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20211127 – The WEIRDEST People in the World


The author provided an outstanding graphical presentation of the main ideas of this book:


Prelude: Your Brain Has Been Modified
The author begins with the beautiful presentation of what reading does to people:

  1. Specialized an area of your brain’s left ventral occipito-temporal region, which lies between your language, object, and face processing centers.
  2. Thickened your corpus callosum, which is the information highway that connects the left and right hemispheres of your brain.
  3. Altered the part of your prefrontal cortex that is involved in language production (Broca’s area) as well as other brain areas engaged in a variety of neurological tasks, including both speech processing and thinking about others’ minds.
  4. Improved your verbal memory and broadened your brain’s activation when processing speech.
  5. Shifted your facial recognition processing to the right hemisphere. Normal humans (not you) process faces almost equally on the left and right sides of their brains, but those with your peculiar skill are biased toward the right hemisphere.
  6. Diminished your ability to identify faces, probably because while jury-rigging your left ventral occipito-temporal region, you impinged on an area that usually specializes in facial recognition.
  7. Reduced your default tendency toward holistic visual processing in favor of more analytical processing. You now rely more on breaking scenes and objects down into their component parts and less on broad configurations and gestalt patterns.

The author proceeds to discuss other forms of the impact of culture on the human body and psychology and then links all this to the Protestant branch of Christianity.

The author also presents essential ideas of this book:

  1. Religious convictions can powerfully shape decision-making, psychology, and society. Reading the sacred scripture was primarily about connecting with the divine, but the unintended side effects were big, and resulted in the survival and spread of some religious groups over others.
  2. Beliefs, practices, technologies, and social norms—culture—can shape our brains, biology, and psychology, including our motivations, mental abilities, and decision-making biases. You can’t separate “culture” from “psychology” or “psychology” from “biology,” because culture physically rewires our brains and thereby shapes how we think.
  3. Psychological changes induced by culture can shape all manner of subsequent events by influencing what people pay attention to, how they make decisions, which institutions they prefer, and how much they innovate. In this case, by driving up literacy, culture induced more analytic thinking and longer memories while spurring formal schooling, book production, and knowledge dissemination. Thus, sola scriptura likely energized innovation and laid the groundwork for standardizing laws, broadening the voting franchise, and establishing constitutional governments.
  4. Literacy provides our first example of how Westerners became psychologically unusual. Of course, with the diffusion of Christianity and European institutions (like primary schools) around the world, many populations have recently become highly literate. However, if you’d surveyed the world in 1900, people from western Europe would have looked rather peculiar, with their thicker corpus callosa and poorer facial recognition.

Part l: The Evolution of Societies and Psychologies
I. WEIRD Psychology
In this chapter, the author defines who are the WEIRD people: “raised in a society that is Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic.” After that author provides results of multiple research results comparing these people with others, which identifies their specific characteristics:

  • Individualism,
  • Self-understanding via roles, rather than relations,
  • Propensity to feel the guilt as failure to meet one’s own standards rather than a shame – the failure to meet standards of others.
  • Non-conformism
  • High tolerance for relayed rewards (marshmallow test)
  • Trust to others
  • Obsession with the intentionality

The author provides several graphs comparing WEIRD people with others per these parameters and map for levels of individualism around the world, which is synonymous with the WEIRDness:

The author also provides a summary table for psychological features:

2. Making a Cultural Species
In this chapter, the author retells the story of Bill Buckley and his observations of the lives of Australian aborigines. The author refers to his previous book about cultural learning and the evolution of societies. The author defines the essential point of this chapter in such way:

  1. Humans are a cultural species. Our brains and psychology are specialized for acquiring, storing, and organizing information gleaned from the minds and behaviors of others. Our cultural learning abilities directly reprogram our minds, recalibrate our preferences, and adapt our perceptions. As we’ll see, culture has devised many tricks for burrowing into our biology to alter our brains, hormones, and behavior.
  2. Social norms are assembled into institutions by cultural evolution. As powerful norm-learners, we can acquire a wide range of arbitrary social norms; however, the easiest norms to acquire and internalize tap deeply into aspects of our evolved psychology. I’ve highlighted a few aspects of our evolved psychology, including those related to kin-based altruism, incest aversion, pair-bonding, interdependence, and tribal affiliation.
  3. Institutions usually remain inscrutable to those operating within them—like water to fish. Because cultural evolution generally operates slowly, subtly, and outside conscious awareness, people rarely understand how or why their institutions work or even that they “do” anything. People’s explicit theories about their own institutions are generally post hoc and often wrong.

3. Clans, States, and Why You Can’t Get Here
Here the author discusses the initial development of societies and their scaling up via intergroup competition development of the “fit” between social norm and institutions. Finally, the author presents five processes that operate intergroup competition:

  1. War and raiding: Any social norms, beliefs, or practices that generate greater cooperation, stronger in-group solidarity, or other technological, military, or economic advantages can spread via intergroup conflict, as groups with more competitive institutions drive out, eliminate, or assimilate those with less competitive institutions. Abelam institutions were spreading via this process in the Sepik.
  2. Differential migration: Whenever possible, people will migrate from less prosperous or secure communities to more prosperous and secure ones. Since immigrants, and especially their children, adopt the local customs, this differential migration drives the spread of institutions that generate prosperity and security, as more successful communities grow at the expense of less successful ones. This is what happened as the refugees created by the Abelam onslaught fled into Ilahita’s secure embrace.
  3. Prestige-biased group transmission: Individuals and communities preferentially attend to and learn from more successful or prestigious groups. This causes social norms and beliefs to diffuse from more successful groups to less successful ones and can drive the spread of more competitive institutions. However, since people often cannot distinguish what makes a group successful, this also results in the transmission of many norms and practices that have nothing to do with success, including things like hairstyles and music preferences. In Ilahita, the elders decided to explicitly copy the Tambaran from the successful Abelam. Along the way, Ilahita and other communities also copied the Abelam’s elaborate yam-growing magic, which probably didn’t contribute to anyone’s success.
  4. Differential group survival without conflict: In hostile environments, only groups with institutions that promote extensive cooperation and sharing can survive at all. Groups without these norms either retreat into more amicable environments or go extinct during droughts, hurricanes, floods, or other shocks. The right institutions allow groups to thrive in ecological niches where other groups cannot. This process can operate even if groups never meet each other.
  5. Differential reproduction: Norms can influence the rate at which individuals have children. Since children tend to share the norms of their community, any norms that increase birth rates or slow death rates will tend to spread. Some world religions, for example, have spread rapidly due to their fertility-friendly beliefs, such as those involving gods that eschew birth control or nonreproductive sex.

The author traces the development of tribes and clans all the way to premodern states as the process typical for all and shows its graphic representation:

Then he asks the question: why WEIRD societies move away from this path. 

4. The Gods Are Watching. Behave!
The search for an answer to the question in chapter 3 leads the author to the Gods. First, he looks at behavioral differences between believers and atheists in “dictator” and other games. He then reviews the development of the religions as the necessary launchpad for contemporary societies because:” The psychological impacts of beliefs about godly desires, divine punishment, free will, and the afterlife combine with repetitive ritual practices to suppress people’s tendencies toward impulsivity and cheating while increasing their prosociality toward unfamiliar coreligionists. At a group level, these psychological differences result in lower crime rates and faster economic growth.” However, the author stresses that this does not explain the specificity of WEIRD societies.

