20220625 – The Decline and Rise of Democracy
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
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
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
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.