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.