Part II: The Origins of WEIRD People
5. WEIRD Families
Here the author begins a close investigation of WEIRD societies starting with the families. But, first, the author provides a list of typical traits:

He reviews the historical development of the family institution of WEIRD societies and recognizes a specific pattern that includes:

  1. Monogamous nuclear families with neolocal residence,
  2. Late marriage, with the average ages of both men and women often rising into the mid-20s.
  3. Many women never marry: By age 30, some 15–25 percent of northwestern European women remained unmarried.
  4. Smaller families and lower fertility:
  5. Premarital labor period:

All this created a very different result than the one observable in other societies.

6. Psychological Differences, Families, and the Church
In this chapter, the author concentrates on critical differences for each of which he provides supporting data and research results. These differences are:

  • Kinship Intensity and Psychology
  • Individualism, Conformity, and Guilt
  • Impersonal Prosociality
  • Prevalence of Universalism over In-Group Loyalty.
  • Impersonal Punishment and Revenge
  • Intentionality in moral judgment
  • Analytic Thinking

In conclusion, the author presents a causal pathway for this global psychological variation:

7. Europe and Asia
In this chapter, the author demonstrates how uneven historical development of the church in Europe impacted the development of different patterns, summarizing it this way:

  1. The patterns we’ve seen in Europe parallel those we saw globally in the last chapter. The longer a population was exposed to the Western Church, the weaker its families and WEIRDer its psychological patterns are today. Except now, our comparisons within European countries leave much less room for alternative explanations. These patterns can’t be explained by colonialism, “European genes,” democratic institutions, economic prosperity, or individual-level differences in income, wealth, education, religious denomination, or religiosity.
  2. The effect of kin-based institutions on people’s psychology is culturally persistent. The adult children of immigrants, who grow up entirely in Europe, still manifest the psychological calibrations associated with the kin-based institutions linked to their parents’ native countries or ethnolinguistic groups.
  3. Some similar patterns of psychological variation can also be detected in other large regions, including in China and India. Crucially, while this psychological variation probably traces to regional differences in kinship intensity, its underlying causes relate not to the Church but to ecological and climatic factors that made irrigation and paddy rice cultivation particularly productive over the population’s history.

8. WEIRD Monogamy
In this chapter, the author analyses impact of monogamy on various aspects of life and even biology via changes in testosterone levels in men. This impact changed many attitudes from increasing equality because a king and commoner could have only one wife to applying intuitions and insights gained from living in monogamous nuclear families when forming towns, guilds, and religious institutions in the 10th – 11th centuries.

Part III: New Institutions, New Psychologies
9. Of Commerce and Cooperation
The author begins with a discussion of the result of anthropological studies with the use of games.  Here is the representation of the results:

The overall inference is that typical Western behavior and attitudes are highly connected to market development and urbanization. Here is the author’s diagram explaining this connection:

10. Domesticating the Competition

In this chapter, the author discusses the power of competition and its impact on people’s psychology. As usual, it relates to military competition – the wars, but then it developed into the peaceful market competition. The author formulates it this way:” Europeans Made War, and War Made Them WEIRDer.” The author also stresses the role of religion, specifically monasteries, which, together with other voluntary organizations such as universities and guilds, promoted interaction between strangers and the development of trust between unrelated people. Here is the crucial point that author makes:” …our modern institutional frameworks incorporate various forms of intergroup competition that drive up people’s inclinations to trust and cooperate with strangers and may influence other aspects of our psychology. People learn to work in ad hoc teams, even if those teams are composed of a bunch of strangers. The engine of intergroup competition pushes against the within-group forces of cultural evolution, which often favor self-interest, zero-sum thinking, collusion, and nepotism. Our WEIRD institutional frameworks began developing during the High Middle Ages, as people who were increasingly individualistic, independent, nonconformist, and analytic started asserting themselves into voluntary associations, which in turn began to compete. In the long run, competition among territorial states favored those that developed ways to harness and embed the psychological and economic effects of nonviolent intergroup competition. Of course, no one designed this system, and few even realize how it shapes our psychology or why it often works.”

11. Market Mentalities
This chapter reviews how to market mentality expresses itself in some curious way:

The author also discusses time management, how work becomes virtuous, and high levels of patience and self-regulation typical for WEIRD people. He links it to the Big-5 of psychology, defines them as WEIRD-5, and stresses that non-WEIRD people demonstrate only some of these dimensions. At the end of the chapter, the author notes:” …we have explored the origins and evolution of some of the major aspects of WEIRD psychology. However, there is every reason to believe that the psychological variation we’ve seen represents only a thin slice of the total diversity that exists around the world. Moreover, in explaining some of this psychological variation, I’ve considered the influence and interaction of kin-based institutions, impersonal markets, war, benign intergroup competition, and occupational specialization. These likely capture only a small fraction of the myriad ways that cultural evolution has shaped people’s brains and psychology in response to diverse institutions, religions, technologies, ecologies, and languages. All we’ve done is poke our heads below the surface and look around. This psychological iceberg is clearly big, but we can’t tell exactly how big, or how deep into the murky depths it goes.”

Part IV: Birthing the Modern World
12. Law, Science, and Religion
Before switching to the emergence of the modern world, the author summarizes four key aspects of WEIRD psychology:

  1. Analytic thinking: To better navigate a world of individuals without dense social interconnections, people increasingly thought about the world more analytically and less holistically/relationally. More analytically oriented thinkers prefer to explain things by assigning individuals, cases, situations, or objects to discrete categories, often associated with specific properties, rather than by focusing on the relationships between individuals, cases, etc. The behavior of individuals or objects can then be analytically explained by their properties or category memberships (e.g., “it’s an electron”; “he’s an extrovert”). Troubled by contradictions, the more analytically minded seek out higher- or lower-level categories or distinctions to “resolve” them. By contrast, holistically oriented thinkers either don’t see contradictions or embrace them. In Europe, analytical approaches gradually came to be thought of as superior to more holistic approaches. That is, they became normatively correct and highly valued. Internal attributions:
  2. Internal Attributes: As the key substrates of social life shifted from relationships to individuals, thinkers increasingly highlighted the relevance of individuals’ internal attributes. This included stable traits like dispositions, preferences, and personalities as well as mental states like beliefs and intentions. Soon lawyers and theologians even began to imagine that individuals had “rights.”
  3. Independence and nonconformity: Spurred by incentives to cultivate their own uniqueness, people’s reverence for venerable traditions, ancient wisdom, and wise elders ebbed away. For good evolutionary reasons, humans everywhere tend to conform to peers, defer to their seniors, and follow enduring traditions; but, the incentives of a society with weak kin ties and impersonal markets pushed hard against this, favoring individualism, independence, and nonconformity, not to mention overconfidence and self-promotion.
  4. Impersonal prosociality: As life was increasingly governed by impersonal norms for dealing with nonrelations or strangers, people came to prefer impartial rules and impersonal laws that applied to those in their groups or communities (their cities, guilds, monasteries, etc.) independent of social relationships, tribal identity, or social class. Of course, we shouldn’t confuse these inchoate inklings with the full-blown liberal principles of rights, equality, or impartiality in the modern world.

