The conclusion is:
Old paradigm: Parents and offspring are united in their interests, albeit sometimes at odds for other reasons.
New paradigm: Parents and offspring have genuine, predictable, biologically mediated areas of conflict.
- True or false?
This is about animal communication and the latest research that demonstrated its complexity, including ability to cheat. Author discusses communication vs. manipulation; males of many species tendency to present themselves as quality partners, and specifically human propensity to tell lies 6 to 8 times a day. The conclusion:
Old paradigm: Communication is assumed to be honest, providing mostly truthful information.
New paradigm: It is at least as likely to be dishonest, or in any event, an effort by the sender to manipulate the receiver for the sender’s benefit.
- The myth of monogamy
This is about evolutionary reasons for monogamy, but there is also multiple evidence of human inclination to polygamy. The logic in both cases is the same – attempts to make male to support family and select the most effective male to pass his genes to the next generation, with the former being a bit more supportive for getting male support and second for getting high quality male who is able to protect his harem, depriving competitors of opportunity to pass their genes.
Old paradigm: People are naturally monogamous, if only they find their ideal life partner.
New paradigm: Men are naturally polygynous, interested in multiple female partners, and women are naturally polyandrous. But both sexes are essentially free to be whatever they choose, particularly if they free themselves from the straitjacket that is the myth of monogamy.
- War and peace
Here author rejects the idea that humans predisposed for war. He recites multiple sources from literature to anthropology that kind of indicate existence of such predisposition, but then critics methodology of research. He also stresses that archeological research demonstrate that only with agriculture human groups become violent against each other, hunter-gatherers were much more peaceful. Author also makes sure that he separates group conflict (war) from individual violence, which is much more common in all periods of history. The conclusion:
Old paradigms: (1) Human beings are irrevocably stamped with a biological predisposition to wage war, so we had best get used to it and plan accordingly, or (2) We are inherently benign, benevolent, and peaceful.
New paradigm: We are not biologically doomed to war, although we are inclined to be interpersonally violent on occasion; the war/peace future is in our hands, and isn’t written in our genes.
- About those better angels
This chapter is about people helping each other. It discusses evolutionary reasons: reciprocity, kin selection, and cooperative breeding. The change author defines:
Old paradigm: The human penchant for altruism, beneficence, caring for others, and moral sensibility could not have evolved via a brute mechanical process of natural selection; hence, it is evidence for god.
New paradigm: There are many plausible biological explanations for these traits, which are not uniquely human, and which do not require—or even suggest—divine intervention.
- Who’s in charge?
This is discussion of free will. Author refer to multitude of living non-human DNA mixed with human DNA in every human body, which selfish genes are trying replicate by impacting functions of this body, sometime benignly, but sometimes lethally. This is not unique to humans and author provides some interesting examples of this. However the general conclusion is:
Old paradigm: Aside from obvious constraints, each of us is in control of his or her life, if not an “army of one,” at least the chief operating officer of our own central intelligence agency.
New paradigm: Everyone is shot through with a diverse array of other organisms as well as other entities, each exercising influence on the levers of “control,” such that either no one is in control or everyone is . . . whatever that means!
- The paradox of power
Here author restates the key message of this book: anthrodiminution, recognition of human non-uniqueness and then moves to lament non-trivial and unique impact of humans of everything around. He then discusses biological vs. cultural evolution and sometime dangerous tensions between them, such as biologically beneficial craving of hunter-gatherers for fat combined with abundance of fat for humans in our age leads to very fat humans with very negative effects for their health. Nevertheless author clearly supports contemporary culture of industrial society and understands that its benefits overweight negatives by far:
Old paradigm: By virtue of our uniquely human cultural and technological achievements, we have raised ourselves above mere animals and even above natural limitations.
New paradigm: We are the products of biological and cultural evolution, a combination that has endowed us with extraordinary power; at the same time, however, these two processes are often out of synch, a disparity that confronts us with extraordinary difficulties as well as challenges.
Conclusion: Optdare aude
The conclusion is a bit of pontificating on awfulness of Donald Trump, loss of paradigms that put humans in the center of everything, sad fate of Don Quixote who was brought back to reality by a cruel Carrasco, and finally hope that all this would eventually lead to the better place.
MY TAKE ON IT:
I find it quite funny how many a product of contemporary academia manage simultaneously write tracts diminishing humanity overall, while kind of aggrandizing themselves. It is also funny how they consider their duty to say something bad about the Donald. Other then these funny things, it is a nice catalogue of old ideas that nobody seriously consider operational any more. Obviously humanity is not in the center of everything, so what? It still has lots of knowledge and power to do what it had been doing for the last few hundred thousands years – change environment to fit its own needs. Actually humanity is not unique in this either: every ant and every bird do it by building anthill or a nest. It is just that human capability are much higher, especially cognitive abilities, resulting in the new environment where humans’ concerns include ants, birds, and a lot more that makes it better for humans, even if it is quite different from original environment.
20190512 – The Future of Capitalism
The main idea is to demonstrate that current increase in political division all over the western world between left and right is destructive to society and should be overcome. In order to achieve this author suggests establishing new system that he calls Social Materialism, which he defines as mostly capitalist system with big government that plays active role. This system would be based on everything “ethical”: State, Firm, Family, and overall world, meaning recognition of the network of reciprocal obligations between everybody and everything.
Part One: Crisis
- The New Anxieties
It starts with discussion of contemporary crises of Western societies when globalization and technology led to deterioration of quality of life of less educated people mainly in working and lower middle classes. It caused these people to give up on existing long-term arrangements and practically rebel against elite in power. This rebellion so far is within democratic framework, leading to election of Trump and other similar figures, but with increasing elite resistance, nobody knows how far it will go. Author presents his own story to demonstrate familiarity with both camps: successful and unsuccessful in the new economy. He then discusses success of social democracy in XX century with its welfare state, unions, big government, and intellectuals’ activity in politics that grew during this period. Author ends the chapters with Manifesto of what he calls Social Materialism – the mainly capitalist system in which government plays very active role in economics and social life, with tax policy “restraining powerful”. As usual for such cases, author claims pragmatic solution and presents his ideology as non-ideology crossing left-right continuum.
Part Two: Restoring Ethics
- The Foundations of Morality: From the Selfish Gene to the Ethical Group
This starts with typical complain that capitalism provide for material wellbeing, but is immoral and does not provides for meaning of life. Then it goes to discuss “Wants vs. Oughts” where author talks about seemingly contrarian demands between economic and moral objectives, concluding that both are needed and key is in the balance. Then he moves to emergence and wide use of reciprocity in human relations, which is developed evolutionary, somehow coming to conclusion that conservative philosophy could not be right because it support existing institutions, which are necessary dysfunctional because the world is changing all the time. The final part is about obligations to each other and to “society” and development of norms and organizations to make all this work.
- The Ethical State
Author’s philosophy is pretty much demonstrated when he states that “New Deal” was ethical and people recognized this. This follows by brief panegyric to Keynes, glorification of social democracies (ethical states) circa mid XX century and lament on their decline and fall. Author seems to see the cause of this fall in division of population into well educated and prosperous in market economy and less educated who fail to find place in it. Ideologically population divided into libertarians on one side and identity and rights obsessed leftists on another. Both groups undermined common identity one in the name of unified global market, another in the name of ever multiplying groups of victims, and both successfully suppressing conservatives who were protecting this identity, albeit in outdated format of nation and religion. Then author proceed to look at ways to restore common identity and patriotism in order to return to “ethical state”.
- The Ethical Firm
Here author moves to the idea of ethical firm by which he seems to mean the firm that exist not in interests of people who owns it, but in interests of somebody else who cares about some other, more important things than returns on investment. He also discusses problems with hired management who care about their own benefit, even if it would kill the business. Author proposes rethinking role of big firms in society and changing legal constrains on its management. He discusses in details how and why regulation and nationalization do not provide effective solution for ethical firms and suggests to look at 3 other approaches: Taxation, Public interest representation on corporate boards, and Policing public interest.
- The Ethical Family
The chapter about family starts with discussion of how it used to be highly normalized foundation of society until 1950s. Then came shock at the top when birth control changed sexual relations. Then came shock from expansion of education that somewhat led to loss of respect to older people. Then came shock at the bottom from technology and globalization that deprived lower classes not only of income, but also of self-respect from a job. This led to social divergence and dissolution of traditional family at the bottom. Author suggests that it is possible to restore “ethical family” through commitment technology and extended family that include 4 generations due not increased life span.
- The Ethical World
Here author kind of combines ideas of “ethical everything” in 3 precepts:
Precept 1. Recognition of obligations to other societies that are not dependent upon reciprocity: the duties of rescue. These cover obligations to groups such as refugees, those societies facing mass despair, and those lacking the rudiments of justice. Precept 2. The Construction of more far-reaching reciprocal obligations among chose countries willing to go further.
Precept 3. Such reciprocity is supported by recognition of common membership of a group, based on common purposive actions that further the enlightened self-interest of each participant.
Then he discusses erosion and potential rebuilding of such ethical world.
Part Three: Restoring the Inclusive society
This is pretty typical discussion of different aspects of contemporary division of population into winners and losers who benefit or fail to benefit from huge changes in methods of production and distribution of goods and services.
- The Geographic Divide: Booming Metropolis, Broken Cities;
After discussing diversion between prosperous metropolises and declining towns author proposes a number of possible solutions for specific problems, but ends up stating that none of them ready for implementation and need careful experimentation to define their viability.
- The Class Divide: Having it All, Falling Apart;
For this author suggest implementing “Social Materialism” when state cushions family with practical support could fix these problems by substituting what author calls “Social Paternalism” when state policies family.
- The Global Divide: Winners, and the Left Behind;
This is a bunch of Mea Culpa that author offers as professional economist: in regard to: Trade, Regulations, and Migration. The final professional Mea Culpa is in regard to economic profession glorifying globalization and closing its eyes on its negative effects.
Part Four: Restoring Inclusive Politics
10: Breaking the Extremes
This is the author’s lament that capitalism divides people and that right now everybody seems to be moving to extremes. He calls to establish process that would move main parties to the center. In order to do this he suggest to leave selection of leaders to party insiders and generally move into direction of decreasing divide in wealth and everything else at the global level, but most important is to build shared identity. He believes that the period of left’s dominance by Utilitarism and Rawlsian ideas of redistribution and victimhood and right’s dominance by ideas of individualism is coming to the end and the future would bring movement of left to their communitarian roots and right to restoring their “ethical bearings” and all happily moving in non-existing past when there was little division and no ideological struggle.
MY TAKE ON IT:
I think that idea of “social materialism” is plainly not realistic because it demands from people some abstract commitment to reciprocation to others even if these people to not include themselves and this other in one entity. I believe in evolutionary developed duality of humans with one side based on individual survival and another on survival of the group one belongs two. The complexity comes from existence of multitude of different groups that individual belongs to and frequent contradictions between objectives of these group. The idea that some bureaucratic entity such as state or firm could be made “ethical” meaning it would start caring for outsiders is not supported by the history. I think that the solution is not change in people or even their attitudes, but rather in change of group structures and hierarchies that would minimize contradictions and perhaps even reconcile objectives of different groups to extent possible so the resource production and allocation would be conducted on non-zero sum basis.
20190505 – A Brief History of Everyone
The main idea of this book is that humans are not necessary that different from other apes and have a lot in common with everything living in their DNA. It also provides history of human expansion all over the world and elimination of all our close relatives like Neanderthals who left us a bit of DNA and a few bones to discover. Author contemplates on commonality of our DNA so we all have common ancestors from not that long a go, and meaningless of primitive division of humans into races and such. Finally the big point here is that evolution is continuing and future changes are not really predictable.
This book is about humans and their DNA. It discusses multiple humanoid species that existed in the past and then for one reason or another disappeared leaving ecological space for the one and only survivor specie – contemporary humans. It is also about our DNA history, its present and what future can bring to us via results of DNA research.
Part One: How We Came to Be
- Horny and mobile
This starts with evolution and continuously changing life forms, of which humans is just one example. Author then discusses rejection of usual tree like interpretation and proposes somewhat different graph:
Then he follows with discussion of DNA structure and how to read it into separate genes. After DNA author moves to human movement from their place of origin in Africa all over the world:
Author goes into a bit of details about archeological, paleontological, and DNA analysis methods for obtaining this information.
- The First European Union
Here author discusses European population and how it come to be from the time of Neanderthals, that where successfully disappeared by humans. There is interesting discussion of type of food our ancestor subsisted on based on our DNA’s enzymes production such as Amylase. Then author discusses impact of cooking that started some 300,000 years ago and invention of agriculture that practically led to wiping out hunter-gatherers. He provides supporting evidence including typical discussion of lactose tolerance and not so typical discussion of blond and red hair. Author looks in some details on DNA make up of British Islands’ population and impact of plague. He ends chapter with the note about slow tempo of human advancement out of Africa, which was slow enough to provide time for evolutionary development of DNA differences. The evidence discussed consists of DNA variances and different cultures, such as Clovis, identified by tools used. The inference is that all Native Americans Indians are genetically close enough to confirm the idea of movement via Bering when continents were connected.
3 These American Lands
This chapter starts with Viking and Columbus, and then quickly moves to American Indians and how they get here. For some reason author discusses contemporary method of joining Indian tribes in USA retelling Navasupai story. At the end of chapter author points out that Americans, as nation of immigrants, have all kind of DNA mixes and discusses a bit his own family DNA.
- When We Were Kings
This is about impossibility of pure DNA because of geometrical progression of ancestors: 2 parents, 4 grandparent and 2100 for 100 generation, which is something like 2500 years – clear impossibility. The inference is that we all relatives and math confirm that it is correct. Author then go into a bit of genealogical discussion and ends up with explanation of problems with inbreeding.
Part Two: Who We Are Now
- The End of Race
Author starts this chapter with his recollection of encountering some racist teasing as a child and then moves to DNA and the story of unsuccessful search for biological foundation for racism retelling story of Darwin’s cousin Francis Galton – founder of eugenics movement. Obviously there are lots of differences of characteristics between individuals of different races, but most important point is that they do not exceed differences between individuals of the same race, making the very notion of race meaningless. To illustrate this author discusses results of research of genetic grouping of people. This grouping starts with division of everybody into two groups and then expanding it to more and more groups. The result is unexpected when algorithm groups people by DNA in such ways that is completely different from their races. After that author discusses various genetic diseases and inclination such as alcoholism, concluding that genetic influence is greatly overstated.
6 The Most Wondrous Map Ever Produced by Humankind
This starts with discussion and betting by the group of scientists on DNA length in 2000 when it was in process of decoding. Everybody overestimated its length because the common notion was that genes have direct link to specific function of organism, when in reality it is much more complicated and it is rather: complex, environmentally dependent genes combination link to function. Now, decades after DNA decoding the huge progress was made, but we are still far away from complete understanding how this staff works. Author discusses “genome-wide association studies” (GWAS) that seek to establish understanding of diseases by analyzing genome association of multiple people with the disease. He also discusses twins’ studies that demonstrate that link of DNA and some disease is not really simple and direct.
This is about link between genome and crime and other behavioral problems. As example author uses MAOA – the chemical disproportionally found in individual with behavioral deviations. Nevertheless the link is complex and could hardly be defined as having causal character. The final part of the chapter discusses intergenerational transmission of environmental impact. It is done on very interesting case of consequences of mass starvation in Netherlands in 1944. The key here is that it is highly developed country with great levels of documentation of all events, including health histories over generations. The result is interesting because it does support suggestion that this artificial famine did have impact across generations. Finally author spends a bit of time discussing epigenetics that kind of brings back Lamarckian approach.
8 A Short Introduction to the Future of Humankind
The main point here is that future is already here including modifications to DNA. It happens via mutations all the time. Research demonstrated that the same gene checked in 6500 people has 1.5 million single letter mutations. Since there are billions of people in the world the much more complex mutations are bound to happen all the time. There is also phenomenon of the same functional changes due to mutations in different genes, which makes sense because few functions and features linked to one gene only. So we are good with variety, but the second part – selection is becoming mute because survival pressures are not what they used to be if one takes into account abundance of food, shelter and advanced medicine. Nevertheless author final conclusion is that humanity is still in process of evolution because evolution is change + time and neither of this could be eliminated.
Author completes it with brief discussion of uniqueness of both species and individuals, which is created by constant recombination of bits and pieces of DNA present in millions of lives in the past so genome could be considered a history book without end and it would be read, reread, and updated for future as long as humanity exists.
MY TAKE ON IT:
So I guess it is not a big news that we are all relatives and have 99% common DNA. It is interesting how exactly humans moved around the globe and how much it could be traced in our DNA. Similarly it is obvious that there is no real scientific foundation for the notion of race because DNA variety within any race is higher that between races. I guess the problem is that DNA has little to do with cultural differences and human propensity to divide everybody into US and Non-US is more related to culture than to DNA. It is also interesting how author narrates impact of DNA decoding with unexpected number of genes: too few to explain features of human organism that eventually led to creation of new, supplemental to genetics field – epigenetics. I think that eventually it would open the new area of conscientious efforts to use epigenetics to improve development of young humans by creating individually designed environment with ability to control real impact by analyzing epigenetic changes. It would probably take a lot of time to move there, but result could be much happier people that we are now.
20190428 – Democracy When People are Thinking
The main idea of this book is to present the new method of collective decision making that author calls Deliberative democracy and convince people that it is the direction in which society should move to overcome multiple deficiencies of existing competitive democracies. This deliberative democracy consist of decision making by randomly selected representative group of citizens who have time for deliberation on issues and contemplate the most appropriate decision to resolve these issues. Such deliberation would be conducted with support of experts and author presents a number of experiments when such method achieved the best solutions, obviously author believes that he knows what is the best.
Part I: Introduction
Author starts with brief discussion of democracy and expresses his believe that it should be closely connected to people, but in real life it is generally not that connected. He defines the problem as difficulty to define “will of people” in environment of massive and well-funded advocacy by special interests, which are also quite adept in capturing support of people’s representatives and/or bureaucracy of the state. Author believes that the solution is deliberate democracy, which he defines as the system in which detailed deliberation of issue is conducted by a group of people selected for this purpose and is based on real arguments and facts. Author makes point that this book is not that much about theorizing as about real life experiments in deliberate democracy that he and his team conducted over the years in multiple places.
- Party Competition and Its Limits
Here author reviews existing patterns of democracy when two or more political parties compete in election and then winner makes political decisions controlling society. He points out that typically such democracy considered a guarantor of civil liberties by virtue of elections, but deliberative democracy kind of turns it upside down putting liberties and ability to think and discuss issues freely ahead political freedom of election. Another point author makes is that government can achieve legitimacy either via process such as democratic elections or outcome – economic prosperity even in illiberal system of government. Believe in former is in decline and author believes that deliberate democracy could stop and even reverse this decline.
