The main idea of author – convinced socialist, is to express his hate and contempt to Trump, uneasiness with his supporters, and most important, to convince readers, whom he expects to be strongly on his side, that removing Trump, imposing high-tech censorship, and taking over the main institutions is not yet a victory. Author describes four main political forces in America that he defines this way: Free America, Real America, Smart America, and Just America with the first two loosely aligned with republicans and the second two strongly aligned with democrats. This division is so strong and get stronger every day that author afraid it could lead to another Civil War.
Author begins with an interesting statement that he does not want pity for being born American and that many American want to leave this country because it is in decline. He then expresses challenge of remaining civil upon learning that people in rural area, to which he moved to recently, are supporting Trump. After stating his believe in decline of the country and deep political division of its population author tries to provide diagnosis of what went wrong:” Self-government is democracy in action—not just rights, laws, and institutions, but what free people do together, the habits and skills that enable us to run our own affairs. Tocqueville described self-government as an “art” that needs to be learned. It’s what Americans no longer know how to do, or even want to do together. It’s hard work, for it needs not just ballots and newspapers and official documents, which we still have, but also trust, which we’ve lost. It depends on the ability to argue, persuade, and compromise in order to achieve things for the common good, like the suppression of a catastrophic pandemic. It requires you to imagine the experience of others, to recognize their autonomy, and yet to think for yourself.” He then continues list of signs of decline from deteriorating roads to souring attitudes, but ends up with statement that:” No one is going to save us. We are our last best hope.”
Author begins this chapter by repeating typical democratic invective against the Donald as authoritarian and source of all bad:” all-American flimflam man and demagogue, a traditional character of our way of life.” Then he follows with description of COVID pandemic as disaster, which is all Trump’s fault. After that, interestingly enough, author actually demonstrates some understanding of reality and reason for Trumps popularity:” Populism is the politics of “the people” turned against “the elites.” It’s inherent in democracies, always lurking, and it grows out of control when citizens feel that their needs are going unmet or their voices unheard. Then they will revolt against the class above them that claims to rule by right of superior knowledge and seems to do so for its own benefit. The experts—civil servants, trade negotiators, think tank analysts, scientists, professors, journalists—have a tenuous hold on their status, if not their jobs. No one elected them. They’re unaccountable to the mass public. The same credentials and special language that make them recognizable and admirable to one another render them suspect in the eyes of the noncredentialed.” Author ends this chapter by expressing his believe that removal of Trump from presidency was saving of democracy, but he also is pretty clear about the problem:” We are two countries—that was the real message of the 158 million votes. But we still have to live together. We’re stuck with one another. That fact poses a supreme problem, one that will take even more urgency, intelligence, and cooperation than the remarkable achievement of a vaccine in less than a year”.
Here author moves to a bit more interesting staff than repeating democratic invectives: analyzing logic of current ideological division of Americans. He identifies four groups each supporting different narrative:
“Call the first narrative Free America. In the past half century, it’s been the most politically powerful of the four. Free America draws on libertarian ideas, which it installs in the high-powered engine of consumer capitalism. The freedom it champions is very different from Tocqueville’s art of self-government. It’s personal freedom, without other people—the negative liberty of “Don’t tread on me.” Author links free America to republican party, Reagan and generally antigovernmental movement.
The second is “Smart America – a new class of Americans: men and women with college degrees (at the very least), skilled with symbols and numbers, salaried professionals in information technology, scientific research, design, management consulting, the upper civil service, financial analysis, medicine, law, journalism, the arts, higher education.” This America is America of top 10% in income, it is cosmopolitan, supports meritocracy, accepts affirmative actions and redistribution, but only to some extent, and generally realigned with democrats. It is somewhat contemptuous to lower middle and working classes and uneasy with patriotism.
The third is “Real America”:” Real America is a very old place. The idea that the authentic heart of democracy beats hardest in common people who work with their hands goes back to the eighteenth century. It was embryonic in the founding creed of equality. “State a moral case to a ploughman and a professor,” Jefferson wrote in 1787. “The former will decide it as well, and often better than the latter, because he has not been led astray by artificial rules.” Moral equality was the basis for political equality. As the new republic became a more egalitarian society in the first decades of the nineteenth century, the democratic creed turned openly populist. Andrew Jackson came to power and governed as champion of “the humble members of society—the farmers, mechanics, and laborers,” the Real Americans of that age.”
It used to be backbone of democratic party, but it is now strongly republican. This America is hard working, religious, and very patriotic. Somewhat unexpectedly author denies that Trump is fascist, but still repeats lots of standard democratic BS about him.
The final narrative is “Just America”. This America came from campuses and based not on real life experiences, but rather on massive indoctrination into identity politics and anti-white racism under pretense of fight against anti-black racism. Author obviously feels very close to this America, but seems to be a bit scared by its totalitarian inclinations, while also being scared that it would raise a serious resistance.
After defining 4 different types of America author presents his view of current political divide with Smart and Just America on one side and Free and Real America on the another. He follows with discussion of potential secession and eventually concludes that it is not realistic. In discussion of political competition between these four forces author clearly puts himself on the side of Smart and Just (democrats) against Free and Real (republicans) and accuse republicans in attempt to obtain and hold power by undemocratic means. Despite all this author then talks about global character of America as no other country and unique features of American culture that differentiate all Americans from others and one of the most important features of this difference is an American’s disconnect from his/her roots whether these are European, African, Asian, or whatever, from which follows strong and in author’s opinion incorrect, believe that all humans are basically the same in their hopes and strives. Another key feature:” Equality is the hidden American code, the unspoken feeling that everyone shares, even if it’s not articulated or fulfilled: the desire to be everyone’s equal—which is not the same thing as the desire for everyone to be equal. Equality is the first truth of our founding document, the one that leads to all the others.” Author then goes through other American features: Loudness, Bluntness, Violence, Anti-Intellectualism, and unwillingness accommodate to other cultures. At the end of chapter author comes to this conclusion:” National characteristics don’t create national unity. Civil wars have been fought in countries with a common culture, including ours. The qualities I’ve sketched out—you might have others to add or put in their place—don’t make us a nation. They just show the contours of concealed ligaments that would be torn if we continue pulling apart.”
In this chapter author reviews equalizing movements on American history and a few prominent personalities of these movements: Horace Greely of The New York – tribune against slavery, Francis Perkins of Roosevelt administration – fighter for women rights, and black labor leader A. Philip Randolph I fighter for Civil Rights for blacks.
Make America Again
In the beginning of chapter author attempts to be optimistic: “We’ve been here before. These stories should sound familiar: a house divided, monopoly and corruption, fixed classes of rich and poor, racial injustice…The same kinds of things were said in 1861, in 1893, in 1933, and in 1968. The sickness, the death, is always a moral condition.” Then author expresses believe that this will be overcome and American democracy will survive. This follows by another round of bitching against Trump, his voters, and 1776. However, interestingly enough, author understands that his side has difficulties to overcome:” Americans won’t accept the leveling hand of government in every corner of our lives. Socialism that proclaims itself enters any election with a debilitating handicap. Having spent a decade in a socialist organization, I’m acquainted with the hairsplitting futility that these long odds impose.” After that author proposes a bunch of quasi-socialist measures in line of typical approach: more taxes, more anti-white racism to confront anti-black racism, expand very visible government monopolies to confront “invisible monopolies” of private business, and so on. Author also writes against high tech censorship, even if it supports his side, probably because he understands that it is not sustainable. He also provides as example brief story of one of Trump’s supporters that protested on January 6th and is very typical white working-class man that actually represent if not majority, then clear plurality of population that could not be ignored.