Then the author proceeds to discuss Universal Laws, Conflicting Principles, and Individual Rights, Representative Governments and Democracy, and Protestantism as the WEIRDest religion. He then combines all of this into “Dark Matter or Enlightenment”

13. Escape Velocity
In this chapter, the author presents his view on how these psychological changes eventually led to technological changes and the industrial revolution. He specifically identifies the key technologies:

  1. Printing press (1440–1450 CE)
  2. Steam engine (1769)
  3. Spinning mule (1779)
  4. Vulcanized rubber (1844–1845)
  5. Incandescent light bulb (1879)

Another fascinating approach is the author’s positing “collective brain” that produced the contemporary technological world. Here is the graph of the growth of such brain:

At the end of the chapter, the author provides an excellent concise summary:” To close, let’s summarize this chapter on a Post-it. To explain the innovation-driven economic expansion of the last few centuries, I’ve argued that the social changes and psychological shifts sparked by the Church’s dismantling of intensive kinship opened the flow of information through an ever-broadening social network that wired together diverse minds across Christendom. In laying this out, I highlighted seven contributors to Europe’s collective brain: (1) apprenticeship institutions, (2) urbanization and impersonal markets, (3) transregional monastic orders, (4) universities, (5) the Republic of Letters, (6) knowledge societies (along with their publications like the Encyclopédie), and (7) new religious faiths that not only promoted literacy and schooling but also made industriousness, scientific insight, and pragmatic achievement sacred. These institutions and organizations, along with a set of psychological shifts that made individuals more inventive but less fecund, drove innovation while holding population growth in check, eventually generating unparalleled economic prosperity.”

14. The Dark Matter of History

In this chapter, the author provides answers to the questions he posed at the beginning of this book:

The author also discusses other factors that could have an impact on development previously presented by Jared Diamond. He partially agrees with this approach but limits its validity to about 1000 AD, after which it is losing explanatory power, especially regarding the industrial revolution. The final part of this chapter discusses the interplay between affluence and psychology, the role or lack thereof of the genetics of different populations, and a globalized future of humanity.


I find the author’s approach fascinating, very logical, and pretty convincing. However, I think that he overestimates the role of Christianity and later Protestantism in the development of individualistic Western societies and psychology. I believe that it comes from the original division of Western societies into the multitude of small polities competing and fighting with each other in all areas of life. This fighting occurs at such a level that it created a sweet spot between too much division that minimizes interaction between multiple polities and people and too much concentration into one polity that would suppress intellectual diversity. This sweet spot allowed individuals to move from one polity to another, interact intellectually, and develop human capital movable from place to place. In short, even since Greek city-states, long before Christianity, Europe provided some space for individual accumulation of Human capital. It demonstrated its value beyond the narrow stretch of one’s tribe.

Moreover, constant migration between polities created the flow of such capital between the polities. Moving to places with a higher return also supported the development of individualistic attitudes when people were getting much better off without their tribe rather than within. Another critical point is that Western society developed expansive legal systems of individual property rights well before Christianity. In contrast, such systems are still not fully implemented even in the contemporary world in non-western societies. The ownership is essential because no individualism is possible without individual property of at least some resources supporting nonconformist behavior.  

20211120 – Exercised


The author’s main idea is to demonstrate that physical inactivity is the preferable state not only of contemporary western people but also all known hunter-gatherers. By itself, inactivity is nearly as energy-consuming as a physical activity because the primary energy expense is the process of metabolism. Nevertheless, inactivity is still detrimental to health because the human body is a machine optimized for activity. Even if hunter-gatherers prefer to be idle, they have to walk and overall be active a lot because otherwise, they would have nothing to eat. So the second part of the book demonstrates that contemporary western people should find a way to be active or pay the price in the form of deterioration of their bodies and suffering from illnesses unknown to people forced to be physically active by the circumstances of their lives.


The author discusses his discovery that subsistence farmers in Kenia, people living close to old ways, never exercise. Moreover, if left alone, they would prefer to stay in rest, as does any regular person in the developed world. He points out that humans did not evolve to exercise, but he still agrees that it is very healthy. The author defines this as a paradox and makes the following statement:” The mantra of this book is that nothing about the biology of exercise makes sense except in the light of evolution, and nothing about exercise as a behavior makes sense except in the light of anthropology.” The author also defines here the structure of the book:” After an introductory chapter, the first three parts roughly follow the evolutionary story of human physical activity and inactivity, with each chapter spotlighting a different myth. Because we cannot understand physical activity without understanding its absence, part 1 begins with physical inactivity. What are our bodies doing when we take it easy, including when we sit and sleep? Part 2 explores physical activities that require speed, strength, and power such as sprinting, lifting, and fighting. Part 3 surveys physical activities that involve endurance such as walking, running, and dancing, as well as their effect on aging. Last but not least, in part 4 we will consider how anthropological and evolutionary approaches can help us exercise better in the modern world. How can we more effectively manage to exercise, and in what ways? To what extent, how, and why do different types and doses of exercise help prevent or treat the major diseases likely to make us sick and kill us?”

One: Are We Born to Rest or Run?
The author begins with a chapter describing the Ironman endurance competition in Hawaii and the traditional footrace in Sierra Tarahumara, Mexico. He finds both grueling, arduous, and unnatural for human beings. The next step is the critic of “the myth of the athletic savage.” The author’s point is that people from the undeveloped world do not enjoy running or exercising. It is just that their everyday life forces them to apply lots of physical efforts, inadvertently preparing them for marathons and other such things. The author also reviews the UN measurement of the physical activity level (PAL) and defines it this way:” If you are a sedentary office worker who gets no exercise apart from generally shuffling about, your PAL is probably between 1.4 and 1.6. If you are moderately active and exercise an hour a day or have a physically demanding job like being a construction worker, your PAL is likely between 1.7 and 2.0. If your PAL is above 2.0, you are vigorously active for several hours a day. Although there is much variation, PALs of hunter-gatherers’ average 1.9 for men and 1.8 for women, slightly below PAL scores for subsistence farmers, which average 2.1 for men and 1.9 for women. …Here’s another, startling way of thinking about these numbers: if you are a typical person who barely exercises, it would take you just an hour or two of walking per day to be as physically active as a hunter-gatherer”.

The last part of the chapter discusses the history of exercise as nationalistic preparation for war on one hand and as the medicalized process on the other.

Part l: Inactivity
Two: Inactivity: The Importance of Being Lazy
This chapter discusses inactivity as the natural condition of humans and other primates, which are even less active than human hunter-gatherers. The author reviews research on the calories expenditure that demonstrated little difference from exercise: about 2/3 or 63% is energy spent in the condition of the rest – just to maintain metabolism. The author narrates in detail about the study conducted at the University of Minnesota during WWII that starved several healthy men, limiting them to 1500 calories until they got to extreme condition.  Here is the conclusion:” The key lesson to digest from the starving men’s dramatically lower resting metabolic rates is that human resting metabolisms are flexible. Most critically, resting metabolism is what the body has opted to spend on maintenance, not what it needs to spend.”