- Deliberation and Reform
Here author expresses believe that democracy has fundamental contradiction between two main objectives: political equality and deliberation. The first one tends to empower people who have neither inclination nor ability for deliberation, resulting in deterioration of the second and low quality of decisions. He then adds the third issue – participation, which is an issue because impact of a voter on final decision is so small that it does not make sense for him to waste time on deliberation. Then author claims that Deliberate Democracy is the way to achieve all three principles: political equality, participation, and deliberation.
Part II: Can the People Rule?
1 Four Criteria for Popular Control
Here how author defines it:
Inclusion: all adult citizens should be provided with an equal opportunity to participate.
Choice: the alternatives for public decision need to be significantly different and realistically available.
Deliberation: the people need to be effectively motivated to think about the reasons for and against competing alternatives in a context where they can get good information about them.
Impact:the people’s choices need to have an effect on decisions (such as who governs or what policies get enacted).
2 Four Forms of Democracy
Here author defines four forms of democracy with Competitive, being a typical elections with political parties, Elite deliberations, being a selection of representatives with filtration such as US senate in original constitution, Participatory, being all kinds of referendums, and finally the one author promotes – Deliberative, when decision makers randomly selected and deliberate on solution under experts tutelage. Author provides table that breaks down their relation to principles:
- Popular Control in Competitive Democracies
Here author discusses how this form is deficient because it limits public influence only to really big issues, leaving lots of space for special interests capturing of political power.
4 Is There Democracy for “Realists’’?
This is discussion of research that demonstrate requirements for real democracy that could not be met in areas such as:
- The citizen must express an opinion on an issue (“cognize” the issue).
- The citizen must have knowledge of current government policy on the issue.
- The citizen must have knowledge of the policy alternatives offered by the competing parties.
- The citizen must feel sufficiently strongly about the issue to make use of the aforementioned knowledge in casting his vote.
It short “will of people” could not be obtained when individual people recognize that they have little impact of political decisions, which does not worth effort of deliberation or sometimes even effort of vote.
These are just a few examples of what author believes is manipulation of voters via advertisement and media.
6 Elite Deliberations and Popular Control: Madison’s Filter
This is discussion of Madisonian ideas of elite deliberative bodies where elected representatives filter out elite individuals for deliberation. Author seems to be sympathetic to these ideas, but at the end has to admit that it really did not work as designed.
7 Participatory Democracies and Democratic Control: From Town Meetings to Referenda
This is about direct participation whether in town meetings or referendums, which carries the same limitation that democracy always has: quantity of people and quality of decisions. It just does not work in complex societies because it is not scalable.
8 Reflections on the Athenian Case
Here author discusses failure of Athenian democracy that lead to disasters of Peloponnesian war and corrections implemented to improve opportunities for deliberation by creating additional filter of randomly selected citizens to deliberate on decisions in some depth.
Part III: Making Deliberation Practical
- Designing Deliberative Democracy
This is about defining specifications for selection of individuals for deliberation. Here they are:
1) Demographic representativeness;
2) Attitudinal representativeness;
3) Sample size.
4) The opportunity to engage policy arguments for and against proposals for action in an evidence-based manner.
5) Knowledge gain.
6) Opinion change.
7) Whether or not distortions in the dialogue are avoided.
8) Whether or not there are identifiable reasons for considered judgments after deliberation.
2 Deliberative Agenda-Setting: California 1n One Room; 3. Mongolia: Deliberative Participatory Budgeting; 4. Applying Deliberative Democracy in Africa: Uganda’s First Deliberative Polls; 5. Deliberating European-Wide?
These are descriptions of test cases in different places when Deliberative Democracy technic was applied.
Part IV: Reimagining Democratic Possibilities
- Designs for Deliberation: Where and How?
Here author returns to 4 types of democracies to restate his opinion that the first 3 are not effective and only deliberative democracy meat the requirements he defined. However he understands that replacement of existing system is not that feasible, so he suggests moving ahead by supplementing it with increasingly frequent use of deliberate democracy processes to solve specific problems.
- It Works in Practice, But Does It Work in Theory?
Here author replies to critic of deliberate democracy in these four domains:
- Domination by the more advantaged
- Lack of citizen competence
- Gap between mini-publics and the broader society
3 From Thought Experiments to Real Experiments: Reflections on Rawls and Habermas
Here author discusses reason for concentrating discussion on Deliberative Polls and his preference for analysis based on real experiments rather than thought experiments typical for philosophers. He discusses in some details ideas of Rawls and Habermas and their implications fro Deliberative Democracy.
4 Deliberative Democracy and Candidate Selection; 5 Texas: Connecting Public Deliberation to Policy Elites; 6 Connecting Deliberative Designs to Participatory Democracy; 7 Deliberating Before Ballot Propositions: Reflecting on the “Australian Republic”; 8. Japan: Deliberation for Hard Choices;
This is another bunch of examples of using Deliberative Design for discussing a specific issue. In this case author specifically link this design to existing laws in regard to referendums, presenting it as effective way to improve participatory democracy.
9 Deliberation Day
Here author moves to practical implementation of Deliberative Democracy, suggesting creating “Deliberation Day”. The idea is to scale up process so the final Deliberation will be completed after serious preparation including such conditions as:
- a) Diversity in the small groups;
- b) A mechanism to ensure equal and mutually respectful discussion;
- c) Briefing materials that can serve as the basis for the discussion;
- d) Plenary sessions with competing experts to answer questions from the small groups;
- e) Accepted ground rules for the discussions that protect individual opinions from the social pressures of consensus;
- f) A context that effectively motivates deliberators to participate on the merits.
- Connecting Deliberative Democracy to Constitutional Change
This is contemplation on how to implement Deliberate Democracy and change the Constitution without going through constitutionally defined method of amendments.
- Speculating on New Institutions
Here author spells need for the new institutions and Constitutional amendment to create them. One such institution would be 4thbranch of government something like “civic jurors” selected for deliberation. Another one would change the process of amendment itself so it would be easier to implement based on deliberation day resolutions. Author looks at few such suggestions in some details.
- Mongolia Deliberates on Constitutional Change
Here author describes actual process of deliberate democracy as constitutional amendment in Mongolia. He seems to be optimistic, but it was not a done deal at the moment of writing.
13 “Deliberative Authoritarianism”
This is an interesting combination that was discussed in China. The point here is that authoritarian one party government allows deliberation, but instead of decision making as in democracy it would be just polling and recommendation. It was somewhat tested in China and Singapore and author claims that it mainly complied with requirements of Deliberation, albeit without decision making it is very limited.
- “Deliberative Systems” and Popular Control
Here author discusses expansion to Deliberative system. Here are a few of suggested systems:
- Toward Collective Self-Rule
In this final chapter points out that with all well known deficiencies of existing democratic systems his Deliberate Democracy would be a great improvement over current situation and that its implementation would go a long way to assure more valid collective self-rule than exists now.
MY TAKE ON IT:
I generally find idea of Deliberative Democracy very nice, but highly unrealistic and
I see the problem not in complexity of decision-making, but in reality of human interests. In reality the elite part of population controls continuously increasing share of resources and generally uses it to their own benefits both material and psychological. This means that they would not give up this power for such funny reason as better method of finding solutions for the problems. My approach is that the process of decision-making is a lot less important than the scope of decisions that is brought into domain of “collective”. I think that the only way to achieve real democracy is to decrease collective decisions to absolute minimum by moving as much as possibly to domain of individual decision-making. Take for example drugs use. As soon as decision about this is moved to collective it create need for the huge number of decisions that had to be made by somebody for everybody. Whether this somebody is king or bureaucrat or parliament is not relevant, it still millions of decisions: which drags allow and which not, how punish for drug use, how prevent production or delivery of drags and so on infinitum. However as soon as this decision is taken away from public domain into individual domain, it become distributed between millions of people each deciding for self. Some may decide wrongly, with very negative or even lethal consequences, but as long as this decision is personal, only decision maker would suffer or enjoy these consequences. It is very much unlike collective decisions in public domain when negative consequences of poor decision fall on multitude of innocent people, usually leaving decision maker well protected from these results. In short freedom and collectivism are not compatible and no amount of improvement in process of collective decision-making could improve on this defect. The only real solution is limitation of collectivism to absolute minimum such as: collective defense, personal freedom and property loss, prevention of and punishment for deception, coercion, and violence against individuals.
20190421 – We the Corporations
The main idea of this book is to review history of corporate litigation in USA pertained to legal status of corporation as artificial person. The author’s main point is that over the last 200 years the legal person of corporation obtained more and more rights that actually were relevant only for humans such as the first amendment rights to which author allocates lots of space in his discussion in view of Citizens United.Even more interesting is author’s point that it was not development in one direction, but rather along a complex road with a lot of loops when in some cases it was beneficial for corporation to be considered in possession of human rights, but in other to be a separate entity to which legal framework created for humans just does not apply.
INTRODUCTION: ARE CORPORATIONS PEOPLE?
Author starts with the story of Roscoe Conkling the outstanding lawyer of the reconstruction period, one of the drafters of the fourteenth amendment that granted rights to former slaves. Later, after two decades in Congress, as the lawyer for Railroad Company he managed to apply equal rights to corporations. It is interesting that it become a norm, so up until 1912 there were 312 cases in Supreme Court when it was used to protect corporations and only 28 cases dealing with blacks. After describing misuse of fourteenth amendment early in XX century, author jumps to describing hated Citizen Uniteddecision that extended free speech rights to corporation in early XXI century. After that author points out that the story of corporation acquiring more and more rights is long, illustrious, and that the objective of this book is present this history.
PART ONE CORPORATE ORIGINS
CHAPTER 1. In the Beginning, America Was a Corporation
Here author discusses origin of American colonies, which were created by corporations and were treated as business enterprises. Whether Virginia colony or later Pilgrims, or later on others, they all were extension of British tradition of privateering when king or queen would give authorization to private actors to play role of Navy and obtain colonies. An interesting fact is that in 1590 these activities were responsible for 10% of economy. As result these colonies were set up as corporations and author discusses in details how it happened. One of important consequences was perception by colonials that their rights legally defined by corporate charters rather than by the will of monarch.
PART TWO THE BIRTH OF CORPORATE RIGHTS
CHAPTER 2. The First Corporate Rights Case
This was the case of Bank of the United States v. Deveaux. The case was about corporation paying local taxes. Interestingly enough, corporation won, but the logic was different. Corporation rejected its treatment as a person and asked to be treated only as conduit for rights of its members. The key here was state citizenship of corporation, which had members in several states. Here author goes to history of corporations all way to the Roman Empire, discusses in details works of Sir William Blackstone who identified corporations as “artificial persons”, and strategy of Bank’s lawyer Horace Binney who wanted to pierce corporate veil and instead of claiming corporate identity rights, claimed members rights to sue collectively. The author also discusses another case – Hope Insuranceof the same period, in which the lawyer was John Quincy Adams, who argued for corporate citizenship and right to sue. These two cases established the framework of discussion with personhood and piercing being two different approaches to corporate rights.
CHAPTER 3. The Corporation’s Lawyer
Here author moves along of timeline, bringing discussion to Daniel Webster as a corporate lawyer, reviewing important case of Dartmouth College. This case defined private character of corporations leading to recognition of their rights, which had limited government power over them. After this author discusses later career of Webster when he became much less successful trying to protect the Second Bank of USA against Andrew Jackson and his Supreme Court pick – Taney, who was approved as such only after the second nomination. They denied special rights to elite bank, but greatly expended access to corporate form in more democratic version. The case that was decisive in this regard was Charles River Bridge Company when Webster tried to protect its monopoly. It failed and Taney wrote decision, which stressed narrow reading of corporate chapter to prevent monopolies. Author also discusses issues of corporate personhood in view of comity clause of constitution, which defined equal rights for citizens of other states of the Union that prevented discrimination by local courts. Overall Taney Court accepted corporate artificial personality, but would allow it more limited rights than ordinary citizen, including state option to exclude corporation from their borders.
PART THREE PROPERTY RIGHTS, NOT LIBERTY RIGHTS
CHAPTER 4 The Conspiracy for Corporate Rights
Here author returns to Roscoe Conkling and use of 14thamendment to establish corporate rights. The main point here is Conkling’s assertion of drafter’s intention to read this amendment in the way beneficial for corporations. Author considers this assertion and consequent confirmation of this idea as conspiracy and names four conspirators: Conkling, Justice Stephen Field, Bancroft Davis, and Southern Pacific. Specifically author discusses San Mateo v. Southern Pacific Railroad, the case designed to establish civil rights for corporations. Author describes process of adding 14thamendment in detail clearly, albeit unintentionally demonstrating its dubious legality since it was ratified in some states under military occupation in period of reconstruction. There is also here an interesting story of southern lawyer John Campbell who instead of fighting this amendment managed to turn it to use in southern interest by protecting economic rights of southern small businesses against government intervention (butchers case). Then author discusses ideas of Conkling conspiracy that appeared quite a bit later in early XX century, promoted by historian Charles Beard. Finally author reviews fight between justices Field and White on issues related to business and ethics, with White generally siding with state regulators and Fields with corporations.
CHAPTER 5 The Corporate Criminal
This is discussion of corporation rights in criminal investigation. It starts with case of Tobacco trust and application of 5thamendment rights to corporation. Author concentrates on personalities: Edwin Hale – company executive and prosecutor Henry Taft who argued against such rights for corporations. As it was related to the case, author discusses Sherman Act and its use or lack thereof. The chapter ends with discussion of how attitude to 4thand 5thAmendments changed in courts and how it is actively used now. At the time courts decided not allow disclose of corporate communications, the decision that would not be acceptable in court now.
CHAPTER 6 Property, Not Politics
This is about another case that occurred at about the same: New York Life Insurance Company represented by its executive George Perkins. The case was about financial mismanagement, specifically payments to Morgan’s firm for unspecified services. Prompted by excessive luxurious expenses of individuals related to company it was about the level of freedom the management can or cannot use with corporate financials. In addition to personal excesses, money was used extensively to bribe politicians. Author uses this case to discuss the struggle over ethics and politics of the time and stories of several famous people: Teddy Roosevelt, Mark Hanna, and Louis Brandeis.
PART FOUR THE RISE OF LIBERTY RIGHTS FOR CORPORATIONS
CHAPTER 7. Discrete and Insular Corporations
It starts with reference to the note to Supreme Court decision written in 1938, which marks end of real protection of property rights (Lochner era) and beginning of Brown era– protection of civil rights. Harlan Stone wrote it and author discusses this lawyer and his role in this and his earlier activity as protector of socialists against “red scare”. The same relates to Newspapers and other media that need protection from politicians such as Hue Long. Then author moves to Oliver Holmes and his protection of free speech, especially in its corporate form of media in Grosjean case. The fight was about taxing advertisement that Long was attempted to use against adversary media. The final result was extension of free speech to corporations as a right. This was a precursor to the future Citizen United.
CHAPTER 8. Corporations, Race, and Civil Rights
This chapter is about racial struggle. One case was about NAACP, which was corporation and refused to turn in to authorities membership list. It discusses also issue of corporation’s race, which normally does not have any, but could be contrived as in Johnson amusement park case. The court defined that corporate is separate entity from its members and therefore could not have human characteristics such as race. Then author discusses career of Thurgood Marshall and Hugo Black and their roles in civil rights movement.
CHAPTER 9. The Corporation’s Justice
In this chapter author moves to discuss Nixon judges and their role in moving Supreme Court away from liberalism of Warren Court. Author provides detail look at career of Lewis Powell who fought “excessive tolerance” that created crime wave, attacks against business for environmental and other reasons. A lot of attention author pays to Powell’s role as promoter of corporate political speech and active participation in politics overall as necessary to protect shareholders interests. He discusses details of Powell’s memorandum for business leaders named “Attack on American Free Enterprise System” and its consequences.
CHAPTER 10. The Triumph of Corporate Rights
The final chapter is mainly dedicated to discussion of Citizen United and overall polarization of American. It also includes discussion of corporate money in political campaigns and personality of lawyers such as Jim Bopp who fought and successfully rebuffed campaign finance laws. Author also discusses the process of how Supreme Court became more conservative with appointments of judge Thomas, Alito, and Roberts.
CONCLUSION Corporate Rights and Wrongs
Author conclusion mainly comes down to the idea that corporations are people, at least in many aspects as Supreme Court defined it over years. Author points out to the latest move in this direction – Hobby Lobby case that defined that corporations cold have religious rights. At the end author brings in reference to Leo Strine – Delaware Chief Justice and his lecture on corporate governance in which Leo discussed corporate governance and impossibility of shareholders to control corporate political speech or any other actions for that matter. This makes the idea of corporate personhood that was continuously expanded somewhat damaging, since it resulting in actual infringement of rights of real people.
Author ends his conclusion with the story of a small Mora County court, which decided to ban fracking on its territory. The case was whether Shell Company could challenge the ban in court as violation of its constitutional rights. The Court sided with Shell, once more confirming constitutional rights for corporations.
MY TAKE ON IT:
As the great many other things American jurisprudence went way beyond original Constitution by establishing precedents and confirming laws that have no relation to original text. It is a pity because the idea of constitution was to restrict power of politician and bureaucrats to creation of explicit laws directly, instead forcing them to base laws on written Constitution so these laws could not be expanded beyond its limits. The corporate personhood, establishment of which author describes in great detail, is one uniquely demonstrative example of such legal expansion way beyond constitutional limits.
I personally would like to see complete elimination of all this unconstitutional legal structure and establishments of explicit constitutional article that would define meaning and rights of corporations, similarly to the way it defines rights of human citizens. In my opinion the existence of corporations has dual purpose: limitation of individual responsibility and combination of resources of different entities under one control. The limitation of liabilities could have two sides: material loses and negative consequences of some action or inactions by individuals. Correspondingly it should be two different types of corporations – Business Corporation with no political rights whatsoever and Political Corporation with no business activities whatsoever. The first would have neither first amendment nor any other human rights, while second would not be able to sell anything, only use collected money for political activities. As to legal standing, instead of current arrangement when corporation can sue or be sued, providing money flow away from shareholders to both corporate and adversarial lawyers, I would like to see corporate resource allocation to human beings who would curry legal responsibility for use of these resources on behalf of corporation and in the amount of allocated resources.
20190414 – Behold America
The main idea of this book is to use two popular phrases / notions: America First and American Dream and then trace their appearance and use from the very beginning to our time. It is also seems to be stressing the use of these phrases in contest of isolationism, racism, and consumerism when “America First” was mixed with ideas of 100% American as WASP, with all other being less than 100% and isolationism, while “American Dream” developing from strive to get new land to strive to get more goods. Another part of the main idea is to link the worst ideas related to these phrase to Trump and his supporters.
Prologue: First, America First
It starts with description of two simultaneous demonstrations: one by Italian fascists and another by KKK in New York in 1927. There was violence and police had some people arrested. Author stresses that among detained was one Fred Trump and, while some others were identified as Klan members, Fred Trump was not. Author notes that it meant nothing at the time, kind of indicating that it does mean something now.
