Equal Rights Libertarian

Home » Articles posted by SimonB

Author Archives: SimonB

20210711 – The Nurture Effect

MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is to provide information on the latest research in behavioral science that demonstrated human need for support and nurturing throughout the life. Based on this information author provides suggestion of how this support should be provided, what results author expect from this support / nurturing, and how it should overcome deficiencies of contemporary society caused by poorly regulated capitalism.

DETAILS:

Introduction: The Way Forward
Author begins introduction with the statement that he believes that:” we have the knowledge to achieve a healthier, happier, and more prosperous society than has ever been seen in human history.” He then presents his work history and qualifications as scientist to demonstrate that he knows what he is talking about. Author uses example of successful movement against smoking and expresses his believe that similar movement could be started:” This book is about how we can create such a movement. Nearly all problems of human behavior stem from our failure to ensure that people live in environments that nurture their well-being.” Author declares that evolution, even cultural evolution is too slow to notice change within lifetime, but behavioral sciences now developed knowledge and practical program that would allow create nurturing environment for everybody and everything. Author then provides overview of the book and graphic representation of various interventions that he believes are necessary:

Part 1: Science Equal to the Challenge of the Human Condition

In this part author discusses scientific principles developed over the last 50 years that if implemented would provide:” proven benefit in preventing multiple problems and nurturing successful development.”

  • A Pragmatic Science of Human Behavior: Evolution and Pragmatism; Humans: The Cooperative Species; Nurturing Environments; Building a Nurturing Society

Here author discusses progress in understanding and treatment of mental disorders, something that was impossible in 1960s when author started, but is more or less reality now. Author them discusses evolution as model of causation when features selected by consequences. Here is author’s definition:” An evolutionary analysis starts by studying the phenomenon of interest and its context and seeks to explain the phenomenon as a function of its context. This is true for behavioral explanations as much as it is for the study of species and genes.” Author then proceeds to analyze humans as “the cooperative species” and describes various experiments supporting such ideas as “helpful babies”. The next stop is description of nurturing environments and requirements for interventions to achieve this:” All successful interventions make environments more nurturing in at least three of four ways:

  • Promoting and reinforcing prosocial behavior
  • Minimizing socially and biologically toxic conditions such as coercion
  • Monitoring and setting limits on influences and opportunities to engage in problem behavior
  • Promoting the mindful, flexible, and pragmatic pursuit of prosocial values

Part 2: A Wealth of Knowledge About How to Help People Thrive

In this part author describes how scientific principles:” helped in the development of interventions that assist families, schools, and peer groups to become environments that nurture human development and well-being.”

  • Nurturing Families: Nurturing Development During Pregnancy and the first two Years of Life; Nurturing Young Children; Thriving in Childhood; Keeping Early Adolescents Out of Trouble; Helping Delinquent Adolescents; Action Implications

Here author provides a number of anecdotes describing effective and ineffective approach to raising children and discusses importance of this process to future behavior of individuals. The bottom line is developing ability for emotional regulation and habits of prosocial behavior. Author also expresses strong support for “evidence-based” and cost-effective programs.   

  • Nurturing Schools: Nurturing Prosocial Behavior; Teaching Children Well: The Importance of an Evidence-Based Approach; Action Implications

Here author stresses need to minimize coercion and use positive reinforcement of prosocial behavior in schools. As example author describes “good behavior game” that really improved behavioral patterns of students. Author also stresses need for close monitoring of behavior and progress.  

  • Peers and Problems: Deviancy Training; The Pathway to Deviance; Preventing Deviant Peer Influences; Action Implications

This chapter about causes of deviant behavior. Author points out that it is often result of peer pressure based around antisocial values instilled as result of nonnurturing environment. Author discusses variety of measures used to prevent peer influences, substitution of peers with others who could provide pro-social influence. Important point author makes is necessity to isolate deviant individuals in order to prevent them from congregating in self-referencing community.  Closely monitor troubled individuals and provide strong positive feedback for pro-social behavior.

  • The Behavioral Revolution in Clinical Psychology: My Own Journey; The Schism in Behavior Therapy; Psychological Flexibility and the Third Wave of Behavior Therapy; Implications of the Progress in Clinical Psychology; Action Implications

In this chapter author moves from behavior problems of children and adolescents to adults. He retells his own story of disappointment in social psychology and change of specialization to clinical psychology that eventually led him to establishing Behavior Change Center in middle 1970s treating anxiety and depression. He then narrates the history of development of behavioral treatments and provides reference to relevant several books:

Cultivate psychological flexibility, perhaps using one or more of the many recent ACT books for the general public:

To develop more psychological flexibility, The Happiness Trap (Harris 2007)

For overcoming psychological problems in general, Get Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life (Hayes 2005)

For depression, The Mindfulness and Acceptance Workbook for Depression (Robinson and Strosahl 2008)

For anxiety, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy for Anxiety Disorders (Eifert and Forsyth 2005)

For strengthening partner relationships, ACT on Love (Harris 2009b)

Part 3: The Larger Social Context Affecting Well-Being

In this part author:” explore how the public health framework can guide such efforts, describing the major, society-wide factors that undermine well-being and showing how we can understand most of these factors in terms of the influence of recent developments in the evolution of corporate capitalism.”

  • From People to Populations:  Targeting Incidence and Prevalence; Epidemiology; Good Surveillance; Programs, Policies, and Practices; Advocacy; Action Implications

In this chapter author discusses public health and suggests that there are five key practices that should be targeted to improve populations well-being:

Author provides recommendation on wide range of interventions and examples of research that show that doubling of tax on alcohol leads to great many wonderful things.

  • Harmful Corporate Marketing Practices:  Marketing; Free Speech and Corporate Marketing; Guidelines for Restrictions of Marketing Practices; Action Implications

In this chapter author shifts his attention to evil corporations that market all kinds of bad staff such as cigarettes to innocent people using behavior science to make this marketing more and more effective. As usual author’s action recommendations mainly come down to more government spending on research and increase in regulations. On interesting point that author makes here is suggestion that advertisement should be evaluated not merely on “literal truth”, but on “functional effects of ads on unhealthful behavior”

  • Poverty and Economic Inequality:  Imagining Being Poor; The Damage Done by Poverty; The Damage Done by Economic Inequality; The Benefits of Improving Families’ Economic Well-Being; Policies That Have Increased Poverty and Economic Inequality; Action Implications

This chapter is kind of funny because it is dedicated to explaining that poverty is bad and how all kinds of negative consequences for health and well-being comes from being poor. As usual for these discussions author provides comparison of USA with smaller, homogeneous, and rich countries:

Author provides graphs demonstrating how poverty levels changes in USA over years, but somehow fails to note that it demonstrates dramatic decrease of poverty before the beginning of war on poverty after which poverty levels stop falling and mainly stabilized.  Author also fails to note that the only age group for which poverty raised a bit in 1980s were people under 18 – those who become victims of family destruction, minimal wage limitations on their entry level employment, and war on drugs that often make them into unemployable criminals. Author’s suggested actions pretty much the same: more taxes, more regulation, more limitation on business.

  • The Recent Evolution of Corporate Capitalism: A Contextual Approach to Policy Making; The Powell Memo; Capitalism from an Evolutionary Perspective; Increasing Materialism; Changing the Consequences for Corporate Practices; The Critical Role of Advocacy Organizations; A Comprehensive Strategy; Action Implications

Author’s discussion of evolution of corporate capitalism brings in somewhat famous Powell memo, which called for capitalists fight back against attacks by intelligentsia and bureaucracy on free markets and capitalism. Interestingly author admits that Powell’s concerns were well justified and business did become more active in self-defense resulting in cultural and psychological change in late 1980s and 90s in support of capitalism. Author also noted that evolution of capitalism in USA moved away from market to lobbying. Here how he defines his overall position:” I want to stress that this is not a critique of capitalism per se. The benefits of the evolutionary process that is capitalism are evident in all of the products and services that have evolved in the last two hundred years, including the computer on which I am writing this book. However, we need to evolve a system that retains the benefits of capitalism while also restraining its worst excesses.” Author also discusses and even somewhat laments increasing prevalence of materialism that he perceives as negative and somehow links it to conservatives and market rather than to leftists and government. The Action Implications per author are needs for more and better regulated advocacy groups.

Part 4: Evolving the Nurturing Society

In the last part of the book author:” pull all of this together to describe how we can use our accumulated scientific knowledge about human behavior to produce improvements in human well-being that go beyond anything ever achieved in human history. If that seems like hyperbole, remember how long it took to communicate with someone on the other side of the world in 1850—before science created telephone networks and the Internet.”

  • In Caring Relationships with Others: Coercion: The Main Obstacle to Caring; Cultivating Forbearance and Forgiveness; Action Implications

In this chapter author links nurturing with caring relationships and then discusses what prevents or impedes caring relationships. Obviously, the main obstacle is coercion that author defines as:” There is no shortage of types of conflict and coercion: war, genocide, murder, harassment, bullying, cheating, child abuse, marital conflict, discriminatory behavior; the list goes on.” Somehow the type of coercion that author constantly calls for – government regulation and taxation did not make the list, which is kind of funny. Author then discusses evolutionary reasons for coercion and cooperation as tools of interaction and looks at costs of coercion for health and overall well-being of people. At the end of chapter author suggest measures to decrease levels of coercion in society.

  • Evolving the Society, We Want: A Compelling Vision; Creative Epidemiology; Disseminating Evidence-Based Programs, Policies, and Practices; Creating a New Breed of Advocacy Organizations; Evolving a More Beneficial Form of Capitalism; Changing Popular Culture; Empowering Dramatic Cultural Change; 

Author begins this chapter with somewhat utopian vision of 2042 and statement that such future is not only possible, but inevitable. He then proceeds describe how it could happen. The key words each subchapter are “WE”, “SHOULD”, and “POLICY”.

MY TAKE ON IT:

It is a very nice book by obviously a very nice person. It is also based on seemingly solid research in human behavior and dependency of individual behavior and well-being on surrounding environment, most importantly other humans and their attitudes to the individual. The book leaves no doubt that it would be much better if everybody were surrounded by nurturing environment from birth to death with no gaps in between. The only small problem that I have with all this is that it is kind of obvious. It is like saying that “Better to be healthy and wealthy than sick and poor”. To the author’s credit he is clearly trying to move beyond trivialities and provide recommendations as “Action implications” at the end of each chapter, but these implications mainly come down to similar points for everything:

  • Coerce everybody to give us, scientists more money for research and experimentation(taxation)
  • Coerce everybody to comply with our recommendations (regulation)

I just do not think that this is much helpful because there is no such thinking and feeling entity as government or corporations or businesses, but there are feeling and thinking human beings: politicians, bureaucrats, both governmental and corporate, seeking to maximize their material and psychological well-being, rich who are struggling to invest money for best returns and not to lose them in process, poor straggling to get more resources whether by working, getting benefits, stealing, or whatever. The mindset of putting all human individuals on one side and calling them “WE” is not productive and could not possibly lead to solution of any problem. The solution could come only from recognizing that all resource flows are between humans and all humans are self-interested, even if self-interest could be non-material feeling good about self. The simple example would be welfare bureaucrat. Would anybody think that giving magic wand to instantly eliminate all poverty a professional welfare bureaucrat would use it, making him/herself unemployed and pretty much unemployable since his/her decades of experience instantly devalued to null? I don’t think so. The solution could come only from restructuring system in such way that maximum of individuals would benefit from the change and minimum would be hurt, which pretty much exclude solutions based overwhelmingly on coercion, which actually means government regulations and interventions. 

20210704 – On Deep History and the Brain

MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is that traditional approach to history that includes accumulation of historical artifacts, their analysis, and consequential synthesis of the narrative of the past is not sufficient and should be supplemented, or maybe even supplanted by neurohistory that would be based on genetic, neurological, and biological analysis that would allow going back much deeper than any historical artifacts allow: not just a few thousand years, but millions of years, which would allow better understanding of humanity than ever before.

DETAILS:

Introduction: Toward Reunion in History

In introduction author defines meaning of deep history as history of humanity going back not just a few thousand years of known civilization, but way further back:” A deep history of humankind is any history that straddles this buffer zone, bundling the Paleolithic and the Neolithic together with the Postlithic-that is, with everything that has happened since the emergence of metal technology, writing, and cities some 5,500 years ago. The result is a seamless narrative that acknowledges edges the full chronology of the human past.”  Author stresses that unlike other histories it would be based not only on archeological artifacts and written documents, but on everything that could be used including human DNA, traces of human impact on environment, human neurophysiology, but not evolutionary psychology that author consider not useful for understanding history. Author also stresses that history should start in Africa where contemporary humans came from.

1. The Grip of Sacred History

This chapter is pretty much dedicated to rejection of traditional history that explicitly or more often implicitly driven by biblical narrative, compressing history to narrow timeframe of a few thousand years and author diligently narrate how this was slowly rejected by emerging scientific evidence incorporated into the new ways of thinking developed by Enlightenment. Nevertheless, author believes that remnants of “sacred history” still remain and limit amounts of resources allocated to research of Paleolithic, the period of real beginning of human history.

2. Resistance

This chapter describes resistance to expansion of history deeper into the past and here is how author describes the problem of resistance:” What this genealogy indicates is that it was not the inertia of sacred history and the problems of plotting alone that have delayed the reception of humanity’s deep history. There was a certain degree of resistance, a lingering unwillingness to contemplate the dark abyss of time. Historians no longer think this way.’ But when resistance was active-when, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, some historians were alive to the implications of that abyss-the exclusion of the deep past was motivated by genuine intellectual doubts and uncertainties. Their resistance absolved solved historians of the need to read deeply in the paleoanthropological evidence. This resistance is now dormant, but its legacy-a few dutiful pages on the Paleolithic, a sense that this is not the province of history-continues to shape our texts and our curricula.” Author reviews discussion of deep past inclusion into history and how proceed about it when there are no traditional evidences such as texts or sufficient levels of artifacts going all the way back deep enough.

3. Between Darwin and Lamarck

Author starts here with another critic of “Whiggish histories” and its writers going back mainly to XIX century. He allocates quite a bit of space to metaphorical “seeds of civilization” then jumping from this to ontogeny and phylogeny, positing that “in the potential confusion between ontogeny and phylogeny, that a deep history has to take a stand in favor of phylogeny. An ontogeny necessarily begins at a point of conception or germination: in the narrative of sacred history, the Garden of Eden. In contrast, the deep history of humanity has no particular beginning and is certainly driving toward no particular end.” He then reviews history of Lamarck’s and Darwin’s ideas, noting that cultural evolution works pretty much on Lamarckian pattern and provides huge acceleration of human development.  He then discusses literature on this subject and various theories of adaptation or maladaptation to environment resulting from interaction of random Darwinian change and directed Lamarckian change. Both these processes applied not only in human evolution, but also in evolution of animals that also have cultures. The huge difference, however, is that humans developed ability accumulate information outside of an individual brain via complex language and later variety of methods for information processing and accumulation from telling the stories, to using writing and computers with their infinite memory either in form of books or silicon chips. Author summarizes all this by saying that:” Examples discussed in this chapter suggest how some of the most important cultural achievements of the Postlithic era have been shaped by blind variation and selective retention.”

4. The New Neurohistory

Author begins this chapter by rejecting duality of mind and body often supported by argument that human mind is huge overkill for what is needed for relatively simple tasks of hunting and gathering. He makes very good point that there is no overkill if one considers complexity created by the need for survival in human group with its complex communications and relationships conducted using language and other complex signaling systems. Author then discusses emotions, their role and human interactions and their complex nature that combine universality of basic emotions with culture dependent specifics. Here how author applies idea of Neurohistory in this area:” A neurohistorical perspective on human history is built around the plasticity of the synapses that link a universal emotion, such as disgust, to a particular object or stimulus, a plasticity that allows culture to embed itself in physiology. By the same token, the universal capacity to feel disgust can be exploited in ways that are unique to a given culture.” Author also discusses here sociobiology and its use and/or misuse by many researchers that brought in their political attitude to support or reject ideas of combined evolutionary process with intertwining of genes and culture. Author completes this chapter by once again juxtaposing Neurohistory with traditional history:” Nevertheless, the perspectives of Neurohistory matter in the context of this book because they make it possible to see the brain as the narrative focus for a history that begins with early hominins and balances on the Neolithic era. This focus means we can construct a different historical narrative, one that does not have to depend on the framework of political organization, including the rise of the nation-state, that undergirds the grand narratives of general history. A neurohistory is a deep cultural history, offering a way out of the increasingly sterile presentism that constrains the historical imagination and contributes to the growing marginalization of early history in the curriculum. Our feet planted firmly in the deep past, we can look ahead with wonder at the ramifying cultural patterns, the wonderful life, that emerged as human neurophysiology interacted with the rapidly changing ecologies of the Postlithic era”.

5. Civilization and Psychotropy

Author begins this chapter by discussing neurochemicals, their functions, and how these functions could be impacting deep history. He then moves to cultural moderation of moods and behaviors referring to them as psychotropic mechanisms. He also expands it to consumer behavior. Author brings in dominance hierarchies, which he links to phylogeny based on their presence in behavior of our close relatives. Interestingly enough author discusses ideas of reverse hierarchy of hunter gathering societies when majority of weak easily suppressed a few strong. This was later turned around in agricultural societies and continues in form of variety of political dominance hierarchies to the present day. Author also discusses in details teletropic mechanisms used to influence behavior of people. These mechanisms include everything from drags to novels, gossip, and propaganda. He comes up with quite an interesting idea:” From the perspective of neurohistory, the progress of civilization is an illusion of Psychotropy. This argument is a deliberate rejoinder to other models of general or universal history that seek to offer explanations for history’s apparent direction.”

Epilogue: Looking Ahead

Author concludes this book by restating his believe that traditional history that he somewhat contemptuously refers as Western Civ is outdated and the new one should be developed. So here is the point:” I have suggested, in this book, that we add a neurohistorical perspective, with sets of tools and concepts that allow us to think about the historical implications of recent developments in neuroscience and human biology. This history is necessarily a deep one, since the genes responsible for building the autonomic nervous system are themselves of considerable antiquity. This history is also a world history, since the equipment is shared by all humans, though it is built, manipulated, and tweaked in different ways by different cultures. Finally, it is a history to which many of us can connect.”

MY TAKE ON IT:

I like idea of deep history a lot and I think that it already happening, but in forms quite different from what author presents in this book. I believe that recent developments in decoding DNA of fossils provides the great foundation for analysis of dynamic development of hominins and early humans as it was expressed in DNA changes over time and in different environments. DNA provides for understanding organism’s potential, but it is just a foundation. We now know that over lifetime of organism the process of living creates epigenetic changes, so it is not impossible that these changes also could be learned from the fossils. In short, I think that deep history probably has a great future, but we are at the very beginning of the road that may or may not lead to development of such deep history.

20210627 -Heaven on Earth

MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is to review ideas of socialism and communism in their contemporary form starting with Gracchus Babeuf during French revolution, their implementation in various forms during XX century, their massive crash by the end of this century, and finally their partial resurrection in our time. The important and very interesting feature of this book is allocation of lots of space to individuals who created and promoted these ideas, their background, psychology, and behavior, all of which helps understand reasons for these ideas’ genesis and their attractiveness for some people.

DETAILS:

BEGINNINGS
1 Conspiracy of Equals: Babeuf plots a revolution
Author begins the story o socialism by describing celebration in 1911 the 151th anniversary of the birth of François-Noël Babeuf, who called himself Gracchus – the first murderer and martyr of contemporary socialist idea. Author notes that Babeuf was a natural product of the French revolution, which added to ideas of Enlightenment as they were imbedded in American revolution the idea of use government violence to enforce “equality”. Author retells the story of Babeuf’s conspiracy that included plans for mass terror even more expansive than Jacobins, failure of this conspiracy, and notes a very interesting feature of consequences: despite execution of Babeuf himself, other conspirators were treated with unusual compassion and get away much easier than other, non-ideological and non-socialist murderers. For the next two century this specific treatment of ideological killers was demonstrated great many times in various countries and circumstances. Practically all muss murdering dictators earlier in their careers were caught in treasonous and often murderous acts, tried in courts of law, lightly sentenced and later freed, only to kill huge numbers of people in the name of socialism when they got to power. The names are well known: Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Castro, and quite a few of others.

2 New Harmony: Owen conducts an experiment
In this chapter author describes in details the history of attempt to implement socialism on voluntary basis as superior economic system that would provide much better returns on labor and assure prosperity for community founded on socialist principles. This attempt was conducted in America by rich British manufacturer Robert Owen who provided ideological and practical directions supported by generous financing. This experiment demonstrated, and very clearly indeed, that socialism, as economic system and foundation of society, fails miserably and could not be sustained on voluntary basis.

3 Scientific Socialism: Engels interprets the oracle
This chapter is about Marx and Engels, their somewhat host / parasite type of cooperation, and successful attempt to present ideas of socialism as science. Author describes their lives, activities, and the most important works. Author goes in a bit of details into Marx’s anti-Semitism and Engels’ business history, but concentrates mainly on their relationship as leader and sidekick, even if Engels was somewhat more effective writer and capable individual, albeit self-denigrated in relation to Marx.  Author then describes a very interesting phenomenon of Marx work, especially Das Kapital becoming “scientific” foundation of revolutionary movement, even if hardly anybody actually read it, and those who did were unimpressed. Author then reviews history of this movement’s organizational forms from its inception as International in 1860 to transformation into national Social-Democratic parties all over the Europe by the end of XIX century. Unlike typical approach, author stress role of Engels:” But it was Engels who formulated and popularized Marxism and who launched the Marxist movement. He was Moses to Marx’s God, Mohammed to Marx’s Allah. He was the High Priest and Marx the Oracle. “Marx stood higher, saw farther,” said Engels. Perhaps he did. But it was Engels who told the world what Marx saw, spreading the message that shaped the history of the dawning century.”

4 What Is to Be Done? Bernstein develops doubts
In this chapter author completes history of  socialism as at least somewhat legitimate scientific theory by reviewing history of early XX century when it became quite obvious that no socialist revolution in in the most developed countries is forthcoming, mainly because instead of pauperization of working class, predicted by Marx,  that would lead to social explosion something quite opposite happened: formation of middle class that included most of high and middle qualified workers that enjoyed increasing prosperity consumption levels more and more comparable with consumption levels of business owners. This led to ideological crisis of socialism expressed in work of Bernstein. It divided socialist movement into 3 different ways: evolutionary socialism of social democrats that become dominant in democracies of Western Europe seeking political power via election in order move society to socialism by slowly shifting production to government-controlled hierarchies that would demonstrate socialism’s superiority over capitalism, unionist movement that become dominant in America seeking higher levels of redistribution of wealth generated within capitalist economy, and communist movement, which later become dominant in Russia, China, and Eastern Europe, seeking power by all means necessary in order to use this power without any ethical, moral, or humane considerations to impose socialism on people, in process physically eliminating everybody who happens to be on the way.

TRIUMPHS

In this part author reviews four cases of real-life implementation of socialist ideas during XX century all of them failing after causing tens of millions of deaths and unaccountable amount of pain and suffering.
5 Real Existing Socialism: Lenin seizes power
This chapter is about the most cruel and bloody form of socialism implemented by Lenin and Communist party on territory of Russian Empire that featured mass executions, concentration camps, mass starvation, and elimination of all and any individual freedoms developed during Enlightenment period of European history. It was probably the most consistent and logical implementation of ideas of public property on means of production when “public” meant the hierarchy of communist party functionaries, while “means of production” included just about everything, including bodies of individuals.

6 Fascism: Mussolini becomes a heretic

This chapter describes another and generally more humane form of socialism – fascism as it was implemented in Italy by Mussolini. The “taking overall control over means of production” in fascistic system is pretty much limited to subordination of businesses to direction from government without expropriation of private property. Fascism was generally satisfied with unchallenged political power via mass indoctrination and violent suppression of dissent, control over direction of country development usually meaning military development and aggression, and generally not interfered with day-to-day business activities, while promoting extensive welfare state. Author also briefly discusses another more virulent form of fascism – Nazis in Germany whose contribution was extreme form of racism and especially murderous anti-Semitism, but other than that it was not very different from Italian fascism in organization of society and its productive activities.  

7 Social Democracy: Attlee takes the slow road
This chapter presents history of partial implementation of socialism in highly developed democratic state – UK. Unlike communism and fascism this form of socialism retained individual freedoms and democratic elections of leadership, limited by governmental interferes into great many areas of life. The key leader of this implementation was Clement Attlee and author allocates quite a bit of space to this personality. Author also discusses philosophical underpinning of this form of socialism that came from works of Sidney and Beatrice Webb and their movement: Fabians.  Unlike fascism and communism, this form of socialism deprived of ability to use mass violence to stay in power, was very vulnerable to public opinion and consequently subject to defeat in democratic elections, which duly happened just five years after socialists took power.   

8 Ujamaa: Nyerere forges a synthesis
The final example of implementation of socialism reviewed in this book is Ujamaa – authoritarian socialism implemented in Tanzania in 1960-70s by unusually uncorrupt African product of western educational system – Nyerere. As usual economically this form socialism as any other before it led to disaster, even if it received unusually high level of financial support from all sides of Cold War: Western government bureaucracies, Soviet, and Chinese communists. Here how author characterizes this support: “Never before had all the varieties of socialists—Swedish, Israeli, Chinese, East German, American, Cuban, British, Indian—converged so hopefully around a single national experiment. Yet such were the vicissitudes of the Cold War that the capitalist world did not turn its back on Tanzania either. Not only did the World Bank single out Tanzania for special generosity, but the flow of aid from the major Western powers—the United States, the United Kingdom, West Germany—resumed sooner or later after each rupture in relations. In all, Tanzania emerged from its declaration of self-reliance as Africa’s largest per capita recipient of foreign assistance.”

It is hard to imagine more beneficial opportunities for development, but socialism did what it does best: destroyed economy and made people poor and miserable.

COLLAPSE
9 Union Card: Gompers and Meany hear a different drummer
In this chapter author retells the story of American union movement, its leaders such as Samuel Gompers and George Meany, and their successful struggle against communism. These people correctly understood that communism means enslavement of working class rather than liberation. Author also looks at one of the most effective union fighters against communism – former socialist Jay Lovestone. Not all of American Union leaders were against communism and, with help of CIO leader John Lewis, communists did play a significant role in unions, but they had never been able to take unions completely over. At the end, even if by 1970s most of humanity lived under some form of socialism, it never took hold in America and as consequence eventually failed in most other countries.

10 Perestroika and Modernization: Deng and Gorbachev repeal communism
This chapter is about fall of communism in Soviet Union and its survival in greatly modified form in China. The key difference was in leadership, which in the Soviet Union consistent of men who grow up within communist system and somehow managed to believe its own propaganda about this system economic superiority and inherently humane character. Gorbachev and his team saw system saturated with lies and corruption, but believed that it was deviation from the true nature of the socialism and impediment to its effective working, so if one removes suppression and propaganda, the socialism’s advantages would become evident and their country hugely prosperous. Dan Xiaoping had no such illusions. He understood the true character of communism as corrupted system based on violence and had no hesitation in using massive violence to sustain this system. Dan also understood that economically socialism is complete failure, so political socialism needed economic capitalism to survive. Consequently, Dan masterly used the same policy as Lenin’s NEP on the international level and huge scale, assuring continuation of the system for another 50 years.

11 The Party of Business: Blair redefines social democracy
In this chapter author reviews the same period of “end of history” when socialism, as economic system, was discredited and pretty much abandoned, based on developments in Western Europe where old democratic socialist parties pretty much moved on to the welfare system, away from their old objective of government taking over means of production to objective of government taking bigger part of wealth produced by capitalist economy and partially controlling this economy via massive regulatory interference.

12 The Kibbutz Goes to Market
In this chapter author reviews the story of one and only known temporary successful socialist experiment – Israeli kibbutz. There are some very unique features that made it possible: strong socialist ideology of founders, external deadly thread, and urgent need for survival. Even so, this lasted at most for two generations after which economic inefficiency of socialism and its inhumanity expressed in constant subjugation of individual to collective made kibbutz economically uncompetitive and psychologically unacceptable for children and grandchildren of founders.

AFTERLIFE
13 Epilogue: Rising from the Ashes

The epilogue discusses current resurrection of socialism partially based on success of Chinese communist party in exploiting Western capitalist economies by providing cheap and politically suppressed labor combined with ecological neglect in exchange for technology and investment. It was hugely supported by ideological fervor developed within educational and intellectual areas of Western world when new generation deprived of knowledge of history became victims of government supported, highly credentialled, and parasitic elite promoting socialism.  

MY TAKE ON IT:

This book is one of the most complete and detailed works on history of socialism as ideology and as expression of ideology of great many intellectuals of the last 200 years who developed this ideology as counterweight to capitalist system that they considered inhumane and exploratory. From my point of view, it is the natural development of humanity similar to development of other religious movement and based mainly on achievement of level of productivity when significant number of people could obtain resources from others without doing anything productive themselves. The wealth redistribution away from these others could be based only on combination of violence and propaganda that would support such organization of society that would suppress any resistance to redistribution.

The way it is done features convincing people that it is the most efficient way to proceed economically and eliminating or at least suppressing those who are not convincible enough. It is obviously quite effective ideology and its previous success proves this. However, the downside of this system’s being unworkable is unsurmountable barrier, which was demonstrated many times over. I think current resurrection is temporary and will go down crashing with failure of Chinese socialism that is going to happen as soon as western elite recognize that continuation of their support for China’s parasitic success could lead to their subordination to Chinese elite – the future they will definitely find unacceptable. The coming cutting off China from western investment, technology, and markets would probably cause elimination of communist rule and, with it the final nail in the coffin of “public ownership of means of production”. However, it would not eliminate idea of massive redistribution of wealth because with increase automatization fewer and fewer humans needed to produce all goods and services required so intellectuals who do not produce anything really required by anybody would continue coming up with variety of ideas justifying such redistribution.  

20210620 – Mindset

MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is that there are two different mindsets that people use in their lives that author calls Fixed and Growth. The fixed mindset means acceptance of one’s ability and options as given, unchangeable parameters, so one could achieve something only by using these abilities to maximum extent and even exaggerate them as needed to obtain something of value. The growth mindset means perceiving one’s abilities and options as work in process so one would take on the problems and challenges not only to resolve them, but to learn new staff, obtain new experiences and, consequently, expand both abilities and options. The idea is also includes convincing people that it is quite possible to change one’s mindset and use it to get better results in live.

DETAILS:

Chapter 1: The Mindset

Author starts with example of two different approaches to challenge: one is to work hard on it and learn, even if failed to overcome this challenge and another one is to look for confirmation of one’s ability to overcome or at least pretend overcoming challenge, with learning not even being included into consideration. She refers this difference to different attitudes to abilities, especially intellectual. The first one is result of believe that abilities are flexible enough to be developed via challenges and another one result of believe that it is rigidly given, could not be changed, and so challenge is just test of static abilities. Author then discusses nature/nurture and currently established understanding that it is both and any ability could be expanded continuously through lifetime. She then refers to 30 years of her research to define growth mindset:” growth mindset is based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts, your strategies, and help from others. Although people may differ in every which way—in their initial talents and aptitudes, interests, or temperaments—everyone can change and grow through application and experience.” Author then compares it with fixed mindset, which causes people direct efforts to defend their perceived ability rather than expand the real one.  

Chapter 2: Inside the Mindsets

Here author defines mindset as individual’s approach to his/her ability with one of:” two meanings to ability, not one: a fixed ability that needs to be proven, and a changeable ability that can be developed through learning.”  Author then describes a number of experiments demonstrating different mindsets in action:” People with both mindsets came into our brain-wave lab at Columbia. As they answered hard questions and got feedback, we were curious about when their brain waves would show them to be interested and attentive. People with a fixed mindset were only interested when the feedback reflected on their ability. Their brain waves showed them paying close attention when they were told whether their answers were right or wrong. But when they were presented with information that could help them learn, there was no sign of interest. Even when they’d gotten an answer wrong, they were not interested in learning what the right answer was. Only people with a growth mindset paid close attention to information that could stretch their knowledge. Only for them was learning a priority. What’s Your Priority?” Author then provides a number of anecdotes illustrating her points. She also uses them to demonstrate that mindset itself is flexible and could be changed. She then discusses how mindset changes meaning of effort, and link to depression. At the end of chapter author summarizes it all in specific advice.    

Chapter 3: The Truth About Ability and Accomplishment

In this chapter author links mindset to success in education, overall achievement and provides this summary:” The fixed mindset limits achievement. It fills people’s minds with interfering thoughts, it makes effort disagreeable, and it leads to inferior learning strategies. What’s more, it makes other people into judges instead of allies. Whether we’re talking about Darwin or college students, important achievements require a clear focus, all-out effort, and a bottomless trunk full of strategies. Plus, allies in learning. This is what the growth mindset gives people, and that’s why it helps their abilities grow and bear fruit.” Author also discusses danger of undeserved praise and talent recognition instead of effort recognition. One interesting finding is about extent to which people with fixed mindset would go to defend their status:” almost 40 percent of the ability-praised students lied about their scores? And always in one direction. In the fixed mindset, imperfections are shameful—especially if you’re talented—so they lied them away.”

Chapter 4: Sports: The Mindset of a Champion

Here author applies her ideas about mindset to sports. Unsurprisingly she concludes that ideas of “natural” could not stand scrutiny. She also discusses idea of character, that she believes mainly related to mindset, the same as everything else. She presents a number of stories about sport and then defines her sport related findings:”

Finding #1: Those with the growth mindset found success in doing their best, in learning and improving. And this is exactly what we find in the champions.

Finding #2: Those with the growth mindset found setbacks motivating. They’re informative. They’re a wake-up call.

Finding #3: People with the growth mindset in sports (as in pre-med chemistry) took charge of the processes that bring success—and that maintain it.

 Chapter 5: Business: Mindset and Leadership

Here author applies the same approach to business revieing Enron, successful companies per book “Good to Great”, and a bunch of other cases and studies with final inference that one should applies point of view of growth mindset to be successful.

Chapter 6: Relationships: Mindsets in Love (or Not)

This is similar application of mindset approach to area of personal relationships and love with similar call to use growth mindset in order to be happy.

Chapter 7: Parents, Teachers, and Coaches: Where Do Mindsets Come From?

This chapter a bit different from the previous three, it not that much promotes growth mindset as discusses how to get it either individually or transfer it to children. The outcome depends on key message and that’s how author defines it:” It can be a fixed-mindset message that says: You have permanent traits and I’m judging them. Or it can be a growth-mindset message that says: You are a developing person and I am committed to your development.” Author goes into great many specifics and also provides an interesting point about potential misunderstandings:

Misunderstanding #1. Many people take what they like about themselves and call it a “growth mindset.”

Misunderstanding #2. Many people believe that a growth mindset is only about effort, especially praising effort.

Misunderstanding #3. A growth mindset equals telling kids they can do anything.

She then explains in details why it is so and at the end provides recommendations on how to handle this. 

Chapter 8: Changing Mindsets

The final chapter provides recommendations on how to change one’s own mindset. It starts with discussion on difficulty of change. Author specifically mentions the cognitive therapy as tool that could be used to achieve change in mindset and then suggests other approaches: lectures and workshops. She also discusses various barriers to change, both internal and external. Finally, author provides graphic representation of mindsets:

MY TAKE ON IT:

This is an interesting combination of psychological observations, research, and self-help that nevertheless demonstrates an interesting point – high level of dependency of life’s outcomes on internal condition of individual’s mind – mindset. I pretty much agree that it makes lots of sense to have “growth” approach, embrace challenges and learn from failures. Actually, it is the only way if one wants to get out of some situation and improve one’s lot. However, it is not that simple to act this way in real world. In this world people are highly dependent on external estimates of their abilities rather than on real abilities, leave alone potential level of these abilities, so lots of effort has to be directed at improvement of presentation, rather that improvement of intrinsic qualities. I think that in reality growth mindset is only possible when external pressures are minimized and whatever actions one applies are driven by internal motivation. In this case the failure becomes impossibility because as long as one progresses the success is guaranteed. It is not the case when there are external pressures and competition that shift motivation from progressing to winning. In this case the fixed mindset could work better because it would help avoid overreach resulting in failure. In competition one should only be better than competitors, not the best one can be. Similarly for external evaluation one should only meet evaluation criteria, however meaningless it could be, rather than strive for real achievement.

20210613 – Qestioning Collapse

MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is to give voice to real specialists and scientists working in ecology, archeology, and history to respond to popular, but often unfounded and speculative narratives that twist history so to scare people out of their wits by future ecological, climate, population, and other disasters that will be inevitable if people not immediately change their ways. The title of this book refers to Jared Diamond’s book “Collapse” – a very popular representation of genre: “you and your children are going to die tomorrow from hunger / overpopulation / global cooling / global warming / climate change… if you would not agree to live in misery without energy and transportation right now because such catastrophes happened before.” These real scientists and specialists explain what they know about events in the past used currently to scare people and generally present much more reasonable and realistic picture that demonstrate human ability to handle successfully all kinds of potential dangers either ecological, or climatic, or societal.   

DETAILS:

1 Why We Question Collapse and Study Human Resilience, Ecological

Vulnerability, and the Aftermath of Empire
This is very nice explanation of reasons for this book and here is authors’ summary:” When closely examined, the overriding human story is one of survival and regeneration. Certainly, crises existed, political forms changed, and landscapes were altered, but rarely did societies collapse in an absolute and apocalyptic sense. Even the examples of societal collapse often touted in the media – Rapa Nui (Easter Island), Norse Greenland, Puebloan U.S. Southwest, and the Maya Lowlands – are also cases of societal resilience when examined carefully, as authors do in the chapters in this book. Popular writers’ tendency to approach the past in terms of a series of societal failures or collapses – while understandable in terms of providing drama and mystery – falls apart in light of the information and fresh perspectives presented in this book.” … “The notion of resilience, instead of collapse, is relevant to the chapters of this book because, on close inspection of archaeological evidence, documentary records, or both, it becomes clear that human resilience is the rule rather than the exception.

They also provide map of areas under discussion in this book:”

Part I. Human Resilience and Ecological Vulnerability
2 Ecological Catastrophe, Collapse, and the Myth of “Ecocide” on Rapa Nui

(Easter Island)
This chapter is about “Collapse” of generally isolated society supposedly due to stupidity of its people who used all trees to manufacture and transport idols leading to ecological disaster. Here is how author characterize what really happened:” It is essential to disentangle environmental changes in Rapa Nui from a population collapse that resulted from European contact. Such contact brought Old World diseases and slave trading. Contrary to today’s popular narratives, ancient deforestation was not the cause of population collapse. If we are to apply a modern term to the tragedy of Rapa Nui, it is not ecocide, but genocide.”

Authors proceed to discuss real ecology of the island, types of trees that exists, reasons for deforestation that in reality linked not to the human stupidity, but rather to rat’s population that arrived around 1200 and changed ecology by feeding on palm seeds. The deforestation led to expansion of grasslands and humans successfully adjusted and seems to be doing well. They could not however adjust to conquest by other humans, which did cause humanitarian disaster.  Here is quite explanatory population graph:

3 Did the Medieval Norse Society in Greenland Really Fail?
This chapter is about small society on the island with very unfriendly climate that nevertheless lasted from 982 c.e. until the end of fifteen century. Author of this chapter points out very obvious, but somehow missed point that society that endured for more than 500 years could not be called failed. Author discusses in details relations between Norse and Inuit, which sometimes were hostile and sometimes cooperative. Author then describes evidence of successful adjustment to environment, but notes that eventual cooling was a factor, but not exclusive for Norse moving away. Since Norse maintained active connection with Europe, the emigration was a viable solution for increasing difficulties. Therefore, it was not collapse, but rather relocation to better pastures away from cold Island.

4 Calamities without Collapse: Environment, Economy, and Society in

China, ca. 1800-1949
This chapter is about China’s 100 years of humiliation, but it could not be called collapse by any means. It was rather lack of advancement that put China into position far behind European countries in XIX and XX centuries. The chapter reviews both geographical and institutional situation and finds that part of the problem was fast growth of population that was not handled well because none of 4 measures that could help handle this were successfully applied. These measures are:

  1. Deliberate population control
  2. Increased rural nonagricultural employment
  3. Urbanization
  4. Increasing cultivated area, either through conquest or by reclaiming unfarmed land within current borders.

The biggest civil war in history – Taiping Rebellion that killed around 20 million people did not help to solve these problems, but rather delayed return to normalcy. Similarly foreign invasion of WWII and following on communist takeover were not helpful either. China obviously did not collapse and it is not going to, but, despite rapid development over the last 30 years based on some limited openness to capitalism, massive Western wealth and knowledge transfer resulting in China’s economic growth the disastrous problems could reoccur as long as communists are in power and therefore country’s economy and overall life is still subject to catastrophic top-down decisions by functionaries isolated from consequences of their decisions.  Specifically, author concentrates on environmental impact of massive industrial development.

Part II. Surviving Collapse: Studies of Societal Regeneration
5 Marketing Conquest and the Vanishing Indian: An Indigenous Response

to Jared Diamond’s Archaeology of the American Southwest
This chapter is presented by writer of Amerindian descent who quite convincingly demonstrates that local population had been successful in managing ecology of its environment and, contrary to opinion of “collapse” promoters, it did not fail until conquest by Europeans who had no clue about local environment, but had plenty of power to impose unworkable solutions. Here is the main point of argument:” My criticisms are not simply of Jared Diamond himself, but of those who explain global inequalities and poverty among the have-nots – who have no cargo – as inevitable and portray have-nots as powerless victims of impersonal forces. As a reader, I cannot be held responsible for military encounters 500 years ago. But as an archaeologist I am responsible for understanding how the work I create can take on a life of its own and be interpreted as a collective explanation for Indigenous “failures” – failures that seem to justify colonization and the replacement and removal of Indian Peoples.”

6 Bellicose Rulers and Climatological Peril? Retrofitting Twenty-First-Century Woes on Eighth-Century Maya Society
Authors of this chapter systematically reviewed all scenarios that supposedly led to “collapse” of Maya society:

  1. Escalating warfare
  2. Out-of-control population growth
  3. Environmental degradation
  4. Drought
  5. Effectiveness of divine rulership
  6. Changes in spheres of trade and influence.

They pretty much conclude that none of this was something extraordinary and anywhere beyond similar events in European or Asian history. They make important point that there is no evidence of sudden collapse and plenty of evidence of slow history change not that different from changes that occurred elsewhere and that Maya people still around in their millions. They also warn that:” The past can inform us and often guide us toward a better future, but the mirror of ancient Maya society should not be refracted in hopes of inducing change in the contemporary world, no matter how badly change might be needed.”

7 Collapse in Ancient Mesopotamia: What Happened, What Didn’t
This chapter is direct response to Jared Diamond three claims about Mesopotamia:

  1. Collapse due to the drought cycles
  2. Salinization
  3. Soil nutrient exhaustion

As others in this book author of this chapter states:” Let me anticipate my conclusion: if collapse, in Diamond’s words, is “a dramatic decrease in human population and/or political/economic/social complexity, over a considerable area, for an extended time,” we can’t find any such collapse in Mesopotamia or, indeed, anywhere else among ancient states!” Author then proceeds to describe Assyrian history, which does not show any sudden collapse, and notes that this people, as great many other ancient people are still around.

Part III. Societies in the Aftermath of Empire
8 Advanced Andeans and Backward Europeans: Structure and Agency in

the Collapse of the Inca Empire
This chapter is about Spanish conquest of Inca Empire. As usual the legend of a few hundred conquistadors overcoming an Empire with millions of people is greatly inaccurate. In reality there was an ongoing civil war and Spaniards just benefited from it by aligning with some groups against others. Moreover, conquest was not a momentous event, but the process lasting for decades when areas under control of different powers changed hands. A very interesting fact is that during this process the mixing of people occurred, so by the time of complete establishment of Spanish rule lots of people were descendants of both: Incas and Spaniards. Author goes into great many details of what Diamond got wrong with one of them being highly representative: believe that Incas were illiterate. By now it is well established fact that they had knotted cord recording of information, meaning they just had different technology, which does not mean it was inferior.  Even germs were not as devastating as usually perceived:” Germs also cut a swathe through highland populations, though demographic recovery there came sooner. Be that as it may, indigenous population numbers did not recover until the eighteenth century, in contrast to Mexico, where indigenous populations had recovered by the early sixteenth century despite epidemic-driven demographic decline having been even more devastating than in the Andes. In both Mexico and the Andes, the invasion of germs had run its course by 1600, or at least swept aside European and native Andean alike.” The final and very important point author makes in his verdict, which provides much more realistic picture than usually presented:” colonial hegemony depends on collaborating elites in order to control and exploit indigenous underclasses. During the three centuries after Cajamarca, an Inca nobility in the old capital of Cuzco provided unconditional support for the Crown of Castile.”

9 Rwandan Genocide: Toward an Explanation in Which History and

Culture Matter
This chapter is about contemporary event of genocide, which Diamond presented as consequence of Malthusian fight for arable land. Author of this chapter spent decades in Rwanda and presents somewhat different picture of cultural, ethnic, and political struggle for dominance. True it had roots in colonial politics when Tutsi were elite collaborating with colonial powers and then after being overthrown by Hutu revolution in 1962 become persecuted minority. The genocide in Rwanda was result of these complex politico-cultural developments not that different from developments in Germany in 1930s or Russia in 1920s that produced similar mass murder, but in none of these cases it was result of Malthusian food fight. 

10 “Failed” States, Societal “Collapse,” and Ecological “Disaster”: A Haitian

Lesson on Grand Theory
This chapter is provided by specialist in Haiti and once again demonstrates inapplicability of environmental determinism to real live developments. Similarly to Diamond author uses comparison of Haiti and Dominican Republic to “illustrate the pitfalls of privileging grand theory as “the” way to encompass social scientific knowledge about and understanding of some facet of the human spectacle. Doing so denies anthropologists, as well as policymakers and the general public, an opportunity to explore connections among culture, history, and ecology.” Here is framework for comparison:

Author then goes through each point demonstrating that:” Diamond’s comparison deploys questionable descriptive and analytical maneuvers. Factual errors about historical events, cultural attributes, or socioeconomic and political processes, although numerous and alarming to specialists, need not detain us. More important is Diamond’s penchant for reporting decontextualized facts and extrapolating their significance.”

At the end of article author concludes:” “Failed” state, societal “collapse,” and ecological “disaster” may be serviceable concepts for grand theory as well as catchy terms for media coverage. Are they useful for understanding Haiti’s compound crisis, its many and many-sided problems? No, if one considers failure, collapse, and disaster fixed and incontrovertible end points. No, if one contends that Haitians, leaders and followers, “chose” crisis and problems. No, if the concepts and terms are deemed self-explanatory and treated as rationales for inaction or for humanitarian assistance as the only form that action may take. But yes, if the concepts and terms prompt careful, methodologically sound investigation of Haitian realities, present and past. In Haiti, as elsewhere, these realities include how the facts about one nation-state are forged in the crucible of struggles, within that nation-state and in its relations with other nation-states, over the proper uses of power to achieve and sustain prosperity.”

11 The Power of the Past: Environment, Aborigines, Archaeology, and a

Sustainable Australian Society
This chapter about Australia mostly corroborate criticism of previous chapters. Probably the most interesting part is about Tasmania where according to Diamond’s narrative based on colonial records isolated people lost knowledge and skills they possessed before and where on the brink of extinction. Author claims that:” Fortunately our stock of both archaeological and historical evidence about the first forty-five years of European occupation of Tasmania further strengthens the argument against regression, which was a provocative idea about the consequences of isolation that had flowed from early research in the 1970s. These ideas have now been comprehensively refuted or at the very least seriously questioned.”

12 Excusing the Haves and Blaming the Have-Nots in the Telling of

History

Authors of this chapter also reject Diamond’s approach and stress that:” Anthropology urges us – and helps us – to examine our own taken-for-granted ideas about why and how people act: our ideas about human nature, about the causes and objectives of human action, about the ways people intend one thing to follow from another, about how and why people engage in collective action. We must recognize that not everyone in the world has the same objectives as (many) contemporary Americans, wanting and seeking the same sorts of things as we do. This is to say, we must be aware of historical and cultural context.”  They dig a bit into history of Papua New Guinea and specifically people who prompted Diamond’s book and stress difference in values and approaches to the problems of people with different cultural background, which makes great many of assumptions invalid.

Part IV. Reflections on Sustainability
13 Sustainable Survival
The final chapter kind of summarizes Jared Diamond’s thesis of projecting variety of historical “collapses” into our current situation in search of support for alarmist movements whether they are “climate change”, “population bomb” or whatever else people come up with to get money and power by scaring others out of their wits. Author also very briefly summarizes responses to this thesis from real scientists, which studied history and in some cases actually observed referred “collapses”, demonstrating quite clearly that in reality it was quite different and in most cases “collapses” where just “changes” with which humans normally quite capable of handling.  Here is conclusion, stated around fossil fuels, that I think very appropriate:” Fossil fuels function as an Ethiopian highland for the modern world: they represent an enormous subsidy, not from a distant place, but from a distant time, the carboniferous era. They make it possible for 6.5 billion people to eat. Fossil fuels are the fertilizer of modern agriculture. They pump up groundwater and power tractors. They serve as the feedstocks for pesticides and herbicides. They make nitrogenous fertilizers practical. And they power the vehicles that move crops to kitchens. They sustain us. ..

Our ways are radically unsustainable. Diamond is right to be concerned by that. He is right to prefer hope to despair, and admirable in that he has used his fame to draw attention to issues of sustainability. But he is, as often as not, wrong in his judgments about successes and failures among societies of the past.”

MY TAKE ON IT:

I am really glad that a number of real scientists and historians found courage to publish this book convincingly demonstrating something that I strongly believe in: humans are quite capable to handle infinite variety of challenges by accommodating to changing environment using their big brains. They do it not by creating religions and making sacrifices but rather finding technological solutions and sometimes making accommodations such as relocation from places with deteriorating ecology to places better fit for human life. There is huge number of such changes in human history from invention of clothing and use of fire to creating sewer systems that allow huge number of people to live in very limited city spaces and inventing elevators that allow situate people on the top of each other on hundreds of floors. The change is inevitable and will probably never stop, but it should be done calmly with effective cost/benefit analysis, and without panic, hysterical pronunciations, and massive use of government power.  One should always be aware that there are con people and politicians who try to create panic and fear in order to increase their wealth and power to extent that would be absolutely impossible to achieve without scaring people. 

20210606 – Intelligence Trap

MAIN IDEA:

Author defines the main idea of this book as to look at and find answers for the following questions:” Why do smart people act stupidly? What skills and dispositions are they missing that can explain these mistakes? And how can we cultivate those qualities to protect us from those errors? “

DETAILS:

Introduction
Author begins his introduction with the story of Kary Mullis Nobel prized scientist who promotes all kind of crazy staff on internet. From here author goes to his discovery that:” Intelligent and educated people are less likely to learn from their mistakes, for instance, or take advice from others. And when they do err, they are better able to build elaborate arguments to justify their reasoning, meaning that they become more and more dogmatic in their views. Worse still, they appear to have a bigger “bias blind spot,” meaning they are less able to recognize the holes in their logic.”  Author believe that it is result of what he calls “Intelligence Trap” – tendency of highly intelligent people to overestimate their knowledge and understanding.

Part I-The downsides of intelligence: How a high IQ. education. and expertise can fuel stupidity
This Part “defines the problem. It explores the flaws in our understanding of intelligence and the ways that even the brightest minds can backfire—from Arthur Conan Doyle’s dogged beliefs in fairies to the FBI’s flawed investigation into the Madrid bombings of 2004—and the reasons that knowledge and expertise only exaggerate those errors.”

1: The rise and fall of the Termites: What intelligence is—and what it is not
Author begins this chapter with the story of Termites – the group of children selected for observation and study because of their exceptionally high IQ by Lewis Terman.  Author then discusses IQ tests, types of questions used, theory of general intelligence and multitude of its use. After that author refer to high IQ study results that demonstrated relatively high, but not especially outstanding life achievements of extremely high IQ individuals. Author also discusses Flynn Effect that demonstrated changes in average population IQ over the time. Author also discusses here “Triarchic Theory of Successful Intelligence, which examines three particular types of intelligence—practical, analytical, and creative—that can together influence decision making in a diverse range of cultures and situations.”. Author then provides an interesting definition of intelligence by Sternberg: “the ability to achieve success in life, according to one’s personal standards, within one’s sociocultural context.” Author describes results of Steinberg’s research, some of which demonstrated ability to predict outcome of business projects based on tests of participants. Author also discusses later addition of Cultural Intelligence that allow people with different backgrounds to cooperate.  

2: Entangled arguments: The dangers of “dysrationalia”
Author begins this chapter with another story of highly intelligent person falling into irrational exuberance: Artur Conan Doyle and spiritualism. Author also refers to sceptic Harry Houdini who: “intuitively understood the vulnerability of the intelligent mind. “As a rule, I have found that the greater brain a man has, and the better he is educated, the easier it has been to mystify him”. Author then proceeds to discuss work of Kahneman and Tversky on cognition and then defines term “dysrationalia” – mix of biases and heuristics that causes people make illogical decisions. This follows by discussion of some statistical notions and formal logic tools.  Author presents some very interesting examples of lower practical abilities of high IQ individuals such as:” Around 14 percent of people with an IQ of 140 had reached their credit limit, compared to 8.3 percent of people with an average IQ of 100. Nor were they any more likely to put money away in long-term investments or savings; their accumulated wealth each year was just a tiny fraction greater.” Another very interesting point author makes about biases is that higher level of knowledge and education actually increases bias because it provides more ammunition to defend them. Here is nice illustration:

Author concludes this chapter by sumarizing: “We have now seen three broad reasons why an intelligent person may act stupidly. They may lack elements of creative or practical intelligence that are essential for dealing with life’s challenges; they may suffer from “dysrationalia,” using biased intuitive judgments to make decisions; and they may use their intelligence to dismiss any evidence that contradicts their views thanks to motivated reasoning.”

3: The curse of knowledge: The beauty and fragility of the expert mind
Here author retells the story of false identification individual as terrorist based on poorly analyzed partial fingerprint. Based on this story author presents his list of potential intelligence trap forms:

Part 2 – Escaping the intelligence trap: A toolkit for reasoning and decision making
This Part “presents solutions to these problems by introducing the new discipline of “evidence-based wisdom,” which outlines those other thinking dispositions and cognitive abilities that are crucial for good reasoning, while also offering some practical techniques to cultivate them. Along the way, we will discover why our intuitions often fail and the ways we can correct those errors to fine-tune our instincts. We will also explore strategies to avoid misinformation and fake news, so that we can be sure that our choices are based on solid evidence rather than wishful thinking.”

4: Moral algebra: Toward the science of evidence-based wisdom
In this chapter author refers to Ben Franklin to demonstrate workings of specific type of mindset that author calls “evidence-based wisdom”. He provides as example this idea:” The idea that “I am wise because I know that I know nothing” may have become something of a cliché, but it is still rather remarkable that qualities such as your intellectual humility and capacity to understand other people’s points of view may predict your well-being better than your actual intelligence.” After that author makes point that this mindset is not given, but rather could be developed and describes results of supporting experiments. Author also refer to works of Tetlock and his “Good Judgement project”. At the end of chapter author discusses cultural differences between West and East – one tending overestimate and another underestimate own ability and even height.

5: Your emotional compass: The power of self-reflection

Here author looks at another specific problem:” The problem is that most people—including those with high general intelligence, education, and professional expertise—lack the adequate self-reflection to interpret the valuable signals correctly and identify the cues that are going to lead them astray. According to the research, bias doesn’t come from intuitions and emotions per se, but from an inability to recognize those feelings for what they really are and override them when necessary; we then use our intelligence and knowledge to justify erroneous judgments made on the basis of them”.