As clarification of this lesson, the author presents energy-use options and comparison charts:

The final word here is that inactivity, if natural and the normal condition of humans is to economize energy expense. The problem is that one had to spend energy to get food and fuel, so the tradeoff was necessary, but now we can get lots of food with practically no energy expenditure, which got us out of natural balance.  

Three: Sitting: Is It the New Smoking?
The main point of this chapter is that sitting, like any other inactivity, is not healthy and leads to inflammation and accumulation of fat. The author discusses the results of multiple research confirming this link and recommends an active sitting. The author also provides a picture supporting these points:

Four: Sleep: Why Stress Thwarts Rest
This chapter discusses another important activity – sleep. The main point here is that it is pretty personal, so recommendations of 8 hours and other such  “one size fits all” advice are usually not correct. However, the author also presents a typical structure of sleep:

Part II: Speed, Strength, and Power
Five: Speed: Neither Tortoise nor Hare
In this chapter, the author discusses the intensity of exercise and the speed of human running, comparing it with other animals. He then discusses the pluses and minuses of long runs vs. fast runs and how they impact muscles. His conclusion supports the High-intensity interval training *HIIT” and stresses that human bodies developed for various activities so that any activity would be valuable.

Six: Strength: From Brawny to Scrawny
In this chapter, the author discusses the external presentation of physics and fashion to imitate the paleo way of life.  The author reviews research on hunter-gatherers’ lifestyles and physical activities regimens. The final part of the chapter discusses muscle aging, and here is a graph demonstrating this process:

Seven: Fighting and Sports: From Fangs to Football
In this chapter, the author looks at various team sports that somewhat emulate fighting and discusses the impact of the human propensity to fight on the human body. Here is the author’s conclusion:” In the final analysis, humans are physically weaker than our ancestors not because we evolved to fight less but because we evolved to fight differently: more proactively, with weapons, and often in the context of sports. Along the same lines, we didn’t evolve to do sports to get exercise. As a form of organized, regulated play, sports were developed by each culture to teach skills useful to kill and avoid being killed as well as to teach each other to be cooperative and nonreactive. Sports took on the role of providing exercise only when aristocrats and then white-collar workers stopped being physically active on the job. Now in the modern, industrial world we market sports as a means of exercising to stay healthy (I’m still not convinced about darts). Yet true to their evolutionary roots, many sports still emphasize skills useful for fighting and hunting that involve strength, speed, power, and throwing projectiles.”

Part III: Endurance
Eight: Walking: All in a Day’s Walk; Nine: Running and Dancing: Jumping from One Leg to the Other;

In this part, the author looks in somewhat mechanical details at various activities such as walking and running. He provides a graph comparing chimps, hunter-gatherers, and westerners:

Ten: Endurance and Aging: The Active Grandparent and Costly repair Hypothesis.

The final chapter of this part looks at aging and how it developed over the ages. Here is the description of one of the experiments. It started in the mid-1960s with a group of 25 years old. The first part of the experiment looked like this:” first to spend three weeks in bed and then to undergo an intensive eight-week exercise program. The bed rest was ruinous. When they were finally allowed to arise from their beds, the volunteers’ bodies resembled forty-year-olds’ by many metrics: they were fatter, had higher blood pressure, higher cholesterol levels, less muscle mass, and lower fitness. The eight ensuing weeks of exercise, however, not only reversed the deterioration but in some cases led to net improvements.”

The second part was conducted 30 years later:” Three decades of typical American lifestyles had not been kind to the original volunteers: they had each gained about fifty pounds, had higher blood pressure and weaker hearts, and were less fit and healthy in numerous ways. But they agreed to be studied once more as they tried to undo the consequences of thirty sedentary years with a six-month program of walking, cycling, and jogging. Fortunately, this second late-in-life exercise intervention helped the volunteers lose about ten pounds and, most astoundingly, largely reversed their decline in cardiovascular fitness. After six months of moderate exercise, the average volunteer’s blood pressure, resting heart rate, and cardiac output returned to his twenty-year-old level. Many other studies confirm the anti-aging benefits of exercise.”

So, here are alternatives presented in the graphic form:

Part IV: Exercise in the Modern World
Eleven: To Move or Not to Move: How to Make Exercise Happen; Twelve: How Much and What Type? Thirteen: Exercise and Disease
This part contains multiple recommendations and “how-to” for exercise. It also provides data about the impact of exercise on various age-related diseases. Finally, the benefits are nicely summarized in these graphs:


Here the author summarizes the final point of this book:” Researching and writing this book has convinced me that a philosophy for how to use one’s body is just as useful as a philosophy for how to live one’s life. All of us get only one chance to enjoy a good life, and we don’t want to die full of regret for having mislived it, and that includes having misused one’s body. By following deep and ancient instincts to avoid the discomfort that comes with physical exertion, we increase the chances we will senesce faster and die younger, and we become more vulnerable to many diseases and chronic, disabling illnesses. We also miss out on the vigor, both physical and mental, that comes from being fit. To be sure, exercise is no magic pill that guarantees good health and a long life, and it is possible to live a reasonably long and healthy life without exercising. But thanks to our evolutionary history, lifelong physical activity dramatically increases the chances we will die healthy after seven or more decades.”


The philosophy and supporting research presented in this book is entirely consistent with my attitude to health and exercise issues. I believe that the human body is a biological machine evolutionary optimized for 3-4 hours of daily medium-level physical activity such as walking, picking up fruits and vegetables, setting up traps, throwing projectiles, and consequently consuming a moderate amount of food obtained via these activities. As with any other machine optimized for some conditions, it would work well and last long in these conditions and could break down if it is underloaded or overloaded. Even mechanical contraptions made of steel break down if they regularly run in overdrive or get rusty if they are not used. So it seems to be a common feature of any machine, whether made out of steel or muscles. The only thing that I do not entirely agree with the author is about types of exercise. I think it should be proportionally more helpful if it imitates the physical activities of hunter-gatherers as close as possible. Such things as bicycles, tennis, and other sports could be less efficient in maintaining the human body in good shape.   

20211113 – We Want Workers


Here is how the author defines it:” One underlying theme of this book is that viewing immigrants as purely a collection of labor inputs leads to a very misleading appraisal of what immigration is about, and gives an incomplete picture of the economic impact of immigration. Because immigrants are not just workers, but people as well, calculating the actual impact of immigration requires that we take into account that immigrants act in particular ways because some actions are more beneficial than others. Those choices, in turn, have repercussions and unintended consequences that can magnify or shrink the beneficial impact of immigration that comes from the contribution to widget production.”


Chapter 1 • Introduction
In the introduction, the author describes the main points of this book, which could be summarized this way:

  • Immigration is not just an economic process but rather a societal change of the receiving country’s culture and mores because immigrants, legal or illegal, bring their culture and beliefs with them.
  • There are always winners and losers among the native population, both economically and politically
  • The official social science is not science anymore because its prominent leaders openly proclaim that it has ideological objectives to support immigration and fight xenophobes and right-wing opponents of unlimited immigration.

