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20220813 – White Working Class

MAIN IDEA:

This book describes very nicely what the working class is, which is really true middle class, and how it differs from other classes of American society: poor, professionals, and the wealthy elite. It also concentrates on increasing challenges for people in this group created by globalization, outsourcing of manufacturing, and the disappearance of American lore of business as a family, either small or big. The disappearance of the job as a source of belonging and change to a job as the transactional process also removed the stability from many people’s lives, causing severe psychological distress. The book also reviews many political issues that separated this group of people from their former champion – the democratic party. This change created a new political division in America: The Middle (Working) Class being fleeced by the Government vs. United forces of the wealthy elite and the poor Underclass prospering or surviving via receiving the Government’s largess either in the form of a tenured professorship or welfare checks and free services. The book also reviews economic and psychological commonalities between people of different races in this class. The author formulated the book’s central message this way:” It’s a simple message: when you leave the two-thirds of Americans without college degrees out of your vision of the good life, they notice. And when elites commit to equality for many different groups but arrogantly dismiss “the dark rigidity of fundamentalist rural America, this is a recipe for extreme alienation among working-class whites. Deriding “political correctness” becomes a way for less-privileged whites to express their fury at the snobbery of more-privileged whites. If you like what that dynamic is doing to the country, by all means continue business as usual. I don’t, for two reasons. The first is ethical: I am committed to social equality, not for some groups but for all groups. The second is strategic: the hidden injuries of class now have become visible in politics so polarized that our democracy is threatened. Another key message is that elite truths don’t make sense in working-class lives. Working-class truths do, and my hope is that I’ve provided a window into why. If we’re not going to provide elite lives for the broad mass of people, neither can we expect them to embrace elite truths.”

CONTENT:

MY TAKE ON IT:

I do not accept the typical division of contemporary society into classes based on income. I think income has little relevance in society when nobody is starving while housing and staff are available for everybody, albeit of different quality.   The critical difference is how people get resources to maintain whatever is their way of life:

  • The poor have no property and have little to offer to others, so they have to do simple work where they are easily substituted by others and have little to no bargaining power.
  • Middle Class possesses some valuable material property like a farm, shop, or similar small business, or valuable intellectual property such as experience in doing some complex job, which provides some serious bargaining power. However, in both cases, these properties need the application of significant effort to produce good returns.
  • The elite possesses a large amount of property, usually material like inherited or acquired wealth or prestige that allows obtaining resources with little or no effort.

In my opinion, the current problems are caused by a massive decrease in the need for human effort to produce goods and services, making a great many people of the Middle class redundant, consequently pushing them into the rank of poor. So naturally, this causes people to become upset and unhappy, quite possibly leading to massive changes in the structure of society.

20220806 Dimsdale, Joel – Dark Persuasion

MAIN IDEA:

This book provides a detailed description of developments in the science of animal and human behavior and applications of this science for attempts to control this behavior. First, the book briefly discusses pre-scientific methods of controlling people via forced religious conversion, torture, and other crude tools. Then it looks at the most famous examples such as the works of Pavlov, Cold War experimentation with drugs and environmental/ideological brainwashing, Stockholm syndrome, and the latest development in the use of social media. The conclusion is that despite or maybe with the extensive help of contemporary science, brainwashing or, more precisely, coercive persuasion continues to exist everywhere and perhaps becomes even more effective than it used to be.

CONTENT:

MY TAKE ON IT:

Coercive persuasion is the core characteristic of human existence and probably relates to non-coercive persuasion at a ratio of 10 to 1. One only needs to look a bit wider when to see the coercion applied softly via approval/disapproval of behavior and even thoughts by surrounding people. It is very seldom when an individual can go against generally accepted beliefs and behavior norms. This coercive persuasion is a historical norm and has existed in all societies until recently. The interesting process began when the new, scientific method of thinking was invented just a few centuries ago. Suddenly, some societies in which the new way of thinking obtained a foothold began rapid technological progress, which made these societies dominant due to the military advantages of high technology. The other side of the picture was that the population’s well-being was also greatly improved. The current paradox is that the advancement of science made coercive persuasion much more effective, consequently limiting or even eliminating the progress of science. Moreover, anti-freedom societies like China and Russia got access to technology, including military technology developed in pro-freedom societies. Internal anti-freedom forces such as leftist movements are currently on the offensive, trying to move the world to the new dark age of communism and fascism. The catch is that only when individuals have absolute freedom to think and experiment outside of some paradigm – the area where real solutions reside, does the scientific way of thinking work. This fundamental freedom drives technological or social progress if combined with sufficient resources. I would hope that enough people appreciate the value of freedom enough to fight for it by limiting the elite’s power to produce fakes and deceptions. Coercive persuasion becomes impossible if a sufficient share of the active population supports freedom, but it becomes inevitable if liberty is rejected.  

20220730 – Evolution of Beauty

MAIN IDEA:

This book’s main objective is to change the approach to the Darwinian idea of natural selection by separating from it sexual selection, which the author considers a fundamentally independent driver of evolution. The book’s first half analyzes sexual selection based on birds’ research, while the second part is dedicated to humans. Overall, the book moves into a mixed scientific and political discussion about the existing scientific paradigm in biology, homosexuality, and feminism. 

CONTENT:

MY TAKE ON IT:

The scientific/experimental part of the book is really interesting, providing quite a few little-known and non-trivial information. However, the scientific/ideological part of separate sexual selection by the beauty of the animal in the eyes of the female beholder seems logically weak. Despite the author’s specific rejection of the idea of sexual selection being a part of natural selection, I think that it is the only reasonable approach. From an evolutionary point of view, there is no difference between an animal’s failure to pass genes to the next generation because of being eaten by predators or because of being rejected by members of the opposite sex. I see nothing special about sexual selection working opposite to environmental factors. If one divides the environment into many different factors, quite a few would undoubtedly work against each other. It relates not only to biology but also to any conceivable, more or less complex system. A simple example would be any computer in which the memory size and speed of downloading / uploading data work against each other. Another example would be an eternal struggle between armor and maneuverability of tanks. Of course, biology is a lot more complex, and sexual selection could work in or out of sync with other selection pressures, but it is not different from other factors.     

20220723 – Culture Hack

MAIN IDEA:

This book reviews many differences and a few similarities between three cultures: Japanese, Chinese, and American. Here is a table presenting the key points of difference:

The book attempts to clarify to all sides, but mainly to Americans, these differences and help to adjust behavior in such a way as to achieve, if not harmony, then at least non-confrontation.

MY TAKE ON IT:

The presentation of the cultures in this book is quite interesting. Still, I think that it is pretty outdated because we all live in an informationally saturated environment when individuals of all cultures are surrounded by generic contemporary culture that expresses itself in all conceivable forms. It includes similar living conditions, clothes, modes of transportation, food, and even language. I can provide an excellent example from my own life. 30+ years ago, I emigrated from USSR to the USA and nearly completely cut connections with Russian culture and language. Because of the war, I have recently started watching the news in Russian. I was amazed how many words converted from English are now used in everyday Russian. So, my point is that the world is rapidly becoming increasingly homogeneous, while individuals’ environments are becoming more heterogeneous. One excellent indicator is the cuisine. It used to be that one eats burgers in America and sushi in Japan, but now one can eat both types of food in both places. The same applies to everything, even business meetings. Practically any business meeting that I participated in for the last 30 years included people from different countries, regardless of whether this meeting occurred in Annapolis, Las Vegas, Paris, or London. In short, we are in the process of forming a universal human entity. I hope it would be a democratic and federalist entity derived mainly from Western patterns, not a totalitarian and highly centralized entity derived from Chinese or Russian patterns.       

20220716 – Dangerous Ideas

MAIN IDEA:

This book reviews the history of censorship all over the world in some detail. It is a sad but at least somewhat hopeful story because penalties for promoters of “dangerous ideas” became a lot milder than they used to be. For example, to lose a tenure track or managerial position in a woke company looks a lot less unpleasant than to be quartered or burned alive. Nevertheless, some essential things never change. The people out of power always support freedom of expression, while people in power always find such freedom cumbersome and causing troubles that should be suppressed by all means necessary. Whether these are English puritans, Russian Bolsheviks, or contemporary American Wokes, it is always the same. This book is pretty good for the first six chapters as the history. The 7th chapter about the current situation is hard to read due to the author’s severe case of Trump derangement syndrome. Sometimes it comes to the level of the caricature when, for example, the author simultaneously supports the court’s not allowing Trump to block some commenters on his Twitter account and the permanent blocking of Trump’s account by Twitter management.   

MY TAKE ON IT:

I think that unlimited freedom of speech is an absolute necessity if people want to be free. No insult to individuals or groups, no amount of emotional distress, and no number of fake news could justify free speech limitation because it is impossible to find a fair judge who would separate truth from lies and facts from fakes. However, unlimited freedom often leads to its use by enemies of freedom to manipulate people into giving them power, which they use to deny freedoms to others. Nevertheless, I think that it is not an unsolvable problem. What could be done is to determine what is acceptable and what is not clearly and formally. For example, to insult somebody should be acceptable, but calling to cause physical harm should not. The way to separate fake news from real should not be giving some political activists power to become self-appointed fact-checkers.  It would be much better to use well-established processes of the legal system and courts to define if some piece of information is fake and force the producer of such fake to provide the same amount of resources to clarify this fake. For example, the proper treatment of much fake news about Trump’s connections with Russians would force all media outlets to allocate the same resources to clear people’s minds from this fake. The lesson of being forced to allocate tens of thousand hours of prime time repeating that it was fake would cause CNN and others to be much more responsible in their reporting. It would be nice but probably never happen. What will happen is the infinite continuing attempts to manipulate people one way or another and the rise of AI tools to fight such manipulation.   

20220709 – The Narrow Corridor

MAIN IDEA:

This book is based on the Hobbs’s idea about the necessity of Leviathan – the big and powerful state to keep people in line and prevent them from killing each other. However, the book also considers the Leviathan’s tendency to become the biggest oppressor and killer of them all. Consequently, the offered solution is to keep Leviathan shackled, meaning to limit its power by applying various tools such as democratic election, division of power, and so on. The book’s general approach is to define two actors: Leviathan and Society, as competitors for power and use historical analysis to define what is the goldilocks’ distribution of power between these actors that provide the best results. Such results occur when the Leviathan is shackled and kept within a narrow corridor of power distribution. Here is the graphic illustration including various paths into a beneficial corridor:

MY TAKE ON IT:

I think this is a pretty good analysis, and the idea of shackled Leviathan is a pretty good approach. However, I believe that any analysis at the level of abstractions such as the state or the society is inherently deficient because these abstractions do not think, feel, or act. Only human beings do, and therefore any actionable analysis should have individual humans as its object. My approach is to analyze how unique people make or fail to make a living in a specific environment based on their resources and external forces that impact them. In my view, it all comes down to the position of individuals among other individuals and the resources under the control of these individuals. There are only two conceivable positions, albeit they are always mixed: either individuals control a clearly defined set of resources, including their own bodies or other people have such control. Therefore, it is always a combination of private property (formal or informal) and place in a Hierarchy that defines wellbeing or lack thereof for each individual. Consequently, the solution for maximizing wellbeing should be to maximize private property as much as possible and limit Hierarchy as the method of interaction between individuals to levels of absolute necessity.  

20220702 – Think Again

MAIN IDEA:

This book’s main reason for existence is to call for better analysis of any problems whatsoever that could be done by continuously rethinking previous conclusions, especially when new data may lead to modification of these conclusions. The book looks at the wide variety of thinking methods, recognizing how many of the most popular ways are non-effective and often even harmful. The book also provides quite a few recommendations for improving this process at individual and group levels. It also provides an excellent graphic representation of various parts of the discussion, starting with this one:

MY TAKE ON IT:

In this book, I found quite a few ideas and approaches that I believe in and use all the time. Even so, it is still advantageous to look again at the well-organized and systematically expressed result of research and experience that provides additional support for these ideas and approaches. In any case, the constant rethinking of one’s beliefs is necessary if a person does not want to get out of sync with reality and fail in whatever this person is trying to achieve.  In short, this book describes a nice set of tools that could improve the results of the process presented in the graph below, so the “Me” at the end of the process is better off than at the beginning:

20220625 – The Decline and Rise of Democracy

MAIN IDEA:

This book describes the origins of Democracy as a form of the organization of society, its historical development, and its current condition. Unlike most such books, it correctly claims that this form was widely spread around the world rather than being uniquely Western and provides pretty good evidential support to this claim. The book also similarly traces the origins, development, and modern forms of autocracy. The book offers a fascinating comparison between these two forms: what conditions are made one or other of them preferable and what results are produced by each as evaluated using a neutral formal approach such as calorie consumption of the population. The book’s scope includes Europe and all major societies and cultures, including the Islamic world and China. One of the main conclusions is that Democracy historically produced ambiguous effects. However, it was a necessary condition for creating the modern industrial world. It is still the one and only form of society that supports its continuing progress.   

MY TAKE ON IT:

This book is an excellent review of two primary forms of human societies: Democracy vs. Autocracy, which provides a good understanding of conditions in which they generate better or worse results for the population’s wellbeing. The only thing that I would note as a bit of deficiency is the insufficient stress on problems resulting from interactions between societies with these two forms either via trade or knowledge exchange or variety of conflicts including military. I think it is essential for people to understand that most of the achievements of autocracies, either the economic growth of China or the military-industrial complex of Russia, result from parasitic attachment to a modern, mainly democratic, and somewhat free world. The former – China’s case of spectacular economic growth results from the direct transfer of industries from the West to China in exchange for the ability to produce things cheaply without regard to any human rights, labor rights, and any environmental considerations. The latter case of Russia’s power was initially prompted by its role as a Western ally in the war against Nazi Germany and the widespread communist ideology among Western intellectuals. Both cases are at the end of their rope, mainly due to the mistake of leaders of these two autocratic societies who thought they were strong enough to challenge and subdue the Democratic world to their will. The currently ongoing war of Russia against Ukraine clearly demonstrates the illusional character of Russian military power. It is quite possible that in the near future, this war will prompt people in the Democratic world to reevaluate the idea of inclusion of increasingly totalitarian China in technological, industrial, and trade exchanges that make it stronger and inspire their dreams of dominance. The following on disconnect of totalitarian China from these exchanges will prove that its economic power is as illusory as Russia’s military.            