Author then refers to work of Damasio and Barrett on unity of intellectual and emotional processing that demonstrate how much more complex is human behavior and achievement that could be expected from IQ driven approach. At the end of chapter author provides a very interesting graph of expertise levels:

6: A bullshit detection kit: How to recognize lies and misinformation
Here author presents quite a few examples of BS and then provides a nice compilation of BS indicators:

Part 3—The art of successful learning: How evidence-based wisdom can improve your memory
This Part:” turns to the science of learning and memory. Despite their brainpower, intelligent people sometimes struggle to learn well, reaching a kind of plateau in their abilities that fails to reflect their potential. Evidence-based wisdom can help to break that vicious cycle, offering three rules for deep learning. Besides helping us to meet our own personal goals, this cutting-edge research also explains why East Asian education systems are already so successful at applying these principles, and the lessons that Western schooling can learn from them to produce better learners and wiser thinkers.

7: Tortoises and hares: Why smart people fail to learn
In this chapter author returns to super high IQ Termites and compares them with Richard Feynman who had decent but not outstanding IQ of 120, but achieved a lot more that Termites with IQ 190 and discusses reasons for such occurrence. He then presents rules of behavior that lead to scientific success:

  • I actively seek as much new information as I can in new situations.
  • Everywhere I go, I am out looking for new things or experiences.
  • I am the kind of person who embraces unfamiliar people, events and places.

He also provides a list of believes that impede success:

  • A failure to perform well at the task at hand will reflect your overall self-worth?
  • Learning a new, unfamiliar task puts you at risk of embarrassment?
  • Effort is only for the incompetent?
  • You are too smart to try hard?

8: The benefits of eating bitter: East Asian education and the three principles of deep learning
Author begins this chapter by contrasting Western and Eastern approach to education as demonstrated by teacher’s choice of the student for interaction before class. Former approach calls for choosing the best student in order to demonstrate how easy it is, while latter would choose the one who is falling behind in order to demonstrate that with hard work result the positive result is achievable. Author then presents three stages of good teaching as defined by research into the process:

Author also present similarly developed effective approaches to learning:

Part 4—The folly and wisdom of the crowd: How teams and organizations can avoid the intelligence trap
“Finally, Part 4 expands our focus beyond the individual, to explore the reasons that talented groups act stupidly—from the failings of the England football team to the crises of huge organizations like BP, Nokia, and NASA.”

9: The makings of a “dream team”: How to build a supergroup
This chapter begins with a few stories of failure of seemingly superior sports teams and then expanded to political and business teams. From there author moves to describing the latest research on group dynamics. This research concentrated on 4 tasks:” generating new ideas; choosing a solution based on sound judgment; negotiating to reach compromise; and finally, general ability at task execution (such as coordinating movements and activities).” The interesting findings were that quality of thinking was correlated across the tasks, and not that much correlated with IQ of group members. The most important was member’s social sensitivity and most destructive intragroup competition. Author expands on it and concludes that the team of stars oftentimes fail. Here is the graph based on sports example:

10: Stupidity spreading like wildfire: Why disasters occur—and how to stop them
In the last chapter author analyses large scale disasters, which in reality do not really happen without warning. The typical sequence is: large number of near disaster accidents that were ignored until some unlucky circumstances made it happen. After that author looks at internal dynamics and refer to “functional stupidity” ideas when group dynamics make it beneficial for highly intelligent people behave stupidly. Author retells some stories of real disasters and then provides the list of characteristics of high-reliability organizations:

Epilogue

At the end author returns to Flynn and his discovery of consistent IQ increase and stresses that it is not really that important. Much more important is wisdom and author refer to work of Chicago Center for Practical Wisdom which is doing research to find out how it really works.

MY TAKE ON IT:

It is quite interesting compilation of research descriptions and real-life cases demonstrating how much IQ and other similar testing procedures are overestimated as tools for predicting future performance of individuals and groups. I very much agree with this conclusion, but I always wonder why people so often forget reasons for existence of all this staff. It is not a coincidence that it was developed at the end of XIX century when traditional believes in God directed birthright selection of leaders and rulers became painfully obvious as being ineffective and increasingly pushed aside by pressure from raising middle and upper classes of capitalist society’s members self-selected for top positions via talent, hard work, and luck. This self-selection worked wonderfully at the business level, but was deemed inappropriate and cumbersome for government and big corporation. IQ, other testing, and credentialing was the response to demand to find methods quickly and cheaply identify who is good for what.  I think it is time to outgrow this primitive approach for two important reasons: first it does not really work, and the second it is not really needed because AI driven computers would beat any human being hands down in this game similarly to century ago when the earliest steam engine would beat hands down any human runner. It would probably not be possible to remove until humanity still continue to be organized mainly in hierarchical order of big government and big corporation, but if humanity eventually moves away from hierarchy to different forms of organization of society, for instance as conglomeration of free agents in possession of clearly defined and sufficient resources (ownership society) voluntary coordinating their efforts in achieving some objectives, then testing and credentialing would become obsolete and takes its place in museum somewhere between Zeus worshipping paraphernalia and socialist/communist tractates on future society organization.   

The last thing I want to note is author’s hilarious demonstration of the same high IQ stupidity when using global warming QA:

Here are problems with this picture that author seems to be missing:

  1. Global warming is controversial issue, which means that correct answer could not be possibly known. Science normally does not provide true/false answers to anything without also providing detailed description of area of application. Trivial example: Newton’s mechanics vs. Einstein relativity vs Quantum mechanics.
  2. Over concentration on human activities and neglect of other factors such as solar activity and about a dozen others that identified by real climatologist.
  3.  Huge politization of the issue and complete control of government and universities by climate alarmists. If instead of democrats and republicans author used “career dependent” vs “career independent”, the result would be the same. I guess it a bit better than in Giordano Bruno times so nobody will be burned alive, but any contradiction to global warming would mean the end of scientific career. That’s probably why only retired climatologists and other STEM scientists dare to express skepticism about validity of alarm.
  4. It would be interesting to know what percentage of responders actually listened to congressional hearing when alarmists debated sceptics with sceptics presenting logic and factual data, while alarmists mainly emotional demonstrations.

In short, the high IQ stupidity is so prevalent that even the book about this phenomenon demonstrates high levels of high IQ stupidity of global warming / cooling / change alarmism.  

20210530 – Rationalism, Pluralism, and Freedom

MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is that there are two approaches within liberalism to interaction between the state and various groups that occupy intermediate position between state and individuals: rationalism and pluralism, which could not be possibly completely reconciled.  It is also designed to demonstrate that pluralism is preferable approach and provide critic of multiple philosophers who either ignore such groups or trying to find some synthesis of these two approaches.

DETAILS:

Introduction
Here author first defines what he believes to be two different mindsets in relation to state power and authority om one side and power and authority of intermediate groups on another. He designates these mindsets as rationalism and pluralism and then presents this book to be “about these two mindsets, these ways of looking at the triadic relationship among individual persons, intermediate groups, and states.” Author sees these two mindsets situated within liberalism and differentiated by what they consider bigger threat to liberty: the state or organized groups between individual and state such as family and variety of association either voluntary or non-voluntary such as locality. Here is how author defines the issue and his own position:” I argue not only that the tension between rationalism and pluralism within liberal thought is longstanding, but also that it is to a large degree irresolvable. We can try to be open to reasons and arguments of both sorts; we can try to reach case-by-case judgments in particular times and places. But there is no systematic way to combine all of the virtues and none of the vices of the two mindsets, and no secure middle way that would allow us to know for sure which are virtues and which are vices. I generally favor pluralist liberalism;”

Author then discusses organization and scope of the book.

Part I

I. Freedom, Associations, and Uniformity
The Setting
It starts with recognition of state’s law as an important subject matter of liberal analysis of freedom, but then proceeds to discuss various infringements of individual freedom routinely applied by various groups. In process author defines what he means by rationalism and pluralism: “Rationalist liberalism is sometimes associated with a kind of demand that rational accounts be given to justify customs, norms, and beliefs, demands that can perhaps never be wholly satisfied. This is obviously connected to the more abstract sense of rational knowledge and belief; but it is a demand that is made in a particular institutional context, i. e. states demanding justification of the practices of non-state groups. Pluralism is meant to evoke associational, cultural, religious, and jurisdictional pluralism. In the first instance, pluralism should suggest allowing a plurality of associations, cultures, religions, and so on, to follow their own various norms. As a secondary matter, it is tied to a claim of descriptive sociology: that the sources of social organization are many, not one.”

Some Sources of Disagreement
Autonomy and Toleration
The discussion here moves to the intragroup dynamics when autonomy of individual is constantly violated by rules of the group. These rules may or may not accepted voluntarily, as in the case of children who are born into the group. Consequently, the issue emerges if tolerance from the state offered to the group should include tolerance of intolerance directed from the group to individual.

Whose Freedom?
Here author moves to discuss complexity of freedom, which could mean to restrain oneself from doing something and it also could mean freedom to restrain a group member by group leaders the same member choose to represent the group. The normal approach to this problem is to assure option to exit the group at will.

The Sources of Law and Social Order
Here author discusses the issue of who makes the rules and how these rules could be contradictory at different levels: religious group could not possibly be tolerant to different religions among its members, even if they are citizens of liberal state highly tolerant of any religious believes. Author also discusses how internal group norms could impact individuals situated outside the group such as when people living nearby of university town are impacted by rules established for students. The author moves to sources of rules: whether they come from coercion by whoever is in power or they are evolutionally developed via spontaneous order. Author refer to works of Hayek and Ostrom who articulated and empirically researched the rules emergence in various situations. The latter are pluralist claims and here how author dissect them:” There are thus at least three in-principle distinct pluralist claims here. First, social orders can emerge and survive pluralistically, making effective use of localized knowledge to evolve local norms that are locally functional. Second, law can emerge pluralistically, whether as the internal norms of such groups or as the norms that regulate relations among them. And third, such orders are normatively attractive: perhaps they are absolutely attractive, because they are the sites for our pursuits of ethical conceptions of the good and substantive life plans thicker than the formal rules of justice, perhaps they are attractive relative to the social or legal orders enacted by deliberate state planning. The normative claim and the legal claim in particular are logically independent:  whether a group’s internal rules count as law is fundamentally unrelated to whether they are unjust or oppressive. But there is a strong affinity among them all.”

Discrimination and Diversity
Here author looks at the problem of outsiders, usually liberal interfering into group’s business by demanding compliance with whatever rules they believe are fair: diversity, inclusion and so on”. Author provide a charming example of British authorities claiming right to define who is or is not Jewish and eligible to be admitted into Jewish school.

2. Two Approaches

Here author looks at the two approaches to argumentation for pluralism and/or rationalism.
The Pure Liberal Theory of Freedom of Association
Here is how author defines it: “The pure theory holds that, what individual persons are free to do singly, they ought to be free to do in association with one another; and rights that they are free to waive, they ought to be free to waive as against groups of which they are members.” He then discusses some limitations such as not allowing consent to slavery and some others.

Why the Pure Theory is Not Satisfactory
Here author makes argument that:” Insofar as the pure theory stands apart from impure predictions and probabilities, it must be able to survive the analysis of mere possibilities. And that means that the pure theory, by itself, has the potential to be self-undermining.” He then discusses equality of opportunity vs. results, split inheritance problems, idea of consent derived indirectly from failure to exit, and limitations imposed on internal rules of the group by external legal requirements.

Congruence
This section:” will describe an idea that might be taken as the pure theory’s counterpart, an attempt to build up thoroughly rationalistic, individualistic, group-skeptical conclusions from simple premises: congruence.”  The congruence here is between a group and the “just liberal state” restricted by moral and ethical constrains.

Why Congruence is Not Satisfactory
As with Pure theory author finds it unsatisfactory. This time it is because:” The doctrine of congruence, treated seriously, prohibits persons acting together from making any choices that would constrain their own future choices—which means that they may not make any choices of promise or commitment at all, and indeed few non-trivial choices of any sort.”

3. Reunderstanding Intermediate Groups
Treating Groups as Groups
The point author makes is that:” the pure theory treats groups as if they were individual persons, while congruence treats groups as if they were states.” Author’s approach is that since groups are neither, they have to be treated differently, more like intermediaries between individual and state providing some more or less strong shelter protecting some specificities common for the members of the group against state intrusion.

Tendencies toward State Excess
Property and Wealth; Secrecy and Privacy; Transnationality; The Centralizing; Temperament and the Man of System; Congruence Again
Here author reviews a variety of areas where state intrusion into group’s affairs typically occurs, from deprivation of resources, to violation of privacy and imposition of state control. Author also discusses problems of international group when various states attempt imposition of control from different cultural, technological, linguistic, and other perspectives.

Tendencies toward Group Excess
Authority Generates Power

Author expresses his approach to this area in such way:” Associations and groups that are substantial enough to fulfill needs for belonging and meaning, powerful enough to check the power of the state or to organize democratic life, or institutionally complete enough to offer authoritative norm-generation for their members, are also substantial, powerful, and authoritative enough to potentially threaten the freedom of their members. From this point of view the group could provide isolation of individual from the state strong enough to establish complete control over behavior and activities of individuals. In order to demonstrate this author refers to various religious movements in USA.

Pluralism Generates Power;

Here author makes case that pluralistic society could limit the group’s power by providing easy opportunities for schism, or even simple exit. He the proceeds discussing in details how exactly it could happen.

Interested and Invasive Power

Finally, here author looks at mechanics of group power that similarly to the state include law giving and enforcing as usually in interests of individuals being forced to do something good for themselves that they for some reason unwilling to do voluntary. Actually, this kind of tyranny could be the most oppressive because tyrants are way closer to individual and more interested in controlling than the state could ever be.

Overall author concludes:” Our freedom can be threatened by states and by groups—and by each directly in response to the other. Understanding which threats are more important where and when is not a formal or philosophical exercise. And a vision of the social world that emphasizes the threat from states isn’t contradicted by one that emphasizes the threat from groups, even when the legal and political actions the two recommend do contradict one another. “

Part II
4. Antecedents and Foundations
The Birth of Intermediacy; The Roman Law; Facts and Norms

Here author looks at antecedents of liberal ideas crystalized sometime after 1700. He includes into these antecedent formation of habeas corpus, formation of legal system, self-governing organizations such as church, and variety of others: universities, guilds, and so on. Author then discusses formation of such self-governing organizations that he places in period of 150-200 years after 1050 CE and traces this process in some detail. After that author looks at Roman Law as foundation of legal system and how it reconciled canon and civil systems in process moving somewhat away from foundation. Finally, author discusses struggle between state and variety of such organizations – most important Church and concludes that:” Medieval corporate pluralism was both a fact and a norm. The norm that these institutions ought to be understood as intermediate, of course, only took shape much later. It took a long time for uneasy de facto balances of power to be rationalized as desirable orders in their own right.”

5. The Ancient Constitution, the Social Contract, and the Modern State
The Emergence of the State; Peers, Provinces, and Parlements; The Ancient Constitution; Corporatism and Parliaments; The Theorists of the Ancient Constitution; Ancient Constitutionalism and its Neighbors
In this chapter author reviews history of a state in Europe, tracing it from XVI century to present: how it was formed in France, England, and other European countries, how their Parlements functioned, and how a number of myths about ancient freedoms and other such staff actually developed. Author pays special attention for forms of rule, and various documents defining European attitudes such as Magna Carta and various constitutions.

6. Montesquieu and Voltaire, Philosophes and Parlements
The Early Eighteenth Century; Montesquieu; Voltaire

In this chapter author reviews work of pre-revolutionary authors that during early XVIII century developed foundation of enlightenment and future revolutions.
7. The Age of Revolutions
Smith, Burke, and Paine; Tracy and Constant; The United States; The Society of the Cincinnati
This chapter is pretty much logical continuation of the previous, moving into period of American revolution and describing works of authors of this period, practical implementation of these ideas in USA, and finally, failed attempt to establish some form of aristocracy by Cincinnati society that included officers – veterans of revolutionary war.

8. Centralization in a Democratic Age: Tocqueville and Mill
Tocqueville on Associations and Corps; Mill on Centralization and Local Despotism

Here author continue his review of development of European thinking on the state, society, and proper ways of organizing all this into XIX century. Author is looking specifically at relationships between the state and variety of intermediate groups from organized church to variety of associations. As elsewhere in the book, author’s main concern is interplay between centralization around more or less tolerant state and local despotism.  
9. From Liberal Constitutionalism to Pluralism
The British Pluralists; Lord Acton; Acton and the Pluralists; The Pluralist Theory of Group Life
The final chapter of this part completes author’s review with thinkers of XX century that formed pluralist tradition. In this light author brings in Lord Acton and his support of state rights as bulwark against absolutism of federal powers. Finally, in his discussion of Pluralist theory author brings in its most persuasive account by Maitland: “If the law allows men to form permanently organized groups, those groups will be for common opinion right-and-duty-bearing units; and if the law-giver will not openly treat them as such he will misrepresent, or, as the French say, he will ‘denature ‘the facts: in other word he will make a mess and call it law. Group personality is no purely legal phenomenon. The law-giver may say that it does not exist, where, as a matter of moral sentiment, it does exist. When that happens, he incurs the penalty ordained for those who ignorantly or willfully say the thing that is not. If he wishes to smash a group, let him smash it, send the policeman, raid the rooms, impound the minute-book, fine, and imprison; but if he is going to tolerate the group, he must recognize its personality, for otherwise he will be dealing wild blows which may fall on those who stand outside the group as well as those who stand within it. For the morality of common sense, the group is person, is right and-duty-bearing unit. Let the moral philosopher explain this, let him explain it as illusion, let him explain it away; but he ought not to leave it unexplained, nor, I think, will he be able to say that it is an illusion which is losing power, for, on the contrary, it seems to me to be persistently and progressively triumphing over certain philosophical and theological prejudices.

Part III
10. The Constitution of Group Life
In this chapter author moves to discuss specifics of groups’ organization, management, their impact on society, and how liberal theory of freedom should take into account both rationalism and pluralism.

Intermediacy Affects Politics; Faction; The Illiberal Majority; Minority Group Capture; The Majoritarian State; Territory and Government; Politics and Balance
Here author looks at various aspects of groups internal politics and relations with the state. It is important because:” Intermediate groups are rarely only inward facing associations, and the state never only acts under neutral bureaucratic imperatives or as the neutral agent of liberal justice.  One idea we saw many times among the pluralists”. He makes the point that groups had to be at least somewhat oppositional, generate some external power via participation in voting and other political activities and so on. He then reviews problems of faction when either minority or majority group capture the sate machinery and often suppress or at least limit other groups.  

11. Associations are Not States
Complex Associations; Universities and Liberal Justice; State Action
The final chapter is about limitations on group imposed by the fact that they normally could not use tools of the the state and had to be more pluralistic and tolerant to both internal subgroups and other external groups. Another important limitation is permanent need to avoid conflict between group’s rules and objectives with the state and population outside the group. As example author discusses Universities and their rules and policies that often generate all kinds of controversies. Finally. author discusses action that state can and does use to resolve such controversies.

Conclusion: Against Synthesis
In conclusion author says:” I have argued that a liberal understanding of freedom is constitutively torn between a rationalist distrust of the local, the particular, and power embedded within group life, and a pluralist emphasis on the freedom found within and protected by group life against the power of the state. I have criticized various attempts to settle definitively for one or the other, or to redefine the distinction away.”

Then he proceeds to review some of such attempts:

Taylor and the “Long March”; Rawls and the Morality of Association; Hegel, Ethical Life, and Corporate Forms

MY TAKE ON IT:

I find all this quite interesting and mostly agree with author that pluralist approach is the best. I would leave the state one and only role in relation to intermediate groups: assure that individual rights and protections accepted by society’s laws and rules of behavior, are not violated in any way, shape, and form. However, I think that groups not only should not be put under pressure unless they violate laws, but also that they should not be supported by government in any way, shape, or form. For example, Universities should be free to promote whatever ideology they wish short of direct subversion and calls for violence, but they should have no material support from the state. Actually, the only material support to any group whatsoever should be provided only in case of national security necessity, while everything else should be supported voluntary. Otherwise, the pretty bad outcome for diverse society is pretty much guaranteed: continuing fight between groups for state’s support and resources that could lead to such high level of infighting that could undermine the very existence of the state. I guess that current support by “liberals” organized in Universities, Non-government organizations (NGO) heavily supported by government, Unions of government employees, and other similar groups to various forms of anti-White racism, anti-Asian quotes, and massive redistribution of wealth from middle class to plutocracy and bureaucracy will provide for an interesting spectacle over the next few 10-20 years.     

20210523 – Emergent Warfare

MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is to use the latest anthropological and historical research to demonstrate that war as the method of human interaction most probably goes all the way back to the beginning of humanity, but it is not genetically predefined behavior. Believes, either in genetical inclination to fight based on comparison with chimpanzees or in natural peacefulness of humans, both are not founded on hard proves, but rather on little more than wishful thinking, so authors attempt to present actual state of knowledge without falling into one or another set off believes.

DETAILS:

1 Peering into the Abyss
Authors start with definition:” By warfare, we are referring to myriad forms of organized violence, whether they are massed armies on a battlefield, revenge killings between smaller-scale societies, or intervillage raiding related to feuding communities. With this sort of inclusive definition, one not biased toward modern forms of war, we believe researchers are much better equipped to give the topic fuller scrutiny.” After that they define their story as “In the end, this is not simply a story about how, when, and why human warfare emerged, but is also a larger narrative about us, about humanity. In other words, the emergence of warfare is intimately connected to the emergence of human nature.” After that authors briefly review relevant literature and then define specifics of human warfare as complex activity highly dependent on specificity of circumstances when it occurs.  

Authors also clearly specify what they disagree with about warfare – that it is:

1) a relatively recent, modern, or historic phenomenon;

2) a product or byproduct of the political interactions associated with large-scale states or civilizations; and/or

3) a phenomenon largely created by shifts to sedentary or agriculturally lifeways.

Authors also specify their definition of warfare, so they are:

1) recognize the potential for it to have been a significant part of modern human behavior, whether within the past 12,000 years or even earlier; and

2) are open to the possibility that certain forms or facets of emergent warfare may have appeared at different points throughout the evolutionary history of hominin lineages.

They also specifically identify their key argument that both warfare and peacefare are specific modes of behavior, both being optional and used depending on circumstances and believes on which one of these modes would work best for survival. 

2 Dropping into the Rabbit Hole
Here authors once again provide some definitions and refer to literature in regard to human cultures mostly to their variety and flexibility. They also discuss inseparable character of human cultural and biological evolution, which is based on huge role that communications, data collection, processing and intergenerational transfer play in everything human. Author then discuss archeological evidence of human evolution with the first traces of stone tolls going back 2.5 million years and such cultural artifacts as bodies disposal dating to 300,000 years indicating that cultural development occurred even before biological establishment of contemporary type of human species. Authors then review aggression and violence in natural world with special interest to our close relatives: chimps and bonobos. They also review human patterns of organized violence and warfare and conclude that:” Conflict, competition, and violence are integral parts of the natural world, past and present, and we accept the assumption that our earliest hominin ancestors would have been capable of engaging in analogous forms of conflict, aggression, and violence. However, the larger, fundamental question to be addressed revolves around the notion of human emergent warfare and emergent peacefare. And, for us, this coincides with a human ability to perceive, symbolize, and convey intercommunity differences in complex ways. To us, that sort of cognition would be the key to elucidating the timing of emergent warfare and peacefare. In order to address these questions, we have to explore various strands of evidence from the Pleistocene, from fossils to artifacts to genes. But before we do that, we must first turn our attention to how archaeologists and paleoanthropologists actually see violence and warfare in the remote past, beyond the purview of written records.”

3 The Recent, the Ancient, and the Very Ancient Past
In this chapter authors discuss variety of evidence of warfare that could be obtained from archeology. They first review literature and conclude that there is no controversy about recent past, meaning the last 12,000 years – there plenty of evidence that warfare was quite a popular method of interaction between human communities. It is more difficult to look deeper in the past when specialization of humans and their tools was not that developed. However, the stones, bones, and other manifestations such as fortification goes back all the way to Pleistocene. Here is classification of warfare markers:

Authors then review current evidence for each of these markers. They also discuss such forms of violence that could not possibly provide any markers such as structural violence and magical assault.

4 The Ice Age World
Authors begin this chapter by expanding the very notion of warfare:” Our journey continues, and hopefully by now we have convinced our readers to consider a few key points about warfare. The first is a full appreciation of all of its cultural facets. Warfare, broadly defined, is not simply organized violence, it is not restricted to large-scale social groups, it is not restricted to young males, it does not result solely in direct physical trauma to bodies, and it is not a recent phenomenon. People in many different societies participate in various aspects of warfare, separated by vast differences in attitudes, perceptions, and cultural logics about violence. We have seen that warfare is not restricted to those eras of humanity where we had written records, with archaeological clues suggesting a deeper antiquity.” Then they look at early social organization and paleoanthropological record, noting that there is plenty of research and evidence of violence, but little clear evidence of its organized collective character. Authors also provide timeline of development:

5 Insights from Genomic Research
In this chapter authors discuss individual violent behavior and conclude that there is no clear genetic determinant of such behavior. They specifically discuss MAOA deficiency, but still conclude that any link to violent behavior is far from being deterministic:” Given the uncertainties and the complexities involved in shaping behavior, we can safely say at the moment that there is simply no conclusive evidence for a specific gene or hormone which will make someone more aggressive.”

6 The Onset of Human Variability and Emergent Warfare
Author’s approach in this chapter is to look for evidence of components of complex human behavior that is required to support warfare activities. They look at cooperation during hunting, development of language, kingship recognition and development of the group identity. Finally, they provide timetable for emergence of relevant behaviors:

7 The Durability of Peace
This chapter is somewhat unusual because authors here move from discussion of warfare to discussion of peaceware – human abilities to resolve conflict and accommodate each other peacefully. First, they look at conflict mitigation in the Animal world and then at much more complicated human peacemaking. Obviously, humans as the most sociable and flexible animals do a lot of this and authors’ main point is that both warfare and peacefare are just tools in human tool kit generally used pragmatically on “as needed” basis according to circumstances with neither one being absolutely dominant. 

8 There and Back Again

Here authors summarize all this in the following way:” The present evidence suggests that warfare, in various cultural forms, has fairly deep roots, deeper than a general shift in subsistence patterns from more mobile, foraging lifeways to more sedentary and agricultural ones. After all, warfare encompasses a very wide range of cultural behaviors, views, values, and practices, and is not restricted to categories of societies. It is a human phenomenon, and one need not live in a settled, agricultural society to be capable of organizing with fellow community members to perform violence. But, recognizing a deeper antiquity for the “invention” of warfare, or of its various bits, does not mean we are biologically hardwired to fight, that we are forever doomed to live in a world where war will always be of constant significance. As sobering as the reality might be when considering deeper origins of warfare, the narrative tells but one small part of the story of becoming human.”

After that they discuss significance of understanding of emerging warfare and emerging peacefare and different approaches to understanding of historical evidence from “Hawkish Doves to Dovish Hawks”. They conclude:” What makes us human is the power to transcend our genes, our evolutionary history, and our recent past. Not only can we transcend them, but we are capable of fathoming the ability to even do so. Tracing the origins of these distinctive human abilities is at the heart of anthropological research and will prove to be an infinitely fascinating field of study for many years to come. We did not become human because of war, and we did not evolve to make war. Through human evolution, we became capable of conceiving of and engaging in both warmaking and peacemaking.”

MY TAKE ON IT:

Unlike great many books about such hot button issues as war and humanity authors managed to keep in check their ideological inclination and provide quite honest review of relevant archeological and anthropological evidence. I think that any attempt to find causes of war or peace in inherent human nature bound to fail because either one is just a tool used to achieve desired parameters of life, which is used as needed according to circumstances, personality of decision makers, and psychological conditioning of decision executors. The only thing strongly connecting human nature and warmaking is human ability effectively communicate, plan, and synchronize actions of many individuals, without which no warmaking would be possible. The circumstances pretty much define cost/benefit analysis that prompts decision makers, that is individuals at the top of society’s hierarchy direct their effort to warmaking or peacemaking or anything in between. One can easily find multitude of examples when such calculation was incorrect and initiator of a war was defeated, but one could not find any example of war initiated without strong believe that whatever outcome occur it would be better than outcome of non-action. I’d like use two quite extreme examples: one is uprising in Warsaw Ghetto in 1943 when the amazing outcome was higher percentage of survivors among fighters vs. non fighters. Sure, numbers are something like 98% dead for fighters vs. 100% for non-combatants, but it is still advantage. Another example on much larger scale is non-occurring of World War III, that I think was direct result of invention of nuclear weapons that led to situation when no decision maker from Stalin at the top to low level officer on duty at nuclear site could estimate potential outcome of nuclear war as preferred choice. In both cases cost/benefit analysis was decisive for decision initiate or not coordinated violence – war. 

20210516 – The New Class War

MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is that contemporary Western societies are in the middle of increasingly bitter Class War between Technological and Managerial elite and variety of populist movements representing working and lower middle classes that are hit hard by globalization, unrestricted immigration, free trade, have difficult time maintaining their place in society, and are continuously insulted by attacks against their culture, values, and religious believes. The outcome of this war could be either rule of oligarchy or demagoguery, either one highly detrimental to prosperity of population. However, author believes that there is an alternative: Democratic Pluralism, that would provide much better solution to all difficult problems.

DETAILS:

Introduction
It starts with characterization of events of 2016: British exit and Trump election as revolution. Author then proceeds to define revolution as change in three realms: government, the economy, and the culture. He then characterizes the 1st Class War in the West as result of industrialization some 150 years ago and pretty much ended with WWII when new relations in all three realms became established in form that author defines as democratic pluralism. Now globalization, outsourcing, and cultural changes destroyed this existing arrangement, alienated lower middle and working classes, so the new populist and its mainly demagogic leaders initiated new class war to change this. Author thus characterizes the current situation:” Demagogic populism is a symptom. Technocratic neoliberalism is the disease. Democratic pluralism is the cure.”

Chapter One: The New Class War
In this chapter author presents his understanding of the New Class War. First of all, it is not Marxists – because it has not cosmopolitan “Proletariat of the World”, but rather national: Americans, Brits, and others. Author then reviews intellectual history of class analysis: James Burnham, George Orwell, and John Galbraith. Author also refers to his own work to define what he calls overclass: managers and professionals, which started as meritocracy, but now increasingly turn into hereditary aristocracy. Author discusses the global character of this new class and contrasts it with national character of working and low middle classes.

Chapter Two: Hubs and Heartlands: The Battleground of The New Class War
In this chapter author looks at geographic battleground in USA. It is mainly division between coasts habituated by elite and parasitic classes living off the government either very well from huge handouts to elite “education”,” science”, and other form of political redistribution, or very poorly living miserably in inner cities on welfare and charity handouts. Author then analyses comparative level of productivity of coasts and heartland and concludes that much promoted high productivity of coasts is mainly illusion. He then discusses one interesting point – environmental regulations that provide coast elite with costless satisfaction from “saving the earth”, but cost a lot to people who actually use this earth to produce material staff that everybody needs from food to energy to everything else. Another point of contention – low skill immigration that provides cheap services and feeling of being noble humanitarians for elite, but represents price damping competitors for working class. Finally, author looks at numbers that demonstrate significant majority of non-elite comparing with elite and at rhetoric that demonstrate that drivers of conflict are not racism and/or bigotry, but rather material class interests.

Chapter Three: World Wars and New Deals
Here author turns to history of XX century with its national and class conflicts and discusses various class ideologies of this period: producerism, socialism in its various forms, corporatism, and general conflict between free market and statist ideas. Author discusses political methods of class wars expression such as mass parties, bureaucratic capture of government, and resulting from all this temporary settlement between classes achieved after WWII.

Chapter Four: The Neoliberal Revolution from Above
Here author looks at one of the most important causes of contemporary class war – Neoliberalism, which he defines this way:” Neoliberalism is a synthesis of the free market economic liberalism of the libertarian right and the cultural liberalism of the bohemian/academic left. Its economic model, based on global tax, regulatory, and labor arbitrage, weakens both democratic nation-states and national working-class majorities. Its preferred model of government is apolitical, anti-majoritarian, elitist, and technocratic.” He then reviews works of several writers that promoted this ideology beginning in 1970s, consequences of adaption of this ideology by ruling class, and concludes that it all amounted to the revolution from above resulting in “The triumph of technocratic neoliberalism over democratic pluralism”

Chapter Five: The Populist Counterrevolution from Below
Here author reviews attempt of counterrevolution from below to which he assigns anti-immigration movement in Germany, Ross Perot and Trump movements in America, Brexit movement in UK, and other similar movements. Author also provides here multiple polling results that shows change in demographics of working class, political parties realignment, for example free trade used to be republican issue and now is democratic one. Immigration used to be rejected by unions and now is supported by them. Author then discusses nature of populism as political movement and notes that it is inherently reactionary and therefore weak. Similarly, in culture populism became counterculture fighting against establishment, while old antiestablishment types became establishment themselves. The final part of the chapter is about history that demonstrated that in wars between oligarchy and populism oligarchy usually wins.  Author’s conclusion is this chapter is that:” Populism is a symptom of a sick body politic, not a cure. In a formally democratic oligarchy, a nepotistic elite runs things for the benefit of its members most of the time. On the rare occasions when a demagogue is elected to office, he or she will be less likely to reform the system than to join the establishment or build a corrupt personal political machine, steering government patronage to supporters.”

Chapter Six: Russian Puppets and Nazis: How the Managerial Elite Demonizes Populist Voters

In this chapter author looks at demonization of populism by elite and reviews specific themes such as Russian collusion and other propagandist efforts by oligarchy.  He reviews in some details tendency to see fascism everywhere and bring in pop-psychology of authoritarian personalities and such to explain populism. Author also refers, albeit briefly, to harmful populist demagogy, but concludes that fears of both sides exaggerated even if consequences of either side’s propaganda harmful. He makes the point that:” Only a new democratic pluralism that compels managerial elites to share power with the multiracial, religiously pluralistic working class in the economy, politics, and the culture can end the cycle of oscillation between oppressive technocracy and destructive populism.

Chapter Seven: The Workerless Paradise: The Inadequacy of Neoliberal Reform

Here author discusses various attempts to resolve this problem. Specifically, he looks at the theory of Skill-Based Technological Change (SBTC) and promoted by this theory expansion of STEM education, hopes to use relocation to high labor demand areas, even democratic socialism and such, but finds all of them lacking.  

Chapter Eight: Countervailing Power: Toward a New Democratic Pluralism

In this chapter author moves to positive approach discussing real alternative – democratic pluralism:” The essential insight of democratic pluralism is that electoral democracy is a necessary but not sufficient condition for democracy. Because the wealthy and educated inevitably tend to dominate all parties, if only through their personnel, “territorial” representation must be supplemented (not replaced) by occupational or communal “social federalism” (to use the language of the English pluralists of a century ago). To this end, substantial areas of policy should be delegated to rule-making institutions, which must represent particular portions of the community, like organized labor and business in wage-setting sectoral bodies, or representatives of religious and secular creeds in bodies charged with oversight of education and the media. The territorial state, as the only entity with coercive authority, should exercise oversight of all institutions and intervene if necessary, to protect individual rights or other state interests. But in the democratic pluralist vision of democracy, the government in many areas should reign, not rule.”

After defining Democratic Pluralism author looks at various power centers of contemporary society that cold initiate movement away from Neoliberalism / Populism fight to the better solution.

Chapter Nine: Making the World Safe for Democratic Pluralism

Here author defines the New World order that he believes would be appropriate solution: “The democratic pluralist vision of a democratic world order is quite different from the technocratic neoliberal vision, with its powerful transnational rules combined with weak nation-states and legislatures.

For democratic pluralists, free and fair elections are a necessary but not sufficient condition for genuine democracy. A country run by an aristocracy or oligarchy is a democracy in name only, even if citizens are free to vote for competing aristocratic or oligarchic factions. According to democratic pluralism, electoral democracy in the political realm, narrowly defined, must be accompanied by power-sharing arrangements among classes and subcultures in the realms of the economy and the culture. These power-sharing institutions, like tripartite labor-business-government wage-setting institutions, need not resemble one-person, one-vote political democracy. But there must be social checks and balances in addition to political checks and balances. And decisions should be based as much as possible on hard-won and lasting consensus among negotiating parties, classes and creeds, not on fluctuating numerical majorities.

The democratic pluralist version of democracy necessarily puts great emphasis on national sovereignty—external sovereignty, not internal sovereignty. All of the various schools of thought that inform the democratic pluralist tradition—English pluralists, French solidarists, Catholic corporatists, and New Deal defenders of countervailing power in the broker state—reject the eighteenth-century idea of unlimited popular sovereignty shared by the American and French revolutions. For democratic pluralists, the state—usually a nation-state, but sometimes a multinational state or independent city-state—is not a mass of individuals to whom a general will can be attributed, but a community made up of smaller communities.

But while democratic pluralism rejects the idea of the unlimited internal sovereignty of any group, including “the People” as a whole, external sovereignty is indispensable. The reason is that the negotiations and compromises among communities that are the essence of democratic pluralism can only occur within the fixed boundaries of a political community with fixed membership. Cross-class compromises among labor and business, for example, are pointless if businesses can unilaterally annul the contracts at any time by transferring operations to foreign workers or bringing foreign workers into the country to weaken or replace organized labor. The various cross-class settlements in the US and Europe from the 1940s to the 1970s would not have been possible if employers had been able to use large-scale tax and regulatory arbitrage and offshoring and access to high amounts of low-wage, non-union immigrant labor to escape the constraints imposed on them by “new deals” with organized labor and democratic national governments.

For this reason, a world order that can support many countries organized along democratic pluralist lines will be quite different from a neoliberal world order in which most decision-making has been transferred from nation-states to supranational institutions or from national legislatures to national executive bureaucracies and judiciaries. Rejecting neoliberalism at the national level requires the rejection of neoliberalism at the global level as well. A world safe for democratic pluralism will not be a neoliberal world order.”

Epilogue:

At the end author summarizes it this way:” MANAGERIAL ELITES ARE destined to dominate the economy and society of every modern nation. But if they are not checked, they will overreach and produce a destructive populist backlash in proportion to their excess. If there is not to be perpetual conflict among the two permanent classes of technological society, the new class war must come to an end in one of two ways. One possibility is that there will be a new cross-class compromise embodied in a new democratic pluralist order, providing the working-class majorities in Western nations with far greater countervailing power in politics, the economy, and the culture than they possess today. The alternative—the triumph of one class over the other, be it the overclass led by neoliberal technocrats or the working class led by populist demagogues—would be calamitous. A West dominated by technocratic neoliberalism would be a high-tech caste society. A West dominated by demagogic populism would be stagnant and corrupt.”

MY TAKE ON IT:

I generally agree with author’s definition of the problem as government capture by technocratic elite that followed by regulations of all other institutions of society in the interest of elite at the expense of outsiders who are not only poor or lower middle-class members, but also upper middle-class and even rich such as Trump whose wealth was obtained by working in non-elite activities often over several generations of a family. I also agree that it could lead to serious backlash in form of populist movement led by demagogs. I even think that it could lead to violent revolution if government suppression in all its form, especially anti-white racism and elimination of the 1st and 2nd Amendments prove to be materially detrimental to wellbeing of non-elite majority. However, I do not find what author calls “Democratic Pluralism” to be effective remedy for the problem mainly because breakdown of society into functional communities that negotiate cross-class compromises would lead to situations when these compromises will be obtained at the expense of others not included into these communities. I do not think it would be possible, for example, return to big business/union negotiated settlement expanded across multiple countries just because countries are very different. Besides the automation is rapidly becoming much more important factor in pushing people out of jobs than cheap foreign labor. In my opinion the real solution could be found in pushing all interactions and cooperation down from the level of groups to individual level via use of government power to assure that resources material and intellectual accumulated over generations were available for individual control on equal basis for all, while resources created by individuals of current generation would be controlled by individual who created them. I guess author’s democratic pluralism means promotion of freedom on the level of groups smaller than government, while my solution would be promotion of freedom at individual level, when freedom includes availability of resources that would make this freedom applicable in real life.

20210509 – Range

MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is to convince reader that narrow and early specialization is not necessarily lead to success in all areas, but rather only in very specific, human designed fields, which are subject to formal rules such as chess or some sports. The wider and more complex problems could be better resolved by people with wider experience in multiple areas of activities with approach based on wide range of ideas and knowledge. This diversity of experience, ideas, and attitudes could help looking at the problem out of box and find non-trivial solution.

DETAILS:

INTRODUCTION: Roger vs. Tiger

Author starts with comparison between two sportsmen: Tiger Woods and Roger Federer, one intentionally trained from early childhood and another one coming to the sport in which he achieved the top level relatively late. Author analyses how it happened and unexpectedly finds that the near elite who eventually failed practiced more than those who succeeded in becoming elite.

Another finding was:” an enormous and too often ignored body of work demonstrating that learning itself is best done slowly to accumulate lasting knowledge, even when that means performing poorly on tests of immediate progress. That is, the most effective learning looks inefficient; it looks like falling behind.”

The key inference from these and other findings was that success comes from diverse experience and relatively late specialization that better support new approaches leading to high achievement.

CHAPTER 1: The Cult of the Head Start

This chapter tells another story of very successful early training for high achievement – Laszlo Polgar’s daughters and chess. Then comes discussion of Kahneman and Klein work demonstrating that:” Whether or not experience inevitably led to expertise, they agreed, depended entirely on the domain in question. Narrow experience made for better chess and poker players and firefighters, but not for better predictors of financial or political trends, or of how employees or patients would perform. … In wicked domains, the rules of the game are often unclear or incomplete, there may or may not be repetitive patterns and they may not be obvious, and feedback is often delayed, inaccurate, or both.”

Then author provides multiple examples from chess and other formalized domains, which he counters with example of Steve Jobs and his class in calligraphy that eventually led to multiple fonts for Mac computers and Claude Shannon who generated theory of information from Boolean logic and experience with communication networks.

CHAPTER 2: How the Wicked World Was Made The next came look at Flynn effect in IQ testing. The improvement came from increase in experience with abstract thinking typical for literate people in city environment, but not very usable in agricultural villages. Author illustrates this idea by results of research conducted back in 1930s in Uzbekistan. Here is nice illustration when illusion works for educated people, but not for illiterates:

Author then discusses difference between narrow and broad thinking and its higher usability and value in the constantly changing world  that requires quick and effective adjustment rather that deep drilling into narrow field, if one wants to succeed.

CHAPTER 3: When Less of the Same Is More

This chapter narrates the story of Vivaldi’s figlie del coros, Jack Cecchini, and their non-trivial, but outstanding musical careers.   

CHAPTER 4: Learning, Fast and Slow

Here author moves to the process of learning and how it often comes down to getting the right answer to the test without really understanding underlying logic. It is done with algorithmically defined process – “blocked” practice and author rejects it as ineffective and presents ideas of “mixed” practice when student generate solution based on previous experience, free search, and some directional hints from teacher – the process much more difficult and time consuming, but also much more effective in developing problem resolution skills.

CHAPTER 5: Thinking Outside Experience

This chapter begins with the story of thinking outside the box in astronomy: Kepler and Copernicus and then discusses some typical non-trivial problems and solutions. After that author proceeds to review experiments by Kahneman and Lovallo demonstrating that familiarity with details of subsystem causes people to make logical mistakes of missing complexity of total. Author then discusses use and misuse of analogical thinking and concludes that wide range knowledge, even if not very deep, helps to solve problems by finding applicable analogies. Experiments demonstrate that this method produces better results than approach based on deep and very precise knowledge that often limits search of solution to very narrow range of possibilities.

CHAPTER 6: The Trouble with Too Much Grit

In this chapter author brings the story of Van Gogh to discuss “match quality” – degree of fit between individual and work he/she does by using research of Ofer Malamud related to early vs. late specialization of students that demonstrated superiority of later choice. Author links it to ideas of “Grit” as explanation of success and pretty much rejects it by stating that match is more important and good match could be achieved only via experience. Therefore one should be ready to give up on something that is not working and move on to something that has better chance of working.

CHAPTER 7: Flirting with Your Possible Selves

The next story is about Frances Hesselbein who found her true call as CEO of Girl scouts at rather late age and mostly serendipitously. Author also discusses works of David Gilbert on “Predictors” and “Reflectors”, Walter Mischel’s “Marshmallow test”, Herminia Ibarra’s “plan-and-implement” vs. “test-and-learn” models, and a few typical stories concluding once again that flexibility is better fit to generate success than dogged rigidity of pursuit of preset objective.

CHAPTER 8: The Outsider Advantage

This is a set of other examples of specialists not able to resolve problems and helped by amateurs with wider scope of knowledge. These examples are for website inviting everybody participate that generate solutions, Exxon Valdez sill handling, Swanson ideas about “Undiscovered public knowledge, and so on. Here is author’s general conclusion for this chapter: “The more information specialists create, the more opportunity exists for curious dilettantes to contribute by merging strands of widely available but disparate information—undiscovered public knowledge, as Don Swanson called it. The larger and more easily accessible the library of human knowledge, the more chances for inquisitive patrons to make connections at the cutting edge. An operation like InnoCentive, which at first blush seems totally counterintuitive, should become even more fruitful as specialization accelerates. It isn’t just the increase in new knowledge that generates opportunities for nonspecialists, though. In a race to the forefront, a lot of useful knowledge is simply left behind to molder. That presents another kind of opportunity for those who want to create and invent but who cannot or simply do not want to work at the cutting edge. They can push forward by looking back; they can excavate old knowledge but wield it in a new way.”

CHAPTER 9: Lateral Thinking with Withered Technology

This chapter starts with the stories of non-trivial approach to various “wicked” problems such as computer games that produced Nintendo, 3M that produced stickers, and others concluding:” Facing uncertain environments and wicked problems, breadth of experience is invaluable. Facing kind problems, narrow specialization can be remarkably efficient. The problem is that we often expect the hyperspecialist, because of their expertise in a narrow area, to magically be able to extend their skill to wicked problems. The results can be disastrous.”

CHAPTER 10: Fooled by Expertise

In this chapter author moves from non-specialists who solve problems to experts who create problems. He uses wonderful example of Paul Ehrlich and his prophecies and then moves to discuss Tetlock’s research and results, both original and recent, about more effective methods of predictions of the future.  

CHAPTER 11: Learning to Drop Your Familiar Tools

This is about use and misuse of statistical analysis for which author uses business case of car race decision making and real case of causes of Challenger incident, which also was converted into business case. From this author moves to firefighters who were not able to change their typical MO in non-typical situation resulting in their death. Author presents here the problem of overspecialization that narrows scope of search for solution resulting in failure and suggest different approach:” Even now, even in endeavors that engender specialization unprecedented in history, there are beacons of breadth. Individuals who live by historian Arnold Toynbee’s words that “no tool is omnicompetent. There is no such thing as a master-key that will unlock all doors.” Rather than wielding a single tool, they have managed to collect and protect an entire toolshed, and they show the power of range in a hyperspecialized world.”  

CHAPTER 12: Deliberate Amateurs

The final chapter is about successful amateurs who actually solve problems because they do not know that these problems are not solvable. Author uses here example of Oliver Smithies who worked in various areas getting Nobel level results and then discusses work of Casadevall who analyzed current situation in science and research and concluded that its stress on deep specialization and publishing rather than application of results to technology is not really that productive.   

CONCLUSION: Expanding Your Range

In conclusion author pretty much comes up with recommendation to expand one’s range, not to be afraid that it is too late, and try to use this range to pursue whatever objective is desired.

MY TAKE ON IT:

It is nice book that provides lots of examples for such views at various problems’ solution and approach to learning that I believed for a very long time, ever since I was deciding what to do after the school. Back then I choose less specialization and wider approach to education and training and this choice served me well. I did a lot of various staff: computer hardware, software, management, business consulting, and a few others in two very different countries and cultures, so I can confirm based on my experience that it did helped with complex problems to use analogies and tools from unrelated fields. So, ideas of this books are not new, but narrative is quite entertaining.

20210502 Turchin, Peter – Ages of Discord

MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is to use variation of specific parameters such as state power, population wellbeing, and elite internal conflict to demonstrate cyclical character of society development when periods of stability follow by periods of disintegration and back to stability and prosperity. Then these ideas applied to specific case of USA, which is currently seems to be moving now into period of discord.

DETAILS:

PART ONE A Theoretical Introduction
1: Multi-Secular Cycles in Historical and Modern Societies
Author starts by using American Civil war as an example of fragility of human societies, the example that is currently nearly forgotten. Then he discusses new approach to history – Cliodynamics, which evaluates historic events based on measurable parameters and using this evaluation to predict future events. Author provides example for use of such parameters to calculate Index of Political Instability as applied to history:

PART TWO Overview of Structural Demographic Variables: 1780-2010

Part II presents a systematic survey of time-series data on the overall dynamics of the fundamental variables of the structural-demographic model over the entire history of the United States.

3: Demography and Wellbeing
In this chapter author discusses demographical parameters that have impact of societies development such as Labor supply, Economic Wellbeing as it is expressed via real wages, physical stature of population as function of of food availability and environmental conditions, life expectancy, and age at first marriage as a proxy for Social mood. The author synthetizes it for United States as it is presented in a graph:

4: Elite Dynamics
Here author analyses the second component – American elite. Author defines it as combination of bureaucratic elite and wealth elite, the division specific for USA because in great many other countries like Russia or Chine, the bureaucracy runs supreme. Author then discusses number of elite members and their proportion in population mainly on the basis of wealth. Here is the relevant graph:

For purposes of estimation of society’s stability it is important to analyze intraelite data, which are not normally available, so author uses proxies such as data for law and business students. He then analyses levels of elite fragmentation by using as proxy levels of political fragmentation. Here is graph of polarization based on the US House data:

Overall author concludes that there is clear elite overproduction:” The empirical survey in this chapter, thus, suggests that between 1780 and 2010 the factors reflecting elite overproduction moved cyclically and were positively (if imperfectly) correlated. What is particularly interesting is that the overall curve reflecting elite overproduction was negatively correlated with the average wellbeing curve. Over the course of American history elite overproduction and popular wellbeing have moved in opposite directions…”  Here is the graph:

5: The State

Here author discusses the growth of state power in USA as force parallel to elite, and while intermixing with elite, but not exactly the same. Here is his synthesis of growth of the state combined with cyclical character of support for the state:” The history of the American state in the longue durée is characterized by two trends. The first was the shift from a minimalist role of the state that prevailed in the nineteenth century to a more activist state of today. The second trend was a cyclic one that conforms quite well with the pattern predicted the Structural-Demographic Theory. Integrative periods (with peaks in 1820 and 1960) were periods of national consolidation and patriotism, territorial expansion, and high state legitimacy. In contrast, disintegrative periods—or Ages of Discord—were characterized by particularistic mood, an inward rather than expansionist focus, and low state legitimacy.”

6: Dynamics of Sociopolitical Instability

In this chapter author reviews patterns of political instability and violence in USA based on number of event and fatalities:

12. From the New Deal to the Reagan Revolution: A Dynamical Model
In this chapter author:” will follow in the footsteps of Chapter 9 by developing a quantitative model (using the conceptual framework of Chapter 2). A major focus will be the dynamics of general population and wellbeing since 1930 and why real wages stopped growing in the 1970s.”

13. Social Pressures towards Instability: From the Reagan Revolution to the Troubles of Our Times
Here author:” focus on elite overproduction, intensified intraelite competition and conflict during the 1990s. I combine the trends in wellbeing and elite overproduction with state variables (public debt and trust in the state institutions) and bring the three major structural-demographic components (population–elites–state) together in a single measure of the Political Stress Indicator”

14: Conclusion: Two Ages of Discord
In conclusion author summarizes content of the book and provides prediction of increase instability of American society in near future, which will continue for quite a few years ahead before it would arrive to the next period of stability and prosperity. Here is the summary graph for secular cycles:

MY TAKE ON IT:

This is one more book that looks at cyclical character of previous development and predicts period of trouble for American Society in 2020s. So far, these prophesies proved to be correct based on events of year 2020. I actually completely agree with these predictions, but not because of cyclical character of history. I think that period of trouble comes from society’s outgrowing existing methods of human interactions, exchange of goods and services, and cooperation. We are not any more in agrarian society when 90% of population had to work on land to produce food or even in industrial society when 90% of population had to work in industries selling their labor to produce goods and services. We are quickly moving into automated production society when only small minority would be actually busy controlling production of goods and services by machines. So, neither agrarian models of independent farmers or plantations with slaves, nor industrial model of managers and worker would do. Sure, automated production would produce more than enough of goods and services, but it could not possibly produce psychological satisfaction for majority of population. I think this problem could be resolved by changing of method of resource allocation and exchange rules, but it would still take quite a bit of time to overcome Age of Discord II.

20210425 – Capitalism A short History

MAIN IDEA:

The main idea here is to review classic analysis of  capitalism as presented in works of Marx, Weber, and Schumpeter, history of this economic system as it was developing in the few key representative societies, its current variety of forms, and trends such as globalization, financialization, and symbiosis with government that to significant extent defines contemporary life.

DETAILS:

I. What Does Capitalism Mean?
The Emergence of a Controversial Concept
Author begins by discussing origins and history of term capitalism and concludes by stating:” Individualized property rights; commodification on markets for goods, labor, land and capital; the price mechanism and competition; investment, capital, and profit; the distinction between power-holding proprietors and dependent propertyless wage workers; tensions between capital and labor; rising inequality; the factory system and industrialized production—these were, in varying combinations, major characteristics of the concept of capitalism as it emerged in the period leading up to World War I.”

Three Classics: Marx, Weber, and Schumpeter

Here author reviews ideas of three economists of XIX – early XX century that had big impact on understanding of capitalism.

He summarizes Marxian concept of capitalism in four points:

  1. Market with division of labor and money economy
  2. Accumulation of capital
  3. The core of mode of production – tension between owners of means of production and labor
  4. Dynamism of the capitalist system that constantly destroys old and creates new

Then author reviews ideas of Max Weber who treated capitalism as part of modernization with:” economic action was characterized by competition and exchange, orientation to market prices, the deployment of capital, and the search for profit.” Weber also went beyond pure economics linking capitalism to Protestant ethics.

Finally. author discusses ideas of Joseph A. Schumpeter, who defined capitalism this way:” “Capitalism is that form of private property economy in which innovations are carried out by means of borrowed money, which in general, though not by logical necessity, implies credit creation.” He also stressed capitalism’s dynamic development that leads to creative destruction.

Other Voices and a Working Definition
In this last part of the chapter author briefly reviews ideas of Keynes, Polanyi, Braudel, and a few others, and concludes with his own definition:” I propose a working definition of capitalism that emphasizes decentralization, commodification, and accumulation as basic characteristics. First, it is essential that individual and collective actors have rights, usually property rights, that enable them to make economic decisions in a relatively autonomous and decentralized way. Second, markets serve as the main mechanisms of allocation and coordination; commodification permeates capitalism in many ways, including labor. Third, capital is central, which means utilizing resources for present investment in expectation of future higher gains, accepting credit in addition to savings and earnings as sources of investment funds, dealing with uncertainty and risk, and maintaining profit and accumulation as goals. Change, growth, and expansion are inscribed.”

2. Merchant Capitalism
In this chapter author discusses early forms of economy with at least some capitalist characteristics:” economy and commercialization of everyday life in the big cities reached a high level, long-distance trade in foodstuffs and luxury goods flourished, the large latifundia produced for the market at a profit, and economic transactions like the sale or lease of land took place on a contractual basis aided by precise calculations. There was also no lack of more or less free wage workers. Yet on the whole the subsistence economy was predominant, slave labor was widespread, and “the strong drive to acquire wealth was not translated into a drive to create capital” (Moses Finley). The orientation toward secure rents was more widespread than the drive for profit. Productivity growth and macroeconomic growth were kept within limits, and the orientation toward war and booty was still stronger than the orientation toward long-term market success.