The author also briefly retells his own story as a child immigrant from Cuba growing in the immigrant community and succeeding in American society.

Chapter 2 • Lennon’s Utopia
This chapter is quite interesting because the author used Lennon’s “Imagine” – a beautiful song of the economically illiterate poet about global socialism and open borders to apply the logic of economic science. Here is the table demonstrating results:

After reviewing the economic consequences of open borders with the mass migration of low-skill South workers to the North, the author looks at the other flow – high-skill immigrants to the North advertised as highly beneficial due to productivity spillovers. This analysis produces another table:

The final point that the author makes in this chapter:” The fact that immigrants affect the receiving country in many other ways—changing social customs, the norms that guide everyday interactions, the cultural milieu, and the political environment—will remain hidden in the background, even though these consequences themselves have an economic impact.”  The author stresses that it is not possible to know full impact of mass immigration, but one thing is clear from the work of Putnam: “Immigration and ethnic diversity tend to reduce social solidarity and social capital. New evidence from the US suggests that in ethnically diverse neighborhoods residents of all races tend to “hunker down.” Trust (even of one’s own race) is lower, altruism and community cooperation rarer, friends fewer.”

Chapter 3 • How We Got Here
In this chapter, the author looks at the history of immigration to the USA. Here is the graphic:

The author also discusses illegal immigration and provides an interesting note on their counting methodology:” …the Census Bureau periodically conducts surveys of the population and asks the respondents where they were born. The answers give us an estimate of how many foreign-born people are actually living in the country. In rough terms, the difference between the number of foreign-born persons actually living in the country and the number of legal immigrants who should be living in the country is the DHS estimate of the number of undocumented persons

It is evident that nobody really knows. There is also a table demonstrating where immigrants came from, and it is no surprise that the vast majority is from Latin America. Finally, the last interesting table in this chapter show immigrants’ characteristics:

Chapter 4 • The Self-Selection of Immigrants
In this chapter, the author presents two opposite opinions. One is that they are the “best and brightest” who do well in America, and another is that they are misfits who bring crime and all kinds of calamities. The author stresses that, in reality, immigrants are different. There are many of both types, but one thing is unquestionable: they are all self-selected. Finally, he discusses various economic parameters of immigrants from different places and provides a graph demonstrating the differences:

Chapter 5 • Economic Assimilation
This chapter looks at the immigrants’ economic status over time and its link to assimilation or lack thereof. The author provides several graphs demonstrating that level of assimilation decreasing with mass immigration when the new immigrants create isolated conclaves where they can maintain their culture, language and make a living without joining an American culture. Finally, the author makes these points:

“First, rapid economic improvement during an immigrant’s lifetime is not a universal aspect of the immigrant experience, even in a country like the United States, which is typically thought of as being very socially and economically mobile.

Second, immigrants assimilate when the incentives to do so are particularly strong, and they do not when there is less need for assimilation (as when there are large ethnic enclaves).

Third, it is tempting to conjecture that the presence of mass migration before 1920 and after 1980 hindered the economic progress of those immigrant waves. Notably, the interval between those two migrations happens to be the period when restrictive immigration policies, combined with the economic debacle of the Great Depression and the political upheaval of World War II, greatly limited the number of immigrants.”

Here is one of such graphs:

Chapter 6 • The Melting Pot

In this chapter, the author discusses the workings of the Melting Pot and whether it is still working or not. Then, he looks at the conditions of immigrants’ children and finds that the usual perception of their rapid progress is somewhat overoptimistic. Here are the actual data:

At the end of the chapter, the author discusses cultural changes in America that prevent the melting pot from working correctly:

  • Assimilation is a choice. It used to be very beneficial economically, and the disappearance of manufacturing jobs that used to demand and reward assimilation significantly decreased these benefits.
  • The political class of America used to encourage assimilation, but now it is actively resisting it
  • The welfare state automatically improves the economic conditions of immigrants from developing countries, consequently changing the composition and motivations of the immigrant population.

In the end, the author concludes:”…the historical experience probably has little to teach us about the next few decades, and it should not be relied on to predict either a rosy future or a looming debacle. Instead, the lesson to keep in mind is that the melting pot will operate most efficiently when that outcome is in the immigrants’ self-interest.”

Chapter 7 • The Labor Market Impact

The author begins this chapter with the story of a meatpacking factory that, after the immigration enforcement raid, which removed the illegal immigrant workforce, hired black Americans at higher wages. The author concludes:” So what is the lesson that eludes the Cato Institute and the Center for American Progress but that Crider quickly grasped when it had to? It is not that immigrants do jobs that natives don’t want to do. It is instead that immigrants do jobs that natives don’t want to do at the going wage.”

The author provides a numerical estimate of the impact across the board:” The most credible evidence—based solely on the data—suggests that a 10 percent increase in the size of a skill group probably reduces the wage of that group by at least 3 percent.”

After that, the author reviews a natural experiment of moving a large group of immigrants from Cuba to Miami. Here is a comparison graph:

The author also retells the story of the Bush administration’s attempts to rely on the politically motivated study promoting immigration as a boon for all Americans while refusing to explain how they produced such a fantastic result. In short, here is the author’s position:” In my view, the most credible evidence on the labor market impact of immigration comes from studies that do not rely on models of hypothetical economies. Despite the many data problems that real-world studies often encounter, at least that evidence is not tainted by assumptions that offer tempting opportunities to manipulate the data and weave a narrative. The historical relation between the wages of specific skill groups and immigration into those groups summarizes what we know for sure: the earnings of the groups most affected by immigration grow at a slower rate.”

Chapter 8 • The Economic Benefits
The author first presents his modeling of economic benefits from immigration. Here is how he describes the result:” This estimate depends on the many assumptions built into the hypothetical economy. Nevertheless, the exercise says something both useful and surprising: it is mathematically impossible for this widely used framework to spit out a huge number for the immigration surplus. A $50 billion surplus in the context of an $18 trillion economy is not that big a deal; it is less than three-tenths of 1 percent of GDP. The calculation also reveals that this small surplus conceals a large redistribution of wealth. Native workers lose $516 billion, while native-owned firms gain $566 billion. If one wishes to believe that natives, on the whole, benefit from immigration and that the surplus is about $50 billion, it follows from the same calculation that native workers are sending a half-trillion-dollar check to their employers.

The author then presents a fascinating discussion on the impact of very high skill immigration using two examples: Jewish mathematicians expelled from Nazi Germany in the 1930s and mass migration of Soviet mathematicians after the fall of the USSR. In the first case, the overall productivity of American universities improved due to the immigration of Einstein, von Neumann, and others. Still, it did not impact the productivity of the Arian professors remaining in Germany. Here is the overall picture of the productivity of their students:

A somewhat different picture appeared in the 1990s mainly because Soviet and American mathematicians worked in different fields during the Cold War. The arrival of the Soviet mathematicians crowded out Americans from the Soviet areas because the overall size of the market for mathematicians did not change:

The final part of the chapter discusses H-1B visas. Again, it provides pretty convincing evidence that the driver is not too few educated American professionals, but rather lower price of Indian professionals.