Here author describes his feeling that 2021 looks like 1861 and then resides letter of Bayard Rustin to children of Cleveland from 1969 calling on them to believe in Democracy, Equality, and America. Author ends his book this way:” Rustin didn’t assure the children that their country had already reached this promised land, or warn them that it could never get there. Democracy is a continuing experiment with no end point of perfection, no eternal truths outside human action. Those truths that we hold to be self-evident, the ones that Rustin explained to the children of Cleveland, will survive only if we can realize them through our own efforts. Self-government puts all the responsibility in our hands. No strongman or expert or privileged class or algorithm can do it for us. As soon as we abandon the task, the common skeleton unknits and collapses in a heap of bones. All of this asks us to place more faith in ourselves and one another than we can bear. On some days the project seems preposterous and the effort exhausting. But I am an American and there’s no escape. We’ve never known any other way of life. We have to make this one.”
MY TAKE ON IT:
It is an interesting analysis of situation from relatively far left by author who is not completely brain dead and therefore scared. I think that his analysis of political forces is close to reality, but somewhat screwed. What he calls “Smart America” I would characterize as “Credentialed America” because people of this group may have PhDs, but are not necessarily smart and make their living not by doing smart things, but rather by getting spoils of big government either as lawyers, or government supported enterprises, or government supported “non-profits”. Similarly, “Free America” of libertarianism is actually smarter, than “Smart America” because these people understand how economics really works, but have hard time understanding that people who do not have property would not accept sanctity of property of others. Also, it is ridiculous to call brainwashed young Americans in colleges, their professors, and assorted race hustlers “Just America”. There is nothing just in racial quotas, segregation by race, refusal of due process in case of sexual harassment, rioting in order to suppress free speech of others, and similar antics of this part of population. Finally, the “Real America” is meaningless for two reasons: the first is that all Americas in all political groups are real, and the second, more important reason is that this part of population is divided between productive and parasitic ways of live. The productive way means producing goods and services that others would voluntarily buy, the parasitic way is to receive goods and services paid for by others via taxes and other forms of governmental coercion. This division is not even between people, but often within each individual when part of individual’s consumption paid for by earned money and part by handouts.
What seems to be bother author is that while “Smart America” controls economy, institutions and “Just America” controls narrative, both areas show signs of degeneration while igniting discontent among majority of people belonging to all groups. New censorship suddenly hits lifelong liberals and libertarians who still want to express their thoughts and ideas without fear. Sexual harassment accusations without prove or even reasonable possibility hit everybody around spoiling normal interactions between sexes. Anti-White racism by becoming more visible and harmful to 70% of population causes people to ask simple question:” Do I want to be a second- or third-class citizen? Do I want my children denied access to top level of various institution because of color of their skin? Do I want to be deprived of tools of self-defense when criminals are roaming around untouchable to police?”.
These are all dangerous questions for democrats in power and author rightly afraid that it is not just that answer will be “No”, but that this answer would be expressed via actions. He also rightly afraid that these auctions may not be expressed just by voting one way or another – this works when people believe that vote is fair, secret, and correctly counted. What author seems fail to understand is that when he talks about 74 million for Trump and 81 million against, great many of people do not agree with him. Nobody seems to be disputing 74 million, but lots of people believe that the 81 million is imaginary number. It should not be surprising taking into account all irregularities, struggle against auditing, and simple fact that results counted and investigations of complains were conducted or not conducted by government employees: people whose wellbeing clearly depended on defeating Trump. So, I agree with author that situation is dangerous, it will have to be resolved one way or another, and we’ll probably have to live in “interesting times” for a while until this resolution will be completed.
The main idea of this book is somewhat trivial: actions have consequences, which define conditions of actor’s existence and consequently lead to the new set of actions based on this conditioning. Generally, it is just restatement of the notion of feedback, albeit with deeper look at mechanics: nurture/nature and somewhat valuable presentation of experiments and research demonstrating various aspect of this simple notion.
PART 1: Consequences and How Nature-Nurture Really Works
Chapter 1. Consequences Everywhere: Origins and Definitions; Waltzing Pigeons and Roller-Coaster Fish: Consequences across Species; Getting Stimulated: Sensory Consequences; The Spice of Life: Variety as a Consequence; The Creative Consequence; Taking Advantage of Variety; The Positive Side of Problems; Taking Control
In this chapter author defines the notion of consequences similarly to the notion of positive or negative feedback that either amplify or suppresses some behavior:” …research illustrates what reinforcers are: By definition, reinforcers both depend on behaviors and sustain them. If a behavior gets going and keeps going because of a consequence, that consequence is a reinforcer. If a behavior declines because of a consequence, that consequence is a negative (a punisher). Things that seem like rewards sometimes aren’t: what matters is what actually happens, not the intention.”
After that author presents examples from variety of experiments with animals that demonstrates how it works and defines what happens when there are no consequences either negative or positive: the awful condition of Boredom. Then she discusses the Variety, Sensory stimulation, and Taking control as conditions necessary for well-being not only humans, but also other animals.
Chapter 2. Consequences and Evolution: The Cause That Works Backward: Dance of the Balloons; Flexible Instincts; Songbirds; Bugs That Learn; Which Came First? The Evolution of Consequences; Bird Beaks Pointing the Way: How Consequences Lead Evolution; The Cause That Works Backward
Here author discusses interplay between instincts and learned behavior using several examples from research on bugs and birds, eventually concluding that “consequences lead evolution” that basically means recording into genetic code effective response to specific and consistently occurring environmental signals, resulting in positive consequences.
Chapter 3. Genes and Consequences: Meet Your Genome; Getting Turned on; The Genetics of Consequences; Interactions Everywhere; What’s Inherited—and What Isn’t; Epigenetics: New Kid in the Neighborhood
In this chapter author moves to discuss the recently acquired understanding of flexibility of genetic mechanisms when not only genes get switched on and off by environmental signals, but also epigenetics could modify genes expression and consequently condition of organism. Author also refers to research, which demonstrated that “DNA methylation patterns—and behavior patterns—could be reversed when disadvantaged rat pups were given extra licking and grooming by adult females (regardless of genetic relationship”.
Chapter 4. Neuroscience and Consequences: Enrichment on the Brain; Neurons and Connections; Rewarding Chemicals: Dopamine and Its Cousins; Pleasure Centers; The Sky’s the Limit: Neuroplasticity and Real-Life Applications
In this chapter author discusses:” the neurophysiological flexibility that plays with all this genetics/epigenetics/nature-and-nurture flexibility—and the cavalry-to-the-rescue role of consequences to take full advantage of it.” She reviews structure and some electro-chemical processes in the brain that support this flexibility. Author also describes experiments demonstrating this flexibility: for example, long time blindfolded person’s brain switching visual cortex to process touch and sounds.
Here is how author summarizes Part one:” The chapters in part 1 illuminate how essential a systems approach is to understanding nature-and-nurture: genes, past history, behavior, environmental factors of all sorts, “pleasure centers,” neurotransmitters, long-term potentiation, synaptogenesis, neurogenesis, epigenetics, and other biological factors—everything working together. Newly revealed are reserves of tremendous flexibility previously undreamt of.”
