20220528 – The Down of Everything
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
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!
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
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.