20220618 – Wrath America Enraged

MAIN IDEA:

This book is about American anger turning into American Wrath. The book defines it this way:” What turns anger into wrath? Two things: first, a significant number of people who share the sentiment and who sense their common affront; second, their collective sense that they face an impossible situation.”

Here is the list of the main themes explored in the book

  • The political anger of the 2020 presidential election.
  • The pervasive but barely noticeable smog of anger in contemporary life.
  • The representation of anger in American popular culture.
  • The change in sense of anger over time: movement from the culture of prizing self-control to a culture that prizes self-expression, which often means unleashed anger.
  • The materials of cultural expression.
  • The aspects of self-control and interplay between pretending to be angry and actually being angry.
  • The examination of figures in American history who exemplified self-control or who proudly renounced it.
  • The 1994 midterm elections – the so-called Gingrich Revolution, the success of which was attributed by the left to the rise of “angry White males.”
  • The angry racial and sexual-identity politics that came front and center in the 2016 presidential election.
  • The changes in the ways Americans instructed themselves in how to experience injustice and role of the Donald.

MY TAKE ON IT:

I think that the contemporary anger many Americans experiences comes not that much from technological changes brought by social media and polarization. The condition when the population divided itself into closed groups that do not understand each other, have different values, and pursue different objectives in life was always the case. I think the problem is not that much in the polarization of the information environment but rather in the separation of the living environment when, instead of the everyday need to deal with others, the majority of Americans can deal only with people they want to deal with. People used to live in the environment of a small town or a few city blocks and had to deal with the local baker or butcher whether they liked it or not, creating mutual non-political dependency, which kept politics and correspondingly angers on the margin of everyday existence. People who live now in the environment of supermarkets and online delivery could go on for decades without knowing the name of their neighbors and therefore do not need non-political accommodation to others and moderating their anger. Another reason for the anger growing into the wrath is the increased role of the government in many aspects of life, providing to or taking away resources from people. In early America, with a small government, these transfers were small, and so was the anger caused by the inherent unfairness of this process. Today, when the government is big, anger and feeling of powerlessness are caused by the scale of excessive taking or insufficient giving. In a totalitarian society, these feelings are suppressed due to the fear of violence. In a real democracy, such feelings would be directed toward winning elections. In corrupted democracy, when elections are at least partially fake, and bureaucrats and politicians increasingly allocate public resources to themselves, this angers transfers into the Wrath and accumulates potential until it will explode.

20220611 – How We Learn

MAIN IDEA:

This book presents a set of ideas about learning, why it is the process essential for life, how it occurs, and what helps and what hinders it. The book also discusses in details machine learning, how it is different from human learning, and the overall prospects of artificial intelligence.  The book provides seven specific definitions of the learning:

LEARNING IS FORMING AN INTERNAL MODEL OF THE EXTERNAL WORLD

LEARNING IS EXPLOITING A COMBINATORIAL EXPLOSION

LEARNING IS MINIMIZING ERRORS

LEARNING IS EXPLORING THE SPACE OF POSSIBILITIES

LEARNING IS OPTIMIZING A REWARD FUNCTION

LEARNING IS RESTRICTING SEARCH SPACE

LEARNING IS PROJECTING A PRIORI HYPOTHESES

After defining the meaning of the learning, the book reviews human learning processes and compares them with machine learning. Next, it describes the neurology of the learning process and the changes in the human brain that it causes. The final part of the book discusses four pillars of the learning:

  • Attention, which amplifies the information we focus on.
  • Active engagement, an algorithm also called “curiosity,” which encourages our brain to ceaselessly test new hypotheses.
  • Error feedback, which compares our predictions with reality and corrects our models of the world.
  • Consolidation, which renders what we have learned fully automated and involves sleep as a key component.

MY TAKE ON IT:

This book provides complete and well-supported by research data descriptions of the learning process, how it occurs, and how it impacts the human brain. This description is valid and utterly consistent with my own learning experiences. I would also add that learning is an absolutely critical part of human existence, without which such existence becomes meaningless and dull. For example, one could look at the fate of the famous patient HM, who lost the ability to retain the new memories due to the trauma. He could not recognize his doctor even after decades of meeting him nearly every day. I would be interested in a similar description and analysis of the processes related to the long term accumulation of the knowledge and its changes over a long time when results of the new learning sometimes push out results of the previous learning, sometimes add up to it, but most often create some recombination of old and new in the highly unpredictable mix. It would be fascinating because it would explain how people’s personalities change over time. It would also be interesting because it recombines old and new learning, generating new ideas and inventions. Finally, I wish I had known lots of information presented in this book many years ago when I went through much formal learning. It conceivable could make this learning quite a bit easier.

20220604 – How Dictatorships Work

MAIN IDEA:

Here is how the author defines it:” The order of the book follows the common sequence of challenges faced by dictatorial elites: (1) initiation, the seizure of power; (2) elite consolidation; (3) the extension of rule to society – policy implementation and information gathering; and (4) breakdown.” The book is based on the review and statistical analysis of dozens of dictatorships that existed over the last century. It analyses some of them in great detail to demonstrate the most typical features of each dictatorship’s life cycle phase. A very curious is the breakdown phase for which the author provides a nice graph:

MY TAKE ON IT:

A dictatorship is a pretty popular form of social organization well suited for situations when society is in military competition with neighbors or has a diverse population with unreconcilable aspirations of either territorial or religious or ethnic dominance. However, as well as it is fit for the situation of actual or potential violent fights, it is very poorly suited for effective economic development and even worse suited to support technological and scientific advancement. While forcing people into compliance and coerced coexistence, it also provides concentrated resource allocation to achieve the dictator’s and supportive elite’s simple objectives at the expense of lower quality of life for the non-elite, making regular people unhappy and frustrated. This situation makes societies under dictatorships fall behind of the societies with such systems of governance that support individual freedom, including resource allocation via institutions of private property. Individual freedom with resources allows experimentation with an infinite multitude of resource allocations in search of profit and/or psychological satisfaction. Since future discoveries and most effective resource allocations are unknown, it results in much more effective and efficient production of goods, services, and knowledge, making free societies rich and prosperous way beyond dictatorships’ abilities.      

20220528 – The Down of Everything

MAIN IDEA:

This book represents an entirely new approach to human history when viewed not as a progressive movement from one form of society less complex and productive to another – more so. It instead compares different forms of human societies, all complex and all supporting human existence at various levels of material and psychological well-being: often making a simple comparison of societies impossible. A good example is the encounter of Native American and European Civilizations when the former provides better conditions for human flourishing as defined by individual preferences of people intimately familiar with both. In contrast, the latter offers better military action and technological development organization. The book also presents an interesting thesis about the causes of West European Enlightenment It finds these causes in encountering Native American philosophy of life.     

MY TAKE ON IT:

I find this book very interesting, and historical data well support its ideas. I also think that all humans and their societies are highly complex, and the designation of some of them as primitive is pretty much meaningless. Unlike the authors of this book, I do not care about inequality but do care about resource allocation. In my view, as long as everybody has enough resources to maintain a decent condition of life and the freedom to interact with others to combine resources and efforts, everything is just fine. Only when some people obtain resources by taking them from others or even making them into their own resources, do I think society has a big problem. Overall, I believe that we are now at the end of history, which is the story of fights of the grouping and cooperating animals for territories and resources. The end of history comes when these animals complete turning themselves into humans capable of satisfying all material needs via automatic productive facilities  and mainly busy meeting their psychological and intellectual needs via self-directed actions while voluntary cooperating with others.   

20220521 – The Tyranny of Merit

MAIN IDEA:

The book defines its crucial point: “In an unequal society, those who land on top want to believe their success is morally justified. In a meritocratic society, this means the winners must believe they have earned their success through their own talent and hard work.” Then it proceeds to review how people become winners or losers in the competition for a better life in a meritocratic society, which becomes less and less meritocratic over time. A significant part plays credentialism when formal testing and educational credentials rather than actual work results define winners. Finally, after reviewing all issues related to meritocracy from all conceivable angles, the book concludes:” Equality of opportunity is a morally necessary corrective to injustice. But it is a remedial principle, not an adequate ideal for a good society.” And even more:” But if the common good can be arrived at only by deliberating with our fellow citizens about the purposes and ends worthy of our political community, then democracy cannot be indifferent to the character of the common life. It does not require perfect equality. But it does require that citizens from different walks of life encounter one another in common spaces and public places. For this is how we learn to negotiate and abide our differences. And this is how we come to care for the common good. The meritocratic conviction that people deserve whatever riches the market bestows on their talents makes solidarity an almost impossible project. For why do the successful owe anything to the less-advantaged members of society? The answer to this question depends on recognizing that, for all our striving, we are not self-made and self-sufficient; finding ourselves in a society that prizes our talents is our good fortune, not our due.”

MY TAKE ON IT:

From my point of view, the whole discussion of meritocracy, equality of opportunity vs. equality of outcome, and so on is specific to the Hierarchy. It refers to how individuals would obtain places in this Hierarchy. Whether it occurs by the grace of God and good inheritance, either social – aristocracy or biological – DNA and hard work, does not matter. I believe that the Hierarchy as the method of societal organization has a very limited range of effective use: when there is a need to sacrifice some people to benefit others, such as in war. In normal life, when everybody has sufficient, albeit unequal amounts of resources, the Ownership method would do much better. However, contemporary technology created opportunities for establishing the Ownership method as dominant. When this happened, the meritocracy would become as outdated for human flourishing as inheriting an aristocratic title from parents.   

20220514 – Mine!

MAIN IDEA:

This book is about ownership, or more specifically, about popular misconceptions about this notion. It reviews six such misconceptions and allocates a chapter to each, demonstrating why usual beliefs are wrong. The book also defines how it works and what it is all about:” Once you understand how the rules actually work, you will see the drama taking place beneath our workaday concept of ownership. Governments, businesses, and ordinary people are constantly changing the rules on who gets what and why. Each of these choices creates winners and losers. And this has always been so. At its core, human society exists to help us deal with competing claims to scarce resources—whether food, water, gold, or sexual partners—so that we don’t kill each other too often.” It also discusses the potential future development of human society and the notion of ownership.

MY TAKE ON IT:

It all looks like there are only two conceivable methods of controlling resources: ownership and hierarchy. In ownership, individuals have control over resources and interact, either voluntarily exchanging them as needed or cooperating in combining them. In a hierarchy, individuals control resources via some structural relationship when the superior directs the action of the inferior. Reality always presents some combination of these methods. This book nicely demonstrates the complexity of realistic controls over resources and the inadequate character of simplified beliefs about ownership. The book correctly points out that the critical issue is “who decides?”. My answer would be that individuals should decide as much as possible with all and any coordination between them occurring voluntarily. I understand that it is not always possible, but it is the objective humanity should strive to achieve if its members have a good life.

20220507 – The Aristocracy of Talent

MAIN IDEA:

This book defines meritocracy this way:” A meritocratic society combines four qualities which are each in themselves admirable. First, it prides itself on the extent to which people can get ahead in life on the basis of their natural talents. Second, it tries to secure equality of opportunity by providing education for all. Third, it forbids discrimination on the basis of race and sex and other irrelevant characteristics. Fourth, it awards jobs through open competition rather than patronage and nepotism.”

The book then reviews the history of ideas that promote the meritocratic society and the success of these ideas in creating contemporary Western societies and their democratic forms. However, it also reviews the current growing crisis of meritocracy and its slow conversion into the new aristocracy that depends more on the inheritance of genes and wealth than on the results of individual actions. Finally, it discusses the ongoing revolt against meritocracy from the left and the right, stressing the need to find ways to retain this resource allocation method.

MY TAKE ON IT:

My attitude to meritocracy is simple: as long as it is real, it is the best way to allocate power and control over resources. However, my philosophy is that the power of some people over others has to be minimized to the lowest level possible, at least to the extent that everybody has enough to pursue whatever objectives they desire. Whether these objectives are limited to enjoying one’s life or include some grandiose goals is not essential. What is critical is that pursuing these goals involved only voluntary interactions with others, which means the market, and excluded coercive interactions, which means robbery, violence, and government interventions. Consequently, the meritocracy would work via practical consequences of individual actions rather than via formal evaluation of an individual’s abilities. Minimizing violence and government use would automatically lead to selecting the best people for obtaining good results rather than the best people for getting high grades.

20220430 – From Zero to One

MAIN IDEA:

This book discusses the issue of qualitative change when the state of the system changes from 0 to 1, which is entirely different than quantitively evolving from 1 to 2. This discussion proceeds mainly in the business area about building businesses that create new things that did not exist before. It touches on many relevant areas and concludes by presenting four future development scenarios, only one of which will be realized.   

MY TAKE ON IT:

I agree with most of the ideas expressed in this book, especially in the business area. However, the most significant problem of them all, is the gigantic social change we are going through today, which is the growing redundancy of humans for the production of goods and services. The book does not explicitly recognize this problem, leave alone propose a solution. Instead, the authors allocate lots of attention to founders, stressing their role in going from zero to one, which is understandable because they belong to this personality type. But it is insufficient because the founders could exist only when everybody’s survival and even minimal satisfaction were guaranteed. Otherwise, all energy would be spent on survival, meaning just moving from condition 1 – the level below survivability, to 1.01 – the level of minimal survivability. It is also an excellent guide to the logic and circumstance of business innovation.    

20220423 – Spies, Lies, and Algorithms

MAIN IDEA:

This book reviews a few known successes and many failures of the American Intelligence community, its continuously growing structure, its history, its present dysfunctionality, and its increasingly complicated future. The main point this book makes is the dramatic increase of the information available to civilians, who are often capable of providing better analysis than multibillion-dollar agencies of the intelligence community. The second point is that cyber intelligence has become both: a growing business industry and a growing hobby for many people. The result is such an increase in the scale of intelligence community failures that one could not possibly even imagine a couple of dozen years ago. An excellent example would be an acquisition by Chinese intelligence of OPM security clearance data on millions of Americans.   