Part 2: There’s a Science of Consequences?
Chapter 5. Consequences on Schedule: simple Principles with Surprising Outcomes: False Consequences; Consequences on Schedule; Work-Based Schedules and the Power of Unpredictability; Consequences on Time; Progress and Perseverance; Making the Most of Schedules; Schedules Everywhere
This chapter is about earning consequences or in other words planning and implementing some actions with expectation that some specific consequences will follow. Initially author discusses widely occurring situation when consequences incorrectly linked to previous, but inconsequential actions. Then she discusses schedules that supposed to produce specific consequences, but rarely do it completely and therefore require perseverance to achieve intendent consequences.
Chapter 6. The Dark Side of Consequences: Shades of Gray; Feelings; Choosing Pain; Aggression; Making Negatives Work—Positively
Here author moves to discuss unpredictable negative consequences. Author discusses “gray” or mixed consequences: something good and bad, both coming from complex actions. She refers to research that demonstrates that ratio 5 to 1 for complex actions such as marriage to be perceived generally positive. She then looks at feelings that paint consequences as either positive or negative or mixed. Author then moves to talk about range of consequences for example more or less pain and how sometimes lower-level negative is willingly accepted to avoid higher level negative, as in case of surgery. Another interesting point is to look at aggression as an attempt to avoid negative consequences by inflicting high levels of negative consequences on somebody or something that perceived as cause of this negatives. The final part of the chapter is about handling negatives. Overall author concludes:” Negatives can be downers, there’s no escaping that. But we’ve seen how lifesaving they can be—how grateful we should feel for evolution’s painful solution. And let’s not forget that positives have a negative side, even when good feelings abound.”
Chapter 7. Choices and Signals: The Matching Game; So, What Can the Matching Law Do? Winning Matches; Getting the Signal; A Smorgasbord of Signals; Of Signal Importance
This chapter starts with Frost’s “less travelled road” and talks about choices. Author describes matching law:” The matching law was originally derived from animal research in the lab, where conditions can be precise. In its full technical form, the equation gets complicated, covering a host of factors and parameters: bias between the behavior choices (an SO who really dislikes baseball), different levels of effort (someone lost the remote, so you have to get up and change channels manually), different types and values of the consequences, delays, schedules, signals, and so forth.”
The author discusses what this law does, which matches are winning, getting correct signal out of multitude of signals and noise, and, finally how important signals are.
Chapter 8. Pavlov and Consequences: An Essential Partnership: Compensating Reactions and Drug Tolerance; Not All in Your Head: The Placebo Effect and Other Mind-Body Surprises; Getting Emotional; Value, Anticipation, and Learned Consequences; Learned and Unlearned
This chapter is about Pavlov’s conditioning and its implication in drugs’ use, and other interactions between mind and body that lead to such things as placebo effect, link between emotions and bodily reactions. Author also discusses habituation of emotions to levels of signals such as use to violence in entertainment. At the end of chapter author moves to discuss learned and unlearned consequences, meaning some unlearned consequences that results from intrinsic qualities of organism like perception of tase or reaction to alcohol and learned consequences as result of signals transferred via language.
Chapter 9. Observing and Attending: The Many Roles of Attention; Not-So-Simple Observations; Beneath the Radar: Consequences without Awareness; It’s Automatic; Observing Others; The Ultimate in Observing: Imitation
In this chapter author discusses role of attention and it starts with the famous “not seeing gorilla” experiment. Author points out link between attention and learning as in case of driving in the new place with attention and in well familiar place without. It is also about human need for attention of other that sometime achieves pathological levels. Author then discusses methods to attract attention as in experiment with animals. In humans paying attention or not is also dependent on expectation of positive or negative consequences as for example, when investors check portfolio more often when market goes up. Author also describes some interesting experiments with consequences without awareness, for example, when people rewarded for something unrelated to the task there are doing, but linked to their behavior. The result was subconscious adjustment of behavior to maximize award, even if there is no conscious understanding of what is rewarded. Author also discusses automated behavior and interaction with others, including imitation.
Chapter 10. Thinking and Communicating: Categories Large and Small; Simple Communication; The Understanding Animal: Simple Language; Human Language and Its Consequences; Same Word, Different Consequence; Babble On; Language Learning in Real Life; Strictly Private; Making Up the Rules; Language and Biology
In this chapter author looks at communications and language in animals and humans from point of view of consequences of designating categories, transmitting and receiving signals via language, process of language development and learning, and use of all this to create rules to support effective communication and interactions between individuals.
Part 3: Shaping Destinies
Chapter 11. Everyday Consequences: Creating Rewards; How We Treat Each Other; Altruism; Shaping the Future; The Challenging Side of Parenting; What Marriage Can Be; Real Self-Esteem
Here author looks even deeper into human communications, interactions, and how much they are based on consequences, meaning creating awards and punishments, that is consequences for variety of different actions. It is also about internal consequences such as taking responsibility or avoiding it and how raise children to be able dealing effectively with life’s challenges. Finally, author discusses use of consequences in long term relationships such as marriage that could be stable and effective if ratio 5:1 positive to negative successfully maintained. The chapter ends with an interesting take on validity of consequences in relation to building self-esteem. Turned out that undeserved rewards or, in other words, false positive consequences, do not help, mainly because it distorts signal about effectiveness of action, resulting in absence of valid feedback that is necessary to fix errors and mistakes.
Chapter 12. Fighting the Impulse: Self-Control, Anyone? Detecting Delays; The Disappearing Reward; The Marshmallow and the Kid Fighting the Impulse: Using What We Know; Taking Charge of Weight
This chapter is about self-control or lack thereof that usually leads to a bunch of negative consequences. Author describes a number of research experiments, including famous “marshmallow test” demonstrating this link. She also provides some technics of fighting impulse and achieving difficult objectives such as weight loss.
Chapter 13. Endangered Species, undercover Crows, and the Family Dog: Applications for Animals: Animal Companions; At the Zoo: Animal Care the Easy Way; Life at the Zoo; From Endangered Species to Farm Animals; Animals That Save Our Lives;
This chapter describes how better understanding of animal and human processing of consequences of their actions and ability to manipulate such consequences allowed completely new way of interaction and training of animals without cruelty and excessive punishments. Author describes how this approach is used in variety of environments from Zoos to Farms to Schools for animals used for direct support to humans.
Chapter 14. The Rewards of Education and Work There Are No Shortcuts; Consequences in Classroom Management; Maximizing Potential; Successful Programs; More on Motivation Consequences at Work;
In this chapter author expands the same way of using consequences to train animals to training humans. She describes how it is done in LA school so it opened potential of poor children. She even claims that:” It is well established, for example, that simply rewarding disadvantaged children for trying hard on intelligence tests can immediately raise their IQ scores by ten points or more. (Without some source of motivation, why strive to do their best?) A recent meta-analysis assessed the findings of many such experiments, including over 2,000 participants altogether—children of all sorts, not just disadvantaged children. Overall, rewarding youngsters for trying harder significantly raised IQ scores, and larger incentives consistently produced larger effects. The effects were greatest when the original IQ scores were lower (not surprising).” Then author discusses motivation and claims that if paying kids real money to learn the improve their results is real possibility, with a very important caveat that payment should be applied as reward for behavior, not results and applied immediately. The positive results occurred in due time as consequence of improved behavior and motivation. Same applies to adults in their work activities.