China and Arabia

Here author reviews early Chinese form of capitalism under dominance of Confucian ideology: “The Confucianism practiced by the civil servants who exercised political power included such elements as a rejection of pronounced inequality and hence of too much independent wealth, the promotion of agriculture, and state controls over money, the credit system, and trade. These controls extended as far as a willingness to operate estates, supply depots, and workshops under state management. Buddhism, which started in India and spread out from there to places in Asia where it was practiced above all by traders and merchants, had a more positive attitude toward commercial activity.”

Somewhat different development occurred in Arabia, when early form of capitalism was based mainly on the long-distance trade. The trade was encouraged by Islam but hampered by limitation on credit.

Europe: Dynamic Latecomer
Development in Europe was similar to Arabia with main form being long-distance trade, but often in more complex and capital demanding form of maritime trade, which caused development of port cities and variety of financial tools such as insurance. It also prompted creation of trade alliances such as Hanse League. Author discusses European development in more detail, stressing that unlike other places traders were somewhat more interconnected with states:” State formation and the origins of financial capitalism were closely connected, and the nexus provided a way for prosperous urban citizens in high finance, a small elite, to establish their influence on politics while simultaneously making their entrepreneurial success dependent on powerful rulers and their shifting political fortunes.”

Interim Findings around 1500
Here author summarizes his views on developments before 1500 AD and states that:” The merchants who supported capitalism in Europe, or at least their leading representatives, exercised direct influence on politics—in part via a symbiosis with rulers in the city-states and free cities that had civic rule, in part through close ties to those exercising political power and in need of financial support, in part through formal self-organization (guilds). By contrast, merchants in China, as well as in Arabia and India, were confined to the antechamber of power and were much less engaged in financing state formation than was the case in Europe. This explains how, in the final analysis and in spite of many countervailing trends, politics in Europe was decisive for promoting mercantile dynamism and a capitalistic kind of accumulation. By contrast, Chinese politics, although it initially allowed and supported commercial dynamism and major developments in accumulating large amounts of capital to inch forward a bit, then became strong enough and mistrustful enough to restrain both of these trends so that finally, when both domestic and foreign policy changed, these economic forces were ultimately thwarted.”

3. Expansion
The point author makes here is:” The rise of capitalism, the development of powerful territorial states, and the expansion of Europe that led to colonialism were all contingent on each other.”

Business and Violence: Colonialism and World Trade
This is about a very interesting and unusual form of European expansion and colonialism when use of military superiority led to expansion of trade by corporations and individuals, rather than to just plain robbery by the state as was historically the case. Author briefly reviews types of goods traded and geography of goods flow.

Joint-Stock Company and Finance Capitalism
This is about corporate forms and financing of this trade expansion and author uses Dutch United East India Company as representative example. Author also discusses here development of banking as tool necessary to support increasing long-distance trade.

Plantation Economy and Slavery
In his discussion of slavery and plantation author mercifully avoids idiotic claim that western wealth and economies are created by slave labor and provides more or less reasonable point:” Slavery has a long tradition in many regions of the world. In the eighteenth century there were as many slaves in Africa itself as in America. But under the influence of capitalism, slavery not only increased enormously in scope; it also, in connection with the harsh work discipline typically appertaining to this economic system, took on a special brutality. One cannot say that capitalism would not have developed further without its centuries-long connection to slavery. Nor is it a tenable thesis to claim that industrialization since the late eighteenth century was fed by the gigantic profits of the slave trade, as incontestable as the multiplier effects are that emanated from it into other branches of trade, the textile business, shipbuilding, and other sectors of the economy in western European countries. But if one wants to understand what it means to say that capitalism came into the world bloody and dirty, it is necessary to keep an eye on its relationship to slavery and other forms of unfree labor.”

Agrarian Capitalism, Mining, and Proto-Industrialization
Here author discusses initial development of capitalism into agriculture when production shifted away from subsistence level to market oriented monetarized forms, which author traces based of history of Europe when industrialization of England and later Germany was supported by agricultural specialization of East European countries like Poland and Russia. Author limits this by time frame of initial development that he calls proto-capitalism and proto-industrial period.

Capitalism, Culture, and Enlightenment: Adam Smith in Context
This chapter is quite interesting because it connects culture and its change with typical capitalistic development such as freedom of individual movements, speech, property rights, contracts, and foundation of all this – enlightenment ideas and literacy and numeracy necessary for effective functioning of society based on trade and industrial production. From this cultural development author expresses his attitude to ideas of “Great Diversion” between Western Europe and others:

4. The Capitalist Era
This part is about contemporary capitalism and attitudes to it, which fluctuates between acceptance and criticism all the way to rejection.

The Contours of Industrialization and Globalization since 1800
Here is how author characterizes changes inflicted on capitalism by industrialization:

1.  Wage labor on a contractual basis turned into a mass phenomenon.

2.  With factories, mines, and new transportation systems, with mechanization and the expansion of manufacturing plant, the accumulation of fixed capital reached a scale like nothing before. Alongside the numerically dominant small and medium-size businesses, large concerns and mergers came into being.

3.  Technological and organizational innovations became incomparably more important than they had been in preindustrial varieties of capitalism. There was now a faster pace of innovation. In Schumpeter’s analysis, “creative destruction” has been the core component of the capitalist production method… “constant revolutionizing of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones.” This contributed to the unpopularity of capitalism, and certainly to its continually renewed delegitimization, most apparent during capitalism’s big, recurring crises, such as the ones that broke out in 1873, 1929, and 2008.

4.  These crises usually arose out of excessive speculation and erroneous trends in the financial sector, yet they also affected the “real economy.” They imperiled not only a few speculators but also the life chances of broad sections of the population, and they could lead to profound social and political disruptions. Crises thus brought home another thing that distinguished capitalism in the age of industrialization from previous variants: namely, that it had become the economy’s dominant regulatory mechanism, intensively influencing society, culture, and politics all at the same time.

From Ownership to Managerial Capitalism
Here author reviews consequences of enterprise growth to such extent that they are owned by the multitude of stockholders and run by professional management, rather than owners, consequently completely changing structure of business and motivation of people in control.

Financialization

Here author discusses financial side changes specifically in three respects:

  • Globalization of finance and cross border capital flows and currencies exchanges
  • Huge growth in outstanding credit, including government debts all over the world
  • Shift of power away from business managers to financial managers

Work in Capitalism 

Author expresses his view on wage labor as the central form of work in capitalism and these reasons for this:

1.  For one thing, the trend toward comprehensive commodification represents a key component of the capitalist system, and wage labor is the most consistent application of this principle to human labor (although not the only one).

2.  For another, in spite of numerous exceptions and countervailing tendencies, in the long run wage labor has become and is becoming more extensive and widespread, and not just in the course of capitalist industrialization in the West but (in the meantime) worldwide. As capitalism, industrial capitalism in particular, has widened and deepened, wage labor became, and is still becoming, step by step, the prevailing form of work, although it appears in many forms and combinations. This had, and still has, something to do with the fact that free wage labor on a contractual basis corresponds best, in principle, to the particular kind of instrumental rationality inherent in capitalist enterprises. For, unlike workers who perform bonded labor with their entire person over long periods of time (such as slaves), wage workers who are contractually obligated to perform certain services temporarily but are otherwise free as well as terminable—wage workers like this allow businesses and employers to recruit, shift, and if need be also quickly dismiss employees with a view toward entrepreneurial objectives. This is advantageous to the company’s interest. Under conditions of developed, differentiated labor markets, and in the face of rapid economic change as capitalist normality, it was and is in the interest of capitalist actors to prefer wage labor to unfree labor.

3. Finally, it should be taken into consideration that an employment relationship under wage labor can be terminated by the worker as well as by the employer. The employment relationship may subjugate the worker’s labor power, but not his or her entire person, to the employer’s order-giving authority and the constraints of the enterprise. This is an important and coveted element of freedom. The transition to wage work could and can have a liberating effect, even though entry into such an exchange relationship of work for wages is frequently a matter of urgency for the worker on sheer grounds of survival, and although the employment relationship, once accepted, is usually characterized by much control and discipline. This social and legal quality distinguished and still distinguishes wage labor, in principle, from the different forms of unfree labor, and this distinction needs to be taken seriously from the standpoint of life histories and historiography.

He then discusses changes in the nature of labor that occur now due to increases in productivity, massive government intervention combined with labor movement fighting business that led to constant vacillation between periods of increasing cost of labor at the expense of business leading to decrease in business activity, and periods of government retreat and weakening of labor movement resulting in increase of business activity. All this also includes new form of employment on “as needed” basis and globalization that allowed foreign cheap labor shifting supply chains away from developed Western countries.   

Market and State 

Here author looks at love-hate relationship between market and state and gives three reasons why state intervention will continue to grow:

  1. Markets, which make capitalistic conduct possible in the first place, presuppose framework conditions that can only be established by political means. Markets cannot do the job of removing barriers to commerce (e.g., feudal obstacles such as guild regulations, trade monopolies and privileges, fines and tolls on travel) that fragment and constrain, of guaranteeing a minimum of peaceful order, and of providing rules to conclude and implement contracts or contract-like agreements. Without the use of political power, capitalism would never have taken off, nor can it take off in the future. Often the preconditions for the existence of supraregional markets resulted from the use of force—in war, for example, or in the course of colonization.

2.  A growing instability of capitalist processes can be discerned, to the extent that these processes have become detached over the last several decades from the restrictive but also stabilizing grounds in which they were once embedded and have, moreover, become internally differentiated. This was illustrated above in the case of two different transitions, first from ownership to managerial capitalism, and then with the shift to capitalism’s current phase of financialization. In the second transition, the investment function has been so powerfully detached from its ties to other functions (such as management of the enterprise or personnel policy) that it has become an independent force, carried away to the point of self-destruction unless the investment function can be recaptured and reembedded. In the search for new ways of embedding finance, state guidelines and controls need not play the only role. Civil society-based arrangements become increasingly relevant, but strong and effective government intervention remains indispensable. (The problem is posed in a somewhat different way, however, outside the North Atlantic area, where widespread clientelism, patronage, and corruption—in other words, special ways of “embedding” economic institutions in community, society, and politics—lead to features of the system that have been characterized and criticized with such catchwords as “patrimonial capitalism” and “crony capitalism.”)

3.  Capitalism, even in its advanced stages, develops in a way that has disruptive and destructive effects on its social, cultural, and political environment and can call into question its social acceptance. Here one need only recall the profound crises, repeated with a certain inevitability, that have a habit of starting out as financial crises, as in 1873, 1929–1930 und 2007–2008, yet leave in their wake serious repercussions for the “real economy,” impair the welfare of broad sectors of the population, and possibly lead to social and political disruptions. In equal measure, though, attention must be drawn to the long-term polarizing effects of capitalism when it has been successful. By this I do not mean only the well-known connection between industrialization, wage labor, and worker protest, which leads to social polarization when not counteracted by welfare state measures. Rather, it is also important to mention what is demonstrated by certain findings from the early modern Netherlands, from the process of industrialization in the nineteenth century, and from experiences over the last several decades. These different findings all show that capitalist growth, if not counteracted with compensatory measures, does not necessarily lead to massive impoverishment—quite the contrary! —but does go hand in hand with increasing income and wealth inequality. Exorbitantly high managerial earnings, whose lead over average incomes in the last several decades has reached dizzying heights, are just a tiny, though quite visible and especially irritating, aspect of an increase in inequality that is quite complex. Especially in democratic political cultures, this surge in inequality is perceived as unjust, and over the long run it can call into question the legitimacy of the system.

5. Analysis and Critique 

Here author discusses the very concept of capitalism, which acquired mainly negative meaning in English and German languages but is perceived as positive by many economists and ideologues. Author also reviews how it changed overtime becoming mainly linked to inequality. He completes the book by noting that:” Capitalism lives off its social, cultural, and political embedding, as much as it simultaneously threatens and corrodes these moorings. It can be influenced by political means and those of civil society when and if these are strong and decisive enough. Seen from this perspective, one could say that, every era, every region, and every civilization gets the capitalism it deserves. Currently, considered alternatives to capitalism are hard to identify. But within capitalism, very different variants and alternatives can be observed, and even more of them can be imagined. It is their development that matters. The reform of capitalism is a permanent task. In this, the critique of capitalism plays a central role.”

MY TAKE ON IT:

It’s a nice and concise review of history and meaning of capitalism as economic system. I find this approach interesting, but I think that the very use of term capitalism is so muddled that it is becoming impossible to communicate between people because everybody has very complex and diverse understanding of the term. I think that this term outlived its usefulness and one should talk about economic relation between individuals in different positions in relation to resources allocation, production and distribution processes rather than between classes in order to understand economic relationships, develop meaningful course of actions, and predict economic outcomes a bit better then demonstrated by previous track record of economists. There is movement in this direction in form of behavioral economics, evolutionary economics, and others but it is still far away from ability of predicting economic outcomes based on analysis of current conditions and expected actions. One big problem that I have is that capitalism often treated with no regard to realities of life, in which it practically never occurs in its theoretical neatness. There is always interference of state and other violent organizations that distort normal processes of market economy, only later to blame this abstraction – capitalism on their failure. Another big problem is treating humans as if they were independent from need for necessities of life and moral pressure by others and therefore could, for example, participate in free labor exchange. Or ideas of using aggregate demand and aggregate supply to control economy via monetary and fiscal policy. These also have colorful and painful history of failure, but still serve as foundation of infinite number of “economic research” papers. Instead of these I’d like to see specific country/time research when economic and extra-economic factors treated as part of one integrated process of resource production and allocation to individual and/or small group levels. I understand that it would be much more complicated process, than current primitive and mainly meaningless analysis of abstract aggregates, but it is the only way to obtain something close to scientific level of understanding for these processes. I believe that with advance of AI processing and increase in computer power it could become reality, but I do not expect it happen very soon.

20210418 – The Strange Order of Things

MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is that humans evolutionary developed as one integrated biological entity, with all its qualities: feelings, reason, and consciousness being undividable and necessary for survival. Only understanding of this integrity could lead to understanding of human cultures built on this biological foundation. The difficulties and even crises of contemporary humanity come from emergence of contemporary technologies that are not necessarily compatible with human nature, so the way should be found to reconcile all of this or problems could become unsurmountable.

DETAILS:

Part l: About Life and Its Regulation (Homeostasis)
1: On the Human Condition
Author begins with discussing situations when feelings process inputs and prompt actions better than mind. Here is author’s reasoning:” feelings would succeed where plain ideas fail has to do with the unique nature of feelings. Feelings are not an independent fabrication of the brain. They are the result of a cooperative partnership of body and brain, interacting by way of free-ranging chemical molecules and nerve pathways. This particular and overlooked arrangement guarantees that feelings disturb what might otherwise be an indifferent mental flow. The source of feeling is life on the wire, balancing its act between flourishing and death. As a result, feelings are mental stirrings, troubling or glorious, gentle or intense.”

After that he moves to human origins and its key component – culture. Here is how author looks at connection between feelings and culture:

Author then provides comparison with other animals, especially bacteria and social incects and find a common ground for all in the notion of Homeostasis: “The part of homeostasis that concerns “prevailing” is more subtle and rarely acknowledged. It ensures that life is regulated within a range that is not just compatible with survival but also conducive to flourishing, to a projection of life into the future of an organism or a species.” Author then links it all together: “Feelings, as deputies of homeostasis, are the catalysts for the responses that began human cultures. Is this reasonable? Is it conceivable that feelings could have motivated the intellectual inventions that gave humans (1) the arts, (2) philosophical inquiry, (3) religious beliefs, (4) moral rules, (5) justice, (6) political governance systems and economic institutions, (7) technology, and (8) science”

At the end of chapter author links into one continuum early organisms, genes, nervous system, feelings and mind – all supporting human homeostasis:” Eventually, each feeling-driven, conscious mind could mentally represent, with an explicit reference to the experiencer subject, two critical sets of facts and events: (1) the conditions in the inner world of its own organism; and (2) the conditions of its organism’s environment.” Author then moves to problems of derailing of homeostasis and resulting pain and suffering. He suggests that reason for these problems to occur: “is that cultural instruments first developed in relation to the homeostatic needs of individuals and of groups as small as nuclear families and tribes. The extension to wider human circles was not and could not have been contemplated. Within wider human circles, cultural groups, countries, even geopolitical blocs, often operate as individual organisms, not as parts of one larger organism, subject to a single homeostatic control.”

2. In a Region of Unlikeness
Here author moves back to origin of life some 3.8 billion years ago, traces its development and presents summary table:

3: Varieties of Homeostasis
In this chapter author provides an interesting review of the very notion of Homeostasis, its work, history, and varieties. He also expresses preference for another term that would better communicate dynamic character of this notion in living organisms: Homeodynamics.

4. From Single Cells to Nervous Systems and Minds
In this chapter author reviews biological history of development of increasingly complex objects, combining it for nervous system in such way:

At the end of chapter author links it to human brain and calls attention to the fact that:” That the nervous system is the enabler of our mental life is not in doubt. What is missing from the traditional neuro-centric, brain-centric, and even cerebral-cortex-centric accounts is the fact that nervous systems began their existence as assistants to the body, as coordinators of the life process in bodies complex and diversified enough that the functional articulation of tissues, organs, and systems as well as their relation to the environment required a dedicated system to accomplish the coordination. Nervous systems were the means to achieve that coordination and thus became an indispensable feature of complex multicellular life.”

Part II: Assembling the Cultural Mind
5: The Origin of Minds
The point of this chapter is to sketch biological nature of mind and its role as instrument of human cultural mind. Author characterizes here minded life from the point of view of images processing not only in the brain, but also by totality of nervous system. Here is author characteristics of evolutionary steps that led to this:” the steps that must have followed in evolution are fairly clear. First, using images made from the oldest components of the organism’s interior—the processes of metabolic chemistry largely carried out in viscera and in the blood circulation and the movements they generated—nature gradually fashioned feelings. Second, using images from a less ancient component of the interior—the skeletal frame and the muscles attached to it—nature generated a representation of the encasement of each life, a literal representation of the house inhabited by each life. The eventual combination of these two sets of representations opened the way for consciousness. Third, using the same image-making devices and an inherent power of images—the power to stand for and symbolize something else—nature developed verbal languages.

Author then explains why images require nervous systems and how they are processed depending on the source: world outside of organism and world inside of organism.

6: Expanding Minds
Here author uses analogy of hidden orchestra within the mind that makes images:” The signals with which images are constructed originate from three sources: the world around the organism, from where data are collected by specific organs located in the skin and some mucosae; and two distinct components of the world inside the organism, the old chemical/visceral compartment and the not so old musculoskeletal frame and its sensory portals.”  He then analyzes process of making memories and enriching minds, summarizing results this way:

7: Affect
Here author moves to handling of feelings for which he introduces the notion of affect:” Affect is thus a wide tent under which I place not only all possible feelings but also the situations and mechanisms responsible for producing them, responsible, that is, for producing the actions whose experiences become feelings.”

He then discusses what feelings are, valence of experience, kinds of feeling that he divides into Emotive Response Process, Stereotypes, Drives, Motivations, and Conventional emotions. He also defines notion of Layered Feelings.

8: The Construction of Feelings
In this chapter author connects feelings with Homeostasis:” To understand the origin and construction of feelings, and to appreciate the contribution they make to the human mind, we need to set them in the panorama of homeostasis. The alignment of pleasant and unpleasant feelings with, respectively, positive and negative ranges of homeostasis is a verified fact. Homeostasis in good or even optimal ranges expresses itself as well-being and even joy, while the happiness caused by love and friendship contributes to more efficient homeostasis and promotes health. The negative examples are just as clear. The stress associated with sadness is caused by calling into action the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland and by releasing molecules whose consequence is reducing homeostasis and actually damaging countless body parts such as blood vessels and muscular structures. Interestingly, the homeostatic burden of physical disease can activate the same hypothalamic-pituitary axis and cause release of dynorphin, a molecule that induces dysphoria.”

Author then proceeds to discuss relevant processes in some details:

  • Where do Feelings come from
  • How they assembled
  • The Continuity of Bodies and Nervous Systems
  • The Role of the Peripheral Nervous System
  • Peculiarities of the Body-Brain Relationship
  • Role of the Gut
  • Where are Feeling Experiences Located
  • Remembrances of Feelings Past.

9: Consciousness
In the last chapter of this Part author defines Consciousness:” The term “consciousness” applies to the very natural but distinctive kind of mental state described by the above traits. That mental state allows its owner to be the private experiencer of the world around and, just as important, to experience aspects of his or her own being. For practical purposes, the universe of knowledge, current and past, that can be conjured up in a private mind only materializes to its owner when the owner’s mind is in a conscious state, able to survey the contents of that mind, in his or her own subjective perspective.”

Author then discusses observation of consciousness, subjectivity, as its first and indispensable component and Integrated experiences as the second component. Finally, he links Sensing and Feeling to Consciousness and defines:” The hard problem is about the fact that if minds emerge from organic tissue, it may be hard or impossible to explain how mental experiences, in effect, felt mental states, are produced.”

Part III: The Cultural Mind at Work
10: On Cultures
This chapter is about biological roots of human cultures. It starts with discussion of link between cultures and Homeostasis, then proceeds to distinctive human cultures, which achieve the same objective – homeostasis in great many different ways.  Then author going through discussion of various manifestations of the “cultural mind”, and completes with very detailed summary:

First, the mind had to be capable of representing, in the form of images, two distinct sets of data: the world exterior to the individual organism, where the others that are part of the social fabric loom prominently and interactively; and the state of the individual organism’s interior, which is experienced as feelings. This capability draws on an innovation of central nervous systems: the possibility of making, within their neural circuitries, maps of objects and events that are located outside the neural circuitries. Such maps capture “resemblances” of those objects and events.

Second, the individual mind had to create a mental perspective for the whole organism relative to those two sets of representations—the representations of the organism’s interior and of the world around it. This perspective is made up of images of the organism during the acts of perceiving itself and its surround, in reference to the organism’s overall frame. This is a critical ingredient of subjectivity that I regard as the decisive component of consciousness. The fabrication of cultures, which requires social, collective intentions, is inconceivable without the presence of multiple individual subjectivities working, to begin with, for their own advantage—their own interests—and eventually, as the circle of interests enlarges, promoting the good of a group.

Third, once mind had begun but before it could become the cultural mind we can recognize today, it was necessary to enrich it by adding impressive new features. Among them were a powerful, image-based memory function capable of learning, recalling, and interrelating unique facts and events; an expansion of the imagination, reasoning, and symbolic thought capabilities such that nonverbal narratives could be generated; and the ability to translate nonverbal images and symbols into coded languages. The latter opened the way for a decisive tool in the construction of cultures: a parallel line of verbal narratives. Alphabets and grammars were the “genetic” tools of this latter and enabling development. The eventual invention of writing was the crowning entry into the toolbox of creative intelligence, an intelligence capable of being moved by feeling to respond to homeostatic challenges and possibilities.

Fourth, a critical instrument of the cultural mind resides with a largely unsung function: play, the desire to engage in seemingly useless operations that includes the moving about of actual pieces of the world, real or in toy form; the moving of our own bodies in that world, as in dancing or playing an instrument; the moving of images in the mind, real or invented. Imagination is a close partner of this endeavor, of course, but imagination does not fully capture the spontaneity, the range and reach of PLAY, to use the capitalized form that Jaak Panksepp prefers when he talks about this function. Think of play when you think about what can be done with the infinity of sounds, colors, shapes, or with pieces in Erector or Legos sets or computer games; think of play when you think of the infinitely possible combinations of word meanings and sounds; think of play as you plan an experiment or ponder different designs for whatever it is that you are planning to do.

Fifth, the ability, especially developed in humans, to work cooperatively with others to achieve a discernible, shared goal. Cooperativity relies on another well-developed human ability: joint attention, a phenomenon to which Michael Tomasello has devoted pioneering studies. Play and cooperation are, in and of themselves, independently of the results of the respective activities, homeostatically favorable activities. They reward the “players/cooperators” with a slew of pleasurable feelings.

Sixth, cultural responses begin in mental representations but come into being by the grace of movement. Movement is deeply embedded in the cultural process. It is from emotion-related movements happening in the interior of our organisms that we construct the feelings that motivate cultural interventions. Cultural interventions often arise from emotion-related movements—of the hands, quite prominently, of the vocal apparatus, of the facial musculature (a critical enabler of communication), or of the whole body. Last, the march from life’s beginnings to the doors of human cultural development and cultural transmission was only possible due to another homeostasis-driven development: the genetic machinery that standardized the regulation of life inside cells and permitted the transmission of life to new generations.”

11: Medicine, Immortality, and Algorithms
Here author discusses achievements of contemporary technology, especially medicine and computers that allow to speculate about practically unlimited improvements of everything, even immortality.

12: On the Human Condition Now
This chapter discusses current condition that author finds ambiguous due to combination of achievements of technology with decline of culture and multitude of unresolved governmental and economic issues. Author looks for biological causes of the current crises that seems to be coming from conflict between affect and reason. He foresees two possible scenarios of the future in one civilizational effort will fail and with-it humanity would fail pushed away either by AI and robots or other organisms. “In another scenario, cooperation eventually comes to dominate thanks to a sustained civilizational endeavor over multiple generations.” Author predicate outcome on feelings and concludes chapter with:” A life not felt would have needed no cure. A life felt but not examined would not have been curable. Feelings launched and have helped navigate a thousand intellectual ships.”

13: The Strange Order of Things

Author here refer to the name of this book and explains that strange order of things is the very existence and development of life overall and humanity specifically with its high faculties of consciousness and feelings. He also stresses that:” neither parts of nervous systems nor whole brains are the sole manufacturers and providers of mental phenomena. It is unlikely that neural phenomena alone could produce the functional background required for so many aspects of minds, but it is certainly the case that they could not do so in regard to feelings. A close two-way interaction between nervous systems and the non-nervous structures of organisms is a requirement. Neural and non-neural structures and processes are not just contiguous but continuous partners, interactively. They are not aloof entities signaling each other like chips in a cell phone. In plain talk, brains and bodies are in the same mind-enabling soup.”

Author completes this book by noting that everything discussed about biological and evolutionary phenomena of humanity is at least somewhat tentative because:” We do not have, however, any satisfactory scientific account of the origins and meaning of the universe, in brief, no theory of everything that concerns us. This is a sobering reminder of how modest and tentative our efforts are and of how open we need to be as we confront what we do not know.”

MY TAKE ON IT:

This is a great book that presents clear thinking and good understanding of humanity that I am pretty much agree with. I am somewhat more optimistic on human ability to overcome crisis, which, I believe, is a lot less than meets the eye. Just because human tendency to overestimate problems is currently hugely amplified by communication technology, social networks, that does not mean these problems are unsurmountable.  I do not think that the solution could be found in

increased abilities of governments redistribute resources from productive part of population to elite and unproductive part without causing revolts and/or revolution. I think it would rather come from opposite direction – pushing problem resolution away from handling problems via government hierarchy down to evolutionary defined proper level of individuals, families, and small groups. Consequently, I agree that humanity is on the brink of a huge change in just about any area that one can think of, but I also believe that the change will be for the better and no AI or robots or other organisms would substitute humanity whether we’ll find meaning of the universe or not. Actually, I think that the most reasonable way is to accept that the universe has no meaning whatsoever and live happily ever after.

20210411 – The China Nightmare

MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is to use author’s extensive experience in China to provide information about current situation, direction of Chinese development, and threat that it increasingly presents to America and the World overall due to its ideology of Chinese supremacy. Until now this thread was ignored in hope that China would grow out of this primitive attitude, but due to its rapid economic, technological, and military growth it should be taken seriously. The idea is also providing recommendation on how to deal with this threat.

DETAILS:

Introduction
Author begins with obvious statement that USA vs. PRC is the main geopolitical rivalry of XXI century so far. He then states that China’s objective is at least:” carve out an authoritarian sphere of influence that it can control, making Asia repressive and closed.” He also points out that Chinese leadership feels insecure being surrounded by USA allies and bases:

Author then discusses changes in Chinese startegy and objectives that became obvious with coming to power Xi Jin Ping. Author dicusses not only various communications by Xi and oficialdom about these objectives, but also such actions as military buidup. He also looks at Chinese insecurity and fear of potential crisis that impacts their leadership and define their actions. Finally author stresses his main point:” The theme of the book is that, while China is acting to further ever-grander ambitions, it is also facing profound internal problems and increasing rot in the party. This makes China even more dangerous than many assume. Indeed, one reason China has acted more aggressively in recent years is because the CCP is searching for legitimacy through grand schemes such as “the Chinese dream of national rejuvenation.”

1. Big Ambitions
The first chapter outlines China’s ambitions under Xi, drawing from leadership speeches and party documents.

Here is how author defines Chinese objectives based on variety of leadership statements and official documents:” in Beijing’s view, the struggle for geopolitical mastery will not be limited to Asia. Rather, China wants to lead a new world order centered around Chinese power and governed by Chinese-made rules. Beijing has now detailed a set of requirements for achieving global leadership. These include (1) building a worldwide network of strategic partnerships to expand its international influence, which it will use to shape and change the way the world is governed; (2) increasing other nations’ dependence on China through Chinese-led “integration”; (3) becoming the most technologically advanced nation in the world by leading in innovation and creating a stronger defense-industrial base; and (4) obtaining military superiority. These accomplishments will help China achieve preeminence in what the CCP calls the global “community of common destiny.” The concept of a community of common destiny has been part of Chinese strategic thought for years, but, at least regarding foreign affairs, this report was centrally focused on China’s global aspirations to build a China-friendly world order.”

Then author looks in detail on specific initiatives such as “Belt and Road”:

Another initiative is more open and aggressive technological competition. Finally a big part of everything is ideological offencive designed to present Chinese dictatorship as much better solution to all real and invented world problems than old and tired Western democracy.

2. Why Global Centrality?
Chapter 2 takes us from the Qing empire to Mao’s establishment of Communist China.

Author reviews this history and its impact on contemporary thinking of Chinese leadership about what is China territorially, what is its place in the world, and what kind of relationship with other countries it should have. This thinking is pretty much based on pseudo-history of China as super nation and state, which was temporary in decline and now is coming back to take its proper place in the word. Therefore, the answers are:

  • territorially China should encompass everything previously conquered by Qing Empire
  • globally it should occupy the central place in the world
  • relations with other should be built as with tributaries to superior Chinese nation and culture.   

3. Deng’s National Rejuvenation
Chapter 3 discusses Deng’s reforms. Here author discusses how Deng managed to get out of rigid communist ideology that put country in economic neverland and on the brink with war against top dog of communism at the time -USSR. Both objectives: revival of economy and prevention of war were achieved by moving along the same line: establishing nearly allied relations with United States, implementing market economy reforms, that removed key, but non-workable parts of communist ideology, and enforcing more than workable totalitarian part of communist ideology by all means necessary. Finally, carefully develop and maintain Western illusions about China’s future democratization, while massively implementing transfer of supply chains and production facilities from developed West to China by luring business investment with cheap labor under dictatorship that excluded possibility of unions and need to deal with labor movement. Also, the big part of the process was massive increase in Western environmental and other regulations combined with absence of this expensive staff in China.

4. Closing the Curtain
Chapter 4 explores what happened when Hu came to power and began reversing Deng’s policies.

The main point of this chapter is that China’s turn back to dictatorship, away from free market, and initiation of external aggression actually occurred during Hu’s tenure in power. Author recounts multiple incidents from undiplomatic treatment of Obama to maritime aggression against neighboring states, to internal political crises and corruption.

5. Recentralization of Dictatorship
Chapter 5 describes Xi’s bid for power and China’s techno-military buildup. Here author starts by describing Xi’s consolidation of power via campaign against corruption that helped Xi to remove whatever competition he had at the top levels of CCP. Then author describes formation of high-tech police state with implementation of the system of Social Credits in order to control population. Finally, author reviews military implications of newly expanded efforts to build powerful military based on leapfrog in technology, especially AI.  

6. Expansion
Chapter 6 details China’s current geopolitical behavior, using the strategic framework implied by the 19th CCP Congress report and similar documents. In this chapter author reviews geopolitical situation of China starting with Russia, which find itself in unusual role of junior partner to another dictatorship. So far, these two dictatorships were able maintain quasi-alliance against common enemy – USA, but it is relatively shaky stability because China is expanding military, therefore removing Russia’s last remaining source of claim to be the great power. It is also fragile because China’s geopolitical expansion directed at Central Asia that used to be under firm Russian control, and it could potentially raise claims against scarcely populated Russian Far East and Siberia. Another potential rival of China is India, which just started its economy growing, has population that is increasing and soon will overtake Chinese, and finally could become very attractive place to shift supply chains to democratic state, which even if exceedingly corrupt, nevertheless has something more open legal and government system than China with its theft of intellectual property, unfair trade practices, and constant thread of confiscation. Author also goes through all other areas in Asia, Europe, and elsewhere.    

7. Weak Points
Chapter 7 examines obstacles facing Xi and looks at China’s weaknesses.

In this chapter author finally gets to discuss China’s weaknesses. These include economic downside of National Security state when any economic considerations are subordinated to the need of keeping CCP in power. This means advance of state enterprises and author provides some relevant data:” These measures have produced the largest state sector in the world. In 2013, an estimated 150,000 SOEs in China held combined assets of almost $16.8 trillion, which amounted to a staggering 177 percent of GDP.4 By 2018, this figure had risen to more than 230 percent of GDP.5 Along with the resurgence of the state’s involvement in the economy, resource allocation has become severely skewed in unambiguous favor of SOEs. The most trenchant indication of this is the shift of bank loans from the private to the state sector. In 2012, the private sector accounted for 52 percent of bank credit, while the state sector received 32 percent. By 2016, this dramatically reversed, with the state sector receiving 83 percent of bank loans, while the private sector received only 11 percent.”

Another important issue is poor compatibility of technological innovation and suppression of individual freedoms. Author also provides a whole list of sources of the future problems: Shrinking Coffers, Social Problems, Capital and Human Flight, Internal Threats, Decay of population and ideology, Obsessions with Stability, and even potential emergence of currently unpredictable threats.

8. Implications for America
Chapter 8 addresses implications for long-term strategic competition and offers recommendations for future American policy. Here author contemplates on current and future American response to Chinese challenge that comes not only from raise of China, but from its potential failure, or at least stagnation. Author advocates stronger stance for USA and provides some recommendations:” A truly competitive strategy would target the Chinese weaknesses detailed in this book. Some of China’s greatest potential vulnerabilities include (1) the expanse of its empire, which includes borders with unfriendly neighbors; (2) its desire to become a maritime power even as its land borders are not pacified; (3) a stagnating economy that could become worse thanks to a demographic nightmare; (4) a potential elite split; and (5) popular blowback against repression. The CCP is struggling with legitimacy and geography, trying to deepen control over Hong Kong and spread its control to Taiwan, and seeking an order in Asia to which few would want to be subjected. It faces tremendous fiscal stresses, an aging society, and a highly indebted country.”

Author also recommends that Americans should go around CCP whenever and wherever possible: “Working with Chinese people outside the CCP has practical benefits. Something could go wrong inside the CCP, especially around 2022, as Chairman Xi has canceled succession plans. This makes it all the more important that the US has a relationship with all sectors of Chinese society and non-CCP leaders who could potentially fill a void created by an acute crisis in Beijing.”

In short – China is the threat, which is current and serious, but not overwhelming yet.

MY TAKE ON IT:

In my hamble opinion as long as China is under control of Communis party, which for all intention and purposes is pretty much National-Socialist entity ideologically pretty close to German Nazis, albeit with much less openly pronounced ethnic superiority complex. The stress should be on “less openly pronounced” with understanding that this superiority complex is as intense as Nazi’s. The reason for this difference comes down to a few issues: Chinese CCP does not have clear technological and military advantage at this point and still depends on Western investment, transfer of technology, and trade. In addition, CCP must have serious doubts in regard to loyalty of population, which does not strongly adhere to communist ideology, or any defined ideology for that matter. None of this was the case for German NSDAP in late 1930s, which had best technology and military in the world and could easily compensate for economic decline by readiness of population to suffer hardship and even war in support of revenge for Versailles and humiliation of defeat. However, these differences should not conceal ideological similarity of these two political entities, which both hellbent on domination by all means necessary, and could be stopped only by overwhelming power. The German NSDAP did not expect use of such power against them and had to be eliminated by actual hot war with tens of millions resulting deaths. Hopefully the West and especially USA find backbone to demonstrate such overwhelming power that would make continuation of aggression impossible, which in turn ideologically undermine CCP and could lead to internal change beneficial to China and the World. However, considering extremely low intellectual level of American leadership and its general corruption, it would not be surprising that aggression will not be challenged. Consequently, situation will continue deteriorating until it gets out of hand. What will happen next is everybody’s guess.

20210404 – The Problem of Political Authority

MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is first of all to provide philosophical rejection of the very notion of legitimacy of Authority and the second point is to provide logical foundation for statement of feasibility of society without Authority. Finally, the third point is to present the path of movement from currently the most advanced form of society – Democracy to even more advanced form – Anarcho-Capitalism.

DETAILS:

Author provided detailed Analytical Content:

Here is how author summarizes these arguments:

13.5.1   The argument of Part I:

The modern state claims a kind of authority that obliges all other agents to obey the state’s commands and entitles the state to deploy violence and threats of violence to enforce those commands, independent of whether the commands are in themselves just, reasonable, or beneficial. The argument of the first half of this book is that that sort of authority, ‘political authority’, is an illusion. No state is legitimate, and no individual has political obligations. This leads to the conclusion that at minimum, the vast majority of government activities are unjust. Government agents should refuse to enforce unjust laws, and individuals should feel free to break such laws whenever they can safely do so.

The argument against political authority proceeded by examining the most important arguments for authority and finding each inadequate. The traditional social contract theory fails due to one salient fact: there is no actual contract. The most common theory of contemporary social contract enthusiasts – that an arrangement is rendered voluntary and contractual by the fact that one could have escaped its imposition through relocation to Antarctica – would draw scarcely more than a laugh in any other context.

The alternative of a purely hypothetical social contract fails for two reasons: first, there is no reason to think that all reasonable persons could agree, even in idealized circumstances, on even the most basic political theory. Second, a merely hypothetical contract is ethically irrelevant. However fair, reasonable, and impartial a contract might be, one is not typically thereby entitled to force others to accept it.

The democratic process fails to ground authority, as one typically does not acquire a right to coerce someone merely because those who want one to coerce the victim are more numerous than those who want one to refrain. The appeal to the ideal of deliberative democracy fails, because no actual state remotely resembles an ideal deliberative democracy, and in any case, no mere method of deliberation negates the rights of an individual. The appeal to the obligations to promote equality and to respect others’ judgment fails for several reasons, including that these obligations are not strong enough to override individuals’ rights, that they are not the sort of obligation that may typically be enforced through coercion, and that the idea of political legitimacy itself is a much clearer violation of the value of equality than the failure of individuals to obey democratically made laws.

The appeal to the good consequences of government fails to ground authority because an individual’s obedience to the law has no impact on the state’s ability to provide those benefits, and an agent’s provision of large overall benefits does not confer on the agent an entitlement to coerce others to obey the agent’s commands independent of the content of those commands. The appeal to fairness likewise cannot ground an obligation to obey harmful, unjust, or useless commands nor an ethical entitlement to deploy coercion in support of such commands.

A review of psychological and historical evidence concerning human attitudes to authority suggests two important lessons: first, most individuals have strong pro-authority biases that render their intuitions about authority untrustworthy. Second, institutions of authority are extremely dangerous, and the undermining of trust in authority is therefore highly socially beneficial.

13.5.2   The argument of Part II:

Pace Hobbes, when diverse agents have roughly equal power, it is prudentially irrational for any agent to initiate conflict. In contrast, centralization of power invites exploitation and abuse by the powerful. The democratic process inhibits the worst government abuses, but it remains imperfect due to widespread ignorance and irrationality on the part of voters. Constitutional restrictions are often impotent, since there is none but the government to enforce the constitution. The separation of powers fails because the branches of government can best promote their interests through making common cause in expanding state power rather than protecting the rights of the people.

The contention of Part II of this book is that a superior alternative exists, in which governmental functions are privatized. Police duties may be taken over by private security guards, perhaps hired by small local property owners’ associations. This system differs from governmental provision of security in that it relies on genuine contractual arrangements, and it incorporates meaningful competition among security providers. These differences would lead to higher quality, lower cost, and less potential for abuse than found in coercive monopolistic systems.

Resolution of disputes, including disputes about whether a given individual committed a crime and whether a given type of conduct ought to be tolerated, would be provided by private arbitrators. Individuals and firms in an anarchic society would choose this method of resolving disputes because it is far less costly than resolution through violence. Law would be generated chiefly by the arbitrators themselves, in the manner in which the common law has developed in the actual world. The voluntariness and competitiveness of the system, again, would lead to higher quality, lower costs, and less abuse.

The elimination of government military forces need not leave a society insecure. Under certain favorable conditions, a society can be safe from invasion despite the lack of military deterrence. In the event of invasion, guerrilla warfare or nonviolent resistance can prove surprisingly effective at expelling foreign occupiers. In some ways, having a government makes a society more rather than less likely to be involved in war – for example, because one’s government may provoke a conflict. A number of small countries have already successfully abolished their militaries without being conquered as a result. The maintenance of standing armies entails a nontrivial risk of those armies being used unjustly, as well as a risk of one’s government inventing new weapons of mass destruction that threaten the human species.

13.5.3   The argument of the last chapter:

It is reasonable to believe that anarchy may come to the world in due time. The most plausible transitional model is one in which democratic societies move gradually toward anarcho-capitalism through progressive outsourcing of governmental functions to competing businesses. No obstacle but public opinion and inertia prevents government from turning over policing, dispute resolution, or even the conduct of criminal trials to private agents. Governmental armed forces could be drawn down and ultimately eliminated through an extended ratcheting-down process in which each country repeatedly cuts back its military forces to only those needed for defense. The process of eliminating government is likely to be spearheaded by small democratic countries or cities. Larger countries could be expected to follow suit only after the success of small-scale experiments was evident to most observers.

The most important determinant of whether this process will occur is intellectual: if anarcho-capitalism is a good idea, then it will probably ultimately be recognized as such. Once it is generally recognized as desirable, it will probably eventually be implemented. Abolishing the state is more realistic than reforming it, because abolition requires people to accept only a single philosophical idea – skepticism about authority – whereas reform requires people to familiarize themselves on an ongoing basis with the myriad flaws of specific policies.

This book is an effort to help push society along towards the needed skepticism of authority. It may seem that my position is extreme – as of course it is, relative to the current spectrum of opinion. But current mainstream attitudes are also extreme, relative to the spectrum of opinion of earlier centuries. The average citizen of a modern democracy, if transported back in time 500 years, would be the most wild-eyed, radical liberal on the planet – endorsing an undreamt-of equality for both sexes and all races; free expression for the most heinous of heretics, infidels, and atheists; a complete abolition of numerous standard forms of punishment; and a radical restructuring of all existing governments. By current standards, every government of 500 years ago was illegitimate.

We have not come to the end of history (pace Fukuyama). The evolution of values can proceed further in the direction it has moved over the past two millennia. It could proceed to an even greater distaste for the resort to physical force in human interactions, a fuller respect for human dignity, and a more consistent recognition of the moral equality of persons. Once we take these values sufficiently seriously, we cannot but be skeptical of authority.

My method of pushing readers along this path has been to appeal to implicit values that I think you share. I do not rely on an abstract, theoretical account of these values; I rely on the intuitive reactions we have to relatively specific scenarios. Nor do I rely on tentative or controversial intuitions; I rely on clear, mainstream intuitions. For example, the judgment that an employer who draws up a fair and reasonable employment contract would not thereupon be entitled to force potential employees to accept it (Section 3.3.3), is not particularly dubious or controversial. It is not something that only libertarian ideologues would agree to.

Consider now the antiwar argument offered by the Chinese philosopher Mozi in the 5th century B.C.:

To kill one man is to be guilty of a capital crime, to kill ten men is to increase the guilt tenfold, to kill a hundred men is to increase it a hundredfold. This the rulers of the earth all recognize, and yet when it comes to the greatest crime – waging war on another state – they praise it! [ … ] If a man on seeing a little black were to say it is black, but on seeing a lot of black were to say it is white, it would be clear that such a man could not distinguish black and white. [ … ] So those who recognize a small crime as such, but do not recognize the wickedness of the greatest crime of all [ … ] cannot distinguish right and wrong.

Mozi’s argumentative strategy is simple and compelling: he begins from an uncontroversial ethical prohibition, applies the same principle to a particular kind of government policy, and finds that the policy is morally unacceptable. It is in the spirit of Mozi that I question the institution of government as a whole. If one individual travels to another country to kill people, coercively extracts money from members of his own society, forces others to work for him, or imposes harmful, unjust, or useless demands on others through threats of kidnapping and imprisonment, the governments of the world all condemn that individual. Yet these same governments do not shy away from undertaking the same activities on a national scale. If we find Mozi’s argument compelling, then it seems that we ought to find similarly compelling the argument that the great majority of government actions are ethically unacceptable.

MY TAKE ON IT:

For me it is something that could be called self-evident that government is nothing more and nothing less than a gang of bandits who keep population in some location under control, extract resources from productive people and then use these resources to satisfy their own physiological and psychological needs. So, it is kind of interesting intellectual exercise to read complex and very detailed philosophical argument rejecting authority of government in all and any forms of this authority. It feels like after looking at two pieces of paper and seeing that one is black and another white then listen to sophisticated explanation about why it is so.

The second argument that private businesses could effectively substitute the gang of government bandits with orderly market-based security services, including military defense, seems to be based on false assumptions. Author’s believe that military more powerful “business” would somehow accept any arbitration or any rules of game that would equalize it with less powerful “business” without some external power that could force compliance contradicts not only history, but even contemporary experience of events around the world. Being it Somali or some republics of former Soviet Union, in every place where authority of government, based on it being the biggest bandit around, failed we do not see appearance of some orderly process of private security companies peacefully competing between themselves, but rather fight between smaller gangs striving to become the biggest and more powerful one and then claim authority as government.

Another problem with author’s argument is that he assumes that contemporary western norms are kind of universal so such methods as non-violent resistance or guerilla warfare could be viable tools. It is just not correct neither technically nor historically. All kinds of resistance by military weaker group could be suppressed by physically eliminating people who resist, or in cases when it is difficult to find or recognize them, by eliminating everybody around. Unfortunately, there are plenty of mass graves in the world dating from many thousand years ago to just a few months ago that confirm that it is the case. Despite all this, I think that the final argument that author provides about future probability of actual implementation of anarcho-capitalism is reasonable and that it could eventually become reality, but only when the future technology allows sufficient power of self-defense that even at the level of individual it would become suicidal to attack anybody. In this case, joining a group to attack individual or smaller group would become unviable approach, so violent gangs would not be forming anymore. The development of morals and values will probably follow such development, but they hardly could precede it.

20210328 – America’s Revolutionary Mind

MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is that American revolution first and foremost occurred in minds of people and in order to understand it one had to look at what was on their mind at the time. So, author reviews key ideas that occupied American minds as consequence of Enlightenment: Laws of Nature, Self-Evident Truths, Equality, Rights for Life, Liberty, and Pursuit of Happiness, and finally the Consent of Governed. Despite all these ideas being very familiar to everybody, their real meaning is often poorly understood. Consequently, author believes that it is necessary to clarify these ideas so they would become accessible to contemporary American Mind.

DETAILS:

Introduction
Here author clarify the purpose of writing this book and author’s characterization of its nature:” This book, however, is not simply a work of political theory or an old-fashioned intellectual history of the Revolution. It also attempts to reconcile theory and practice by examining how and why American revolutionaries guided their actions via moral principles. It is therefore concerned with motives as the mediating force between ideas and actions.”

Chapter 1 The Enlightenment and the Declaration of Independence.
In this chapter author discusses direct connection of American revolution to the Age of Enlightenment and to this end he refers to the letter in which:” Thomas Jefferson identified the “three greatest men that have ever lived, without any exception” as Francis Bacon, Isaac Newton, and John Locke. These three intellectual giants were, in Jefferson’s mind, the embodiment of the Enlightenment. Bacon was best known for his Novum Organum (1620), Newton for his Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica (1687), and Locke for two philosophic treatises, the Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1689) and the Second Treatise of Government (1689). Jefferson credited this philosophic holy trinity with “having laid the foundation of those superstructures which have been raised in the Physical and Moral sciences.””. Author then refer to other founding fathers who provided similar evaluation: John Adams and James Wilson. Author discusses key philosophical points of Enlightenment:

  • Metaphysics: Nature
  • Epistemology: Reason
  • Ethics: Rights

 Author then discusses works of Locke in relation to three questions:

QUESTION ONE: How is certain and absolute moral knowledge capable of discovery and demonstration?

QUESTION TWO: What are the moral laws and rights of nature?

QUESTION THREE: What are the rewards and punishments associated with the moral laws of nature? At the end of chapter author discusses impact of Locke on the American Mind.

Chapter 2 Declaring the Laws of Nature
Author begins this chapter with reference to initial part of the Declaration of Independence:

Then he proceeds discussing how the Declaration supported accusation of King George III in despotism by reviewing British actions either by Parliament or by King. After analyzing presentation of reasons for separation, author moves to discussion of Nature and Nature laws, presenting at the statement published at the time under pseudonym Benevolus:

Chapter 3 Self-Evident Truths
Here author presents what was considered self-evident truth at the time of American Revolution:

He then discusses the meaning of Self-evident as defined by Locke:” self-evident truth as a proposition whose subject and predicate necessarily relate to one another without contradiction”. Author also discusses meaning of truth, notion of self-evidence in America, and how it all was integrated into Declaration of Independence.  

Chapter 4 Equality
In this chapter author takes on another issue that for some reason confuses people – Equality. He discusses development of this idea in Locke’s work as theoretical point, but also as practical issue during Imperial crisis. Far from being some naïve and unrealistic, this idea had very real meaning and to support this author provides comparison table:

Chapter 5 Equality and Slavery

This chapter seems to be designed to respond to contemporary sensitivities. Author quite convincingly demonstrates that slavery was just usual and really unexceptional institution all over the world and if there was something about it special in America, it was detesting of this institution by founding fathers, including those who were slaveowners. In order to support this approach author looks in details at “the views of five American revolutionaries—James Otis, Benjamin Rush, Richard Wells, Patrick Henry, and Thomas Jefferson—on the question of slavery, which offer a representative range of American opinions.”  Author also goes beyond period of foundation to demonstrate that, even if it was delayed by nearly a century, it was ideas of American mind that put end to this institution.

Chapter 6 The Nature of Rights
Here author explores how Americans understood nature and source of rights. He looks at both the theory and practice from development of Natural rights idea during enlightenment to specific American understanding of these rights in pre-revolutionary period that turned out to be incompatible with staying under British rule. The difference was that Americans believed in rights being law of Nature to be discovered, pretty much as laws of Physics, while British approach was that rights are granted by King and/or parliament.  Author even provides excerpt from George Washington’s letter to the States to demonstrate this approach:

Chapter 7 Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness

Here author elaborates what specific rights Americans at the time believed are discovered as the laws of Nature: The Rights to Life, Liberty, Property, and Pursuit of Happiness. Author notes that notion of “Property” had quite expansive character and refers to Madison’s essay to demonstrate this:

Similarly to Property the notion of “Pursuit of Happiness” was rather complex as Locke put it:

Chapter 8 The Consent of the Governed
As a lot of other things in American Mind of revolutionary generation it comes from Locke. Author discusses theoretical approach as derived from idea of natural rights only in this case some powers transferred to the government. These are:

Author then discusses actual application of these theory to American situation at the time of crisis. Basically it comes down to refusal of colonials to cede power to  Parliament, which they did not consider ligitimate body for this power. It is interesting that it was not just the question of representation as part of British polity, which could be easily resolved by adding representatives from colonies to parliament but rather recognition of separate character and interests of colonies. Author also reviews literature – most important being “Common Sense” that was dfferent by declaring that government of colonies should not be derived from mother country, but rather created from the state of nature because colonials actually lived frontier lives in this state.

Chapter 9 Consent and the Just Powers of Government
In this chapter author continues discussion about state of nature and consent as applied to American colonies. He concludes the chapter this way: ” The framers of the United States Constitution created a government that limited, separated, and divided power. American constitutional republicanism meant limited government, which resulted in the creation of social and economic spheres of activity where individuals and their voluntary associations would be left free to think, act, produce, and trade. America’s revolutionary statesmen were, in other words, proponents of a free society.

Chapter 10 Revolution
After deciding that remote British power does not have consent of Americans and even does not qualified to obtain such consent, American Mind had to come with practical “to do” recommendation and it was revolution with objective to achieve independence by all means necessary. It is interesting that revolution was framed as defensive action directed to protect existing freedoms, rather than overthrow existing government to establish new freedoms. Author specifically discusses position of Thomas Paine, who rejected any possibility of compromise, as the closest to representing conditions of American Mind at the moment.

Chapter 11 Rebels with a Cause
In this last chapter author discusses necessity of Declaration of Independence as product of condition of American Mind, rather as consequence of some external forces such as British tyranny. Author reviews actual action of Parliament such as Stamp Act and concludes that there were no real oppression and economic impact of taxes would be negligible. The conflict was more philosophical and was caused by: “as Adams noted, a “radical change in the principles, opinions, sentiments, and affections of the people.” It was a revolution that advanced new moral values and virtues, new manners and mores, and a new way to think about moral character and moral action.”. Founders understood dangerous character of their actions, but they refused to give up the newly acquired Lockean principals and values. Here how Adams expressed the state of their minds:

Conclusion                
In conclusion author discusses the key elements of American Mind in theory and practice. He provides two references: one is quite from Thomas Jefferson on relationship between individual self-government and political government:

Epilogue Has America Lost Its American Mind?

Here author presents a kind of lamentation on contemporary state of American Mind, which become very different from original. He demonstrates that a great many Americans now reject ideas of Declaration of Independence and look for something different: instead of eternal truths of freedom and self-government they believe in continuing progress to higher levels of rationality, which necessarily require submission of individual’s freedom to higher level of societal “freedom”. Author traces this to influence of ideas of Hegel imported from Europe and enthusiastically embraced by Southern slaveholders as justification of slavery as organization of society in most efficient way that benefit not only slaveowner, but also a slave, who is taken care off better than slave could do it for self. After Civil war it was picked up by progressives and author provides quite revealing quote:

This attitude was taught in American colleges for more than a century, but until now had limited influence. However now it is becoming very powerful in its latest incarnation as “democratic socialism”

MY TAKE ON IT:

I found this book highly educational because it explained quite a few ideas of Declaration of Independence that seems to be absolutely ridiculous on their face, such as “All men are created equal” or “Unalienable Rights”. It seems to be obvious in XXI century that all men are different and unequal, while any idiot with knife or gun can alienate people from their life and liberty.  It is highly valuable, at least for me, to understand that representation of these words in American Minds of XVIII century was very much meaningful and was founded on very consistent set of philosophical ideas. Not that I agree with these ideas, but I highly appreciate final result, which made lives of billions of people, including mine, much better than it would be if practical implementation of these ideas in America had never happened. I think I understand author’s frustration with current situation when millions of people, especially young, reject ideas that produced such a wonderful result and run after proved con job of “democratic socialism”. However, I believe that it is temporary phenomenon and solution of this problem is not in going back to Enlightenment ideas, but rather go forward to generate new ideas that would explain both successes and failures of practical implementation of the ideas of American Revolutionary Mind. I personally think that the big part of this could come from look at real, rather than invented state of nature about which thanks to work of archeologists and anthropologists we now know a lot more than Locke could possible be capable imagining. I think that updated foundation should be build on evolutionary approach of multilevel selection, recognize role of availability of various resources to individuals and groups, and take into account increasing role of machines, computers, and soon AI in production, which will cause huge changes in working of human society. In short, when wonderful and beautiful Temple of American democracy start shaking because its old fundament start giving in, the action to be taken is not lament and dream about rejuvenating this fundament, but rather use the newest technology and substitute this of fundament with the new one made with the best materials available now, which did not exist way back. By the way it would not hurt to beautify the Temple a bit in the process, making it even more wonderful and beautiful, than ever.   