Chapter 9 • The Fiscal Impact
The author begins this chapter with a reminder that the immigrants are also human beings, in addition to being workers, which obviously has a severe fiscal impact. The author then demonstrates how statistics could be manipulating the same data to obtain different results. He does it by presenting data for the immigrant on welfare either by household (curtain #1) or by an individual (curtain #2). The trick is that children born to immigrants in the USA are not immigrants, so their welfare recipients are counted as natives. Here is the result:

The author then looks at different long-term fiscal impact calculations and finds that they are definitely negative in the short run and probably negative in the long run.  Here is the author’s overall conclusion:” This conclusion contradicts the narrative that immigration is good for everyone. It also contradicts the claim that immigration is harming the average American. Instead, the reality is much more nuanced. Although the mythical average person may be unaffected, immigration creates many winners and losers. This redistribution of wealth—in an economy where the size of the native economic pie remains relatively fixed—is the key insight I have gleaned from decades of research on the economics of immigration. After all is said and done, immigration turns out to be just another government redistribution program. And this lesson sheds a lot of light on which groups are on which side of the immigration wars.”

Chapter 10 • Who Are You Rooting For?

In this chapter, the author provides a concise and very clear summary of the results of his research and insights obtained from it:

•​Not everyone wants to move to the United States, and those who choose to move are fundamentally different from those who choose to stay behind. The nature of the selection, however, can vary dramatically from place to place. The United States will attract high-skill workers when we offer a higher payoff for their abilities, but the high-skill workers will stay behind if they can get a better deal at home. The fact that different kinds of people will want to move out of different countries (and that the skills they bring are not always transferable to the American setting) creates considerable inequality in economic outcomes across immigrant groups at the time of their arrival.

•​Assimilation is not inevitable. The speed of economic assimilation—the narrowing of the gap in economic outcomes between immigrants and natives—depends crucially on conditions on the ground. Sometimes those conditions speed up the process, and sometimes they slow it down. In fact, economic assimilation today is far slower than it was two or three decades ago. This trend, however, masks crucial differences in the assimilation of different immigrant groups. Some groups assimilate very rapidly and some do not. Typically, groups that are more skilled and that do not have access to large and vibrant ethnic enclaves assimilate faster.

•​The experience of the descendants of the Ellis Island–era immigrants shows that the melting pot did indeed melt away the differences in economic outcomes across those ethnic groups, but it took nearly a century for the melting pot to do its job. The same process may be starting to take place with the current mass migration, as the children of today’s immigrants earn higher wages and exhibit less ethnic inequality than their parents did. But we truly do not know how things will pan out in the next few decades, because the economic and social conditions that kept the melting pot busy throughout the 1900s may not be reproducible in the next century.

•​Immigrants affect the job opportunities of natives. The laws of supply and demand apply to the price of labor just as much as to the price of gas. The data suggest that a 10 percent increase in the number of workers in a particular skill group probably lowers the wage of that group by at least 3 percent. The temptation to play with assumptions and manipulate the data, however, is particularly strong when examining this very contentious issue, so the reported effects often depend on such assumptions and manipulations. Our look inside the black box of how research is done suggests one lesson: the more one aggregates skill groups, the more likely one hides away the specific group of affected workers—making it harder to document whether immigration made anyone worse off. The more laser-focused the group of native workers examined, the easier it is to detect that immigration affected the targeted group.

•​Immigrant participation in the workforce redistributes wealth from those who compete with immigrants to those who use immigrants. But because the gains accruing to the winners exceed the losses suffered by the losers, immigrants create an “immigration surplus,” a net increase in the aggregate wealth of the native population. However, the surplus is small, about $50 billion annually. That calculation also suggests a half-trillion-dollar redistribution of wealth from workers to firms. The surplus could be much larger, if there are many exceptional immigrants and if some of the unique abilities brought by those immigrants rub off on the native workforce.

•​The welfare state introduces the possibility that the gains measured by the immigration surplus might disappear if immigrants are net users of social assistance programs rather than net contributors. There is little doubt that immigrants receive assistance at higher rates than natives, creating a fiscal burden in the short run. In the long run, immigration may be fiscally beneficial because the unfunded liabilities in Social Security and Medicare are unsustainable and will require either a substantial increase in taxes or a substantial cut in benefits. Immigrants expand the taxpayer base, perhaps helping to spread out the burden. It is extremely difficult to accurately measure the fiscal benefit in the long run, however, because much depends on the assumptions made about the future path of taxes and government spending.

•​It is probably not too far-fetched to conclude that, at least in the short run, the economic gains captured by the immigration surplus are offset by the fiscal burden of providing public services to immigrants. Given the scale and the skill mix of the immigrants who entered our country in the past few decades, the economic impact of immigration, on average, is at best a wash. This near-zero effect conceals a substantial redistribution of wealth from workers to firms.

•​The argument that open borders would exponentially increase the economic gains from immigration depends crucially on the perspective of immigrants as workers rather than immigrants as people. The multi-trillion-dollar gains promised by the proponents of open borders could quickly disappear (and even become an economic debacle) if immigrants adversely influence the social, political, and economic fabric of receiving countries. In the end, the impact of open borders will depend not only on whether the movers bring along their raw labor and productive skills, but also on whether they bring the institutional, cultural, and political baggage that may have hampered development in the poor countries.


This book pretty much confirms my understanding of the immigration problem with the wealth of data and excellent analysis of this data. I think that immigration, as just about everything else, is not “good” or “bad”, but rather “it depends” proposition. It depends on the types and quality of immigrants and the types and quality of their supporters. There are three different types of immigrants:

  1. the ones who come to obtain a better life at somebody else’s expense, correctly believing that the American welfare state would provide this opportunity
  2. the ones who come to earn better life by using opportunities that America offers, but generally reject assimilation because they consider their own culture superior to the American culture
  3. the ones who want to become Americans and ready and able to put in the effort necessary to do it, not only because they want to get better returns on their effort, but also because they value the opportunity to be free as only Americans could be.

I think that the best solution would be to establish such processes that would filter out the individuals of the 1st type, provide temporary status for the individuals of the 2nd type, and provide all necessary help to individuals of the 3rd type.

However, I think that this is only partially relevant to the problem. The immigrants do not have control over borders – politicians do. And politicians do all they can to open these borders, and they do it for one and only reason – transfer wealth away from the American middle class to themselves. The immigrants, especially illegal, are just a conduit for such transfer. Any other reasons the politicians come up with: humanitarian consideration, empathy, and other staff is just a cloud of smoke to conceal real motives. The motive of enrichment is common for both republicans and democrats, but the latter have another, maybe even more powerful, motive – political power.

The Democratic party is inherently racist and conducts its calculations based on race with the hope of achieving a permanent majority by using a coalition of non-whites against whites. Their dream is to actually recreate the old slave-owning South, which used to have a small caste of planters (by the way, a few of them black), black slaves working the fields, and a stupid white racist majority accepting economically inferior status in exchange for the pride of belonging to “superior” race.  The civil rights movement of the 1960s demonstrated that most whites are not stupid racists anymore and prefer good economic opportunities to racial pride with poverty. The new arrangement the Democratic party hopes to establish would be automated and globalized production, with wealth concentrated in the hands of the government-controlled by a small caste of credentialed people (some of them black or brown) and distributed from the top-down, with black and brown minority/majority supporting this caste and accepting economically inferior status in exchange for the pride of belonging to “superior” race. The open borders are just a tool to achieve this minority/majority demographics. 