PART ONE 1900—1920
- The American Dream 1900-1916: The Spirit of American Dreams 4
Author starts this part with the first mentioning of American Dream in 1900 in context of “resentful multimillionaires that would kill American dream”. Author points out that here American Dream meant equality and rich would undermine equality and therefore kill the dream, which is opposite of current American dream that came to mean be successful and become multimillionaire. In support of this author brings multiple examples from newspapers and other literature of the progressive period. She discusses quite intensely work of Walter Lippmann and his critics of American individualism and Americans’ “naïve” believe in democracy unburdened by expert control and regulation. Author mentions abundance of Americans dreaming about their own advancement, but together with authors of progressive era, she seems to see it as ugly impediment to implementation of beautiful collective dream.
- America First 1900-1916: Pure Americanism Against the Universe
The other notion: America First author mainly links with WWI and American initial neutrality. In addition to kind of external direction of America first author bring internal direction when it meant “melting pot” assimilation and tensions over hyphenate Americans of various kinds. It was linked first and foremost by fear of immigrants taking jobs, pushing out native business by better goods and services and cheaper prices, and, very important, fear of being pulled into European war that was practically irrelevant for majority of Americans. After reviewing more or less relevant literature and speeches of the period about immigration and assimilation, author moves to additional topic of the idea of 100% American, that obtained popularity at the time, often having Darwinist character of superior and inferior races, culminating in rebirth of KKK, and mass culture glorification of the Lost Cause of Confederacy, accompanied by occasional lynching. Author provides number of 3,436 people lynched between 1889 and1922, majority black. It is interesting because 1888 was the first year when majority of victims were black. Statistics exists for earlier times, but then majority of victims were white so author avoids it.
- The American Dream 1917-1920: What Do You Call That But Socialism?
This chapter starts with review of changes in American dream presentation in press from equality to liberty and democracy that were prompted by war propaganda. After the war the same propaganda machine switched to promoting socialism with American specifics, which somehow would be very different from murderous socialism of Russian Revolution. Once again author stresses that “ the American Dream was about how to stop bad multimillionaires, not how to become one”.
- America First 1917-1920: We Have Emerged from Dreamland
This chapter starts with statement that idea of America First moved from isolationism to jingoism, when main point became how different and better is America than other countries. Author provide an interesting example of America creed definition that won contest and remained popular for decades and even become official in 1945:
After that author discusses struggles for/against League of Nations and Americanization of immigrants. The former ended with America staying out of League, while latter with potential immigrants kept out of America. Author also links it to KKK and growth of racism.
PART TWO 1920—1930
- The American Dream 1921-1923: Salesmen of Prosperity
Author decided here to allocate separate charters to 2 years of Harding administration, which practically deconstructed Wilsons’s super big government and returned to normal, when middle class prosperity was the American Dream. Author discusses in details emerging anti-middle class literature like Sinclair Lewis’s “Babbitt”. After that she moves to immigrants, their communities, and their fitness or not for America. Author also found that in literature and ideology of the time American dream of liberty was coming in conflict with dream about equality and justice.
- America First 1920-1923: The Simplicity of Government
For America first part of discussion for this period author looks and Harding’s attempt to simplify government and make it more business like and therefore more efficient. Big part of this effort was to remove government from activities that where not proper for its interference. It also included America First approach to international trade with tariffs and increasing isolationism. She also constantly refers to literature produced by leftist authors and discusses KKK and American fascist movement that were growing at the time.
- The American Dream 1924-1929: A Willingness of the Heart
This is about period of Calvin Coolidge administration and author starts it with Scott Fitzgerald’s “Great Gatsby”. Only after discussing the book that was supposed to demonstrate moral bankruptcy of American capitalism, she moves to Coolidge and his declaration that “The chief business of American people is business.” Author also links it to Calvinist religion, which hold that productivity is religious duty and points out how out of this mix start emerging individualism, which discounted equality, rejecting the idea that there is something wrong when different ability, effort, and luck lead to different a results, sometimes dramatically so.
- America First 1923-1929: A Super Patriot, Patriot
For “America First” of this period author once again concentrates on KKK, racism, but also adds a new theme: corruption of Harding administration. She also discusses election of 1924 when democrats ran on anti-corruption platform, while supporting racism and KKK, albeit not without tension between Northern and Southern wings of the party. The republican response was to legislate anti-immigration laws that stopped mass immigration by linking ability to immigrate with country of origin in order to keep American population at the existing ethnic proportions. Author does recite Coolidge speech against bigotry, in which he stated that bigotry and racism contradict idea of “America First”, but she finds it strange, moving on to KKK claim on this slogan and 100% American notion being racist.
PART THREE 1930—1940
- The American Dream 1930-1934: Das Dollarland
This is about period of great depression when in author’s opinion selfishness failed. Author traces changes in American Dream as it was represented in literature and periodicals. The main change was loss of believe in wisdom of business leaders and growing distrust in reality of equal opportunity. Moreover it became kind of identity crisis for the country when individualism and materialism of America was questioned and significant part of Americans bought ideas of collectivism, all knowing benevolent political leaders who implement scientific social planning. This change in ideology opened gates for FDR mass changes in American system that for the first time after civil war moved America to big government system.
10 America First 1930-1934: The Official Recognition of Reality
Author describes America First of this period and increasing reaction to immigration with KKK achieving nearly mainstream status. As to external world, America once again moved to its default status of wishing external world just go away. At the same time multiple various-scale movements continued promoting American involvement in international causes. Author describes in some details one such movement – fascistic “Friends of the New Germany” that tried to promote Hitlerism and his ideas of German (Nordic) racial superiority.
11 The American Dream 1934-1939: The Pageant of History
Author describes this period as the time when American Dream become ubiquitous, saturating public discussion. It got to mean Democratic equality and high levels of activity in inventions and production. However it also started diverging into two separate streams, not necessarily compatible: Equality of Opportunity and Equality of Results. Author discusses work of quite interesting thinker named Herbert Agar who held that the failure of Americanism, as represented by Great Depression, was caused but failure to assign private property to many versus a few. Author goes through multiple examples of American dream as it was presented on meetings, in newspapers, books, and lectures. She also presents the new American dream of getting better off via government handouts, such as in public housing. The Dream also start moving away from dream of individual advance to dream of country prosperity as whole. One interesting statistical representation of this approach is rejection of variance between mean and median, when a few very rich raise mean to the level unachievable to many poor. One point that author makes here is that American Dream would have many variable meanings, but one constant feature: it always applied to all Americans. The final part of the chapter was about defending the Dream, which necessitated defense of democracy, without which its achievement would be impossible.
12 America First 1935-1939: It Can Happen Here
This is about various fascist and semi-fascist movements that happened in America at the time, igniting discussion among intelligentsia whether it could or could not happen here. Author discusses career of Huey Long and his semi-dictatorship in Louisiana, American Nazis rallies, pro-German Bund, and rejection of Jewish refugees. Author also describes in details career of Dorothy Thompson – popular anti-fascist author and journalist.
13 America First and the American Dream 1939-1941: Americans! Wake Up!
This part is mainly about raise of anti-war isolationist movement, Lindberg’s America First committee, which, under circumstances, was basically Nazi Germany propaganda operation conducted in hope to keep America out of war long enough for Germany to conquer Europe and use its total resources to prepare for final victory and conquest of the world. This German Dream of making the World save for “superior race” domination by keeping America neutral ended 4 days after Pearl Harbor, when America First Committee disbanded.
Epilogue 1945-2017: Still America Firsting
Here author narrates a bit about what happened later to these ideas after WWII and to couple of main personalities of her narrative: Hugo Black and Dorothy Thompson. At the end she breaks out of self-imposed restrictions and lets out the full scale of her Trump Derangement Syndrome, which is kind of pity because it somewhat spoils a reasonably decent book.
MY TAKE ON IT:
I think that ideas of American Dream are alive, well, and are about to blossom as soon as we get out of current restructuring of the mode of resource production and allocation from old industrial mode to the new informational one. The old Dream one way or another was mainly about material wellbeing, while now it could be taken for granted. The productivity achieved now and looming in the near future when AI could make any routine human activity unnecessary, makes this old Dream not just easily achievable, but trivial. We are in the process of switching to the New American Dream when material part could be taken for granted and psychological needs are becoming paramount. There is danger here because there are two types of psychological needs: one is achieving personal satisfactory condition via learning, relationship, thinking, and achieving recognition. And another one: which is achieving power to force other people to do what one wants, regardless of their own wishes. The first one is pretty much aligned with traditional American Dream and it could be easily traced to original dream of having enough food and shelter from one own piece of land and labor. The second one is not American at all. It was brought in from Europe with its tradition of court thinkers telling monarchs how to achieve glory, power, and prosperity. After some 5 generations of government educational bureaucrats promoting this European dream, it seems getting some traction, but there is growing resistance to this and, as usual, waking up after long sleep, American people will overcome this challenge.
As to America First, the current iteration seems to be changing from America First to pay for other people wellbeing to America First to take care about its own people.
The former comes in two forms: one is protecting allies like Europe practically for free over generations, and the second one in form of providing opportunities for developing countries like China to transfer technology and accepting unfair trade. Surely, both methods were based on believe that it was better for American ruling classes: the protection gave them power and security, while developing world was providing cheap labor and place for industrial production without environmental restrictions, which made production cheaper still. Both where at the expense of American middle class, which seems had enough. So Trump or no Trump, this change from “the first to pay” to “the first to care” is going to happen.
20190407 -Brief Answers to the Big Questions
The main idea of this book is to translate author’s thinking based mainly on theoretical physics and mathematics into simplified presentation of his views on nature of our world and derive from these views answers to 10 questions that author believes to be the most important for humanity.
Why We Must Ask Big Questions
Here author describes his family and upbringing and how he get involved with science so much. Then he moves to big cosmological question of 1970s: did universe have a beginning. Author found the answer in black holes theory via combination of general relativity (very large) with quantum theory (very small). After that he describes history of his illness and accommodations that were made possible by contemporary technology, allowing him to lead active intellectual live as scientist and author of popular book on cosmology.
Since author designed this book as QA, with chapters being the questions, the best way to summarize is just to include his own answers as they are.
MY TAKE ON IT:
- GOD EXISTANCE:
I believe that this could not possibly be known, unless and until God decides to make it known. Consequently the best way to treat it is American way: leave everybody to believe whatever they want and prevent anybody from imposing his/her believes on others
I actually do not think that it is meaningless question, but I also do not think that it is an answerable one. Our understanding of Bing bang, time, and space came from combination of observable facts in form of various physical phenomenon with mathematical modeling that kind of makes sense of this. This modeling could not possibly be final not only now, but ever because we do not know what other phenomenon would be discovered in the future and what mathematical modeling would be available if our data processing and modeling abilities will increase by factor of billions. In mine humble opinion there were no beginning as well as there will be no end, as it was said before: ”just one damn thing after another”.
- OTHER INTELLIGENT LIFE:
I think it absolutely exists and probably in huge number of variation, but not necessarily that often and close to each other. Therefore limits on travel and communications are way too high, making idea of interaction improbable.
- PREDICT THE FUTURE:
No way. There are too much complexity and variations to have it reliably predictable in details. Probabilistically, however, we predict the future everyday with pretty high level of precision like: it will be one Monday within the next 7 days.
- INSIDE OF BLACK HOLE:
The black hole is the product of our modeling, so description provided by author must be consistent with it. It does not mean that if one tried to inter black hole it is exactly what would happen.
- TIME TRAVEL:
We do it all the time, but only in one direction physically with speed being marginally changeable, but not by much. Psychologically there are no limits.
- SURVIVAL ON EARTH:
We’ll survive for a while, at least until some big thing happen that is beyond our control, like sun becoming supernova. Things like climate change are not a problem at all. The climate had always been changing and that’s why evolution gave apes with bigger brain advantage in survival, so they could adjust faster that it could be supported by DNA change. Besides the way it is presented now is mainly BS, serving to assure wealth transfer to bureaucratic scientists.
- COLONIZE SPACE:
I do not thinks it make sense. Humans are not going multiply indefinitely. Moreover we already can observe shrinking rather than expansion of population, so there are enough places on this planet for everybody.
- ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE OUTSMART HUMANS:
If question is if non-biological system can do everything that humans do, better, then the answer is yes. However if we consider human being a system that through internal presetting (DNA for example) can accumulate experiences, form self-perception as the entity separate and different from environment outside of border of this entity, set up objectives to achieve, and act to achieve this, then answer is no. It is “no” because such system would be a human, even if it is based not on biological material, but on, let’s say, silicone. However I do not see any reason for creating this new type of humans, except for limited experiment, because we humans love ourselves and do not need any competition. The use of AI as tool, functional, but not conscious would be good enough.
- HOW SHAPE FUTURE:
Technological future is trivial, it will happen. Much more important is social future. Humanity needs to move away from resource creation, allocation, and redistribution via Deception, Coercion, and Violence. Similarly humanity should discard the idea of one individual having power over other to force this other to do or not to do something. If we manage to do these 2 things within the next 50-100 years, we’ll be fine. If not, then some pissed of individual will use technology to create deadly virus or super powerful explosion or something else to end this all.
20190331 – Living with the Gods
The main idea of this book is to trace religious and other ideological believes from the very beginning, by analyzing the first known relevant artifact and then information from many diverse sources that demonstrate and explain different patterns of ideologies. It is also to demonstrate how these ideologies unite groups of people, how the process of ideological interaction occurs, how theatrics and images are used in promoting these religions and ideologies, advantages and disadvantages of different religious structures: one or many gods. The key point however is the look at power distribution between religion and secular authorities formal and informal.
Introduction: Believing and Belonging
Here author defines this book not as a history of religion, but as research on the role of shared believes either religious or ideological in society and how it shapes individual’s attitude to society, state, and morals. Author briefly looks at different systems of believes starting with American motto on the money: “In God we trust” and then at organized religions of the world that experiences kind of religious revival in multiple places, especially Hindu and Muslim combined with reaction of dominant secular believers in response. Author also stated that he believes that religion addresses many of the same questions as politics, providing guidance to any specific group of people to “Who are we?” question.
Part One: Our Place in the Pattern
Chapter 1: The Beginnings of Belief
This chapter starts with discussion of the oldest known statute – Lion man, dated to around 40,000 years ago. It was evaluated that this small statute required some 400 hours of work and therefore had to be highly valuable. It must have some very important ritual value for people who crated it. In addition, microscopic analysis identified that mouth and only mouth of the statute was contacted by organic material, probably blood. This is quite striking evidence of development of some kind of material representation of powerful forces that influence human environment, but are beyond human control. Another peace of evidence is that no everyday objects were found in the same place, but a lot in places nearby, seemingly demonstrating that Lion man was part of some important ritual not really mixable with everyday life. Author’s conclusion is that even at this early point Homo sapience is also Homo religious, using his imagination to try appease unknown.
Chapter 2: Fire and State
Here author moves to more recent times discussing link of fire to gods from Shiva to Jewish Yahweh, to Roman goddess of fire Vesta and her virgin servants. Somehow this leads to female power of English and French queens and their cultural connection to Vestal Virgins demonstrated in portraits. Then author brings in Zoroastrians and their attitudes to fire, which was quite different from Roman attitude. Romans saw it as coming from one source, since Vestals and maintaining this permanent source. Zoroastrians saw it as coming from everywhere and mixing in one place, creating unifying symbol of community. Amazingly, centuries after Islamic conquest when small group of remaining Zoroastrians called Parsis moved to India, bringing with them ashes of their sacred fire, they managed for centuries keep this ritual fire running. It believed that this flame was continued unextinguished since year 721. Then author traces this attitude to fire to contemporary permanent fires at Tombs of Unknown soldiers and similar places.
Chapter 3: Water of Life and Death
This is about religious meaning of water. It starts with baptismal font in Salisbury Cathedral today and then moves to high significance of water in Hindu religion, especially Ganges water. Author also discusses baptism, where he also uses Indian example.
Chapter 4: The Return of the Light
This is about not just light, sunbeam and different ancient structures where it plays important role, defining specific moment of time. As example author discusses Newgrange that was built some 5000 years ago. After that he moves to discussing Japanese use of sunlight and cultural fusion of “light and life, of the nation, the winter solstice sun and the emperor.
Chapter 5: Harvest and Homage
Here author moves to religious meaning of animals. He starts with bible, Noah’s story and notion that god gave humans dominion over animals. Then he moves to Alaska and discusses meaning of anorak, made from animals and rituals that designed to establish peace with spirits of these animals that humans used for their needs. It goes through all human cultures and author discusses such process in ancient Egypt.
Part Two: Believing Together
Chapter 6: Living with the Dead
The next stop is rituals of burial, mourning, and various forms of body disposal in such way that newly empowered spirit of deceased would stay happy and cooperative, rather than pissed off and hostile. Author discusses attitudes in medieval England, and then moves to WWI dead and commemorations. He also looks at Peruvian mummies and Chinese tradition of giving gifts to the dead and their contemporary practices.
Chapter 7: Birth and the Body
For discusses of birth author uses St. Margaret who bursts from the back of dragon that swallowed her, which somehow made her protector of women giving birth. Author also brings in an evil counterpart from Hindu – Lamashtu who brings in miscarriage and infant death. The sale of amulets protecting from her is a thriving business. Similar traditions exist in Europe and Japan. Author also discusses hierarchy of bodies that he finds in monotheistic religions who put male body above female.
Chapter 8: A Place in Tradition
Here author discusses how people are born into tradition and, as an example, provides artifact from Jewish community in Germany in 1750: circumcision cloth with record of newborn’s and his father names and some blessing. Author traces life from birth to bar mitzvah when a Jewish boy becomes adult after satisfying traditional requirements. After that author looks at quite similar and colorful traditions of primitive tribe in Melanesia, in this instance instead of reading and discussing bible they go for haircut.
Chapter 9: Let Us Pray
This chapter moves to one-sided communication with god – prayer. It starts with discussion of Millet’s painting from 1881 that became extremely popular in France. Then author switches to Islam and technical difficulties Muslims experience in trying to find direction to Mecca they need to face during prayers. He also discusses Buddhist rituals. At the end he points out to interesting paradox of public call to private prayers, which is expressed by Church bells or Islamic call to prayer.
Chapter 10: The Power of Song
The last chapter of this part is about songs and music that synchronize people’s mood and put them and semi hypnotic condition. Author discusses use of music in Christian denominations, at the end referring to Obama’s singing of “Amazing grace” at funeral, which was immediately joined by all present, creating very powerful scene.
Part Three: Theatres of Faith
Chapter 11: The House of God
It starts with Gobekli Tepe and continues discussion of religious architecture through the contemporary structures. Author discusses how architecture of sacred spaces instills communality of people and reinforces common believes.
Chapter 12: Gifts to the Gods
This chapter is about typical attitudes to anthropomorphic god: attempts to acquire good will by bringing gifts. It starts with actual Eldorado: lake Guatavita in Andes where Muiska Indians for centuries deposited gold as gift to gods. Then author moves to ancient Greeks, Parthenon, and their gifts to gods. There is interesting discussion here about separation of regular state finance and sacred finance when gifts to gods became kind of banking fund from which it was allowed to take loans, which them had to be returned.