20210321 – Biology of Desire

MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is to use author knowledge as neuroscientist and experience as recovered addict to promote non-traditional view of addiction as strong habit established via process of deep learning accelerated by overwhelming desire to escape some difficult life problem in quick and easy way. Correspondingly author suggest that the way out of addiction lay not in medication or group therapy, but rather:” addiction can only be beaten by the alignment of desire with personally derived, future-oriented goals.”

DETAILS:

Introduction
Here author presents challenge to the idea that addiction is a disease:” This book makes the case that it isn’t. Addiction results, rather, from the motivated repetition of the same thoughts and behaviors until they become habitual. Thus, addiction develops—it’s learned—but it’s learned more deeply and often more quickly than most other habits, due to a narrowing tunnel of attention and attraction.” He then describes the structure of the book as combination of scientific presentation and story of ordinary people who were addicted and then were able to overcome addition. Author also presents himself as neuroscientist, professor, and former drug addict who had experienced both addiction and recovery.  

Chapter One: Defining Addiction: A Battleground of Opinions
In this chapter author reviews history of different definitions of addiction and correspondingly different approaches. He presents 3 models of addiction: mental disease, lifestyle choice, and self-medication to fight depression and/or any other problems. He points out that that:” These three models of addiction overlap to some degree, but each has unique implications for research, funding, and care, from the level of government policy to that of treatment options for individual sufferers. To put it simply, the disease model calls for treatment at the hands of experts—generally medical experts (including psychiatrists) but also the burgeoning band of treatment personnel who report to them (at least in theory); the choice model advocates reviewing one’s beliefs and changing one’s perspective, often using standard psychotherapeutic techniques such as cognitive behavioral therapy and motivational interviewing; and the self-medication model stresses the need to protect children and adolescents from extreme psychosocial pressures and to diagnose and treat underlying developmental issues that may have predisposed a person to addiction.” After that author expresses dissatisfaction with these models and intention to present more viable comprehensive model. But before this presentation he allocates some space reviewing history of disease model and debating its validity, which based on discovery of biological changes in brains of addict. Author’s main argument against this is that brain is very plastic and changes all the time as result of political attitudes, falling in and out of love and similar conditions. He concludes:” Brain disease may be a useful metaphor for how addiction seems, but it’s not a sensible explanation for how addiction works.”

Chapter Two: A Brain Designed for Addiction
Here author discusses characteristics of a brain, its plasticity, process of learning, and accommodation to reality. Author them moves to habit forming and how it linked to addiction:” The brain is certainly built to make any action, repeated enough times, into a compulsion. But the emotional heart of addiction—in a word, desire—makes compulsion inevitable, because unslaked desire is the springboard to repetition, and repetition is the key to compulsion. Like all habits, addiction quite simply grows and stabilizes, in brain tissue that is designed (by evolution) to change and stabilize. Yet addiction belongs to a subset of habits: those that are most difficult to extinguish. To understand addiction, we need to see it as the outcome of a normally functioning brain, not a diseased brain.”

Author then discusses how brain is changing under impact of multitude of different feedback loops and how addiction and other nasty things could be developed:” Bad habits self-organize like any other habits. Bad habits like addiction grow more deeply and often more quickly than other bad habits, because they result from feedback fueled by intense desire, and because they crowd out the availability or appeal of alternative pursuits. But they are still, fundamentally, habits—habits of thinking, feeling, and acting. The brain continues to shape itself with each repeat of the addictive experience, until the addictive habit converges with other habits lodged within one’s personality”.

At the end of this chapter author presents the key point of his views about negative changes in the brain related to addiction:” These changes don’t result from addictive substances. They are not caused by booze or drugs. They result from having a string of similar experiences. Nice experiences. Experiences of relief. Experiences that feel good, or at least better than the rest of your boring and depressing life. These brain changes are caused by motivated repetition—repetition of something special—and how the brain responds to it. The powerful experiences that get the ball rolling are simply events that affect us deeply. Because they are engaging. Because they mean something. As they become even more meaningful, the corresponding brain changes gather more momentum, building on themselves, digging their own ruts—rainwater in the garden.”

Chapter Three: When Craving Comes to Power: Natalie’s Story
Chapter Four: The Tunnel of Attention: Brian’s Romance with Meth
Chapter Five: Donna’s Secret Identity
Chapter Six: Johnny Needs a Drink
Chapter Seven: Nothing for Alice: The Double-Edged Sword of Self-Control
In these 5 chapter author reviews stories of people, which demonstrate variety of form of addiction and how these people were able overcome it by treating addiction more as bad psychological habit that should be grown out of, than bodily disease, that should be treated with medication or surgery.

Chapter Eight: Biology, Biography, and Addiction
In this chapter author goes into detailed reasoning on why addiction is not a disease and provides summary of this reasoning:

Here is authors conclusion:” So, what exactly is addiction? It’s a habit that grows and self-perpetuates relatively quickly, when we repeatedly pursue the same highly attractive goal. Or, in a phrase, motivated repetition that gives rise to deep learning. Addictive patterns grow more quickly and become more deeply entrenched than other, less compelling habits because of the intensity of the attraction that motivates us to repeat them, especially when they leave us gasping for more and other goals have lost their appeal. The neurobiological mechanics of this process involve multiple brain regions, interlaced to form a web that holds the addiction in place. Often, emotional turmoil during childhood or adolescence initiates the search for addictive rewards, which can provide relief and comfort for a while. But there are other points of entry too. Addiction is a house with many doors. However it is approached, and however it is eventually left, addiction is a condition of recurrent desire for a single goal that gouges deep ruts in the neural underpinnings of the self.”

Chapter Nine: Developing Beyond Addiction

The last chapter is about getting out of addiction and here is author’s reasoning:” I believe that getting past one’s addiction is a developmental process—in fact, a continuation of the developmental process that brought about the addiction in the first place. And the biology of neural change—the way brains transform themselves and the way habits form and reform—helps explain how that developmental process works. In fact, the importance of ongoing brain change becomes difficult to dispute when we link the neurobiology of addiction with the stories of those who have been there and moved on. That’s the insight that inspired the structure of this book.”

He then discusses biology of this process: neuroplasticity, experiential and neural paths to quitting, and how realign one’s desires to get out of the addiction.

MY TAKE ON IT:

The area of human life discussed in this book – addiction is completely unfamiliar to me, except that on two occasions I had alcoholics working for me. Both times they were very nice people who were competent professionals unless they get drunk and then become incompetent even to keep their bodies upright. In both cases it was tragic and sad. Both had been in treatment many times and both returned to addiction after a few months or even years of being sober. This book is interesting by moving the topic away from medical / chemical approach to fighting this condition to psychological / lifestyle adjustment method that worked for author and seems to be working for other people. It would be interesting to know if this new approach really works, but I would bet that even if it is working, the implementation would be difficult if not impossible because way too many interests and the whole industries depend on people struggling with addiction forever without winning and people who are running these industries would not give up without serious fight.  

20210314 – This View of Life

MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is to demonstrate that Darwin’s evolutionary theory fully applies to development of society and its culture and that without evolutionary approach it would not be possibly to understand how we get to this point in human development and how to move forward. Author is also trying to explain incorrect application of evolution ideas in form of social Darwinism, explain ideas of multilevel selection theory, and provide demonstration of correct application of evolutionary ideas based on work of Elinor Ostrom.

DETAILS:

Introduction: This View of Life
Author begins with brief note about meaning of science. He rejects often used sequence “observation -> theory –> experiment” because undirected, random observations are infinite, therefore theorizing should come first so scientist could know what to look for. After that author moves to Darwin and his theory of evolution:

Author briefly tells the story of his personal development and story of mass acceptance of evolution combined with mass lack of understanding that it applies to just about everything related to biology and products of biological objects such as culture.  He  further specifies:” It is one thing for a species to be well adapted to its environment and another for it to be adaptable to environmental change. The same goes for human cultures, and almost no existing culture is adaptable enough to keep pace with our ever-changing world. Conscious evolution requires the construction of a new system of cultural inheritance capable of operating at an unprecedented spatial and temporal scale. This will be a formidable task, but evolutionary theory does provide the tools to get the job done.”

Chapter 1: Dispelling the Myth of Social Darwinism
In this chapter author discusses ideas of social Darwinism, noting that it is pejorative term that nobody really applies to self. Moreover, people accused of Social Darwinism seldom if ever use Darwin’s theory to defend their ideas. Then author reviews stories of such people: Thomas Malthus, Herbert Spenser, Francis Galton, Thomas Huxley, Peter Kropotkin, and, obviously Darwin himself. They all discussed competition and survival, but it was from variety of ideological positions not necessarily related to evolution. Author also shows lack of any connection between Darwin’s ideas and Hitler who was philosophically adherent of Chamberlain and his racist views. Finally, author refer to American philosophy of Pragmatism, which promoters: Dewey, Holmes, Peirce, and James indeed were influenced by Darwin.  Author concludes the chapter referring to damage caused by stigmatization of evolution theory via bogeyman of “Social Darwinism”:

Chapter 2: Darwin’s Toolkit
Author starts this chapter with reference to fragility of truth as demonstrated by contemporary American politics and then moves to present 4 questions of Niko Tinbergen that author considers the most important tools for evolutionary understanding:

  • First, what is the function of a given trait (if any)? Why does it exist compared to many other traits that could exist?
  • Second, what is the history of the trait as it evolved over multiple generations?
  • Third, what is its physical mechanism? All traits, even behavioral traits, have a physical basis that must be understood in addition to their functions.
  • Fourth, how does the trait develop during the lifetime of the organism?

After that author provides some examples and discusses in detail Lenski’s experiment of parallel evolution of 12 populations E-coli over 70,000 generations, with periodically frozen samples. This experiment demonstrated conceptual ability to identify direction of development, while confirming non-deterministic mechanics of this development.

Chapter 3: Policy as a Branch of Biology
Here author defines his objective this way:” The challenge of this book is to show that policy is a branch of biology. A standard definition of policy is “a course or principle of action adopted or proposed by a government, group, or individual.” Liberal and conservative politicians propose different policies to improve the economy. Many religions encourage the policy of “do unto others,” at least in some situations. A “tiger mom” might adopt a policy of strict discipline toward her children. To view policy as a branch of biology means that our proposed actions must be deeply informed by evolution. Around the world, we should be consulting evolutionary theory at least as much as we consult our constitutions, political ideologies, sacred texts, and personal philosophies.”

After that author compares two products of evolution with different design and similar functionality: octopus and human eyes. He specifically points out that in addition to being product of evolution, it is also product of organism’s individual development, for example nearsightedness of Jewish orthodox boys who spent 16 hours a day in school. Then author demonstrates complexity of such development and risks of interference in such development by referring to well researched example of immune systems compromised due to excessively clean environment and negative impact of educational overload on development of intellectual ability in children.

Chapter 4: The Problem of Goodness
In this chapter author discusses goodness, which often considered a problem for evolution because doing good for others often inflict costs on organism. Author demonstrates that it is not problem with evolution, but rather with poor understanding of evolution when people fail to see that selection occurs at multiple levels so a feature benefiting group over individual will be propagated, providing it leads to improvement in evolutionary fitness of individuals with this feature. Here is how author and E.O Wilson formulated this rule:

Selfishness beats altruism within groups. Altruistic groups beat selfish groups. Everything else is commentary.

Author provides three examples:

  • selfish cancer cells kill host and stops their own propagation
  • chickens’ selection for top performance resulting in crash of group performance due to exceeding competition, while selection for average performance leads to superior performance of the group.
  • Finally applied to the humans:” We are evolution’s most recent major transition. Almost everything that sets us apart from other primate species can be explained as forms of cooperation that evolved by between-group selection, thanks largely to our ability to suppress disruptive within-group selection. In most primate societies, group members are cooperative to a degree but are also riven by within-group conflict. Even the cooperation that exists often takes the form of coalitions warring with other coalitions within the same groups. To the best of our current knowledge, our distant ancestors evolved the ability to suppress bullying and other disruptive self-serving behaviors within groups, like multicellular organisms evolved ways to suppress cancer cells, so that the primary way to survive and reproduce was through teamwork.”

Chapter 5: Evolution in Warp Drive
This chapter is about evolutions beyond genetic code. Author discusses here these examples: functioning of immune system, individual learning, and cultural development of groups.

Chapter 6: What All Groups Need
In this chapter author moves to discuss group selection: “Multilevel selection theory tells us that something similar to team-level selection took place in our species for thousands of generations, resulting in adaptations for teamwork that are baked into the genetic architecture of our minds. Absorbing this fact leads to the conclusion that small groups are a fundamental unit of human social organization. Individuals cannot be understood except in the context of small groups, and large-scale societies need to be seen as a kind of multicellular organism comprising small groups.”

It starts with Elinor Ostrom’s work on practical evolutionary solution for theoretical tragedy of commons. It includes 8 Core Design Principles (CDP):

CDP 1. STRONG GROUP IDENTITY AND UNDERSTANDING OF PURPOSE.

CDP 2. PROPORTIONAL EQUIVALENCE BETWEEN BENEFITS AND COSTS.

CDP 3. FAIR AND INCLUSIVE DECISION-MAKING.

CDP 4. MONITORING AGREED-UPON BEHAVIORS.

CDP 5. GRADUATED SANCTIONS.

CDP 6. FAST AND FAIR CONFLICT RESOLUTION.

CDP 7. LOCAL AUTONOMY.

CDP 8. POLYCENTRIC GOVERNANCE.

After this author reviews some specific types of groups: Schools, Neighborhoods, Religious Groups, and Business Groups.  At the end of chapter author call for application of these principle from individual level up and provides reference to www. Prosocial.com, which provides support for such activity.

Chapter 7: From Groups to Individuals
In this chapter author’s focus is on “the concept of individuals as products of social interactions”. Author discusses here “Behavioral Ecology”, “Positive Parenting Program”, and “Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)”, all of which seemingly achieve success by understanding and applying approach based on “primacy of the small group as a unit of selection in human evolution.”

Chapter 8: From Groups to Multicellular Society
Here author is scaling up this understanding from small groups to huge societies and discusses usual political dichotomy: market vs. regulation and how reconcile best of both. He also provides a couple of pictures linking well-being and political stress to inequality across countries for the world and across time for America:

MY TAKE ON IT:

I often puzzled by inability of seemingly educated and smart people to understand simple ideas and create unnecessary complexity where there is none. It is especially plentifully demonstrated in everything related to Darwin’s theory of Evolution. It is hard to find anything as clear, easily demonstratable, and comparable with common sense as Evolution, maybe with exception of Euclid’s geometry. For example, why one needs such complex explanations for altruism between humans and other animals as kin selection or reciprocity, when full account for what helps and what hinders to survival would demonstrate that helping others is good for survival as long as the cost is low, even if one has no idea whether the favor will be returned in the future or not or is it provided to kin or not.

Such full account would demonstrate cost and individual’s perception of group interest dependency of altruism, as in case of German citizen helping old Jewish lady to cross street in 1920 with:

“cost/benefit balance = feeling good about self for being strong representative of superior humanitarian culture – extra 30 seconds spent on intersection”

versus the same German citizen in 1935 kicking old Jewish lady on the same crossing with:

“cost/benefit balance = feeling good about self for being strong representative of superior race – extra 30 seconds spent on intersection.”

In both cases this 30 seconds could be saved and directed to something beneficial for individual but were spent to support the group of German nation by demonstrating one’s belonging to the group and promoting its values. Whether the group defined as German people of superior humanitarian culture or German people of superior race is pretty much irrelevant. In both cases it is demonstration of individual expense in perceived interest of the group, driven by internal motivation.

There are infinite numbers of such examples, but they all come down to two factors: how individuals define hierarchy of groups they belong to and what are values of these groups. Therefore, the tragedy of commons in its classical theoretical representation: common pasture overgrazed because everybody maximizes own returns even if result is destroyed pasture, could occur only if some individuals perceive themselves as superior to others, which is evolutionary would be very detrimental if one does not really have demonstratable superior power. Since in real live it is seldom happening that somebody in community has such power, the accommodation between members of community about rules of use of common resource will always occur and CDPs will be operational. In short, in my opinion, multilevel selection is one and only proper understanding of Darwin’s Evolution, but one should always remember that it is not just two levels – individual and group, but rather multiple levels with various hierarchies of groups in minds of different people, which are changing all the time, creating super complex and fluid environment when actions of individuals coordinated or counteracted in unpredictable ways.

20210307 – Fraud in the Lab

MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is to demonstrate how fraudulent or at least misleading information about scientific research produced and distributed throughout scientific community, which has become big business fed by huge amounts of mainly government money. The science now is very prestigious and profitable area of activities that provides huge benefits both material and in form of place in pecking order of society, therefore there are of individuals who want to obtain these benefits by all means necessary.

DETAILS:

1: Big Fraud, Little Lies
Author starts with reference to persistence of the problem going back to XIX century:” In his Reflections on the Decline of Science in England, Babbage devoted a few juicy pages to distinguishing between four categories of scientific fraud:

The First is hoaxing – reporting discovery of something that really does not exist.

The Second is forging data – reporting false information about some non-repetitive event that could not be checked.

The Third – trimming experimental data, that is slightly adjusting results by removing some of outliers to obtain more clear result.

The final Fourth category cooking data: “This is an art of various forms, the object of which is to give to ordinary observations the appearance and character of those of the highest degree of accuracy. One of its numerous processes is to make multitudes of observations, and out of these to select those only which agree, or very nearly agree. If a hundred observations are made, the cook must be very unlucky if he cannot pick out fifteen or twenty which will do for serving up.”

After providing this definition author presents some examples: Sir Cyril Burt in psychology, Mark Spector in biochemistry, John Darsee in medicine. Author then discusses definition of contemporary fraud: “In 2000 the US Office of Science and Technology Policy defined the breach of scientific integrity as the fabrication, falsification, and plagiarism of data (summed up by the acronym FFP), whether in the conception of research projects (particularly in the writing of grant proposals), their execution and publication, or the reviewing of articles by referees. The FFP definition of breaches of scientific integrity only applies to manipulations of experimental data. It does not deal with professional ethics. The second definition, which is often used in Europe, expands the scope of breaches of scientific integrity by including what international institutions such as the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development often qualify as “questionable research practices”: conflicts of interest, a selective and biased choice of data presented in articles, “ghost” authors added to a publication in which they did not participate, refusal to communicate raw experimental data to colleagues who request it, exploitation of technical personnel whose contributions are sometimes not recognized in publications, psychological harassment of students or subordinates, and failure to follow regulations on animal testing and clinical trials.”

Author also looks at frequency of the fraud in various scientific disciplines: from none in mathematics to explosion in biology, for which he provides a nice graph:

2. Serial Cheaters
Here author present some specific examples of individuals who do it again and again: Korean Cloner, Dutch Psychologist, American Neuroscientist, German Physician, and French Imposters. Author even presents record holders who had hundreds of articles retracted.

3. Storytelling and Beautification
In this chapter author discusses reasons for manipulations, which does not really amount to intentional fraud: strive to tell a good story, following intuition, even when it is not consistent with data, fudging experimental results to make them more attractive and convincing, and use of technology to make data more coherent than they really are.

4. Researching for Results
This is about the overvalued idea of statistically significant result. Here is author’s characterization:” The scientific community generally believes that a scientific result is significant if it can be calculated that there is less than one chance in twenty that it is due to chance, without truly questioning whether this practice is well founded. Scientists refer to this as probability value, or p value. Naturally, the threshold of p < 0.05 (one in twenty) is perfectly arbitrary. One could just as easily choose one in one hundred, or one in one thousand. Nonetheless, this is the accepted convention for a result to be considered worthy of interest. It should be noted that this practice automatically implies that at least one in twenty scientific studies is false or, at least, describes a phenomenon that may not be one.”

Here is nice demonstration of increasing manipulation of data depending on type of science from physics where manipulation is hard to social science where it is easy:

5. Corporate Cooking
This chapter is about Reproducibility crisis: “Between 75 and 90 percent of results published in the best journals in the field of biomedicine are not reproducible.”  Certainly in very complex experiments related to living matter it is nearly impossible to exactly recreate environment of experiment, but it is also more than probable that lots of time experiment built in such way as to provide justification for additional funding and publishing opportunities rather than to find out something about nature. Author, however, notes:” I only aim to underline that the researchers who went to the trouble of repeating experiments with surprising results were those in the private sector, rather than those at universities or public research institutes.”

6. Skewed Competition
In this chapter author discusses reasons for his findings in previous chapters:” the ever-more-frequent discovery of massive fraud in every discipline, the huge rise in the number of articles retracted in the field of biology (Chapters 1 and 2), statistical proof that results in experimental psychology are increasingly embellished (Chapter 4), and the worrisome fact that the vast majority of experiments published in biomedicine are impossible to reproduce (Chapter 5)”

He somewhat finds it in Multicentrism – competition for recognition and patents between scientific establishment of different countries, which had increased with Chinese entry into the field. It is also rushing to publish in order not to parish and get money, the situation that produced super productive scientists. Author provides an amazing example:” …the world record for scientific productivity is held by the late chemist Alan R. Katritzky. From 1953 to 2010, Katritzky coauthored 2,215 publications, or one every ten days of a long career that began in his native Great Britain and ended at the University of Florida.”

7. Stealing Authorship
Author includes here multiple methods such as Stealing, Outsourcing, and Mechanizing and provides overall picture:

8. The Funding Effect
This chapter is about various machination around public funding of science, which became the main source of prosperity for scientists. Author uses here two stories about funding: one about tobacco and another about GMO. In both cases science was subordinated to public relations to promote interest of powerful organizations – tobacco industry and anti GMO non-profits.

9. There Is No Profile
Here author discusses attempts to profile the cheaters, but had to agree that it is not really feasible and presents Martine Bungerer statement to this effect:

10. Toxic Literature

In this chapter author discusses impact of scientific fraud on literature, which he characterizes as waste, difficulty of separating “the Wheat from Chaff”, and, finally difficulties of forcing retraction of articles based on fraud and published in respected in scientific journals.

11. Clinical Trials
This chapter is about consequences of massive fraud in science. Author provides examples of deaths caused by false results from medical research, anti-vaccination movement and other cases.

12. The Jungle of Journal Publishing
Here author moves to discuss scientific publishing industry, predatory journals, concentration and outsourcing of publishing when publisher present itself as American, while it is Chinese operation.

13. Beyond Denial
Here author refer to the original flag raised about scientific fraud: “Nearly forty years ago, the American journalists William J. Broad and Nicholas Wade published Betrayers of the Truth: Fraud and Deceit in the Halls of Science. Their book was the first to focus on scientific fraud; it remains one of the few to have done so. Looking back at it today provides an assessment of the evolution of responses to fraud in the last three decades. While fraud is no longer denied the way it was then, the scientific community is still powerless to halt its progress.”  Author discusses how much worse the problem became, but also show some signs of hope by discussing emerging grass root movement to uncover fraud in scientific community.

14. Scientific Crime
Here author move slightly beyond just covering the fraud by demonstrating how investigations are conducted and describing efforts to establish some formal ethic norms to prevent scientific fraud. The point here is that it is all too little and too late. So far, the only more or less serious consequences occur in situations when external funding is involved so criminal complain could be filed for misuse of funds.

15. Slow Science

In the final chapter author discusses potential measures to fight fraud: sharing of raw data from experimental research, publishing “negative” results, stop evaluating impact factor and bibliometrics for evaluation of research, and, finally, move away from paradigm of “publish or perish” to different paradigm:” publish less, publish better”. In short, author prefer science that is slower, but of better quality.

MY TAKE ON IT:

I do not think that problems described in great details in this book are scientific problems. They are generic problems of any bureaucracy: falsification of result by lower level bureaucrats to obtain more benefits from higher level bureaucrats. That in case of science lower level bureaucrats are “scientists” and higher-level bureaucrats are funding authorities does not change anything at all. Moreover, whatever parameters would be setup for evaluation: whether it is number of citations, positive referral by reviewer, or something completely different, the fraud is unavoidable. The only method that can help, at least partially, would be return to funding by individuals and groups based on their own funds, rather than by government. In this case there would be people really interested in research results being properly obtained and interpreted so they could get whatever they hope of obtaining from research whether it is satisfaction of curiosity or potentially profitable use. This approach would for sure remove any barriers to monitoring of research and access to data by independent reviewers.

20210228 – Democracies at War

MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is to use statistical analysis of historical data about wars in order to prove that democracies actually do win wars by far more often than lose, then demonstrate that usual reasons applied to this fact are often deficient, or just plain incorrect, and finally present authors’ suggested reasons for this historical phenomenon for which they want to “show that, in fact, democracies do not win wars because of some sense of international democratic community. Nor do they win because they are generally richer or typically better able to extract resources from their economies. Instead, as we shall see, the power of democracies lies not in the leaders or political elite, but instead in the people themselves—ultimately, power lies in the governed, not in the governors. “

DETAILS:

One: Democracy’s Fourth Virtue
Authors start by stating that object of this book is the fourth virtue of democracy that is rarely mentioned unlike usual 3 virtues: freedom, prosperity, and peace. This 4th virtue is the martial effectiveness of democracies. Authors then present their main thesis:” Our central argument is that democracies win wars because of the offshoots of public consent and leaders’ accountability to the voters. Regardless of the particular permutation, at the core of democracy is the notion that those who govern are accountable in some way to the consent of the people. In democracies, leaders who act without the consent of the voters do so at considerable political risk of removal from office.”  After that authors identify four perspectives that from which they will be looking to analyze their central argument:

Perspective 1: Political Structures

Perspective 2: Political Culture

Perspective 3: International Community

Perspective 4: Economic Might

Authors conclude this chapter by reducing all prospective to one key conclusion. They also discuss here the statistical methods they use to test their hypothesis.

Two: Democracy, War Initiation, and Victory

This chapter reviews relation between initiation of war, type of society, and results.

Authors analyze two propositions:

Proposition 2.1: Among war initiators, the more democratic a state is, the more likely it is to win.

Proposition 2.2: Among war initiators, democracies are most likely to win, dictatorships are next most likely to win, and mixed regimes are least likely to win.

They also provide table with summary of historical outcomes:

They also analyse a number of specific conflicts, which generallly support these propositions.

Three: Democracy and Battlefield Success
Here authors move from war outcomes to battles and comparative analysis of behavior of armies and soldiers depending on type of society. Here author also presents and test these propositions:

Proposition 3.1: Democratic soldiers fight with higher levels of morale than other soldiers.

Proposition 3.1a: The later in a war a battle takes place, the lower will be the morale for democratic soldiers.

Proposition 3.2: Democratic soldiers will demonstrate higher levels of initiative on the battlefield.

Proposition 3.3: Soldiers are more likely to surrender to democratic armies than to authoritarian armies.

Proposition 3.4: Democratic armies enjoy superior levels of leadership.

Authors then provide statistical analysis supporting validity of these propositions.

Four: Balancers or Bystanders? The Lack of Fraternal Democratic Assistance
In this chapter authors analyze and generally reject common misconception that democracies support each other at the time of military need. They provide tabulation for defender interventions, then analyze historical record, and conclude that type of society does not play significant role in attracting externa; support:

Five: Winning Wars on Factory Floors? The Myth of the Democratic Arsenals of Victory
In this chapter authors reject another the myth about economic and technological military advantages of democracy. Actually, they seem to accept idea that democracies are doing better in economic and technological development overall, but they demonstrate that it does not apply to resource mobilization at the time of war. Generally, whatever levels of economic and technology exist, it will be used to conduct war and non-democracies are as good or even better in mobilizing such resources.

Six: Democracy, Consent, and the Path to War
Here authors look at important parameter impacting war-time morals of population and army: consent to initiate war. This parameter is quite important for democracies because freedom of expression guaranties the expression of opposition leading to more careful approach to initiation of war and more serios analysis of potential consequences. It however does not prevent democratic elites from initiating unreasonable actions, it just makes it quite a bit more difficult than in dictatorships.

Seven: The Declining Advantages of Democracy: When Consent erodes
In this chapter authors address situations when advantages of Democracies decline. They offer these propositions:

Proposition 7.1: The longer a war continues, democracies will be more likely than autocracies to seek an end to the war.

Proposition 7.1a: Democracies will be more likely to accept draws than will autocracies, which will seek victory.

Proposition 7.2: The longer a war continues, the more likely autocracies are to win.

Proposition 7.3: Wars involving two autocracies are less likely to end in draws but last longer than wars involving democracies.

They make an interesting point that Democracies are less resilient in the case of prolonged war because consent of people tend to decay over time and so does resolve to win. Here is graph demonstrating this trend:

Eight: Why Democracies Win Wars

In the last chapter authors summarize their finding the following way:” WE NOW KNOW why democracies win wars. The two key dimensions of the democratic character that best explain democratic victory are the skeleton of democracy, those political institutions that hold democratic leaders accountable to the consent of the people, and the spirit of democracy, with its emphasis on the development of individual rights, responsibility, and initiative.” They also provide combined table of statements they made in this book with reference to its chapters:

MY TAKE ON IT:

I think that authors’ approach is outstanding and it provides very good support for idea that democracies are better at war than it is usually thought. Authors also provide pretty good analysis of reasons for this. I do agree with authors inferences, especially the one about high dependency of Democracy’s military advantages on continuing consent of population. In think that one thing here that is missing, it is dependency of consent on scope of democracy. In normal environment the wide scope of democratic freedoms inevitably produce opposition to any war, as well as to any other action of government. However, depending on core nature of war, whether it is perceived as existential or optional, the scope of freedom could be diminished in order to suppress opposition and assure continuity of consent. Good example would be WWII when Sir Oswald Mosley – Nazi supporter in UK was arrested in1940 and imprisoned until 1943 when victory was pretty much assured and war start losing its existential character. Similarly, in USA German American Bund – Nazi supporting organization was suppressed and its leaders arrested under various accusations, not necessarily related to politics. However, during Vietnam War, which was considered as optional by just about everybody, opponents were marching on the street under Vietnamese communist banners without slightest fear that they would be treated as enemy collaborators and put into POW camp, which would happen to similar group of young people marching under these banners in South Vietnam. I guess lesson for leaders of democracy should be: if you participate in war – make it either really quick or existential if you really want to win. Actually, American founding fathers seem to understood this well, so they included in Constitution requirement for Congress declare war. Unfortunately, even since the second half of XX century American politicians in power just ignore these requirements of Constitution, similarly to quite a few other requirements and with similarly dismal results.

20210221 – Evilicious

MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is to use results of the latest research in psychology to present author’s understanding of evil: what it is, who does it, why capacity to do it exists in humans, but not in other animals, and what combination of nature and nurture leads to actualization of such capacity in some individuals, but not in others.

The key understanding is that evil means intentionally causing harm to other for the sake of it and enjoy the process.

DETAILS:

Prologue. The problem of evil
Author starts here by stating his understanding of what causes people to do evil: intentionally hurt others: “The idea I develop is that evildoers are made in much the same way that addicts are made. Both processes start with unsatisfied desires. Whether it is a taste for violence or a taste for alcohol, drugs, food, or gambling, individuals develop cravings but find the desired experience less and less rewarding — a separation between desire and reward that leads to excess. To justify the excess, the psychology of desire recruits the psychology of denial, enabling individuals to immerse themselves in a new reality that feels right.”

Author also provides quite specific definition of evil, how individuals’ personal development leads to evildoing, and why humans overall developed capacity to do evil things:

 “evil arises when innocent victims are subjected to gratuitous cruelty by individuals who either directly intend such excessive harm or allow it to happen when they could have prevented it. This view of evil includes specific means (gratuitous cruelty), consequences (excessive harm), causes (intentions, desires, and goals), and potential benefits, both short- and long-term.”

“Individuals develop into evildoers when unsatisfied desires accumulate and combine with a denial of reality, causing them to see others as morally worthless or dangerous.”

“The capacity for evil originally evolved as an incidental consequence of our unique intelligence, but once in place provided significant benefits to those who expressed it as a display of power.”

Finally, author provides here plan of the book:” In Part I, we will focus on the recipe for evil, examining both the psychology of desire (chapter 1) and the psychology of denial (chapter 2). In Part II, we will look at the evolutionary history of evil. Chapter 3 examines what makes us unique relative to other animals and assesses the possible adaptive function of seemingly wasteful acts of extreme violence. Chapter 4 explains why some people are more likely to develop into evildoers than others, based on a combination of nature and nurture.”

Part l: One Recipe
Chapter 1. Runaway desire
This chapter starts with jihadi and his desire to become martyr. Then author discusses research with rat and electrons in the desire area of the brain, which would not eat or sleep – just keep pushing the button to feel happy. Similar effect was observed in humans. Author then talks about dopamine, neuro-chemical reactions and experiments that demonstrate how it all works and how it all connected with strive for power and joy of violence that some individuals experience. Actually, violent fantasies are not unusual and they often could acquire addictive qualities. However, it is exceedingly rare when such fantasies are acted upon to make them real.

Chapter 2. Ravages of denial
Author begins this chapter with Abu Ghraib and then moves to idea of moral agents and patients:” the distinction between moral agents and moral patients. Agents have responsibility for others’ wellbeing, whereas patients deserve moral consideration and care. Moral agents are potential evildoers who can cause excessive harm to moral patients, but not the other way around. Moral patients may well cause harm, but they lack the cognitive wherewithal to both reflect upon the moral consequences of their actions and the reasons why certain actions are morally forbidden.”  This follows by discussion about two dimensions experience and agency:” Experience included properties such as hunger, fear, pain, pleasure, rage, desire, consciousness, pride, embarrassment, and joy. Agency included self-control, morality, memory, emotion recognition, planning, communication and thinking. Experience aligned with feelings, agency with thinking. With these dimensions, we find God at one edge, high in agency and low in experience. On the opposite side, huddled together on the landscape defined by low agency and high experience, we find fetuses, frogs, and people in a vegetative state. Clustered inside the high agency and experience space we find adult men and women, whereas robots and dead people land in the low experience and middling agency space; dogs, chimpanzees, and human kids are clustered together in the high experience and mid-level agency.” After that author presents results of experiments that incite anger against some group, which then combined with dehumanization of members of this group resulting in acceptance of idea of hurting members of this group. Author looks in details how these processes happen and how they are combined with natural propensity of humans of attach to their own group and repulse others. In doing so people deny reality of others’ humanity, which open door for aggression and evil. Author even comes up with formula for evil: E=D+D, that is desire + denial. At the end of chapter author states that it really quite complicated process that highly dependent on multiple parameters:” The idea that we are all endowed with the capacity for evil, and that this capacity requires the combination of desire and denial, in no way implies that the expression of this capacity is inevitable. Even in environments that promote a psychology of evil, some will resist. Resistance comes from individual differences in creating both unsatisfied desires and unconstrained systems of denial. Conversely, others are heavily predisposed to engage in acts of cruelty because their biology tilts them toward high risk, high reward, and low empathy. These differences originate in our biology, and with the evolutionary history of our species.

Part II. One History
Chapter 3. Kingdom of cruelty
This chapter on cruelty begins with pretty detailed description of gruesome torture to death inflicted by Shawnee Indians on captured settlers in 1791. Author then discusses reasons for inflicting pain on others starting with non-lethal cases when it happens in process of competition for resources, which is typical for all animals. Here is how author describes resent developments in biology related to this issue:” Novel insights into the dynamics of aggressive competition emerged in the late 1970s and early 1980s due to two fundamental developments within evolutionary biology. The first was due to the evolutionary biologist John Maynard Smith who recognized that for any competitive interaction, there are different strategies, each with different payoffs. Some strategies are more costly, but return greater benefits. Others are more conservative and less costly, but return smaller benefits. How well any given strategy does depend on its frequency in the population, and thus, on whether the particular strategy is dominant or rare. This is the logic of games, and game theory developed by economists. Maynard Smith’s central insight was to see these games as evolving over long periods of time, locked into epic arms races with predators battling prey, hosts competing with parasites, and males challenging each other for access to females.” After that author discusses psychology of causing harm to others, role of testosterone and cortisol in biochemistry of this process and dopamine as its reward. After dealing with non-lethal harm author moves to lethal and notes that nearly all animals are both: predators and pray. Author then looks at war in chimpanzees, which is evaluated by some biologists as adaptation leading to similar characterization for human wars. This application of biology to humans caused push back from “humanists” and biologists whose humanity overrides their science. They created 1986 Seville statement:

Author reviews the discusion of chimpanzee vs human wars and summarises it this way: “Unlike the lethal attacks by chimpanzees that are restricted to cases where groups attack lone victims, primarily from neighboring groups, we wreak havoc on a massive scale, with one on one, many against many, and one against many, including victims within and outside our core group. Unlike chimpanzees, even our young children have an appetite for violence that can be nurtured, as evidenced by the brutality of child soldiers around the globe. Unlike chimpanzees, individuals will sacrifice themselves for an entire group as evidenced most recently by suicide bombers. Our minds also generate ideological reasons to motivate violence at extraordinary scales — again, think of suicide bombers taking their lives for a God, as well as the reward of an idyllic afterlife. And when our minds break down, or when we are afflicted with particular disorders early in life, we are capable of experiencing bizarre appetites for violence, including the joy of eating the flesh of murdered victims. These novel and unanticipated ways of harming others are the result, at least in their origins, of new hardware that evolved only once in the history of this planet: a brain wired to combine and recombine thoughts and emotions. I will explain this idea in three steps, starting with a description of our brain’s special design. I then turn to a discussion of how our brain’s design incidentally enabled our species alone to punish moral transgressors and feel good about it. I conclude with the incidental birth of version 2.0 of harming others, a form of lethal aggression that was both extreme and enjoyable — evilicious.”

3 steps author refers to are:

Creative combinations – complexities of working of human brain lead to complexities of adaptive use of violence at levels not available to other animals.

Incidental Justice – hurting others to establish and enforce some social norm that humans believe is neccasary. In this cases torture and killing serve not only to punish violator of the norm, but also prevent future violation by others.

After reviewing kind of institutional harming others, author discusses case when violence becomes the source of pleasure in itself for some specific type of individuals – psychopaths. As everythinh else author links it to biochemical process, this time including oxytocin.  Author also discusses value of harming others as signalling and complete this chapter by summarising it all in response to the question “Why oh Why?”:

Why did we evolve the capacity for gratuitous cruelty? The answer begins, so I suggest, in a special property of the human brain. Some time after we diverged from a chimpanzee-like common ancestor the human brain was remodeled to allow creative new connections between previously unconnected circuits. Our newly connected brain enabled us to explore new problems using a combination of older, but nonetheless adaptive parts. Some of these novel explorations led to highly adaptive consequences, as when we developed the ability to self-deceive in the service of pumping ourselves up to do better in the context of competition; or when we invented new technologies to solve difficult environmental problems, such as using spears to capture prey at a distance; or, when we acquired the know-how to stockpile and enhance resources such as food, water and fertile land that are critical to individual survival and reproduction; or when we evolved the richly textured social emotions of jealousy, shame, guilt, elation, and empathy, feelings that motivate individuals to recognize the importance of others’ well-being and interests and to correct prior wrongs; or, when we tapped into the rich connection between reward and aggression to punish cheaters trying to destabilize a cooperative society. But these same adaptive explorations also resulted in incidental costs that have destroyed the lives of innocent individuals. The capacity to deny others’ moral worth enabled us to justify great harms, including self-sacrifice as living bombs designed to annihilate thousands of non-believers. The capacity to create advanced weaponry enabled us to kill at a distance, thereby avoiding the aversiveness of taking out those staring back. The capacity to stockpile resources led to the growth of greed, increasing disparities among members of society, the inspiration to steal, and heightened violence both to defend and to obtain. The capacity to experience social emotions such as jealousy led to blind rage and a driving engine of homicide, including cuckolded lovers who kill their spouses and stepparents who kill their stepchildren. The capacity to feel good about harming others enabled us to recruit this elixir in the service of causing excessive harm in any number of novel contexts, from ethnic cleansings to bizarre fetishes that include self-mutilation. And the list goes on. This is the yin and yang of a combinatorial brain. This is the natural history of evil, its ancestry and adaptive significance. It is a capacity that lives within all of us, but some of us are more likely than others to deploy it. This variation is also part of human nature, a critical component in the evolutionary process.”

Chapter 4. Wicked in waiting
In the last chapter author moves to the level of individual: genetics, nurture and cultural norms, mental disorders, biochemistry of self-control, and empathy. Author also reviews phenomenon of bullying, bringing in his own childhood experience.  At the end of chapter author summarizes it all this way:” The scientific evidence on individual differences suggests that we are born with different propensities for cruelty. These propensities did not evolve for cruelty, but rather, for different aspects of social life, including the important decisions we make to survive and reproduce. Individual differences in our capacity for self-control, experience of reward, willingness to take risks, response to stress, and ability to empathize have significant biological origins. Though it is difficult to pinpoint the original function of these capacities, they play an important role today in eating, mating, playing, defending, and killing. These differences are not noise in the system, but highly relevant to our evolutionary past and futures. Individuals who were impulsive, fearless, and aggressive were invaluable when fighting against enemy tribes, and they are valuable today in modern warfare. Individuals who were patient and anticipated great rewards from building up large cattle herds, were better able to provide for themselves and their families. But these same qualities were also deployed for less virtuous goals. Many of these cases, though despicable, are not difficult to explain once we look to individual desire to acquire or maintain power. Many of these cases are, however, more puzzling as the harm caused is extreme and seemingly unnecessary to achieve the targeted end. Some are cruel for cruelty’s sake. Some are cruel to intimidate the enemy. Individual differences push some of us toward gratuitous cruelty and others away from it, despite similarities in our upbringing and cultural norms.”

Epilogue. Evilightenment

Here author briefly reviews societal changes brought in with enlightenment, which led to development of laws, multiple restrictions on individual actions and on punishments for these actions often linked to individual’s age because people generally recognize that development of ability for self-control and maintaining proper behavior not in-born, but is result of development and maturation. Overall author concludes that capacity for evil is product of natural development and probably is not going away, but human development does show that realization of this capacity could be prevented or at least limited and that currently observed decrease in violence over time is real, but its continuation required serious work to be done because: “We must never give up on humanity”

MY TAKE ON IT:

My attitude to the problems of violence and overall causing is quite close to author’s. I believe that such behavior if evolutionary adaptation and is natural for all people. However, I see it as much more complex problem because in reality it is not easy to separate good from evil for any action if all consequences taken into account. One should always ask for any hurtful evil action:” Who will benefit from this?”

Take for example the biggest amount of harm caused to the greatest amount of people in the shortest amount of time – use of nuclear weapon in Hiroshima that instantly killed some and caused painful torture and slow death for others among tens of thousands of people. No amount of feel good condemnations of this action could remove the fact of its necessity because alternatives would be: millions of people both Americans and Japanese suffering and dying in case of invasion of Japan, or alternatively millions of Japanese dying from starvation and exposure if American leadership would decide to treat Japan to traditional siege warfare by preventing food and energy production to force surrender. Another solution that would be close to heart of emphatic people: leave Japan alone and just sign some kind of peace treaty leaving individuals that were in control over Japan in power. I think it is obvious that such solution would lead to nuclear explosions in American cities within as short period of time as it would require highly technologically developed Japan to create nuclear weapons.

In short, I think that existing biological predisposition to violence and causing harm to others is not going away, but could be rendered mute if every individual provided with opportunity to obtain needed resources by peaceful non-violent actions, while every act of harm caused to others, however small, would prompt immediate and slightly more than proportional retaliation. For example, a young bully that locked another kid in locker would be much less inclined to do so again if this act is inevitably followed by spending night locked in the locker. In short, I would not bet on “better angels”, but rather on obvious self-interest for vast majority of normal individuals and fast and effective elimination of very few that could not exist without hurting others.  

20210214 – Fire and Light

MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is to look at Enlightenment as ideological revolution that changed focus of human attitudes from the hierarchical group, either religious or national or both, with kings, assigned by the god via birth right at the top, aristocrats in the middle layers of hierarchy, and regular people at the bottom to actions by individuals regardless of their birth, that have material impact on society.

This book is not limited to ideological discussion – this is just a small part of it. It rather provides relatively details review of history of late XVIII and early XIX century, when these ideas become dominant in Western societies leading to revolutions and reforms that restructured 3 most populous and important countries of the Western civilization: Britain, France, and United States of America.

DETAILS:

Introduction: Enlightenment as Revolution
Here author presents the idea that enlightenment was a revolution, but not a usual one:” The human mind was where revolution originated. Breaking from a universe in which God was the final answer to any question, Enlightenment philosophers moved attention to human beings as the measure of all things.” Author then discusses reason as the main tool of human mind that should allow not only understand nature, but also create the new world of human society that is much better suitable for happiness than whatever existed before. Author connects this with industrial revolution in the West that created material base of contemporary society and ideological revolution of Locke that created philosophical foundation for somewhat self-governing societies in Western Europe and North America. Author also expresses believe that Enlightenment is currently in process of expanding all over the world, which will make it into much better place.

1: The Revolution in Ideas

In this chapter author reviews ideas about the state of Nature that went into foundation of Enlightenment: Hobbs with his necessity of Leviathan, Bacon with his scientific method, Descartes with his separation of reality and believes (matter and mind). Author also looks in details at specific Enlightenment idea of Freedom of thought as it was expressed in live and works of Baruch Spinoza. Finally, the last part of chapter is about John Locke whose work created foundation for practical implementation of Enlightenment ideas to transform societies to the new political forms based on equality, tolerance, and rule based on consent. Author stresses that all these thinkers of XVII century created foundation for massive move of Western societies to implement these ideas into reality in XVIII century.

2: Rule Britannia?

In this chapter author looks at the first steps in political process starting with British Glorious Revolution of 1689, even if its was just final establishment of superiority of Parliament over king, rather than anything like individual freedom. Author discusses explosive economic development of Britain in XVIII that increasingly moved power away from old landed aristocracy, which resistance was imbodied in persona and policies of king George III. Author extolls economic development in manufacturing, banking, insurance and such, but he also does not neglect fate of people at the bottom who made it happen by working hard in miserable conditions just to survive for a while. Author also briefly retells history of wars and political developments of this period; however, the most important part of this chapter is about Scottish enlightenment of Francis Hutcheson, David Hume, and Adam Smith that expanded ideological foundation of enlightenment society by explaining ideas of human happiness, human nature as it really existed, and market economy.

3: Revolutionary Americans
Author begins this chapter by describing how prosperous was America in 1760s, while its active population has been increasingly unhappy with growing interference of British officials in their lives. Then he describes events of American revolution from ideological point of view, demonstrating that ideas of Enlightenment created strong push to rule themselves, which in reality meant rule by local American elite instead of remote British elite. This push was strong enough to go through revolution and war for independence despite of hurdles and costs. Author also notes that reality for majority of population that carried these costs did not change that much except in psychological and ideological spheres:” The Revolution was a time of traumatic violence for some, small alterations in the lives of others, and of a huge potential that went unrealized. Before the Revolution, America was essentially a hierarchical society in politics and economy; despite some reshuffling in the upper reaches, it remained so. Wealth, status, and family were the great triumvirate still dominating society, even if to a lesser degree as British impositions were removed. The most common talk was of an equality of personal respect, not of money or status, or of power or condition.”

4. France: Rule or Ruin?
Here author narrates the events of the next country that embraced Enlightenment ideas – France. Once again, the great ideas of equality and freedom brought in anything but equality and freedom. The formally absolutist, but mainly benign hierarchical system with just a few political prisoners in Bastille and highly liberal aristocracy that supported philosophers and actively promoted enlightenment ideas was substituted by blood drenched revolutionaries with their guillotine. Author describes personalities of French enlightenment: Voltaire, Montesquieu, Diderot, and Rousseau, then events of revolution, and then provides conclusion about consequences:” … the sheer ferocity at every level must have originated more in psychological forces than political. This was the psychosis of fear, which can arouse savage hatreds. If a Great Fear gripped people in the early years of the Revolution, a Greater Fear rose later. To a degree it was a rational fear in response to the foreign powers threatening France from all directions, land and sea. It was also a fear based in severe economic insecurity. But above all it was a fear of the radical instability—even chaos—that was overtaking the Revolution, the lethal game politics had become, the knowledge that victors in factional struggles could propel losers to the guillotine. Distrust blanketed the land. French civil society had collapsed into a nearly Hobbesian state of nature. It was all against all; no one was safe.”

5. Transforming American Politics
Here Author moves to American society after revolution. He looks at formation of American society based on Enlightenment ideas that attempted to find perfect spot where “The Liberty of a Person” would be accommodated with “The Happiness of the People”. Author describes this process and concludes that it led to creation of two intertwined attitude – Republicanism and Liberalism the former strived to: “subordinate individual wants to the collective needs of the community or country. Self had to yield to the bonds of unity forged in families, churches, and schools”, while latter represented “competitive individualism”. Author also expresses admiration for how Madison and other fathers of Constitution handled this division.

6. Britain: The Rules of Rulership
Here author looks at parallel British developments and the end of XVIII century and the reasons it avoided revolution, concluding that it was mainly because of successful suppression:” Nothing better reflected the inability and unwillingness of British rule to adapt to emerging challenges than the old and new social and economic problems that plagued the underclass. The poor could not vote, they could gain no representation in Parliament. Their organizations were outlawed, their speech proscribed, their leaders jailed and harried. As industrialization began to gather pace, they were helpless to improve their work and living conditions. When food riots—that most primitive and elemental protest—broke out in 1800, the nation that Montesquieu and Voltaire had glorified as the model of political modernity seemingly reverted to a land that the Enlightenment had passed over.”

7. Napoleonic Rulership
In this chapter author describes how France moved from revolution to Napoleonic military dictatorship, while not only retaining many ideas of Enlightenment, but also codifying them in Napoleon code: “Millions across Europe who had been born into a world that differed little, politically, economically, intellectually, from their ancestors’ in the Middle Ages, regarded Napoleon Bonaparte as an embodiment of modernity and progress in the age of Enlightenment. In his aftermath, that grand movement of ideas and action appeared to be on the defensive, almost as beaten as the man himself. As counter-Enlightenments flourished, tradition seemed to be in the saddle. Yet even as ideas of progress were under heavy assault by ruling elites and their apologists, the force of progress was bursting through old restraints.” However, despite restoration of monarchy and dominance of reaction, the ideas of enlightenment did not completely disappear, but rather started permeate ideology of educated classes of Europe.

8. Britain: Industrializing Enlightenment
In this chapter author describes development of Britain in early XIX century when industrial revolution began changing society on the massive scale, bringing in class struggle between business owners and workers, mass implementation of machines and corresponding increase in productivity. It also led to decrease in labor value and deterioration of conditions. Author specifically discusses violent clashes such as Peterloo, which brought British society to understanding of the need for reforms.

9. France: The Crowds of July
Here once again author moves to France’s development, discussing events that led to July revolution of 1830, development ideas of socialism as potential solution for all problems of class struggle and industrialization, and attempt to have “popular throne surrounded by republican institutions, completely republican.” Here is how author describes conditions of this period:” In the almost half-century since France’s original, earthshattering revolution, the nation had swung from enlightened constitutionalism to terror to dictatorship to restoration and reaction. Now, with liberals securely within the circle of power, if not fully in charge, and radicals mobilizing on the outside, France faced a new contestation, which produced different visions and expectations of change, different conceptions of the ultimate goal of human happiness. The Enlightenment provided a framework for the pursuit of happiness. Leaders and followers—citizens—were left to fight over the meanings of happiness and the path for pursuing it.”

10. The American Experiment

Here author retells the story of formation of American system from Jefferson’s presidency to Jackson’s democratic semi revolution, ending this narrative with Tocqueville’s detailed description and analysis of this system in “Democracy in America”. Author stresses some unique features of this system and refers to multitude of foreign intellectuals that came to America at the time to learn about this practical implementation of Enlightenment ideas.

11: Britain: The Fire for Reform
Here author returns to British history to discuss reform movement of XIX century and ideas of John Stuart Mill and Bentham that eventually implemented the reform that expanded suffrage beyond propertied classes, voting rights universal for men in 1832. The process of fighting for the Reform activated previously passive masses of middle and lower classes that created hundreds of Political Unions to promote their interests. At the end it all merged into Liberal party, with its raise and fall, eventually establishing somewhat of a two-party system with Conservatives as counterpart.

12. The Negative of Liberty
Here author reviews how newly established democracy prompted movement against property in people – slavery. He writes about abolitionist movement in both Britain and then United States completing narrative by 1845 when Andrew Jackson died believing, as it turned out mistakenly, that he saved Union by preventing nullification and achieving compromise preserving Southern “peculiar institution”, while limiting its expansion.

13. The Transformation

In the final chapter author completes the narrative by discussing Triumph of Enlightenment ideas of individual freedom and democracy in Western world by mid XIX century and birth of the new anti-individualist, socialist movement that was boosted by ideas of Karl Marx. Author characterizes these ideas as both product and rejection of Enlightenment. At the end author discusses the American Enlightenment that until recently mainly avoided socialist ideology by opening opportunities of individual advancement via education. The author’s generalized evaluation of Enlightenment’s role:” The force of Enlightenment ideas was tested not only by their immediate impact on creative leaders and followers but by their persistence across generations, an extraordinary process of transmission as new generations of leaders mobilized people around the great values, and followers in turn became leaders themselves. The Enlightenment, of course, supplied no rigid or detailed program to political leaders. Rather, philosophers offered a set of transcending ideas and—equally significant—a structure of conflict. Some conflicts, as between authority and liberty and between liberty and equality, are fundamental, everlasting across a host of dimensions. Others, like that between sectarianism and secularism, ebb and flow in intensity. Still others originate through new circumstances, as between liberalism and socialism, a conflict which, because the terms of debate have themselves undergone changes without losing their Enlightenment roots, remains highly relevant today. Conflicts among values—order versus freedom, liberty versus equality, individual rights versus communal solidarity—ensure that the Enlightenment remains a work in progress. It suggests no finished state, no resting point, no culmination, no end to history. It was born in conflict and conflict renews its transformational energy. Still, the Enlightenment has been far more than an engine of conflict. It has been the realization that human beings are not slaves of the past or present and that the future is theirs to make. It has opened the minds of men and women to do the most brilliant work transforming nearly all the old ideas and assumptions about human beings, about government and economic life, about religion and nature. No field that human understanding can reach has been left untouched, and entirely new ones, like sociology, anthropology, and many of the sciences, have been invented to give wing to the hunger for knowledge. The Enlightenment has created the opportunity and freedom to take part in a mighty intellectual revolution that has changed the lives of whole peoples. Indeed, the Enlightenment has taught that change is the constant, and that the opportunity and burden for human beings is to harness it for their common benefit.”