MY TAKE ON IT:

After reading about the apparent dysfunctionality of the American intelligence community, I should be distraught and scared, but I am not. Being somewhat familiar with both sides of Cold War intelligence and security competition, I believe that the stupidity and dysfunctionality of former Soviet and now Russian intelligence significantly exceeds the same of their American counterpart. I am pretty sure the same applies to Chinese. So, all things being otherwise equal, Americans would win. However, I would like to suggest a few upgrade measures that could make such an outcome guaranteed:

  1. Remove all generic security clearances and substitute them with clearances for a specific document. With current technology, it is not that difficult to keep in the database for each document names of individuals authorized to use this document. Similarly, it should not be a problem to save in the database entry for each individual code of documents this individual is authorized for. The ability of private Manning or technician Snowden not only to read but also download millions of classified documents was beyond any conceivable level of incompetency of officials responsible for the design of the security protocol.
  2. Combine all agencies into two, each of them covering the full scope of intelligence services and competing between themselves.
  3. Keep public track record for senior intelligence officials, so consistently failed individuals could be excluded from positions of responsibility.
  4. Change attitude to defectors from the enemy side by treating them as our own under suspicion in treason, meaning constant surveillance combined with conditional trust. Retaliate for any harm to them as if they were our own and provide them with the same level of support. For example, if Kennedy provided the same level of support to Cubans on Playa Giron as they were marines, Cuban people would not need to endure 70 years of communist tyranny.

20220416 – Work

MAIN IDEA:

This book reviews various types and nature of work, from hunter-gatherers to agricultural labor to work in the contemporary economy, whether as salaried people or self-controlled high-tech workers. The book is based not only on theoretical knowledge but also on detailed anthropological observations of hunter-gatherers and the destruction of their world after an encounter with more powerful societies. The book also looks at functional developments of the work process in energy, production, and use of tools. It also analyses the development of various forms of interaction with the environment, whether concerning types of living: cities vs. villages vs. nomads or division and organization of labor and trade. Finally, the book discusses our automated future, which inevitably includes the creative destruction of the currently existing form of society. It is unclear how it will look, but it has to be sustainable or else…

MY TAKE ON IT:

It is an excellent description of the historical development of human interaction with the environment in the process of resource acquisition from the earlier stages typical to the most animals to uniquely human and very complex contemporary world. This description is nearly utterly consistent with my understanding of these processes, so there is little to add. However, I would like to expand something that the book only hints at: “Other interesting approaches propose extending the fundamental rights we give to people and companies to ecosystems, rivers, and crucial habitats.”. I believe it will be a crucial change in the organization of society if all people get equal and unalienable property rights on all forms of shared and undividable resources. If implemented, such an organization would provide necessary resource flow to everybody without the need for work as the long automated process could generate such resource flow. However the idea of giving rights to non-humans such as “environmental systems” means just giving power to some people to control activities of others under pretense of defending these “rights”. This approach would lead to no good because it would mean fighting between humans for representing rights of these “environmental systems”, which would be no different than traditional fight for resources.

20220409 – Collective Illusions

MAIN IDEA:

This book is about conformity and the human tendency to comply with authority in fear of short-term punishment even at the cost of losing long-term benefits. The idea is to look at the process of such compliance that usually includes lying, accommodation to dominant ideas and powerful leaders even if one does not believe these ideas and despises these leaders. The author also suggests using some specific tools to overcome this problem. These include asking questions such as “why we do it this way?” and rejecting living by the lie. Finally, the essential tool in overcoming illusions is maintaining congruence of one’s personality, actions, and behavior.    

CONTENT:

MY TAKE ON IT:

Everything here is pretty much nice, meaningful, and even somewhat helpful, especially concerning empirical research results. It would be wonderful if “the living in truth” would not be so detrimental to one’s health in typical situations of totalitarian societies like the USSR and even semi-totalitarian groups as American Academy today. People read Solzhenitsyn and have no clue how unusual is his case, not because he was a great writer, but because he survived. The noncompliance with dominant opinions and behaviors always has a cost, which could be very steep. If one to survive, it is essential to keep the balance between maintaining congruence of one’s personality and continuing existence of one’s body. It is not for nothing that the same people that were heroic revolutionaries before the Russian revolution when they were fighting czar’s political police – Okhranka became scared and highly compliant non-heroes with Stalin’s NKVD. It was not easy, but it was heroic to go on hunger strike when newspapers promoted, and many people admired one’s heroism. And the hunger strike is entirely different thing when nobody cares about it, while one is already starving to death anyway. In short, always consider the price and your readiness to pay it.     

20220402 – How Civil Wars Start

MAIN IDEA:

This book discusses the results of sociological research based on an analysis of the hundreds of civil wars in the XIX and XX centuries. It identifies the key parameters that create conditions for societies’ breakdown into Civil War. First, the condition of the Anocracy– the state of society being strictly between autocracy and democracy, is necessary but insufficient. On a scale of -10 to 10, it is -1 to +1 when war occurs and -6 to 6 when serious troubles arise. The addition to Anocracy, the fractioning of the society into multiple factions, some of which are rising up at the expense of others that are going down, is an additional factor. Finally, the loss of hope for peaceful resolution of problems either via fair elections or via negotiations makes violent competition all but unavoidable.

CONTENT:

Introduction
Chapter 1: The Danger of Anocracy
Chapter 2: The Rise of Factions
Chapter 3: The Dark Consequences of Losing Status
Chapter 4: When Hope Dies
Chapter 5: The Accelerant
Chapter 6: How Close Are We?
Chapter 7: What a War Would Look Like
Chapter 8: Preventing a Civil War

MY TAKE ON IT:

I find this book very interesting and quite curiously separated into two. On one side, it is the work of the social scientist based on the wealth of experimental data thoroughly processed and analyzed that resulted in a very well-formulated and well-communicated model of societal degradation into the factions fighting each other to death. It is an excellent analysis, and I generally agree with its inferences. On the other side, it is a primal scream of the white women of North European background heavily indoctrinated into leftist, racist antiwhite ideology who consistently expresses hope to see “black and brown” people becoming the majority and expunging whiteness of America while substituting it with some kind of benevolent form of National-Socialism. All this combined with the extreme form of Trump derangement syndrome. I think that the first side is well worth reading, and the second side deserves skipping without any loss of value whatsoever.      

20220326 – Woke Racism

Key Insights per Thinkr:

  1. Third Wave antiracists have formed a religious, enlightened “Elect,” and their vision and agenda are not to be questioned.
  2. Third Wave antiracism has all the hallmarks of a religion, from clergy and apocalyptic vision, to a doctrine of original sin.
  3. The religion of antiracism is not helping black people.
  4. There are three practical, achievable adjustments that antiracists should back if they really want to see black communities thrive: Legalize drugs, Teach to Read fluently, and provide non-college opportunities.

CONTENT:

MY TAKE ON IT:

The idea that Wokeism is a religion sounds pretty convincing. It does have lots of indicators of religious fanaticism. However, I think it is valid only in a somewhat insignificant number of cases. Similar to National-Socialism and Communism, it is just ideologically formulated to strive for power over other people. Even so, only a small minority of the wokes would sacrifice anything significant in this struggle. The majority of wokes are white, and all this is just a good career move that often helps to move ahead by undermining somebody else more qualified or more deserving. It is pretty typical for totalitarian regimes when someone is trying to move to a better position at work by informing Gestapo that somebody who occupies the coveted position has Jewish grandma or informing NKVD that the neighbor who has a bit bigger room is not sufficiently in awe of Stalin. The totalitarianism currently established in American Academia and quickly moving to other areas of life is not that different. The only real remedy for this malaise is the change of environment so that anybody that demands the punishment of others for thought crime would be immediately punished. For example, a group of professors signing a demand to fire somebody for politically incorrect twit should find themselves unemployed. Somehow, I doubt that it would be that many religious Wokes / Elect to make such demands after one occurrence of just retaliation.   

20220319 – Taxing the Rich

MAIN IDEA:

This book discusses taxation of the rich mainly in democratic countries when such measure requires the support of the people. It reviews such reasons as the ability to pay the compensation for privileges provided to the rich by the government. It presents results of sociological research that provided a few main categories of support for taxation:

  • Equal Treatment [fairness]—Preference for the government treating citizens the same through a proportional or flat tax.
  • Ability to pay [fairness]—Specifies that the rich are better able to afford or will be less harmed by a tax increase than the poor.
  • Compensatory [fairness]—Suggests a higher tax on the rich is justified because of other inequalities or advantages.
  • General Fairness [fairness]—Refers to fairness but not specifically to “Equal Treatment,” “Ability to Pay,” or “Compensatory” conceptions of fairness. These responses are often of the form “because it’s fair” and were employed to justify choices for both Plan A (proportional) and Plan B (progressive).
  • Progressive Treatment—Argues for a plan that taxes the rich more or poor less but does not give any reason why.
  • Economic Efficiency—Argues that the preferred plan is good for the economy in some way.
  • Self-interest—Chooses the plan that makes the respondent better off economically.

Then the book reviews taxation history, trying to answer such questions as to when, why, and how taxing of the rich was implemented. Finally, it provides detailed reviews of taxation use as the tool of social mobilization during wars and as a tool of society stabilization necessary to prevent explosion due to inequality and perceived unfairness of society’s organization.

CONTENT:

Part One — Debating Taxation
1. Why Might Governments Tax the Rich?
2. Treating Citizens as Equals

Part Two — When have Governments Taxed the Rich?
3. The Income Tax over Two Centuries
4. Taxing Inheritance
5. Taxes on the Rich in Context

Part Three — Why have Governments Taxed the Rich?
6. The Conscription of Wealth
7. The Role of War Technology
8. Why Taxes on the Rich Declined
9. What Future for Taxing the Rich?

MY TAKE ON IT:

The main reason for taxation in all its forms is the necessity to leave production processes mainly to the private sector. When the private sector creates resources, taxation as a form of robbery is necessary to obtain resources for the unproductive part of the population. The history of the socialist countries in the XX century, in which taxation was not really needed because most of the resources were created within the framework of the top-down government hierarchy, clearly demonstrated that it was not effective in producing goods and services that people need even for survival, let alone prosperity. It is not a new phenomenon. From ancient times to our day and from Egyptian pharaohs to contemporary presidents and prime ministers, the common knowledge is that private business produces wealth.

In contrast, the government hierarchy needs to take this wealth from others to spend. Traditionally, the elite did it with brute force ideologically supported by religious or quasi-religious teachings. However, when such teachings somewhat wear out due to scientific progress and individual use weapons such as firearms and IEDs become available, these traditional methods lose most of their power.

It is evident that contemporary somewhat oligarchical democracy is just a new tool for wealth transfer away from its producers to the governmental elite. It is then distributed throughout the government hierarchy from the elite members at the top to the welfare recipients at the bottom. What is very interesting, and what this book very capably presents, is the process of modern ideological conditioning in the environment of democracy. It shows how this conditioning allows such transfer, how justifications work on the population’s minds, and how emergencies such as wars allow moving tax rates up. Another point that I’d like to make is that increased productivity makes lots of people redundant for production and dependent on welfare handouts, often in the form of meaningless, even if well-paid jobs. The increase in numbers of such people provides expanding base for support of tax increases. However, too much taxes and ideological denigration of producers inevitably decrease the willingness of these people to produce. Why would a mentally fit person start a business, work hard, and use their talents to make something if the fruits of this effort are taken away? It would be much more beneficial and prestigious to use these talents and hard work to get a good place in the hierarchy and then just enjoy a good life at somebody else’s expense.

20220312 – Wiser

MAIN IDEA:

This book describes what authors believe is the scientific approach to wisdom. The authors also intend to help people become wiser by explaining wisdom, its components, and how one could enhance it. Here are the key points:

Prosocial Attitudes and Behaviors. These include empathy, compassion, and altruism. What exactly do these terms mean? Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings and thoughts of another. Compassion involves translating empathy into helpful behavior. Altruism is opposite of egoism and refers to actions to help another person without expecting any external rewards. Can you put yourself in others’ shoes and do you want to help those in need? In psychology, there is a concept called “theory of mind,” which describes the ability to attribute mental states—beliefs, desires, emotions, knowledge—to both yourself and others. Theory of mind is essential to behaviors like compassion, where we often act out of a recognized connectedness with others.

Emotional Stability with Happiness. This is the ability to maintain self-control, while preferring positive feelings to negative ones. “Anger is a brief madness,” observed the ancient Roman poet, Horace. Few acts are done well when driven by unthinking passions.

Balancing Decisiveness with Acceptance of Uncertainty. The latter involves acknowledging that different but equally valid perspectives exist and that things can change, including one’s deeply held thoughts and beliefs, over time and with new knowledge, experience, and insights. It means recognizing that other people may have different beliefs, desires, intentions, and perspectives and that people with different belief systems need not be considered evil or unintelligent. But while we accept uncertainties in life and diversity of perspectives, one cannot sit on the fence too long or too often. One must act when action is called for, based on the information at hand, knowing that the decision could later prove to be the wrong choice. Deciding not to act is also a decision.

Reflection and Self-Understanding. These include insight, intuition, and self-awareness. Are you able to analyze yourself and your motivations, your strengths and weaknesses? Understanding oneself is much more difficult than people think.

Social Decision-Making and Pragmatic Knowledge of Life. These relate to social reasoning and the ability to give good advice, as well as share life knowledge and life skills. Wisdom not shared is wisdom not gained but lost.

Spirituality. It should be noted that spirituality is not the same as religiosity. The latter typically refers to organized or cultural systems of belief. Religion can be and often is spiritual in nature, but its practices vary considerably in societies and around the world. Spirituality is a more universal constant, a core human belief in something larger than the individual and the society. It leads to a feeling of humility as well as comfort in going beyond the stresses of everyday life. Spirituality can include religion, but it can mean and embrace much, much more.

The authors provide a somewhat interesting discussion about the structure of the human brain, its features learned from observation of individuals with impaired brain functionality, and the relation of age and behavior they consider wise. They also provide IQ-type tests supposedly measuring an individual’s level of wisdom.