Chapter 13: Holy Killing
This is about flesh sacrifices to gods. It starts with always charming Aztecs and their murderous rituals with cutting hearts from living humans, and then moves to European traditions of using animals for the similar purposes.
Chapter 14: To Be Pilgrim
This is discussion of another complex set of rituals: pilgrimage to holy places. For a change author starts with relatively recent Canterbury tales describing travel around Europe medieval Christian holy places, then moves to similar Sikh places in India, then 4 great sites for Buddha followers, and the most spectacular and crowded of all – Muslim Hajj.
Chapter 15: Festival Time
Obviously there is no religion without festivals and author uses Sakha in Yakutia to discuss working of this type of ritual. I guess author decided to use this unknown group because it provides a good example of heavy suppression for decades of Soviet Russian rule and eventual resilience of native believes that survived even nearly complete obliteration of culture, religion, and language. The second part of the chapter is an interesting review of very recently created festival, which has some religious flavor, but not very strong and provides very attractive secular way to rejoice – contemporary American Christmas. There is very well documented process of development of this holiday, which was created by lots of individuals pursuing various needs from promoting books and worldviews by Dickens to selling soda drink by Coca-Cola.
Part Four: The Power of Images
In this part author discusses what he calls “community of the image”.
Chapter 16: The Protectoresses
He starts in Mexico with the image of Lady of Guadalupe, which practically became the symbol of Mexico. Then he moves to the ancient world of Europe and discusses image of multi-breasted Artemis / Diana, and completes this chapter with emerging cult of images of Princess Diana.
Chapter 17: The Work of Art in Times of Spiritual Reproduction
The next set of images that author discusses comes from Russia with its Lady of Kazan that was supposed to protect this country, and completes with Indian images of Durga that have very temporary use during Durga Puja festival and discarded when festival ends.
Chapter 18: The Accretion of Meaning
It starts with discussion of nativity paintings where unnatural images of light emanated from body creates combination of real and imaginary amplifying religious story. Then author moves to cave images in different places depicting hunting and other scenes from live somewhat realistic, but somewhat idealistic. Author also looks at Japanese Shinto shrines and their images and completes chapter by discussing contemporary images in South Africa trying to unite diverse people.
Chapter 19: Change Your Life
This starts with poetry of Rilke in which Greek images prompt contemplation about need to change one’s life. Then it goes into the meaning of Christ suffering and gory images of it, discussing different interpretation of where it directs Christians. This follows by discussion of Buddha and his smile. Ironic ending of the chapter is the image of starving child used to elicit donations.
Chapter 20: Rejecting the Image, Revering the Word
This chapter is about another time-venerated tradition – hating and destroying images. Author starts with Taliban, contemporary representatives of this tradition then he moves to medieval Christians destroying Greek and Roman art. After describing hate to images author inserts discussion of destruction of Jewish Temple that initiated Jewish tradition of building religious community around much more flexible artifact – sacred and not so sacred books that allowed Jews survive as specific group despite moving all the time, mostly involuntary. Author ends it with Muslim worship of Koran, which interestingly enough in treated more as image than book, albeit very complex one.
Part Five: One God or Many
This part is about monotheistic vs. polytheistic societies and political implication of difference in believes.
Chapter 21: The Blessings of Many Gods
This starts with discussion of Romans who had a god for just about everything and keep adding additional gods from conquered tribes. Author compares the story of Noah with Epic of Gilgamesh – in both cases man gets direction from above to build ship to escape disaster, but in case of Noah it is one powerful god who decides both to start flood and to save Noah and one couple of every species. For Gilgamesh it is more complex with multiple gods intriguing for and against annihilation of humans with chief god Enlil ordering it, while his younger brother sabotaging his decision. It ends with charming story of a really existing bureaucrat Dr. Ambedcar, author of Indian constitution, being added to Indian pantheon of multiple gods. Author makes point that polytheism is much more tolerant than monotheism, but it is not always so.
Chapter 22: The Power of One
Here author goes to ancient Mesopotamia to look at origin of monotheism. There is interesting tablet from around 580 BC, in which one god Marduk kind of takes over responsibilities from all others, declaring that he is real power behind all of them. Author here presents thesis that unlike secular contemporary world, the world before knew no difference between political power and theology, so concentration of political power in one hands necessitated transfer to monotheism. In addition of Babylonian artifacts author adds history of Egypt pharaohs to support this thesis.
Chapter 23: Spirits of Place
This is kind of deviation from big gods to small local spirits, which are, while supernatural, nevertheless very limited in their power. Author looks at English folklore, Thai spirit houses, and spirits of Yolngu people in Australia to demonstrate how it works.
Chapter 24: If God be with us
This chapter is about use of Gods in military campaigns where their support is absolutely necessary for victory. It starts with English movies of WWII referring to battle of Agincourt during religious wars of XVI century. Then he shows how it was used in Christian Ethiopia during wars again Italian invasion. One interesting fact from this is that Haile Selassie had become known as Ras Tafari or Rastafari, generating a specific branch of Christianity that become popular in Africa and in Jamaica.
Chapter 25: Tolerating and Not Tolerating
The chapter on tolerance starts with discussion of Indian tolerance either under Hindu or under Muslim rulers. Then author moves to religion of Sikhs and to contemporary world when the tolerance became a lot weaker and both Hindu and Muslims are often militant against each other.
Part Six: Powers Earthly and Divine
This part is about relation of ideology and politics from divine rules of kings to direct rule by god, as transferred by politicians, to atheistic societies were religious believe is not allowed, substituted by kind of secular religion usually centered around the great and infallible leader.
Chapter 26: The Mandate of Heaven
This starts with coronation of English queen in 1953 and then moves on to XIX century Oba from kingdom of Benin and symbols of royal power. The second part of the chapter about complex religious – political constructs of China and idea of Mandate of Heaven.
Chapter 27: Thy Kingdom Come
This chapter starts with the Jews, their story and ideas of Kingdom to come – the future resolution of all problems by God’s direct intervention. After briefly retelling Jewish struggles with Roma Empire through bar Kokhba revolt, author moves to XIX century Islamic state in Sudan and their struggle with British Empire kind of intermixing these two stories.
Chapter 28: Turning the Screw
Here author discusses intolerance to religious expression. His examples are French authorities forbidding burkinies – Muslim bathing suits in 2016 and Japanese forbidding Christianity in XVI – XVII centuries. Then author discusses French annihilation of Huguenot Temples and overall religious wars between Catholics and Protestants in Europe, ending by noting that burkinies were allowed after all, indicating kind of progress in our time.
Chapter 29: ‘There Is No God!’
This chapter is about another form of intolerance – intolerance of religion. Author starts with French revolution and its massive attempt to substitute Christianity with the Cult of reason. He looks at details of this attempt such as new calendar, festivals, and so on. Similarly he discusses Soviet Atheism that proved to be deficient as ideological foundation of society during WWII, forcing Stalin to pull a bit back by restoring legality of Orthodox Christianity, albeit closely controlled by secret police. Author then describes how after fall of communism Orthodox Christianity returned to its place as ideological foundation of Russian society.
Chapter 30: Living with Each Other
The last chapter comes down to the quite trivial idea that we all should tolerate each other’s ideologies religious or otherwise and move along through the wheel of life that author presents as Buddhist illustration:
MY TAKE ON IT:
It is always interesting to trace various religious believes of people through time and space and author does a pretty good job going through multitude of artifacts representing these ideologies from Lion man of 40,000 years ago to Soviet Cosmonaut of 50 years ago. For me these all are various attempts to build some societal consensus of believes that allows big numbers of people cooperate more or less effectively and at least somewhat defines individual behavior the way consistent with wishes of controlling individuals of society. However any believes tend to take various forms inside brain of each individual, it is always supplemented by use of force just to make sure that deviations are not too big. One common feature of all of these is an attempt to substitute art either as narrative, graphical, musical, or architectural for scientific understanding of the world. I think that this type of ideological construction is coming to its natural end because the new approach – scientific pragmatic and theoretical / experimental ideological construction after proving its efficacy over the last few centuries will become more and more dominant, making all other into just curious historical artifacts. Currently the latest religious attempts to build ideological foundation of society supporting strict forms of control such as global warming or socialism turns to quasi-scientific forms. This demonstrates that old forms of ideological construction: revelations and art do not have the same convincing power they used to have, probably because of increase in literacy and technological savvy of population. I hope that current attempts to build the new controlling narrative will fail due to the same factors, but one never knows the future. It is possible that with advance of AI, robotics and decrease of needs in human labor, humanity will be divided into two parts: small elite living interesting and challenging live of achievement; and masses drowned in entertainment, drugs, and cheap substitutes for real live. However I could also imagine future without any overwhelming controlling narrative, in which every individual has freedom to believe whatever ideological framework he/she is comfortable with and had something to do either in art or science or both. In either case, I think purely material needs of subsistence both material and psychological will remain in the past and issues of the future would be different from whatever we could imagine now anyway.
20190324 – Heirs of the Founders
The main idea of this book is to review lives and achievements of 3 most famous and effective legislators of the first half of XIX century. Author considers them direct inheritors of founding fathers and credits them with several important achievements such as building legislative foundation of America, supporting building of infrastructure that allowed rapid development and most of all delaying Civil War for decades, even if the next generation failed to prevent it.
Prologue: January 1850
This starts at the end of story when Henry Clay – Kentucky Westerner, supporting Union, John Calhoun – Southerner rejecting it in hope to save the South as it was – with slavery and everything, and Daniel Webster – Northerner lukewarm abolitionist who was pushed to the brink by his constituency, all where close to their deaths. This was completing the chapter of American history that all three of them created by fighting, intriguing, and compromising for 40 years since the war of 1812.
Part One: The Spirit of ’76
Here author describes background of 3 main personalities that defined legislative battles of the first half of XIX century. Henry Clay – scion of Virginian family that moved west to Kentucky, John Calhoun – Scotch-Irish member of southern aristocracy, and Webster – Massachusetts lawyer who moved to politics. Author also describes 4thperson John Randolph – member of Virginia aristocracy. Author discusses the period at the start of their career when the most controversial issue was the war of 1812. East Coast was pretty much against it, while South and West were for, the former looking for stability, the latter for expansion to Canada and further West that British were trying to prevent by promising these territories to Indians.
Part Two: To Build a Nation
This part describes legislative fight to define the new nation when all sides believed that they were building foundation for much bigger country that it was at the time. Author starts this with discussion of end game of the war when Andrew Jackson’s victory at New Orleans brought victory when settlement was already signed without definite knowledge of who won the war. Then author moves to period after the war when the 2ndBank of USA was established in 1816 and Henry Clay start promoting his American system of government that was based on infrastructure development for common benefit. Webster supported Clay. Author discusses in some details legal issues: Marbury that allowed Supreme Court’s power grab, Dartmouth college that limited states power to interfere into contracts, and McCullough that again limited state power, this time prohibiting states from taxing federal government. Finally author discusses fight over Missouri admission as a slave state to the union and eponymous compromise that was established mainly by Henry Clay’s efforts.
Part Three: The People’s Government
This part is mainly about politics and maneuvering of Andrew Jackson’s era, which really started with Jackson failure in election of 1824 when despite getting most of the vote he was deprived of presidency by politics of different factions in congress. The main political issues of the day were:
- Federalism and extent of government expenses for country infrastructure
- Free trade vs. protectionism
- Power fight between established aristocracy of “expert” politicians mainly represented by John Quincy Adams with partially hidden support of majority of professional politicians vs. uncouth masses mainly represented by Andrew Jackson.
After Jackson eventually took presidency in 1828 two very important issues came upfront. One was the issue of tariffs that benefited the North and hurt the South, turning eventually into South Carolina’s failed attempt to assert state rights via nullification. Another one was Bank of the United States that Jackson considered key power player against interests of mass population that he represented. After several years of struggle Jackson successfully killed the bank.
There was also an important sideshow related to behavior of wife of John Eaton that was considered improper and was boycotted under leadership of Calhoun’s wife. It was kind of expression of hate to Jackson and class of people he represented, so his response was to get on the side of Peggy Eaton, with quite negative consequences for Calhoun standing.
Another issue of the growing import was the change in attitudes to slavery. Moving away from common perception of slavery as evil, albeit necessary and temporary, southern elite start promoting the idea that slavery is a positive good that benefited both masters and slaves by combining brain and sophistication of masters with manual labor of slaves who were too inferior in abilities to survive on their own. This was subject of debates between South Carolina Senator Robert Haynes and Daniel Webster. This issue was conflated with issue of state rights and nature of Union. This debate demonstrated how irreconcilable become this issue, raising clear possibility of civil war.
Part Four: A Deep Game
This part starts with Jackson realizing Calhoun’s enmity to him and everything that he represented that resulted in removing him from Jackson team. After that Calhoun found his place as passionate defender of South, which made him the secondary player in presidential games. Henry Clay tried to arrange opposition to Jackson on the basis of tariffs, bank, and American system of government building of infrastructure, all of which Jackson opposed. Despite mass propaganda and bribery campaign conducted by Bank’s Nicolas Biddle, Jackson popularity only grew as result of this battle and he easily won the second term. The battle of the second term was about states rights, nullification, and nature of American Union whether it was permanent contract uniting all states in one whole with superiority of Federal authority or it was just a compact between sovereign states that could leave it at will. Philosophically the issue was whether the Union is creation of states or creation of the people. Daniel Webster quite eloquently supported the latter approach, while Calhoun the former. Henry Clay managed to forge compromise and Jackson supported it, but it was clear that country moves to disunion and at some point it will run out of compromises.
Part Five: Temptations of Empire
Author starts this part by presenting view on events of foreign observer Harriet Martineau. She created popular salon in Washington and was able to observe main players in quite relaxed environment that presented better view of their personality than formal environment of Congress and their speechifying.
After that author retells completion of battle with the Bank and its destruction. Author stresses that despite battles in Congress about nullification and slavery, Americans were too busy with establishment of democracy with Andrew Jackson presidency and chaos that it created to get involved in anything more of internal politics, so the Union was save for the moment. Then author moves to another big issue of late 1830 through the end of 1840 – territorial expansion to the West and South at the expense of Mexico. This includes issue of Texas that was populated by illegal immigrants from US, started rebellion, become an independent slaveholding republic, and wanted to join USA. Abolitionists were strongly against such addition, so the issue was outstanding for a while. Meanwhile ideological struggle over slavery continued and increased over time, now with the clear cut positions: Southern – that slaves are less than human and had to be controlled and taken care of, and Northern – that slaves are human and should possess all rights of American citizens. In this fight Calhoun become a leading proponent of slavery and supported everything, war included to protect it. Webster was somewhat lukewarm opponent prompted all the time by his abolitionist constituency to fight it, and Clay, while clearly against slavery, was also against abolitionists, believing that their radical approach is way too dangerous. Author retells some important parts of this ideological struggle including the story of black man from New York who was kidnapped and sold into slavery, then escaped after 12 years. After escaping the man produced account of his story, that condemned this institution in very vivid way, becoming kind of ideological victory on par with Uncle Tom’s story. In parallel to these various stories author mentions Van Buren presidency that was killed by economic downturn and then unexpected presidency of John Tyler, elected as vice-president from Whig party who acted completely on his own when become president.
Part Six: The Fatal Compromise
This starts with description of Daniel Webster’s opposition to Texas annexation that moved closer to reality with election of James Polk to presidency. When it came to the war with Mexico Calhoun kind of supported it, but tried to move it slowly in Congress, eventually failing. Webster tried at least reject territorial acquisition as objective of war, but fail in this too. Whigs even tried to censure Polk for initiation of war and then rejected Mexican treaty that gave USA new territories, but they failed to stop him.
Then author returns to the event he started this book with: discovery of gold in California. He even states his believe that if it would become known during negotiation with Mexico, the outcome would be different. Then he moves to discussion of Clay’s opposition to the war and, most interesting, his proposal of 8 resolutions that he believed would settle slavery issue once and for all. It was comprehensive solution in which Clay tried to meet needs of all sides, but it proved to be impossible. After discussing Clay’s failed attempt for compromise, author moves to Calhoun, who had no intention of compromising. He believed that balance of power permanently shifted to the North, so any compromise would only delay inevitable: the South cessation from the union. He envisioned the calamity that would come from any serious attempt to change southern society. The only way to save the union, Calhoun believed, would be for stronger North to accept South’s peculiar institution and forcefully support it, which in reality could not possibly happen. Interestingly enough, at this junction Daniel Webster tried to go pretty far to meet southern demands, even in contradiction of wishes of his constituents and endorsed Clay’s compromise. During the period of discussion of this compromise Calhoun, the most formidable opponent of compromise died. Compromise passed with big effort by young Stephen Douglas and was signed by president Fillmore. This Compromise of 1850 did not last for long, but it still probably delayed the Civil War. Once again author returns to discussion of ideological war, referring to the book by kidnapped black citizen of New York that became important factor in making abolitionist case against slavery.
In the last chapter author describes deaths of Clay and Webster that occurred pretty close in time and kind of indicated the closing of the era of the first post-revolutionary generation of Americans and their attempts to build country and keep its different section together. The next generation – generation of Lincoln born early in XIX century and matured in its middle were a lot less inclined to compromise, so the issues of slavery, state rights, and nature of the Union was decided the Civil War.
MY TAKE ON IT:
Unlike majority of history books this one is not about war and generals, but about politicians who for some 40 years often fought each other, but also sometimes worked together to build legislative framework of United States and resolve the great many issues of the period. They somewhat succeeded, but the most important and difficult issue of slavery, that in reality was based on irreconcilable contradiction between North and South. The Northern capitalism was based on free labor, which produced great economic growth and rapid development, despite all negatives of wage labor it was based on. The Southern semi-capitalism was static, extractive, and foreign trade dependent, which could not be really called capitalistic because of its complete dependence on slave labor.
These politicians were smart and interesting people and too bad that all their efforts to achieve compromise failed. I wish they all had better understanding of military technology and imagination to fully appreciate the cost of war not only in lives and suffering, but also in money. Had they have any inkling of these costs, the full price of buyout of all slaves, letting them go free with full citizenship, supplied with massive ongoing support to make them self sufficient would be a very small price to pay indeed.
20190317 – The Once and Future Worker
The main idea of this book is that all problems of American Society come from devaluation of work and the solution for most of the problems is restoration of strong labor market: “labor market in which workers can support strong families and communities is the central determinant of long-term prosperity and should be the central focus of public policy”.
Introduction: The Working Hypothesis
Here author defines his main idea, which he calls “the Working Hypothesis” and claims that neither of two main American parties really working on behalf of workers and labor market. Republicans trust market too much so they do not interfere enough in economy leading to division into winners and losers that leave working classes behind, resulting in grossly unequal distribution of wealth. Democrats do not trust market so they interfere too much, limiting market forces and degrading economic productivity in the name of identity politics, green and other special interest. The consequences of these policies are less and less wealth created and available for distribution. Author expresses believe that public policy “not that much failed as succeeded at the wrong things”, so it could be fixed via negotiation and tradeoffs between political forces leading to restoration of healthy labor market.