MY TAKE ON IT:

I think it is obvious that Enlightenment ideas did change the world and not only in these countries that author looks at, but everywhere. One of interesting indicators of penetration of these ideas is that the idea of god given sovereign king – ruler at the top and aristocracy by birth is pretty much out. Nowadays every tin-pot dictator, communist general secretary, or theocratic leader claim to be in his/her place on merits and by the choice of people. Similarly, any dictatorship either moderate or totalitarian conducts elections and claims consent of ruled as necessary foundation of their legitimacy, even if this consent obtained via rigged election and suppression of opposition. However, I think that author paid too little attention to ideological causes of Enlightenment failure to support individual freedoms on the long run, succumbing either to fascist/communist dictatorship or oligarchical welfare state in which individual freedom either openly suppressed or mainly illusory. I think that the main cause of this failure is insufficient attention to property and its allocation. It is understandable because in XVII and XVIII centuries, when these ideas were mainly formed, the main form of productive property was land and/or small artisan shop. This circumstance practically guaranteed that once feudal rights of king and aristocracy removed, the productive property would be more or less available to everybody. It was especially clear in America when constantly moving frontier provided additional land and opportunities for mainly independent existence until end of XIX century. After that vast majority of population become dependent for its existence on some form of participation in business hierarchy either as employees or small business owners highly dependent on local and later national powers. As long as these powers remained divided and competed between themselves, there was some space for individual freedom, but when all powers consolidated, this space just disappear.

I think, however, that Enlightenment ideas of individual freedom are too deeply imbedded in mind of everybody, so even people who do not think twice about suppressing other people’s freedom, strongly believe that their own freedom should not be limited. Because of this we are facing some period of struggle between people trying suppress other’s freedom, while defending their own and, since Enlightenment ideas would prevent anybody from wholeheartedly accept inferior position, any victory in this struggle bound to be temporary. The only solution to end this struggle would be to find way to provide everybody with property sufficient for mainly independent existence, which would support freedoms required by Enlightenment ideas for human happiness.

20210207 – Primal Screems

MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is that sexual revolution, by changing sex roles and behavior and destroying the family, pushed people into unnatural state of loneliness, isolation, and loss of identity. Without the natural identity as a member of family defined by sex, age, and status, people became vulnerable and unprotected, causing them to seek protection in grouping by sexual, racial, and ethnic identities, which are poor substitute for family. The final result is society’s falling apart because people compete for resources, recognition, and privileges based on these artificial identities, which combine multitude of people with contradictory interests. Consequently, the identity politics is an authentic primal scream of people deprived of natural habitat within the family.

DETAILS:

Introduction: The Myth of the Lone Wolf
This starts with biology: the lone wolf does not exist – in reality wolfs in wild live in families and so are many other animals, humans included.  Author than makes point that contemporary American society went by the way of family destruction and it led in turn to individuals’ losing family identity, disparately looking for another, and finding it in some ideology. Author believes that this is the cause of identity politics and dramatic left-right division of the country. Here is how she characterizes situation:” For many Americans and other citizens, political desires and political agendas have become indistinguishable from the desires and agendas of the particular aggrieved faction with which they most “identify”—and the human beings outside those chosen factions are treated more and more not as fellow citizens, but as enemies to be eliminated by shame, intimidation, and, where possible, legal punishment. That is something new.” She also states:” In short, the argument of this book is that today’s clamor over identity—the authentic scream by so many for answers to questions about where they belong in the world—did not spring from nowhere. It is a squalling creature unique to our time, born of familial liquidation.” At the end of chapter author also refer to multiple other problems: economic, political, and ideological that led to divisions, but claims that the core of the problem is anthropological result of sexual revolution and change of environment from natural for individual belonging to human family to unnatural existence as the lone individual.

PART ONE: PRIMAL SCREAMS
1. The Conversation So Far and Its Limitations
Author begins this chapter with reference to classical “Closing of American mind” which back in 1987 identified growing ideological division with unusual for America refusal to argue one’s ideas, but rather attempt to force them on others. Author then goes through somewhat similar books raising alarm about direction of development of intellectual life. She also provides some statistical data about growing psychological distress:” cohorts. “Millennials Are the Therapy Generation,” as one 2019 report put it. Among other findings, this one relayed that “[according to] data from 147 colleges and universities, the number of students seeking mental-health help increased from 2011 to 2016 at five times the rate of new students starting college”; and a 2018 report from the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association found a 47 percent increase in those seeking mental health assistance between 2013 and 2016.” Author summarizes this as consequence of identity crises, but rejects typical approach to political division as competing political “tribes”, stating that tribes have familiar foundations, while current left-right division is more of individuals clinging together looking for substitute for family in racial, sexual, and/or other identities.

2. A New Theory: The Great Scattering

Here author presents theory of causes for current identity politics and strive to be a victim:” Maybe many people today are claiming to be victims because they and their societies are victims—not so much of the “isms” they point to as oppressors, but because the human animal has been selected for familial forms of socialization that for many people no longer exist.”

Author then retells story of sexual revolution that attacked family on psychological front by removing family formation as prerequisite for satisfaction of sexual drive and welfare state that attacked family on economic side by removing it as necessary condition of economic viability. Author systematically goes through different subsystems of the family as a system and discusses how they were destructed in appropriately called parts of this chapter: “GONE DADDY; GONE CHILD; GONE PARENT; GONE SIBLINGS; GOEN FAMILY; GONE GOD;”

3. Supporting Evidence, I: Understanding the “Mine!” in Identity Politics
In this chapter author states her believe that distraction of family denies people opportunity to be recognized by others according to the place in the family appropriated for age, sex, and type of relations. The consequence:” One thing that seems to happen is some people, deprived of recognition in the traditional ways, will regress to a state in which their demand for recognition becomes ever more insistent and childlike. This brings us to one of the most revealing features of identity politics: its infantilized expression and vernacular.” Author then goes through examples of such infantilism in various areas of American life when individuals seek recognition by creating tantrum for all kinds of weird reasons: politically incorrect speech or speakers, BLM, old statues, and what not. Rather that oppose it as something abnormal, author sees it as logical and necessary behavior for “those who can no longer find their selves through the usual means, it is also a survival strategy for a postrevolutionary world”

4. Supporting Evidence II: Feminism as Survival Strategy
This chapter is about feminism. Author makes point that feminism is reaction to destruction of family when women left alone without protection and support are trying compensate the loss by joining feminist groups and promoting demands for sex-based privileges.

5. Supporting Evidence III: Androgyny as Survival Strategy
This chapter discusses similar issue to feminism, only identity this time relates to mixed or confused sex identities – androgyny. The basic idea is that men should not be men and women should not be women, while everybody should be some sexually fluid part of collective.

6 Supporting Evidence, IV: How #MeToo Reveals the Breakdown of Social Learning

The main point of this chapter is that sexual revolution and follow up societal changes cause severe disruption of cultural transfers between generations. Author discusses the process of such transfer in both animals and then humans, stressing failure to transfer patters of behavior as family member with specific role, religious believes and correspondent behavior, and such. She makes important point that this failure led to decrease in quality of life. She specifically analyses in details #MeToo movement, which resulted in riskier behavior of women and correspondingly higher levels of victimization.  
Conclusion: Thoughts on the Rediscovery of Self

Author begins the conclusion by reference to research on elephants and their societies, which were subjected to huge changes. Due to human hunting, lots of older bulls were eliminated, structure of society become changed, and, as result, young bull’s behavior in relation to females also changed, causing more violence and degradation. Similarly, elimination of older females led to difficulty for younger females who are not sufficiently trained in mothership causing problem in raising the next generation. She then looks at humans and finds the same destructive patters that eventually led to elimination of family as foundation of society and its substitute with naked power of elite. She makes an interesting point about who is going to be this elite:” It may someday turn out the “elites” and “nonelites” of the future, for example, are not defined as socioeconomically as they are today. Perhaps the real divide of postrevolutionary humanity lies between those who have figured out how to navigate the Great Scattering successfully and those who have not. Such might seem to be the nascent meaning, for example, of a phenomenon that sociologists W. Bradford Wilcox and Wendy Wang have documented in detail: the “class divide” over marriage, meaning that people in better-off classes are more likely to be married than are others.”  Author also rejects conservative ideas that it is all just aberration and it could be fixed by some authoritarian measures. She states that:” conservatives and other nonprogressives have missed something major about identity politics: its authenticity. But the liberal-progressive side has missed something bigger. Identity politics is not so much politics as a primal scream. It’s the result of the Great Scattering—our species’ unprecedented collective retreat from our very selves.”

PART TWO: COMMENTARY
Rod Dreher; Mark Lilla; Peter Thiel; Afterword;

Here author provides comments on her ideas by some luminaries and her reply to their notes.

MY TAKE ON IT:

This is a very interesting approach that I am not completely agree with. I think that the sexual liberation, disconnect between sex and reproduction, both physical and cultural, was necessary consequence of human development when illnesses and early death of children become eliminated, causing unsustainable growth in population. The traditional family oriented to multiplication and subordination of the lives of current generation to supporting needs of the next generation became ineffective. Even militarily, when bigger family and correspondingly bigger population cease to provide society with more power and ability to conquer neighbors, the traditional family’s objectives of quantitative growth became outdated. The power now comes from a few individuals with high level of technological knowledge and skills who can easily win any battle regardless of number of warriors on each side. The shift from quantity to quality as defining factor of prosperity for both individual and any group forced dissolution of old family and old process of cultural transfer that was evolutionally developed for effective maintenance of norms, which also means technological stagnation. However, I fully agree with author that family is natural human habitat and human individual cannot be happy without stable and supportive emotional and psychological conditions that only family could provide. I just think that we are in process of change in the nature of family from reproductive unit, optimized for population increase, to quality of life supporting unit, optimized to support individual pursuit of happiness. Therefore, even if this is complex and painful process, it will eventually bring humanity to much better and happier place than were it was before.  

20210131 – Neither Free nor Fair

MAIN IDEA:

Author presented his main idea in executive summary and here are the main points:

” The international community recognizes a “free and fair” election as one in which the secret ballot is “absolute”; where individuals may “express political opinions without interference”; where voters may “seek, receive and impart information”; and where candidates have “equal opportunity of access to the media.”These standards were violated by the 2020 election:

  • A new system of voting, vote-by-mail, was adopted on a widespread basis at the urging of Democrats — often over the objections of Republicans.
  • political violence, carried out by Black Lives Matter and Antifa, and falsely labeled “peaceful protest.”
  • censorship, imposed by Silicon Valley through the manipulation of search results, and suppression of the Hunter Biden laptop story. ​
  • Military intervention was a factor, as retired defense and intelligence officials attacked the president, and even current officials spoke out against his efforts to calm riots. ​
  • False claims of “Russia collusion,” hyped by the mainstream media and the Democrats
  • “cancel culture” emerged from the Black Lives Matter movement, making Republicans and conservatives afraid of sharing their views for fear of losing their jobs or their lives.
  • ​The debates were stacked against Trump.

Based on all above author claims that “elections were neither free nor fair”, regardless of actual manipulation of results of voting by counting non-existing votes, discounting existing, and changing result via data manipulation.

DETAILS:

Chapter 1 – Introduction
Here author discusses the fact that American general manner of voting does not meet criteria established by Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU). He then provides some recent history: Florida recount, ACORN, and then he repeats the same points he made in executive summary. However, at the end he makes the following statement:” The 2020 election was neither free nor fair. We should treat the results as legitimate, for the sake of the country”

Part One: 

Chapter 2 – Fear;

Here author discusses mass media complains intended to create fear of Trump dictatorship among population even if there were no indicators that Trump intends or even has any option to do anything like this. Moreover, there clearly was massive attempt to blame Trump for leftist violence, which was at least somewhat successful.

Chapter 3 – ‘Russia Collusion”;

This is about another propagandist campaign to present Trump as traitor working for Russia. Even if it was not that successful and ended in Muller fiasco, it still distracted administration and inflicted serious loses on Trump supporters such as general Flynn.

Chapter 4 – Media bias;
This part is about media bias and methods of its expression:

  • Fake News of Trump doing something reprehensible that he never really did.
  • Hoaxing false narratives not only about Trump, but also about everything and everybody even remotely related
  • Creating propaganda tool of “Fact Checking” were propagandist pretending being independent provided “confirmation” of false narratives and rejection of truth.

Summary – Part One
Here author summarize the Part one, concluding that totality of analyzed propagandist effort:” The climate was hostile to fair and open democratic debate.”

Part Two
Chapter 5 – Impeachment
Author’s analysis of this attack concludes:” Impeaching Trump in an election year, on so flimsy a basis, with no prospect of success, had one purpose: to cast a cloud of illegitimacy over his presidency and his re-election.”

Chapter 6 – Coronavirus
The coronavirus unlike impeachment was not the product of democratic subversion, but rather biological attack by Chinese communist party that Democrats successfully used to further undermine elections integrity and overall democracy in USA by using control of mass media and local executive power in key states to grab power way beyond constitutional limits, prevent public gathering, demonstrations, except leftists, and therefore nearly completely eliminate free expression in support of Trump. Trump was reasonably successful in handling epidemiological problem, but absolutely failed to prevent democratic power grab.

Chapter 7 – Race riots
Here author retells the story of racial protest and rioting lead by enforcement branches of democratic party: Black lives matter and Antifa, former specializing in inciting racism to divide population and latter in limited violent attacks against small businesses and capitalism overall. Once again democratic party succeeded in creating environment of intimidation of their opponents, and convincing population that Trump’s frequent pronouncement of supporting law and order being completely hollow.  

Chapter 8 – Big Tech
Here author provides abundant evidence that high tech companies such as Google, Twitter, and Facebook for all intendent purposes implemented censorship against Trump supporters by preventing them from effectively using contemporary electronic media, consequently providing huge political advantage to democratic party. Once again Trump failed counterattack effectively. His twits and other pronouncements came out as futile complains of powerless victim.   

Summary – Part Two
Author’s conclusion from information presented in this part:” Several major events in 2020 made it nearly impossible to conduct a free and fair election.”

Part Three
Chapter 9 – Vote-by-Mail
Here author discusses in details not only deficiencies of vote by mail, which until now had very limited use, but also democratic operatives who successfully used lawfare to establish rules preferred by democrats. One charming thing about this is that these rules were different, even opposite in different times for different places and democrats managed elsewhere to established the once they preferred.

Chapter 10 – Political violence
Under political violence author listed here anti-police riots ignited by few cases of legitimate use of force against black criminals. Despite violence in form of mass looting and burning of businesses was obvious, democratic propaganda machine presented it as peaceful protests. Once again Trump failed miserably to decisively suppress rioting and looting, restricting himself to twits and tough talking.

Chapter 11 – The Military
In this chapter author discusses military or more precisely its top brass both retired and on active duty who in their public utterances and non-public actions did everything they could to undermine Trump administration, leak classified information if it could be used against Trump and even openly announced that they would refuse suppress riots even if ordered to do so. Trump as usual twitted and pronounced tough talk, but did not do anything substantial referring to need for approval from Democratic local executives.

Chapter 12 – The Polls
The final chapter of this part about polls should belong to previous part about propaganda war, rather than to the part about kinetic actions used by democrats against Trump. The majority of polls was used as propaganda tool aimed to deceive low information voters who could support Trump that they are alone in this support and it is against dominant majority’s opinion. Author also looks at more benign explanations of huge errors rate such as attempt to increase fundraising and “shy” Trump voters that prefer to hide their true believes.

Summary – Part Three
In summary author just briefly repeats the same points he made in different chapters of this part.

Part Four
Chapter 13 – The Debates
Here author briefly reviews history of presidential debates and how the process had been developing during this cycle. Author demonstrates that, as everything else, debates were used to undermine Trump’s campaign as much as possibly by moderators with somewhat interesting quirk that republican members of debate commission were as much anti-Trump as democrats leading to consistent attempt modify format to Trump’s disadvantage.

Chapter 14 – Hunter Biden’s Laptop
In this chapter author reviews history of Biden’s family wrongdoing that came up close to election despite FBI one-year log effort to hide this information from public. It is somewhat interesting because in normal circumstances with republican candidate as similar to democratic candidate by all parameters, including ideology, as were Bush and Gore, media would make lots of noise about such egregious sample of corruption. This year it made tremendous effort to hide it from the public. Based on after election polls this effort was successful and significant share of voters would vote differently if they knew about this story.

Chapter 15 – The Vote
The final chapter is about the voting process, which was highly irregular, providing lots of fuel for believes that results were corrupted and election was stolen.  

Summary – Part Four

In summary, after restating presented findings about elections process, author concludes:” These conditions ensured that one side in the election operated at a constant disadvantage, and struggled to exercise basic rights to free speech, a free press, and legal representation.”

MY TAKE ON IT:

I am not sure to what extent author understand what happened over the last 4 years, but I am pretty sure that Trump failed to comprehend it and from this failure quite logically followed his inability to win this fight. I believe that real meaning of Trump’s presidency is an attempt, not quite consciously recognized, of implementing revolution from the top by using American democratic system that previously twice (Andrew Jackson and FDR) allowed such revolution based on massive popular support. This time similar attempt had clearly failed. The most important lesson of this failure is that this previously existing feature of American system is gone and no outsider, however popular outside top elite layers of American society, would be allowed to capture top executive position ever again.

Obviously, nobody knows the future, but I believe that destruction of American electoral system by democrats was overkill. Taking into account how shy, law abiding, and accommodating in his actions, if not in his twits, was Donald Trump during his presidency, his second term could be relatively easy accommodated to elite interests by providing some food to Trump’s ego. This opportunity is now gone and American elite pretty much delegitimized itself in the eyes of significant part of American society. It may not be evident right now because educated and relatively successful layers of American society consisting of people in the percentile range from 40% to 95% of median income and/or wealth would not tell whether they are pro or anti Trump now, being afraid of negative consequences for their middle level job or small business viability. However, it is extremely dangerous for the system overall that, even if they voted against Trump, Americans’ believe in fairness of elections is now gone and it could not be restored unless mass effort is implemented to assure integrity of not only vote, but also overall election process. I see no reason for leadership of democratic party, which is now in control of all formal federal power, to do anything in this direction, unless they are very smart and strategic, for which I see no compelling evidence.

Revolutions are not happening randomly – they are typically result of material deterioration of quality of life for significant share of population. When they fail, it seldom follows by reversal of this deterioration. On contrary, after the first failed attempt, the elite in power, slightly giddy from success, which makes if overconfident, usually follows by counterrevolution that accelerate this deterioration, resulting in alienation of significant share of forces that initially helped repulse the attempt in the first place, eventually leading to initiation of the second and much more serious act. In current American situation I expect democrats to implement their full program: massive increase in spending for “climate change”, massive enforcement of racist anti-white, sexist anti-male, globalist anti-American, anti-small independent business and pro big business, merged with government, regulations. Combined with massive push of burden for all this extravaganza on middle America, it would probably make people who are middle America very unhappy. I think it would take 1.5 to 3.5 years before the second act of revolution will become recognizable and I doubt that, with trust in elections fairness practically gone, it would be a nice picture.

20210124 – War: How Conflict Shaped Us

MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is to look at the war as natural function of human society: what causes it, how it fought over time, what technological and psychological ways and means are used, how different parts of society from civilians to warriors participate in it and impacted by it, and how it defines or at least strongly influences various parts of culture.

DETAILS:

Introduction
Here author presents her approach to the phenomenon of war:” War is not an aberration, best forgotten as quickly as possible. Nor is it simply an absence of peace which is really the normal state of affairs. If we fail to grasp how deeply intertwined war and human society are—to the point where we cannot say that one predominates over or causes the other—we are missing an important dimension of the human story. We cannot ignore war and its impact on the development of human society if we hope to understand our world and how we reached this point in history.” She then discusses how contemporary societies were impacted by this phenomenon and how this impact defined various features of these societies from bureaucracy to language, art, social benefits, and what not.

Chapter 1: Humanity, Society and War
Author starts this with reference to Ötzi the Iceman – recently found frozen body of man who lived around 3300 BC and was clearly victim of violence. She then provides evidence from anthropological research and witnesses of hunter gatherers societies that support notion of violent conflict being a normal part of life. She then discusses connection between levels of societal organization and ability to make war, which are highly correlated. She also reviews some philosophical works related to role of violence and war in functioning of human societies from Rousseau and Hobbs to contemporary Ian Morris and Steven Pinker. Finally, she discusses what she believes are positive effects of war on society: technological advancement, bureaucratic organization, increase in scale of societies, and even increase in fairness, as in case when slaves are freed to become fighters and women get involved into production and could have careers when men are fighting.

Chapter 2: Reasons for War
In this chapter author looks at reasons for war from their description from Greek myths to contemporary world with such example as European dynastic wars, religious wars, WWI and WWII, and potential future war between USA and China. Another, and usually much more cruel type of war, are civil wars when one part of society uses violence to force another part to accept some different ideological mores than they have or just fight for resource allocation. She concludes chapter this way:” The excuses for war are many and varied, but the underlying reasons have not changed significantly over the centuries. The vocabulary may be different: where nations once talked of honor they now tend to say prestige or credibility. Yet greed, self-defense and emotions and ideas are still the midwives of war. And in its fundamentals, strategy, meaning the broad goals of war, has not changed. On land or sea, opponents seek to undermine each other’s capacity to wage war or destroy it forever.”

Chapter 3: Ways and Means
This chapters starts with discussion of how methods of war and weapons used are impacted by society’s values. Author goes through history from Peloponnesian war to New York gangs to discuss different attitudes and approaches. These approaches are very different between land warrior states like Sparta or Prussia vs sea power trading states like Athens or USA. There are also difference between concentration on decisive battle followed by some settlement and total war until complete annihilation. Author also discusses here technological advances and their impact throughout the history, information processing, control, and decision making, and drilling as precondition of success.

Chapter 4: Modern War
Here author refer to modern war as the type of war with mass mobilization such as started after French Revolution. Ideologically it became based on the Nationalism of Nation-States. Materially it became dependent on industrial capacity and technological/scientific abilities of societies. Author discusses defense vs. offence developments of XX century from trench warfare of WWI to blitzkrieg of WWII. Another big issue was development of ideologies, which made war much more cruel and costly due to mass mobilization of industries and population. All these put huge pressure on societies, which in some conditions led to explosion and revolution that changed characters of such societies. Author also digs into interesting details such as British traditional reference for Navy and contempt for Army. Author then looks at ideas that modern people have it too well and used to comfort too much, so they would not be able fight effectively, which since the beginning of XX century prompted leaders to plan for quick wars with low casualties, which is seldom the case in reality.

Chapter 5: Making the Warrior
In this chapter author discusses reasons that drive people to fighting, sometime even in cases when it is hopeless. She looks at wars of medieval England, American Civil War, Napoleonic Wars and others in search of psychological driving forces that made people to fight rather than desert. Certainly, it includes material rewards, but also satisfaction from prestige and raw power over other people. Not least is strive to avoid boring regular live of lower classes filled with lots of hard monotonous work with no fan. Author also allocates a few pages to discussion of women participation in war both in supportive and combat roles. Finally, author discusses training and drilling as necessary tool to convert thinking and feeling individuals into expendable cogs of military machine and how this process is based on innate qualities of human psyche.

Chapter 6: Fighting
Author’s discussion of the actual process of fighting obviously based on literature about experience of soldiers on land. Typically, the main characteristics of fighting is confusion because people see only what is happening next to them and even for top leaders information flow is slow and unreliable. Similarly, memoirs are unreliable because they are filled with attempt to modify real memory, usually to make it more heroic and beautify it, but sometimes make it scarier. So, author retells bits and pieces of various narratives. Author correctly notes that war is often exhilarating and liberating for some people, providing deep meaning for their lives to such extent that they go there again and again not capable to settle to routine and boring normal live.

Chapter 7: Civilians
The chapter on civilians is, as one would expect, about pain and suffering without glamour and glory. Author discusses in some detail fate of women of the losing side, using example of mass rape of German women by Soviet troops in 1945 and rapes of Muslim women by Serbian troops. Somehow, she did not find place for narrative about mass rape of Russian and Ukrainian women by fathers and brothers of these poor German women that lasted for 3 years from 1941 to 1944. Author also discusses meaning of industrial total war when civil population inevitably involved in production of war goods and deprived of consumption of normal goods, including food, sometimes to such extent that they die from starvation on mass scale as it was during siege of Leningrad. Author also points out that inflicting pain and suffering on civilian population of adversary is quite traditional way of conducting war, which is typically not involved only when war of not existential, but rather kind of negotiating tool used to settle some issues of relatively low import.

Chapter 8: Controlling the Uncontrollable
This chapter about rules making for conduct of war is somewhat curious because real existential war has no rules. The rules are applicable only when there is some area when both sides see some issue as equally beneficial for them, but since nothing is fully equal, any rules are bound to be violated. Author discusses as example American Civil War when both sides more or less adhered to some rules, specifically Lieber Code that tried to formalize rules, but this was not really existential conflict since both sides were culturally close, spoke the same language and used the same religion. Maintain or remove a peculiar institution of slavery on South was not really existential, even for vast majority of Southerners. Author also discusses in some detail Hague Conventions and various attempts to enforce rules by threatening punishment, which obviously could be applied only to losing side. The final part of the chapter discusses variety of international organizations fighting for peace or at least humane behavior during the war. Author also mentions another idea: any humanization of war makes it less threatening and therefore easier initiated and because of lasting longer it causes more pain and suffering than would occur if more powerful side won outright.

Chapter 9: War in Our Imaginations and Our Memories
The final chapter is about presentation of war in culture. It starts with Shakespeare, then goes to Goya’s pictures, Tolstoy and Remark novels. This is mainly about horrors and costs of war. There is also glorification of war and heroism, dehumanization of enemies, military music which serves both inspirational purposes to raise spirit of troops and utilitarian purpose of communications on battlefield. Author then discusses technological advances in imaging of war from photography to movies all of which opens huge opportunities for manipulation of people into supporting or opposing war, which become important part of any hostilities, especially based on ideology. At the end of chapter author discusses cultural narratives build after WWI and WWII by different participant countries.

Conclusion

In conclusion author discusses currently developed in Western societies mixed attitude to war. On one hand it is commemoration and interest to war stories and on other hand complete rejection of war as an option in conflict resolution. Author suggests that currently wars are moving away from being caused by conflict between states to being Civil wars caused by conflict within states, whether racial, ethnic, religious, or ideological. Author also points out:” It is possible at the very least to identify trends in war. The future, like the present, will hold two levels of war, the one employing professional forces and high technology, with all the power of advanced economies and organized societies behind them, and the other will be fought with loosely organized forces using low-cost weapons. And what is also sure is that the two sorts of war will overlap.” Overall author believes that wars are not going away and idea of globalization based on generally accepted rules seems to be not workable, at least for now, and that new technology that are coming on line will case huge, but unpredictable changes in military capabilities and consequently their use at war.

MY TAKE ON IT:

I think it is a nice review of the war as tool of competition between human groups from small tribes fighting for control of better hunting grounds to nation states fighting for dominance over global resources of all kinds and control over multibillion populations. I personally believe that massive industrial war between states is not coming back just because nuclear weapons eliminated illusion of invincibility for top leadership of such countries and their families. Survival in bunker someplace deep underground of radioactive desert does not seem palatable option for anybody. However, I think the war is not going away as violent conflict between groups, it just takes different form more of the ideological struggle for minds of adversary’s population which would allow transfer control over resources to aggressor without firefights and bombing. The great example of such new form of war is multidecade aggression of Chinese communist party against USA and Western world overall. It features a very effective bribing of Western elite paid for transfer of financial, industrial, and technological resources to China by providing cheap labor and shelter from environmental regulations that parts of the same Western elite imposed on their own countries. This war so far was as successful as Hitler’s blitzkrieg until fall of 1940 and it seems to be reaching the point when danger of losing its position and becoming some low-level servants in Chinese led global hierarchy is becoming increasingly clear to many in Western elite. At the point of this writing the American elite is still discounting this danger as less important than populist threat of Trump’s movement, but I think it is temporary pause. After temporarily succeeding in suppressing populist movement, elite will have to either reacquire its nationalist mantle and get at the lead of anti-China global war of independence, hopefully with minimal violence, or to be wiped out by internal civil war by resurgent populist movement much more powerful than what they’ve been dealing with so far.

20210117 – Unruly Americans

MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is to demonstrate that contrary to traditional perception Constitution was created because founders believed that regular people could not rule themselves and had to be restricted by elite via strong and powerful federal government, which is, in addition to limiting states activities and resolving disputes, would be also capable to control economy via control of debt, money supply, and international trade.

DETAILS:

Introduction: “Evils Which Produced This Convention”
Author begins with the statement that real birthday of America is not 4th of July 1776, but rather 1787 – Year of Constitutional convention. He stresses that his approach is different from traditional and that real objective of constitution was to resolve the issue of revolutionary debt in such way that would stop growing insurrection against taxes that states had to impose on people to repay it. Author reviews specific writings and behavior of founders, description of events in various states, and focuses on people who opposed the Constitution.

I. THE GREAT DEBATE
1. “Bricks Without Straw” – Grievances
Here author first describes grievances created by government debt situation when debt issued during the war and forcibly imposed on supplies, soldiers, and others in lieu of payments was bought out by speculators for pittance and then required to be paid off by states governments in full. Author stresses how much founders like Madison, Adams, and others relied on such payments often needed to finance their land purchases. At this point government debt holders were mainly members of elite, who controlled policies, making the states to increase taxes to levels by far exceeding burden before revolution in order to assure payment and consequently causing growing resistance and multiple tax revolts. Author provides multiple examples of debtholders including details of Abigail Adams’ business trading in debt and land. There is also a very interesting review of methods that bondholders and politicians designed to pass through tax proceeds for debt payment directly thus eliminating opportunities for public officials to help themselves to this cash flow. However, it did not solve the problem. Here is how author describes the eventual solution:” In time Americans would embrace a radical solution to the problem of excessive taxation. The adoption of the U.S. Constitution in 1788 and of a national debt-refinancing law two years later transferred responsibility for redeeming the bonds from the thirteen states to a federal government that was better equipped to handle it and less likely to cave in to taxpayers’ demands for relief. Thus, what historians say about the American and French Revolutions was also true of the Constitution: it might never have come about if the government had not previously run up an enormous war debt.”

2. “The Fault Is All Your Own” – Rebuttals
In this chapter Author discusses resistance to states’ debt payments via excessive taxation. He starts with discussing initial rebellion against British taxation and then proceeds to discuss economic connections with British economy after independence and how it impacted internal economic distress. Author specifically looks at trade in luxury goods, which often generated backlash not only for economic, but also for puritanical reasons. Interestingly enough it was used by elite to accuse regular people in excesses, consuming more than they produced.  

3. “To Relieve the Distressed” – Demands
Here author looks at demands for tax relieve that included petition to close courts temporarily, various schemes to discriminate against speculators, and issue paper money for debt payments. During the revolutionary war paper money indeed were issued at such scale that created hyperinflation and author provides multiple examples of victims from George Washington to Joseph Martin. Author makes an important point:” Thus the movement for the Constitution, which prohibited state-issued paper, was rooted partly in state-level struggles over how much property the government should convey from taxpayers to bondholders. Modern claims that pro – currency farmers were simply seeking to defraud their private creditors perpetuate the myth that the constitutional ban on paper money rescued Americans from a failed experiment in self-government.”

4. “Save the People” – Requisitions
Here author makes and interesting statement:” No piece of legislation—at either the state or federal level—did more to advance the movement for the Constitution than the virtually unknown requisition of 1785.” This was basically budget approved by congress in which 30% to be paid in hard currency to foreign landers and $2.5 million to domestic, practically quadrupling previous year payments. Author then discusses payments to military or lack thereof, moving army to the brink of mutiny. It was somewhat resolved by Commutation bonuses, but it also led to formation of Cincinnatus society, which organized former officers and made them into kind of political organization. Author then looks at impact in different states where in some cases it led to rebellion.  

Il. VIRTUE AND VICE
5. “Who Will Call This Justice?” – Quarrels
Author starts here with situation of public servants who were not paid because taxes were not paid, while government bonds lost value and compares it with top level politicians, specifically Adams family who get rich buying these bonds at deep discount and then using government to redeem these bonds at full price. He points out that regular Americans understood how it worked, were unhappy about it, and created quarrels about it:” For many Americans on all sides of the dispute over whether tax relief created an injustice or remedied one, the whole question came down to how much money soldiers who had sold their securities should, in their new role as taxpayers, hand over to the speculators who had bought them. Although some of the bondholders’ advocates acknowledged that this transfer of wealth might sometimes be distasteful, they usually went on to insist that it simply could not be avoided.” Author then proceeds to review positions of all sides in these quarrels.

6. “Idle Drones” – Economics
Here author discusses shortage of gold and silver, how it hampered debtors to repay their debt and need to payoff foreign debt in order to maintain credit. Once again:” In the eyes of many of America’s most prominent citizens, the thirteen states’ frequent recourse to tax and debt relief legislation revealed that they were fundamentally flawed. Again, and again state representatives had yielded to their constituents’ most reckless demands, adopting policies that ended up harming even their intended beneficiaries. The lesson was clear: in their first flush of revolutionary enthusiasm, the Patriots had created governments that were far too sensitive to public pressure.”

Author describes situation as catch 22: without paying off debt there would be no new credit, but heavy taxation, foreclosures, and debt prison suppressed economic activity so it would not produce surplus needed to pay debt.

7. “The Fate of Republican Govt” – Redemption
Here author discusses various measures that could conceivably resolve the problem and debates about them: expanded land ownership that would create collateral and paper money. Author also discusses changes in communication method that allowed building of narratives supporting one or another position: writing novels, massive expansion of orations and debates, eventually leading to division of people into multiple groups and subgroups supporting different solutions.

III. UNRULY AMERICANS
8. “A Revolution Which Ought to Be Glorious” – Disenchantment
Here author first discusses disappointment of population in system of government when people discovered that petitions, and even elections give them too little influence on government decisions. It led to disengagement: in some cases, it was elimination of courts, in others non-election of assemblies, and so on. Author then discusses three way to resolve the problem: expansion of economy and author discusses here economic value of Caribbean goods and slave trade. The second one was shifting the debt to federal level, so it could be repaid through tariffs. Finally, the third way was to expand sales of western land, so in relation to this author discusses relations with Indians, their attempts to form unified front to repulse American expansion, which was initially successful since United States were not ready for war against Indians without which no expansion was possible.

9. “A Murmuring Underneath” – Rebellion
Here author describes multiple rebellions that occurred during this period: burning court houses in Virginia, prevention of foreclosures and auctions in New Jersey, military mutiny in Pennsylvania, court closures in Massachusetts, culminating in Shays rebellion, and similar events all over the country.  Here is somewhat detailed description:” One state where the connection between fear and relief was especially clear was South Carolina, where the April 1785 Camden Riot was only the beginning of a wave of activism. During the subsequent spring and summer debtors and taxpayers throughout the state protected their property with a massive campaign of “knocking down of sheriffs.” “Americanus” emphasized that the reason backcountry property seizures had ceased was “not by the neglect of duty, or favor in the sheriff’s officers, but from a dread they stand in of their lives in attempting to serve a writ beyond such a distance from the city” of Charleston. One reason that officials backed down was that they feared that conflict among whites might provide an opening to the enslaved half of the population. Even the Camden rebels shared this concern. In the midst of their effort to shut down the civil court, they “professed an anxious Desire of supporting the Criminal Department.”

10. “Excess of Democracy”? Reform
In this chapter author reviews debates about need to adjust Democracy in America to some other level than the existing one, which led to disfunction. Author looks at groups of Americans who saw solution in expansion of Democracy and others who believe that it should be ruled in to some lower level. For example, James Madison:” wanted to “extend the sphere” of government in order to insulate lawmakers against pressure from below, they wished to make state legislators more responsive to the voters by giving them fewer constituents.”  Another well-known publicist Herman Husband:” asserted that the ideal election district would be small enough to give every voter “an Opportunity to converse with the Representative.”.  There was overall extensive debate about expanding or contracting electoral franchise. Author describes some suggestion that would bring changes in one direction or another.

IV. REINING IN THE REVOLUTION
11. “The House on Fire” – Credit
In this chapter author concentrates on discussion and then measures, mainly anti-democratic that were implemented in Constitution in order to prevent legislature to be responsive to popular demands such as prevention of states from printing paper money, isolation of congressmen and senator from electorate by removing term limits that existed in Confederation, and link of federal franchise to states legislatures. Another measure was veto for chief executive that allow limit legislative initiative. The final solution was to transfer debtor – creditor relation and money supply to national government.

12. “Divide et Impera” – Statecraft
This chapter is about instructions that could be provided by electorate to representatives that was more or less usual practice. Since it made representative more responsible to will of voters, it was eliminated. Author also discusses direct versus indirect elections and compromises that used 3 different methods: direct for representative, indirect via states legislature for senators, and semi-direct via electoral college for president.

13. “More Adequate to the Purposes” – Revenue
This chapter is about resolution of big gap in Article of confederation – collection of taxes exclusive via states. The new constitution created huge source of revenue completely independent from the states. Initially it was federal tariff so it was practically invisible for population. Author also discusses use of revenues – mainly military for purpose to fight Indians. The federal military would also be very useful to “maintain domestic tranquility”, in other words to be a force independent from local population’s preferences and sympathy as in case of Whiskey rebellion. It was also necessary in case of potential slave revolt, that always was a possibility in Southern states.

V. ESAU’S BARGAIN
14. “Take Up the Reins” – Ratification

In this chapter author once again stresses that necessity of Constitution came from weakness of states that were too much democratic, resulting in negative consequences for private interest: those who speculated in government debt, land, including land still under Indian control, and received proceeds from taxes either as government officials or contractors, or landers. Author describes some positive outcomes: expansion of credit, large infrastructure projects such as canals, and so on. Author also discusses some Anti-Federalist points, but not in great details.
15. “More Productive and Less Oppressive” – Taxes

Here author describes process of ratification and how much shift in taxation from direct at state level to indirect via federal tariffs helped to success of this process. It was also greatly helped by expectation that federal army would be an effective tool to suppress rebellions of farmers and Indian resistance to westward movement. At the final analysis author concludes that the New Constitution gave something of value to nearly every American and successfully eliminated Anti-federalist’s resistance by adding Bill of Rights. Author also describes propagandist effort with misleading statements and sometimes outright lies that were used to promote ratification.
16. “As If Impounded” – Consolidation

In the final chapter author first describes how states decided on method of congressmen elections – generally statewide and how objective of Constitution were in main achieved: link between people in power and popular opinion was indeed weakened, national tariff and debt transfer to federal government with eventual payment in full to speculators did occurred – the process, which author describes in some detail. One positive effect from this was that after British lenders were paid off, the gates opened for massive foreign investment into America. However, the successes of Constitution carried steep political price: decrease in democracy with elimination of one-year term limits, direct representation with instructions, and popular control of money supply.  
Epilogue: The Underdogs’ Constitution
Here author reaffirms his main thesis that Founding fathers cared much more about their security from popular rebellion, value of their investments in government bonds, and opportunities for land speculation, than about expansion of democracy. Actually, per author, the whole objective of Constitution was to limit democracy of early America, which rightly or wrongly was perceived as causing economic chaos, rebellion, and weakness against Indians and other enemies. In this version the Bill of Right was not intention of founding fathers, but rather their retreat and compromise without which ratification of Constitution would not be possible. Here is how author describes the historic result: “What Americans admire most about their national charter is that it is, at its best, an underdogs’ Constitution, a document that protects even the most unpopular religions and political ideas, the most mistrusted racial and ethnic minorities—and even people accused of crimes. But this book has argued that an underdogs’ Constitution is precisely what the Framers did not intend to write. While there is no reason to question their claim that they hoped to benefit all free Americans, what they meant to give the ordinary citizen was prosperity, not power. Indeed, many of the Amendments that we most cherish today—the enfranchisement of African Americans and women, the direct election of senators, and others—do not just add to the Constitution. They directly contradict the Framers’ antidemocratic intent. For all the lip service Americans pay the authors of the Constitution, in their actions they have often shown much less respect for them than for the men and women with whom the Framers locked horns in the mid-1780s. There are people today who wish to give up their paper money and return to the gold standard, but they are generally viewed as crackpots. Few believe the wealthy possess special qualities of leadership. Most citizens expect their elected officials to do much more than clear away obstructions to private investment. That the nation’s fundamental charter is an underdogs’ Constitution is, for most Americans, a source of tremendous pride. It is richly ironic that what has arguably become history’s greatest experiment in shielding the powerless began as a slur on the capacities of ordinary citizens.”

MY TAKE ON IT:

This is a very nice history of American elite consolidating power after successful expulsion of naughty British elite from America. I think there is misunderstanding of American revolution as revolt of American patriots against British oppressive colonial rule. In reality it was in main revolt of American elite against British elite, which refused to accept these colonials as equal part of itself. A pretty good example would be colonial colonel Washington who was rejected commission as officer of British army. This book demonstrates that after British were gone, the local elite proved itself much more oppressive by imposing higher taxes, creating mess with economy, and implementing speculative scheme that allowed them obtaining government debt at rock bottom prices from regular people that then were forced under the gun to accept this debt, so elite would be paid full price by state governments they controlled. One had to admire inventiveness of American elite that managed to succeed in such daring endeavor by implementing Constitution that shifted debt payments to federal government and made it to be done via tariffs rather than direct taxes so that regular people would not see it happening. Actually, the success of this brilliant move confirmed that American economic potential was so high that it left enough space for both: enrichment of elite via debt repayment and land speculation and increased prosperity of regular people via land acquisition whether legally or by squatter rights. It clearly demonstrated that option of increasing pie, even if most of it going to elite, is by far superior than fighting for bigger share of smaller pie. The price elite paid in form of Bill of rights was mainly insignificant, since control of all powers, however divided and balanced, always remained in the hands of elite making these rights mute, except in case of elite’s internal struggles. Even if real history presented in this book is very different from typical BS about America, it is still by far superior to any other country’s arrangements and did provide some space for relative prosperity of great many regular Americans.

20210110 – The bonobo and atheist

MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is to express author’s believe about natural development of morality in human societies with god(s) being invented just to support and enforce already existing norms, rather than being actually existing supreme law givers. Author uses multitude of experimental data with animals that demonstrate practically the same behavior that could be typical for moral humans even if they have no religion, no formal laws and even no language.

DETAILS:

CHAPTER 1: EARTHLY DELIGHTS
Author starts with reference to his place of birth Den Bosch and discusses triptych by Bosch “The Garden of Earthly Delight” showing humanity free of guilt that author uses to discuss sin, religiosity, and contemporary discoveries that demonstrated unexpected features of animal in natural world such as altruism and other behaviors that humans consider highly moral. Author discusses his encounter with Dalai Lama and discussion with him about animal empathy. Then author moves to discuss similarities between humans and their biological relatives:

A very important point of this discussion are bonobos and their history when for long time people would not recognize them as different species from chimpanzees except for their behavior, which is much more peaceful. Finally author concentrates on explaining main points of this book: analysis morality as it relates to animals and is not necessarily depends on religion to such extent as usually thought.

CHAPTER 2: GOODNESS EXPLAINED
This chapter starts with the story of dying chip who carefully hided any sign of sickness to the end and was helped by others. Author discusses how “The incident illustrated two contrasting sides of primate social life. First, primates live in a cutthroat world, which forces a male to conceal physical impairment for as long as possible in order to keep up a tough façade. But second, they are part of a tight community, in which they can count on affection and assistance from others, including nonrelatives.”  Author then discusses morality, altruism, and their costs. Whether such behavior genetic or learned, role of kin selection, and works of scientists that make contribution: Maynard Smith, Haldane, Ronald Fisher, von Neumann, and Price. The general conclusion is:” Mammals have what I call an “altruistic impulse” in that they respond to signs of distress in others and feel an urge to improve their situation. To recognize the need of others, and react appropriately, is really not the same as a preprogrammed tendency to sacrifice oneself for the genetic good.”

Author looks in detail at work and life of Thomas Henry Huxley – Darwin’s bulldog. It brings issue of morality and God, as its necessary condition. Author also mentions Veneer Theory and Darwin’s rejection of this theory:” He speculated, for example, that morality grew straight out of animal social instincts, saying that “it would be absurd to speak of these instincts as having been developed from selfishness.” Darwin saw the potential for genuine altruism, at least at the psychological level. Like most biologists, he drew a sharp line between the process of natural selection, which indeed has nothing nice about it, and its many products, which cover a wide range of tendencies. He disagreed that a nasty process ipso facto needs to produce nasty results.” Author also provided graphic representation of this theory:

After that auithor discusses his own research and life experience that demonstrated that goodness is not just veneer, it comes naturally:” Given its intrinsic rewards, some like to label care for family and close associates “selfish,” at least at an emotional level. While not incorrect, this obviously undermines the whole distinction between selfishness and altruism.”

CHAPTER 3: BONOBOS IN THE FAMILY TREE
This is extended look at bonobos and their place in relation to humans and other apes.

Author narrates history of bononos recognition that came late and only after long time of mixing them with chimps. Author then discusses specific of their organization and behaviours, which includes female dominance and massive use of sex as communication, interaction, and cooperation tool. At the end of chapter author concludes that bonobos and their super free love is not necessarily good example for humans to follow and that “the emphatic brain” could use other methods of expression.

CHAPTER 4: IS GOD DEAD OR JUST IN A COMA?
Author was born and raised as catholic, which was bound to create some cognitive dissonance when he became biologist. In this chapter he explores his history of coping and becoming atheist, but then coming to America and encountering this weird culture where people like guns, do not like soccer, and read Bible.  Author also discusses relation between faith and science and notes that in his experience scientist often behave with huge deference to authority, denying on practice their proffered believes and demonstrating that they are not that different from believers. At the end of chapter author discusses “Somethingism”, which is probably the true believe of majority of people.

CHAPTER 5: THE PARABLE OF THE GOOD SIMIAN
Here author is using example with elephants to demonstrate how poor understanding of animals leads to poor design experiments, leading to incorrect conclusion about animals’ abilities. One such example with mirror and elephant’s ability to recognize itself is really typical. After that author discusses a number of well-designed experiments that demonstrate animals’ ability to cooperate and emphasize with others. Author uses parable of good Samaritan and shows that even rats could and do help other even if it involves opportunity cost. In this case humans not necessarily do much better as was demonstrated by this experiment:” University students were ordered to hurry from one campus building to the next while a slumping “victim” was planted in their path. Only 40 percent asked the “victim” what was wrong. Students who had to make haste helped far less than students with time on their hands. Some literally stepped over the moaning “victim.” They did so even though, ironically, the topic they were to address in their lecture was the good Samaritan.”

Here is nice graphic representation:

CHAPTER 6: TEN COMMANDMENTS TOO MANY
In this chapter author discusses morality and dominance using quite appropriately example of rich and powerful politician DSK and cleaning lady in hotel. Author also provides here his definition:” Morality is a system of rules concerning the two H’s of Helping or at least not Hurting fellow human beings. It addresses the well-being of others and puts the community before the individual. It does not deny self-interest, yet curbs its pursuit so as to promote a cooperative society.” He then provides multiple examples that this is completely applicable to many animals.

CHAPTER 7: THE GOD GAP
Here author moves to the issue of morality and God. After reviewing both theoretical and theological ideas and experimental data he concludes:” …my own thinking that morality predates religion, certainly the dominant religions of today. We humans were plenty moral when we still roamed the savanna in small bands. Only when the scale of society began to grow and rules of reciprocity and reputation began to falter did a moralizing God become necessary. In this view, it wasn’t God who introduced us to morality; rather, it was the other way around. God was put into place to help us live the way we felt we ought to…”

At the end of this chapter he discusses secularization of Europe and expresses believe that god is not required for morality:” a recent study compared the reasons why believers and nonbelievers assist others. It found nonbelievers to be more sensitive to the situation of others, basing their altruism on feelings of compassion. Believers, in contrast, seemed driven by a sense of obligation and how they ought to behave according to their religion. The behavioral outcome was the same, but the underlying motivations seemed different. Clearly, there are many reasons for kindness, and religion is just one of them. The secular model is currently being tried out in northern Europe, where it has progressed to the point that children naïvely ask why there are so many “plus signs” on large buildings called “churches,” and where people have no idea anymore of the biblical origin of their expressions, from “washing your hands of the matter” to “a drop in the bucket.” Civic institutions have taken over many of the functions originally fulfilled by the churches, such as care for the sick, poor, and old. Despite being largely agnostic or nonpracticing, the citizenry of these countries stands firmly behind this effort. It is a giant experiment, both economically and morally, that may tell us whether large nation-states can forge a well-functioning moral contract without religion. If one believes, as I do, that morality comes mostly from within, there is every reason to support this effort…”

CHAPTER 8: BOTTOM-UP MORALITY
This final chapter summarizes author’s understanding:” The moral law is not imposed from above or derived from well-reasoned principles; rather, it arises from ingrained values that have been there since the beginning of time. The most fundamental one derives from the survival value of group life. The desire to belong, to get along, to love and be loved, prompts us to do everything in our power to stay on good terms with those on whom we depend. Other social primates share this value and rely on the same filter between emotion and action to reach a mutually agreeable modus vivendi. “

MY TAKE ON IT:

I generally agree with this approach. Similarly, I believe that morality is natural product of evolution when survival of individual is highly dependent on behavior of other individuals in the group, creating dual evolutionary pressure to act in such way as to assure survival of both, individual and group. Such duality provides for very complex patterns of behavior when combination of internal state of individual and external circumstances lead to variety of outcomes sometimes more beneficial to individual at the expense of group, but sometimes more beneficial to the group at the expense of individual. Moreover, I do not think that it is possible to create such environment, either via religious training or secular indoctrination, that human individuals would consistently prefer interest of group over their own. Actually, I believe that if one includes into “own interest” psychological condition of individual, then it would come down to resolution of internal conflict of preference between fear of material deterioration of one’s circumstances and fear of psychological deterioration of one’s condition from acting against norms one is indoctrinated into. Since choice depends on unpredictable and highly variable combination of internal and external circumstances, the outcome would also be unpredictable. I think that the one and only way to improvement is to minimize possibilities of such conflict, so action in interest of individual survival would not conflict with group survival.

I think comparing war and business would be a good illustration of this point. In a war the group of individuals who put own survival first would always loose to the group of individuals ready to sacrifice for common cause. In this case the objective is simple and obvious – to win and it is defined by one or a few individuals that are dominant in the group, which in practice means sacrificing by individuals at the bottom of group’s hierarchy to benefit of individuals at the top. However, in much more complex situation of business when mix of goods and services produced defined via competition between multiple individuals, who believe that their offer is better, suppression of individual choices of individuals at the bottom to will of individuals at the top would lead to selection of inferior products, especially if individuals at the top are not limited to the same selection. So, my conclusion would be maximizing morality and enforcement of deference to decisions of superiors in small number of war and war-like situations and expand individual’s ability to decide for themselves in all other situations. This way the competing values of group survival vs. individual survival would be applied in situations when they most effective and efficient.

20210103 – The Parasitic Mind

MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is that American culture is under siege by the Leftist barbarians who captured institutions of education, press, entertainment, and to somewhat lesser extent political power. They are in process of establishing anti-scientific, racist, and bigoted ideological framework and, if not stopped, will destroy democracy and Western civilization. Author suggests that everybody who wants to save Western civilization should participate in ideological resistance to this attack and speak out.

DETAILS:

Preface
Here author present his main thesis that:” The West is currently suffering from such a devastating pandemic, a collective malady that destroys people’s capacity to think rationally. Unlike other pandemics where biological pathogens are to blame, the current culprit is composed of a collection of bad ideas, spawned on university campuses, that chip away at our edifices of reason, freedom, and individual dignity.”

Author then briefly describes ideas and structure of the book.

Chapter One: From Civil War to the Battle of Ideas
This chapter is somewhat biographical where author presents his background and “ideals of seeking freedom and truth”. He narrates his history of growing up Jewish in Lebanon during civil war of 1970s when his family narrowly escaped annihilation. He discusses how he developed love for freedom and truth, while rejecting stifling religious traditions. Author makes a very interesting point about relations between truth and humility:” The quest for truth should always supersede one’s ego-defensive desire to be proven right. This is not an easy task because for most people it is difficult to admit to being wrong. This is precisely why science is so liberating. It offers a framework for auto-correction because scientific knowledge is always provisional. An accepted scientific fact today might be refuted tomorrow. As such, the scientific method engenders epistemic humility.”

After that author discusses quite a few contemporary ideas popular in miseducated circles of Western Universities characterizing them as “Parasites of Human Mind”, concluding that these ideas could lead to the death of the West by thousand cuts. Author provides a nice graphic representation of this process:

Chapter Two: Thinking versus Feeling, Truth versus Hurt Feelings
This chapter is about thinking versus feelings. Author actually against dichotomy approach:” The desire to divide the world into binary forms is at the root of the thinking versus feeling dichotomy, and this creates a false either-or mindset. We are both thinking and feeling animals. The challenge is to know when to activate the cognitive (thinking) versus the affective (feeling) systems.” However, he takes clear position on truth being more important than hurt feelings and provides examples when people’s behavior denies such approach: media against Trump, attempt of the left to destroy Kavanaugh, story with Larry Summers, and others.

Chapter Three: Non-Negotiable Elements of a Free and Modern Society
In this chapter author:” posit that freedom of speech, the scientific method, intellectual diversity, and a meritocratic ethos rooted in individual dignity rather than adherence to the ideology of Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity (DIE) are nonnegotiable elements of a truly enlightened society.” He then proceeds to demonstrate that these enlightenment values are under attack in contemporary western society via: Social media companies’ restriction on free speech, bullying that leads to self-censorship, promotion of identity politics in all areas of live, even rejecting science when it contradicts ideology. He also stresses that all this came from leftists capture of institution in academia, mass media, and big companies. Some examples are not just interesting, but somewhat threatening such as physician’s selection of treatment based on ideology.

Chapter Four: Anti-Science, Anti-Reason, and Illiberal Movements
Here author:” addresses several anti-science, anti-reason, and illiberal idea pathogens including postmodernism, radical feminism, and transgender activism, the latter two of which are rooted in a deeply hysterical form of biophobia (fear of biology).” He reviews specific anti-science trends and present the story of parodies accepted for publishing as serious work by pseudo-scientific publications.

Chapter Five: Campus Lunacy: The Rise of the Social Justice Warrior
In this chapter author:” examines how the mindset of social justice warriors gave rise to universities that prioritize minimizing hurt feelings over pursuing truth (a continuation of the theme first addressed in Chapter Two), the Oppression Olympics (intersectionality), Collective Munchausen and the homeostasis of victimology (I’m a victim therefore I am), and pious self-flagellating at the altar of progressivism.” Author looks at movement for safe spaces, promotion of victimhood, growing leftist bigotry, and other maladaptive trends.

Chapter Six: Departures from Reason: Ostrich Parasitic Syndrome
Here author:” explores Ostrich Parasitic Syndrome (OPS), a malady of disordered thinking that robs people of their ability to recognize truths that are as obvious as the existence of the sun. Science denialism is one manifestation of OPS but there are many others.” Author discusses here Faux-Causality when people make weird causal connection like “climate change” to Islamic terrorism, unsupported by neither by reality nor by logic ideas like “Diversity is strength”, Islamic terrorism being not connected to Islam, and other strange ideas.

