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20191124 – Impossible to Ignore

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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:

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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:

  • Portable
  • Timeless
  • Simple syntax
  • Tied to long-term goals
  • Aspirational
  • 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)
  • Universal

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:
  1. Identify sensory stimuli: What are they?
  2. Select an action that will maximize a reward: What is it worth?
  3. Act on the intention.
  4. 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:

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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

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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

(3) Friendship

(4) Social networks

(5) Cooperation

(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:

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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:

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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:

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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.”


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

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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:

  1. Those in which choosers have clear antecedent preferences, and nudges help them to satisfy those preferences.
  2. Those in which choosers face a self-control problem, and nudges help them to overcome that problem.
  3. 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.”


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

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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:

  1. Appropriation of powers and carnivalesque, revolutionary energy (c. 1520–1547);
  2. Revolutionary grief (c. 1547–1625);
  3. 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.
  1. 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:

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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.”


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.