PART I WHAT WORK IS WORTH
- As American as Economic Pie
Here author traces history of consensus development between Center Left and Center Right that growing economic pie is enough to maintain health of society and whatever problems raise they could be resolved vie redistribution. He points out how the flaws of this view have led to the abandonment of too many American workers. One such flaw author defines as agreement that interests of consumers are more important than interests of producers. There is also brief review of elite opinion about closed vs. open, which by open means easy access to world cheap labor market that benefits consumers at the expense of destruction of their society.
- Productive Pluralism
Here author presents what he calls productive pluralism: the idea that the objective of policies should be not just material production, but non-material benefits of working such as self-respect and meaningful lives. Author presents his idea of constructive definition of prosperity, which includes not only economic but also social well being of society. Author also discusses his productive pluralism from the point of overall investment into the next generation via support for family, social cohesiveness and other indicators of prosperity that go way beyond just GDP and other economic metrics. Author states that productive pluralism is also includes things like sustainability and high quality environment. One interesting point author makes is that specialization is not always positive factor and that overall diversity of knowledge and skills could be more beneficial for the health of society, especially in conditions of fast technological change when overspecialized individual with obsolete skills have hard time to switch to something else.
- The Labor Market
This is an analysis of labor market: how economy aligns what needs to be done and what people can actually do and stresses that it is not good enough to achieve high level of production if lots of people fail to succeed and author reviews tools that could be used to correct market. One of these tools is entrepreneurship. Author believes that entrepreneurs could always find way to apply additional labor if they are not restricted by government rules and requirements. In this view unemployment is mainly artificial creation of the government. Author reviews multiple factors that impact labor market: Demand, Supply, Boundaries, Transactions / Relationships, and Taxes.
- A Future for Work
Here author discusses how technology changes nature of work so the workers also had to change to maintain relevant skills and abilities that market rewards. Author discusses automation that kills jobs and creates new ones, usually not at the same time and not for people with the same skill set or flexible enough to learn the new ones. Author characterizes the problem of the future that productivity raises, while output does not. He contrasts current situation with 1950-60s when productivity grew even faster than not, but so was output. Author then analyses literature and statistic on manufacturing and consumption by different layers of society with top making much more income than bottom, but consuming on average only 2 times more of everything. In addition to material and non-material consumption author discusses geographical distribution of population noting that attractiveness of big cities is seemingly decreasing and people again start moving away.
PART Il TURNING AROUND
Here author discusses political interferences in economy that most influence labor market.
- The Environment and the Economy
This is about environmental regulations. Author defines his position as believe in necessity of environmental regulation combined with requirement for regulator to be wise and make necessary trade offs between clean environment and production of goods and services. After that author proceeds to use multiple examples to demonstrate that environmental regulation is not product of wise trade off, but rather often product of power crazy bureaucrats who are trying to stifle productive abilities of society in order to satisfy their psychological needs to control everything.
- How the Other Half Learns
This is about education and how it helps people develop marketable skills or more often fails to do this. Author starts here with obvious fact that huge spending on education does not produce a lot of educated people. As it is popular now, author calls for more occupational training and less expense on formal college education of individuals who do not want it or are not capable to obtain it. Author calls for removing federal standards and mandates, directing funds instead of formal college education to support of multiple paths to acquire marketable skills, knowledge, and experience.
- Of Borders and Balance
This is about international aspects of labor market: trade and borders, or more precisely who produces goods and services, where it happens, and who consumes all this. Author discusses low skill immigration as causing wage suppression and discusses confusion about economy growth via immigration vs. growth via higher productivity. There is discussion here of Arizona experiment of limiting illegal immigration that did decrease overall GDP, but increased GDP per capita and wages. Author also provides suggestions on how to fix problems with immigration and foreign trade:
- Build on American advantages created by free market
- Deter unfair practices like IP theft
- Address financial imbalances by scrutinizing more capital acquisitions from foreign countries especially China that transfer IP and technology
- Support American workers by forcing businesses take into account impact of production transfer to cheap labor countries
- More Perfect Unions
This is about labor unions and how they impact labor market. Basically author supports unions, but on condition of less adversarial and more cooperative relationship with business similarly to one in Europe, especially in Scandinavia
- The Wage Subsidy
This is about direct political impact on market via taxes and subsidies. Author look at Foxconn plans in Wisconsin as example of huge subsidies in form of tax cuts from government to business to create jobs. Author discusses history of wage subsidies and critic of both approaches: Democratic for directing public resources to welfare programs and republicans for directing resources to businesses via tax cuts. He suggests different way provide support that would not have usual problems.
PART Ill BEYOND THE MARKET
- For Those Who Cannot Work
This chapter is about safety net to protect those who cannot work without discouraging those who can. Author finds it paradoxical that every dollar taken from productive people and given to unproductive decreases incentive to be productive. Author reviews a number of welfare programs concluding that the formal objective – to help poor would be much better achieved by just giving them money. He also quite reasonable criticizes a static character of help that does not take into account dynamic character of working, when growing experience even at the lowest levels of work make individuals more marketable. With too much help people do not have incentive to start working and consequently have no opportunity become more marketable. Author also looks at similar problems with low-income housing and other areas. Overall he believes in need to substitute no demand safety net by resource-transfer model that would promote self-sufficiency. He refers to wage subsidy as tool that could do just that.
- The Social Wages of Work
This is about social norms and culture that pretty much defines what work worth. This in turn can increase both material and psychological returns on participation in labor market, which author considers being critical for healthy society.
Conclusion: The Lost Generation
The generation that author refers here, the one that could become lost, are people born in 1980s when combination of cultural decline of value of work, normalization of welfare as way of live, and availability of cheap goods produced in poor countries made it difficult to find satisfaction in work, pushing people to all kind of pathologies from opioids to crime. Author suggests building the new broad socioeconomic coalition that would concentrate on supporting effective job market. This would provide meaningful jobs that would support not only material, but also psychological needs of people.
MY TAKE ON IT:
I would pretty much agree with author diagnosis that high productivity, automation, global shift in production to low wage countries, and massive cultural devaluation of traditional values of family and hard work caused not just difficult problem, but actually moved society to disintegration. However I do not think that it could be easily fixed. Current achievements in AI make it more and more probable that not only it would be impossible to find meaningful jobs for people with low levels of skills, but also the same will apply to people with high levels of skill that become obsolete. It would increase destruction of family and other cultural values because one needs resources to support these values, which welfare, however generous, could not possibly provide. My solution: equal rights for resources with continuing rights trade between resource over and underusers, which would make everybody active market participants with unequal outcomes and therefore opportunity to improve this outcome. When everybody has something to trade, he/she would acquire skills necessary for market participation, while wide access to practically any information and ability of training in virtual reality could provide everybody with meaningful and gainful opportunities.
20190310 – The New Mind Readers
The main idea of this book is to review history of neural imaging development, its current technology, and prospects for the new ones, and discuss methodology of its application and experimental finding. The other important idea here is to present the current technological capability of brain imaging that allows for some form of mind reading. Author also analyzes societal and ethical consequences and presents medical and biological aspects of these new capabilities.
- Thinking on 20 Watts
This chapter starts with description of the brain and electro-chemical processes that occur when it works. There is usual analogy between brain and computer, but it follows by better than usual explanation of why and how it is different. Then author describes history of neuroimaging and how fMRI allows tracing of what is happening inside of working brain. Author also provides examples of experiments without use of neuroimaging, typical for period before fMRI such as experiment with best ways of memorizing something. At the end of chapter author provides road map for the book.
2 The Visible Mind
This chapter goes a lot more into history, starting with use of positron emission tomography (PET) in 1980 that allowed accumulate data and knowledge about relation between brain activity and blood flow, electrochemical activities in the brain and how it could be picked up by magnetic resonance. All this eventually led to development of fMRI that become the most popular tool for analyzing human mind.
3 fMRI Grows Up
This chapter traces development of fMRI technology and its increasing usability. The first important issue was linearity of fMRI reaction with neuron activity. This was confirmed by Logothetis’s study. The second was an attempt to find consistent functional modules in the brain. It produced an interesting result for identifying fusiform area (FFA) as module used for expert recognition of objects with general recognition mainly distributed to different parts of brain. The follow on research-developed ability to recognized specific patterns of brain activity linked to specific inputs. New technic was developed to trace movement of water molecules in the brain: “diffusion weighted MRI” (DWI). It was used for Human Connectivity Project mapping human brain connectivity. Author links it to general theoretical development of complex networks analysis. Author also discusses some false analytics by using example of fMRI analysis of dead salmon’s brain. The point here is that fMRI analysis based on lots of statistical correlations which is quite dangerous tool due to correlation / causation problem and dependent/independent variables.
4 Can fMRI Read Minds?
This chapter is about attempts to link fMRI imaging to actual activity of the brain in order to decode this activity into meaningful chain of thoughts and words. There are some real achievements in this area for example author presents comparison of actual object presented to the person and reconstruction of these object based on fMRI data:
One practical implementation is to use fMRI to identify consciousness in brain damaged individuals in coma. Another problem author discusses here is chronic pain, which is related to different parts of the brain than acute pain. It is a very serious problem not only for treatment, but also for need to establish that it exists. The fMRI technology was recently allowed for use in legal cases related to chronic pain diagnostics.
5 How Do Brains Change over Time:
This chapter is a bit less about technology and a bit more about brains or, more precisely, about how brain changes over time and how it incorporates experiences into its material structure. In addition to well-known facts of brain changing with time from pruning of connections in the brain of infant to London taxi drivers overdevelopment of spatial areas. What is new and interesting here is research, which demonstrated that any overdevelopment of one area occurs at the expense of another areas. Author describes study that he conducted on himself by regularly going through fMRI analysis. It demonstrated changes in individual brain over time, dependency on external factors like caffeine and food, and necessity of detailed research on individuals versus mixing results from different people because every brain differs from others. The last finding is probably most important because it demonstrates that in order to be effective neuroscience application should be personalized.
6 Crime and Lies
This is about attempts to use fMRI in courts as sort of lie detector and why these attempts so far remain quite problematic. Author also discusses brain development and responsibility, supporting idea that underdeveloped brain of teenagers makes it improper to keep them responsible for their actions. Author discusses not only lie detection with fMRI, but also crime prediction feasibility. It follows by detailed discussion of research literature and statistical method used to evaluate how useful fMRI would be for real world decision making. Author mainly calls to be on the side of caution, avoiding jump to conclusions about the validity of fMRI methods.
- Decision Neuroscience
This is about attempts to understand how people make choices and decision and moreover how to influence these choices either for marketing or other reasons. It starts with discussion of difference between human decision making and statistical and formal logic decision-making that are quite different. Humans are much more risk averse than formal logic or game theory recommends, they have different attitude to time value, risk evaluation, and different “quick and slow” approaches to decision making either based on habit and heuristics or formal analysis of situation.
Finally author discusses impact of advertisement, both consumer and political, when fMRI reading demonstrates different impact then self-reporting. Here is a nice graph showing this:
In short, the neural focus group is considerably more effective than regular with conscious responses.
8 Is Mental Illness Just a Brain Disease?
This is about improvement in understanding of mental illnesses that was achieved by using fMRI technology. It starts with discussion of genetic component, which is not only strong, but also is similar to cross of different mental disorders. Author specifically identifies areas of brain where its physiology differentiate in people with mental disease for usual. Author also discusses here difficulties in diagnosis, imagining challenges for fMRI and emerging field of computational psychology.
9 The Future of Neuroimaging
The final chapter is about future of use of neuroimaging, fMRI enhancements, its limitations and how these limitations may be addressed by using new technologies. Specifically author discusses technology – constantly increasing magnetic power of fMRI devises, use of near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS), and others. At the end of chapter author discusses methodological issues – difficulties with results reproduction and need for more transparency.
MY TAKE ON IT:
It is kind of exiting to read about all this new knowledge about human brain and it’s working obtained via fMRI imaging. It gives us a lot more power of understanding of how it works, but also a lot of power of manipulating it with objective to achieve some result – for example voting for a specific political party. It even seemingly promise to provide technology that would allow differentiating between lie and truthful statements, bringing dramatic changes to legal system. However I do not think that it would dramatically change society. I would expect medium level changes that would be to the better. Inability to avoid control will direct people to do much more active political participation in defining what controls are allowed, probably making a lot of currently illegal activities into legal. I am also doubtful that it is feasible manipulating people effectively on the long run. I would expect that any new method of manipulation would cause creation of some new method, maybe technological to reject this manipulation. I also think that it is quite possible that consciousness can override internal impulses generated by external interference. In short, I am quite optimistic about future of freedom.
20190303 – American Individualism
The main idea of this book is to present America as a country and culture that not only rejects popular ideas of socialism, which by this time already proved to be a source of bloody mess, but also present much better alternative by maintaining something like enlightened individualism. Author seems to intend to demonstrate that the core feature of America – individualism is main reason of American prosperity. Even more than that, it is the foundation of society, especially if combined with voluntary cooperation in various associations, corporations with enlightened management, and benevolent government that serves as fair arbiter of all contradictions.
This book that was first published in 1922 expressed Hoover’s understanding of America and its key distinction from countries of Europe despite common religion and cultural heritage. As a consequence, America rejected socialism, while Europe embraced this ideology. This was a huge contrast in cultural attitudes when for America individual is first and society is basically contract between free individuals. For Europe, the society comes first and individuals are just material that is used as needed to benefit society. From his experience before and during WWI Hoover understood that socialism could not possibly work as productive economic system and that its success in Europe was based on illusions and hatred that developed in deeply divided by class Europe. It had relatively little foundation in America of the time. Introduction also describes later ideological development of Hoover and discusses validity of this work for our time.
Here Hoover first states an obvious fact that revolutions where exploding all over the Europe, but found little fuel in America and explains it by specific qualities of American creed:
The key here is real opportunity for individual, not legalistic framework of society. Hoover, however, claims that it is not kind of laissez faire when “every man for himself”, but rather consistent structure where weak helped and strong contained so that everybody would have chance.
Hoover starts here by stating that individual qualities such as intelligence and character are property of individual and could not be used effectively without this individuals’ support for whatever productive purposes they need to be used. So, since individuals are not equal in these qualities any attempt to limit individual from using fruits of his effort would lead to diminishing of this effort by individual and necessarily decrease of society’s productivity as whole. Hoover also discusses here leadership as one of such individual qualities, and very important for production at that, which he contrasts with the crowd that he considers mainly destructive.
Here Hoover discusses spiritual qualities of American society, which unlike old European society, believe that “divine inspiration” resides not in a few god-selected aristocrats, but in every individual. Consequently everything in America is growing from bottom up via individual efforts, voluntary societies, and individual effort for common good, even if at some cost to individual.
Here Hoover discusses contrast between American economic development based on individual effort, that brought huge growth in productivity and well being for everybody, and socialistic economic method that suppresses individual, resulting in misery and economic destruction. However Hoover very positive to ideas of top down control of economic activities if it is conducted in form of corporations managed by enlightened leaders and regulated by government. Consequently he sees progress as increase in cooperative forms of organization, which somehow will retain space for equality of individual opportunities.
Hoover here states that the only appropriate political organization is Democracy, which “arises out of individualism and prospers through it alone”. He believes that government should play role of arbiter in all interaction between individuals and organizations and suppress whatever business activities it considers harmful via legislative intervention such as antitrust laws. He mainly dismisses government incompetence, and typical behavior of bureaucrats on the ground that nothing is perfect and claims that American bureaucracy somewhat better than bureaucracy in the old world. It just needs to be managed solving its insufficiencies as needed.
Here Hoover once again stated that individualism is the primary force of American civilization for three centuries that made America the most prosperous country in the world. He believes that this would lead to America successfully avoiding dangers of both reaction and radicalism and will produce better, brighter, and broader individualism that would service not inly to individual but also to “our fellows”. He ends with hope that the future will lead not only to retaining individualism of the most critical feature of America, but to its expansion into the new quality of “glorified service” that would become “part of national character”.
MY TAKE ON IT:
I believe that Hoover was completely correct when he stresses American individualism as the source of American prosperity. However I do not believe either in enlightened corporate managers or in benevolent government bureaucrats. I believe that every individual always act in his/her own interest whether material or psychological and could not possibly act in any other way. Therefore the best way is to structure society so that each individual would make the vast majority of decisions influencing his/her condition, rather than these decisions made by somebody else on individual’s behalf. This is possible only if each individual has property and can decide how apply this property in such way as to maximize material and psychological returns to self. As soon as one individual gets to decide how to use resources produced by other individuals, these others bound to be sacrificed to controlling individual’s needs whether it is corporate manager satisfying his material need to get rich by increasing value of his/her stock options at the expense of long term prospects of the company and jobs of its employees; or some great leader like Hitler or Stalin sacrificing millions of lives to the psychological need of building the great Germany or promoting world wide communist revolution correspondingly.
20190224 – Capitalism in America
The main idea of this book is to review history of capitalism in America and extract from it some lessons for current situation when after the great recession lots of people once again loosing believe in this system. Author also trying to suggest some solutions, but they are not going beyond typical suggestions of better managing entitlements and decreasing regulations, albeit without any clear explanation how to achieve either one of these objectives.
Author starts with imaginary meeting in Davos in 1620 when in his opinion nobody would predict America becoming the richest and most powerful country in the world with 5% population and 20% of world GDP. He credits capitalism and democracy for this development and revers to property rights as foundation of American DNA. Author discusses key engines of American development: intellectual property protection, individual freedoms to think and act, mass immigration, free market that forces increase in productivity as the best way to obtain wealth, and the most of all creative destruction that constantly moves the country ahead. At the end of introduction author points out the downside of all these: constant presence of losers who were left behind who respond by banding together in unions, gangs, and most important political class: groups that make living by violence. After hundred years of struggle these people succeeded in robbing America of its dynamism and binding its economy with myriad entitlements and limitations. Author indicates that he believes that there is need for radical change in line with Swedish model that was implemented after social-democratic way brought Sweden to stagnation.
One: A COMMERCIAL REPUBLIC: 1776-1860
The history in this book starts with creation of America, which practically inherited its democratic rule and market economy from colonial times. Moreover, the revolution was mainly prompted by attempt to remove these conditions. Author describes mainly subsistent economy that existed at the time and was based on agriculture, horsepower, and wide availability of land. However despite being subsistence economy it was managed by people who actually were productive, culturally conditioned to use market for exchange, and armed so they could keep product of their labor for themselves. Author pays a specific attention to the fact that original Americans were busy people always trying to do something to improve their lives rather than demand from somebody else to do it for them. Initially it meant extensive growth: bring immigrants and start cultivating more land, but sometime after war of 1812 it start turning into intensive development when economy was growing faster than population.