Chapter Seven: How to Seek Truth: Nomological Networks of Cumulative Evidence
In this chapter author:” examines how to seek truth via the assiduous and careful erecting of nomological networks of cumulative evidence.” He refers to Dan Sperber, Hugo Mercier and their argumentative theory of reasoning, which demonstrated difficulty of changing people’s believe and suggest that it could be done via Nomological Networks of Cumulative Evidence and provides “how to” example:  ”Suppose that you wish to demonstrate that men’s universal preference for the hourglass figure was shaped by evolution. How would you go about achieving such a task? The objective would be to build a network of cumulative evidence stemming from widely different sources, all of which serve to construct the final jigsaw puzzle (undoubtedly of a beautiful woman possessing the hourglass figure). Here are some compelling findings: 1) the hourglass figure has been associated with greater fertility and superior health; 2) across a broad range of cultures, online female escorts advertise the hourglass figure to prospective patrons— whether they are lying about said measurements is immaterial; 3) online escorts who possess the hourglass figure command larger fees; 4) statues and figures spanning varied cultures across several millennia exhibit the desired hourglass figure; 5) Playboy centerfolds and Miss America winners throughout the twentieth century possess the preferred hourglass figure; 6) men’s preference for the hourglass figure has been documented across diverse cultures and races using many methods including brain imaging and eye tracking; and 7) men who have never had the gift of sight are also drawn to the hourglass figure (using touch to establish the preference). This constitutes an unassailable body of evidence.” Author then provide Nomological Networks of Cumulative Evidence rejecting leftist ideas for Toy Preferences, Sex Differences, Islam and Terrorism, Infection diseases, and Anti-Semitism.

Chapter Eight Call to Action

In the final chapter author:” propose reasons that cause people to remain passive bystanders in the battle of ideas, and I suggest a course of action to turn the tide. Do not underestimate the power of your voice. Seismic changes start off as small rumbles. Get engaged in the battle for reason and freedom of thought and speech.

Author’s recommendations also include:

  • Believe in power of your voice
  • Do not be afraid of Judging others and giving offence
  • Do not Virtue-Signal
  • Be the Penalty Kicker
  • Activate your Inner Honey Badger

At the end author provides recommendation on fixing Universities and calls on everybody to get engaged.

MY TAKE ON IT:

I think that author adequately describes the current situation and massive attack by leftists against all Western Values. However, he somewhat misses reasons for this attack and consequently his recommendations are not sufficient to repulse this attack. In my views it is not coincidental that after more than hundred years of socialist and national-socialist propaganda it only now seems to be achieving its objectives in English speaking Western societies. It was successful in Central and Easter Europe in early and middle of XX century after destruction of WWI and Great Depression leading to establishment of Soviet and Nazi regimes in Russian and German Empires with their traditional dominance of governmental hierarchies, but failed in more stable UK and USA where such hierarchy was relatively weak and majority of population led economic and intellectual live only slightly impacted by governments. It is not the case anymore so it is no wonder that economic destruction of Western lower middle and working classes caused by globalization would greatly weaken resistance to socialist ideology that promises if not prosperity, then at least safety and stability, however miserable because it deprives people of opportunity for independent economic live. The only way to succeed is to find a place in hierarchy and struggle for such place has to proceed around some normally meaningless ideological markers. The only way out now is to develop alternative economic safety net that would not substitute freedom with place in governmental hierarchy, then use it to regain political power, then eventually use this power to protect freedom on campus and elsewhere. Alternative is to wait until mass frustration caused by living at the bottom of hierarchy will mature enough to explode system similarly to events of 1990s in former USSR. I believe that on the long run people will choose freedom, but it could be very long run indeed.

20201227 – Mind in Motion

MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is that human thinking is driven by spatial perception that defines our cognition of both our internal and external worlds. Author formulates 9 cognition laws that define this process, how it happens and eventually how it turns into actions that change the world to better fit our needs.

DETAILS:

PROLOGUE Moving in Space: The Foundation of Thought
Here author defines her vision of the link between spatial perception of humans and their thinking. She also provides preview of the structure of this book as it was designed for different special interests:

“For the fundamentals, how perception and action mold thinking about the spaces we inhabit: Chapters One (space of the body), Two (space around the body), Three (space of navigation).

For varieties and transformations of spatial thinking and spatial ability, Chapter Four. For ways gesture reflects and affects thought, Chapter Five.

For talk and thought about space and just about everything else: Chapters Five, Six, and Seven.

For designing and using cognitive tools, maps, diagrams, notation, charts, graphs, visualizations, explanations, comics, sketches, design, and art, Chapters Eight, Nine, and Ten.”

PARTI: THE WORLD THE MIND
CHAPTER ONE: The Space of the Body: Space Is for Action
The first chapter of this part is about representation of the body in the mind. It stresses that different parts of the body represented very unequally and author provides graph of such representation:

After that author discusses the method of represantation: names vs pictures and then present her conclusion: First General Fact Worth Remembering: Associations to names are more abstract than associations to pictures.” Then she discusses how brain develops links between body parts and their uses and tradeoff it requires. Author formulates it as: First Law of Cognition: There are no benefits without costs.”. Finally author looks at feedback loops that integrate sensation and action into one process and posits: Second Law of Cognition: Action molds perception.”

The remaining part of the chapter discusses mechanisms such as Mirror Newrons, Motor Resonance, Process of Coordinating Bodies and Mids.

CHAPTER TWO: The Bubble Around the Body: People, Places, and Things
Author states objectives of this chapter upfront:” learn how people recognize, categorize, and understand the people, places, and things around us. We note that many everyday categories such as chairs and dogs are bins of common features that differentiate them from the feature bins of even nearby categories, such as carpets and snakes. But not always, and then we need to think harder, about dimensions and the features shared across categories.” She then goes through multiple categories of objects and their organization looking at: Things, Hierarchical organization at basic level, and People. In process author formulates:” Third Law of Cognition: Feeling comes first.”

Next author goes into complexities of Categories and Dimensions referring to work of Hans Rosling on graphic representation of economic and other data that help overcome misconceptions. Finally, author discusses relation between reality and its mental representation, formulation:” Fourth Law of Cognition: The mind can override perception”and then, after discussing confirmation bias: “Fifth Law of Cognition: Cognition mirrors perception.”

CHAPTER THREE: Here and Now and There and Then: The Spaces Around Us
Author’s description of the chapter:” …we examine the ways that the space around the body and the space of navigation are represented in the mind and the brain, providing support for the premise of the entire book, that spatial thinking is the foundation for abstract thought.”

The main points are: “Corollary of Fifth Law of Cognition, Cognition mirrors perception: Spatial mental frameworks can organize ideas.”; “The mind can override perception”

Author then provides examples supporting main points and discusses in details how mind maps not only space around body, but also all kinds of representations including conceptual mapping. This bring us to: “Sixth Law of Cognition: Spatial thinking is the foundation of abstract thought.”

Author also discusses how mind processes these maps including rotation, alignment, setting up hierarchical organization, defining reference points and perspective. Importantly, author also presents “Seventh Law of Cognition: The mind fills in missing information.”

CHAPTER FOUR: Transforming Thought
In this chapter: “we distinguish representations of thought from transformations of thought, then analyze spatial transformations and what they are good for (plenty!) followed by spatial ability and how to get it.”

Author provides examples of mental representations of ideas and their types. Author then discusses actions that she calls transformations or operations. She also provides a shortcut for understanding these ideas:” Just as there are countless real-life actions on real objects, there are countless mental actions on ideas or transformations of representations. Recall the list, a partial one: pull together, raise, toss out, arrange, and so on. Some transformations are loosely tied to domains like arithmetic or cooking or music or language or gene splicing or chess, but many are generic. And so very many of them are based on actions by the body in space, whether actual or imagined. In fact, a useful way to think about mental transformations is as internalized actions. Just as representations can be regarded as internalized perceptions.”

After that author discusses multiple ways that human mind applies to manipulate representation such as mental rotation, switch of perspectives: insider/outsider, animation, and such. Author also looks at spatial abilities and at the end of chapter presents what she believes is meaning of all this:” Those mental gymnastics transform what we see in the world and what we imagine in our minds into countless ideas, from the elementary and mundane needed to catch a ball, cross the street, or pack a suitcase to the spectacular and arcane used to create magnificent buildings or fantastic football plays or theories of particle physics. Marvelous as they are—and they are marvelous—buildings and football plays and zooming particles have a physical presence of one sort or another. But spatial thinking has even more wonders to reveal. Spatial thinking underlies how we talk and how we think, about space to be sure but also about time, emotions, social relations, and much more.”

PART II: THE MIND IN THE WORLD
CHAPTER FIVE: The Body Speaks a Different Language
Author’s description of this chapter:” In which we consider how actions of the body, especially the hands, turn into gestures that act on thought, our own and others, and provide the social glue underlying cooperation.”

Author reviews here how gestures are drawn by hands, different kinds of gestures, how gestures reveal thoughts, and even help us think and communicate. Author also makes an interesting point that:” Second General Fact Worth Remembering: Representations created by hands and by words are wildly different.”

CHAPTER SIX Points, Lines, and Perspective: Space in Talk and Thought
Author’s description of this chapter:” In which we consider how linear language describes space, using a perspective, either an inside, body-centered perspective or an outside, world-centered perspective. For insider perspectives, we show that surprisingly taking another’s perspective is sometimes easier and more natural than taking your own.” Author makes an important note that different languages provide for different perspectives.

CHAPTER SEVEN Boxes, Lines, and Trees: Talk and Thought About Almost Everything Else

“In which we reflect on the ways simple geometric forms, dots, boxes, lines, and networks, capture thought about space, time, number, perspective, causality, and just about everything else.”

Author discusses here “geometry of minds” use of various forms:

  • Boxes as containers of staff and ideas
  • Trees and Networks: big ideas divided into parts
  • Lines and cycles: ordering ideas and/or time in sequence
  • Orders: who’s on top and who’s at bottom
  • Boundaries: separation by identifying differences
  • Arrows: directionality and causality

Overall, it is all about interconnection between spaces and language.

CHAPTER EIGHT Spaces We Create: Maps, Diagrams, Sketches, Explanations, Comics
“In which we show how thought has been put in the world by arranging marks in space to create meanings that transcend the here and now. We zig and zag between the historical and the contemporary to draw lessons for designing and using thinking tools for thought about space, time, number, events, causality, and stories, highlighting comics, an explosively creative zany mix of storytelling”.

Here author expands into cases when mind is too small:” The Eighth Law of Cognition: When thought overflows the mind, the mind puts it into the world”.

This means creation of maps, writing, math, diagrams, notations: either scientific or musical, dancing, instructions, and all kind of similar staff. Author reviews all these in great detail.

CHAPTER NINE Conversations with a Page: Design, Science, and Art
“In which we join art and science through drawing. We watch people put thought on a page to hold a wordless conversation involving eye and hand and marks to see, to think, to clarify, and to create. We leave the page and return to the mind to reveal the key to creativity.”

Here author expands the same ideas into area of art and design.

CHAPTER TEN The World Is a Diagram

“In which we see that our actions in space design the world, that the designs create abstract patterns that attract the eye and inform the mind, that the actions get abstracted to gestures that act on thought, and the patterns to diagrams that convey thought. Actions in space create abstractions. A spiral we call spraction.” Here author discusses impact of humans on world outside their bodies: buildings, roads, book and other artifacts. This basically means to adjust world to what we want it to be, so author formulates:” Ninth Law of Cognition: We organize the stuff in the world the way we organize the stuff in the mind.”

MY TAKE ON IT:

I find this way of thinking interesting and maybe even useful in understanding how people think and in designing of communications that would effectively impact their own and others thinking. The only small issue I would have with all this is that author seems to be missing category of non-spatial, whether it is idea or some linguistic or even material construction, which kind of imposes limitation on understanding of cognition process, which in all cases involves multiple inputs/outputs both spatial and non-spatial. As example one could use something like color, which is generally non-spatial characteristic as it is normally represented in a mind. It definitely could be converted to spatial representation as the specific part of electromagnetic specter on the graph, but normal use is non-spatial.

Putnam, Robert – The Upswing

MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is to demonstrate that American society went through cycle of dominance of individualism in late XIX-early XX century’s “Gilded age” that was pushed out by collectivistic progressive movement and cultural changes that led to dominance of communitarian ideas, which picked up in 1950-60s and then returning back to dominance of individualism and inequality that hit bottom in our time. The additional idea is to find some signs that America will start moving back to communitarian future, obviously preferred by authors, sometime soon.

DETAILS:

Chapter 1: What’s Past Is Prologue
This chapter begins with Tocqueville’s observation:” the coming together of people for mutual purposes, in both the public and private spheres, and found that a multiplicity of associations formed a kind of check on unbridled individualism. Keenly aware of the dangers of individualism (a term he coined), Tocqueville was inspired by what he saw in America: Its citizens were profoundly protective of their independence, but through associating widely and deeply, they were able to overcome selfish desires, engage in collective problem solving, and work together to build a vibrant and—by comparison to Europe at that time—surprisingly egalitarian society by pursuing what he called “self-interest, rightly understood.”

Then authors move to our time and lament dissolution of associations, pointing out the huge psychological problem that developed in late XX – early XXI century America:” While industries spawned by technological advance have allowed huge corporations to produce unparalleled profits, very little of this wealth has trickled down. The poor may be better off in real terms than their predecessors, but the benefits of economic growth have remained highly concentrated at the top. Extremes of wealth and poverty are everywhere on display. Class segregation in the form of an entrenched elite and a marooned underclass is often a crippling physical, social, and psychological reality for those striving to get ahead. Young people and new immigrants enter the labor force filled with the hope that the American Dream can be theirs through persistence and hard work. But they often become disillusioned to find how great their competitive disadvantage is, and how difficult it is to make the leap to where the other half lives. American idealism increasingly gives way to cynicism about a rigged system.”

After that author moves to the main thesis of this book, which is that America over the last 100+ years went through cycle of decrease in individualism and increase of community reaching the top in 1950s and then went down into dark valley of individualism. It is presented by the general graph:”

Authors stress that community for them somehow means government with its regulations, bureaucracy, and suppression of individuals, while individualism somehow means big corporations, managerial, and financial elite. Then authors present general plan of the book: to go systematically through 6 specific areas and present suport of their main thesis for each of these.

Chapter 2: Economics: The Rise and Fall of Equality
The first such area is economics. At first authors present data on tremendous growth of American wealth:

Authors provide similar graphs and discussion for Income and Wealth, review history of what they call “conversion” of the middle century that was followed by “divergence” of the end of century and beginning of current century. They also look at consequences, such as “deaths of despair”:

Finally authors analyse “how did we get there” by looking at the changes in multiple areas, trying to find causal relation:  

Innovation and education – Education does not keep up with market demands

Unions – decline in support and membership

Policy –  Taxing and spending, with stress on insafficient and not progressive enough taxing, not enough financial regulation, small minimum wage and so on. Authors also stress change in social norms from being too rich somewhat not nice to bragging of being rich.

Chapter 3: Politics: From Tribalism to Comity and Back Again Here authors look at political environment throughout history of the last century and find the same change: deep division during gilded age growing into unification of midcentury and moving to deep division once again. Here is representation of this process:

Authors look at multiple dimensions of political process and political interactions between people and generally find similar picture elsewhere. One outlier is trust in government which jumpted in 1930s – early 40s when people mistakenly saw in government savior from the great depression and correctly saw it as the driving force in winning WWII. After that it consistently went down after government demonstrated it inaptitude in all conceivable ways:

Chapter 4: Society: Between Isolation and Solidarity
Here authors look at people participation and variety of associations: civic, religious, professional, unions, and even marriage. They find the same picture elsewhere: after growing up in early XX century, dramatic decline and even atrophy for many such institutions. It could be summarized in one graph:

Chapter 5: Culture: Individualism vs. Community
Here authors move into special area of American culture: competition between two visions: one centered on individual and another one on the group or community. Authors base this chapter on research in Ngram, which analyses frequency of use of specific words in published texts. They look at Salience of multiple words:

  • Survival of the fittest vs. Social Gospel
  • “Association, Cooperation, and Socialism”
  •  “Common Man”
  •  “Agreement, Compromise, and Unity”
  • “Subversion and Deviance”
  • “Conformity”
  • “Identity”
  • “Responsibility and Rights”

The conclusion across all these multiple points of data presented in the graph:

Chapter 6: Race and the American “We”
The next stop is mandatory discussion of the race relations. Authors go through various inequality parameters: health, wealth, political power, and so on. Unusually for leftists they recognize that black progress to equality was successfully terminated by leftist policies implemented in 1960-70s:

However they stress white guilt – specifically lack of enthusiasm in accepting second class citizenship for themselves among white middle and woring classes.

Chapter 7: Gender and the American “We”
In this chapter authors going through similar exercise for gender equality.

Chapter 8: The Arc of the Twentieth Century
This is kind of summary chapter:” In this chapter we aim to see the forest, not merely the trees and leaves. We begin with a summary of the broad changes that have animated the four thematic chapters—economics (Chapter 2), politics (Chapter 3), society (Chapter 4), and culture (Chapter 5). We step back from detailed narratives of specific topics, specific variables, and specific decades to ask how America changed over the last 125 years in terms of the balance between the individual and the community.”

Authors provide combined graph:

Authors then discuss their search for driver of these changes and conclude that it is cultural development, rather then economic or political. However they admit that such causial relationship has very week support in data and they have no solid explanation for I-WE-I cycles. However they note an interesting anomaly: cycle temporary interruption in 1920s when increase of movement from Gilden age “I” to massive “WE” was paused and resumed only after beginning of Great Depression. Authors also go into somewhat detailed discussion of causation in science and refer to work of Robert Shiller about narrative economics in which he claims that economic changes often preceed by changes in generally accepted narratives. Eventually authors give up on causal explanaitons reviewing a number of them and finding all of them lacking. They also look in details at 1960s as turning point period that changed direction from WE to I.

Chapter 9: Drift and Mastery

In the last chapter authors look at the overall development of last 113 years, taking as starting point Edward Bellamy’s “Looking Backward 2000-1887” and comparing predictions with reality. They go through bios of a number of personalities of Progressive Era in early XX century trying to find analogs in our time in hope to find indicator of similar movement from “I” to “WE” that occurred between 1929 and 1960.  At the end they come with this conclusion:” Throughout this book we have argued that although America’s “we” had gradually become more capacious during the first half of the twentieth century, and as we continued the long historical task of redressing racial and gender inequities, we were in 1960 (and still are) very far from perfection on those dimensions. Americans could have and should have pushed further toward greater equality. Therefore the lessons of history that we glean from the I-we-I century are two-sided: We learn that once before Americans have gotten ourselves out of a mess like the one we’re in now, but we also learn that in that first Progressive Era and the decades that followed we didn’t set our sights high enough for what the “we” could really be, and we didn’t take seriously enough the challenge of full inclusion. Therefore, the question we face today is not whether we can or should turn back the tide of history, but whether we can resurrect the earlier communitarian virtues in a way that does not reverse the progress we’ve made in terms of individual liberties. Both values are American, and we require a balance and integration of both.

MY TAKE ON IT:

It is an interesting collection of data and I pretty much agree with authors’ framework of economic, cultural, and political developments of the last 100+ years. The only difference I have is that I see no problem with causal explanation of these developments. From my point of view there is always tension that arises from dual character of human nature: individualistic need to take care of self without which survival of individual is not possible and similarly strong need to take care of a group one belongs to because destruction of the group makes chances of individual survival close to nil. The early XX century for America meant practical absence of any external thread to existence of main group – nation, but multiple threads to individual subgroups – farmers, workers, small businessmen, college graduates with skills not commensurate with ambitions, and so on, all threatened by big corporation and superrich individuals that undermined these groups’ viability. The initial advancement of collectivism during the Great Depression was linked to use of political power to compensate for their market failure via political means: unions, wealth redistribution and multitude of economic support government programs, creation of multitude of sinecures in government, and so on. All this was welded into one huge communal entity by WWII, which put the very survival of group – America into question. After victory in WWII, which made America superpower for which any thread was mainly unthinkable and even individual survival pretty much assured, the other driver of human action – individualism start moving to dominance. It brought in all kind of group weakening actions from buying cheap foreign products to moving manufacturing offshore. The main focus of struggle shifted from survival of America to prospering more than neighbor, even if it means denying prosperity to this neighbor. It also included moving to gated community to separate oneself from this former neighbor. The good/bad news is that this period is coming to the end because there is real threat of external domination once again – China and its communist / expansionist direction of development. Similarly, to the past we will probably have powerful consolidation of internal interest groups and increasing dominance of collectivistic approach, at least for a while. And, since unlike mid XX century current American elite is tightly linked to global elite and it seems does not mind to be subordinate to Chinese communist leadership, the change could include destruction of the part of this elite that will fail to awake their sleeping internal patriotism. It would be interesting to watch how American collectivism of masses will clash with Socialist / Globalist / Chinese collectivism of elite.  

20201213 – Plagues and People

MAIN IDEA:

Author defined very nicely and briefly the main idea this way:” This book aims to bring the history of infectious disease into the realm of historical explanation by showing how varying patterns of disease circulation have affected human affairs in ancient as well as in modern times.”

DETAILS:

Introduction
Here author describes what prompted him to write this book: the story of conquest of America when a few hundred conquistadors overcame millions of indigenous people organized in Aztec empire. Author rejects the usual explanations such as firearms, horses, mistaken identification of white Spaniards as gods, and such. He sees the key to this conquest in biological weapons unwittingly unleashed on population without immunity that not only killed millions, but also undermined morals by convincing people that gods on the side of conquistadors because they do not get inflicted by disease.  

Author also defines a few key concepts such as microparasites such as bacteria and viruses that gets people sick or even kills them and macroparasites such as big predatory animals, but also great warriors and aristocrats, foreign and domestic, that rob, enslave, and kill people.  Author is looking at interaction between victims and parasites as complex process with wide range of system equilibria in the range from deadly parasite, either micro and macro, which kills, consumes, and then have to find the next victim or die, all the way to coexistence parasite, which just consume some share of victim’s resources, allowing it staying alive and even being well. Author then discusses some specific microparasites and how they interact with human body.

I: Man, the Hunter
In this chapter author looks at the humans as hunters with powerful information processing tool – brain that allow practically eliminate all other large predators that could compete with humans for food and other resources. Author reviews parallel evolutionary development of humans and their parasites and how superior communication and organization skills allowed humans establish dominance over predators. Then something unusually author uses different reference point: “Looked at from the point of view of other organisms, humankind therefore resembles an acute epidemic disease, whose occasional lapses into less virulent forms of behavior have never yet sufficed to permit any really stable, chronic relationship to establish itself.” Author also makes here a very important point that coevolution of humans and their microparasites in Africa led to establishment of equilibria when human grow was limited by diseases well adjusted to humans. Author also notes that limited amount of naturally produced resources also limited human macroparasites. Finally, author discusses breakthrough that occurred between 40,000 and 10,000 BC when humans moved out of Africa, in process leaving behind their natural microparasites as limitation of their growth, and expanded all over the earth eliminating other humanoids and big predators. Once again worldwide equilibrium was established with human numbers limited by availability of resources with humans divided into huge diversity of types well-adjusted to the huge diversity of environments.

II: Breakthrough to History
Author begins this chapter with discussion of practical elimination of large-body animals that occurred everywhere where humans expanded their habitat. Only domesticated big-body animals expanded their presence. The overall impact was shortening of food chains and decrease in diversity of environment. Then came agriculture, which took out huge amount of space away from natural development into artificially limited diversity of plants and animals. Author discusses in some details agricultural processes and how their impacted various parasites, both micro and macro. Author also looks at cultural patterns that sometimes limit, but sometimes expand vulnerability, such as communal baths. Here is how author presents established equilibrium:” Eventually agricultural populations became dense enough to sustain bacterial and viral infections indefinitely, even without benefit of an intermediate nonhuman host. This cannot ordinarily happen in small communities, since unlike multicelled parasites, bacterial and viral invasions provoke immunity reactions within the human body. Immunity reactions impose drastic alternatives upon the host-parasite relationship. Whenever they dominate the interaction of host and parasite, either speedy death of the infected person or full recovery and banishment of the invading organism from the host’s body tissues ensues—at least for a period of time of months or years until the immunizing antibodies fade from the bloodstream so as to permit reinfection.”

Author then reviews transmission of infection either direct or via animals and provides this nice table for number of diseases shared with animals:

Finally, author discusses interactions within civilization, its balance between cities and rural areas that supplied constant flow of new people to compensate for losses from proximity of people – necessary condition for both high economic opportunity and high infection diseases vulnerability.

III: Confluence of the Civilized Disease Pools of Eurasia: 500 B.C. to A.D. 1200
In this chapter begins with estimate that by 500 BC macroparasitic balances were established in several civilized areas. Similarly microparasitic balances specific to agriculture were established in older cites, but author notes that:” By contrast, greater instability prevailed in fringe areas where three different natural environments—the Yellow River flood plain, the monsoon lands of the Ganges Valley, and the Mediterranean coastlands—had all become capable of supporting civilized social structures much more recently than was the case in the Middle East. Accordingly, in 500 B.C. ecological balances were still precarious in these regions, and there is reason to suppose that disease patterns were far less firmly fixed than in the Middle East.”  Author methodically goes through such areas estimating microparasitic conditions around 500 B.C. After that for some 1700 years these civilized centers where preparing surrounding populations for expansion by developing their immunity via intermittent interactions. Here is how author describes this process:” The conquests and ethnic encroachments which Turks and Mongols achieved before, and more spectacularly after, A.D. 1000 simply could not have occurred had these peoples not achieved and maintained a level of immunity to civilized diseases almost equivalent to that prevailing in the major civilized centers themselves. Everything known of the trade patterns and political structures of the steppe make this seem likely, indeed all but certain. Frequent movement across long distances, and occasional assembly into large gatherings for raids or (with the Mongols) for a great annual hunt, provided ample opportunity for infectious diseases to be exchanged and propagated among the nomads, and even, as Chinese records attest, to be sometimes communicated to less mobile civilized populations.”

IV: The Impact of the Mongol Empire on Shifting Disease Balances, 1200—1500
Here is how author describes situation before development of Mongol empire: “Two systematic instabilities remained. One was the persistent and cumulatively massive growth of human population in the Far East and Far West, resulting from the way in which the Chinese and Europeans had broken through older epidemiological and technological barriers shortly before A.D. 900. Eventually this development affected the macro-balances of the Old World in emphatic fashion, making first China and then western Europe critically influential in military, economic, and cultural matters. The other source of systematic instability within the Eurasian world balance, as defined between 900 and 1200, was the possibility of further altering communications patterns, both by sea and land.”

Expansion of Mongol led to increase of communication and their shift up North. “From an epidemiological point of view, this northward extension of the caravan trade net had one very significant consequence. Wild rodents of the steppelands came into touch with carriers of new diseases, among them, in all probability, bubonic plague. In later centuries, some of these rodents became chronically infected with Pasteurella pestis. Their burrows provided a microclimate suited to the survival of the plague bacillus winter and summer, despite the severities of the Siberian and Manchurian winters. As a result, the animals and insects inhabiting such burrows came to constitute a complex community among which the plague infection could and did survive indefinitely.” Then author discusses the history of raise and fall of the most important disease that emerged from this situation – plague. After the plague other epidemic diseases became prevalent and author connects it to development of textile industries that provided warm closing in cooling European climate, creating simultaneously good conditions for lice. The final evaluation of this period goes like this:” What we see, then, as the over-all response to the changed communications pattern created in the thirteenth century by the Mongols is a recapitulation of what we saw happening in the first Christian centuries. That is to say, massive epidemics and attendant military and political upheavals in Europe and (less clearly) also in China led both in the early Christian centuries and in the fourteenth century to sharp diminution of population in the Far East and in the Far West; but in the regions between, both epidemic history and population history are difficult or impossible to discern. In the earlier instance, several diseases were probably at work, and it took a longer time for population to recover, especially in Europe. In the fourteenth century, on the contrary, a single infection was probably responsible for most of Europe’s population decay, and recovery both in Europe and in China was swifter, so that by the second half of the fifteenth century unmistakable population growth again set in at each extreme of the Old World ecumene. Even in Muscovy and the Ottoman empire, lands lying close by the steppe focus of plague infection, population growth became unmistakable in the sixteenth century, perhaps beginning even earlier.”

V: Transoceanic Exchanges, 1500—1700
This chapter is about globalization of humanity during period 1500-1700 when Euro-Asian civilization clashed wit independently developing Amerindian civilizations and crashed it do significant extent via epidemic defenselessness of the latter. It was not one sided, but European diseases were much more virulent than American. The result was forfeiture by Amerindians of their culture and believes because their gods failed, leaving them without ideological power to resist. Author, however describes not only European epidemiological conquest, but also European defeats by local microparasites in such places and Africa and Amazonia. Author also describes exchanges of plants and animals, which to significant extent changed both environment and peoples, eventually resulting in decrease of diversity. Author also discusses a parallel process when macroparasitic development led to dominance of countries with superior military equipment and tactics. Author concludes the chapter by stating that these:” … factors continue to affect the conditions of human life in the twentieth century. Indeed, the world’s biosphere may be described as still reverberating to the series of shocks inaugurated by the new permeability of ocean barriers that resulted from the manifold movement of ships across the high seas after 1492. Yet almost as soon as the initial and most drastic readjustments of the new pattern of transoceanic movements had subsided, other factors—scientific and technological for the most part—inaugurated still further and almost equally drastic changes in the world’s biological and human balance.”

VI: The Ecological Impact of Medical Science and Organization Since 1700

In the final chapter author reviews how medical development such as inoculation and then vaccination changed human interaction with microparasitic environment providing new patterns of human development all over the world. Here is how author concludes this book:” In view of the truly extraordinary record of the past few centuries, no one can say for sure that new and unexpected breakthroughs will not occur, expanding the range of the possible beyond anything easily conceived of now. Birth control may in time catch up with death control. Something like a stable balance between human numbers and resources may then begin to define itself. But for the present and short-range future, it remains obvious that humanity is in course of one of the most massive and extraordinary ecological upheavals the planet has ever known. Not stability but a sequence of sharp alterations and abrupt oscillations in existing balances between microparasitism and macroparasitism can therefore be expected in the near future as in the recent past. In any effort to understand what lies ahead, as much as what lies behind, the role of infectious disease cannot properly be left out of consideration. Ingenuity, knowledge, and organization alter but cannot cancel humanity’s vulnerability to invasion by parasitic forms of life. Infectious disease which antedated the emergence of humankind will last as long as humanity itself, and will surely remain, as it has been hitherto, one of the fundamental parameters and determinants of human history.”

MY TAKE ON IT:

I really like author’s approach of looking in parallel at micro and macro parasitic phenomenon.  Usually it is separated into two different areas: epidemiological and military / state histories, but in reality it makes a lot of sense looking at them together because it is pretty obvious that epidemic deceases worked hand in hand with military endeavors sometime bringing unrealistically huge benefits to attackers as was the case with conquistadors, but sometimes protecting locals against superior military power, as was the case with Napoleon’s troops on Haiti. Granted, bioweapons were used unconsciously, but they were highly effective anyway. This brings me to recognition that what we usually consider as conscious actions leading to some expected result in reality is much more dependent on poorly understood environmental circumstances, which makes great leaders and conquerors only slightly more effectual driving force of change than some completely unconscious bacteria.    

20201206 – Through the Language Glass

MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is to present history and contemporary state of understanding of linguistics and language influence not only on communications between people, but also on human thinking and understanding of the world.

DETAILS:

PROLOGUE: Language, Culture, and Thought
Author starts with the statement that languages are different in their usefulness: “There are four tongues worthy of the world’s use,” says the Talmud: “Greek for song, Latin for war, Syriac for lamentation, and Hebrew for ordinary speech.” Then he proceeds to present examples of these differences for some European languages. After that author defines objective of these book:” In the pages to follow, however, I will try to convince you, probably against your initial intuition, and certainly against the fashionable academic view of today, that the answer to the questions above is—yes. In this plaidoyer for culture, I will argue that cultural differences are reflected in language in profound ways, and that a growing body of reliable scientific research provides solid evidence that our mother tongue can affect how we think and how we perceive the world.”

PART 1: THE LANGUAGE MIRROR
1. Naming the Rainbow
Here author discusses work of Gladstone on Homer and how colors were presented in Odyssey via analogies rather than via direct designation. Here are 5 main points:

The author presents Gladstone’s idea that sencitivity to color developed only recently in history. This correlates with the fact that words for different colors are created over the time and in more or less similar sequence in different languages.

2. A Long-Wave Herring
In this chapter retells the story of Lazarus Geiger who expanded on Gladstone ideas:” Mankind’s perception of color, he says, increased “according to the schema of the color spectrum”: first came the sensitivity to red, then to yellow, then to green, and only finally to blue and violet. The most remarkable thing about it all, he adds, is that this development seems to have occurred in exactly the same order in different cultures all over the world.”

This followed by discussion of reasons for that: whether it was physiological development of human vision or linguistic development. Two directions were competing: Lamarckian promoted by Hugo Magnus and Darwinian.  For the letter author cites Franz Delitzsch who wrote in 1878 that “we see in essence not with two eyes but with three: with the two eyes of the body and with the eye of the mind that is behind them. And it is in this eye of the mind in which the cultural-historical progressive development of the color sense takes place.”

3. The Rude Populations Inhabiting Foreign Lands
Here author reviews result of explosion of anthropological research at the end of XIX century. He looks at research and experiments of W.H.R. Rivers who worked with tribes in New Guinea and convincingly demonstrated that local have the same color vision as Europeans, even if their languages did not have specific words for many colors.  

4. Those Who Said Our Things Before Us

Here author first pontificates on development of anthropology from contempt to savages to nearly worshipping them or at least claiming that all cultures are equal. Then he discusses and important book from 1969 by Brent Berlin and Paul Kay and their finding: “What were those two amazing findings? First, Berlin and Kay discovered that color terms were not so arbitrary after all. Although there are considerable variations between the color systems of different languages, some ways of dividing the spectrum are still far more natural than others: some are adopted by many unrelated languages while others are not adopted by any. It was their second discovery, however, that left the academic community reeling. This was the revelation, which Berlin and Kay themselves termed a “totally unexpected finding,” that languages acquire the names for colors in a predictable order. To be more precise, Berlin and Kay discovered the sequence that Lazarus Geiger had postulated 101 years before and that in Magnus’s hands turned into the subject of intense and protracted debate in the last decades of the nineteenth century.”

At the end of chapter author presents his conclusion:” Different cultures certainly are not at liberty to carve up the world entirely at whim, as they are bound by the constraints set by nature—both the nature of the human brain and the nature of the world outside. The more decisive nature has been in staking out its boundaries, the less leeway there is for culture.” He also briefly discusses theory of parameters and points our that diversity of languages and methods of their use is way too wide to cover it with a few parameters.

5. Plato and the Macedonian Swineherd
In the last chapter of this part author makes a very reasonable point that there are no primitive languages as there are no primitive people. There is poor understanding of other people’s environment and consequently complexities of languages that allow survival in this environment, which makes it very difficult for outside observer to understand these complexities. However, it does not mean that all languages equally complex. As everything else languages evolutionary developed to meet communication requirements for survival. Then author provides brief comparative analysis of features of various languages: Morphology, Sound System, and Subordination. At the end of chapter author presents his conclusion:” The results of this research have already revealed some significant statistical correlations. Some of these, such as the tendency of smaller societies to have more complex word structure, may seem surprising at first sight, but look plausible on closer examination. Other connections, such as the greater reliance on subordination in complex societies, still require detailed statistical surveys, but nevertheless seem intuitively convincing. And finally, the relation between the complexity of the sound system and the structure of society awaits a satisfactory explanation.”

PART 11: THE LANGUAGE LENS
6. Crying Whorf
Here author briefly retells the story of rise and fall of theory of linguistic relativity promoted by Edward Sapir. Author starts with overall history of linguistics in Europe, specifically paying attention to work of Wilhelm Humboldt, details of Sapir’s relativity, and finally works of Franz Boas and Roman Jacobson. The main understanding is that all languages allow express any thought, but:” If different languages influence their speakers’ minds in varying ways, this is not because of what each language allows people to think but rather because of the kinds of information each language habitually obliges people to think about. When a language forces its speakers to pay attention to certain aspects of the world each time, they open their mouths or prick up their ears, such habits of speech can eventually settle into habits of mind with consequences for memory, or perception, or associations, or even practical skills.”  Author provides a few very interesting examples to demonstrate this point.

7. Where the Sun Doesn’t Rise in the East
Here author presents a number of linguistic curiosities from misunderstanding of naming kangaroo to use of egocentric vs. geocentric coordinates in speech by some aboriginal tribes in Australia. Author provides interesting example of object manipulation when the same change expressed differently in different languages. This raised another question: correlation and/or causation of spatial thinking depending of linguistic coordinates.

8. Sex and Syntax
In this chapter author explores another linguistic curiosity: use of sex in designation of non-animate objects. As example author uses poem of Heine when pine tree (male) dreams about palm tree(female), which is difficult to translate into English in which trees do not have sex. Author them provides charming example of similar confusion, especially between languages with different sex designation for the same object.

9. Russian Blues
Here author returns to linguistic division of color spectrum which is different in different languages, for example Russian using 2 blue colors.

EPILOGUE: Forgive Us Our Ignorance

In summary author repeat his main point:” Language has two lives. In its public role, it is a system of conventions agreed upon by a speech community for the purpose of effective communication. But language also has another, private existence, as a system of knowledge that each speaker has internalized in his or her own mind. If language is to serve as an effective means of communication, then the private systems of knowledge in speakers’ minds must closely correspond with the public system of linguistic conventions. And it is because of this correspondence that the public conventions of language can mirror what goes on in the most fascinating and most elusive object in the entire universe, our mind. This book set out to show, through the evidence supplied by language, that fundamental aspects of our thought are influenced by the cultural conventions of our society, to a much greater extent than is fashionable to admit today.”

MY TAKE ON IT:

I like ideas presented in this book and I agree that language has serious impact on the way of person’s thinking. However, I believe that author slightly overstating this case. I think that language is only one part of overall cultural environment that has impact and not necessarily the most important. My own experience of being native Russian speaker and nearly completely switching to English in midlife definitely was accompanied by switch in way of thinking about quite a few things. It is, however, all but impossible to separate changes caused by switch of language from changes causes by behavior of surrounding people, communications with them, and overall cultural environment of America, which is quite different from USSR. Nevertheless, I would assign to language lower level of causality in thinking and behavior changes comparing to logic of interactions and methods of setting and achieving objectives, which are quite different in these different cultures.

20201129 – The Great Debate

MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is to present two different types of ideas derived from enlightenment via lives and work of two individuals: Thomas Paine and Edmund Burke. Former representing the French revolutionary approach of overturning existing system and rebuilding everything from the scratch and latter representing British conservative approach of upgrading the system via incremental changes with as little disruption as possible.

DETAILS:

ONE: ​TWO LIVES IN THE ARENA

Author begins this chapter by describing meeting between Burke and Paine that occurred in 1788-  a few years before French revolution when their differences were not that obvious as to prevent this meeting from being friendly encounter. Then author describes lives and general approach to understanding of humanity by each of these two men. The Burke’s approach was based on this:” Burke argues that human nature relies on emotional, not only rational, edification and instruction—an idea that would become crucial to his insistence that government must function in accordance with the forms and traditions of a society’s life and not only abstract principles of justice. “The influence of reason in producing our passions is nothing near so extensive as it is commonly believed,” Burke writes. We are moved by more than logic, and so politics must answer to more than cold arguments.”  Paine’s approach was based on believe in all powerful reason that should allow people to consciously redesign and rebuild the system in logical and efficient way as designed by such intellectually superior individuals as himself, in process suppressing or even eliminating inferior individuals that refuse comply with demands of their betters.

Author then describes approach of each of them first to American revolution, about which both were mostly in sync and the French revolution which completely divided them. This division was expressed in their competing books: Burke’s “Reflection on the Revolution in France” and Paine’s “Rights of Man”.  Author briefly describes chronology of their dispute and additional works that each of them produced in support of his ideas.

TWO: ​NATURE AND HISTORY

This chapter is about philosophical foundation of these two people’s views about nature of human society. Paine’s view is that history is irrelevant and one should look at human nature:” And by “nature,” he means the condition that preceded all social and political arrangements and therefore the facts regarding what every human being is, regardless of social or political circumstances. Our nature remains just as it was at the beginning of the human race, since our various social arrangements don’t change what we are by nature—what every human being always has been and will be. And so, our basic nature must remain the foundation of our political thinking—of our understanding of what human beings are and how they ought to live together.”

Correspondingly Burke’s view is historical. He thinks exactly opposite to Paine: it is that original nature is hardly relevant and current condition is more result of historical development. “The beginnings of any society, Burke writes, are almost certain to involve some form of barbarism (not to say crime). But over time, by slowly responding to circumstantial exigencies, societies develop more mature forms—a process that, as Burke puts it in the Reflections on the Revolution in France, “mellows into legality governments that were violent in their commencement.” A return to beginnings would thus not offer an opportunity to start anew on proper principles, but would rather risk a reversion to barbarism. “There is a sacred veil to be drawn over the beginnings of all governments,” Burke argues, because there is little to be learned by exposing them, and there is a very real risk of harm in the exposure itself—especially the risk of weakening the allegiance of the people to their regime by exposing its imperfect origins.”

THREE​: JUSTICE AND ORDER

Here author reviews difference in approach to Justice and Order. As elsewhere it is between Paine’s main problem being the suffering of masses from traditional regimes that should be destroyed by any means necessary, while for Burke it is suffering of everybody, with individuals at the top of old regime suffering from the mob included. Author also reviewing approach of each of them to Moral Order and Morals law, Natural Equality and the Order of Society, and relevant issues.

FOUR: ​CHOICE AND OBLIGATION

Here author discusses their approach to the very purpose of politics:” For Paine, the natural equality of all human beings translates to complete political equality and therefore to a right to self-determination. The formation of society was itself a choice made by free individuals, so the natural rights that people bring with them into society are rights to act as one chooses, free of coercion. Each person should have the right to do as he chooses unless his choices interfere with the equal rights and freedoms of others. And when that happens—when society as a whole must act through its government to restrict the freedom of some of its members—government can only act in accordance with the wishes of the majority, aggregated through a political process. Politics, in this view, is fundamentally an arena for the exercise of choice, and our only real political obligations are to respect the freedoms and choices of others. For Burke, human nature can only be understood within society and therefore within the complex web of relations in which every person is embedded. None of us chooses the nation, community, or family into which we are born, and while we can choose to change our circumstances to some degree as we get older, we are always defined by some crucial obligations and relationships not of our own choosing. A just and healthy politics must recognize these obligations and relationships and respond to society as it exists, before politics can enable us to make changes for the better. In this view, politics must reinforce the bonds that hold people together, enabling us to be free within society rather than defining freedom to the exclusion of society and allowing us to meet our obligations to past and future generations, too. Meeting obligations is as essential to our happiness and our nature as making choices.”

FIVE​: REASON AND PRESCRIPTION

This chapter is about application of reason to the management of society. Here is author’s main point:” Paine understood his own time as “The Age of Reason” (as he dubbed it in the title of his last book). He thought that the combination of new insights into the science of politics and greater freedom for citizens to exercise their own individual reason upon public questions would free liberal societies of countless ancient prejudices and open the way to a new politics of liberty. Burke thought the governing of human communities was much too complex a task to be simplified into a series of pseudoscientific questions and resolved by logical exercises. It required, in his view, a degree of knowledge and wisdom about human affairs that could only be gathered from the experience of society itself. Their views, in other words, were direct extensions of the broader worldviews presented thus far and offer a deeper understanding of the foundational political questions of modern politics. Their dispute therefore deepens as it moves from the ends to the means of political thought.”

Correspondingly Burke stresses need of careful approach and cautious change because reason is limited, causing unintended consequences. For Paine reason is unlimited so the consequences can be limited to intendent, but if bad unintended consequences happen to occur, it is a small price to pay. Author also discusses relevant difference in approach to theoretical and global and specific and particular. At the end of chapter author also discusses Meaning of America, defined differently by Burke and Paine, but in such way that each believed American experience supported his view.

SIX​: REVOLUTION AND REFORM

The question of Revolution vs. Reform once again clearly demonstrate difference in approach, which later became designated as right and left. For left revolution comes with massive destruction of whatever was before to clean up field for the new beautiful construction based on superior reason. For right reason’s limitation points to preference of reform with as little destruction as possible not only because it causes suffering, but, even more important, the limited reason could not possibly create much better arrangements because of its own limitations.  

SEVEN: ​GENERATIONS AND THE LIVING

Here author looks at Burke-Paine debate in relation to generations of people:” Paine seeks to understand man apart from his social setting, while Burke thinks man is incomprehensible apart from the circumstances into which he is born—circumstances largely the making of prior generations. Burke describes a densely layered social whole that defines the place of each of its members, while Paine thinks each person is born with an equal right to shape his destiny. Paine’s case for a politics of reason argues for direct recourse to principle in the face of long-established but unreasonable practices. Burke’s case for prescription is based on generational continuity. This argument leads Burke to prefer gradual reforms that preserve what has come down from the past, while Paine pursues a revolutionary break as the only way to escape the heavy burden of long-standing injustice. The question of the generations recurs so frequently in their discussions because the Burke-Paine debate is about Enlightenment liberalism, whose underlying worldview unavoidably raises the problem of the generations. Enlightenment liberalism emphasizes government by consent, individualism, and social equality, all of which are in tension with some rather glaring facts of the human condition: that we are born into a society that already exists, that we enter this society without consenting to it, that we enter it with social connections and not as isolated individuals, and that these connections help define our place in society and therefore often raise barriers to equality. These facts suggest either that Enlightenment liberalism is in some important ways unworkable in practice given the relations between generations or that those relations must be transformed to make such liberalism possible. Because they took up the question of Enlightenment liberalism at the moment when it was becoming a question of practice, Burke and Paine were unusually attentive to these problems and approached the matter of generational relations as a genuinely practical and open question.”

Eventually author puts it into philosophical temporal framework: Paine’s “Eternal Now” when reason allows setup perfect order after removing everything that was before vs. Burke’s “Eternal Order” when reason has limited use of carefully reforming existing order to adjust this order to new circumstances. Instead of Paine’s “destruction first”, Burke’s approach is “first do not harm what is working and change only what is not working anymore.”

MY TAKE ON IT:

I guess I am mostly on the side of Burke now since I am not that young and therefore do not have illusion that world is simple. However, I do not believe that Pain/Burke’s approaches are polar. It pretty much depends on circumstances of any given society at any given time. Probably the most important part of culture of any society is its ability of supporting effective feedback connections between individuals at the top and at the bottom of this society. Strong feedback typical for democracies lead to effective reaction to changing world via freedom of speech and fair elections when there is little lag between emerging unhappiness of population and correcting measures to resolve the issue. In this case Burke’s approach would be the most effective. However, if such feedback is lacking either due to decay of society’s institutions such as press and education, or, in extreme cases, due to dictatorship of some hierarchical organization, then Paine’s revolutionary approach could become just about impossible to avoid despite it being very inefficient and often murderous. The reason is simple: because the suppression of unhappiness does not make it disappear, but rather keeps I hidden while it accumulates explosive potential until this potential becomes more powerful than forces off suppression. At this point explosion-revolution is triggered by some relatively insignificant event, leading to period struggle before the new order, often somewhat worse than it was before, would be established.

20201122 – The Mystery of Capital

MAIN IDEA:

Here is how author defines objective of this book:” In this book I intend to demonstrate that the major stumbling block that keeps the rest of the world from benefiting from capitalism is its inability to produce capital. Capital is the force that raises the productivity of labor and creates the wealth of nations. It is the lifeblood of the capitalist system, the foundation of progress, and the one thing that the poor countries of the world cannot seem to produce for themselves, no matter how eagerly their people engage in all the other activities that characterize a capitalist economy. I will also show, with the help of facts and figures that my research team and I have collected, block by block and farm by farm in Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America, that most of the poor already possess the assets they need to make a success of capitalism. Even in the poorest countries, the poor save. The value of savings among the poor is, in fact, immense—forty times all the foreign aid received throughout the world since 1945. …. Because the rights to these possessions are not adequately documented, these assets cannot readily be turned into capital, cannot be traded outside of narrow local circles where people know and trust each other, cannot be used as collateral for a loan, and cannot be used as a share against an investment.”

DETAILS:

CHAPTER ONE: The Five Mysteries of Capital

Here author expresses his view that poor countries are poor mainly because they failed to create legal and cultural conditions necessary to use  available resources as Capital, which means applying resources into process of generation of goods and services in such way that they would generate profit that would increase amount of available resources, creating eventually self-supporting process of economic growth. Author notes that it did happed in currently developed Western countries centuries ago and in Asian Tigers economies after WWII, but it did not happen in Latin America and Africa.  In order to analyze why and how such process occurs or fails to occur author defines what he calls 5 mysteries of capital:

  1. The Mystery of the Missing Information
  2. The Mystery of Capital
  3. The Mystery of Political Awareness
  4. The Missing Lessons of US History
  5. The Mystery of Legal Failure: Why Property Law Does Not Work Outside the West

Then author dedicates one chapter of this book to each “mystery” and concludes by suggesting solution.

CHAPTER TWO: The Mystery of Missing Information

Here author discusses lack of information about savings and overall wealth of poor countries due to lack of formal property accounts. Author reviews multiple obstacles to legalization of business and real estate property such as overwhelming bureaucratization of all processes that makes it just about impossible to open legal business. Based on research of his group author developed table demonstrating amount of dead capital:

CHAPTER THREE: The Mystery of Capital

Here author discusses damages from the lack of legality:” Capital, like energy, is also a dormant value. Bringing it to life requires us to go beyond looking at our assets as they are to actively thinking about them as they could be. It requires a process for fixing an asset’s economic potential into a form that can be used to initiate additional production.” After this author enumerates specific effects that would result from obtaining ability to use potential of dormant capital, for example a house that could  be used as collateral. These effects are:

Property Effect No. 1: Fixing the Economic Potential of Assets

Property Effect No. 2: Integrating Dispersed Information into One System

Property Effect No. 3: Making People Accountable

Property Effect No. 4: Making Assets Fungible

Property Effect No. 5: Networking People

Property Effect No. 6: Protecting Transactions

Author summarizes this using metaphor of Bell Jar, which makes capitalism in poor countries isolated from majority, limiting effective use of wealth concentrating in the hands of lower classes unavailable for productive use.  

CHAPTER FOUR: The Mystery of Political Awareness

Author’s definition of this mystery:” If there is so much dead capital in the world, and in the hands of so many poor people, why haven’t governments tried to tap into this potential wealth? Simply because the evidence they needed has only become available in the past forty years as billions of people throughout the world have moved from life organized on a small scale to life on a large scale. This migration to the cities has rapidly divided labor and spawned in poorer countries a huge industrial-commercial revolution—one that, incredibly, has been virtually ignored.”

Author then discusses mass movement of people from rural areas to cities and industrial revolution that is occurring in poor countries. This often happens despite legal restrictions on relocations so much so that around and inside of big cities there is huge population living extralegally and this population is beginning process of self-organization, forming into political power. This is the same process that occurred in developed countries a few centuries ago during industrial revolution.

CHAPTER FIVE: The Missing Lessons of U.S. History

Author’s definition of this mystery:” What is going on in the Third World and the former communist countries has happened before, in Europe and North America. Unfortunately, we have been so mesmerized by the failure of so many nations to make the transition to capitalism that we have forgotten how the successful capitalist nations actually did it. For years I visited technocrats and politicians in advanced nations, from Alaska to Tokyo, but they had no answers. It was a mystery. I finally found the answer in their history books, the most pertinent example being that of U.S. history.”

Here author looks in details at American history, quite convincingly demonstrating that it was far from nice and clean with squatting and “tomahawk rights” being examples of extralegal acquisition of property, “shooting the sheriff” a way to protect acquired property, and political organization, with elections and legal struggle eventually resulting in formal legalization of this property and establishment of such legal system that supported effective functioning of mainly peaceful control over property rights.

CHAPTER SIX: The Mystery of Legal Failure

Author’s definition of this mystery:” Since the nineteenth century, nations have been copying the laws of the West to give their citizens the institutional framework to produce wealth. They continue to copy such laws today, and obviously it doesn’t work. Most citizens still cannot use the law to convert their savings into capital. Why this is so and what is needed to make the law work remains a mystery.”

Here author defines reasons for this failure as based on basic misconceptions:

•​all people who take cover in the extralegal or underground sectors do so to avoid paying taxes;

•​real estate assets are not held legally because they have not been properly surveyed, mapped, and recorded;

•​enacting mandatory law on property is sufficient, and governments can ignore the costs of compliance with that law;

•​existing extralegal arrangements or “social contracts” can be ignored;

•​you can change something as fundamental as people’s conventions on how they can hold their assets, both legal and extralegal, without high-level political leadership.

Author then provides detailed description for how to move from extralegal to legal capital. Here is top level graphical representation:

Then author discusses challenges to this process in details, allocationg a part of the chapter to each:

Part I: The Legal Challenge

Part II: The  Political Challenge

The final part of the chapter is discussion from perspective of the poor and how to coopt elite into supporting this process of legalization and conversion of resources into capital.

CHAPTER SEVEN: By Way of Conclusion

Here author suggests solution to all the mysteries reviewed in this book. In pretty much in expansion of real property rights to people outside elite, making just about everybody into capitalist. Author looks at Marx’s ideas and finds them outdated in the West, but still highly popular elsewhere. Author makes an interesting point that industrialization pretty much means that small business owners, legal or extralegal, practically deprived of their businesses by increasingly big corporations not only because of competition, but also because of government intervention. Marx’s solution was removing multitude of big corporations and substitute them with one huge super corporation: government. Author generally rejects this idea as historically failed in communist countries, leaving capitalism as “the only game in town”. He believes that the problem could be resolved if: governments are willing to accept the following:

MY TAKE ON IT:

My believes and ideas are pretty close to author’s with quite a few differences:

I do not think that term “capitalism” is meaningful because I do not think it is possible separate resources into capital owned by capitalist and resources controlled by everybody else, including ability to work, as non-capital. For me the difference in not qualitative, but quantitative. When individual who owns business (capitalist) and individual who owns only self (in Marx’s term proletary) cooperate in creation of new resources and then divide these resources unequally the problem is not ownership, but market value of input, which for non-capitalist could be so low that capitalist may decide not cooperate at all. In this case non-capitalist has no other choice as to use violence and coercion to obtain resources necessary for survival, which is usually done via political struggles forcing governmental transfers. Historically societies were capable maintain stability because non-capitalists had clear path of either becoming capitalist by acquiring business experience and some initial assets. As result any individual starting in live has option of working hard and either become small business owner or high market value specialist. Since majority of population possess physical and mental ability to use this option, it is quite realistic to achieve satisfactory level of resource acquisition usually identified by term Middle Class. The author’s stress on formalization of property rights would definitely open the way to such achievement for many people in developing countries, the same way as it did occur in developed countries before. This would allow much better use of resources leading to some economic catching up to occur. The bigger problem is that such, historically Western, road to prosperity is getting outdates because human labor is increasingly redundant for production of goods and services, but this problem is outside of the scope of this book.

20201115 -Ideological Origins of American Revolution

MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is to review literary and philosophical sources of American revolution and analyze the processes by which, starting from these sources, American ideas developed and by mid 1760s become not just popular, but dominant intellectual force in the minds of colonial population. Another idea is to demonstrate how these ideas become reality of American constitution and society and how it impacted social development all over the world.

DETAILS:

I: THE LITERATURE OF REVOLUTION  

Here author reviews various types of literature popular in pre-revolutionary period, being the main method of information flow and debates. First and foremost, there were brief pamphlets, produced by all sides participating in discussions after every significant event. Author reviews various types of pamphlets and notes that written discussions were conducted for 20 years leading to revolution on increasing scale. Author also discusses personalities of writers from Adams and Jefferson to quite a few of less known pamphleteers.  

II SOURCES AND TRADITIONS  

 In this chapter author looks at sources of colonial thinking and finds it in general western culture going back to: “Homer, Sophocles, Plato, Euripides, Herodotus, Thucydides, Xenophon, Aristotle, Strabo, Lucian, Dio, Polybius, Plutarch, and Epictetus, among the Greeks; and Cicero, Horace, Vergil, Tacitus, Lucan, Seneca, Livy, Nepos, Sallust, Ovid, Lucretius, Cato, Pliny, Juvenal, Curtius, Marcus Aurelius, Petronius, Suetonius, Caesar, the lawyers Ulpian and Gaius, and Justinian, among the Romans”

However, author also points out that actual knowledge of these works was lacking and they often were cited without real understanding.