20211106 -The Logic of Violence in Civil War


The main idea is to present the author’s theory of violence in civil wars. This theory includes such core notions as selective vs. indiscriminate violence, five levels of control distribution between political actors: 2 areas of complete control of one side, two areas of incomplete control, and one contested area where neither side dominates, and a considerable role of information collected via denunciations and support of the population. The author not only formulated his theory but also provided massive empirical support based on data from multiple civil wars, especially on the Greek Civil war, which is the author’s specialty.    


The introduction includes discussing historical puzzles when some villages are massacred during various civil wars, but others nearby remain untouched. It also discusses the meaning of civil wars, the book’s goals, the road map of the book, and a bit of the history of the project. 

Here is the author’s definition:” Civil war is defined as armed combat within the boundaries of a recognized sovereign entity between parties subject to a common authority at the outset of the hostilities.”

And here is the author’s high-level description of the book:” I begin with a simplified and abstract characterization of violence in civil war, yet one that stands on well-specified conceptual foundations. I analytically decouple civil war violence from civil war. I show that despite its many different forms and the various goals to which it is harnessed across time and place, violence in civil war often displays some critical recurring elements. Rather than just posit this point, I coherently reconceptualize observations that surface in tens of descriptive accounts and demonstrate that seemingly random anecdotes tend to be facets of the same phenomenon. The positive component of the book consists of two parts: a theory of irregular war and a microfoundational theory of violence (with two strands: indiscriminate and selective). Unlike existing work, the theory stresses the joint character of civil war violence, entailing an interaction between actors at the central and local levels, and between combatants and noncombatants. This interaction is informed by the demands of irregular war, the logic of asymmetric information, and the local dynamics of rivalries. Hence the theory differs from existing accounts of violence that stress exclusively macrolevel motivations and dynamics, pinpoint overarching and preexisting cleavage structures, and characterize violence as “wanton,” “indiscriminate,” or “optimal” from the users’ point of view.

From the theory, I specify a model of selective violence that is consistent with the theoretical characterization, in which the interaction between actors operating at different levels results in the production of violence in a systematic and predictable way. This exercise yields counterintuitive empirical predictions about the spatial variation of violence at the microlevel, which I subject to an empirical test using data I collected in Greece. The empirical test confirms the explanatory power of the theory in a limited setting, whereas evidence from a wide array of civil wars suggests broader plausibility. Of course, the general validity of the theory awaits further empirical testing.

Finally, I explore two implications of the theory, looking first at mechanisms of “intimate” violence and then at how the modalities of violence identified can help inform our understanding of cleavage formation – that is, how and to what degree national-level or “master” cleavages map onto local-level divisions.”

1 Concepts
This chapter repeats the author’s definition of civil war and discusses its various examples, starting with the ancient Greeks. This discussion is mainly about different forms of the violence, its process, outcomes, and specifics of occurring in Peace and War.  The author also discusses here the scope of violence, its aims, and production:

2 Pathologies
In this chapter, the author discusses what he calls “pathologies” of the literature about wars and violence. These pathologies include five biases:” the partisan bias (taking sides), the political bias (equating war with peace), the urban bias (overlooking bottom-top processes), the selection bias (disregarding nonviolence), and the overaggregation bias (working at too high a level of abstraction).” After this definition, the author reviews each bias in detail with extensive reference to examples in the professional literature.   

3 Barbarism
Here is how the author describes the content of this chapter:” I reconstruct, specify, and contrast four general arguments inspired by different theoretical traditions. The first thesis, present in many historical and descriptive accounts, flows from Thomas Hobbes’s insight linking the breakdown of political order to violence. The second, transgression, points to domestic armed challenge as being transgressive of established norms, thus triggering violence. The third account, polarization, can be found in historical and sociological research and stresses deep ideological or social divisions, highlighting the predictably violent effects of what Carl Schmitt described as total enmity. The last thesis stresses violent responses triggered by security concerns related to the technology of warfare practiced in civil wars. I review several theoretical and empirical facets of these arguments and select the last thesis as the most appropriate theoretical foundation for a theory of violence in civil war.”

Before going into detail about the theoretical traditions, the author describes the exceptional barbarity of civil wars. In such conflicts, the victims are often noncombatants well familiar with each other. Then, the author analyzes the Hobbesian breakdown of society during the civil war using specific parameters, such as:” brutalization, revenge, security dilemma, and medievalization.”

The analysis of the transgression comes down to a discussion of lawful vs. unlawful warfare. The author refers to the historical distinction between” Bellum hostile and Bellum Romanum or Guerre mortelle.”

For the polarization, the author looks at causes of conflict, whether they are ideological, ethnic, or something else: ” The causes of polarization may be found at the intersection of structural conditions, political institutions, and the action of political entrepreneurs who succeed in turning real or perceived differences into polarized politics. At the individual level, polarization manifests itself as “fanaticism”: an uncompromising and passionate commitment for a particular cause that overcomes other connections between people and leads to a willingness to shed one’s own blood as well as the blood of others. Exemplary statements are encountered in most conflicts.”

After that, the author discusses the technology of warfare:

  • Irregular war as a revolutionary war
  • Irregular war as “medieval” war
  • Irregular war as a struggle for security

At the end of the chapter, the author concludes: “Four different theoretical accounts for violence in civil wars – breakdown, transgression, polarization, and warfare – have been identified, reconstructed, and discussed in this chapter, in order to clarify the choice of foundation on which to build the current theory of violence in civil wars. Each account has great merit and continues to stand as a strong basis from which to answer a variety of questions surrounding civil war and violence. Violence is a complex phenomenon, and it clearly encompasses multiple processes and mechanisms. Ultimately, they must be operationalized and tested empirically. Nevertheless, a deductive theory of violence in civil war must arise from a simple and clear foundation.”

4 A Theory of Irregular War I: Collaboration
This chapter lays out the first part of a theory of irregular war as the foundation on which the author builds a theory of civil war violence. The author discusses the relation between irregular war and geographical space and derives key implications for the nature of sovereignty in civil war. The author then turns to the issue of popular support, where he distinguishes between attitudinal support (preferences) and behavioral support (actions). The author argues in favor of a framework that makes no assumptions about the underlying preferences of the vast majority of the population and only minimal assumptions about behavioral support, in which complex, ambiguous, and shifting behavior by the majority is assumed, along with a strong commitment by a small minority. Finally, the author concludes with a discussion of the institutional context within which interactions between political actors and civilians take place.

5 A Theory of Irregular War II: Control
This chapter analyzes the relation between collaboration and control and argues that military resources generally trump the population’s prewar political and social preferences in spawning control. In turn, control has a decisive impact on the population’s collaboration with a political actor. However, the amount of military resources required for the imposition of complete and permanent control in a country torn by civil war is enormous and, therefore, typically lacking. This places a premium on the effective use of violence as a key instrument for establishing and maintaining control – and thus for generating collaboration and deterring defection; in turn, effective violence requires discrimination.