Chapter 15. Help for Addiction, Autism, and Other Conditions Churchill’s “Black Dog”: Depression; Anxiety and Fear; Getting Unhooked: Addiction; Autism; Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: Drugs or Consequences? Brief Notes;
In this chapter author discusses application of the same methods to people with variety of mental disorders from depression to dementia. Author reviewing some examples of application of consequences-based method and claims that sometimes there is clear success story.
Chapter 16. Consequences on a Grand Scale: Society, the Long Term, and the Planet Obedience and Disobedience; Overcoming Prejudice; Politics: The Art of the Possible Meets the Science of Consequences; The Short Term versus the Long Term: Having It All?
The final chapter is about using method of consequences in politics and controlling of people within society. Here author discusses Milgram’s experiments, My Lai massacre, Gandhi’s disobedience, prejudice, group loyalty to “us” and hostility to “them”, and so on. Finally, she also discusses political implication of consequences from MAD strategy to zero/non-zero games. The final part of the chapter is about solutions, which author defines as adding and subtracting consequences in order to achieve targeted behavior. She also presents list of technics such as control over schedules, checklists, commitments, and role models.
MY TAKE ON IT:
The approach of trying understand actions of living things via understanding of their perception of consequences of such actions in my opinion is highly productive, providing it is done seriously, with open mind and scientifically valid protocols, rather than cherry-picking process with predefined objective to prove some point or achieve some result. Too bad that it is often applied in latter way rather than in former, especially when in the area of politics. One thing that I’d like to add to all this is that consequences in real life are always unpredictable and could be easily predefined only in case of simple and repetitive actions. Consequently, in real world any complex action plan should be build not only on expectations of specific consequences based on previous experience, but also on incorporating as much flexibility as possible in action plan so one could achieve effective dynamic process leading to the same objectives via variety of different ways that would allow to handle inevitable occurrence of unexpected intermediate consequences popping up elsewhere due to complexity of rial live.
The main idea of this book is that in any society there are two different opinions: Private Opinion within mind of each individual based on this individual’s Preferences and Public Opinion that may or may not coincide with Preferences of any individual, but is generally accepted as dominant and therefore supported by variety of tools of coercion from very soft disagreement to secret police executing on the spot any defiant. As result at least some share population uses Preference Falsification: openly and often loudly expressing different and even opposite opinions than ones this person really has. The result is in the mild case inefficient functioning of the society when actions somewhat deviate from pronounces, but in the severe case it could be sudden revolutionary explosion with massive restructuring of the society. The mild case is typical for Democracies where suppression of defiant opinions is moderate, while the revolutionary explosion often happens in totalitarian and/or autocratic societies where suppression is quite hard.
I. Living a Lie
1. The Significance of Preference Falsification
In the first chapter of this book author defines the meaning of key notion of this book: “preference falsification, the act of misrepresenting one’s genuine wants under perceived social pressures… Preference falsification aims specifically at manipulating the perceptions others hold about one’s motivations or dispositions”. In other words, it is a form of lying under social pressure and/or threat of negative impact on one’s wellbeing as punishment for being honest.
After defining the main notion, author then presents objective of this book:” to classify, connect, and explicate the unintended consequences of preference falsification. How, precisely, does preference falsification affect the mechanics of politics? How does it influence the evolution of public opinion? What are its implications for the efficiency of social policies and institutions? To what extent and by what mechanisms does it transform beliefs, ideologies, and worldviews? Finally, does it facilitate or hinder efforts to predict and control the social order?” After that author provides a number of real-life examples:
- Religious dissimilation
- Veiling in Turkey
- Gay officials outing by gay rights movement in USA in 1990s
Author also discusses various technics applied either to make sure that expressed preference would not hurt expressor:
- Leaks and Trial Balloons
- The Secret Ballot, Blind Refereeing, and Secluded Negotiations
At the end of chapter author discusses the social effects of Preference Falsification and presents overview of the book:
- Chapters 2–5 explore how public opinion emerges from the interdependent public preference choices of individuals.
- Chapters 6–9 explore collective conservatism: widespread public support for policies that would be rejected in a vote taken by secret ballot
- Chapters 10–14 explore how preference falsification affects private preferences.
- Chapters 15–18 explore how preference falsification shapes patterns of social change.
2. Private and Public Preferences
Here author starts by defining private and public preferences, noting that it is highly dependent on culture and state power which is which. His example: pork chops is private preference in USA, but public preference in Saudi Arabia.
Author then discusses mechanics of public preference and defines notion of Intrinsic Utility as some point among continuum of choices that makes individual happiest:
Then author defines Reputational and Expressive Utilities, the former maximizes individual’s reputation among others, while latter individual’s self-respect: the necessary condition for psychological well-being.
Here is the graphic representation:
Author then discusses possibility and even necessity of Preference falsification for individual to maximize total utility. Author also provides a beautiful example of multifaceted Preference Falsification:” In 1989, a Soviet citizen admitted to having worn “six faces” under communist repression: “one for my wife; one, less candid, for my children, just in case they blurted out things heard at home; one for close friends; one for acquaintances; one for colleagues at work; and one for public display.”
Author also discusses how Intrinsic Utility often manipulated by limiting access to information or providing false information, especially in totalitarian and authoritarian societies. At the end of chapter author looks at social sciences that look at individual’s utility from different angles often ignoring reality that everything is intertwined:” The foregoing model depicts the individual as having multiple sources of happiness: economic, social, and psychological. These three sources have tended to be studied within separate disciplines that differ in their conceptions of the individual. Homo economicus is a self-controlled, calculating utility machine, who is immune to social pressure and a stranger to inner turmoil. Homo sociologicus, his very identity the product of social stimuli, is ruled by social demands. And a common conception of homo psychologicus is as an impulsive and tormented soul, struggling, seldom successfully, to escape the dictates of his conscience. However simplistic, these constructs provide valuable insights into human behavior. Yet they obscure as much as they enlighten. A more composite construct allows glimpses, we shall see, into phenomena that its unidisciplinary rivals oblige us to ignore.”
3. Private Opinion, Public Opinion
Author begins this chapter by providing definition:” An activity forms a political issue if it is a matter of social concern, a nonissue if it is widely considered a matter of personal choice.” He then discusses limitations on public issues and paradox of people getting involved with public issues even if these issues have little impact on their lives, Author then links this phenomenon to Expressive needs of individuals that causes them to become activists. The next point of discussion is formation of the pressure groups that separates public and private opinion by creating cultural pressure to join one position or other that results in polarization of public opinion even if private opinion distributed evenly:
4. The Dynamics of Public Opinion
In this chapter author discuss the process of formation of public opinion via enforced Preference Falsification necessary to maintain belonging to a group in which some public opinion becomes dominant. As result population is initially divided into groups around different opinions based on individual threshold. Author provide graphic and explanation of movement of public opinion to position when it is dominant, even if it represents minority opinion:” Remaining focused on Figure 4.3, imagine that the expected public opinion somehow starts out at 20. The propagation curve indicates that 35 percent of the population has a threshold at or below 20. So, this share of the population will give its public support to 100 and the remaining 65 percent will support 0. An expectation of 20 has thus generated a public opinion of 35. Having turned out to be an underestimate, the initial expectation will be revised upward. According to the figure, any expectation below 40 will fall short of the corresponding realization and generate further revisions. To become self-fulfilling, and thus self-reproducing, the expected public opinion must rise to 40. The figure shows Ye = 40 to lie at the only intersection between the propagation curve and the diagonal. So there is a single self-fulfilling expectation, a unique equilibrium.7 Only when individuals base their public preferences on the expectation of a public opinion of 40 does actual public opinion match the expectation that generated it. Panel B of Figure 4.3 uses a topographic metaphor to capture the movements of public opinion. It depicts a valley whose lowest point is at 40. If a ball is placed at 40, it will remain at rest indefinitely. Placed anywhere else, it will roll toward 40.”