Author stresses that” More directly influential in shaping the thought of the Revolutionary generation were the ideas and attitudes associated with the writings of Enlightenment rationalism — writings that expressed not simply the rationalism of liberal reform but that of enlightened conservatism as well.” These were works of “Locke, Montesquieu, Vattel, Beccaria, Burlamaqui, Voltaire, or even Rousseau.”

The third source were “The great figures of England’s legal history, especially the seventeenth-century common lawyers, were referred to repeatedly — by the colonial lawyers above all, but by others as well. Sir Edward Coke is everywhere in the literature: “Coke upon Littleton,” “my Lord Coke’s Reports,” “Lord Coke’s 2nd Institute” — the citations are almost as frequent as, and occasionally even less precise than, those to Locke, Montesquieu, and Voltaire. The earlier commentators Bracton and Fortescue are also referred to, casually, as authorities, as are Coke’s contemporary Francis Bacon, and his successors as Lord Chief Justice, Sir Matthew Hale, Sir John Vaughan, and Sir John Holt.11 In the later years of the Revolutionary period, Blackstone’s Commentaries and the opinions of Chief Justice Camden became standard authorities.”

Another source was religious Puritanism and its link to English history that produced specific ideological strain.  “The ultimate origins of this distinctive ideological strain lay in the radical social and political thought of the English Civil War and of the Commonwealth period; but its permanent form had been acquired at the turn of the seventeenth century and in the early eighteenth century, in the writings of a group of prolific opposition theorists, “country” politicians and publicists.”

After defining ideological sources, author goes into more detailed discussion of ideas and writers of the period from Glorious revolution to 1760s during which all these sources were intellectually reprocessed into more or less consistent ideology of what it means to be freeborn Englishman and what rights and duties should apply to colonials in America.

III POWER AND LIBERTY: A THEORY OF POLITICS

This chapter about power discusses its aggressiveness, meaning strive to expand and difficulty of controlling it. So, the problem was to allow legitimate use of power to protect community and limit its expansion beyond legitimate borders.  Author describes the process of ideas development this way:” The clarity of the modern assumption of a tripartite division of the functions of government into legislative, executive, and judicial powers did not exist for the colonists (the term “legislative,” for example, was used to mean the whole of government as well as the lawmaking branch), and in any case the balance of the constitution was not expected to be the result of the symmetrical matching of social orders with powers of government: it was not assumed that each estate would singly dominate one of the branches or functions of government.” Author describes influence of events in states that used to be free, but then succumb to despotism like Poland or Denmark at the time. Author points out that this analysis demonstrated that “the preservation of liberty rested on the ability of the people to maintain effective checks on the wielders of power, and hence in the last analysis rested on the vigilance and moral stamina of the people. Certain forms of government made particularly heavy demands on the virtue of the people”. Author discusses in details not only influence of English constitution, but also influence of the real-life practices that were well familiar to colonists.

IV THE LOGIC OF REBELLION

The logic of rebellion actually was not revolutionary, but rather conservative: to retain traditional freedoms of Englishmen and English constitution. Here is how author puts it:” It was this — the overwhelming evidence, as they saw it, that they were faced with conspirators against liberty determined at all costs to gain ends which their words dissembled — that was signaled to the colonists after 1763, and it was this above all else that in the end propelled them into Revolution.”

 Author first discusses religious aspect of this related to attempt of domination by Anglican church over religiously diverse population. Then came Stamp Act and other taxes, which, while comparatively small, nevertheless were designed to establish precedent of parliament control over colonials. Then came attempt to establish control from outside over colonial judiciary via control over salaries and undermining of jury system. The next steps were increase of power of royal governors and rejection of attempt to achieve representation in parliament (John Wilkes). In addition, the burden of standing army arrived with British troop moving to colonies in peace time. Author describes these processes and increasingly negative reaction to it by population.

Note on Conspiracy

This is detailed description of colonial perception of events as a conscious conspiracy to deprive people of their rights. Author reviews conspiracy literature and other documents and pretty much concludes that it was effective idea, which was not necessarily correct evaluation of situation.  

V TRANSFORMATION

 Author builds the main thesis of this chapter around John Adams evaluation:” But what do we mean by the American Revolution? Do we mean the American war? The Revolution was effected before the war commenced. The Revolution was in the minds and hearts of the people; a change in their religious sentiments, of their duties and obligations … This radical change in the principles, opinions, sentiments, and affections of the people was the real American Revolution.”  He then discusses specific parts of this revolution.

1. Representation and Consent

Here author looks at processes of representation in English society and demonstrates how and why event developed in such way that Americans felt being deprived of proper representation.  

2. Constitutions and Rights

Here author first discusses notion of unwritten English constitution as “assemblage of laws, customs, and institutions which form the general system according to which the several powers of the state are distributed and their respective rights are secured to the different members of the community.” In this view constitution was fixed and could be changed only organically, which it did, but differently in different places, getting eventually out of synch. Unlike organic development external intervention by distant power of English parameter was perceived as violation of constitution that could not and should not be tolerated.

3. Sovereignty

The final part of this chapter is about sovereignty. Author reviews discussion about it, but it was basically contest of sovereignty of the country as represented by parliament vs. sovereignty of the people as represented by locally elected powers.

VI THE CONTAGION OF LIBERTY

This last chapter is about consequences of American revolution that it had on various long existing institutions all over the world. Here are these institutions:

1. Slavery

2. Establishment of Religion

3. The Democracy Unleashed

4. “Whether Some Degree of Respect Be Not Always Due from Inferiors to Superiors”

POSTSCRIPT. FULFILLMENT: A COMMENTARY ON THE CONSTITUTION INDEX

Here author comments on final result of revolution: the new constitutional order unmatched to anything that existed before. Author reviews three distinct phases that led to this outcome:

“The first was the years of struggle with Britain before 1776 when, under the pressure of events and the necessity to justify resistance to constituted authority, the colonists developed from their complex heritage of political thought the set of ideas, already in scattered ways familiar to them, that was most illuminating and most appropriate to their needs. Centered on the fear of centralized power and rooted in the belief that free states are fragile and degenerate easily into tyrannies unless vigilantly protected by a free, knowledgeable, and uncorrupted electorate working through institutions that balance and distribute rather than concentrate power, their ideas were critical of, and challenging to, the legal authority they had lived under. The writings of this early period drew together the basic ideas which would flow through all subsequent stages of American political thought, and provide the permanent foundation of the nation’s political beliefs.2 The second phase saw the constructive application of these ideas and the exploration of their implications, limits, and possibilities in the writing and rewriting of the first state constitutions, from 1776 through the 1780’s. Obliged now to construct their own governments at the state level, American leaders were forced to think through the fundamentals of their beliefs, and establish republican polities that expressed the principles they had earlier endorsed. They did not work from clean slates. Constrained by institutions that had long existed and by entrenched leadership groups, they were revisers, amenders, elaborators, and conceptualizers, as they applied fresh ideas to existing structures and brought them as close as possible to their ideal. So they explored the nature of written constitutions and of constituent power; worked through the problems of separating functioning powers of government to form balances within single-order societies; and probed the nature of representation, the operative meaning of sovereignty of the people, and individual rights. Few of their conclusions were applied uniformly or in absolute and complete form. But everywhere the institutional problems of republican government at the state level and the principles on which it was based were probed in this constructive phase of the ideological revolution.3 The third phase — the writing, debating, ratifying, and amending of the national constitution — resembles the second phase in that it was constructive and concentrated on constitution writing; many of the ideas that had been developed in the writing and discussion of the state constitutions were applied to the national constitution and further refined and developed. But in its essence this phase was distinct. For in the 1780’s, under the pressure of rising social tensions, economic confusion pointing to the possible collapse of public credit, frustration in international affairs, and the threat of dissolution of the weak Confederation, the central task was reversed. Now the goal of the initiators of change was the creation, not the destruction, of national power — the construction of what could properly be seen, and feared, as a Machtstaat, a central national power that involved armed force, the aggressive management of international relations, and, potentially at least, the regulation of vital aspects of everyday life by a government dominant over all other, lesser governments.”

MY TAKE ON IT:

This book is a classic and is used as main source for teaching American revolution for decades. The important point of this book is that intellectual development of American colonials, which made the revolution possible, was developing for many decades and became engine that moved people to act. Another important point that is completely in agreement with this approach is about power, its control, and search for balance between centralized and local powers without which any country falls either into tyranny or anarchy. Not all revolutions are as beneficial for population as American revolution 1776 was. Other revolutions such as Russian of 1917, German of 1933, or Chinese of 1948 brough catastrophic consequences for population of these countries. The current American revolution of 2020 is in process so it is not possible to tell which outcome will become reality: renovation and upgrade of American revolution of 1776 that would come with victory of republicans or turn to rejection of 1776 and attempt to repeat “success” of Chinese Communist party that would come with victory of democrats. I believe that this attempt could not possibly be successful for two reasons:

  • The first reason is economic success of communists did not really happen in China in the first place. The economic success was achieved not by fully implementing socialism in Chinese or any other known form, but from making China into manufacturing attachment to Western economies, leaders of which transferred technology and investment to country with no labor and environmental protections. This provided for huge competitive advantage initially based on low price of products and now increasingly on established supply chains. However, now when China has to turn inside, all-natural features of socialism such as massive corruption, waste of resources, irresponsible, centralized, and highly hierarchical management will kick in, eventually leaving Chinese model in ruins.

The second and probably more important reason is the American population, which is armed and habituated to be free in expression of their opinions, believes, and actions either personal or political or economic. Socialism in any of its forms is not compatible with freedom in any of its forms, so the clash is inevitable. Whether this clash will be relatively peaceful and brief or as bloody and long lasting as in Russia or China depends on balance of power in society between indoctrinated youths and beneficiaries of big government on one side and mass of population of mainly effective and productive people on the other.

20201108 – You will be Assimilated

MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is to raise alarm about Chinese intentions, which CCP is not particularly shy to declare, to become the hegemonic power of the world with all other countries including USA being subservient to. It supposed to be achieved by obtaining and developing superior technology in a few important areas such as 5G, AI, new materials, quantum computer processing and so on. When this is achieved CCP leadership believes that real full-scale war would not be necessary. Author’s secondary objective is to propose steps that would help USA maintain its technological and military superiority. These steps are mainly modeled on American success against Soviet Union in 1980s: government support for science, high technology, and implementation of industrial policy.

DETAILS:

Introduction: Everything You’ve Heard About China is Wrong (or Not Right Enough)

In introduction author goes through pretty much complete list of current media reports on China and kind of manage to both confirm and deny them at the same time. Example would be:” You’ve been told that China has “a secret strategy to replace the US as the Global Superpower.”  Author confirms that China does has strategy to overcome USA, but states that there is nothing secret about that.

Then he proceeds to present his main thesis:” we’re up against Mandarin elite, cherry-picked from the brightest university graduates of the world’s largest country. America faces something far more daunting than moth-eaten Marxism: a five-thousand-year-old empire that is pragmatic, curious, adaptive—and hungry. China’s regime is cruel, but no crueler than the Qin dynasty that buried a million conscript laborers in the Great Wall. China always was and remains utterly ruthless.” This intellectual elite is much more sophisticated and smarter than American elite and is dedicated to getting technological advantage over USA in all important areas, especially military and then dictate new order when world would be subordinate to CPP. Autor also discusses what he calls five western myths about China:

Myth #1: America’s Economy is Bigger Than China’s

Myth #2: “China is a Poor and Backward Nation”

Myth #3: “China Can’t Innovate”

Myth #4: “China’s Economy Will Be Crushed by a Mountain of Debt”

Myth #5: “China has Devalued its Currency to Gain Unfair Advantage in Trade”

Finally, he discusses and rejects both: idea of Thucydides Trap and what he calls Don Quixote charges against CPP.

Chapter One: An Empire of Emperors: What Is China, and Why You Should Worry About It

Here author discusses what he believes is true and unchangeable nature of Chinese society: social contract between population and elite when elite is, at least partially, open for best and brightest from all layers of society via formal selection process of difficult high stakes testing, This arrangement provides stability and protection by elite using all means necessary including unsurpassed cruelty. In exchange people provide loyalty to the emperor as long as conditions of bargain are met.

Author the discusses nature of Chinese society as polyglot society of many people speaking different languages, but united via written language. However, it is society where everyone can have unlimited ambition and clear way to satisfy it. Here how author characterizes one of the key differences:” China is a ruthless meritocracy. Americans say, “No child left behind”, but the Chinese say, “Only the exceptional survive”. A high school student with a top score on the Gaokao will attend Peking University, Tsinghua University, or another elite institution, with a clear path to a top career in government or business. University admission depends only on examination scores. Top officials and billionaires can buy admission to Harvard for their children, but not to Peking University.”

Author also stresses role of family in the world where one cannot expect support from anywhere else. At the end author discusses geographical and economic reasons for Chinese society to become the way it is, its tragic history, and implication of China’s turning around towards the world.

Chapter Two You Will Be Assimilated: China’s Plan to Take Over the Global Economy

Here author discusses Chinese intention to take over global economy via superior technology, specifically using example of Huawei and its 5G technology. Bottom line – who controls networks controls data in this network.

Chapter Three World Domination, One Country at a Time

This chapter is about China’s attempt to export its economic model: CCP top down control with technological and business management at the bottom. Author reviews situation in different countries of developing world, discusses China’s investments and plans of IT domination and presents graph of Global connectivity:

Chapter Four America’s Losing Tech War with China: The Biggest Strategic Disaster in US History

This is another chapter on Huawei dominance and author reviews multiple points of recent technological history and concludes that:

At the inception of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the United States has three strikes against it.

  • The US is dependent on imported chips, whose security it can’t guarantee.
  • The US lacks a national champion in the critical sector of telecommunications hardware.
  • The US has a regulatory system that impedes rather than encourages 5G rollout.

It’s no wonder the United States lost the first round of the tech war. Without an aggressive and comprehensive change in US policy, there may not be a second round to contest.

Author also finds American response to this challenge inadequate.

Chapter Five: The Twilight of the Spooks: Quantum Cryptography and the End of American SIGINT Hegemony

Here author moves into military area- cryptography and finds situation pretty bleak:

  • China Gets to the Holy Grail of Cryptography First
  • It’s Not Only That China Might Steal US Data—It Will Blind US Signals Intelligence

Chapter Six: Thucydides Claptrap: How China Plans to Win Without Firing a Shot

Here author reviews Graham Allison’s thesis that China as raising power and USA as declining power are bound to clash and even possibly military. Author rejects this idea, but not before claiming that China already has local military superiority. Author also suggest that it will increase, especially via technological advantages and eventually USA would have to retreat due to massive imbalance caused by China concentrating on high tech capabilities and USA fighting expensive and meaningless low-tech wars, while wasting resources and falling behind.

Chapter Seven: China’s Sovereignty Tripwire in Hong Kong

This chapter about China and Hong Cong was written before takeover, so it is already outdated. Author seems to expect CCP to back down a bit after massive riots in order to keep Hong Kong as example of “one country two systems”, but in reality CCP just took it over. Author also provides a bit of history on British sell-out of Hong Kong to CCP.

Chapter Eight How America Can Remain the World’s Leading Superpower

The last chapter contains author’s recommendations how to overcome this difficult situation and eventually prevent world takeover by China. It pretty much comes down to somewhat nostalgic solution to implement industrial policy with heavy government investment into fundamental science and military technology that author believes would eventually spill over into general economic performance, as it did in 1980s. Here are functional areas that author want to be paid more attention:

• Defeating the current generation of Russian air defense systems

• Enhanced use of drones in place of manned aircraft

Hardening of satellites against prospective enemy attack

• Cyber warfare

New physical principles in computing (e.g., quantum computing)

• Quantum communications and encryption

Detection of ultra-quiet submarines (the present generation of Chinese diesel-electric boats are practically undetectable, and submarine drones could be used to deliver nuclear weapons to coastal cities)

Detection and defeat of the next generation of hypersonic missiles

Countermeasures against anti-ship missiles (rail guns, laser cannon)

MY TAKE ON IT:

I pretty much agree with author about Chinese intentions and the level of danger they represent. However, I am much more optimistic about future probably because I know how socialist economy and technological development in such economy works, which would make any amount of investment ineffective. This ineffectiveness is due to bureaucracy, fear, and lack of individual freedom, all of which are huge impediments for any effective action. Author clearly understand that Chinese economic and technological success so far is to big extent occurred because their access to Western markets, technology and people. Good example is Huawei which employs huge number of western scientists and engineers. If western governments cut off this access, Huawei would be by far more damaged than just cutting off access to chips. It is not because Chinese are any less smart, educated, or even experienced, but because they are much more stifled by communist bureaucrats, and limitations on their quality of life, which are inevitable consequence of the lack of freedom. In short, I think that as bad as western bureaucracies are, communist bureaucracies are always worse. However, I completely agree that it is time to act now because however temporary would be Chinese technological superiority, West could not have enough time to recover. One always should remember lessons of WWII when it took 2 years to match Japan power in Pacific and 4 years to match German power, even if these countries were much weaker economically than USA. We just may not have these 2 or 4 years this time.  

Ridley, Matt – How Innovation Works

MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is to review historical examples of innovation in various functional areas from energy to computing, to look at historical patterns of innovation from before humans become humans, to analyze societal conditions that promote or restrict innovation, and, finally, look at the future trying foresee where and how innovation will happen next.

DETAILS:

Introduction: The Infinite Improbability Drive

Here author discusses improbability of everything due to the second law of thermodynamics, then discusses nature of innovation and offer this definition:” Innovation, like evolution, is a process of constantly discovering ways of rearranging the world into forms that are unlikely to arise by chance – and that happen to be useful. The resulting entities are the opposite of entropy: they are more ordered, less random, than their ingredients were before. And innovation is potentially infinite because even if it runs out of new things to do, it can always find ways to do the same things more quickly or for less energy.” Author also links it to the individual freedom without which innovation is nearly impossible.

1. Energy

In this chapter author presents history of steam engine and overall conversion of heat into work going all the way back to 1700.  He moves the narrative through all various phases of industrial energy acquisition and use: steam, electricity, internal combustion engines, turbines, nuclear, and finally oil and gas acquired via fracking technology.

2. Public health

Here author also starts in early 1700s with initial attempts to use smallpox inoculation. He than moves to the story of Pasteur and discovery of vaccination. The next he jumps to 1908 and implementation of chlorine for water supplies. Other innovations with significant impact on health of population that author discusses in this chapter are: vaccination against whooping cough, penicillin, polio vaccine, anti-malaria nets with insecticide, and prevention of tabaco use.

3. Transport

The chapter on transportation starts with steam locomotive then moves to the use of screw for ships propelling, then to various engines: from internal combustion to diesel. Author also discusses here flight and innovations by individuals with passion such as brothers Wright versus government driven fake attempts by Samuel Langley. After that author extends discussion of engines and flight to jets and completes chapter with discussion of extreme safety of air travel.

4. Food

The chapter on food starts with the story of potato and its implementation in Europe. After that author moves to implementation of ammonia production that provided practically infinite amounts of fertilizer. The addition of new dwarf genes to existing plants in the second part of XX century and development of genetical engineering technology the humanity achieved practical independence of food production from normal range variations in weather leading to very recently unimaginable situation when problems of people in poverty changed from hunger to obesity.

5. Low-technology innovation

This chapter starts with discussion of numbers notation and how Indian numbers are much more effective than Roman and how much value this added to al numerical processing. Then author moves to another innovation that he considers low tech – sewage. He obviously not familiar how hi-tech sewage processing is, but at least he understands value of this process. Other low-tech, but highly valuable inventions author discusses are: corrugated iron, containers, wheeled baggage, restaurants, and the latest business methodology – shared services.

6. Communication and computing

Probably the most innovated area over last century is communication and information processing. Author starts this chapter with telegraph and then wireless transmission that practically moves increased speed of communications to speed of light, making them instantaneous. He then moves to discussion of computer, Moor’s law, and Internet, all of which so much increased human data processing ability that new and formerly unimaginable application become a reality.

7. Prehistoric innovation

Here author discusses slow moving, but critical innovation of developing agriculture, which actually was evolution of symbiotic development between humans and domesticated plants and animals. Author then discusses domestication of dogs, development of stone tools and use of fire. Author even classifies beginning of life as innovation.

8. Innovation’s essentials

In this chapter author concentrates on essentials: Innovation being gradual, different from invention, often serendipitous, and nearly always recombinant. Author also discusses conditions and methods under which innovations occur such as use of trial and error, team of people dividing effort according to skills and abilities. It is also occurring in conditions when governance is fragmented, opening options to try, while overall technological level of society achieved some level development that is causing multiple people coming up with similar ideas and products.

9. The economics of innovation

Here author touches on unusual economic characteristics of innovations such as increasing returns, sometime dramatically, advantage of bottom up development instead of economy of scale, practical development before there is scientific or theoretical understanding of corresponding processes. Author also makes somewhat interesting claims that it does not increase unemployment because opportunity for leisure is so widely distributed, that it increases independence.

10. Fakes, frauds, fads and failures

Here author discusses specifics of contemporary world when innovation became so popular that opportunities and rewards for cheating dramatically increased. Author provides examples: fake bomb detectors, phantom game consoles, and Theranos. Author also bring in failures of innovation through diminishing returns using example of mobile telephones. The final part of the chapter is about necessity for failure as part of the process of innovation.    

11. Resistance to innovation

Here author provides a few examples of resistance to innovation: coffee, which was considered a drink solicitous of subversion, GMO food, weed killer chemicals, and cell phones. Author also looks at forces that prevent innovation – government directives and law protecting monopolies, big companies suppressing competition, various requirements to obtain permission for this or that. Author also provides a brief note on successful evasion of limitations in digital domain of economy.

12. An innovation famine

In the last chapter author looks at contemporary world in which innovation in developed countries somewhat stalled, but it speeds up in China, expressing concern that West will be left behind. However, author believes that freedom is necessary condition for innovation, and China is far from being free, so he hopes that innovation will be expanding to India, which has huge and increasingly well-educated population combined with political freedom. The final word: the future is thrilling and innovation will grow.

MY TAKE ON IT:

It is an interesting review of innovation, but I think it a bit too heavy on technological history and not sufficiently concentrates on analysis of drivers of innovation in some societies, but not others. I also skeptical about author’s believe that China is the next big innovator. I think author underestimates to what extent current Chinese innovation in 5G, and what not, relies on Chinese companies’ R&D conducted in western world. Author understands value of freedom for innovation, but seems to believe that it is not completely applicable to China. Actually, I would say that Chinese people are great at innovation, but only when they are free. Corruption and suppression that are unalienable features of any socialist country, China included, would make innovation stop there as soon as decoupling with West become reality.

20201025 – Calculated Risk

MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book to demonstrate how often people misunderstand data and how easy it is to manipulate people who are innumerate or at least poorly understand statistics and their representation. Even more important, it is to provide people with tools that allow practical methods of problem’s representation that make it a lot easier achieve statistically valid understanding.

DETAILS:

Part l: Dare to Know
1: Uncertainty
This starts with the story of pain and suffering of women who has false positive for HIV, then discuss similar problems with Prozac, Mammograms, DNA ID for courts, and so on. Author’s main point is that reality is filled with uncertainty, while people seek certainty and, because it is often impossible, they settle for illusion of certainty. Author provides a good advice how avoid it:” When thinking and talking about risks, use frequencies rather than probabilities. Frequencies can facilitate risk communication”

2: The Illusion of Certainty
Here author start discussion of illusion of certainty by using picture:

Then author discusses source of illusion: human mind does not just transmit information about reality, it actually constract internal image of reality. Important thing to understand is that evolution selected individuals not on the basis of their ability correctly represent reality, but rather on the basis of their ability to act on such perception of reality that increases their chances of procreation.  Author then discusses a number of examples such as fingerprinting, believe religious and/or  trivial based purely on authority, marketing, and political propaganda. He also tells the story of physisians and their relations with patients, in which they usually have problems communicating real levels of their certanty or lack thereof about diagnosis and treatment. Finally author summarizes it in such way:” Learning to live with uncertainty is a daring task for individuals as well as societies. Much of human history has been shaped by people who were absolutely certain that their kin, race, or religion was the one most valued by God or destiny, which made them believe they were entitled to get rid of conflicting ideas along with the bodies polluted with them. Modern societies have come a long way toward greater tolerance of uncertainty and diversity. Nevertheless, we are still far from being the courageous and informed citizens whom Kant envisaged—a goal that can be expressed in just two Latin words: Sapere aude. Or in three English words: “Dare to know.””

3: Innumeracy
Here author looks at reasons for difficulties that people experience in dealing with uncertainty such as inability to manage probability, misunderstanding of statistical analysis, and other forms of innumeracy. Then author discusses connection between illusion of certainty and innumeracy, providing this list:

• Illusion of certainty. Franklin’s law is a mind tool to overcome the illusion of certainty, to help make the transition from certainty to uncertainty.

• Ignorance of risk. This is an elementary form of innumeracy in which a person does not know, not even roughly, how large a personally or professionally relevant risk is. This differs from the illusion of certainty in that the person is aware that there may be uncertainties, but does not know how great these are. The major tool for overcoming the ignorance of risk consists of various forms of information search (for example, scientific literature).

• Miscommunication of risk. In this form of innumeracy, a person knows the risks but does not know how to communicate these so that others understand them. The mind tool for overcoming miscommunication is representations that facilitate understanding.

• Clouded thinking. In this form of innumeracy, a person knows the risks but not how to draw conclusions or inferences from them. For instance, physicians often know the error rates of a clinical test and the base rate of a disease, but not how to infer from this information the chances that a patient with a positive test actually has the disease

After this author moves to defining Risk and quantifiable uncertainty and reviewing three major versions of probability interpretations: Degree of believe, Propensity, and Frequencies.

Then author discusses ignorance of risk and its miscommunication. As example, author applies this approach to communicating medical benefit for a drug:

Author ends this chapter with recommendation:” Overcoming innumeracy is like completing a three-step program to statistical literacy. The first step is to defeat the illusion of certainty. The second step is to learn about the actual risks of relevant events and actions. The third step is to communicate the risks in an understandable way and to draw inferences without falling prey to clouded thinking. The general point is this: Innumeracy does not simply reside in our minds but in the representations of risk that we choose.”4: Insight
Here author describes his work with physicians on decreasing their innumeracy and ignorance. Specifically, he used technic of modelling change from probabilities to frequencies. Here is graphic example:

Part II: Understanding Uncertainties in the Real World
In this part author reviews application of his approach in the following specific areas, providing some conclusion for each:

5: Breast Cancer Screening; 6: (Un) lnformed Consent; 7: AIDS Counseling;

8: Wife Battering; 9: Experts on Trial; 10: DNA Fingerprinting; 11: Violent People

Part III: From Innumeracy to Insight
12: How Innumeracy Can Be Exploited
Here author reviews a few examples when innumeracy of people in authorities effectively used to get money. Here is graph for 2 of them:

In short, effective presentation is a great tool to get whatever one wants from other people.

13: Fun Problems
This chapter presents a few funny applications and here is the one clearly demonstrating that majority does indeed could be much better than average:

14: Teaching Clear Thinking

Here author provides tips on how to improve understanding of reality:

Step 1 – Remember that everything is at least somewhat uncertain.

Step 2 – Analyze Risks

Step 3 – Analyze Communication and Representation

At the end author provides an interesting review of cultural differences in learning, but consistency of eventual ability to retain knowledge depending on training approach:

MY TAKE ON IT:

This is a very useful book that facilitates sound approach to understanding multitude of data provided by media and businesses in such form as to manipulate individual perception to achieve intendent political or business outcome. Analytical tools provided in this book make it a lot easier to see through manipulated data and therefore avoid being manipulated either into support of some party that is acting against one’s interest or buying something that one does not needs or really wants.

20201018 – The Abandonment of the West

MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is to trace cultural degradation of Western civilization through its historical stages starting with period of Columbian republic from late XIX century until end of WWI when West and colonialism was pretty much glorified, then trough disappointment of the great war self-inflicted pain and suffering that caused raise of fascism, communism, and struggles of WWII, period of Cold War when Western values were undermined, but still hold, at least longer than socialist values of Soviet Union, and finally post-Cold War disintegration of Western Culture by Western elite that developed ideas of reparations for previous sins and complete rejection of Western values including equality and individual freedom.

DETAILS:

Introduction
Author begins here with recollection of 9/11 and Bush’s mentioning of Crusades, which was immediately withdrawn as incorrect historical analogy.  Then he discusses overall propensity of Americans to use the notion of Crusade to just about everything from Civil War to WWII and others, noting how this changed over time and formulate the objective of this book as to answer that change and provide:” history of the West within American foreign policy, a West that is not exactly a cultural affinity or a strategic posture but some complicated, fluid combination of these two things.”  Author also defines the West as “as a transatlantic idea of liberty, traces this Enlightenment idea through two forms and through a drama in four acts.”  Author briefly describes these acts with 3 of them having dedicated chapter and 4th and the last 3 chapters of the Part II discussing it.

Part l: The Rise of the West
CHAPTER 1: The Columbian Republic, 1893-1919
The first act covers Columbus discovery of America, creation of USA and its development from the small republic to huge and powerful, both economically and militarily, country that could have significant impact on the world as whole, as it did in WWI. Author extensively discusses administration of Teddy Roosevelt and Wilson when this power came to forefront and become obvious for the world.

CHAPTER 2: The Case for the Wqest, 1919-1945
Author starts this chapter with discussion of Oswald Spengler and his ideas about “Decline of the West”. Author then moves to two products of Western thought: fascism and communism and how the former was destroyed by military efforts during WWII with the help of the latter.

CHAPTER 3: The Rise of the west, 1945-1963
This chapter narrates how West was consolidated by USA into effective economic and military alliance while recovering after WWII destruction and struggling in Cold War with Soviet Union to protect political and economic freedom that was slowly established in all included countries.

Part II: The Abandonment of the West
CHAPTER 4: Questions, 1963-1979
This starts with discussion of Malcolm X, black supremacy movement and support they found among intelligentsia and universities. 1950s and 60s. This followed by Vietnam war, which was successfully used by communist propaganda to undermine American society. Author then reviews various famous personalities in America that helped Soviet Union to win propagandist war against the West using anti-war and anti-black racism issue, which was later extended to support for Palestinians, South American communists, Iranian mullahs and everything else under the sun as long as it would be useful.    

CHAPTER 5: The Suicide of the West? 1963-1992
This chapter looks at period before 1990s when communist block fall apart and Soviet Union disappeared. Author briefly reviews anti-communist movements in USA in 1950s, especially role of Chambers, their complex relationship with Eisenhauer, and its transformation into conservative movement that incorporated many former leftists in 1980s. Author looks at works of Buckley and especially Burnham with his “Suicide of the West”. Author ends this chapter with Fukuyama’s “The End of History” and vain hope that liberal democracy won.

CHAPTER 6: The Post-Columbian Republic, 1992-2016
The last chapter covers Clinton, Bush, and Obama administration that lasted 32 years during which anti-West movement acquired commanding position in western culture and started increasingly pushing for annihilation of Western values of individual freedom, liberal order, and democracy. Author ends this chapter with brief discussion of Trump as America’s first president who unexpectedly initiated serious counterattack in defense of the West, leading to the huge disruption of existing trends.

Conclusion

In conclusion author reviews transatlantic relationship with Europe, which came farther than USA in dismantling western culture and values, causing significant tensions between these two. Author ends with symbolic story of creation of new museum on Washington’s National mall: NMAAHC, which presents history of blacks in America as movement from slavery to freedom. In author’s view its symbolic significance is not that much denial of West as promotion of the new more inclusive West.

MY TAKE ON IT:

I only partially agree with the thesis of Western Culture disintegration, because I see it as intermediate point in formation of general whole human culture, which will be eventually build on the foundation of Western civilization just because it provides for much better quality of life than any other known culture. A number of problems, mainly economic problems connected with disappearance of Western middle jobs pushed out of existence initially by cheap foreign labor and then by automatization leaves lots of semi-educated young people without anchor in their life forcing them to seek substitution for traditional values and successful behavior. I expect these problem to be resolved within a few dozen of years, which will provide for stable and both materially and psychologically satisfactory environment, which will result in turn in formation of some global combination of best of all known civilizations with the Western Culture taking by far superior share of this combination because it provides for the best quality of live for individuals.

20201011 – The Hardhat Riot

MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is to retell the story of huge backlash of working-class Americans against leftist protest movement that was shaking up America in the late 1960s and early 1970s. This backlash was expressed by massive riot of blue color workers in New York and political realignment of GOP with “silent majority”.

DETAILS:

Introduction
Here author briefly refer to events of May of 1970 when blue color workers physically clashed with antiwar demonstrators and links these events to 2016 when blue color billionaire Trump was elected on GOP ticket with mass support of blue color workers. He also states that workers won the clash but lost long struggle because of technological and demographic developments.

PART ONE Backdro

1: “Out for Blood”

Here author puts these events on time line and refers to contemporary events such as Kent University shootings.

2: The Revolutionaries of Grand Central and Columbia

This is about Yippies, who were radicalized hippies and their demonstrations and other actions against Vietnam and society’s order overall. Author describes occupation of Columbia university, clashes with police, and arrests.

3: Chicago ’68

The next stop is Chicago democratic convention of 1968 with details of events and political environment of the time.

4: Two Moratorium Days

This chapter moves to October 1969 when big demonstration in DC declared Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam. Author describes this demonstration in details, including participation of New York GOP Mayor John Lindsay who supported antiwar movement.  

5: “Law and Order” and the Decline of Cities

This chapter describes response from society overall, which did not supported movements, giving opening to Nixon and his promotion of Silent Majority. It also analyses demographic and consequent political changes such as black migration from south to big cities and correspondent migration of white middle class from cities to suburbs. Here are some numbers:” Between 1940 and 1970, amid flourishing wartime industry, the black population skyrocketed—Chicago, from 8 to 33 percent; New York City, 6 to 21 percent; Los Angeles, 4 to 18 percent. Detroit’s black population rocketed from 9 to 44 percent.”  Then in late 1960s started deindustrialization of America, living city dwellers without employment, creating situation when people resorted to crime on mass scales and riots. It all coincide with expansion of welfare state, destruction of black family, and initiation of leftist ideological movement to blame all these on racism. Author describes some initial occurrences such as the riot in New York, which mayor Lindsay refused to call a riot.

6: The Political Fallout of “Law and Order”

This chapter is about increase in crime in the cities. Author nicely demonstrates attitude of leftists by this quote: “With half of women in America uptight about law and order what was the liberal response? ‘Law and order,’ they said, ‘is a code word for racism.’ In other words, ‘Lady, you’re not really afraid of being mugged; you’re a bigot,” read The Real Majority (1970). “Instead of saying, ‘We are for civil rights and against crime,’ many seemed to feel that anyone against crime must also be against civil rights.”” He also provides some statistics on victims demonstrating that they are mostly blacks. Then author specifically discuss situation in New York.

7: Blue-Collar Whites Are “Rediscovered” (in Middle American Gotham)

Author begins this chapter with discussion of environment – poor air conditions in New York then moves to relationship between parts of GOP: liberal as presented by Lindsay and more conservative by Nixon. Author then stresses cultural changes that were quite negative for lower middle class:” The counterculture had inverted common values. Serving your country was now bad. The flag was denigrated. “Suckers” worked for “the Man.” Marriage was compared to “colonization.” Housewives were compared to servants. Being a workingman, once a badge of honor, was the image of the piggish and plodding yeomanry, a genus of man presumed too dumb to even recognize its ennui. And the condemnation often came from “rich kids” able to “turn on, tune in, drop out”—those who could afford to be a hippie.” All these generated a torrent of articles about blue color whites and also some cultural response.

8: Those Who Did the Fighting and Dying

In this chapter author discusses growing class division in attitudes to patriotism and service between upper and middle classes. If during WWII Hollywood celebrities and rich served in military and were proud of it, by the middle of Vietnam war it become acceptable not only avoid service, but even wave enemy flag or visit enemy military position to demonstrate support for their struggle against “American imperialism”.

9: The New Left and the “Great Test for Liberals”

In this chapter author discusses emergence of the New left. It was rejecting not only Vietnam, but also key elements of American society. Once again author uses Lindsay as example, by reviewing in details Lindsay run for reelection that demonstrated its clash between old liberals on one hand and attempts unite on the other.

10: Building the Twin Towers, Ethnic New York, and Race

Here author moves a bit away from politics to discuss massive construction projects like twin towers that brought into the city multitude of blue color construction workers. Author also discusses development of different ethnic groups.

11: Cambodia and Kent State;

By 1970 antiwar movement developed to such extent that it become source of constant conflict between state and big part of population, which culminated in Kent State shooting. Author discusses Nixon and cabinet reaction to these events.

12: Kent State Shakes New York

Here author presents narrative of impact on people in New York. He then describes beginning of demonstration on May 7, 1970.

PART TWO “Bloody Friday”
13. USA All the way! 14. Melee; 15. “About Time the Silent Majority Made Some Noise”; 16. Violence Becomes “Contagious”; 17.”We’ve Lost Control!”; 18. The Riot Spreads; 19.”I’m Not Having City Hall Taken Over on My Watch”; 20. Full Circle to Federal Hall.
The chapters of this part describe in great details the fight, who hit whom, when, and where. The general presentation is that hardhats had overwhelming advantage in numbers and passion, so they beat a lot of Yippies up. Interestingly enough when it came to the fight many of Yippies expected and demanded protection from police, which they attacked and denigrated for months. Unsurprisingly police provided such protection only in extreme cases and without any enthusiasm whatsoever.

PART THREE Afterward and Aftermath

21. The Days After: Knicks Utopia, a Fraught City, and Nixon at the Brink

Author begins this chapter with reference to another America, the one that was watching NBA games, but then returns to aftermath of rioting, describing Nixon’s reaction and his walk to Lincoln memorial and talk with students.

22.The Riot Reverberates; 23. “Workers’ Woodstock”
These two chapters describe the following days when huge numbers of workers went to the streets protest against leftist protesters and local authorities like Lindsay who supported leftists.  

24. “Our People Now”: Nixon Sees a Future in an Un-Silent Majority
This brief chapter is about Nixon’s and his team reaction to these events and their actions that were designed to connect with unions and retain mass support.

25. Honor America Day
Here author moves a few months later to 4th of July when some 400,000 people came to Washington Mall for Honor America day. There were also protesters against America coming from all over the country trying to spoil celebration.

26.”Born with a Potmetal Spoon”: Nixon Launches the GOP’s Blue-Collar Strategy
Here author describes political implication and reorientation of Nixon administration away from traditional GOP relaying on educated classes to seeking mass support from blue color workers who were increasingly going under pressure from early results of open competition from recovered economies of Europe and Asia that with their cheap labor start undermining prosperity of American workers.

27.How America(s) Saw It
Here author discusses reaction and what is interesting is the leftist’s attempt to present events as racial controversy even if it was white construction workers beating up white students. Here is author’s general description of attitudes:” In the final measure, the antiwar movement was less popular than the Vietnam War. After 1968, most Americans deemed Vietnam a mistake. By 1971, six in ten lamented the war. That same year, roughly two-thirds of the public condemned antiwar protests. Meanwhile, in this era, only about five of every hundred Americans demonstrated against the Vietnam War. It was the vehemence and violence, the concentration of that protest at colleges—especially elite schools, especially as the mass media began its unending fixation on youth—that rocked American life. Americans were against both the war and the antiwar movement. In this sense, most hardhats were indicative of the wider public—not in their violence, but in their cause. Indeed, for those actually listening to Peter Brennan, he consistently stated he wanted the war ended. Ultimately, most doves didn’t even like the antiwar activists. Back in September 1968, after the Chicago convention, two-thirds of those who wanted to deescalate the Vietnam War backed Mayor Daley’s use of police “to put down the demonstrators.” Seven in ten whites, and the plurality of blacks, saw “radical troublemakers” as the cause of student unrest, rather than “deeply felt” beliefs in the “injustices in society.” Even among whites who thought the Vietnam War was a “mistake,” two-thirds thought “most student unrest” was caused by “radical troublemakers” rather than a belief in societal “injustices.”

28.The End of the Beginning

The final chapter describes what happened next: country’s turn away from liberalism and leftist movement and Nixon’s landslide victory in 1972. Author ends, however, making point that position of working class was continued deteriorating with globalization and that eventually we arrived to current point – Trump election in 2016 and raise of resistance by bureaucracy and government dependent part of society.

MY TAKE ON IT:

It is a nice example for just in time historical analysis that was more up to date than author could possibly imagine. The events of 2020 when stress on population produced by pandemic and resulted economic crises prompted explosion of somewhat strange race riots when leftist mainly white rioters in the name of “racial justice” destroyed many small, mainly black and Asian immigrant owned businesses, attacked and denigrated blue color police officers of all races, and attacked all kinds of American symbols: burning flags, pulling down monuments, and demanding destruction of American society. Somewhat similarly to GOP realigning with “silent majority” after hardhat riots, Democratic party massively moved left openly declaring intention to destroy capitalism and establish socialism, albeit in “democratic” form. As of the moment of this writing some 25 days before election of 2020 there is general feeling that country is moving to civil war. I think that the feeling is correct and civil war is just around the corner, but I believe it will be either very brief, with small number of casualties if America wins elections, democrats lose election at all levels, and socialism is defeated or it could be more protracting fight with much more casualties if America defeated, coalition of democrats, socialists, communists, and anti-white racists takes power and try to remove Bill of Rights in its entirety and turn country into vassal state to Chinese communist party. In either case I expect America of 1776 to win and initiate its own revolution to overthrow Administrative state established beginning in 1933.

20201004 – The Gunpower Age

MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is that somewhat arrogant attitude that people of West have to Chinese culture and abilities based on the experiences of 1850-1945 (the century of humiliation) is misplaced. This period was an aberration and one of the main objectives of this book is to demonstrate that it is the case, especially in military area. Author uses review of historical development of gunpowder technology and its use in China to demonstrate that most of the early period China was ahead, then maintained parity in XVII and XVIII centuries, and became week only in the middle of XIX century. Now it has restored as practically equal to USA industrial power, quickly catching up as technological power, and rapidly growing as military power.

DETAILS:

INTRODUCTION: The Military Pattern of the Chinese Past
Here is how author introduces the book:” This book examines the Great Divergence between China and the West by concentrating on warfare. It suggests that there is a military pattern to the Chinese past that can help us make sense of China’s periods of strength, decline, and resurgence. But it doesn’t focus on China alone. Its aim is to bring Asian and European military history into conversation, asking not just how China diverged from the West but also how the West diverged from East Asia.”  Author then presents the main thesis of the book that:” China’s modern weakness—apparent not just in its loss to Japan in 1895 but in the debilitating and nearly constant warfare that afflicted it from 1850 to 1949—may best be viewed not as a symptom of a failure to modernize but rather as the most recent variation on an ancient theme: the tumult of dynastic transition, which is invariably accompanied by frequent and intense warfare, rebels from within, invaders from without. Dynastic transitions are also associated with military, technological, and political innovation.”

PART I: CHINESE BEGINNINGS
CHAPTER 1: The Crucible: The Song Warring States Period
Author starts at the beginning of gun power age, going all the way to 1000 CE when use of gun power first recorded. At the time it was mainly in the form of incendiary devices attached to a bird. Author then traces development during Song Dynasty 960-1279, the period which included multiple wars that author uses to demonstrate that idea of Chinese not developed guns due to constant peace is just not true.

CHAPTER 2: Early Gunpowder Warfare
In this chapter author moves to discuss technology of this period and use of gunpowder in arrows, pots – something like crude bombs. He presents evidence that by 1023 these weapons were produced on industrial scale. Historically that resulted in massive use of such weapons in the war between Song and Jin circa 1115.

CHAPTER 3: The Mongol Wars and the Evolution of the Gun
Then came Mongols and use of gun powder in different weapons – fire lance that was basically a tube emitting fire. The fight against Mongols was conducted by Song and Jin separately with both using iron bombs. Author then discusses evidence that first guns made of iron appeared after Song were defeated around 1280.

CHAPTER 4: Great Martiality: The Gunpowder Emperor
This chapter is about Zhu Yuanzhang, founder of Ming Dynasty who stressed use of guns so much that by 1380 10% of troops were supplied with guns. With number of troops around 1.5 million it required significant industrial power. Author then discusses guns application in Battle of Poyang Lake in 1363. He notes that guns used were small: between 8 and 30 kilos and were mainly supplemental to traditional weapons. Author also discusses the siege of Suzhou in 1366 once again stressing that Chinese guns were small and mainly used as anti-personal weapons. One of explanations for this that author provides is Chinese tradition of building very wide walls with lots of filling between external and internal sides making them practically impenetrable by gunfire.

PART II: EUROPE GETS THE GUN
CHAPTER 5: The Medieval Gun
In this chapter author looks at European development of firearms. Interestingly enough he points out that there is no evidence of indigenous development in Europe: there are no fire arrows or fire lances. The firearms arrived from China in form of guns shooting arrows sometime around 1350 at technological level equal to China’s at the time.

CHAPTER 6: Big Guns: Why Western Europe and Not China Developed Gunpowder Artillery
Here author traces European development and finds that by 1377 big guns capable to shot 200 kilos projectiles were used in battles, mainly as siege weapons. Author’s explanation is related to different design of Chinese and European walls, with European narrow design made wall vulnerable to breach by artillery, but Chinese very wide design was not.  

CHAPTER 7: The Development of the Classic Gun in Europe
Here author moves from discussion of comparative artillery use and effectiveness to technical design of gun, pointing pout that European guns by end of 1400s become long with relatively small bore with decreasing thickness at the end, making them lighter, easier to load and aim.  It was also linked to development of granulated gunpower in Europe that allowed slower burning, preventing guns cracking. From this point on the gap start developing between European firearms and Chinese. Author discusses various explanation of this development, such as difference in the nature of war: in Europe it was static siege warfare in which artillery is most important, in China it was more dynamic action against various nomads; rigidity of Chinese culture, relatively low intensity of Chinese wars after Yongle Emperor’s death in 1424 and so on.

CHAPTER 8: The Gunpowder Age in Europe
This is about military revolution in Europe between 1500 and 1600 when mobile field guns were developed and extensively used in battles and sieges. However, author points out that these developments were by far not sufficient to provide material advantage for Europeans over Chinese. Author reviews unsuccessful campaign of Portuguese against China in 1536, which demonstrates this point.

CHAPTER 9: Cannibals with Cannons: The Sino-Portuguese Clashes of 1521—1522
In this chapter author reviews preceding Sino-Portuguese clashes of 1521-1522, which also were unsuccessful for Europeans.    

PART III: AN AGE OF PARITY
CHAPTER 10: The Frankish Cannon
Here author looks at Chinese adaptation of Frankish cannons in the late 1400s as early example of Europe technological advance. However, author notes that Chinese were not just producing duplicate, they improved on technology so there were no lasting advantage derived.

CHAPTER 11: Drill, Discipline, and the Rise of the West
This chapter moves to training, discussing effective tactic of Volley fire that allowed troop maintain uninterrupted fire by moving soldiers through sequential steps of reloading and firing synchronized among lines. This tactic required extensive training if one to achieve its effective use in the battle. Author then discusses opinion that complexity of soldiers synchronized movement, firing, and reloading were attained via complex training through extensive drilling. However, author also notes that Chinese were used to drilling a lot more than Europeans and provides comparative review of East vs. West drills and classical heritage.

CHAPTER 12: The Musket in East Asia
This is about use of muskets and even valley fire in Japan, Korea, and China in mid 1500s. Here author looks not that much at technology and tactic as at history of Qi Jiguang- national hero of China due to his victories over pirates and others of the kind. He promoted muskets and flexible configuration of troops that required extensive drilling, so author looks at details at Qi’s actions.

CHAPTER 13: The Seventeenth Century: An Age of Parity?
In this chapter author reviews history of Dutch and Russians fights with Chinese in 1600s which they mainly lost. From these events author infers that it was period of military parity. Author presents Geoffrey Parker’s evaluation of source of European advantage as such:” According to the military revolution model, Europeans had a fourfold advantage: (1) superior guns; (2) the use of advanced infantry drilling techniques, which “permitted the defeat of far larger enemy forces”; (3) ships that dominated sea lanes by means of deadly broadsides; and (4) fortresses that allowed small garrisons to control large areas.”. Author notes, however, that all these matured only later in XVIII century.

CHAPTER 14: A European Naval Advantage

Here author discusses how Chinese managed protect their shores by adapting European design for canons, but their naval capability was limited, which author demonstrates by retelling Dutch-Chinese naval battle around Taiwan when 3 Dutch ships won battle against 60 Chinese ships in 1661.

CHAPTER 15: The Renaissance Fortress: An Agent of European Expansion?
In this chapter author discusses European invention of Artillery fortress with angled bastions. This provided ability to fight with small garrison against numerically superior enemy. Author retells siege of Fort Zeelandia 1661-1662 where small Dutch garrison was successful for a long time until a German specialist switched sides and provided know how to Chinese that allowed them to win.  Similar story was with siege of Russian fort Albazin in 1685-1689.

PART IV: THE GREAT MILITARY DIVERGENCE
CHAPTER 16: The Opium War and the Great Divergence
In this final part author moves all the way to XIX century’s Opium wars that demonstrated increasing dominance of European military. Author analyses reasons for this and concludes that these were: The Great East Asian Peace, which led to Chinese swords to rust, but even more important European development of Experimental science and its massive military application.

CHAPTER 17: A Modernizing Moment: Opium War Reforms
Here author discusses Chinese attempts to catch up by adapting technology and conducting massive modernization, but it generally failed not only due to bureaucracy, which excelled in intrigues that author nicely describes, but also due to absence of industrial base.

CHAPTER 18: China’s Modernization and the End of the Gunpowder Age
This is continuation of the story of attempts to modernize which sometimes were partially successful, especially when included importing talent from the west all the way as to making some Europeans top level commanders of Chinese forces. However other countries did it more effective and author reviews Sino-Japanese war of 1894-1895 which China lost.

Conclusions: A New Warring States Period?

In conclusion author discusses our time when China became leading industrial power due to massive transfer of technology supported by massive investment in exchange for huge profit for Western businesses from cheap labor suppressed by totalitarian state. Until recently Chinese communist party was happy to maintain these processes, but at this point it decided that they strong enough to challenge USA and West overall and establish their control over the world. Author expresses hope that some kind of mutually accepted accommodation will be found, but he is clearly afraid that it would not be a case.

MY TAKE ON IT:

This book nicely demonstrate that Chinese traditions are as militant as everybody else and that idea of China’s peaceful development somehow misses previous millennium of warfare both internal and external experienced by this country. Moreover, it demonstrates that Chinese bureaucracy and Confucian culture is not that big problem as people used to think and neither of these features prevent Chinese communist leadership to aggressively pursue dominance over the world. I do not think they will succeed, but I have no doubt that they are already trying. I think that the proper response would be complete decoupling in all areas of high technology, especially anything related to military and finance. China should be deprived of any western investment and technology transfer until Communist party accept necessity not just comply with rules, but also allow western freedoms to take roots in Chinese society.  The most powerful response to Chinese attempt to dominate world would be strong attack on Communist party, demand of freedom of speech, assembly, and free election for Chinese people. This should include freedom of Internet connection for Chinese people or, if CPP defines it, complete disconnection of China from access to Western Internet, especially for industrial use. It should also include disconnect of Chinese access to higher levels of scientific and technological education if there is even slight possibility of military use. In short, West could not win if game is continue to be play in such way that Chinese continue to have access to wester technology and finance.

20200927 – Apocalypse Never

MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is to systematically go through all major environmental issues and controversies and demonstrate that in most cases alarmism is unwarranted, activism too often connected to corruption, and there is much better way to resolve problems than shut down industries, dramatically decrease quality of life for majority of people in developed countries, and prevent improvement for people in developing countries.

DETAILS:

1: It’s Not the End of the World
This starts with description of IPCC reports predicting moderate increase in temperature of 1.5 degrees and rise of sea level by a couple feet in 2050 which, as usual, caused panic in mass media. Author does not challenge IPCC reports, he just makes point that it is not the end of the world as AOC and other political crooks claim. After that author recounts factors that make global warming and other potential changes quite manageable: human resilience and contemporary technological achievement that allow managing raise of sea level and actually decrease number of victims of all kinds of natural disasters. After that author discusses reality of poor world of Congo and similar places where Apocalypse is occurring right now and it happens mainly due to political and cultural reasons. Author presents a narrative of his interaction with extreme environmentalists and concludes that there is what he calls “Exaggeration Rebellion” when any indication of climate change is turned into future catastrophe, which had to be prevented by some usually unreasonable measures with huge negative economic impact. The final word in this chapter is that in reality there is many reasons to believe that Apocalypse will never come and track record of all doomsayers and their ideologically driven extreme environmental predictions is nearly perfect in its failures. The following chapters present author’s findings in various specific areas where environmentalists were fighting.

2: Earth’s Lungs Aren’t Burning
This chapter is about Amazon rain forest and environmental claims that they produced most oxygen and are in danger of elimination because of industrial and agricultural development. Author provides data that it is completely incorrect – Amazon is pretty much self-contain system which does not produced more oxygen than it consumes. Net result of rich countries intervention – suppressed development for poor in Brazil.

3: Enough with the Plastic Straws
Here author looks at fight against plastic straws and everything else plastic. The results of analysis: they by far less dangerous than it is claimed. It is also about waste management and need to direct resources not to forbid use of plastic, but rather create infrastructure to manage all waste, especially human waste, which is a lot more dangerous and polluting.

4: The Sixth Extinction Is Canceled
In this chapter author first looks at claims that we are in the middle of great extinction of species and bluntly rejects this idea. He claims that:” Conservationists, it turns out, are skilled at maintaining small populations of animals, from yellow-eyed penguins of New Zealand to mountain gorillas of central Africa. The real challenge is expanding the size of their populations. It’s not the case that humankind has failed to conserve habitat. By 2019, an area of Earth larger than the whole of Africa was protected, an area that is equivalent to 15 percent of Earth’s land surface. The number of designated protected areas in the world has grown from 9,214 in 1962 to 102,102 in 2003 to 244,869 in 2020.”

After that author moves to energy, stating that lots of people in poor countries get their energy by burning wood, which is highly inefficient and should be substituted by other forms like hydroelectricity and fossils, but environmentalists prevent this. Another issue is that rich countries push to protect animals, often at the expense of people as in case of protecting gorillas even if they destroy crops of poor farmers. Author calls such approach “Colonial Conservatism”.

5: Sweatshops Save the Planet
This chapter is about sweatshops in developing countries. As usual rich and stupid people in developed world so much worried about working conditions for poor people in developing world that they prevent these poor people from improving their lives by moving from subsistence agriculture where they work hard, but starve to industries where they work as hard, but earn a lot more and do not starve.

6: Greed Saved the Whales, Not Greenpeace
This chapter about environmentalists and their fight to save whales demonstrate another typical process: whale hunting greatly decreased because much better substitutes found for its products: author specifically discusses palm oil. Author also discusses other methods and substitutes that both provide better goods and services instead of traditional and environmentally unsound methods and products and then provide examples of environmentalists using disinformation to promote their objectives. One such example are documentaries against fracking. Author points out that fracking is much more environmentally friendly because it opened opportunity for natural gas production substituting coal.

7: Have Your Steak and Eat It Too
Here author discusses similar story about meat production: reality is human bodies need proteins, meat provides them, and enviros are trying prevent it by using all kinds of ethical and environmental reasons that does not make lots of sense.