The author presents two main propositions:

Proposition 1 The higher the level of control exercised by an actor, the higher the rate of collaboration with this actor – and, inversely, the lower the rate of defection.

Proposition 2 Indiscriminate violence is counterproductive in civil war.

In brief: “…to be effective, violence must be selective.”

6 A Logic of Indiscriminate Violence

This chapter specifies the logic driving indiscriminate violence. Proposition 2 posits that indiscriminate violence is counterproductive in civil war contexts. If this is so, then why is it observed so often? Addressing this puzzle calls for a theory of indiscriminate violence. The author begins by examining how and when indiscriminate violence is observed. Next, he discusses its logic and specifies the conditions under which it is counterproductive. The author then reviews four arguments that account for why indiscriminate violence is observed, despite its apparent counterproductivity, including the specious observation of indiscriminate violence because of truncated or misinterpreted data and its commission as a result of ignorance, cost, and institutional constraints. The author also argues that indiscriminate violence emerges when it does because it is much cheaper than its selective counterpart. Yet, any “gain” must be counterbalanced by its consequences. Thus, indiscriminate violence is more likely either under a steep imbalance of power between the two actors or where and when resources and information are low. In the absence of a resolution of the conflict, even indiscriminate actors are likely to switch to more selective violence.

Here are reasons that, the author believes, lead to indiscriminate violence:

  • The Artifact: “The low visibility of selective violence may lead to a gross overestimation of indiscriminate violence.”
  • The Ignorance: “Ultimately, ignorance must be qualified as a cause of indiscriminate violence because political actors often seem aware of its deleterious effects from the outset.”
  • The Cost: “Identifying, locating, and “neutralizing” enemies and their civilian collaborators one by one requires a complex and costly infrastructure.” It is a lot cheaper to apply violence indiscriminately.
  • Institutional Distortions: the author uses the American war in Vietnam as an example when leadership overinvested in firepower and neglected information collection and analysis.

The author also provided a graph for consequences:

7 A Theory of Selective Violence
The author presents the following argument:” Selective violence presupposes the ability to collect fine-grained information. The most effective way to collect it is to solicit it from individuals, which explains the ubiquity of the practice of denunciation in civil war. Denunciation is central to all civil wars, with the probable exception of a subset of civil wars where no actor attempts to obtain the collaboration of members of groups that allegedly support its rival and where all relevant information is in the public domain, conveyed by visible individual identities.” Selective violence is possible only if political actors have access to information that allows identifying targets. Consequently, the author looks in detail at sources of such information – denunciation and what motivates people to do it. The author also uses the economic approach to this process as presented in the following graphs:

The author also presents some math describing this process. At the end of the chapter, he concludes:” This chapter has specified a theory of selective violence in civil war as a joint process, created by the actions of both political actors and civilians. The key resources around which the process is arrayed are information and violence. Political actors need information in order to be able to target selectively, to distinguish from among the sea of civilians those who are abetting the enemy. Civilians have information, which they provide through denunciation, which can be either political, or, more likely, malicious, in hopes that the violence of the political actors will be directed against those denounced. There is, significantly, a great potential for abuse in such a system, but violence need only be perceived as selective in order to avoid the pitfalls of indiscriminate violence. Denunciation will only occur in such situations in which its benefits, be they psychological or material, outweigh the predicted costs; the most significant cost would be retaliation, quite possibly in the form of a counterdenunciation by the victim or the victim’s family to the other political actor. Hence, denunciation will only occur when potential denouncers perceive the political actor as able to protect them from retaliation.”

8 Empirics l: Comparative Evidence; 9 Empirics II: Microcomparative Evidence
In these two chapters, the author provides empirical evidence related to his theory of violence. The author collects this evidence from multiple sources with the most detailed information from the author’s area of expertise: the Greek civil war in the 1940s. 

10 Intimacy
The intimacy here relates to the specific character of civil wars when fighters are neighbors, often know each other, and have the know-how to maximize damage and suffering. The author explicitly analyses all kinds of denunciations, their circumstances related to the type of war: occupation, ethnic, ideological, anti-colonial, and so on. The summary:” This chapter has provided a theoretical account of the nature and causes of intimate violence in civil war, one derived from the theory of selective violence and its focus on the joint production of violence. This account helps solve a key puzzle: political violence is supposed to stand at the exact opposite pole of criminal violence, yet both share a critical common feature: intimacy. In doing so, this chapter reconciles two separate research programs long perceived to be incompatible with each other: one focusing on small-scale interpersonal violence (exemplified by Gould 2003) and one focusing on large-scale political violence. By alluding to a process through which the grand issues of the conflict and the actual dynamics on the ground connect to each other (or fail to), this chapter also lays the foundation for the next and final chapter, which elaborates the theoretical implications of this disjunction.”

11 Cleavage and Agency
The author makes a key point in this chapter that civil wars are complex events, not easily fit into simple ideological or ethnic cleavage. Here is the author’s characterization:” …actions in civil wars, including “political violence,” are not necessarily political and do not always reflect deep ideological polarization. Identities and actions cannot be reduced to decisions taken by the belligerent organizations, to the discourses that are produced at the center, and to the ideologies derived from the war’s master cleavage. Hence, an approach positing unitary actors, inferring the dynamics of identity and action exclusively from the master cleavage and framing civil wars in binary terms is misleading; instead, local cleavages and intracommunity dynamics must be incorporated into theories of civil war, as illustrated by the theory of selective violence. Second, and counter to Hobbes, civil war cannot be reduced to a mere mechanism that opens up the floodgates to random and anarchical private violence. Private violence is generally constrained by the logics of alliance and control – that is, by national elites and supralocal actors. Civil war fosters a process of interaction between actors with distinct identities and interests. It is the convergence between local motives and supralocal imperatives that endows civil war with its intimate character and leads to joint violence that straddles the divide between the political and the private, the collective and the individual.”


Here the author restates the goal of this book as:” to specify exactly if, how, when, where, and for whom violence “pays.” Simply put, indiscriminate violence is an informational shortcut that may backfire on those who use it; selective violence is jointly produced by political actors seeking information and individual civilians trying to avoid the worst – but also grabbing what opportunities their predicament affords them. In both instances, violence is never a simple reflection of the optimal strategy of its users; its profoundly interactive character defeats simple maximization logics while producing surprising outcomes, such as the relative nonviolence of the “front lines” of civil war.” The author also makes an interesting statement that “civil wars privatizes politics.” In the end, the author briefly describes the current state of the field of history and psychology of wars and tries to define the place of his book within this field.


For me, this book was very educational, opening a point of view I had not really considered before. Somewhat surprising was the extent to which control of the location and power of political actors to inflict violence defines people’s behavior. I was also slightly intrigued by the dynamics of selective vs. indiscriminate violence that the author describes so well and with so much empirical support. I also think that the author is absolutely correct about the complexity of civil wars and intermixing of private and political, especially as it is expressed via denunciations. One big lesson, quite applicable to the current ongoing cold civil war in the USA, is that, like any war, the side capable of inflicting more damage on the opponent in the right places at the right time will win. So the approach of seeking common ground and compromise could be a losing strategy, at least until complete control is established over the political landscape.