Two: THE TWO AMERICAS
Two individuals represented the original America’s divisions: Jefferson with his ideal of farmer’s republic and Hamilton with his ideal of industrial capitalistic republic. It then morphed into North with its free labor and South with its slave labor. Here is interesting table of South wealth structure in which between 1/3 and 50% of wealth was market value of slaves:
Author does not provides equivalent table for North were taxable labor was belonging to individuals providing this labor. However the difference between development with free labor and slave labor nicely demonstrated by GDP per capita table showing that break in performance actually occurred in 1830-40 and it remained wide until in 1960s southern labor also become free:
The two Americas went to war with each other and capitalist North based on free labor won, more or less uniting country under capitalism.
Three: THE TRIUMPH OF CAPITALISM: 1865-1914
This chapter is about the period in American history when capitalism was pretty much not restrained neither by slave owing aristocracy of South nor political aristocracy of the North, mainly because the former perished in the Civil war, while the latter was only in process of forming. This process was continuously disrupted by impact of western movement when new land, gold, and other resources dramatically increased wealth of country. This wealth was concentrating in hands of Midwestern tycoons rather than adding to the wealth of Eastern aristocrats, which made it available for massive development of the middle of the country. Important factor here was that it was not only natural resources but also growth of productivity as represented in this graph:
Four: THE AGE OF GIANTS
This chapter is about industrial giants who rose to huge economic power during this period mainly by achieving significant advantage in productivity that allowed them dramatically cut prices and push competitors out of business. The interesting thing here is that while author talks about dramatic growth of corporations and role of innovation, the final result of this was overwhelming control over economic development in hands of professional management or in other words corporate bureaucrats who become less and less interested in innovation and directed their efforts more to maintaining standardized mass production and avoid disruption by small, but effective competition.
Five THE REVOLT AGAINST LAISSEZ-FAIRE
The revolt came from the part of population who found themselves not competitive in the new industrial economy and started looking for the way out. Big part of it were farmers that believed that their problems came from tight money supply based on gold so they demanded silver and found their champion in Bryan. The other, more important movement was coalition of new immigrants who found that their labor was not valuable enough to provide for their needs and educated classes who found pretty much the same: free market needs for their labor could not provide levels of compensation they believed they entitled to. They all saw solution to their problems in increased government intervention: force employers to agree to better condition of work than could be achieved by individual bargaining, limit market power of corporation that could not be achieved by competition, government supported jobs that would put their holders outside of market pressure. This created progressive movement that succeeded in increasing government expenditures and intervention in economy. Author discusses details of how it happened and provides a few graphs demonstrating results:
There were also two big cultural forces that promoted increase of government. The most important was American believe in education as the way to rise to higher level in society both materially and psychologically. This created the chronic oversupply of highly educated individuals that could not find place in market economy on par with their perceived self-value and therefore directed their effort to obtain it via government interference. The other factor was the end of frontier that removed safety valve letting out individuals who were not ready accept live of employee in somebody’s else business and did not have resources and/or abilities to start their own.
Six THE BUSINESS OF AMERICA IS BUSINESS
Here author moves to period after initial triumph of progressives in 1900 – 1920 when progressive success combined with war economy and big government excesses of Woodrow Wilson lost support of population. It was period of “do nothing” Harding and Coolidge administrations that freed economy at least to some extent and produced economic miracle of 1920s including self-fixing brief depression of 1920-21. Author reviews multiple technological achievements of this era when car, radio, electricity, and many other new technologies were rapidly implemented. Author also reviews changes in business culture when utilitarian approach as represented by Henry Ford was pushed out by more hedonistic approach as represented by Alfred Sloan. Author discusses radical change in resource allocation brought in by formation of financial industry, providing massive consumer loans, formation of unified countrywide market with chain stores like Piggly-Wiggly. This development was supported by dramatic improvement in transportation and communications, allowing countrywide optimization of allocation of labor and capital. At the end of chapter author stresses that it all created tensions that later led to the great depression: growing debt, unrestricted financial speculation, culturally diverse population with significant number of recent immigrant in main centers of the country, and, also very important, unwarranted growth of believes in engineering approach to the management of society as represented by Herbert Hoover – probably the most experienced and qualified societal engineer ever.
Seven THE GREAT DEPRESSION
This chapter describes the great depression and author defines its causes in such way:
Author also discusses in details monetary aspects of the depression, expressing view that the problem was not with unsustainable gold standard, but with fixing exchange rates to dollar at prewar levels. In short author characterizes the problem as necessity of transformation of economic center from Britain to America that failed to be conducted smoothly due to “European pride and American irresponsibility”. Author also defines as one of the main causes of depression low effectiveness of American political system that was not designed for massive internal intervention and therefore failed to respond in time to markets breakdown. The author discusses Hoover’s failure to contain depression and FDR’s New deal, which was pretty much the same policy that Hoover had, only on much wider scale, without restrictions of constitution, and with massive support of intellectual class. Author points out that FDR’s failure to revive economy was combined with his success in providing substitutes for healthy economy in form of safety net: unemployment benefits, social security, mass unionization, and government expense. The war and economic mobilization that provided more than full employment created illusion that FDR overcame depression, while the victory in the war made not only hero out of him, but also sealed up, at least for a while, his New Deal achievements as permanent characteristic of American system.
Eight THE GOLDEN AGE OF GROWTH: 1945-1970
This chapter is about the most prosperous time when America was one and only big industrial country that came out of WWII without any destruction on its territory and consequently become producer of just about everything needed for the significant part of the world. This golden age created quite unreasonable believe that such condition will last forever, resulting in what author calls corporate imperialism – dominance of big American corporations at home and abroad supplemented by increasing psychological unhappiness of population in both places. Obviously it could last only until economies in Europe and Japan would be restored and once again become competitive.
Some 20 years after the end of war world capitalist economies mainly recovered and American golden age in production ended. First Germany, then Japan, and later on other countries start producing goods as good or better than American and sell it at cheaper price. That’s when unsustainable entitlements, corporate benefits, and government regulations demonstrated how much they are burden on economy, which responded by stagflation: combination of huge inflation and economic stagnation happening at the same time – something that Keynesian economist confidently stated could not possibly happen. Author provides a few graphs that demonstrate decline of core American industries: steel and automotive.
Ten THE AGE OF OPTIMISM
This chapter is about 1980s, Reagan, and changes in American attitudes away from big government, that brought stagnation, to more economic freedom for American business and less accommodation for American enemies. It is also about one less noticeable, but most important development – revolution in finance that allowed much more efficient resource allocation via junk bonds, mutual funds, IPO, and other mechanisms. It was beginning of the globalization process of combining multiple economies in one supply chain. Author discusses change in America during this period from manufacturing to service economy and massive implementation of information technology.
Eleven THE GREAT RECESSION
This is about great recession of 2008, its causes and consequences. Author defines causes as exuberance of 1990s that followed fall of communism and countries of eastern block joining one world economy. Author especially stresses his believe that one of reasons was under-consumption, when consumption could not keep pace with growth of savings, causing inflation of such assets as housing in USA. This was combined with securitization of assets leading to overly complex structure of securities that masked quality of underlying loans, resulting in bubble that eventually burst. Author avoids mentioning his own role as FED chairman in allowing this to happen under political pressure, but praises work of his followers who, in his opinion, prevented this recession turning into depression by pumping practically unlimited amount of liquidity into the system. He explains the following up stagnation by decrease in the growth of productivity that started even before recession and provides graph to demonstrate this:
Twelve AMERICA’S FADING DYNAMISE
Here author discusses declining economic dynamism of America and explains it by country’s move away from creative distraction to less risky behavior. He discusses multiple reasons: decrease in quality of education, aging of population, decrease in quality and scale of immigration and disappointing result of IT revolution. Generally author rejects these causes and points out to growth of entitlements and regulation that stifle economic development.
In conclusion author discusses what he believes is downside of creative distraction – its losers who create political pressure against capitalism. He points out that even if its costs are visible, while benefits are not so much in reality it was capitalism benefits that created mass prosperity from cheap and abundant food to better work conditions and much more. Author reviews changing social structure of America from 1800 to 2000 and expresses believe that technological improvement will allow overcoming current problems as it pretty much did before.
MY TAKE ON IT:
It is a nice historical overview, but it is not going deep enough into causes of the problems. In mine opinion there is not enough attention to people who rise again and again against capitalism despite dramatic increase in wealth and quality of life in America, especially if compared with any socialistic and communistic experiments conducted in XX century with catastrophic results. I’d like to see much more clear analysis of anti-capitalist forces, layers of society that constitute these forces, and reasons for theirs increasing power. I would like to see clear understanding of the situation and some ideas how to fight it, because this really is an ideological war in which one side has difficulty to understand that they are at war. I actually believe that XXI century will produce final victory of capitalism and destruction of all forms of socialism that will lose supporters similarly to what happened to National Socialism after military defeat. The question is how big price humanity will pay to achieve this result.
20190217 – Lamarck’s Revenge
The main idea of this book is that in addition to commonly accepted Darwinian idea of genetic evolution via random change in DNA followed by selection of organisms fit for environment, there is another mechanism – epigenetically changing genes expression that has tremendous impact on the functionality of organism. Author believes that these two mechanisms are complimentary with epigenetics responsible for quick response to dramatic changes in environment, while DNA changes are much slower and kind of harden new functionality of organism.
INTRODUCTION: Looking Back
It starts with discussion of sci-fi, entertainment, and quick changes that occur in life, technology, and environment requiring similarly quick changes in humans and other animals and their behavior. The usual scientific explanation divides it into two separate domains: Darwinian evolutionary random DNA change with selection of the fit, which is very slow process and cultural change that supplement this selection with quick accommodations. Author believes that it is not enough and does not adequately explain accumulated observation. The missing component is epigenetic change, which practically brings back Lamarckian ideas of biological inheritable changes. Biologically it is done by natural addition of molecules that regulates DNA expression, highly dependent on environment, and is inheritable.
CHAPTER I From God to Science
Here author retells the story of raise and mainly fall of Lamarck’s ideas of acquisition of inheritable characteristics. Somehow instead of just supplemental process in understanding of evolution it became perceived as unscientific. Here author definition of what it is: “The favored theory of Charles Darwin, and the “Darwinians” who followed him, is that the major process of evolution is driven by natural selection combined with genetic change by mutation. Epigenetics posits that a quite different set of circumstances can drive also evolutionary change, and that both Darwinian- as well as epigenetic-driven change (or, to do him honor, Lamarckian-driven change) can proceed simultaneously.
Author also reviews general history of scientific understanding from observation of Hadrian wall leading to rejection of biblical account of geological age, through work on Linnaeus cataloguing living organisms that demonstrated their changeability, and work of Buffon, who anticipated Darwin’s Ideas by about a hundred years, but did not risk to go public with this. Author also briefly discusses Darwin’s grandfather Erasmus who was thinking in similar ways.
CHAPTER II Lamarck to Darwin
This chapter retells story of Lamarck’s live and survival during French revolution. From professional side it is also story of struggle against Georges Cuvier, who in addition to being “father” of comparative anatomy and scientist who developed understanding of mass extinctions was also dedicated enemy of Lamarck who succeeded in discrediting Lamarck’s work.
CHAPTER III From Darwin to the New (Modern) Synthesis
Here author presents Darwin’s view in such algorithmic way:
- There is a pattern of characters encoded in each organism in structures called genes.
- This pattern is copied and passed on to offspring.
- The copying is never perfect: Variations arise through errors in copying or through random (not directed) mutations. This produces variation. Even greater variation is introduced through sexual reproduction.
- The variant members compete with each other for more offspring produced that can survive.
- There is a multifaceted environment that makes some of the variants more successful than others.
- The individuals that survive and go on to reproduce, or who reproduce the most, are those with the most favorable variations. They are thus naturally selected.
This all is correct, but not complete. Author points to the speed with which evolutionary change occurs, making it impossible to explain by random process exclusively. Another problem is the absence of small change sequences for many cases when new species appear seemingly from nowhere.
CHAPTER IV Epigenetics and the Newer Synthesis
This starts with explanation of the modern understanding of epigenetics as a supplemental phenomenon to DNA that changes genes expression without changing DNA itself while allowing these changes to be transferred to the next generation. Author provides example of this with 2 types of nautiluses that were considered different species, but have the same DNA. Then author provides definition: “Epigenetics is the study of heritable gene functions that are passed on from one reproducing cell to another, be that to a somatic (body) cell or to a germ cell (sperm or ovum), which does not involve a change to the original DNA sequence.” The bulk of this chapter discusses how exactly this happens:
- Methylation: DNA activated by methyl groups
- Modification of genes expression, often via interaction of 2 X chromosomes.
- Reprogramming: combination of genome and epigenome.
Then author discusses impact of this new understanding that includes epigenetics impact on history of life and hormonal processes.
CHAPTER V The Best of Times, the Worst of Times—in Deep Time
This is about history of life, how environment had been changing, and how Darwinian random change could not explain speed of change without addition of epigenetics. Author discusses mass extinction events: asteroid 65 million years ago, Siberian Traps 251 million, extinction events between 600 and 700 millions. and the worst for life –snowball Earth 2.5 billion years. In all cases the first response of organisms was epigenetic reorganizations that only later followed by DNA changes. Overall author supports idea of multilayer adaptation to environmental change:“First was the change in environment experienced by an individual organism. Second was a change of that organism’s behavior. Third was a change in its phenotype, the expression of not only how its genes were used prior to the environmental change, but also how they are expressed post change. The greater the environmental change, the more consequential each of these steps might have been.“
CHAPTER VI Epigenetics and the Origin and Diversification of Life
This chapter is about a very important problem with origin of live – how come that quite complex DNA molecules were created in the first place. Author discusses what life is: complex organization, metabolisms, replicates, and evolves. In 2016 was discovered LUCA – the last universal common ancestor, which is bacteria like creature with DNA. Theoretical research claims that minimum for life is 355 genes. Author discusses how such complex combination could be created via lateral gene transfer that happens all the time on microbial level. At the end of chapter author discusses the Margulis endosymbiosis theory that proposes increase of complexity via direct merges of different microorganisms under environmental pressure, which would clearly be Lamarckian process.
CHAPTER VII Epigenetics and the Cambrian Explosion
This is discussion of period of rapid expansion of life that author believes could be explained only by epigenetic model:”It is posited here that four different epigenetic mechanisms presumably contributed to the great increase in both the kinds of species and the kinds of morphologies that distinguished them that together produced the Cambrian explosion as we currently know it: the first, the now familiar methylation; second, small RNA silencing; third, changes in the histones, the scaffolding that dictates the overall shape of a DNA molecule; and, finally, lateral gene transfer, which has recently been shown to work in animals, not just microbes.“
CHAPTER VIII Epigenetic Processes Before and After Mass Extinctions
The main point of this chapter is that Darwinian and Lamarckian evolution are different in both their mechanism and in their application, the latter more active during conditions of rapid adjustments to environment often after mass extinction events, while the former is more complex fine tuning process that kind of hardens results in form of DNA:
Author also discusses contemporary mass extinction and links it to domestication.
CHAPTER IX The Best and Worst of Times in Human History
This is about impact of human cultural evolution on human biology. Author discusses cognitive revolution that occurred 70,000 years ago after Toba eruption, then another one some 45,000 years ago with ice age climate change, then the one that came with agriculture, and finally the one that is currently in process. The main point author makes here is that all this happens way too fast for random DNA change to handle, so epigenetics provides more robust framework for this.
CHAPTER X Epigenetics and Violence
This is about more than just link of genes to violence, but rather explanatory insufficiency that exists if one does not brings in epigenetics. Here is example, formulated as three laws of behavior:
- First Law: All human behavioral traits are heritable.
- Second Law: The effect of being raised in the same family is smaller than the effect of genes.
- Third Law: A substantial portion of the variations in the complex human behavioral traits is not accounted for by the effects of genes or families.
CHAPTER XI Can Famine and Food Change Our DNA?
This is continuation of discussion on environmental impact and author uses well-documented historical event of famine in Holland during WWII, that left clear traces in next generation. However author does not limit mechanism of impact here to epigenetics only. He also discusses impact of famine in microbiome that currently more and more considered a necessity for human existence.
CHAPTER XII The Heritable Legacy of Pandemic Diseases
Here author starts with obvious point that pandemics have great impact on gene pool not only by eliminating significant part of it, but also by its influence on survivors. This influence occurs via methylation process, making it transferable to the next generation without changing genetic code. Author also points to intensive religious experience prompted by pandemics and even specifies gene VMAT2, which controls mood and seems to be susceptible to epigenetic changes.
CHAPTER XIII The Chemical Present
This is about simple chemical impact of multitude of different toxins and metals that also could have influence that appears to have epigenetic effect.
CHAPTER XIV Future Biotic Evolution in the CRISPR-Cas9 World
This is about amazing finding that humans evolved in the last 5000 years as much as in precious 6 million years. This was done based on DNA analysis in 270 people from different genetic groups. The conclusion author derives is that dramatic change in environment accelerates evolution and epigenetics provide explanation for this process so far. However now humans are getting close to intentionally modifying genetic material to achieve specific results and this would practically switch process of human development from evolution to production.
EPILOGUE Looking Forward
Here author looks in the future and is quite scared by what he sees, which is increase in stress, all kinds of catastrophic events, referring to the paleontological research that found marks of increased stress in animals in areas where humans moved. Similarly stress in Native Americans dramatically increased with arrival of Europeans. Now the stress is increasing for the whole humanity, causing epigenetic change. Author ends with the point that epigenetic is moving into mainstream and probably will become quite common approach with the passing of older generation of scientists who cannot overcome old paradigm.
MY TAKE ON IT:
I think that idea of epigenetics and non-DNA inheritable change makes lots of sense and, if experimentally confirmed, does lead to the new synthesis in understanding of evolution. I personally would like to see the general theory of evolution that would include not only Darwinian and Epigenetic changes, but also cultural changes. After all the example of discovery of use of fire, while being obviously cultural event seems to lead overtime to purely biological changes in human digestive system that in term provided a lot more time for developing brain, language, and development of sophisticated culture, making humans not only super predators, but also unchallenged force in shaping the world to their convenience.
20190210 – Stubborn Attachments
The main idea of this book is to summarize what is wrong with American society and provide some recommendations for Americans about the way to get back to fundamentals that made America great: free market economy and respect for individual rights.
This is about the point of this book – American deviation from the principles that made it great: society based on prosperity and individual rights. Here are author’s main points:
- “Right” and “wrong” are very real concepts, which should possess great force.
- We should be skeptical about the powers of the individual human mind.
- Human life is complex and offers many different goods, not just one value that trumps all others.
Author discusses 6 issues he considers critical for getting back on track:
- Time – present interests versus future
- Aggregation – how resolve disagreements
- Rules – how create and maintain rules and when to allow exceptions. Utilitarism and consequentialism of rules.