Author then discusses details of this process and expresses caution against incorrect perception of public opinion:” The human tendency to underemphasize the external determinants of human choices and overemphasize the internal determinants is known as the fundamental attribution error. The normatively correct principle of attribution calls for caution in ascribing an act to the actor’s personal disposition insofar as that act is typical.”
5. Institutional Sources of Preference Falsification
Author begins this chapter by pointing out institutional difference in imposing Preference Falsification between democratic and totalitarian countries: relatively soft pressure in former and deadly violence in latter. After that author discusses Expressive constrains from Athenians ostracizing individuals with unpopular opinions to McCarthyism in USA and Official responses to Public and Private opinion, which is very different in democracies when leaders have a lot less tools to form opinions via disinformation and suppress challenging opinion carriers by force. Nevertheless, even in democracies Preference Falsification is widely used and author discusses remedies that could minimize damage caused by this phenomenon. Such remedies include first of all the Secret Ballot and traditions of Tolerance to different opinions. The real practical use of these remedies is rarity that happens only in democracies and even in this case they are very fragile. Author refers here to American constitution and intention of its framers to use clash of ambitions to save democracy, but he also notes that maintaining democracy requires general agreement on fundamentals, which is often just not possible.
II. Inhibiting Change:
6. Collective Conservatism; 7. The Obstinacy of Communism; 8. The Ominous; Perseverance of the Caste System; 9. The Unwanted Spread of Affirmative Action
In this part author discusses situation when Public Opinion remains stable for a long time after Private Opinion had changed, sometimes dramatically. The main reasons for this usually established historical narrative, spiral of prudence when individuals disenchanted with status quo believe that they are small minority when in fact the majority of people unhappy, but remain silent or falsify their preference. There is also unequal distribution of opinions among generations and other processes that impact willingness of individuals to support or resist change such as Conservatism, Traditionalism, Persistence, and Rigidity. Here is graphic representation of this process:
Then author reviews real life examples of such processes: Communism in Soviet Block, Caste system in India, and Affirmative actions in USA.
III. Distorting Knowledge:
10. Public Discourse and Private Knowledge
In this part author discusses impact of Preference Falsification not only on Public Discourse, but also on Private knowledge and opinion. Here is authors formulation:” …preference falsification can alter the appearance of one’s personality without modifying its essence. Yet in practice preference falsification does affect private preferences. It distorts public discourse—the corpus of assertions, arguments, and opinions in the public domain. In turn, the distortion of public discourse transforms private knowledge—the understandings that individuals carry in their own heads. The transformation of private knowledge ends up reshaping private preferences.” Author then discusses human cognitive processes that are susceptible to external influences via such processes as framing or accepting externally imposed overall model of reality, but only to the extent that this model possesses at least somewhat effective predictable power and help individual achieve his/her objectives. Author discusses in some details the role of deception, censorship, and general political illiteracy resulting from dependency of individuals on information provided by society. In this context author discusses Heuristics of social proof and its use in politics of Persuasion. Author also applies notions of hard and soft knowledge:” Hard knowledge is grounded in substantive facts and systematic reasoning. By contrast, soft knowledge is grounded in one or more forms of social proof. Either type of knowledge may be erroneous, of course. Just as the causes of a social phenomenon may be misperceived, perceptions of public opinion may be substantially off. In practice, moreover, “hardness” and “softness” form a continuum. Beliefs concerning social phenomena are ordinarily based both on personal observation and on perceptions of what others think.” Author also discusses Believe Perseverance. That is tendency of people to fit new information into existing framework of believes, even if this information completely contradictory to these believes. Overall author rejects idea of individual autonomy and objective interests noting impact of the Public opinion imposed by powers that are on individuals believes, even if they are hidden from external control.
11. The Unthinkable and the Unthought;
Here author discusses cognitive limitations and provides definitions:” An unthinkable belief is a thought that one cannot admit having, or even characterize as worth entertaining, without raising doubts about one’s civility, morality, loyalty, practicality, or sanity. An unthought belief is an idea that is not even entertained.”
After that author discusses technics of using Knowledge falsification so the Public Discourse could be distorted, consequently leading to reshaping Soft Knowledge of individuals. From here comes Cognitive dissonance. Which is basically conflict in the mind of individual between Soft and Hard Knowledge this individual possess. Here is how author presents this:” The distortion of public discourse thus affects both hard and soft knowledge, but through different mechanisms. Soft knowledge changes readily because its mobility is constrained only by difficulties in ascertaining the course of public opinion. And in any case, perceptual obstacles lose significance where public opinion shifts massively. In contrast to soft knowledge, hard knowledge does not necessarily move with perceived shifts in public opinion. Someone with information favorable to a certain program will not lose faith in it merely because public opinion now favors an alternative. His faith in the program may be shaken, however, and he may be unable to discover new justifications for rejecting the alternative.”
Author however rejects idea of Cognitive dissonance because he believes that people can easily entertain multiple contradictory ideas at the same time. Here is his position:” When a person’s beliefs change this happens not through his own personal efforts but, rather, through a social process in which he is just one of many participants. If public discourse treats two issues as unrelated, he is apt to do the same, because he cannot explore all possible connections. He may well remain unaware of important connections without feeling any discomfort. In a vast array of contexts, the linkages individuals make among events, outcomes, and phenomena are governed largely by public discourse. Where public discourse is itself inconsistent—as when it promotes the literal accuracy of the Bible while also celebrating the explanatory power of modern biology—people may not even notice the contradiction. Many will do so, however, if the inconsistency begins to receive public attention.”
Author also reviews process of shifting some ideas from unthinkable to unthought, creating ideological gap between generations with shifting of Private Preferences. Author then review this process in details with graphs and theoretical example.
12. The Caste Ethic of Submission; 13. The Blind Spots of Communism; 14. The Unfading Specter of White Racism
In these chapters author reviews actual examples of developments in various societies to demonstrate how it all works in reality.
IV. Generating Surprise: 15. Unforeseen Political Revolutions;
This part is very interesting because it demonstrates how seemingly invincible totalitarian or authoritarian society with powerful police, mass indoctrination, and routine Preference Falsification could suddenly explode and change nearly overnight. Author defines simplified forces within society this way:” The dual preference model of this book posits a predefined issue on which there is a political struggle between two pressure groups. For this chapter and the next, the issue is the incumbent political regime’s legitimacy. The two pressure groups are the government, which recognizes its own right to govern, and the opposition, which does not. Within this particular context, Y, our measure of public opinion, represents the size of the public opposition to the government. As usual, it is expressed as a percentage of the population. At the start of our story Y is near 0, indicating that the government commands almost unanimous public support. A revolution would take the form of a sudden and enormous jump in Y that makes it impossible for the government to continue governing. By this definition, revolution entails a mass-supported shift in political power. It is immaterial whether the transfer of power brings about meaningful change in people’s lives. All that matters is that the transfer be swift and extensive.”