CONTENT:

Introduction
Part l: What Is Wisdom?
Chapter 1: Defining Wisdom
Chapter 2: The Neuroscience of Wisdom
Chapter 3: Wisdom and Aging
Chapter 4: Measuring Wisdom

Part Il: Components of Wisdom
Chapter 5: Cultivating Compassion
Chapter 6: Emotional Regulation with Happiness
Chapter 7: Balancing Decisiveness with Acceptance
Chapter 8: Self-Reflection, Curiosity, and Humor
Chapter 9: Spirituality

Part III: Enhancing Practical and Societal Wisdom
Chapter 10: Becoming Wiser Faster
Chapter 1 1: Wisdom Boosters
Chapter 12: The Future of Wisdom

MY TAKE ON IT:

I think that an attempt at a purely scientific approach to wisdom and its acquisition is kind of unwise. Science is the method of developing intellectual tools for predicting the future, at least probabilistically. Wisdom is the human ability to optimize behavior to achieve the most effective balance between two contradictory needs of assuring survival: obtaining individuals benefits, even if at the group’s expense, vs. providing benefits for the group, even at the expense of individual well-being. I agree that such ability is changing with age and is malleable. However, I doubt that it could be the subject of adequate training, just because it is highly dependent on circumstances of life and such circumstances are always unique and unpredictable. Nevertheless, the catalog of behavior that correlates with high quality of life could be helpful for people who either do not have enough living experience or experienced a low quality of life.

20220305 – The Spaces Between Us

MAIN IDEA:

This book is about the space surrounding any animal, humans included, serving as a multilayered protection bubble. The brain constantly monitors this space and applies various measures to indicate danger or opportunity.

CONTENT:

CHAPTER 1 The Second Skin
CHAPTER 2 A Startling Discovery
CHAPTER 3 The Flight Zone of the Zebra
CHAPTER 4 The French Stare Too Much, and My Lover Has a Bulgy Nose
CHAPTER 5 Monkey Versus Ping-Pong Ball
CHAPTER 6 Kissing in the Dark

CHAPTER 7 Hand-to-Mouth and Other Shocking Surprises of the Motor Cortex
CHAPTER 8 Super-Flinchers and Nerves of Steel
CHAPTER 9 The Peripersonal Radar in Humans
CHAPTER 10 Wrapping Personal Space Around My Black & Decker
CHAPTER 11 Why It’s Sexy to Let a Vampire Bite Your Neck, and Other Social Consequences of Peripersonal Space
CHAPTER 12 The First Smile
CHAPTER 13 The First Laugh
CHAPTER 14 The First Cry
CHAPTER 15 The Personal Dimension of Personal Space

MY TAKE ON IT:

This book is an interesting take on the interactions between animals and the environment. There is a direct link between the complexity of animal brains, the effectiveness of monitoring the space around the animal, and complex rituals developed to handle these processes between individuals. It is also fascinating with humans because it is highly dependent on the culture of the specific individual. The information about relevant scientific research and the author’s personal experience with the disorder of space controlling provides some insights into the human and space-around relationship and processing. I think that the ongoing process of humanity‘s transfer from the multitude of groups with different space-related rituals into one combined group based on a more complex but generally unified set of rituals will support much better communications and interactions between individuals.

20220226 – Rationality

Key Insights per Thinkr:

  1. We humans are capable of brilliant, incisive thought and also are vulnerable to the oldest tricks in the book.
  2. Reason is so fundamental to life that you can’t make a case against reason without relying on it.
  3. When we cannot negotiate and resolve problems with the tools reason provides, society becomes divided and bellicose.
  4. It is much easier to ground morality in reason than to ground it in God.
  5. The stock answers to the question, “What is wrong with people?” only scratch the surface.
  6. Suffering and confusion flourish when mythology oversteps its bounds and masquerades as realism.

CONTENT:

1. How Rational an Animal?

2. Rationality and Irrationality

3. Logic and Critical Thinking

4. Probability and Randomness

5. Beliefs and Evidence (Bayesian Reasoning)

6. Risk and Reward (Rational Choice and Expected Utility)

7. Hits and False Alarms (Signal Detection and Statistical Decision Theory)

8. Self and Others (Game Theory)

9. Correlation and Causation

10. What’s Wrong with People?

11. Why Rationality Matters

MY TAKE ON IT:

I think that the very question posed by the division of human behavior into rational and irrational is mainly meaningless. Like all other animals, humans are evolutionary conditioned to act so that it is beneficial either to the survival of an individual or a group this individual belongs to. Therefore, the approach should be not a critic of human irrationality but a search for understanding of action assuming that these actions benefit survival. The seeming irrationality comes from the complexity of human existence, which by far exceeds the complexity of formal analytical tools. Consequently, attempts to analyze human behavior with these formal tools are like measuring a 3-dimensional multifaced figure based on its projection on the plain. The typical example of irrationality discovered by psychologists and behavioral economists is the human tendency to choose A over B, B over C, and C over A. From the point of view of Boolean logic, it is wrong. However, if A, B, and C are multifeatured objects, such choice could be perfectly logical if each object has a combination of at least two features so one can prefer 1 & 2 over 2 & 3. 2 & 3 over 3 & 1. And, finally, 3 & 1 over 1 & 2.

Overall, it is a pretty good compilation, except for a somewhat hilarious part when the author’s light form of Trump derangement syndrome (TDS) causes him to provide some vivid examples of absolutely irrational thinking. However, it is a slight handicap in this generally solid work.         

20220219 – The Myth of the Entrepreneurial State

MAIN IDEA:

This book mainly responds to the popular ideas promoted by supporters of “Entrepreneurial State” that claim that all achievements of individual entrepreneurs result from government activities that created infrastructure and support the rule of law. Specifically, it is directed against Mazzucato – an Italian economist, who is getting more and more power as an adviser to the government. She and other promoters of such ideas, such as Piketty and Obama, with his “you did not build your business. The government did it”. The authors methodically go step by step through pseudo-economic ideas promoted by these people and demonstrate that these ideas are not workable and often based on false data and an entirely discredited ideology of socialism.   

CONTENT:

Part I – Popular, But Mistaken, Economic Ideas
1. Introducing Mazzucato
2. Statism and Its Allies
3. Statist Intervention Is Not Innocent

Part II – Innovism Has, In Fact, Worked Bottom-up
4. The Great Enrichment Came Not from the State but from Liberty
5. “Driving” from the Top Is Not Its Explanation
6. Bottom-Up Does Work
7. Economic History Rejects Mazzucato’s Hypothesis
8. There Is No “Linear Model”
9. The Internet, for Example, Was Not Invented by the State
10. Bottom-Up, Then, Is Pretty Good
11. One Must Measure the State with a Sample of the Economy

Part III – Statism Has Never Worked
12. The State Should Have a Role, but Should Not be the Director
13. For Understandable Reasons the State Is Bad at Innovation
14. Most Governments, After All, Are Demonstrably Incompetent
15. State Foresightedness Is Implausible
16. The Hypothesis of Significantly Imperfect Market Has Never Been Tested
17. Stakeholder Theory is Defective

Part IV – The Political Economy of Mazzucato is thoroughly Illiberal
18. Mazzucato Distrusts Ordinary People
19. Keynesian Mastery Takes Away Dignity
20. The Market Accords Dignity

Part V – Illiberalism Leads to Deep Technical Errors
21. The Economic Errors of Lawyers and Pre- 1870s Economists
22. The Top-Down and Legacy-Payment of Statism are Illiberal
23. The Supply-Chain Fallacy Underlies Mazzucato’s Method
24. The Enchaining of Human Action Reverts to a Labor Theory of Value
25. What Sort of Economy Do People Want?

MY TAKE ON IT:

It is a very nice book, and it could be very educational for anybody who still doubts that socialism is not working in any of its multiple forms. It failed either as fully totalitarian state ownership of the means of production as in the USSR, or as corporatist socialism of Mussolini, or in its currently popular reincarnation as “the big benevolent government” of welfare states. I think that the idea of socialism was quite scientific at the time of Marx in the XIX century as a hypothesis. Still, many countries’ experiences have thoroughly discarded it by now. What is clear is that any supporters of communism and socialism are either illiterate bums, both economically and historically, or just plain power-hungry immoral crooks. Considering the dismal state of education elsewhere in the world, I would say that the people until their mid-twenties usually belong to the former type because of miseducation. As to professional economists, I do not see how any of them who still support socialism could be anything but one of the latter types – crooks.      

20220212 – Burdens of Freedom

MAIN IDEA

The author briefly describes the central theme of this book as: “The contrast between Western and non-Western ways of life is the great division in the world today, both within and between countries. On one side of that great divide, America—due chiefly to the world’s most individualist culture—has leapt to wealth and power. In such a society, particularly, power grows from the bottom up. It begins with ordinary people who take action toward their own goals and, in so doing, enrich and empower the nation.” On the other side is contemporary China, the country with deep collectivistic culture and history that seemingly presents an alternative when the power goes from the top down, forcing everybody to subordinate their lives to the vision and wishes of leaders at the top.

DETAILS:

Chapter One Introduction
The chapter presents the key points and overall structure of the book. It also discusses overall cultural differences between the western and non-western people, resources availability, which primarily derived from these differences, and the balance of economic and other forms of national power between two prominent representatives: America as quintessential individualistic and China as collectivistic societies.  

Part One: History and Culture
This part discusses how history led to the development of the specific culture and points out that Western and especially American individualism largely explains the primacy of this part of the world.

Chapter Two: History
This chapter looks at the history of both Europe and the non-western world, dividing it into static vs. dynamic civilizations. The author presents it as competition between control and Freedom and reviews how this competition developed over time in different cultures. Until recently, this competition has increasingly demonstrated the superiority of the Western ways in all areas of human activities. Still, the new challenge from collectivistic cultures of Asia shows that high levels of development could be achieved when suppression of individual Freedom continues unabated in some areas, mainly political and cultural, but alleviated in the economy.   

Chapter Three: The End of History
This chapter initially discusses ideas of “the end of history” popular at the end of the Cold War and makes the case that it did not end but became much more complicated. Then, it provides side by side graphic representation of politics before and after:

It also makes the point that the old assumption of sameness of all people regardless of their cultural background proved wrong and should be tossed away. Here is the author’s suggestion:” The Western political tradition, in fact, is antiquated. It explicates the issues that have been resolved in history, but not the deepest struggles that confront us after history. To address them, we need a new intellectual tradition. It must focus on cultural difference, not sameness; on human nature, not Freedom or equality. It will inevitably give greater place to values of order and authority, and a lesser place to Freedom or autonomy, than intellectuals favor. To reinterpret individualism as a culture of obligation rather than Freedom, as I do in this book, is already a step down that road.”

Chapter Four: Cultural Difference
The chapter first points out that the main differences between cultures are not binary but graduate: the West is somewhat more individualistic than the non-west. The chapter then discusses the variances of three critical attributes:

  • Individualism vs. Collectivism
  • Moralism vs. Situational Ethics
  • Theory vs. Experience

The chapter then provides two graphic models of variations:

The conclusion points out differences in approach and assertiveness between cultures, making it very difficult to understand each other.

Chapter Five: The Origins of Difference
This chapter discusses the origin of differences, which it assigns to various factors from economic and social conditions to demography, history, religion, and philosophy. Finally, it looks at Europe and its most prominent countries with its culture: America and Britain. The conclusion is that typical western attitude that people in other countries want to be like them. In reality, this attitude is entirely out of the base.

Part Two: Other Roots of Power
In this part, the author looks outside the culture at other features of existence and systematically goes through the most important of them, such as:

Chapter Six: Geography;

Chapter Seven: The Market;

Chapter Eight: Good Government
However, all these factors are strongly linked to the culture, creating a kind of feedback loop. For example, with its relative independence of individuals and availability of multiple choices, the market makes a very different morality than living within some collective that imposes strict compliance on others with little if any alternatives. Correspondingly, the western understanding of good government features the interaction of more or less independent agents when people outside of government perceive themselves as customers or even bosses who theoretically could fire all government leaders and bureaucrats. On the other hand, non-western understanding features a nearly opposite approach when people outside of government are dependent on the government for their wellbeing and therefore do whatever they can to be in good graces of whatever bureaucrat they are dealing with. The author also discusses an important topic of reconciliation between Freedom and order, the challenge relevant mainly to western societies. The overall conclusion is that all these features that make the West into what it is are not easily transferrable to other cultures.

Part Three: Challenges at Home

This part looks at the Western burdens of Freedom, which come from the internal drive to pursue one’s own goals in contrast to the burdens of non-freedom imposed on individuals from outside. Sometimes these burdens are too much for some individuals, who would rather be cared for by others.  
Chapter Nine: Freedom as Obligation
This chapter goes more deeply into why Freedom requires obligations, first in theory and then more concretely. Finally, it defines that the current threat to American Freedom comes mainly not from any foreign country but from the decline of individualism within America.

Chapter Ten: Social Problems; Chapter Eleven: Immigration
Chapters 10 and 11 analyze the decline, which is apparent in the recent demoralization of the working class and also in the long-standing problem of entrenched poverty. Recent immigration is also weakening the individualist character of American society. Non-Western newcomers bring valuable assets to America, just as past immigrants did, but they must also join a mainstream culture that still shoulders the burdens of Freedom. An ideal America is a multicultural society that remains individualistic.

Part Four: Future Challenges
Chapter Twelve: The Future of Primacy; Chapter Thirteen: Policy Directions

In the two final chapters, the author considers the implications of this cultural perspective for American policy both at home and abroad. He contrasts the United States with other centers of power, especially Asia:” American primacy seems likely to continue; Asian culture is too cautious and too centered on immediate interests for these countries to lead the world as the West and America have done. Against all its rivals, only the United States possesses both the will and the capacity to lead. That potential, however, depends on the maintenance of an individualist way of life at home.”

MY TAKE ON IT:

I think that the idea of Freedom requiring hard work, sometimes fighting, and always imposing obligation is not new and even maybe somewhat trivial. However, the author’s stress on the individualism of American culture and its consequences in the form of better economic outcome, less corruption, and higher quality of life, while basically correct, is not sufficiently explanatory. What is missing, in my opinion, is a more comprehensive look at the circumstances of American life, which are different from other countries by the availability of resources under individual control. The American typically owns individually both material property and their own human capital. At the same time, in other places, it is often the family or some hierarchical structure that has the power to direct individuals and suppress any external competition. For example, an American not happy with a job or living location or any other life parameters can change these parameters much easier than people in different cultures.