- Radical Uncertainly – consequences of action could not possibly be known completely
- How can we believe in rights – this is about rights (nearly absolute) and rules that could contradict each other
- Common sense morality – “Common sense morality holds that we should work hard, take care of our families, and live virtuous but self-centered lives, while giving to charity as we are able and helping out others on a periodic basis.“
Author also defines fundamentals of his philosophy: Productive powers should not be taken for granted and future should have say about our actions in present
- Wealth makes the world go round
This is about wealth creation and that’s how author defines it, going beyond usual GDP measures: “Wealth Plus: The total amount of value produced over a certain time period. This includes the traditional measures of economic value found in GDP statistics, but also includes measures of leisure time, household production, and environmental amenities, as summed up in a relevant measure of wealth.“
Author posits 3 key questions for growth, civilization stability, and environment, reviewing in the process of productivity growth versus increase in growth via increase in inputs, migration of people and capital, and West vs. Rest with special attention to Asian tigers and their fast development. Finally he discusses wealth / happiness relationship.
- Overcoming disagreement
It starts with the point that economic growth could not satisfy everybody and there always be differences in preferences. Author defines 2 principles:
- The Principle of Growth: We should maximize the rate of sustainable economic growth, defined in terms of a concept such as Wealth Plus.
- The Principle of Growth Plus Rights: Inviolable human rights, where applicable, should constrain the quest for higher economic growth.
He also discusses Nozick’s idea about rights being “side constrains” on individual choice and Derek Parfit’s “Mistakes in Moral Mathematics.”
- Is time a moral illusion?
Here author discusses time value of comfort or discomfort; meaning delays or speeding up events known to be not neutral for wellbeing. Being an economist, he brings in discount rates, applying it not to the value of money, but to the perceived value of event. He also refers to opportunity costs in the same way, as a moral choice.
- What about redistribution?
This starts with usual staff of feeling guilty that somebody somewhere suffers when one eats ice cream. Then it goes to economic speak: “we should redistribute wealth only up to the point that it maximizes the rate of sustainable economic growth. “
It goes from there to all typical staff: how “we” should redistribute, who should and should not benefit and so on. He also discusses Solow model of growth via technological improvements. An interesting point here is the link of the scale of economy to innovations” it does not worth invent iPhone for population of New Zealand because not much return due to very small size of population.
- Must uncertainty paralyze us?
This is about forks on the road: how many different ways life could develop depending on different choices made at key points. Consequently author discusses impossibility of knowing completeness of future result of any action. This could lead to paralysis by analysis and similar forms of fear to act. Then author discusses a couple of mental experiments like terrorist with biological weapon and John Lenman’s ideas of irrelevance of consequences as measure of right or wrong and his discussion of D-day beach and poor dog. Finally he comes up with “The Principle of Roughness:Outcomes can differ in complex ways. We might make a reasoned judgment that they are roughly equal in value and we should be roughly indifferent to them. After making a small improvement to one of these outcomes, we still might not be sure which is better.“ At the end of chapter author states that practical implication of this discussion are: need for agnostic and tolerant attitude to others and protection of individual rights.
Conclusion—where have we landed?
Here author once again repeats his main points about importance of economic growth in conjunction with morality and provides specific recommendations:
- Policy should be more forward-looking and more concerned about the more distant future.
- Governments should place a much higher priority on investment than is currently the case, in both the private sector and the public sector. Relative to what we should be doing, we are currently living in an investment drought.
- Policy should be more concerned with economic growth, properly specified, and policy discussion should pay less heed to other values. And yes, that means your favorite value gets downgraded too. No exceptions, except of course for the semi-absolute human rights.
- We should be more concerned with the fragility of our civilization. The possibility of historical pessimism stands as a challenge to this entire approach, because in that view the future is dim no matter what, and there may not be a more distant future we can look toward in order to resolve the aggregation dilemmas involved in making decisions that affect so many human beings. We should be more charitable on the whole, but we are not obliged to give away all of our wealth.
- We do have an obligation to work hard, save, invest, and fulfill our human potential, and we should take these obligations very seriously.
- We can embrace much of common sense morality with the knowledge that it is not inconsistent with a deeper ethical theory. Common sense morality can also be reconciled with many of the normative recommendations which emerge from a more impersonal and consequentialist framework.
- When it comes to most “small” policies affecting the present and the near-present only, we should be agnostic, because we cannot overcome aggregation problems to render a defensible judgment. The main exceptions here are the small number of policies, which benefit virtually everybody.
MY TAKE ON IT:
It is somewhat typical academic work expressing feeling that something not right and providing recommendations in form of “We should” without going into details of “How”. It is also interesting because of author’s believe in necessity of convincing people that one should do something at all. It seems to be an issue in his environment due to complexity and unpredictability of any action. It is interesting to me because in environment I live in such question just plainly not exist. If you are not doing something you are not making money and cannot have even relatively good live so unexpected consequences of actions be damned. In my previous environment in USSR such question would be resolved simple: if you do not act, you die. It is also very funny to read his call to be more concerned about distant future, because we really do not know anything about it. Any guesses and speculations are inevitably meaningless because not only future science, technology, and even morality are unknowable, but we also cannot do anything about it. The scope of our action is necessarily limited to10-20 years at most – the time length of implementing some relatively big and complex project. I think our concerns should be limited to 4 basic issues:
- Prevent blowing ourselves up via use of weapons of mass destruction
- Maintaining effective market economy, the one and only known way effectively produce goods and services necessary for living beyond subsistence level
- Maximizing individual perception of living a good live for maximum number of people so they would not become susceptible to some violent ideologies like Marxism, Socialism, National- Socialism, Communism, Islamism, and such
- Preventing individuals who are already poisoned by these violent ideologies from causing significant damage.
20190203 – New Authoritarianism
The main idea of this book is to demonstrate that there is real and clear danger of America moving to authoritarianism, but it does not come from Tramp and his supporters as media and other leftist groups claim. It comes from already deeply established and continuously growing tyranny of experts. At the same time Tramp, as of now, is the important protection force against this authoritarianism.
- Freedoms, Rights, and the Liberal Ideal
Here author briefly reviews contemporary state of western countries and paints picture of increasing dominance of non-elected government and quasi government entities controlling everything and pushing aside old methods of society management – politics. This development has created a political backlash in form of multiple movements, with Tramp being somewhat a leader of one of them. Author discusses how liberal movement moved from promoting individual freedoms to suppressing them in the name of other individuals’ “rights”. Then author defines his understanding of authoritarianism: “Authoritarianism simply means governance legitimated by demands for deference to authority. “ and supports his point by discussing difference in how America entered wars in early and late XX century – the first after long political discussion and in accordance with constitution via formal declaration by Congress, while latter mainly via discussions between experts, unclear and poorly defined “use of force authorization”. So in reality these developments amount to substitution of sovereignty of people by sovereignty of experts.
- The Rise of the New Authoritarians
This starts with the list of what good liberals did: women and minority rights, voting rights, and so on. Author also notes that liberals could and did act under authoritarian rule and actually were quite successful in liberalizing such rule. After that author reviews history when liberalism was an ideology of individual rights, protecting the individual from government power. However they have somewhat difficult relations with democracy often referring to courts or to authoritarian power to achieve their objectives, unachievable via ballot box. Until recent times liberals in America had place in both political parties protecting rich against masses and expropriation as the republicans and middle class and poor against rich as democrats. However now liberal coalition pretty much rid of middle class and as of now combines rich, professionals, and poor, all of which highly depend on government for transfer resources to them from middle class. Author discusses here mainly USA and UK politics, including liberal support for immigration.
- Liberal Authoritarianism in a Global World
This chapter looks at the global liberal coalition mainly protecting interest of professionals who have education, skills, and established positions valuable on the global market so they promote power of international organizations, free trade and so on even if it is detrimental to masses in their own countries who cannot compete on the global market with much cheaper labor from developing countries.
- The Passion of Donald J. Trump
This chapter about the Donald as representative of national movement that is currently developing in many developed countries that aims to protect such people who are on receiving side of liberal world order. Author also reviews old populist movements like Bryan’s anti-gold movement and compare it to Trump, noting however that they are quite different in their philosophy. He also reviews some typical liberal paranoid attitudes: Trump=Hitler, racist, mercantilist, and so on. Author also reviews a very specific case of women not supporting Hillary, which seems to be unexplainable for liberals.
- The Populist Purgative
In the last chapter author looks at the big picture of Angle-American traditions that include all three: conservatism, progressivism, and liberalism, noting that the two main powers are really conservatism and progressivism, with real liberal being somewhat swing vote that from time to time give advantage of either of these powers. At the end author refer to Churchill and his famous quip about democracy that was actually quite powerfully reflected in Churchill political career as initially member of Liberal party, who become conservative leader only after this party folded. Author ends with Churchill’s point that liberalism will not be killed, but it would not be dominant either, always remaining kind of intermediary.
MY TAKE ON IT:
I think that there is way too much confusion about all these political terms. In reality “conservatives” or “right” are not trying to conserve current political arrangement, but rather trying overturn advances made by “progressive” or “left”. Liberals lost any connection to ideas of individual liberty and they are busy trying to restrict this liberty with their political correctness, censorship, and suppression of freethinking in any place where they acquired power: media, education, and corporate boardroom. All these labels become somewhat meaningless, hiding real passion and objectives of all these movements, which come down to the following few arrangements:
- Who will decide how to allocate available resources and produce new ones
- Who will decide which behavior is acceptable and which is not
- Who will decide how to use violence and coercion by governments
All these issues have hugely important consequences mainly because they impact how much and what kind of resources will be produced and how they will be used. Progressives and supporting liberals (American meaning) were successful in taking key positions in the society, but it resulted in severe limitation on productivity and freedom, without which possibility of innovation and prosperity is questionable. The resulting backlash was inevitable with or without Trump. Whether it will be the same yo-yo movement that America experienced for the last century or we’ll move in some new direction remains to be seen.
20190127 – The Most Dangerous Branch
The main idea here is to review history, especially the most recent, of Supreme Court and demonstrate that it had acquired the huge power of final legislative decision maker that was not granted to it by constitution and impact of this circumstance on the American republic. The main point author is making is that cases decided to support leftist ideology should be considered legitimate court interference, even if they are deeply flowed as Roe, but cases decided in support of conservative ideology could not be considered legitimate exercise of court power, so now, when court seems to be moving to reliable conservative majority, its powers should be restricted.
Introduction: The End of the World as They Knew It
The introduction starts with the story of Justice Kennedy resignation and brief discussion about its meaning as change from 4-1-4 balance of power to 5-4 conservative advantage.
Prologue: Death at the Ranch
Correspondingly prologue uses the story of Scalia’s death to discuss how Supreme Court become supreme branch of power and how it led to highly politicized selection process for justices.
Part I: Characters
Chapter 1: The Marble Temple
This chapter discusses decorum of Supreme Court including the building; justices’ patterns of behavior, their travel, public norms, and refusal allow TV to transmit proceedings. Then author discusses contrast in outlook between some justices.
Chapter 2: No.9
This chapter is about the new justice Gorsuch, who, as conservative, is clearly disapproved by the author. Helpfully author narrates his fear for the fate of Chevron, which required deference of the courts to unconstitutional administrative state. Another issue author discusses is Gorsuch’s careful avoidance of abortion issue. At the end author reviews in details Gorsuch selection process and role of Federalist society.
Chapter 3: Confirmation World
This chapter probably qualifies as howl of democratic soul hurt by Republican senate rejection of Obama’s appointee Garland. In author’s opinion it was painful for Obama compromise that, nevertheless, was rejected by evil republicans. After that author goes a bit into history of confirmation and how it became so polarized by borking Bork. Author admits that it was not fair and that Teddy Kennedy was disgusting, but somehow justifies it by Bork’s behavior and overall need to have democrats in power.
Chapter 4: Deploying the Warhead
In this chapter author moves to the nature and story of filibuster and how democrats killed it for lower level court, creating opening for republicans to kill it for Supreme Court. All this supplemented by details of Gorsuch confirmation.
Chapter 5: The Institutionalist and the Notorious Chapter
Here author moves to personalities, discussing Roberts as an Institutionalist and Ginsburg as Supreme Court’s rock star. He also mentions left’s attempt to push her out due to the age and health that were unsuccessful. As usual for liberals RBG prefer to do what she believes is best for her despite paying lip service to common goals.
6: The Left Flank
In this chapter author discusses left flank, which includes Breyer, “wise Latina” Sotomyor, and Elena Kagan whom author somewhat accuse of being too smart and not sufficient tolerant to others who are to so much.
Chapter 7: The Right Flank
The right flank is Thomas, who author consider not very influent on the court. As usual author stresses Thomas’ usual reluctance to ask question during hearing and allocates lots of time to confirmation disaster and Anita Hill.
The second man on the right flank is Sam Alito. Author discusses his selection and confirmation then somewhat laments the fact that Alito came as substitute to semi-liberal O’Connor.
Chapter 8: Deus Ex Machina
The Deus here is justice Kennedy who had decisive vote that he used in some cases siding with conservatives and in some cases with liberals, but in all cases becoming key decision maker.
Part II: Cases
Here author moves from personalities of justices to most important cases that practically change laws the way court want it either to the left or to the right.
Chapter 9: Sleeping Giant
This is the story of Supreme Court usurping power not granted to it by the Constitution. It started with Marbury vs. Madison in 1803 then was somewhat subdued with court mainly seeking to mediate power distribution between federal and states powers, mainly siding with federal all the way to the allowing overriding state laws, creating foundation for the future Civil War between North and South. After the war it somewhat retreated, but then came back in force first siding with conservatives at the beginning of XX century with Lochner vs. New York and even stopping Roosevelt excesses of the New Deal in Schechter, only later being forced to move to liberal side where it resided through 1970s.
Chapter 10: The Runaway Court
This chapter is clearly painful for author who as liberal hates it, but as reasonably thoughtful person had to admit legal, intellectual, and even logical deficiencies of super liberal court of early 1970s that brought usRoe vs. Wade and following abortion laws. Author believes that it was a mistake that turned country to support republicans and eventually led to the Court that was mainly appointed by republican presidents, who actually did extremely lousy job selecting justices who whether were or became later of liberal persuasion.
Chapter 11: Revenge of the Right
Here author discusses one of the most painful for the left case – Gore vs. Bush. He does it in relatively honest way, noting that Gore demanded recount only in democratic precincts. However his sympathy is shown very clearly.
Chapter 12: James Madison Made Us Do It
Here author discusses 2ndAmendment starting with Roosevelt National Firearms Act – the first massive intervention of government against right to be armed. Author refers to Miller, which in 1938 confirmed government ability to limit firearms, claiming that the main point of amendment was militia, not individual right. The author jumps to 60s Gun Control Act, and finally brings in Reagan as the initiator of fight for individual right to be armed. The balance of chapter dedicated to discussion of Hellerand political fight around it.
Chapter 13: For the Love of Money
This is about another case of semi conservative majority of the court deciding important issue related to the 1stamendment – Citizens United which rejected attempt to regulate political speech under disguise of limiting role of money in politics. The decisive vote again was Kennedy who believed that this is an attempt to establish censorship.
Chapter 14: A Disdain for Democracy
Here author moves to voting rights, affirmative actions, and other issues related to left efforts to “stop discrimination” by implementing more discrimination and creating special and superior rights for democratic constituencies. The latest case in this prolonged saga is Shelby County decision of 2013 that rejected entitlements based on race.
Chapter 15: Roe by Any Other Name:
The final chapter is about fight for or against homosexuality and elevation of gay sexual relationships institutionally to the same status as heterosexual marriage. Author reviews decades of this struggle, first for legalization of homosexuality and then for its equalization. It was decided in Obergefellwith Kennedy voting with liberals with non-existing constitutional reasoning similarly to Roe.
Epilogue: A Less Dangerous Branch
Here author reviews the current state of Supreme Court and concludes that with advance of conservative majority, it should be limited and become less dangerous branch of government. He specifically states that after Kennedy leaving the best hope of left is John Roberts who in his decisions about Obamacare indicated that he maybe in process of maintaining tradition of justices appointed by the weak republican presidents converting to liberal persuasion.
MY TAKE ON IT:
I think that idea of court being supreme decision maker in the country is so deeply flowed that it becoming more and more untenable. Even if it is becoming conservative, meaning more inclined to comply with constitution, it is still not good enough, especially when it has such judges as “wise Latina” who are capable discuss limitation of presidential constitutional power based on whether justices consider motivation of presidential actions good or bad. Somehow such people fail to understand that government, which is always based on violence and coercion, can do it peacefully only if overwhelming majority of population believes that these coercive actions are based on established rules (laws). Moving coercive action away from rules common for everybody would inevitably lead losing party to respond with violence as soon a its aggravation coincides with support of at least significant part of individuals who control means of violence: army and police. The idea that democratic president Obama has legal rights to issue executive order that republican president Trump has no legal right to cancel moves country to the state of lawlessness that cannot be resolved by any way other than one side violently suppressing the other. Unlike 1860 it is not conflict between states that led to incorrectly named Civil War, but rather the true conflict within society between ideologies of individuals. One should hope that country remains in the state of relative lawfulness, so ideological conflict could be resolved peacefully, but current leftist movement acts daily in such way that this hope is diminishing.
As to Supreme Court I think that USA needs constitutional Amendment, which would remove legislative power of the court, limiting it to expressing technical legal opinion. With top legal experts of both main ideological persuasions on the court, the decision on constitutionality of the issue should be decided with overwhelming majority of the court. However, if justices split on decision, either because they are driven by ideologies or due to any other reason, each side should provide suggestion for constitutional amendment clarifying and confirming their opinion, which then should go to amendment process on condition of necessity to accept either one or another interpretation of constitution. This way any ridiculous and unreasonable change to constitution will be applied with transparency and discussion and, if proved untenable, as for example was prohibition, quickly change using the same process, without long struggle for change of personalities on the court.
20190120 – Oceans Ventured
The main idea of this book is to describe how American Navy managed to arise from decline and neglect of post WWII when it lost ships, funding and general support from political class. It came to the point when Soviet Navy was becoming capable to challenge American, so naval superiority of USA was not assured any more, at least on the long run. The turn around came with Reagan’s administration aggressive approach that allowed Navy to challenge Soviets in areas where they believed they have complete control and provided significant factor in winning Cold War.
Author, former Navy secretary, presents here this book as the story of America overcoming serious decline of its Naval force due to president Carter and his party anti-military approach combined with massive successful espionage operation that gave USSR real advantages. It was not only American Navy decline, but also raise of the Soviet fleet that was fed by massive allocation of resources and legal and often illegal technology transfer from the West.
- American Naval Strategy and Operations in the Cold War
Author starts this chapter not from the beginning of Cold war, but rather from the end of XIX century and works of Mahan and others who promoted idea of Navy as the critical component of state military power. Only after revisiting Spanish war, WWI, and WWII author moves to the Cold war. Author retell the story of American Navy that was mainly demobilized after WWII, partially resurrected during Korean war, and then bogged down during Vietnam war. Author also provides quite detailed account of inter services fight for resources and how Air force and Army tried to push Navy nearly out of existence die to believe that in Nuclear age it become mainly outdated.