Author provides very interesting graphic presentation of how small society of 10 people either explodes into revolution and moves from equilibrium Y=30 to equilibrium Y=90 or it remains in the same state depending on threshold of one individual c:
Author then discusses inessentiality of mass discontent, the role of political structure, and inevitability of combination of poor Foresight with Excellent Hindsight.
16. The Fall of Communism and Other Sudden Overturns;
In this chapter author provides real life examples of sudden revolutions.
17. The Hidden Complexities of Social Evolution;
This chapter expand discussion and here is how author defines it: “The purpose of this chapter is to extend and knit together the evolutionary themes of past chapters with an eye to generating further lessons for historical interpretation and social forecasting. I first introduce several complications into the basic framework, highlighting factors that make private preferences somewhat autonomous from public discourse, and actual public policies somewhat autonomous from public opinion. As in earlier contexts, it turns out that changes in one variable may have disproportionate effects on other variables. Turning attention to the circularities of the model, I explore the inefficiencies they produce and the added difficulties they pose for prediction and control. Among my key points is that discontinuities, unintended outcomes, and inefficiencies flow from a coherent social process. The whole chapter demonstrates, from a broader perspective than earlier chapters, that one can understand the complexities of social evolution without being able to pinpoint the causes of particular historical outcomes.”
He also provides graphic representation:
18. From Slavery to Affirmative Action
Here author applies his ideas to historical development of American race relations and Indian Caste system.
19. Preference Falsification and Social Analysis
In this final chapter author provides detailed description of his objectives:”
First, it highlights the ways in which the dual preference model serves to integrate disciplines and scholarly traditions often viewed as mutually incompatible paths to social understanding. I show how the model links traditions that focus on social structure with ones that emphasize individual choice. Drawing on properties of the model, I stress that structuralist and individualistic traditions should be viewed as complementary components of social analysis.
The second point of the chapter is that in illuminating past events and delineating future possibilities, the dual preference model also identifies certain limitations of scientific analysis. In particular, the model proposes that on sensitive issues pressures that breed preference falsification inevitably constrain what can be explained and predicted.
The chapter’s third task is to explore the measurability of preference falsification. To this end, it presents techniques for identifying and quantifying hidden perceptions, resentments, fears, and aspirations—some developed by anthropologists, others by opinion scholars. I argue that the techniques can be put to new uses in improving—up to a point, of course—our capacity to explain and predict social evolution.
Finally, I address the matter of refutability. Can the arguments be disproved? What tests may be used to establish their significance or insignificance? Because concepts such as concealment, cognitive limitations, small events, complexity, and unpredictability have played essential roles, the last task should be of special interest to readers inclined to deny scientific status to theories that involve poorly observable variables.”
At the end author lists multiple movements around various issues that all strive to achieve position of dominance when their opponents would have to use Preference Falsification in order to survive, therefore opening road for society’s change in whatever direction leaders of these movements want.
MY TAKE ON IT:
I think this is one of the most insightful books on human interactions in society that I ever read. It explains a lot of human behavior that I observed growing up in totalitarian Soviet Union when Preference Falsification was at the highest conceivable level. At the same time, it was Soviet Union of 1950s and 60s in which telling joke about leadership and discussing real condition of the country did not mean death sentence or even serious negative consequences for career, providing discussion was non-public. It was a very interesting society in which history was mainly false with great many factual events never mentioned, formerly great leaders’ images removed from photos, and official party papers and materials published just a few years ago not available in libraries except per special permission. In this society practically nobody believed that future is bright despite mass indoctrination and general believe that ideas of socialism and communism are great, and only general incompetence of leadership stands between people and prosperity. Eventually the moment when true believers such as Gorbachev, which naively accepted massive Preference Falsification as expression of true Preferences and opened gates for open expression of the Private Preferences, become the moment when system fall apart because it turned out that real socialism and communism were true Preference only of miniscule part of population. Interestingly enough this opening came from country leadership’s correct understanding that without valid information the competent management of economy and country is not possible combined with the lack of understanding that false information was foundation of socialist society without which it could not stand. We are now in the middle of a very interesting experiment when American elite intelligentsia and bureaucracy attempt to change society into some weird combination of economic capitalism and political socialism with pretention of being a democracy by using so far mainly non-violent coercive measures to push everybody into Preference Falsification to support this monstrosity. Nobody really knows what will happen, but my guess is that this attempt will fail and it will fail with such thunder that there will be no place for communism and socialism on this planet any more.
The main idea of this book is that current political development leads America to the new form of Feudalism – society based on permanent aristocracy at the top and all other population situated in hierarchical structures below. To support this idea author provides data about dynamics of ownership of land and other resources, increasing substitution of meritocracy with birth rights to places at the top, decline of liberal capitalism that used to provide more or less equal opportunity. Author also reviews emerging class structure of the Neo Feudalism, its geographical distribution with California being the most prominent example, and its potential to ignite class war similar to peasant rebellions of the Old Feudalism.
PART I. HOW FEUDALISM CAME BACK
- The Feudal Revival
In this chapter author defines current situation as comeback of Feudalism – stratified society with very limited upward mobility and strict class differentiation with privileges assigned to individuals based mainly on the class belonging. He briefly describes historic feudalism as a system, notes that history could regress and then recounts signs of such regression:
- Concentration of land ownership and overall wealth at the top
- Power nexus between Clerisy and Oligarchy
- Loss of faith in Liberal Democracy among population
- Emergence of periodic rebellions of lower strata of population against existing order
At the end of chapter author points out that course of history is never inevitable, therefore whether Feudalism will fully come back or not depends of people.
- The Enduring Allure of Feudalism
Here author discusses ideological nature of Feudalism in the Christian world where spiritual area was important and included equality of people before God, while unequal and strictly hierarchical structure of this world provided somewhat comfortable and secure society of mutual obligations when everybody know his/her place. Author then discusses multiple countries such as Russia and China where this ordered arrangement always had been and is preferrable to chaotic nature of Liberal Capitalism. Author also refers to several Western well-known intellectuals who also expressed similar preferences.
- The Rise and Decline of Liberal Capitalism
In this chapter author briefly retells the story of the raise of Liberal Capitalism and then jumps to contemporary world when Western countries fell into stagnation and China raised to the point of presenting challenge with its Antiliberal Capitalism based on totalitarian control of communist party over society. However, author points out China’s demographic problems, which are also becoming typical for other countries. At the end of chapter author suggests that rapid development of technology creates gap between high tech professionals and all others similar to Feudal gap between knights in undefeatable armor at the top and peasants and others at the bottom of society.
After discussing emerging New-feudal hierarchy of society, author moves to reviewing class structure of such society allocating one part of the book to each layer: Oligarchy, Clerisy, Yeomanry, and New Serfs.
PART II. THE OLIGARCHS
- High-Tech Feudalism
Here author identifies the new class at the top of New-Feudal Hierarchy as Oligarchs who control most of the real property, and, even more important, they control technology. Author describes birth of this New Oligarchy as similar to raise of knights only instead of superior arms it is based on superior technology that allowed creation of huge corporation such as Apple or Amazon that control technology of society. Author describes how such process merges new power with Communist party’s political control in China and how formerly “meritocratic entrepreneurs” of the Western world transform themselves into evil plutocrats.