Moreover, an American typically has more access to other people’s resources, mainly because these resources are widely distributed among the population rather than concentrated in the hands of some government hierarchy. Finally, the cost of a failure is much smaller in America than in other places because the culture is formed in circumstances of the open frontier, so one could overcome the failure by “going West”. As to competition from Asian culture, I guess meaning China, I also optimistic because whatever errors America will make, whatever failures she endures due to incompetence and corruption of its elite, the incompetence and corruption of China’s communist elite would easily double or triple American levels of corruption and incompetence. One also had to add that rigid hierarchical structure would stick to an error much longer and cause much more damage than a flexible network of individuals controlling distributed resources that compete against each other. Only conversion of America into a quasi-socialist society by the elite could cause it to fail. Still, this process seems to encounter fast-growing resistance, so it will probably stop well before the damage becomes existential.    

20220205 – Creation of Inequality

MAIN IDEA:

This book reviews massive amounts of historical and anthropological data to demonstrate how inequality develops in different societies and the causes of such development. It also suggests that the value of inequality as an effective tool for development is probably exhausted. It is time to start switching back to a more natural mode of human relations that has worked very well for a very long time – an egalitarian society.  

DETAILS:

Part l: Starting Out Equal
ONE: Genesis and Exodus
This chapter discusses the origins of humanity in Africa, its distribution worldwide, and the initial development of the surplus either in the form of labor investment into improving gathering opportunities for the next season or fish smocking to save it for later use. Archeologists found these and similar cases dated long before the switch to agriculture. The chapter also describes human colonization of the Earth, its forms in various environments, and its impact on human behavior and DNA that created the varieties of adjustments such as skin color adjusted to the amount of sunlight available in different locations. It then asks why all this started occurring only about 20 000 years ago, while contemporary humans have at least 100,000 years of existence. The answer the author provides: is that it all was linked to the formation of families and then clans, which began competing, including the military, for prestige and possessions. At the end of the chapter, the author notes that society with clans has a greater inequality level than societies without.   

TWO: Rousseau’s “State of Nature”
This chapter begins by referencing Rousseau’s speculative ideas about the state of nature. It proceeds to review how archeological research and real-live hunter/gatherers, observed by anthropologists in recent times, fit into these ideas’ framework. Next, the author discusses several Eskimo tribes, archeological work on prehistoric Folsom culture in Colorado, and several African tribes. The results demonstrated the egalitarian nature of these societies. The author contrasts this to the behavior of our close relatives – chimpanzees who constantly fight for dominance and maintain strict hierarchy even in small groups. 

THREE: Ancestors and Enemies
This chapter discusses the origin of violence and links it mainly to the formation of clans. It notes that individual violence in hunter/gatherer societies is usually regulated quite effectively by revenge, either directly against the perpetrator or via substitution by another member of the perpetrator’s group. The chapter reviews the oldest archeological evidence for group violence from the Nile Valley: Jebel Sahaba, the anthropological research in the Andaman Islands in 1906-1908, and Australian and Tasmanian tribes. The author concludes that despite increased violence due to the emergence of clans, inequality did not significantly increase. The author also points out the emergence of the trade mainly in ritual related goods, accumulation of which could increase the prestige of one induvial comparatively to another. Still, it was far from creating the foundation of severe levels of inequality.

FOUR: Why Our Ancestors Had Religion and the Arts
The author begins this chapter by summarizing a set of typical features of hunter/gathering societies and how they relate to inequality:

1. Generosity is admirable; selfishness is reprehensible.

2. The social relationship created by a gift is more valuable than the gift itself.

3. All gifts should be reciprocated; however, a reasonable delay before reciprocating is acceptable.

4. Names are magic and should not be casually assigned.

5. Since all humans are reincarnated, ancestors’ names should be treated with particular respect.

6. Homicide is unacceptable. A killer’s relatives should either execute him or pay reparations to the victim’s family.

7. Do not commit incest; get your spouse from outside your immediate kin.

8. In return for a bride, the groom should provide her family with services or gifts.

9. Marriage is a flexible economic partnership; it allows for multiple spouses and variations.

In addition to these principles, which imply no inequality among members of society, we also encountered some premises that allowed for a degree of inequality. They were as follows:

10. Men have the capacity to be more virtuous or ritually pure than women.

11. Youths should defer to seniors.

12. Late arrivals should defer to those who were here first.

In those societies that featured lineages, clans, or ancestor-based descent groups, the following new premises appeared:

13. When lineages grow and divide, the junior lineage should defer to the senior lineage, since the latter was here first.

14. You are born into your family, but you must be initiated into your clan.

15. The bad news is that initiation will be an ordeal. The good news is that you will learn ritual secrets, become more fully a member of your ethnic group, and perhaps gain virtue.

16. Any offense against a member of your lineage or clan, such as murder or serious insult, is an offense against that entire social unit. It requires a group response against some member (or members) of the offending group.

17. Any armed conflict should be followed by rituals of peacemaking.

The author then discusses the cosmology and religion of these societies and concludes that the typical ideological setup is the source of difference between human and chimpanzee groups concerning dominance and inequality. Here is how the author formulated this point: “When we look at hunters and gatherers, we see a dominance hierarchy as clear as that of chimpanzees. It is, however, a hierarchy in which the alphas are invisible supernatural beings, too powerful to be overthrown by conspiracy or alliance, and capable of causing great misfortune when disobeyed. The betas are invisible ancestors who do the bidding of the alphas and protect their living descendants from harm. The reason human foragers seem, superficially, to have no dominance hierarchy is because no living human can be considered more than a gamma within this system.”

FIVE: Inequality without Agriculture
This chapter once again refers to Rousseau’s ideas about reasons for the human switch to agriculture and the consequent development of inequality. However, the author points out that inequality is not necessarily linked to agriculture in all cases and reviews many societies from this angle. These are the Chumash of the California coast, the foragers of Vancouver Island, the Historic Nootka, and the History Tlingit of Alaska. The author concludes that because the availability of natural resources is unequal in different places and periods, the hunter/gatherers initially create multiple sharing methods to compensate for this variance. However,

the formation of clans transforms it into a group competition with some groups and lineages rising in prestige and power and some falling. Eventually, it forms hereditary inequality.   

Part II: Balancing Prestige and Equality
SIX: Agriculture and Achieved Renown
This chapter describes several societies in which anthropologists observed the process of the transfer to agriculture. These were Gana of the Kalahari region in the 1960s, Chimbu, and some other tribes in New Guinea. Here is a typical list of changes:

1. The creation myth was revised to claim that spirit ancestors (among their other teachings) showed humans how to garden.

2. Even those tribes with a history of immediate-return economy converted to a delayed-return economy, justifying the investment of labor in clearing and planting gardens.

3. Prohibitions against hoarding were relaxed so that gardeners could begin storing plants such as yams and sweet potatoes.

4. Previous behaviors in which men shared meat with everyone and women collected plants only for their family were modified. Now men pressured their wives to produce surplus plants for lavish feasts to which guests were invited.

5. Bride-price escalated.

The author also describes tribesmen’s recollections of warfare as it existed before colonialist-imposed pacification and the related process of raising “Big Men,” which slowly moved to become a hereditary position. This process was mainly based on achievement at war and accumulating surplice resources to sponsor communal building and rituals.

SEVEN: The Ritual Buildings of Achievement-Based Societies; EIGHT: The Prehistory of the Ritual House

These two chapters describe the structure and use of ritual buildings and how they came into existence. In addition, it provides a pictorial description of a few of them discusses the meanings and implementation of related rituals.

NINE: Prestige and Equality in Four Native American Societies
In this chapter author how some individuals have risen over the others in the traditional communities of the Tewa, Hopi, Mandan, and Hidatsa and the result of this process: “All four groups struck a balance between personal ambition and community spirit. These ethnic groups created a socially accepted way for talented individuals to rise to positions of respect while working to prevent the development of a hereditary nobility.”

Part III: Societies That Made Inequality Hereditary
TEN: The Rise and Fall of Hereditary Inequality in Farming Societies
After stating that archeology provides very little information about the formation of hereditary inequality, this chapter looks at several living societies at different stages of this process. Finally, the author presents the comparison of two cultures: gumlao and gumsa:

The premises of gumlao society were as follows:

1. All lineages are considered equal.

2. All villages in a territory are politically autonomous.

3. Each village has a headman, to whom no tribute is owed.

4. Debts require modest repayment, with what we would call interest. (We discuss this in detail later.)

5. The price for all brides is the same.

6. Men of lineage A marry women of lineage B. Men of lineage B marry women of lineage C. Men of lineage C marry women of lineage A.

7. All siblings are equal. It makes no difference whether one is born first or last.

8. When a lineage grows and divides, there is no senior or junior division; both are equal.

9. One’s loyalty is to the place where one lives.

10. Each headman is to be advised by a council of elders.

11. Land is controlled by all the lineages that originally entered the region. Late arrivals must negotiate for land.

12. Everyone makes sacrifices to his or her household ancestors, to one of the lesser sky spirits, and to one of the lesser earth spirits.

13. The head of each lineage does the above and also makes sacrifices to a regional spirit, to a sky spirit other than the supreme spirit Madai, and to an earth spirit other than the supreme spirit Shadip.

In contrast, the premises of gumsa society were as follows:

1. All lineages are ranked relative to one another.

2. Villages are no longer autonomous; all settlements within a territory are controlled by a single chief.

3. Everyone who does not belong to the chief’s lineage must pay him tribute, usually in the form of a thigh from every animal sacrificed.

4. Individuals of high hereditary rank must pay more compensation (interest) for their debts.

5. Families of elite brides can request a higher bride-price.

6. The giver of the bride is considered superior to the recipient.

7. To encourage older sons to leave home and found a new lineage elsewhere, all property is left to the youngest son.

8. Any lineage that grows and splits results in senior and junior lineages, with the former dominant.

9. One’s loyalty is to one’s lineage rather than to a place.

10. The hereditary chief is to be advised by a council of lineage heads.

11. All land is controlled by the chief’s lineage.

12. Lower-ranking people continue to make sacrifices to their household ancestors, and to lesser sky and earth spirits. Chiefs alone make sacrifices to the regional spirit of their lineage, as well as to the supreme sky spirit Madai, his daughter Hpraw Nga, and the supreme earth spirit Shadip. Chiefs are allowed to sacrifice to the highest spirits of Earth and sky, because those spirits are now considered remote ancestors of the chief’s lineage.

ELEVEN: Three Sources of Power in Chiefly Societies
This chapter uses some Polynesian tribes and rank societies of America and Bemba in Africa to describe the changes in the social logic:

1. Achievement-based groups pursued their own versions of life force. The Naga obtained it from the heads of their enemies. The Mandan obtained it from self-induced suffering. Chiefly Polynesians, however, possessed it from birth and could increase it or lose it depending on their own behavior.

2. Leaders in achievement-based societies had expertise of various kinds. They could memorize thousands of sacred names, like the villagers of Avatip, or develop skills at moka, like the people of Mt. Hagen. They could master ivory carving or eagle trapping. In the chiefly societies of Polynesia, however, certain craftsmen were more respected than others, for example, the makers of war canoes, purveyors of sumptuary goods, or carvers of giant statues such as those on Easter Island.

3. In achievement-based societies, bravery in war was already a path to renown. Chiefly societies converted war to a strategy of territorial expansion. Tired of negotiating for the products of a neighboring region, chiefs might just subjugate the region and demand its products as tribute. This enhanced the value of military prowess.

TWELVE: From Ritual House to Temple in the Americas; THIRTEEN: Aristocracy without Chiefs; FOURTEEN: Temples and Inequality in Early Mesopotamia; FIFTEEN: The Chiefly Societies in Our Backyard; SIXTEEN: How to Turn Rank into Stratification: Tales of the South Pacific

These chapters provide detailed anthropological data about this process in the various societies observed over the last century of research.

Part IV: Inequality in Kingdoms and Empires
SEVENTEEN: How to Create a Kingdom;

In this chapter, the author looks at the logic of creating kingdoms and illustrates it by describing how it happened in Hawaii with Kamehameha, Africa with Shaka Zulu, Hunza in India, and Madagascar tribes in recent times. Generally, this process depends on the ability of a rising chief to do one or more of these things:

1. Step up demand for resources from their own subjects, which may lead to revolt.

2. Intensify production through technological improvement, which will likely increase wealth but not necessarily sociopolitical complexity.

3. Expand the territory from which they get their resources, which will probably require the subjugation of neighbors.

EIGHTEEN: Three of the New World’s First-Generation Kingdoms; NINETEEN: The Land of the Scorpion King; TWENTY: Black Ox Hides and Golden Stools; TWENTY-ONE: The Nursery of Civilization; TWENTY-TWO: Graft and Imperialism; TWENTY-THREE: How New Empires Learn from Old
These chapters retell the stories of well-known ancient kingdoms from Egypt pharaohs to America’s Aztec and Incas, all subjects of massive archeological and historical research.

Part V: Resisting Inequality
TWENTY-FOUR: Inequality and Natural Law

This chapter summarizes the development of inequality by first stating that biological evolution defines success as population growth of the species, and humans succeeded in it by developing agriculture, states, and eventually empires. All this occurred via social development rather than biological change. The author defines the starting point like this:

The logic of small-scale foragers has its own first principles. The following would be typical:

  • There is an invisible life force within us.
  • Certain spirits, places, and objects are sacred.
  • Individuals differ in virtue.
  • Generosity is one of those virtues.
  • Older, initiated people tend to be more virtuous than younger, uninitiated people.
  • Later arrivals in a territory are obliged to defer to earlier arrivals.
  • Our way of life is inherently superior to that of our neighbors.

After that, the humans moved first to achievement-based inequality, which turned into hereditary inequality, and the author recounts evidence of how it happened. Finally, the author laments the current condition of the American society, which moved far away from its origins as an egalitarian society that abolished hereditary privilege. His advice to get to the better place is to put hunter/gatherers in charge or at least emulate their principles.