- Ocean Venture’ 81: A Bold New Strategic Operation
The next chapter is about Reagan’s initiative to start Ocean Venture 81, massive Navy exercise that was very unusual because Navy moved up North close to Soviet bases and very aggressively used all its assets in order to quickly obtain experience of acting in cold weather and close to Soviets. Author describes assets and their movements that made Soviets very nervous and clearly demonstrated that Carter’s meekness is gone.
- Taking a New National Strategy to Sea: Sending a Message
This chapter is about two important developments. The first was public relation offence that used Hollywood and other cultural venues to promote Navy and its value and valor. Another equally important was development of new military technology such as Tomahawks and Los Angeles and Ohio types submarines to achieve technological superiority. Author also briefly discusses events of the time like Hezbollah’s attack and Falklands war.
- Soviet Panic: Misreading the Message: The Mobilization of 1983
This chapter is about Soviet reaction to appearance of the new and quit aggressive American Navy and overall policy. Soviets did not take Reagan seriously and believed that his rhetoric was just that, so real actions were a big surprise. On the practical level they started more actively use aviation during American Navy exercises, trying intimidating and/or demonstrating their capabilities. However it was not an easy task, partially because of technological inferiority of Soviet forces. Author discusses problems with the first Soviet aircraft carrier Kiev. Despite this and other problems, Soviet Navy continued to grow exponentially and author reviews various new assets that it acquired during 1970s and 80s.
- Gaining Global Velocity, 1983-1985
This chapter describes developments that become possible due to increase of funding and expansion of the Navy. These included expansion of training, new technological developments that among other things allowed finding the rack of Titanic, and also, very important, American support for Chinese Navy, that was considered somewhat of an ally against Soviets. Author also refers to important political developments of the period: reelection of Reagan and Gorbachev’s taking power in USSR.
- The Beginning of the End: Northern Wedding, 1886
Here author describes multiple high scale exercises of Navy across the globe from Arctic to Pacific designed to demonstrate and test new equipment and develop corresponding tactic that put Soviet Navy under constant pressure, especially in environment when Gorbachev was looking to save economy at least partially by decreasing military expenses. Author also details a small-scale conflict with Libya where aggressive use of American power finally cut down Kaddafi ambitions and, in process, demonstrated superiority of American equipment over Soviet equipment provided to Libya.
- The Soviets (and Others) Get the Message, 1986-1988: The Cold War Hurtles Toward Its End
In this chapter author continue narrative about successful large-scale exercises and ability of American Navy to outplay Soviets. However much more attention is allocated to internal Soviet political developments that greatly decreased power of their military and diplomatic events that not only start decreasing pressure of Cold War, but also indicated that it could end.
- The Cold War Ends, 1989: The East European Bloc Disintegrates
The final chapter describes mainly diplomatic and political events that led to dissolution of Soviet block and USSR itself.
The epilogue is mainly about contemporary situation when lessons of Cold war were generally forgotten and once again American politicians let military decline by refusing funding and necessary support. All this happens at the time when Russia and China dramatically increase their efforts to build military and naval power not only capable to challenge American power, but overcome it and win conflict. Author nicely summarizes his attitude by bringing quote from Winston Churchill from 1935: “Want of foresight, unwillingness to act when action would be simple and effective, lack of clear thinking, confusion of counsel until the emergency comes, until self-preservation strikes its jarring gong— these are the features which constitute the endless repetition of history.”
MY TAKE ON IT:
It is an interesting history, but I think author overestimate role of American Navy and overall American politics in decline and fall of the Soviet Union. He seems to be missing a point that Soviet Union fall apart not because of pressure of military expense, but actually for opposite reason: the attempt of true believers in socialism and communist ideology such as Gorbachev to deliver high quality of live promised by this ideology. It was impossible task because collectivistic planned economy could not possibly deliver goods and services that people want. However, despite not being a decisive factor, the change in American military posture played its role in convincing enough of Soviet leaders that time when American politicians paid little attention to Soviet military growth and aggression in the third world was ending.
The newly aggressive USA put Soviets before dilemma: either go all the way in confrontation risking war, suppressing all dissent, and forcing further deterioration of wellbeing of population or try to turn to economy and modernized outdated and barely working planned economy into something else.
It is hard to overestimate believes of soviet leaders at the time into superiority of planned economy that led to rejection of militaristic approach. These leaders were educated in Soviet Union on the ideas of superiority of Marxism, were completely ignorant in realities of market economy, had no idea that both theoretically and practically Marxism was completely debunked, and, finally, they were deceived by easily found infinite amount of support in western academia. The result was the absence of any doubt that turn to economic development would quickly put them into superior position to chaotic market economy of the West. They paid for this illusion with complete failure and dissolution of their society.
20190113 – Simplexity
The main idea of this book is to look at notions of complex and simple not in static, but in dynamic way and demonstrate that these notions are pretty much dependent on the point of view of observer. To support this thesis author reviews stories from epidemiology, stock market, human interaction, sport, and what not.
This starts with the story of discovery of source of disease in water well in London in 1854, which was the first known case of successful use of epidemiological methods. Then it switches to the story of bookstore owners who successfully compete with Amazon by using their superior knowledge and understanding of their customers and books. Using these 2 examples author raises question of complexity and simplicity of the world stating that seemingly simple could be very complex and visa versa so the key is to define, which is which. Author defines it as a research on complexity – the new field of science and his work as an attempt to present its finding to reader.
Chapter One: why is the stock market so hard to predict? Confused by Everyone Else
Here author retells story of market crash of 1987 and then moves to studies of complexity in Santa Fe Institute (SFI) under Murray Gell-Mann Nobel laureate in physics. These studies cover range from complete robustness to complete chaos, trying understand how complexity is created somewhere in between these extremes. Here a useful graph explaining this:
Then author returns to stock market and attempts to modeling it by using statistical equations from physics. In process author discusses “wisdom of crowds”, market vs. planning, and need to ideas diversity increase in order to obtain solution for complex problems. One of interesting pieces here is description of research that demonstrated that historically traders pay a lot less attention to news than usually believed. Another important part of traders’ behavior turned out to be sense of fair play. Author refers to ultimate game to discuss how it works. The final part is discussion on interplay between people’s behavior when mimicking one another would have deleterious impact on reasons for behavior in the first place. Author example is movement to suburbs to avoid congestion that in turn leads to congestion in suburbs.
Chapter two: Why is it so hard to leave a burning building or an endangered city? Confused by Instincts
This chapter uses the story of escaping world trade center on 9/11 to demonstrate how seemingly trivial decision could lead to life or death consequences. Little known part of this story is that analysis of evacuation during the bomb scare a few years before, led to improvements in evacuation design, training and procedures that eventually did save lives. Another interesting fact is that in dealing with humans in crowds one needs to leave some space and maybe add some turbulence to allow crowd self-regulate. Author discusses evacuation software developed using these ideas and human specifics that need to be taken into consideration for it to work. The next part is discussion of gridlock that is often resulting from human behavior more than real bottlenecks of the roads. Once again to add some bumps slowing movement of each car could increase overall speed by avoiding development of congestion points. Here is how author characterizes these situations: “THE CHALLENGE IN all these situations is to start with the already complex repertoire of human behavior, introduce it into an even more complex environment, and figure out how in the world to manage this exponentially more complicated dynamic. The rules change according to the situation, but the stakes always stay high. “
Chapter Three: How does a single bullet start a world war? Confused by Social Structure
Contrary to expectations it starts not with WWI, but with leadership fight in the troop of macaques, which is as complex and challenging affair as it is in any other group of primates. After point that author makes in process of quite logical transition to discussing complexity of human nation-states governance, overall dynamics of coordinated actions, and how they are initiated. As part of explanation, author brings Markov’s chain of probabilities and then Arrow impossibility theorem. He also discusses complexity of American election system and military resource allocation problem (Colonel Blotto).
Chapter Four: Why do the jobs that require the greatest skills often pay the least? Why do companies with the least to sell often earn the most? Confused by Payoffs
This is actually very interesting statement because it is clearly contradicts not only common sense, but also usual experience. Author discusses call centers and such returns/complexity disparities as job of supervisor (complex) and board member (not complex). Actually author provides definition: “One of the best measures for judging the true complexity of a job is how easily a machine can replace it.
He also provides graph of complexity:
Chapter Five: Why do people, mice, and worlds die when they do? Confused by Scale
This starts with musing on death and then moves to physiological data such as stable number of heartbeats during lifetime with smaller creatures living faster and shorter lives (Kleiber law). Then he moves to Krebs cycle – characteristic of carbon dioxide transformation in living organism. Then author tries to apply similar numerical “laws” to cities development.
Chapter Six: Why do bad teams win so many games and good teams lose so many? Confused by Objective
Here author moves to sporting competition and its rules that create high levels of complexity. Author specifically analyses how these rules can give advantage and wins to bad teams.
Chapter seven: Why do we always worry about the wrong things? Confused by Fear
Here author discusses risks, their real levels and human perception of such levels, as usual talking about 9/11 overestimated, while fall from staircase at home underestimated. He, also as usual, links it to amygdala and brings in work of Kahneman and other researchers working on risk estimates real and psychological.
Chapter Eight: Why is a baby the best linguist in any room: Confused by Silence
Here author takes on another complex phenomenon – human language and its acquisition by babies. He describes a very interesting experiment with babies learning their own and foreign language phonemes that they are highly capable of doing for some period of time after which they become completely deaf to unfamiliar. Author discusses research that shows that perfect language and accent acquisition window start closing around 9 months. It is also very interesting that it requires living person to be present because acquisition via speaker just does not work. The process had to be highly socialized for it to work. All this discussion is used to demonstrate how complex things could be, because language is nearly the most complex thing known to humanity.
Chapter Nine: Why are your cell phone and camera SO absurdly complicated? Confused by Flexibility
This is about typical contemporary phenomenon of functionality creep – the situation when designers pack huge number of features in hardware and/or software, making it difficult to use.
Chapter Ten: Why are only 10 percent of the world’s medical resources used to treat 90 percent of its Ills? Confused by False Targets
Author starts this chapter not with medical issues, but with Muhammad Yunus and his micro lending. From here he moves to Pareto and his rule that applies to just about everything. Both are good examples of simple approach to complex issues that nevertheless work. This follows by somewhat lengthy diatribe about Western society that allocates resource to diseases specific to their population, rather than diseases of poor around the world before returning to the issue and discussion some simple solution to complicated medical issues such as rehydration fluid. Overall the point here is that often cheap and easy solutions are available for very complex problems.
Chapter Eleven: Why does complexity science fall flat in the arts? Confused by Loveliness
Here author moves discussion of complexity vs. simplicity to the area of art, starting with an anecdote about composer Ravel who had composition with requirements not really understood until one takes into account acoustic parameters of the apartment in which he worked on his music. Author discusses some other examples of hidden meaning in artistic artifacts.
Here author returns to Santa Fe institute, discussing word plexus that means multiple and complex folding of meaning into the words. Then he brings in discovery radio astronomy by Jansky during attempts to find source of interference with radio broadcasting in 1931. The final and quite important point is that everything is complex and everything is simple depending on the level of analysis, so, for example, a simple newspaper article becomes hugely complex if looked at the level of black and white dots on paper, and even more complex if looked at the level of molecules and atoms.
MY TAKE ON IT:
This book is interesting mainly because it prompts one to think about importance of point of view of observer being taken into account if one want to develop picture of some artifact or phenomenon close enough to reality so to be meaningful. I think it is a great idea and it should be formally applied in all areas of intellectual activities, especially in economics and politics when neglecting to take it into account could easily create huge negative consequences.
20190106 – The How of Happiness
The main idea of this book is to use results of author’s some 20 years of experience in psychological studies on happiness to develop and present patterns of behavior that are specific to people with high scores in happiness tests and present “to do” type of recommendations for achieving the same results. Generally these patterns are not new and even somewhat corny, but it turned out that they do work and could be used to achieve better state of well-being.
Part One: How to Attain Real and Lasting Happiness
- Is It Possible to Become Happier?
Here author analyses what people mean by happiness and how to obtain it. Then she provides results of research that indicate that it mostly comes from two sources: DNA and Personal effort, with circumstances of life giving some marginal addition:
So author suggests concentrate not on wishful thinking about change in circumstances, but actively work on doing things that make people happy. Helpfully she provide results of research that itemizes what happy people do:
- They devote a great amount of time to their family and friends, nurturing and enjoying those relationships.
- They are comfortable expressing gratitude for all they have.
- They are often the first to offer helping hands to coworkers and passersby.
- They practice optimism when imagining their futures.
- They savor life’s pleasures and try to live in the present moment.
- They make physical exercise a weekly and even daily habit.
- They are deeply committed to lifelong goals and ambitions (e.g., fighting fraud, building cabinets, or teaching their children their deeply held values). Last but not least, the happiest people do have their share of stresses, crises, and even tragedies.
- They may become just as distressed and emotional in such circumstances as you or I; but their secret weapon is the poise and strength they show in coping in the face of challenge.
At the end of chapter author asks somewhat strange question:”Why Be Happy” and replies about happy people: “they actually show more flexibility and ingenuity in their thinking and are more productive in their jobs. They are better leaders and negotiators and earn more money. They are more resilient in the face of hardship, have stronger immune systems, and are physically healthier. Happy people even live longer.
- How Happy Are You and Why?
Here author states that happiness, as everything else, is continuum, rather than discreet states Author also reviews methods of evaluation and provides questionnaires used to identify levels of happiness and/or depression. Next she defines and trying to debunk myths about happiness:
- Myth: Happiness must be “found”. Reply: “happiness, more than anything, is a state of mind, a way of perceiving and approaching ourselves and the world in which we reside.
- Myth: Lies in Changing our Circumstances. Reply:” Beyond minimally satisfactory level it is not important”.
- Myth: You Either Have it or you don’t. Reply:“ Happiness is teachable and learnable and this book will help”.
After that author goes through detailed explanation of why it is so for the following items:
- Material Wealth and cost of materialism
- Phenomenon of Hedonic Adaptation
- The Altar, the Lottery, and a House in the Burbs
Then author discusses research and anecdotal evidence of genetic component, inferring that it would constitute 50% of final level, providing set point for happiness, but after that human action could move it up or down depending on whether these action promote or depress happiness.
- How to Find Happiness Activities That Fit Your Interests, Your Values, and Your Needs
To find happiness author recommends using strategies that fit with source of unhappiness, one’s strengths, and lifestyle. In order to define what are these fits, author provides test questions for 12 activities that could bring happiness.
Part Two: Happiness Activities
Before going into details of activities’ application author provides The Oxford Happiness Questionnaire to identify current level of happiness.
- Practicing gratitude and Positive Thinking
This is about expressing gratitude and the ways in which it boosts happiness:
“First, grateful thinking promotes the savoring of positive life experiences.
Second, expressing gratitude bolsters self-worth and self-esteem. When you realize how much people have done for you or how much you have accomplished, you feel more confident and efficacious.
Third, gratitude helps people cope with stress and trauma.
Fourth, the expression of gratitude encourages moral behavior.
Fifth, gratitude can help build social bonds, strengthening existing relationships and nurturing new ones.
Sixth, expressing gratitude tends to inhibit invidious comparisons with others.
Seventh, the practice of gratitude is incompatible with negative emotions and may actually diminish or deter such feelings as anger, bitterness, and greed.
Last but not least, gratitude helps us thwart hedonic adaptation.
This is followed by “How to” recommendations.
The second Happiness Activity discussed in this chapter is “Cultivating Optimism”;
Number 3 Activity is “Avoid Overthinking and Social Comparison”. Author provides data from laboratory experiments, some real life anecdotes, and recommendation s how to do it mainly by “Letting it go” and looking at the big picture.
- Investing in Social Connections
Here comes activity number 4: Practicing Acts of kindness. Author’s important point here is to do it in bulk rather than small staff daily, so that it could not become boring routine. Similarly number 5 is Nurturing Social Relationship. Here author makes a list of benefits from relationships from social support to minimizing hedonic adaptation and provides recommendation on how to obtain and maintain such relationships.
- Managing Stress, Hardship, and Trauma
The activity number 6 is strategy of coping with adversities. The main point here is that problem-focused coping works much better than emotion-focused coping. Author discusses 3 outcomes from making stronger to barely survival:
One interesting point is discussion on the use of writing as method to overcome adversity.
The activity number 7 is forgiveness. The main point here is that forgiveness is important for victim as method to overcome concentration on damage, which prevents overcoming it and moving on.
7 Living in the Present
The activity number 8 – Increase flow experiences, which comes with concentration on present, especially during work or other meaningful and challenging activities that match individuals’ abilities at the level that allows increase of these abilities. Author provides recommendations on how to increase flow experiences.
The activity number 9 is about savoring life’s joys including ordinary experiences that come and go but will be missed when they passed. It is also useful to recollect good things in the past.
8 Happiness Activities No. 10: Committing to Your Goals
This chapter starts with very true statement that happy people have objectives that they are in process of working on to achieve. Author lists psychological benefits of commitments and defines what kind of goals could lead to more happiness. It should be intrinsic and authentic goals. Actually author expands this and comes up with simple table what kind of goals lead to happiness and what kind does not:
- Taking Care of Your Body and Your Soul
Author here discusses psychological benefits of religiosity and spirituality, which she designates as activity number 11. She analyses when and why it is so beneficial, but also some specific cases when it is not. The final activity number 12 is taking good care about body by exercising, mediating, and, also important, behaving like a happy person. There is plenty of evidence that such behavior as smiling for no reason makes people happier. There is a link between facial expression and behavior which makes reinforcement loop in both directions so it is not only that happy person smiles, it is also true that smiling person becomes happy.
Part Three: Secrets to Abiding Happiness
Here author summarizes her recommendations on haw to achieve happiness or at least improve one’s psychological conditions.
- The Five Hows Behind Sustainable Happiness
The First How: Positive Emotion
The Second How: Optimal timing and variety
The Third How: Social Support
The Fourth How: Motivation, Effort, and Commitment
The Fifth How: Habit
The Promise of Abiding Happiness: An Afterword
Here author discusses how the writing of this book impacted her own condition quite positively and that she noticed that this impact was much more obvious in areas where she had some deficiencies specific to her personality, while a lot less obvious in areas where she already was acting as recommended. In short the main point here is that happiness is learnable and trainable condition that could be achieved if one is willing to learn and to work on it.
MY TAKE ON IT:
I find this presentation of positive psychology quite interesting and potential useful for anybody who would like to improve quality of his or her perceived condition of being. Interestingly enough I find some 90% of recommendations consistent with what I am doing in my own live with results that one would expect according to presentations in this book. Another interesting thing is that being of somewhat similar background with author, coming from USSR, albeit at different ages, I have similar attitude in some areas that I find as difficult implement as author. Author reports that when she tried to apply it despite her internal resistance, it did work and she did felt happier than before, but I think that my soviet background is so much entrenched in my psyche, that it probably does not even worth trying. Anyway it is nice to know that the way one lives his live is highly consistent with the way contemporary psychological science recommends to live in order to be happy.