- The Belief system of the New Oligarchs
This chapter is about oligarch’s ideology. Author describes their understanding of themselves as purely meritocratic high achievers and relate with contempt to others as underachievers. Author describes their preferred organization of society in such way:” This model could best be described as oligarchical socialism. The redistribution of resources would meet the material needs of the working class and the declining middle class, but it would not promote upward mobility or threaten the dominance of the oligarchs.” Author then discusses methods that oligarchs use to take control over society: initially via Cultural revolution that would establish their preferable set of believes and attitudes and then via establishment of mass surveillance that would make any deviation from this believes practically impossible.
- Feudalism in California, Harbinger of the Future
In this chapter author describes the real place where oligarchs’ objectives pretty much achieved – state of California. It is one party state, which is simultaneously the richest state by amount of wealth at the top and the poorest state by the number of destitute people at the bottom: the number one state in USA for inequality. Author also refer to this type of society as “Feudalism with Better Marketing”.
PART III. THE CLERISY
- The New Legitimizers
Author begins this chapter with reference to Orwell, Atwood, and Huxley – Sci fi about future societies run by elite and links it to ideology based on the notion of cognitive elite that in American culture turned into notion of professional, non-interested, non-political experts who know how to run things to everybody’s benefit. He then describes as credentialed upper class of just a few percent of population that he calls Clerisy, which are in reality often not very knowledgeable, very political and class conscious, and run everything for their own benefit, often at the expense of others. Author also refers to similarities with communist and fascist bureaucracy that ran totalitarian states of XX century.
- The Control Tower
In this chapter author analyses how members of Clerisy developed via process of higher education in American Universities controlled by ideologues of this class, which slowly took control by demanding freedom for themselves when they were minority and then start suppressing everybody else when they become dominant. A very important part of this suppression is their so far successful attempt eliminate Western culture and especially original American ideology from educational process.
- New Religions
Here author briefly reviews ideologies that are becoming new religions in service of Clerisy:
- The Church of “Social Justice”
- The Green Faith
- Transhumanism: the search for eternal life through technology.
PART IV. THE EMBATTLED YEOMANRY
- The Rise and Decline of Upward Mobility
The part about middle class that author calls Yeomanry starts with discussion of declining opportunities for its members after author briefly retells the story of their raise. Author measure this decline by increased gap between the middle and the top:” The wealth differential between middle-income and upper-income households had reached unprecedented levels by 2015. Data from the Census Bureau show that the share of national income going to the middle 60 percent of households has fallen to a record low. Wealth gains in recent decades have gone overwhelmingly to the top 1 percent of households, and especially the top 0.5 percent.” Author notes that such gaps were typical for feudal societies, especially those based on “meritocratic” mandarin class controlling overall wealth of society as in China, but atypical for European democracies where wealth was widely distributed.
- A Lost Generation?
This chapter is about loss of opportunity for young generation. Author specifically analyses decrease in home ownership due to overpriced housing, so the young generation increasingly dependent on inheritance in order to achieve home ownership. It leads to typical for feudalism economic stagnation.
- Culture and Capitalism
In this chapter author looks at alliance of wealthy oligarchs and clerisy, especially the part of Clerisy in control of key areas of culture: media, education, and science. He looks at attempts to distract people from setting up economic goals and substituting them with some ideological constructs, promotion of green agenda in order to scare people into forfeiting strive to achieve high levels of material wellbeing. The massive attack of this cultural Clerisy against middle class is also directed against institution of nuclear family, which is foundation of middle-class way of life.
PART V. THE NEW SERFS
- Beyond the Ring Road
The ring road here is metaphor for line dividing privileged dwellers of big cities living within Ring Road surrounding these cities over others living outside, typical for totalitarian countries with dominance of bureaucracy such as Chine or former Soviet Union. After discussing these inequalities author looks at history of development of serfdom on the remnants of Roman empire, its slow conversion to capitalism and transformation of serfs into working class. Then raise of big part of working class into the Middle class in USA in the middle of XX century, and its decline by the end of this century.
- The Future of the Working Class
In this chapter author follows on describing loss of labor power and another transformation from proletariat to “precariat” – people with limited control over conditions of their work and low levels of compensation due to change from industrial mode of production to post-industrial with lots of contract work, individualization of working processes that limit unionization, cultural erosion of working class, and its abandonment by the Left, which moved to another promising power: combination of intellectuals at the top and underclass at the bottom, both living off government transfer of resources to them at the expense of others.
- Peasant Rebellions
In this chapter author compares contemporary political situation with peasant rebellions of Feudalism, equating them with contemporary wave of election of populist leaders such as the Donald. Author discusses such important part of this rebellion as movement against mass migration that swells welfare dependent part of population, greatly increasing support for government transfers. Intellectuals that are dependent on such transfers support mass migration even if it brings people with strong religion believes and intolerant culture that from time to time express itself in murderous eruptions. Author end this chapter by asking if “Is There Mass Insurrection in Making?”
PART VI. THE NEW GEOGRAPHY OF FEUDALISM
- The New Gated City
Here author looks at the new landscape of America when cities become divided into areas of gated communities, slums of non-working people, areas of rich international business and disappearing local commercial centers, densification and gentrification of city centers, all this combined with exodus of middle class to suborns and exurbs.
- The Soul of the Neo-feudal City
Here author discusses ideas of the Global City where elite is concentrating and develops common attitudes and approaches that are outside and even above cultural landscape of their societies, simultaneously pushing non-elite of their countries into subservient positions. Author also discusses such dramatic cultural changes as destruction of family and childless way of life. Such attitude and objective of elite are clearly on collision course with Middle class suburban way of life. Author provides a very interesting reference linking elitists hate of suburb and strive to increase density to Soviet ideas and practice of exemplary communist city where people packed into cheap small flats.
- The Totalitarian Urban Future
The final chapter of this part discusses in more details ideals that elite wants to implement by creating “Totalitarian Urban Future” with central control of everything, including China style surveillance and control over individual behavior. Author question whether it would be possible to resist these ideals.
PART VII A MANIFESTO FOR THE THIRD ESTATE
The Technological Challenge
Author describes here the new feudal elite, which seeks to exercise their power via experts and their control over communications and media, especially social media that allow them dumb down general population to such level that they willingly accept their status as inferiors, while using biotechnology to enhance their own intellectual and physiological abilities.
- The Shaping of Neo-feudal Society
In this chapter author goes into details if shaping Neo-feudal society by undermining institution of family, scaring people with Global warming and other forms of environmental alarmism and so on. Author then advocates response by investing in resilience similarly to dikes in Netherlands in area of technology and resisting power of oligarchy in the area of politics.
21. Can We Challenge Neo-feudalism?
In the final chapter author asks if it is possible to challenge Neo-feudalism and suggests promotion and support of the Third estate – middle and working classes as bulwark against oligarchy. Author also expresses expectation that alliance of leftists and oligarchs is unreliable and could fall apart rather quickly. In any case author believes that solution is in reinforcement of values of Western civilization and adjustment to new landscape of automated production, probably via application of UBI, that has increasing support of people.