MY TAKE ON IT:

It is an excellent review of archeological and anthropological research of the appearance and development of inequality. I personally have the simplistic view that natural inequality between individuals is pretty small, not exceeding 30%-60%, something like the difference between 5’10” average person with IQ-100 and 7’ basketball player or MENSA member with IQ=160. The inequality comes from society’s organization, and it is a temporary phenomenon. This phenomenon is operational only while the human society moves from its origins as hunter-gatherers living off the natural environment to its destination. This destination would feature individuals living off the sustainable environment modified to meet human needs and based on the multitude of automated processes and artificially created materials, both organic and non-organic. The main activity of these individuals would be the pursuit of happiness, mainly in the form of psychological satisfaction. This kind of arrangement could not possibly come from a socialist reorganization of the society into one huge bureaucratic hierarchy. The socialist/super bureaucratic state tried and failed each time. The return to equality will come from an ownership-based restructuring of society in such a way that every individual would have clearly defined, unalienable, and sufficient access to resources. It is possible to achieve if everybody pays for everything they use, which belongs equally to everyone. For example, a star basketball player’s compensation would be much higher than a non-star player but not hugely higher if both have to pay the royalty for the invention of basketball, tools, communications, and everything else these players use, which belongs equally to all. By the way, history shows that such star players would still do their best because the fame and prestige proved to be good enough reward by and in itself.    

20220129 Ramaswamy, Vivek – Woke Inc.

MAIN IDEA:

The main idea is to use the author’s own experience to demonstrate the nature of Wokeism the danger it presents to American democracy and way of life. Another idea presented in the book relates to the novel use of legal doctrines limiting actions of top corporate management and enforcement of their fiduciary responsibilities

DETAILS:

INTRODUCTION The Woke-industrial Complex
This chapter presents the key point of Wokeism: “Basically, being woke means obsessing about race, gender, and sexual orientation. Maybe climate change too.”

However, it is even more important to explain this phenomenon’s real objectives – power and wealth. Therefore, the author demonstrates how it works based on his own experience as CEO.

CHAPTER 1 The Goldman Rule
In this chapter, the author discusses the main rule of the American business he learned working at Goldman: “He who has the gold makes the rules.”. The author then tells the story of how it works at the top corporate levels using the Woke ideology: anti-white racism, BLM, stakeholder movement to transfer wealth from shareholders to management, and whoever woke ideologists designate as recipients. The author defines it as crony capitalism 2.0. Finally, he retells some stories of his interactions with top-level business leaders promoting Wokeism, stressing that some are pretty sincere.

CHAPTER 2 How I Became a Capitalist
This chapter retells the author’s story: the child of immigrants growing in the USA with regular visits to the old country who eventually achieved the top of American corporate leadership via education and entrepreneurship rather than by climbing the corporate ladder.

CHAPTER 3 What’s the Purpose of a Corporation?
This chapter initially retells the author’s being pushed out from the company he had founded because of his refusal to submit to Wokeism. Then it discusses the nature of corporate ownership and the purpose of the corporation how it was developed throughout history. The author also discusses how limited liability corporations are used to protect social activism. Finally, he also proposes a solution:” For those like me who believe the rise of Wokenomics represents a problem for democracy, the simple answer is to limit the scope of limited liability of the corporation to cover only the set of activities it was intended to cover. A corporation ought to be free to pursue activities that go beyond the pursuit of profit—America is a free country, after all—but to the extent that it does, its social-activist shareholders shouldn’t receive any special protection from direct liability. There is no government regulatory action needed here. Just a simple legal fix—arguably a form of deregulation—that clarifies that the construct of limited liability is… well, limited”.

CHAPTER 4 The Rise of the Managerial Class
This chapter discusses how big business management captured nearly complete control and often enriched themselves at the expense of shareholders. The author demonstrates how technocrats use stakeholder capitalism to expand their power into areas they could not invade before and how it hurt shareholders and consumers.  Once again, the author makes a suggestion:” HOW DO WE end the tyranny of the corporate managerial class? Here’s a thought: limit the scope of the business judgment rule (or the BJR, as it’s often called). In practice, most examples of stakeholder capitalism in the real world start with a CEO who decides to use the company’s corporate platform to solve a social problem. This often results in the CEO making bad business decisions that have negative externalities for democracy. Yet they are aided by the BJR, a corporate privilege that is designed to protect CEOs and corporate directors from being sued for bad business decisions that they make. There are good reasons for this legal doctrine, but today it applies far too broadly in a way that is toxic both for companies and for democracy.”

CHAPTER 5 The ESG Bubble
ESG stands for “environmental, social, and governance,” and the author testified as an expert in Congress during hearings about this.  The author makes a case that ESG would lead to asset bubbles as it already happened in 2008. It is also less profitable because it puts other objectives at par or even above profits. He also tells an interesting story of how government regulations of the pharmaceutical industry created business opportunities for him to start up a multi-billion business, which as a non-public entity could work outside of these regulations. The author also looks at reports that ESG businesses outperform others. As one could expect, these non-commonsensical claims do not stand to scrutiny, even if politically motivated institutional investors prop up ESG companies.   

CHAPTER 6 An Arranged Marriage
This chapter begins with the story of the successful matchmaking of the author’s parents. It then proceeds to use the analogy of marriage for an alliance of top corporate management with the “Occupy Wall Street” woke mob against the middle class. Finally, the author points out that this marriage will probably not be very successful due to incompatibility of interest.

CHAPTER 7 Henchmen of the Woke-Industrial Complex
This chapter looks at another exciting part of the woke/capitalist alliance: money flow. It works pretty much this way: big business pays money to woke non-profits either directly or via settlements with the government, so wokes do not attack this business, but do attack their competitors. This deal would not be possible without the massive support of government bureaucracy, especially the DOJ that became a subsidiary of DNC for all practical purposes. The author provides a few examples of how it works in real life.

CHAPTER 8 When Dictators Become Stakeholders
In this chapter, the author documents the alliance of big business and woke non-profits expanded to the international scene to include the Chinese communist party, which became the big player in this game. They have a lot of gold, so they can extensively use Goldman’s rule. The author strays a bit into his company’s story to provide an example of how a billion dollars investment made all the difference needed for huge success after the failure of the original plan.

CHAPTER 9 The Silicon Leviathan
This chapter discusses the monopolistic nature of Silicon value big businesses such as Google and Facebook and their attempt to suppress the free flow of information and provide massive financial support to the Democratic party. The author reviews the constitutional and legal sides of this massive intervention and expresses great concern that his children may not live in the free country that America used to be.

CHAPTER 10 Wokeness Is Like a Religion; CHAPTER 11 Actually, Wokeness Is Literally a Religion

In these two chapters, the author looks at the psychological and behavioral aspects of the wokeness and concludes that it has all indicators of religion.CHAPTER 12 Critical Diversity Theory
In this chapter, the author discusses the case of wokes attacking their own Larry Summers and similar occurrences and present his own suggestion: Critical diversity Theory, which seeks intellectual diversity, rather than biological diversity:

CHAPTER 13 Woke Consumerism and the Big Sort
This chapter discusses the Big Sort of Americans by political affiliation and attitudes that are happening over recent years. The author refers here all the way back to the struggle between federalists and anti-federalists and their different attitudes to diversity. Finally, the author concludes that Americans should promote their identity as first and foremost Americans, and race and political identities should be demoted, or the country would see a big fight between races and other identities.

CHAPTER 14 The Bastardization of Service
Here the author uses his own experience as upward mobile youth acquiring all kinds of formal qualifications necessary to get into the top college: volunteer work, social justice activism, and all other BS forms that substituted something that used to be internally driven service to others into self-serving activity. The author promotes the idea of mandatory civil service as a tool to establish and maintain the universal American identity.

CHAPTER 15 Who Are We?

This chapter discusses the meaning of America and the need to bring back the idea of E Pluribus Unum and live up to this idea.

MY TAKE ON IT:

This book presents a realistic picture of the current American malaise of wokeness from the point of view of the person who was extremely successful in using opportunities of education and entrepreneurship open for intelligent people capable of being effective in the environment of big government, big education, and other forms of massive corruption that constitute contemporary American society. It is also fascinating in the description of the author’s intellectual and psychological development that eventually put him at odds with other establishment members and changed the direction of his life. The most interesting thing here is the author’s ideas about legal options that could be used against woke members of the establishment that abuse their positions at the top of public entities, either corporations or government or non-profits, to use government or shareholders resources to promote their ideology of wokeness and even suppress other people’s constitutional rights. In my opinion, the last few years removed the veil of hypocrisy that covered the existing and constantly growing gap between interests of government-dependent, prospering, and often parasitic elite and lower classes and interests of the middle class who usually pays for this prosperity with the decrease in quality of their life.

Typically these interests would be reconciled via election process when members of elite supporting competing sides find some accommodation more or less acceptable for everybody while interchanging place in power. However, the last few years saw the united front of the elite against the middle class represented by rich non-elite Trump who unexpectedly jumped at the top of the governmental machinery. The panicked elite responded by completely destroying any semblance of normalcy via massive bureaucracy resistance, media hostility, opportunistic pandemic use, and eventually rigged elections. I am afraid that the successful removal of Trump could be a pyrrhic victory for the elite with a high price to be paid and maybe even soon.   

20220122 – In The Know

CONTENT:

Introduction
The introduction defines this book as an attempt to close the gap between popular notions about Intelligence, which is often not supported by scientific research, and expert opinion based on such research. To make things clear, the author provides the definition of Intelligence generally supported by a consensus of scientists:

Intelligence is a very general mental capability that, among other things, involves the ability to reason, plan, solve problems, think abstractly, comprehend complex ideas, learn quickly and learn from experience. It is not merely book learning, a narrow academic skill, or test-taking smarts. Rather, it reflects a broader and deeper capability for comprehending our surroundings – “catching on,” “making sense” of things, or “figuring out” what to do. (Gottfredson, 1997a, p. 13)

The author also provides here samples of IQ test questions, some minimally required statistical concepts, and a bit of history. Below is a general overview of the presented ideas and data.

Section 1 The Nature of Intelligence

Intelligence Is Whatever Collection of Tasks a Psychologist Puts on a Test

FALSE – all cognitive tasks measure Intelligence in one way or another, which allows using factor analysis to arrive at a consistent g factor.

Intelligence Is Too Complex to Summarize with One Number

FALSE – Since all cognitive tasks are highly correlated, it is possible to derive a common factor that predicts performance on the wide variety of such tasks 

IQ Does Not Correspond to Brain Anatomy or Functioning

FALSE – The correlation is well established, but only at a high level. The details would require massive research effort.

Intelligence Is a Western Concept that Does Not Apply to Non-Western Cultures

FALSE – g factor equally strong in Western and non-Western people, the cultural differences notwithstanding.  

There Are Multiple Intelligences in the Human Mind

There is no empirical confirmation that there are independent levels of Intelligence in different functional areas of human activities.  

Practical Intelligence Is a Real Ability, Separate from General Intelligence

Attempts to identify some practical intelligence areas independent from g were not successful. However, some non-cognitive human traits impact practical abilities that define the success or failure of an effort.

Section 2 Measuring Intelligence

Measuring Intelligence Is Difficult

FALSE – Intelligence is relatively easy to measure, and practically any cognitive task does it to some extent. Different knowledge bases and experiences do not relate to IQ tests designed to neutralize differences in backgrounds.    

The Content of Intelligence Tests Is Trivial and Cannot Measure Intelligence

FALSE – the simple measurement can easily produce a reasonable estimate of a complex phenomenon. The author provides an analogy with a simple thermometer measuring the complex heat process.

Intelligence Tests Are Imperfect and Cannot Be Used or Trusted

The “imperfect” part is TRUE, but the results are good enough to be used and trusted, as confirmed by empirical data.

Intelligence Tests Are Biased against Diverse Populations

FALSE – professionally developed tests show consistent results unbiased by race and other irrelevant factors. The author provides an interesting description of the process in Ellis Island that pretty much demonstrated the validity of tests.

Section 3 Influences on Intelligence

IQ Only Reflects a Person’s Socioeconomic Status

The “ONLY” part is FALSE because genetics play an essential role: generally, about 50%. However, research demonstrated that adopted children do have higher IQ and that children in educated households get to hear more words, spend more time with adults, have better food, and so on, which has at least some impact on IQ

High Heritability for Intelligence Means that Raising IQ Is Impossible

FALSE –the incidents with lead poisoning and other environmental factors demonstrate that they have a material impact on IQ.

Genes Are Not Important for Determining Intelligence

FALSE – genes are essential for everything from height to digestion to IQ. It is always a combination of nature and nurture.

Environmentally Driven Changes in IQ Mean that Intelligence Is Malleable

TRUE – as demonstrated by adoption studies, the Flynn effect, and individual fluctuation. Most of the improvements over time are at the population level, while IQ measure the variation within a population  

Social Interventions Can Drastically Raise IQ

Extreme neglect drives IQ down, but all known interventions, especially highly tested preschool programs, demonstrated only temporary improvements that disappeared over time. 

Brain-Training Programs Can Raise IQ

So far, no program has demonstrated a significant improvement. However, there is no proof that no program never will.

Improvability of IQ Means Intelligence Can Be Equalized

FALSE – it is a statistical impossibility since IQ measures variation, not an absolute value. Neither genetic nor environmental components could be feasibly equalized for everybody.

Section 4 Intelligence and Education

Every Child Is Gifted

FALSE – also a statistical impossibility because all children are different.

Effective Schools Can Make Every Child Academically Proficient

It depends on what is considered proficiency. The difference will remain, but some specific level could be achieved by everybody, providing it is low enough. 

Non-cognitive Variables Have Powerful Effects on Academic Achievement

TRUE – no school grades based on IQ only, so lower IQ could be compensated by hard work and discipline, at least to some extent. Similarly, a high IQ would not help if one is lazy and undisciplined.

Admissions Tests Are a Barrier to College for Underrepresented Students

TRUE – they are, but eliminating them would not change the factual differences in IQ.  All attempts to equalize failed and will always fail, but selection based on proportionality deprives the brightest of opportunities they could use to produce benefits for all. In contrast, force-feeding opportunities to less bright would only mean squandering these opportunities.  

Section 5 Life Consequences of Intelligence

IQ Scores Only Measure How Good Someone Is at Taking Tests

Here is a lovely picture of correlations:

Intelligence Tests Are Designed to Create or Perpetuate a False Meritocracy

FALSE – Tests were designed to simplify the selection of people to do more or less complex tasks. Ideas of meritocracy and ideology around it came later.

Very High Intelligence Is Not More Beneficial than Moderately High Intelligence

Research does not support the idea of a threshold about which higher IQ does not matter. However, IQ always works in the mix with many other factors. Therefore, simplified correlation does not work either.  

Emotional Intelligence Is a Real Ability that Is Helpful in Life

There is no evidence that EQ works or even exists, and multiple attempts to raise EQ failed to produce results.

Section 6 Demographic Group Differences

The author begins by presenting fundamental principles:

Males and Females Have the Same Distribution of IQ Scores

Here is the conclusion:” While males and females are equal in average Intelligence, the distribution of their abilities differs in other ways. However, in broad non-g cognitive abilities – like spatial ability, verbal reasoning, and mathematical reasoning – mean differences do exist. Females tend to score higher (on average) on verbal abilities, while males have higher average performance on spatial ability and mathematical reasoning. Across these abilities, though, the differences average out to produce equal means on overall IQ. An important difference exists in variability in cognitive abilities. Males have a standard deviation that is 5–15% larger than the standard deviation for females. As a result, there is a greater percentage of males than females at the high and low extremes of most abilities.”

Racial/Ethnic Group IQ Differences Are Completely Environmental in Origin

The author provides a very detailed discussion well supported by statistical data but concludes that there are genetic differences even if everybody wants it not to be so. The author also discusses the inevitability of such differences due to the diverse evolutionary path of races.  

Unique Influences Operate on One Group’s Intelligence Test Scores

Here the author discusses X-factor that supposedly generates differences between groups. Here is the definition:

The author reviews four different candidates to be X-factor and concludes that none of them meets the definition’s requirements.

Stereotype Threat Explains Score Gaps among Demographic Groups

The recently popular explanation of differences by the Stereotype Effect failed, mainly due to the replication crisis in psychology. The failure of confirmation does not mean proof of existence. It requires new research with a better methodology, including rigorous replication of results. 

Section 7 Societal and Ethical Issues

Controversial or Unpopular Ideas Should Be Held to a Higher Standard of Evidence

The only criteria for science should be true or false, with ethical constraints necessary to prevent damage. Other than that, more knowledge is always better than less.  

Past Controversies Taint Modern Research on Intelligence

This part is mainly about Eugenics, its popularity, and later disgrace due to its use by Nazis. Eugenics as an idea is mainly irrelevant by now, and it should not impact contemporary genetic research in any way.

Intelligence Research Leads to Negative Social Policies

Here the author provides some guidelines:

  • First, do not promise more than a policy or program can deliver.
  • Second, stick to facts – not wishful thinking. Many of the misconceptions that I deal with in this book are ideas that people want to believe.
  • Third, do not ignore genetics. Nearly every trait or life outcome is partially influenced by genes

Intelligence Research Undermines the Fight against Inequality

The critical point here is that people are different but must be treated equally legally and ethically. The author also presents very interesting results that demonstrate how little IQ and other scores are relevant to actual live decision making:

  • Randomly guessing which individual is more intelligent will be correct 50.0% of the time.
  • Discriminating on the basis of race and assuming that the European American is always more intelligent results in a correct decision 76.0% of the time.
  • Ignoring race and using IQ scores to identify which person is smarter increases decision accuracy to 94.2%.
  • Using race and IQ scores to identify which person is smarter lowers the accuracy slightly to 94.0%.

In other words, ignoring race produces better decisions.

Everyone Is About as Smart as I Am

FALSE – people are different, and individuals with higher IQs are better at solving cognitive problems than people. The author calls for compassion and helps people with lower abilities rather than keeping them in contempt.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the author provides the summary of the book:

The author concludes by stressing the value of intelligence research and expresses hope that helps to promote a better comprehension of the world.

MY TAKE ON IT:

This book is an excellent collection of research results and presentations of the current level of knowledge about human Intelligence, its measurement, and relevant popular conceptions, some true and some false. I want to stress a few points related to these themes.

The first one is that everybody without exception should have not only compassion for others with lower IQ but also humility that is absolutely necessary if one thinks about the reality of the Bell Curve: if you are in the top 1%, it means that on this planet with about 8 billion people there are 80 million individuals more intelligent than you are. Or, if one goes local: 3.2 million people in the USA are also more intelligent than you are.

The second point is that it would be best to stop looking at IQ and another psychological testing as a tool to define a place in a hierarchy. The objective should not be selecting people for the slots higher or lower in the hierarchy. Instead, it should be the better understanding of self and adjusting your actions so that planned results are achievable and effective in producing the best quality of life one can have in the place and time of his/her/its existence.

20220115 – Affluence without Abundance

CONTENT:

Part One. Old Times
1. The Rewards of Hard Work
This chapter looks at the usual misconception about the life of hunter-gatherers as the struggle for survival and hard work. It rejects this view based on the author’s experiences as an anthropologist living with authentic hunter-gatherers. In reality, it is much more like a beautiful future imagined by Keynes when productivity is so high that people need to work just 15 hours per week to get all they need. In reality, 15 hours a week is all those hunter-gatherers need to hunt and gather enough resources from the environment to satisfy all their needs,  

2. The Mother Hill
This chapter touches on the Khoisan hunter-gatherer’s philosophy, their genetic relations to other populations, and their evolution and way of life, based not on growth and expansion but on sustainability or what one can call stagnant interactions with the environment. The chapter also noted that this way of life, while effective for human flourishing, fails to provide tools for defense when an encounter occurs with agriculturalists. The typical result is that agriculturalists’ higher productivity, numbers, and technology allow them to push hunter-gatherers away from their territory, enslave, or annihilate them. 

3. A Beachside Brawl
This chapter retells the story of European arrival to this area, the first encounters, and the specific story of da Gama and Dias.

4. The Settlers
This chapter expands this history to the present times. It includes discussion on the relations between farmers of European descent with locals, including lots of ugly interactions, exploitation, and forced labor. The situation somewhat improved after the independence of Namibia, but the old way of life was destroyed anyway.  

5. Living in the Moment
This chapter looks at the psychology of hunter-gatherers. It notes their different understanding of time when only present exists, albeit it changes cyclically. Consequently, they have no notion of delayed returns, investment, and multi-step production processes. Instead, their economics based on immediate returns and knowledge base contains details about the usefulness of the environment at any given period of natural cycles.  

6. Tsumkwe Road
This chapter narrates the first encounters of hunter-gatherers with anthropologists and the consequent constantly increasing intensity of the research. It also narrates the parallel development of interactions with the contemporary world, with the Tsumkwe road being a symbolic representation of these interactions

Part Two. The Provident Environment
7. The Hollow Tree
This chapter discusses the author’s experience of visiting the site starting in 1994. The author observed environmental changes caused by external forces: farmers that made this environment lose its ability to support hunter-gatherers. The chapter also discusses the difference between attitudes of hunter-gatherers and farmers, the former accepting natural settings and adjusting to them, while the latter changing the natural environment to fit their needs.

8. Strong Food
This chapter discusses attitudes to food, which hunter-gatherers divide into strong and weak food. For example, the strong food in the area with insufficient water contains more liquid. Also, the food obtained via hunting is considered strong and worth the higher time expenditure required by its acquisition. It also discusses the reasons for the absence of obesity among hunter-gatherers, and it is not from lack of food. It is rather a form of a combination of food consumption on an “as needed” basis and constant physical movement – per research, about 7-8 miles per day.

9. An Elephant Hunt
This chapter looks at another essential part of the local environment – elephants, poacher hunting, and countermeasures. The especially effective was allowing regulated hunt with the sale of licenses and organized tours that created lots of incentives for locals to protect elephants and maintain their population.

10. Pinnacle Point
This chapter looks at the archeological findings that demonstrated the uninterrupted habitation of people in the place where contemporary hunter-gatherers live. These findings also showed the stability of technology, which is, while sufficiently complex to meet human needs, nevertheless did not develop that much over time. The chapter explicitly discusses hunting technics and equipment, demonstrating that it was reasonably sufficient to assure that nearly half of calories came from meat. The chapter also points out that the stability of technology over the centuries has nothing to do with the cognitive abilities of these people. On the contrary, they quickly familiarized themselves with multiple artifacts of contemporary life and used them as needed. 

11. A Gift from God
This chapter discusses hunting and general attitude to animals and changing environment of the animal world. It also describes how the fire was used to preprocess food, making people much more efficient food consumers and freeing them from consuming low-quality food. It also concludes that hunter-gatherers’ meat consumption in everyday conditions was at the first world level.

12. Hunting and Empathy
This chapter discusses various hunting technics. But more interesting is that te critical cultural relationships are established between hunters and animals that allow maintenance of a sustainable way of life for all. It specifically stresses that these relationships are based on empathy and understanding of animals as companions and adversaries.

13. Insulting the Meat
This chapter discusses hunting-related relationships within groups directed at strict maintenance of egalitarian mores. Specifically, it looks at the typical behavior of the group’s diminishing level of hunter’s success. The value of acquired meat is insulted with the objective to prevent the hunter from being arrogant. Then the chapter proceeds to discuss the use of hierarchy and its role or, more precisely, lack thereof in relations between people. It also looks at so-called “demand sharing” that somewhat regulates whatever property could be identified and gift-giving procedures.     

Part Three. New Times
14. When Lions Become Dangerous; 15. Fear and Farming; 16. Cattle Country; 17. Crazy Gods; 18. The Promised Land

The last part of the book tells the sad story of the destruction of hunter-gatherers’ way of life by an encounter with the contemporary world that turned these “affluent without abundance” from well adjusted and generally happy egalitarians sustainably living off the environment into poor and often unhealthy people living off miserly welfare handouts and low paid unskilled jobs.   

MY TAKE ON IT:

In my view, this is not just a description of the disappearing lifestyle that humanity maintained for hundreds of thousand years, but also the foundation for the projection into the future when humans may return to somewhat similar arrangements, only based not on harmonious interaction with the naturally existing environment, but based on the newly developed environment with fully automated processes of production of goods and services. If something like that happens, humanity could once again move to a highly egalitarian arrangement of society that must be the most effective way to pursue happiness since it is very much in synch with the human evolutionary background. Obviously, the agriculture-based invention of property and hierarchy is not going away. Still, the new forms of the egalitarian society could be based on an extensive distribution of ownership of everything with violent hierarchical structures limited to maintaining effective and efficient resource allocation and individual rights.

20220108 – Incognito (Brain)

MAIN IDEA:

Here is how the author identifies the main idea of this book:” Your consciousness is like a tiny stowaway on a transatlantic steamship, taking credit for the journey without acknowledging the massive engineering underfoot. This book is about that amazing fact: how we know it, what it means, and what it explains about people, markets, secrets, strippers, retirement accounts, criminals, artists, Ulysses, drunkards, stroke victims, gamblers, athletes, bloodhounds, racists, lovers, and every decision you’ve ever taken to be yours.”

DETAILS:

1. There’s Someone in My Head, But It’s Not Me
This chapter first identifies the theme of this book, and then it discusses various cases of small detail changing human perception either about beauty or many other things. It then makes the statement about the author’s position:” Consciousness developed because it was advantageous, but advantageous only in limited amounts.” It also makes the positioning statement:” The conscious mind is not at the center of the action in the brain; instead, it is far out on a distant edge, hearing but whispers of the activity.” Further, the author discusses the history of thoughts about consciousness from Thomas Aquinas to Freud and poses many questions about human behavior,

2. The Testimony of the Senses: What is Experience Really Like?
This chapter discusses the complexity of human perception, providing multiple examples that it is not a simple process of reading sensory input but a rather complex process of interpreting the multitude of inconsistent signals from the environment. This process sometimes produces quite different results from the same input, and the author provides several examples of visual illusions when the same picture is perceived differently. The typical example is “vase vs. two profiles.”  The discussion includes the eye scanning process, blind spot, text reading, etc. The author also makes a significant point that blind people who recovered vision later in life still could not see because their brains did not develop the neural networks necessary for the interpretation of visual signals. Finally, the author also discusses the perception of time, which he also defines as a construction.

The conclusion the author makes is this:” So the first lesson about trusting your senses is: don’t. Just because you believe something to be true, just because you know it’s true, that doesn’t mean it is true. The most important maxim for fighter pilots is “Trust your instruments.” This is because your senses will tell you the most inglorious lies, and if you trust them—instead of your cockpit dials—you’ll crash. So the next time someone says, “Who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes?” consider the question carefully.”

3. Mind: The Gap

This chapter defines the unconscious as the gap between:” what your brain knows and what your mind is capable of accessing.”  The author presents an example of chicken sexers – people who select chickens by sex without fully understanding how they do it, just based on acquired experience. He then expands on other similar workings of the unconscious. After this discussion, the author moves to discuss the process for the development of subconscious hunches and similar processes:” When the brain finds a task it needs to solve, it rewires its own circuitry until it can accomplish the task with maximum efficiency. The task becomes burned into the machinery. This clever tactic accomplishes two things of chief importance for survival.” The author defines these two things a speed and energy efficiency. Finally. The author arrives to the conclusion:” Evolutionary selection has presumably tuned the exact amount of access the conscious mind has: too little, and the company has no direction; too much, and the system gets bogged down solving problems in a slow, clunky, energy-inefficient manner.”

4. The Kinds of Thoughts That are Thinkable
Here the author discusses human limitations:” What you are able to experience is completely limited by your biology. This differs from the commonsense view that our eyes, ears, and fingers passively receive an objective physical world outside of ourselves. As science marches forward with machines that can see what we can’t, it has become clear that our brains sample just a small bit of the surrounding physical world.” The author discusses the notion of umwelt for an organism, meaning the totality of inputs that create this organism’s world. For example, radio waves were outside human umwelt until technology changed it. The author also discusses a condition of synesthesia, when the inputs are perceived idiosyncratically, as when a person can see music. After reviewing the development of humans as a combination of inherited features and results of social interactions that define human behavior, the author concludes:” We’ve seen in this chapter that our deepest instincts, as well as the kinds of thoughts we have and even can have, are burned into the machinery at a very low level. “This is great news,” you might think. “My brain is doing all the right things to survive, and I don’t even have to think about them!” True, that is great news. The unexpected part of the news is that the conscious you is the smallest bit-player in the brain. It is something like a young monarch who inherits the throne and takes credit for the glory of the country—without ever being aware of the millions of workers who keep the place running.”