MY TAKE ON IT:
I do not think that there is any need to apply old political and class structure of Feudalism to the newest incarnation of the strict hierarchical system with all important parameters such as methods of production, system of believes, norms of behavior, and technology very different from this old Feudalism. The key difference is that old Feudalism was based on need for manual production by peasants and military capabilities of aristocrats creating mutually dependent society united by religious believes in propriety of hierarchical order of things with God at the top and proper places for everybody all the way down. The current incarnation is much weaker because hardly anybody believes in God and clearly nobody believes in the proper hierarchical order. The current situation is result of increasing disappearance of need for mass of peasants toiling at the bottom of society providing food and other goods and services. Similarly disappeared the need for aristocratic warriors to provide protection of society against hostile powers, this function actually firmly resides with professional military mainly recruited from the middle and working class. The new society that existing bureaucratic hierarchy of America is trying to establish is just finalization of the process that was under way for nearly two hundred years of expansion of this hierarchy. At the end it divides population into two categories: minority of population: credentialed bureaucrats and members of establishment enjoying power and control over all resources, while majority of population deprived of traditional American freedoms of speech, ability for self-defense, and opportunity to achieve material independence from others, will meekly accept its boring lives of quiet despair in exchange for some leftovers in form of basic income or low salaries at the bottom of hierarchy. I do not think that this attempt would be successful just because boring lives of despair are not consistent with human nature that requires actions and achievements, making such society unsustainable.
The main idea of this book is to recognize serous problems of American society that expressed by decrease in life expectancy of one part of population – low educated white men due to increase in suicide, drug overdose, and alcoholism among this population. It is also to analyze reasons for these “Deaths of Despair” and recommend measures, mainly in form of government intervention to handle this problem.
Introduction: Death in the Afternoon
Authors start introduction by describing their thoughts upon discovery that suicide rates of white middle age males is rapidly growing. Then they added to these other categories: deaths from drugs and alcohol combining all into one category – deaths of despair. They linked it to failure to pass tests of meritocracy, which they associate with education that divide prosperous and poor parts of population. Authors then compare white and black uneducated people and somehow conclude that blacks have it harder, but whites suffer more because of loss of white privilege. Finally, they link it to stagnant wages and loss of jobs, specifying that:” Jobs are not just the source of money; they are the basis for the rituals, customs, and routines of working-class life. Destroy work and, in the end, working-class life cannot survive. It is the loss of meaning, of dignity, of pride, and of self-respect that comes with the loss of marriage and of community that brings on despair, not just or even primarily the loss of money.”
Authors also discuss causes: globalization, increase of corporate power versus unions, and even healthcare. Finely, they express concern that all these combined with loss of believe in Democracy that perceived to be captured and corrupted by elite could lead to serious push back and they see signs if it in election of Trump.
Part l. Past as Prologue
1. The Calm before the Storm
In this chapter authors look at statistical history of mortality in USA and the great progress that occurred until last decade. They discuss mortality causes that moved away from contagious diseases to illnesses of old age and self-inflicting damage such as drugs and alcohol. They present a graphic support for these ideas:
At the end of the chapter, they describe the range of the problem they are trying to understand in such way:” There are two stories, often seen as competing, though they need not be. One, the “external” or circumstantial account, emphasizes what happened to people, the opportunities that they had, the kind of education, occupation, or social environment that was available to them. The alternative, “internal” account emphasizes what people did to themselves, not their opportunities but their choices among those opportunities, or their own preferences. It is a debate between worsening opportunities, on the one hand, and worsening preferences, or declining values or even virtues, on the other.”
3. Deaths of Despair
Here authors discuss the specific causes of deaths of despair and present a few anecdotes describing how it happens and how sometimes it is difficult to differentiate suicide form unintentional drug overdose.
Part ll. The Anatomy of the Battlefield
4. The Lives and Deaths of the More (and Less) Educated
Here authors move to compare circumstances of different parts of population that are inflicted by deaths of despair to very different degrees. First of all, they discuss difference in education and how it impacts human life in environment of “meritocracy”:
They describe an interesting dynamic in Black community when success of civil rights movement opened gates for talented and hard-working individuals and the first thing that they did was to run away from Black community, “denuding” it from their talents and role models. Authors link it to earlier epidemic of use of crack cocaine in inner city and corresponding mortality. They also critic Murray thesis that in both cases welfare states suppressed industriousness and morality of people leading to all these negative consequences.
6. The Health of the Living
Here authors move from deaths of despair to general and mental health conditions of population and link it to education:
8. Suicide, Drugs, and Alcohol; 9. Opioids
These two chapters overview final causes of increase in mortality, also demonstrating that this is quite recent phenomenon inflicting uneducated population:
Authors also provide an interesting breakdown of costs:” American physicians pay more for malpractice insurance, although the total cost of around 2.4 percent of total healthcare expenditures is small compared with the expenditures on hospitals (33 percent), physicians (20 percent), and prescription drugs (10 percent). Compared with those in other rich countries, American hospitals and doctors make more intensive use of “high margin, high volume” procedures, such as imaging, joint replacements, coronary artery bypass graft surgery, angioplasty, and cesarean deliveries.” Authors discuss some typical tricks such as use by companies and charitable foundations to pay inflated prices of their medical products.
14. Capitalism, Immigrants, Robots, and China; 15. Firms, Consumers, and Workers
These chapters are about other features of contemporary American capitalism that devalue American labor, eventually causing deprivations and deaths of despair.
16. What to Do?
These chapter is about authors’ prescription for what to do:
Opioids – create new government agency
Healthcare – Increase government expenditures and create Cost Control Board
Corporate governance – more power to unions with representation on company board
Tax and benefits policy – UBI, but not now, rather sometime in the future.
Antitrust – limit mergers and force payment for monetizable information provided to companies.
Wage Policies – raise minimum wage and provide subsidies for jobs.
Rent-Seeking – limit use of patents and curtail protection of small business. Per authors the main cause of inequality are not CEOs, but rather owners of “small” businesses with 20M in sales and 100 employees. Also impose restrictions on lobbying.
Education – modify the systemin in such way as to remove sharp cut off at bachelor degree, maybe via expansion of apprentice system.
The final advice – to learn more from Europe.
At the end authors profess their optimism and believes that Democracy in America and Capitalism could do much better job that they do now and remove causes of death of Despair.
MY TAKE ON IT:
It is the great collection of statistical data demonstrating beyond reasonable doubt that white men with low levels of education are under serious stress due to their redundancy for contemporary production process that causes loss of meaning of life and escapism to drugs, alcohol, or even suicide. I am fully in agreement with authors’ presentation of the problem, but in complete disagreement with their analysis of reasons and suggested solution for the problem. The reasons that authors present: Healthcare high cost and low quality, Immigration, Robots, China, and loss of labor power to oppose management – all of this in my opinion result of massive and constantly increasing intervention of government into areas of economy and overall lives of regular people. There is tendency to refer to government as some kind of superior being either good or bad, but I completely reject this approach because government is nothing more then hierarchically organized group of individuals in possession of coercive power that allow them make decisions and enforce implementation of these decisions without any responsibility whatsoever. Any area in which these individuals interfere: Healthcare, Education, Financial markets demonstrate dramatic deterioration in their functionality and similarly dramatic increase in costs. Consequently, authors’ suggestions to increase power of these individuals and their interference in all areas of life is bound to be ineffective. In my opinion, for example, Healthcare could be improved not by implementation of National system as had been done in many socialist and semi-socialist countries, but rather expulsion of government interference in health insurance and delivery of services, obviously with exception of prosecution of criminal deception and misrepresentation of information.