5. The Brain is a Team of Rivals
This chapter discusses human complexity using real-life examples of inconsistent human behavior, poetic expression of “I am large, I contain multitudes,” an analogy with various forms of government: “Democracy of mind.”  The author even refers to a two-party system: Reason and Emotion. Here is the author’s summary of the chapter:” The main lesson of this chapter is that you are made up of an entire parliament of pieces and parts and subsystems. Beyond a collection of local expert systems, we are collections of overlapping, ceaselessly reinvented mechanisms, a group of competing factions. The conscious mind fabricates stories to explain the sometimes inexplicable dynamics of the subsystems inside the brain. It can be disquieting to consider the extent to which all of our actions are driven by hardwired systems, doing what they do best, while we overlay stories about our choices. Note that the population of the mental society does not always vote exactly the same way each time. This recognition is often missing from discussions of consciousness, which typically assume that what it is like to be you is the same from day to day, moment to moment. Sometimes you’re able to read well; other times you drift. Sometimes you can find all the right words; other times your tongue is tangled. Some days you’re a stick in the mud; other days you throw caution to the wind. So, who’s the real you? As the French essayist Michel de Montaigne put it, “There is as much difference between us and ourselves as there is between us and others.” A nation is at any moment most readily defined by its political parties in power. But it is also defined by the political opinions it harbors in its streets and living rooms. A comprehensive understanding of a nation must include those parties that are not in power but that could rise in the right circumstances. In this same way, you are composed of your multitudes, even though at any given time your conscious headline may involve only a subset of all the political parties.”

6. Why Blameworthiness is the Wrong Question
This chapter references the Texas sniper with the damaged brain. It discusses whether it is possible to blame people for their actions if these actions are caused by biological factors such as DNA or brain damage outside of their control. As usual, this discussion moves to free will and presents events and experiments that demonstrate that actions often occur outside of conscientious control. However, the author provides a unique point of view: “I propose that the answer to the question of free will doesn’t matter—at least not for the purposes of social policy—and here’s why. In the legal system, there is a defense known as an automatism. This is pled when the person performs an automated act—say, if an epileptic seizure causes a driver to steer into a crowd. The automatism defense is used when a lawyer claims that an act was due to a biological process over which the defendant had little or no control. In other words, there was a guilty act, but there was not a choice behind it… So, I’m going to propose what I call the principle of sufficient automatism. The principle arises naturally from the understanding that free will, if it exists, is only a small factor riding on top of enormous automated machinery. So small that we may be able to think about bad decision making in the same way we think about any other physical process, such as diabetes or lung disease. The principle states that the answer to the free-will question simply does not matter. Even if free will is conclusively proven to exist one hundred years from now, it will not change the fact that human behavior largely operates almost without regard to volition’s invisible hand.”

The author nevertheless states that “Explanation does not equal exculpation” and

 Offer a graphic representation of dynamic approach based on the level of technological development:

After that, the author discusses what he calls:” A FORWARD-LOOKING, BRAIN-COMPATIBLE LEGAL SYSTEM.” He also looks at the maturation of the human brain and human inequality and concludes that legal measures should be based on modifiability to align punishment with neuroscience. The author especially stresses that his position does not mean letting criminals go free, but instead defining appropriate action, precisely:” The concept and word to replace blameworthiness is modifiability, a forward-looking term that asks, what can we do from here? Is rehabilitation available? If so, great. If not, will the punishment of a prison sentence modify future behavior? If so, send him to prison. If punishment won’t help, then take the person under state control for the purposes of incapacitation, not retribution.”

7. Life After the Monarchy

This chapter discusses scientific progress overall and its philosophical reflection, including the understanding of humans. The author discusses how difficult it is for people to accept the materiality of who they are despite the enormous amount of evidence demonstrating the impact of mechanical and chemical interferences on the human condition, from thought processes to physical actions. The author also discusses the complexity of nature/nurture interaction and provides a simple and interesting example based on a short/long combination of alleles of two genes controlling serotonin in everybody’s genome:

In short, humans are defined by both nature and nurture in complex and unpredictable combinations. The reduction to materialism does not simplify the analysis of human thoughts and behaviors. Here is the author’s final word:” In the same way that the cosmos is larger than we ever imagined, we ourselves are something greater than we had intuited by introspection. We’re now getting the first glimpses of the vastness of inner space. This internal, hidden, intimate cosmos commands its own goals, imperatives, and logic. The brain is an organ that feels alien and outlandish to us, and yet its detailed wiring patterns sculpt the landscape of our inner lives. What a perplexing masterpiece the brain is, and how lucky we are to be in a generation that has the technology and the will to turn our attention to it. It is the most wondrous thing we have discovered in the universe, and it is us.”

MY TAKE ON IT:

I think it is time to finally recognize that there is no clear division between the human mind and brain or between the role of nature vs. nurture in human development. This book provides a pretty good set of real-life examples and experimentation supporting these two statements. It also provides an excellent discussion on the individual’s control over his/her actions and blame that could or could not be assigned as a result. I also like the idea that this is not relevant to the reality of crime and punishment because the goal should be preventing crime from happening rather than inflicting retribution on the perpetrator. However, I think that in real life, retribution and prevention functions could not be separated. For example, I am always puzzled by the statement that capital punishment does not prevent crime. As far as I know, no dead criminal murdered or caused harm to anybody else, while it is not unheard of for murderers convicted to life in prison to kill again. Somehow, it is challenging for quite a few highly educated people to move from abstract thinking about “general deterrence” to simply understanding that dead people do not do anything, crimes included.

The only thing that I probably do not entirely agree with the author is about the complexity of a mind/brain being comparable to the cosmos. I think that despite a huge number of neurons in the human brain, unlike the universe, it is finite and therefore comprehensible and could be modeled or even artificially recreated if not on a silicon basis, then biologically or even mathematically. However, I do not think that it will be done on a regular basis beyond scientific research. What is the point in creating artificial humans when plenty of them are produced naturally. Indeed, technologically developed specialized brain-like systems will be and already are made, but they are just tools. They will remain tools forever because, after a tragedy or two with artificially developed conscious beings, the cruelty and meaningless of such exercise would become evident, and it would stop. I think that eventually, people would understand that a complex dynamic system is not possible to fully control externally, as well as reliably predict its behavior, so it would be better not to play with fire.           

20220101 – The Hunter-Gatherer Guide

MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is to apply the authors’ knowledge of evolutionary biology to the contemporary situation and derive clear recommendations for behavior both individual and a group not only in general but also in specific functional areas of human life. It is also to point out the dangers of the current situation when even humans’ formidable ability to handle changes could be overwhelmed by the temp and scale of changes currently occurring in technology and society.

DETAILS:

Introduction
In the beginning, the authors retell how they nearly got into a dangerous situation because of the lack of local environmental knowledge. Then, they discuss how much people lost what used to be necessary for survival: local knowledge, tradition, norms of behavior, and such. They make a point of how much unusual it is for the traditional human world and how difficult it would be to adjust:” The best, most all-encompassing way to describe our world is hyper-novel. As we will show throughout the book, humans are extraordinarily well adapted to, and equipped for, change. But the rate of change itself is so rapid now that our brains, bodies, and social systems are perpetually out of sync.”

The authors suggest that the only way to handle this novel situation is via science and discuss their experience as scientists. They also define science:” science is a method that oscillates between induction and deduction—we observe patterns, propose explanations, and test them to see how well they predict things we do not yet know. We thus generate models of the world that, when we do the scientific work correctly, achieve three things: they predict more than what came before, assume less, and come to fit with one another, merging into a seamless whole.”

Finally, they conclude:” Our species’ pace of change now outstrips our ability to adapt. We are generating new problems at a new and accelerating rate, and it is making us sick—physically, psychologically, socially, and environmentally. If we don’t figure out how to grapple with the problem of accelerating novelty, humanity will perish, a victim of its success.”

Chapter 1: The Human Niche
The discussion of the human niche begins with the story of the slow movement of humans to America via Beringia and how humans adjust to changes. Here how the authors see critical components of human nature that facilitate such adjustment:” Most of the best ideas that our species has generated, the most important and powerful ideas, have been the result of a group of people who had different but consilient talents and vision, non-overlapping blind spots, and a political structure that allowed for novelty.” The authors stress the paradox of human ability to become specialists as individuals while maintaining a wide range of functionality as a group. Next, the authors discuss consciousness and culture, their interplay, and the uniqueness of human use of “collective consciousness.” They provide a fascinating approach to all this:” Homo sapiens therefore oscillate between two dominant modes. When we face problems for which our prior understanding is inadequate, we become conscious. How do we feed ourselves in this new land? We plug our minds into a shared problem-solving space and share what we know. Then we parallel process—proposing hypotheses, providing observations, offering challenges—until we arrive at a new answer, one that an individual would rarely reach alone. If the result works well when tested in the world, it gets refined and then driven into a more automatic, less deliberative layer. This is culture. The application of culture to the circumstances for which it is adapted is the population-level equivalent of an individual being in the zone.”

Another interesting point that the authors make, as evolutionary biologists, is related to fitness, which they define this way:” fitness is indeed often about reproduction, but it is always about persistence. A successful population can ebb and flow through time. What a successful population can’t do is go extinct. Extinction is failure. Persistence is success—and the reproduction of individuals is only one factor in the persistence equation.”  

The authors also provide a couple of notions that are critical for understanding human evolutionary processes:

Chapter 2: A Brief History of the Human Lineage
This chapter discusses the biological classification of human evolution from the very beginning starting with Plant and all the way to humans. Here are the first and last pictures:

The authors also provide functional characteristics and a high-level timeline of human development:

  • Oscillating between these two challenges—ecological dominance and social competition—we became expert at exploring new niches. We are the ultimate niche switchers.
  • By forty thousand years ago, many populations of people were engaged in hunting and gathering that was even more cooperative and forward-looking.
  • Seventeen thousand years ago, when the most famous cave art in Europe, at Lascaux, was being created, Beringians had likely become Americans and were spreading across two vast continents.
  • Ten to twelve thousand years ago, people were beginning to farm.
  • By nine thousand years ago, permanent settlements were forming; in the Middle East, Jericho may have been Earth’s first city.
  • Eight thousand years ago, at Chobshi, in the Andes of modern Ecuador, people took cover in a shallow cave, and hunted by funneling guinea pigs, rabbits, and porcupines off a short cliff, retrieving the corpses at the bottom, with which they made food and clothing.
  • By three thousand years ago, much of Earth’s landscape had been modified by human activity—by hunter-gatherers, by agriculturalists, and by pastoralists.
  • Seven hundred years ago, some humans were in Europe

Here is also a graphic representation:

Chapter 3: Ancient Bodies, Modern World
This chapter discusses multiple differences between WEIRD people and people untouched by wealth and education. These differences are both physiological and psychological. From this, the authors define a test for a feature being adaptation or not:

After that, the authors discuss different types of trade-offs: allocation and design constraints. Finally, to summarize the discussion, the authors provide the kind of user manual for dealing with the new and unknown so the following chapters discuss multiple areas of human existence and, for each, provide similar recommendations for the evolutionary approach:

Chapter 4: Medicine;

Chapter 5: Food

Chapter 6: Sleep
Chapter 7: Sex and Gender

Chapter 8: Parenthood and Relationship

Chapter 9: Childhood

Chapter 10: School
Chapter 11: Becoming Adults
Chapter 12: Culture and Consciousness

Chapter 13: The Fourth Frontier
In this last chapter, the authors move to the broader picture looking at the development of a whole society. They review challenges and define the next frontier:” The fourth frontier is the idea that we can engineer an indefinite steady state that will feel to people like they live in a period of perpetual growth, but will abide by the laws of physics and game theory that govern our universe. Think of it like the climate control that allows the inside of your house to hover at a pleasant spring temperature as the world outside moves between unpleasant extremes. Engineering an indefinite steady state for humanity will not be easy, but it is imperative.” They also talk about the senescence of civilization and suggest building a system based on such principles:

  • Not optimize for a single value. Mathematically speaking, if you try to optimize for any single value, no matter how honorable—be it liberty or justice, decreasing homelessness or improving educational opportunities—all other values, every single other parameter, will collapse. Maximize justice, and people will starve. Everyone may starve equally, but that’s small recompense.
  • Create a prototype for your system. After that, continue to build prototypes. Do not imagine that you know from the beginning what the final system will look like.
  • Recognize that the fourth frontier is inherently a steady state, whose characteristics are ours to define. We ought to strive to create a system that:
    • Liberates (that is, that frees people to do rewarding, interesting, awesome stuff),
    • Is antifragile,
    • Is resistant to capture, and
    • Is incapable of evolving into something that betrays its own core values. In the technical language of evolution, we need a system that is an Evolutionarily Stable Strategy, a strategy incapable of invasion by competitors.

The authors also discuss challenges and the need to jump curves when usual processes stop working. Here is a graphic representation:

The final set of suggestions:

Epilogue

The epilogue presents the rules for life that the authors linked to 8 days of Hanukkah:

Day 1: All human enterprises should be both sustainable and reversible.

Day 2: The Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

Day 3: Only support systems that tend to enrich people who have contributed positively to the world.

Day 4: Don’t game honorable systems.

Day 5: One should have a healthy skepticism of ancient wisdom, and engage novel problems consciously, explicitly, and with robust reasoning.

Day 6: Opportunity must not be allowed to concentrate within lineages.

Day 7: Precautionary principle: When the costs of an action are unknown, proceed with caution before making change.

Day 8: Society has the right to require things of all people, but it has natural obligations to them in return.

MY TAKE ON IT:

The approach to the current situation through the lens of evolutionary biology is generally sound but not sufficient. The authors’ recommendations are excellent, and I agree with most of them. However, I do not think individual behavior adjustments based on these recommendations would do the trick. People need some vision of the future condition of the system to act consistently and persistently, even if this vision is not completely clear. This vision should also be simple and linked to modifying the system of relations between people rather than to individual behavior only. Religions used to be able to do it pretty well, including the religion of socialism and communism, but they also tend to lead to obsession, fanaticism, and destruction. We can see it now in the current religion of wakeism. I hope that America’s relative freedoms would help resolve existing problems by updating the system of society’s organization to match currently achieved technological levels. Still, we are probably at the beginning of a protracted period of disturbances before we’ll complete this upgrade.