8: Saving Nature Is Bomb
This chapter is about nuclear energy, which is actually the safest, cleanest, and most effective method of energy production. Author retells the story how it was restrained and nearly annihilated by anti-nuclear movement with use of massive government regulations.

9: Destroying the Environment to Save It
Next step in this show of horrors is “renewable” energy which in reality is unreliable, inefficient, and, funniest of all, the dirtiest because production, maintenance, and decommission of equipment for this “renewables” is far from clean. Adding such small thing that it is costlier than anything else, which should also be taken into account.  

10: All About the Green
This is very a interesting chapter demonstrating how “green” activism is quite profitable business. Author reviews how exactly it is done with multiple examples.

11: The Denial of Power
This chapter is about another form of satisfaction that rich people obtain via environmental activism, this time via climate alarmism. Author not only presents usual examples of hypocrisy, but more interestingly discusses the specific example of how a young man in 1976 put up fight against building infrastructure project in poor village. He lost, but when he came back many years later, he found that this project changed lives in the village a lot and to the better. After that author looks at history of ideas starting with William Godwin and Malthus ideas of late XVIII century when one side believes in human ability to solve problems and control such things as population growth, while another believing that whatever are current problems, they could only get worse and could not be resolved ever except by some violent measures directed by elite against regular people. Author also discusses here ideas of leapfrog when poor nations just jump to superior technology without going through sequential process of development. The main example would be providing telephone to everybody in poor country without building wired connections infrastructure. Unfortunately, this could not apply to great many other things, especially energy, so attempt to do it often leads to waste of resources and increased misery of the poor.

12: False Gods for Lost Souls
This chapter starts with polar bears that supposedly were under the threat, but in reality, are doing just fine. After that author proceeds to discuss persecution of scientists who do not agree with alarmists and call for reasonable approach. Finally, author analyzes quasi-religious approach to environment and fanaticism it causes.

Epilogue

Here author discusses his current activities in promotion of reasonable approach to energy, climate, and other environmental issues that is founded on science and puts humanity first. Author calls such approach Environmental Humanism.

MY TAKE ON IT:

This is a nice catalog of environmental battles of the last 50+ years when various issues were used to scare public and mobilize people to fight against various industries in order to undermine capitalist societies. Meanwhile promoters of these issues are getting rich and increasingly hope to be able eventually take political power. I think it is actually a big sign of success for democratic capitalist societies that old issues such as exploitation of working class, poor housing, poor nutrition, long working hours, dangerous working conditions, and other big items of early XX century pretty much done with and do not elicit significant excitement among population. Correspondingly the general failure of socialist revolution due to lack of demand for it led to need for another set of issues that their promoters believe to be capable igniting revolution. This book nicely demonstrate that these issues are often just make-believe provocations, and I really doubt that they would provide enough ideological power to achieve what previous set of issues failed to achieve – socialist revolution.

20200920 – Radical Uncertainly

MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is to provide explanation of difference between uncertainty, radical uncertainty, probabilities, and ambiguities. It is also about communication when information transferred via narrative or statistical representations could mislead people into believing false narrative. Book also provides some tools on how to deal with different uncertainties.

DETAILS:

Part I: Introduction: The Nature of Uncertainty
1. The Unknowable Future
Authors begins by defining notion of “unknown unknowns” and provides examples such as Columbus discovery of America, Financial crisis, and so on, and then critic the idea that risk could always be measured, referring to statements of financial leaders about extremely low probability of events of 2008. Authors make this important point: “Economists (used to) distinguish risk, by which they meant unknowns which could be described with probabilities, from uncertainty, which could not. They had already adopted mathematical techniques which gave the term ‘risk’ a different meaning from that of everyday usage. In this book we will describe the considerable confusion and economic damage which has arisen as a result of the failure to recognize that the terms ‘risk’, ‘uncertainty’ and ‘rationality’ have acquired technical meanings in economics which do not correspond to the everyday use of these words. And over the last century economists have attempted to elide that historic distinction between risk and uncertainty, and to apply probabilities to every instance of our imperfect knowledge of the future.”

“We have chosen to replace the distinction between risk and uncertainty deployed by Knight and Keynes with a distinction between resolvable and radical uncertainty. Resolvable uncertainty is uncertainty which can be removed by looking something up (I am uncertain which city is the capital of Pennsylvania) or which can be represented by a known probability distribution of outcomes (the spin of a roulette wheel). With radical uncertainty, however, there is no similar means of resolving the uncertainty – we simply do not know. Radical uncertainty has many dimensions: obscurity; ignorance; vagueness; ambiguity; ill-defined problems; and a lack of information that in some cases but not all we might hope to rectify at a future date.”

Authors also define 3 main propositions of this book:

  • the world of economics, business and finance is ‘non-stationary’ – it is not governed by unchanging scientific laws. Most important challenges in these worlds are unique events, so intelligent responses are inevitably judgements which reflect an interpretation of a particular situation.
  • individuals cannot and do not optimize; nor are they irrational, victims of ‘biases’ which describe the ways they deviate from ‘rational’ behavior. The meaning of rational behavior depends critically on the context of the situation and there are generally many different ways of being rational. We distinguish axiomatic rationality, as used by economists, from evolutionary rationality, as practiced by people. Many so-called ‘biases’ are responses to the complex world of radical uncertainty.
  • humans are social animals and communication plays an important role in decision-making. We frame our thinking in terms of narratives. And able leaders – whether in business, in politics, or in everyday life – make decisions, both personal and collective, by talking with others and being open to challenge from them.

2. Puzzles and Mysteries
Here authors compare NASA probe processes, which are based on calculations and well-known equations with processing in political or economic world where there is no stable equation that would provide framework for effective decision making. They also provide some technical language:” Engineers also distinguish between puzzles and mysteries, and give them technical names – ‘aleatory’ and ‘epistemic’ uncertainty, respectively. Meteorological records will describe the regular tides and winds to which a bridge is likely to be exposed (aleatory uncertainty), but since every bridge and every bridge location is different the effect of these conditions on the structure is never completely known (epistemic uncertainty). The tides and winds are the subject of known frequency distributions (tables showing how frequent are particular values of tide and wind speed); uncertainty remains because every complex structure is necessarily idiosyncratic. This distinction between the uncertainty which can be described probabilistically and the uncertainty which surrounds every unique project or event is important in all applications of practical knowledge and central to the argument of this book.”

Authors discuss several examples of uncertainties and them formulate another important point:” The claim of the modern science of decision theory is that most mysteries can be reduced to puzzles by the application of probabilistic reasoning. Such reasoning can provide solutions to puzzles, but not to mysteries. How to think about and cope with mysteries is the essence of managing life in the real world and is what this book is all about.”

3 Radical Uncertainty is Everywhere
In this chapter authors move to define scope of probabilistic reasoning and impossibility of its application to “unknown unknown” or “black swans.” Here is where authors defy popular ideas of behavior and mathematical economics clearly stating that:” Real households, real businesses and real governments do not optimize; they cope. They make decisions incrementally. They do not attain the highest point on the landscape, they seek only a higher place than the one they occupy now. They try to find outcomes that are better and avoid outcomes that are worse.”

Part II: The Lure of Probabilities
4 Thinking with Probabilities
Here authors discuss probabilistic approach to prediction. They start with mortality table and life insurance and then proceed to probability as frequency pointing out that one needs history of repetitive occurrences to calculate probability of event. They also discuss Bayes work and “The Bayesian dial is a visual representation of what is known as Bayesian reasoning. We deal with uncertainties by attaching ‘prior probabilities’ to uncertain events.”

The last part of chapter dedicated to the Monty hall problem, Indifference principle, and massive use of Bayesian algorithm in consulting and analysis using Gigerenzer’s analysis of breast cancer recognition technic.

5 A Forgotten Dispute
This refer to dispute between John Stuart Mill and Pierre-Simon Laplace about application of probability technic to unknowable sequences of events. Author discuss subjective probabilities and demonstrate quite convincingly that this is not a valid approach.

6 Ambiguity and Vagueness
In this chapter authors look at two notions that often mixed and provide definition for each one:” There is often vagueness or ambiguity in the description of future states of the world. Concepts are called vague when the ‘law of the excluded middle’ – either it is so, or it is not so – is not satisfied. Either it is Saturday, or it is not Saturday. But we are less confident whether it is warm, or not warm. Such vagueness is not necessarily a matter of loose or sloppy reasoning. Many descriptions are useful, but necessarily vague in this sense.” Correspondingly: “Although the term ‘ambiguity’ is often employed to describe many kinds of uncertainty, we prefer to limit its use to genuine linguistic ambiguity. The word ‘bank’ has a different meaning depending on whether the context is fishing or financial regulation.”

At the end authors review difficulties of communicating uncertainty and demonstrate it graphically:

7 Probability and Optimization
This is another problem, which is based on assigned values. Authors review use of this approach in economics with its move from values to utility. Authors also allocate significant space discussing notion of risk and its application to various problems.

Part III: Making Sense of Uncertainty
8 Rationality in a Large World
Authors start this part with discussion of what is rational and what is not. They provide useful definition for styles of reasoning:”

Deductive reasoning reaches logical conclusions from stated premises. For example, ‘Evangelical Christians are Republican. Republicans voted for Donald Trump. Evangelical Christians voted for Donald Trump.’ This syllogism is descriptive of a small world. As soon as one adds the word ‘most’ before either evangelical Christians or Republicans, the introduction of the inevitable vagueness of the larger world modifies the conclusion.

Inductive reasoning is of the form ‘analysis of election results shows that they normally favor incumbent parties in favorable economic circumstances and opposition parties in adverse economic circumstances. Since economic conditions in the United States in 2016 were neither particularly favorable nor unfavorable, we might reasonably have anticipated a close result. Inductive reasoning seeks to generalize from observations, and may be supported or refuted by subsequent experience. Abductive reasoning seeks to provide the best explanation of a unique event. For example, an abductive approach might assert that Donald Trump won the 2016 presidential election because of concerns in particular swing states over economic conditions and identity, and because his opponent was widely disliked.

After that authors provide examples of bias, discuss arrogant ideas of Nudge. Finally, they review Herbert Simon’s idea of Bounded Rationality, meaning search for “good enough” solution rather than optimal, by limiting area of search to some feasible solutions rather than all conceivable solutions.

9 Evolution and Decision-Making

This chapter challenges behavior economics by rejecting idea that people’s heuristics are illogical and inferior to mathematical approach with formal logic. The point is that evolution occurred in environment of radical uncertainty, so formal logic could not possibly work. Then authors go through specifics: Altruism, kinship, and mutuality; multilevel selection; superiority of loss aversion, value of confidence and optimism even if they could not be formally justified. At the end authors discuss Kahneman’s dual system, and human versus machine intellect.

10.The Narrative Paradigm

In this chapter authors move from analysis to communications and discuss narrative method. They look at its application in business schools, strategy sessions, and diagnosis. They also review use of historical narratives of various forms.

11.Uncertainty, Probability and the Law

Here authors discuss use of probabilities in criminal cases, review two cases one British and another O.J. Simpson to demonstrate how it could be misused. They also look at differences between probabilistic and legal reasoning:” Balance of probabilities’ means that it is more likely that the proposition is true than that it is not. The probability that it is true must exceed 50%. But to demonstrate a proposition ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ is to establish its truth to some very high degree of probability – perhaps at a level of 95% or beyond. Yet conversations with lawyers establish that things are not really like that. Indeed, when US judges were asked what probability was required to meet the requirement of ‘preponderance of the evidence’, not only did they offer a wide variety of answers, but most answers were higher – sometimes much higher – than 50%. US jurors’ estimates differed by more.”

12. Good and Bad Narratives

This is continuation of discussion about narratives. First authors look at whether narratives are true or false, then, regardless of this, at these narratives being good or bad. Authors also discuss some narrative tools such as metaphors, narratives of the future, and so on.  

13. Telling Stories Through Numbers

This chapter is about numbers and statistics. Authors discuss various statistical data and then talks about power law:” The American linguist George Zipf studied word frequencies long before computers could take over such tasks, and formulated what is known as Zipf’s Law.7 When word frequency is plotted on a logarithmic scale, the result is more or less a straight line, with a stable relationship between the popularity of a word and the number of words of similar popularity. The nth most frequently used word appears with frequency 1/n times that of the most frequently used word.” After that authors move to discuss polling and specifically sample selection processes. The last part of chapter is about false information derived from statistics sometime because of statistical illiteracy, but sometimes intentionally for disinformation.

14. Telling Stories Through Models  

Here authors look at models and they start with very wise observation:” All models are wrong, but some are useful.” Author discuss such examples of economic models as Adam Smith’s in “Wealth of Nations” and David Ricardo. Then they move close to our time and review efficient market theory, Akerlof’s lemons, and auction theory, eventually explaining why these theoretical constructions do not really work for real live.

15. Rationality and Communication

This chapters starts with comparison of Obama’s and Carter’s decisions to send special forces: one success and another failure. Authors suggest that in reality the difference maybe more depended on luck than on decision makers. After that they present interesting notion of Resulting – situation when evaluation of decision quality depends on result, which may or may not be driven by external circumstances and luck. They also discuss here communicative rationality and collective intelligence, which they differentiate from human intelligence.

16.Challenging Narratives

This chapter is about need for variety of models and need to challenge narratives, which author illustrate with a number of examples and a great quote from A. Sloan:” ‘Gentlemen, I take it we are all in complete agreement on the decision here. Then, I propose we postpone further discussion of this matter until the next meeting to give ourselves time to develop disagreement, and perhaps gain some understanding of what the decision is all about.’

Part IV: Economics and Uncertainty

17. The World of Finance

In this chapter authors bring another differentiation between models and reality: small-world models in a large world. The point here is that theoretical models are always include assumptions, which to significant degree restrict area of model application define its outcome. In real world there is not such restrictions. Author then provide example of failed model in finance, pension models, and others, demonstrating limits of financial theory.

18.Radical Uncertainty, Insurance and Investment;

This is another detailed look at “science” of economics, specifically in areas of insurance, pensions, and how certainty is not the same as security. Authors complete this with note that volatility is good for investors.

19. (Mis)Understanding Macroeconomics

Here authors move to discuss dangerous combination of macroeconomics with powerful computers that allowed create super complex models very good in creating illusion of understanding reality without possessing such understanding at all. Eventually authors return to important theme of need to understand that economics way too complex for engineering approach, which result in severe mismanagement of economics.

20. The Use and Misuse of Models

Here authors provide examples of failure of models’ use. It starts with prediction for UK coal usage, and quite a few others. More importantly they provided suggestion on how do it properly:”

First, deploy simple models to identify the key factors that influence an assessment. A common response to criticisms of the kind we have described above is an offer to add to the model whatever we think is missing. But this is another reflection of the mistaken belief that such models can describe ‘the world as it really is’. The useful purpose of modelling is to find ‘small world’ problems which illuminate part of the large world of radical uncertainty.

Second, having identified the parameters which are likely to make a significant difference to an assessment, undertake research to obtain evidence on the value of these parameters. For example, what value do rail passengers attach to a faster journey? Quantification can often serve as a reality check even when precise quantification is obviously spurious. The preservation of the beautiful and well-preserved Norman church at Stewkley in England (close to a proposed new high-speed rail line) is worth something, but surely not a billion pounds. Often this kind of calibration is enough to resolve some aspects of a decision.

Third, simple models provide a flexibility which makes it much easier to explore the effects of modifications and alternatives. For example, the WHO demographic model not only diverted attention from the key issue but its complexity made it harder to investigate alternative specifications of the model structure and parameters. Scenarios are always useful in conditions of radical uncertainty. How might this policy decision look in five years’ time – or fifty?

Fourth, under radical uncertainty, the options conferred by a policy may be crucial to its evaluation. Faced with a choice as to which of London’s two major airports, Gatwick or Heathrow, should be chosen for expansion, recognition that the topography of Gatwick allows piecemeal adaptation of the development of facilities in the light of uncertain future demand, while that of Heathrow does not, should be an important factor in the choice. Options may be positive or negative in value – facilitating policies not directly connected to the initial objectives, or excluding possible attractive alternatives.”

Part V: Living with Uncertainty

21. Practical Knowledge

Here authors present what they believe to be proper approach to dealing with uncertainty: treat economics as practical knowledge, meaning measuring validity of theories by practice rather that by opinion of authoritative economists.  Consequently, authors discuss use of models as tools with limitations rather as final word of oracle and always apply then to resolve specific practical problems.

22. Adapting to Radical Uncertainty

In this chapter authors discuss how to adapt to prevalence of radical uncertainty in life and provide some guidance:

  • Recognize that live is not stationary so no algorithm could provide valid response to all future events.
  • Remember that humans are social animals and analyze at the level of groups rather than individuals
  • Challenge narratives

Authors also clearly express their believe that groups are better decision makers because groups have more information than individuals.

23. Embracing Uncertainty

In this final chapter authors call to embrace uncertainty by clearly differentiating it from risk and actively hone robustness and resilience, while trying to avoid path dependency. Finally, they link uncertainty with evolution, correctly stating that latter could not exist without former. They also link uncertainty to entrepreneurship.

MY TAKE ON IT:

I think it is useful book and authors very nicely classify different risks, uncertainties, and probabilities. They also define methods of dealing with them and how to apply different approaches for it could have some practical usage. I wish more people were educated in different forms of uncertainty and how to handle it and have much better understanding of models and their use. Maybe if it were the case, we would not have to deal with great many craziness of our time from global warming to universal everything.  The one point that I completely disagree with authors is their believe in superiority of group decisions over individual decisions. I believe that there is not such thing as a group decision – all decisions are made by individuals. Sure, multiple people are in possession of more information than one individual and any decision made via interaction of multiple individuals would be better if all this information is taken into account. The problem is that any group is formal or informal hierarchy and an individual at the top of hierarchy is the one who makes “group” decision. It is true that in condition of equal power of a few individuals at the top a decision could be a compromise, but it still would be individual decision of each group member whether to accept of reject somebody’s decision rather than actually participate in decision making.  

20200913 – You are not Listening

MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is to demonstrate importance of listening as main tool of communication much more important and effective than just talking. Author provides some neurological background of this process, but mainly tries to uncover what impedes listening and how overcome these impediments.

DETAILS:

1. The Lost Art of Listening
Author starts with recollection of her experience as interviewer and notes that even famous people she interviewed accustomed to situation when nobody listening to them. She then moves to epidemics of loneliness and links it to people inability to listen to each other. She provides example of Algonquin Round Table – group of writers who regularly meet together to kind of compete in both talking and listening and them use British parliament QA tradition as example of people not listening. She finally concludes that good listeners are difficult to come about.

2. That Syncing Feeling: The Neuroscience o Listening
This chapter starts with review of faulty listening behavior:

  • Interrupting
  • Responding vaguely or illogically to what was just said
  • Looking at a phone, watch, around the room, or otherwise away from the speaker
  • Fidgeting (tapping on the table, frequently shifting position, clicking a pen, etc.)

She then provides characteristics of good listening:

“Hearing is passive. Listening is active. The best listeners focus their attention and recruit other senses to the effort. Their brains work hard to process all that incoming information and find meaning, which opens the door to creativity, empathy, insight, and knowledge. Understanding is the goal of listening, and it takes effort.”

She also refers to research that demonstrate how good listening synchronizes brain activities of interacting individuals. Author also reviews several cases and infer: “To listen well is to figure out what’s on someone’s mind and demonstrate that you care enough to want to know. It’s what we all crave; to be understood as a person with thoughts, emotions, and intentions that are unique and valuable and deserving of attention. Listening is not about teaching, shaping, critiquing, appraising, or showing how it should be done (“Here, let me show you.” “Don’t be shy.” “That’s awesome!” “Smile for Daddy.”). Listening is about the experience of being experienced. It’s when someone takes an interest in who you are and what you are doing.”

3. Listening to Your Curiosity: What We Can Learn from Toddlers
In this chapter author brings in an experienced CIA investigator, who told her that key to interrogation is to find out what people are most concerned with, assure them that they save to express it, and listen carefully. Toddlers are brought in as example of unbounded curiosity and author stresses that such curiosity about other people is indispensable for effective listening to others.  

4. I Know What You’re Going to Say: Assumptions as Earplugs
This is about one of the biggest problems of failure to listen when people convinced that they already know what other is going to say, which is very seldom, if ever, is correct. Author then refer to a number of experiments, which demonstrate this even among people intimately close such as spouses. Author discusses somewhat inverse relationship between signaling and listening and ends the chapter by calling to pay real attention to others, rather than use formalities:” “Staying in touch” or “keeping up” with someone is nothing more than listening to what’s on that person’s mind—the frequency with which you check in determining the strength and longevity of the relationship. It’s all too easy to get complacent about how well you know those closest to you, just as it’s hard not to make assumptions about strangers based on stereotypes, particularly when reinforced by that person’s own overt social signaling. But listening keeps you from falling into those traps. Listening will overturn your expectations.”

5. The Tone-Deaf Response: What People Would Rather Talk to Their Dog
Here author presents research, which “shows that people are more likely to feel understood if a listener responds not by nodding, parroting, or paraphrasing but by giving descriptive and evaluative information. Contrary to the idea that effective listening is some sort of passive exercise, Bodie’s work reveals it requires interpretation and interplay.”

It follows by discussion of mass shooters, crisis negotiations tactic, and examples of how much could be the loss from non-listening.

6. Talking Like a Tortoise, Thinking Like a Hare: The Speech-Thought Differential
Here author discusses an important reason why people are poor listeners:” speech-thought differential, which refers to the fact that we can think a lot faster than someone can talk. The average person talks at around 120–150 words per minute, which takes up a tiny fraction of our mental bandwidth powered by some eighty-six billion brain cells. So, we wander in our excess cognitive capacity, thinking about a multitude of other things, which keeps us from focusing on the speaker’s narrative”.

Consequently: “to be a good listener means using your available bandwidth not to take mental side trips but rather to double down on your efforts to understand and intuit what someone is saying. He said listening well is a matter of continually asking yourself if people’s messages are valid and what their motivations are for telling you whatever they are telling you.”

Author provides a couple simple rules: Avoid thinking about your response and make pauses before replying.

7. Listening to Opposing Views: Why It Feels Like Being Chased by a Bear

This analogy comes from fMRI research that demonstrated that the same area of brain if highlighted in both cases. Author provide a couple examples from politician’s behavior, but states that it is necessity because:” The truth is, we only become secure in our convictions by allowing them to be challenged. Confident people don’t get riled by opinions different from their own, nor do they spew bile online by way of refutation. Secure people don’t decide others are irredeemably stupid or malicious without knowing who they are as individuals. People are so much more than their labels and political positions. And effective opposition only comes from having a complete understanding of another person’s point of view and how they came to develop it.”

  • Focusing on What’s Important: Listening in the Age of Big Data

Author begins this chapter by discussing conferences of Qualitative Research Consultants Association (QRCA), the organization of “professional listeners”. This is kind of opinion research mainly done for marketing purposes, but also for political and ideological sales. One of the most popular tools they use are focus groups. Author explains that quality of focus group is highly dependent on moderator’s ability to listen and extract real opinion with high levels of precision. She provides of example of such high-level professionals and discusses their technics.

  • Improvisational Listening: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Work

Author starts this chapter with Google research on great teams, which discovered that good teams listen to each other. After that she moves to discuss improve comedy as example of improvisational listening when partners had to pick up cues from each other in order to present consistent narrative. Then she explains how this skill promotes collaborative dynamic necessary for success.

  1. Conversational Sensitivity: What Terry Gross, LBI, and Con Men Have Common

This chapter expands on the same topic of listening sensitivity, only this time using example of professional interviewers and con man.

  1. Listening to Yourself: The Voluble Inner Voice

In this chapter author changes direction of listening and talks about listening to one’s own internal voice rather than to others. To illustrate this author provides quote from Feynman: “By trying to put the points of view that we have in our head together and comparing one to the other, we make some progress in understanding and in appreciating where we are and what we are.”

  1. Supporting, Not Shifting, the Conversation

This chapter is about importance of control over conversation and need to focus on other not self. She provides nice example of different approach related by Churchill’s mother:” “When I left the dining room after sitting next to Gladstone, I thought he was the cleverest man in England. But when I sat next to Disraeli, I left feeling that I was the cleverest woman.”

 The practical advice is to suppress impulses to:

  • suggest you know how someone feels
  • identify the cause of the problem
  • tell someone what to do about the problem
  • minimize their concerns
  • bring perspective to a situation with forced positivity and platitudes
  • admire the person’s strength

Author also discusses some other control technics.

  1. Hammers, Anvils, and Stirrups: Turning Sound Waves into Brain Waves

This is more technical chapter, discussing how sound waves turned into electrochemical conditions of neurons of brain, vulnerabilities of human hearing system, and how all inputs are always fractional and scrambled, leaving to the brain process creation of consistent representation of perceived signals. The negative result is that people often hear something that wasn’t said and do not hear something that was. Author also goes a bit beyond hearing system describing how everything else such as facial expressions, circumstances of time and space and so on influence interactions.

  1. Addicted to Distraction

This is about multiple things that distract people from carefully listening: everything from smoking to smart phones. To demonstrate change in psychology author refers to research that found that average attention span decreased from 12 to 8 seconds. Consequently, author promotes such activities as family dinner isolated from external interventions.   

  1. What Words Conceal and Silences Reveal

This is about conversation being much more complex process than just talking because it includes visuals, pauses, inarticulate expressions, and other such things. She provides example of real estate broker who succeeds by not interfering into potential buyers thinking process, patiently waiting for outcome. Author uses as example of strategic use of silence and then discusses other uses for this tool. Here is her conclusion:” Silence is what allows people in. There’s a generosity in silence but also a definite advantage. People who are comfortable with silence elicit more information and don’t say too much out of discomfort. Resisting the urge to jump in makes it more likely you will leave conversations with additional insight and greater understanding. “

  1. The Morality of Listening: Why Gossip Is Good for You

In this chapter author discusses gossip as another useful tool:” While gossip often has a negative connotation, it actually has a positive social function. There’s a reason why as much as two-thirds of adult conversation is gossip, defined as at least two people talking about someone who is absent. Men gossip as much as women, and children are adept gossipers by age five. We all do it (although not with as much flair as my great-great-aunt) because gossip allows us to judge who is trustworthy, who we want to emulate, how much we can get away with, and who are likely allies or adversaries. In this way, listening to gossip contributes to our development as ethical, moral members of society.”

  1. When to Stop Listening

Here author moves from promoting listening to defining when one should stop doing this. She presents four maxims for conversational expectations without which listening is just a waste of time:

  1. Maxim of Quality—we expect the truth.
  2. Maxim of Quantity—we expect to get information we don’t already know and not so much that we feel overwhelmed.
  3. Maxim of Relation—we expect relevance and logical flow.
  4. Maxim of Manner—we expect the speaker to be reasonably brief, orderly, and unambiguous.

After that she discusses ways of withdrawing from conversation and their consequences.

Conclusion

In conclusion author provides example of Catholic priest at the Basilica of Our Lady of San Juan del Valle who is very proficient in listening to people all over the world. She uses this example to stress importance of listening not only as expression of empathy, but also as the way to strengthen relationships and develop understanding of others. Here is the final conclusion:” While listening is the epitome of graciousness, it is not a courtesy you owe everyone. That isn’t possible. It’s to your benefit to listen to as many different people, with as much curiosity as you can muster, but you ultimately get to decide when and where to draw the line. To be a good listener does not mean you must suffer fools gladly, or indefinitely, but rather helps you more easily identify fools and makes you wise to their foolishness. And perhaps most important, listening keeps you from being the fool yourself. Listening is often regarded as talking’s meek counterpart, but it is actually the more powerful position in communication. You learn when you listen. It’s how you would divine truth and detect deception. And though listening requires that you let people have their say, it doesn’t mean you remain forever”

MY TAKE ON IT:

It’s a nice collection of ideas and examples of listening as highly useful and very complex communication tool without which it is not possible achieving effective interaction with others. Description and discussion of the process is nice, but mainly trivial. Probably the most interesting part is at the end when author discusses when not to listen. I do not remember encountering this kind of advice anywhere else. It is also pretty good in reviewing various distractions and how to deal with them.

20200906 – Democracy Versus Autocracy

MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is that despite persistent pessimism of elite in democratic countries, the reality of theory and history is that Democracy provides for more powerful societies in all conceivable areas: economically, military, and diplomatically. Author supports this thesis by discussion of theory, presentation of history, and review of contemporary state of affairs.

DETAILS:

Introduction
Here author makes point that American economic, political, and military dominance maybe coming to the end due to the rise of China. Author, however, cautions everybody from jumping to conclusion because America is democracy, while China is autocracy and history indicates that democracies have multiple advantages in such competition. Author briefly refer to specific advantages and disadvantages of each system and present the structure of the book.   

PART I: Democracy versus Autocracy
This part lays out the central argument. It draws on ideas from the political philosophy canon and the latest social science research to advance the idea that democracies do better in long-run geopolitical competitions. It also considers and critiques the competing arguments about a possible autocratic advantage.

  1. The Democratic Advantages in Theory

Author begins this discussion with Machiavelli and discusses two forms of democracy: republican or representative vs. direct democracy. Then author continues with Montesquieu using as example history of Athens (direct democracy) and Rome (republic). Then author moves to discussion of modern theory of democracy: its forms, economic, diplomatic, and political advantages. At the end author provides a great graphic representation of his argument:

2. The Autocratic Advantage?

In this chapter author moves to discuss the Autocratic Advantage, but he marks it with big question. He starts with reference to Tocqueville’s comparison American democracy and its seemingly big deficiencies with autocratic systems. Then he moves to contemporary views and presents a number of examples of awe of contemporary western “intellectuals” before efficiency of China’s communist system. He also looks under the hood of this systems and find that there so many deficiencies there that this awe is not much more justified than their historic excitement about Soviet system. Author lists autocracies’ specific supposedly superior features such as easy decision making, independence from public opinion, uncontrolled resource allocation, and absence of individual rights, could impede pursuit of common good, and so on. For each of these specifics author convincingly demonstrate why it is not so and why democratic approach to this specific is actually much better.

PART II: The Democratic Advantage in History
The second part of the book examines the empirical basis for this idea through simple quantitative analysis and a historical study of democratic and autocratic competitors from the ancient world to the present. Specifically, the book examines the following seven cases: Athens, Sparta, and Persia; the Roman Republic, Carthage, and Macedon; the Venetian Republic, the Byzantine Empire, and the Duchy of Milan; the Dutch Republic and the Spanish Empire; Britain and France in the 18th and 19th centuries; the United Kingdom and Germany in the late 19th and early 20th centuries; and the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War. This section of the book does not show that democracies always achieve everlasting hegemony, but it does demonstrate that they tend to excel in great power rivalry and for the precise reasons identified by the theoretical framework

3. The Democratic Advantage by the Numbers

In this chapter author provides numbers demonstrating relative power of democracies vs. autocracies. Author notes that:” …the leading states in the international system for the past four hundred years (the timeframe of his study) have been: the Dutch Republic (1609–1713), Great Britain (1714–1945), and the United States (1945–present). These states were also among the most democratic of their time. According to this reckoning, therefore, liberal leviathans have led the world for the past four centuries and counting.”  Author looks in more details at current most powerful countries specifically USA comparatively with Russia and China:

After discussion overall pattern of Democracies being more powerful, in the next 6 chapters of this part author presents history of competition between Democracies and Autocracies:

4. Athens, Sparta, and Persia; 5. The Roman Republic, Carthage, and Macedon; 6. The Venetian Republic, the Byzantine Empire, and the Duchy of Milan; 7. The Dutch Republic and the Spanish Empire; 8. Great Britain and France; 9. The United Kingdom and Germany; 10. The United States and the Soviet Union

PART III: The Democratic Advantage Today
This part is the real payoff of the book. What does all of this mean for contemporary international politics? This section examines the United States, Russia, and China. It studies how their domestic political systems prepare them for the coming competition and finds that U.S. institutions are a continuing source of strength, while Russian and Chinese institutions are dragging down their attempts to amass international wealth and power.

The next 3 chapters represent author’s summarization of contemporary key competitors:

11. The Russian Federation

“If Russia is a great power, it is barely one. Its autocratic system is undermining its economic, diplomatic, and military performance. Its economy is smaller than Italy’s. Its financial system is under serious strain. Russia lacks effective alliances and soft power and its aggressive behavior has provoked rival alliances to take countervailing measures. Its military is overly focused on domestic threats and is ill-equipped for the strategic-technological competitions of the 21st century.”

12. The People’s Republic of China

“China led by the CCP is unlikely to become the world’s leading state. Its Marxist-Leninist model is not well suited to building a world-beating, innovative economy, to winning friends and allies around the world, or to constructing a lethal military force with global power-projection capabilities. China’s autocratic system has undermined its competitiveness before, including under the Qing dynasty and Mao’s CCP. China did better when it followed Deng’s liberalizing economic guidance, but it is reverting to its old form of dysfunctional authoritarianism under President Xi.”

13. The United States of America

Here author characterizes American status as such:” In sum, America’s vibrant economy, its strong alliance relationships, and its unmatched military, all reflections of the U.S. domestic political system, will continue to provide a significant source of strategic advantage for the United States over its autocratic competitors in the years to come.”

PART IV: The Democratic Advantage in the Future
This part takes stock of what we have learned and draws out the implications for U.S. foreign policy and also looks ahead to the future. How can the United States best shore up its sources of strength? How can, or should, it seeks to exploit its opponents’ weaknesses? And, given the previous arguments, will the American era endure?

14. Implications for American Leadership

In this final chapter author discusses increasing competition between China and Russia, which accumulated significant economic and military power via massive investment and technology transfers these authoritarian regimes received from Democracies in early years of XXI century in hope that they would become full pledged Democracies – the happy outcome that did not happen. Author obviously convinced that the competition will end with victory if not for America then for Democracy:” Indeed, if or when the United States declines, it will most likely be overcome only by another democracy. Over the past four centuries, democratic hegemons have lost their positions exclusively to other democratic challengers. Autocrats have all tried and failed in their attempts. At present, a truly unified European Union, or possibly India, are the only democratic entities with enough power resources to plausibly rival the United States for global ascendance over the coming century. But a democratic transition in China would suddenly transform Beijing into a much more serious competitor.”

MY TAKE ON IT:

I absolutely agree that democracy is much better form of society than autocracy and I believe that outcome of current (summer of 2020) massive attack against democracy by leftist ideologues and their stormtroopers prompted by seemingly overwhelming opportunity provided by pandemic, will fail. The victory of Democracy in America will lead to significant upgrade of its foundational ideas to provide better immunity against similar attacks in the future. This immunity will be provided by prevention of unchallenged indoctrination into collectivistic, racist, and intolerant doctrines that currently occurs. I think that as soon as such ideas challenged at all levels starting in kindergarten, individuals who promote such ideas would have no chance to obtain such numbers of supporters as they have now inflicting mayhem on American live.

20200830 – Intelligence All that matters

MAIN IDEA:

The main idea here is to discuss meaning of IQ, how it relates to overall intelligence, how it is tested, where it comes from (nature/nurture) and, most important, how to increase it. Author also discusses controversies around IQ and its value for individual achievement and prosperity. The overall objective is to convince readers that IQ research important and should be supported.

DETAILS:

  1. Introducing intelligence
    This starts with definition: “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.”

After that author provides a brief history of IQ starting with Francis Galton (1822-1911) and then discussing works of McKeen Cattell (1860–1944) – Sensory testing, Alfred Binet (1857–1911) – children with mental disabilities selection, Théodore Simon (1872–1961) – mental tasks for low IQ children, Lewis Terman (1877–1956)- tasks for high IQ selection, Robert Yerkes (1876–1956) – Group testing, Charles Spearman (1863-1945) – Statistical technics for analysis, and Sir Godfrey Thomson (1881–1955) – education.

2. Testing intelligence
In this chapter author is looking through a set of tasks one could expect to complete for IQ test today. How does a person’s performance on one task relate to performance on the others? To what extent was Spearman correct about ‘general intelligence’? The author responds affirmative and then discusses idea of multiple intelligences and substructure of intelligence. He also provides a few graphs for IQ distribution and substructure change with age:

4. The biology of intelligence
Chapter 4 goes ‘under the hood’ to look at the biology of intelligence: how it might have evolved, how it relates to genetics, and what a smarter person’s brain looks like. Author discusses nature/nurture, provides some images and concludes:” A common mistake is to come away with the impression that, since intelligence is related to biology, it must be immutable. Nothing in the genetic studies (which never show 100-per-cent heritability) or the neuroimaging (which shows only neural correlates of intelligence) leads to that conclusion. Certainly, the genetic results imply that attempts to equalize outcomes in areas like education are fool’s errands: it will be extremely difficult to eradicate genetically influenced differences between children. There may be biological limits on what we can expect from some people: although intelligence is not immutable, it is unlikely to be infinitely malleable

5. The easy way to raise your IQ
Chapter 5 asks whether we might be able to improve intelligence and make people brighter. Do ‘brain training’ games work? What about education? So far there is no reason to believe that there is reliable way to get smarter either via “Mozart effect”, or breastfeeding, or brain training. However, there is well known Flynn effect that demonstrates IQ increase over generations.

6. Why is intelligence so controversial?
The final chapter, Chapter 6, asks why, if there’s all this scientific evidence backing it up, intelligence is still so controversial. In the historical sketch above, author mentioned a couple of reasons, but the discomfort with intelligence testing goes deeper than just revulsion at its history: it touches on profound political and moral issues about equality, race differences. Author briefly reviews these and other aspects of IQ debate and provides reasons for IQ studies:

a. Link between IQ and health: smart people are healthier and live longer

b. Ageing – need to maintain IQ at good level to the end

c. Societal importance of intelligence

d. Scientific curiosity

Conclusion

The political and moral (but usually evidence-free) debate around intelligence distracts from the truly interesting questions. What causes the general factor of intelligence? Which specific genes make a person smarter? Why, exactly, do these seemingly simple tests relate to so many important things in life? What, precisely, is happening in the brain when it’s working through an IQ test? How can we make it do that more efficiently? Lately, the field of intelligence research has been buzzing with intriguing new results that begin to address these questions. We can ignore these results, and continue to pretend that intelligence tests are a discredited remnant of psychology’s past. Or we can engage with them, and uncover the science of what makes us differ in this most human of attributes.”

MY TAKE ON IT:

It is nice and brief review of IQ, its definition, meaning, value, and validity of methods of its increase. Based on my own live experience I am pretty sure that lower IQ would not only decrease quality my live, but would probably prevent its continuation on a couple occasions in the past. Obviously few people had such a wonderful opportunity to recognize its value, but everybody could see value of IQ and try to improve it as much as possible.

20200823 – The Measure of Civilization

MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is to provide technical support for author’s other book “Why the West Rules – for Now” by reviewing methodology of social development processes divided into four domains: Energy Capture, Social Organization, War-Making Ability, and Information Technology.

DETAILS:

1 Introduction: Quantifying Social Development  
The problem author discusses here is the one that Western intellectuals had for the last 250 years. It is difficulty of explaining why the West took over the world. Author then defines his objectives in this book and moves to provide some key definitions such as:

Social Development: “is a measure of communities’ abilities to get things done in the world; social development is the bundle of technological, subsistence, organizational, and cultural accomplishments through which people feed, clothe, house, and reproduce themselves, explain the world around them, resolve disputes within their communities, extend their power at the expense of other communities, and defend themselves against others’ attempts to extend power.”

Author also provides intellectual background for this discussion starting with Spencer’s idea of evolution increasing complexity of the systems. Author reviews Marxist approach to progress and then return to evolutionary approach. Author also reviewing various attempt to quantify progress and even provides table based on history:

Finally author looks in some detail at core conceptps of social evolution:

  • Differentiation
  • Complexity
  • Evolution
  • Progress
  • Stage Theories
  • Society
  • Quantification

 2 Methods and Assumptions  
Here are assumptions author puts in the core of his ideas:

  1. Quantification
  2. Parsimony
  3. Here is how author defines traits using of Human Development Index (HDI):
    1. The Criteria of Useful Trait”: The trait must be relevant: that is, it must tell us something about social development as I defined it in chapter 1.
    1. The trait must be culture independent. We might, for example, think that the quality of literature and art are useful measures of social development, but judgments in these matters are notoriously culture bound.
    1. Traits must be independent of each other—if, for instance, we use the number of people in a state and the amount of wealth in that state as traits, we should not use per capita wealth as a third trait, because it is a product of the first two traits.
    1. The trait must be adequately documented. This is a real problem when we look back thousands of years because the evidence available varies so much. Especially in the distant past, we simply do not know much about some potentially useful traits.
    1. The trait must be reliable, meaning that experts more or less agree on what the evidence says.
    1. The trait must be convenient. This may be the least important criterion, but the harder it is to get evidence for something or the longer it takes to calculate results, the less useful that trait is.
  4. Focusing on East and West rather than the whole world
  5. The Meaning of East and West
  1. Chronological Intervals of Measurement
  2. Units of Analysis
  3. Approximation and Falsification

Author also provides notes on calculation and geographical representation of meaning of East and West:

MY TAKE ON IT:

Generally, I believe the technical content of this book is valid and makes lots of sense, except for linking Social development to the size and population of the cities. The size of cities is probably more depends on density of population, which in turn depends on productivity of land: rice supports more people per acre than wheat. I think author could easily avoid it by linking Social development to share of urban population. This parameter would provide picture consistent with other domains. For example, China achieved 50-50 breakdown between urban and rural population in 2010, while USA in 1920. Probably if one makes adjustment for different levels of technology, he would find similar parity between USA of 1920 and China of 2010 in other domains.

20200816 – The Kill Chain

MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is to use author’s experience as military adviser to late senator McCain to bring to light issues that in author’s opinion put future American security in jeopardy due to continuing support of outdated systems and failure to develop and stand up new systems mainly because of political and bureaucratic processes in which people are more concerned with well-being of their constituencies that US military power. This situation was developed over decades after fall of USSR when USA had no military peer and was absolutely dominant everywhere in the world. Now rise of China and somewhat revival of Russian military made these attitudes not sustainable and USA had to change or it will fall behind.

DETAILS:

INTRODUCTION: PLAYING A LOSING GAME
Author starts by presenting his credentials as close adviser to senator McCain and notes how much McCain was disturbed by military growth of China and its emerging ability to win conventional war against USA. Then author explains notion of kill chain and states that America needs in order to avoid defeat: ”It requires a sweeping redesign of the American military: from a military built around small numbers of large, expensive, exquisite, heavily manned, and hard-to-replace platforms to a military built around large numbers of smaller, lower-cost, expendable, and highly autonomous machines. Put simply, it should be a military defined less by the strength and quantities of its platforms than by the efficacy, speed, flexibility, adaptability, and overall dynamism of its kill chains”.

1. What Happened to Yoda’s Revolution
In this chapter author refer to former director of Office of Net Assessment Andrew Marshall, nicknamed Yoda, who argued that technological revolution makes existing American military based on large expensive platforms outdated and vulnerable. Yoda proposed massive change in approach to the new equipment, but he was not successful and was defeated by two forces – political preference for massive platform and war on terror that completely distracted military away from preparing to fight peers, not low grate rebels and terrorists.

2. Little Green Men and Assassin’s Mace
In this chapter author discusses wakeup call that occurred on February 27, 2014 when Russian military invaded Ukraine demonstrating the great improvement in its equipment, training, and tactical ability. American military leaders were impressed and realized that the new Russian military could be a difficult adversary and that American technological superiority was greatly diminished. Similar discovery occurred with another much more powerful adversary – China, which developed a number of effective weapons designated as Assassin Mace that would provide for ability successfully win regional war against USA.  Author briefly describes these weapons and stresses that they based on the latest achievements of information technology.

3. A Tale of Two Cities
Author starts this chapter with reference to American development of intercontinental missiles and politico-bureaucratic straggle around it with air force leadership resisting. The result was successful implementation of the newest technology. Author admires what happened then, but express fear that now it is different America that is not capable for such feats of ingenuity and industry. Current leadership both political and military cares more about getting more dollars for their constituency and themselves producing expensive, but not effective systems that could fail against Russian and Chinese forces.

4. Information Revolution 2.0
In this chapter author discusses Information revolution that occurred in private sector and produced very powerful technology that could be used in military. However contemporary military procurement system and interplay of multitude of special interests made it all but impossible, so military technology is a lot less powerful than regular civil technology available over the counter. Author also describes attitude changes that make it difficult for Silicon Value companies cooperate with American military.

5. Something Worse Than Change  
Here author starts with claim that the problem of loosing technological superiority did not occur because people’s failure or technological deficiencies, but rather because of incorrect strategic approach of investing in large, expensive, and eventually vulnerable platforms rather then in multitude of smaller and less expensive platforms that would be difficult to trace and destroy. Author correctly notes that it is just about impossible to keep military effectively upgraded because only actual war would demonstrate what works and what not. However, author provide examples such as Assault Breaker that were developed during Cold War and eventually proved to be effective. Author suggests that it should be done now again and stresses how important it is:” The stakes of this emerging strategic competition with the Chinese Communist Party are nothing less than what kind of future world we want to live in. This competition will require the full mobilization of our society, our economy, our diplomacy, our values, and our allies who share them. But the foundation for all of this is America’s hard power, because the only way to ensure that this competition stays peaceful is by clearly being capable of defending what is most precious to us if the Chinese Communist Party—or anyone else, for that matter—chooses to confront us through aggression or violence. And that is what most concerns me: The entire basis by which the US military understands events, makes decisions, and takes actions—how it closes the kill chain—will not withstand the future of warfare. It is too linear and inflexible, too manual and slow, too brittle and unresponsive to dynamic threats, and too incapable of scaling to confront multiple dilemmas at once. That is why there is a growing concern within our defense establishment that America could lose a future war against a great power such as China. This, to me, is something worse than change. Most Americans have lived blissfully free from the many kinds of privation, injustice, aggression, and depredation that countries through history have suffered at the hands of more powerful rivals that realized they could prevail in war if push came to shove. I have no desire to see how dangerous the future could become for Americans if we lose the ability to deter conventional war against the Chinese Communist Party or any other competitor. This situation should compel us to build different kinds of military forces that can defend Americans and our core interests in the absence of military dominance. This is possible, but it requires us to reimagine the kill chain and compete more urgently in the new strategic race over emerging technologies that is now under way.”

6. A Different Kind of Arms Race
This chapter is about new types of weapons – specifically AI controlled autonomous drones. The author’s concern is that while Western military are restricted by ethical norms, their adversaries Chinese and Russians have no moral or ethical restrictions whatsoever. Author discusses in some details shift information warfare and advances made by China. At the end of chapter author suggest that the new arms race is not possible for USA to win and the best one can hope is achievement of some sort of parity.

7. Human Command Machine Control
Author starts this chapter with discussion of aerial bombing and then moves to ethics of killing and possibility of decision-making transfer to AI. He states that in near future the only feasible use is for narrow AI and analyses how the decision breakdown between human and AI could work out in the future.  

8. A Military Internet of Things
This is mainly about drones and how they would interact with each other with minimal if any human intervention via battlefield network – Internet of things. Author especially concerned that current version of it is slow, not very reliable and overall is behind of commercial development.

9. Move Shoot Communicate
Author starts this chapter with the story of Jan Bloch – the railroad magnate of early XX century who without any military experience was able to predict correctly nature of future wars. Then author discusses each component and notes that with current saturation of the world with sensors and communications both military and civilian it is nearly impossible to hide movement of big assets. Similarly, the second part also demonstrate vulnerability of such assets because they could be more readily attacked by swarm of small and relatively cheap weapons of high lethality. The same applies to communication – it is easier to find and suppress communications of big valuable target such as air career than multitude of cheap self-controlling distributed in space.

10. Defense Without Dominance
This chapter is about American loss of military dominance, which is per author reality that has to be accepted. The consequence should be change in assumptions and the new strategy: “a strategy of defense without dominance.”. Author proposes a number of various measures, but the main change is strategic objectives: instead of traditional American search for dominance the objective should be prevention of China dominance: “The United States is headed into a future that will be as unsettling as it is unfamiliar, but we do not need to fear it. We can still manage to defend the people, places, and things we care about most. Even amid the erosion of our military dominance, America can avoid a future in which a peer competitor is able to consolidate its own position of military dominance. Achieving this more limited, defensive goal requires a wide-ranging reimagination of America’s defense strategy, which is possible, but not optional. The main question is not whether the US military should change but whether we can change—and change fast enough.”

11. Bureaucracy Does Its Thing
This chapter is about workings of American military and political system with its huge bureaucracy, special interests, and stakeholders all of which makes system highly conservative, keeping investment flowing into outdated technologies that have political support and starving emerging technologies with no established special interests supporting them. Author provides a nice example for selection of the new pistol for Army, which took many years and millions of dollars to decide.

12. How the Future Can Win
Here author discusses how to overcome bureaucratic resistance and provides an example of change in old JSTARS being successfully retired despite multiple constituencies fighting against it. The key to success per author was a very sophisticated political plan of developing new constituency for the change inside existing system. At the end author expresses his optimism:” National defense will always be fundamentally different from everything else we do in the civilian and commercial worlds. But does it have to be this different? Do the men and women of America’s military really have to struggle this hard to do their jobs and get faster access to better technologies, many of which they use in their daily lives? Can’t things be better?

Yes, things can be better. There is no structural or cultural reason why not. We have the money, the technological base, and the human talent. And our leaders have all of the flexibility and authorities they need, both in law and policy, to carry off the transition from the military we have to the military we need. As I have said, it ultimately comes down to incentives. If we want different and better outcomes, we have to create different and better incentives to get them. This is hardly beyond our reach. It involves doing a lot more of the commonsense things that many within our defense establishment struggle to do every day: define problems correctly and clearly, compete over the best solutions, pick winners, and spend real money on what is most important and can make our military most effective.”

CONCLUSION: A FAILURE OF IMAGINATION
In conclusion author once again expresses his loyalty to McCain and believe in his greatness and ability to direct things to correct objectives. The final thought is that even without McCain not everything lost.

MY TAKE ON IT:

I think that author pretty much correct about both of his main statements: deadly bureaucracy and need to change from building military around few high value assets to expanding multitude of much cheaper assets that would make swarm attacks practically impossible and allow rapid expansion if and when needed, especially if they are based on AI, Internet of things, new materials, and designed consequently remove requirement to have massive human involvement. I am more optimistic than author, probably because I believe that massive changes are coming that will completely reshuffle existing politico-bureaucratic structures in all areas, making military change just one of many changes, albeit with extremely high price of failure, that I hope would never happen.

20200809 – Shaping our Nation

MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is to describe history of immigration and internal migration in the United States based on racial/ethnic groups from before independence until recently. The groups authors reviews are: Northern Yankees, Southern Grandees, Scotch-Irish, Irish, Germane, Blacks, and some more recent arrivals. The point is that, while each group maintains its identity at least partially, they also go through complex process of mutual assimilation: groups to mainstream of America and its mainstream adapting at least some characteristics of groups.

DETAILS:

Preface: A Story for Our Time
This starts with description of author’s deep interest in American ethnic make up and how it was developed over the centuries. Author describes books he previously written about American and British revolutions and multiple books written by others that describe historic migrations of different population all over the world. Then he briefly describes content of this book that traces both immigration into America from different parts of the world and then internal migration to the West after Eastern part of USA was pretty much populated.

1. THE FIGHTING SCOTS-IRISH
This chapter is about the first massive non-English migration that occurred even before United States obtained independence:” During the course of the eighteenth century some 250,000 Scots-Irish migrated from the British Isles to the North American colonies, about 125,000 in the decades between 1717 and 1763, and another 125,000 in the dozen years from 1763 to 1775.” Author describes political situation in the country of origin and reasons that pushed people out. He also describes the first push of newly arrived immigrant away from coast deep into continent where they encountered not only Indian resistance, but also resistance of colonial authorities, which would prefer containment of white population at Appalachia. Author uses example of Andrew Jackson’s family to narrate the story of this movement. Here is American settlement geography in the pre-revolutionary time:

After that author describes further expansion of this group and discusses some of its cultural specificities, especially their military prowness that demonstrated itself on many occasions in all American wars, especially Civil War. Another important ferature of this groups is this: The Scots-Irish have been the least ethnically conscious of America’s migrant groups. From Jackson’s time to the 2010 Census, they have tended to describe themselves not as being of Scots-Irish (or Scotch or Irish) ancestry but as simply being American.”

2. YANKEES AND GRANDEES
This chapter is about two ethnic groups that became the first Americans. Yankees: descendants of New England Protestants that for over 2 centuries expanded into Midwest and Grandees descendants of Virginia settlers that expanded by Southern route from Virginia, Carolinas, and Georgia. The Yankees main characteristics was hard work, religiosity, hypocrisy, and persistent attempt to force their believes on others. The Grandees were nice people with a small flaw – their particular institution of slavery. Author discusses in details how this institution that was seemingly on its last legs in early XIX centuries was revived and became highly productive due to improvements in methods of cultivating cotton. Here is a graphic illustration:

Author then discusses in detail how both these movements: Yankee’s Northern movement to the West pushing Indians out and substituting them with farmers and Grandees’ Soutehrn movement expanding slavery created America with dual sensitivities, attitudes, and believes that eventually clashed in the Civil War to decide which one of them will be dominant in one America. The Scotch -Irish during this epic clash were divided and bravely fought on the both sides of the war. The Yankees eventually won the war, but lost peace, failing to overcome resistence to reconstraction and eventually accepted division into separate development way up until civil rights movement of 1960.

3. THE IRISH AND GERMANS
This chapter is about another wave of European immigrants, which came to America in XIX century. The first were Germans coming after failed revolutions of 1848, but not far behind were masses of Irish running away from potato hunger in 1850-60s. Author uses example of Kennedys to demonstrate a success story, but there were millions of others by far less successful. Author provides two maps demonstrating results of these waves:

Author discusses in details patterns of settlement for both groups, their preferred types of business and employenment, patterns of behavior, consequences of their Catholizism, and finally, their impact on American politics.

4. INCOMPLETE CONQUEST
Author starts this chapter by characterizing Civil War and Yankees conquest of America. However, this conquest was incomplete because South managed to retain its specificity for another hundred years after it lost the war. The price paid was high: economic stagnation for the most part of this period. Author looks at reasons why it happened and why there were no mass migration from South up North despite difficulties for both Southern populations: black and white:” The conclusion one must draw is that they thought they would not be welcome—and they were surely right. White men born in the 1830s and 1840s had been shooting and killing one another in large numbers, with many suffering disabling injuries; those who survived lived on for decades, many well into the twentieth century. Confederate veterans, whose only pensions came from state governments, had an economic as well as cultural disincentive not to move to the land of their recent foes. Union veterans, conscious that the troops and officials enforcing Reconstruction until 1877 had been attacked as corrupt carpetbaggers and had been shunned by southern elites, had no desire to reenter what had been a scene of conflict after the troops were withdrawn. In 1898 officials in the War Department in Washington, dispatching troops to Tampa for embarkation to Cuba in the Spanish-American War, stationed sentries along the rail lines to prevent southern attacks, while one southern army officer in his delight at seeing the Spanish forces retreat in Cuba, yelled, “We’ve got the damn Yankees on the run.”

Author ends this chapter with discussion of mass immigration from East and South of Europe at the end XIX and beginning of XX centuries – Ellis Island immigration. Here how it changed demographics of America:

This new immighrants brough lots of good things: hard work, talents, entrepreneurship, but also not a few nasties like socialism, leading eventually to laws restricting immigration.

5. PROMISED LANDS
Author begins this chapter with discussion of Hollywood and myths creation that forged one American culture by movies, sports, books, and radio in the place multiple and only loosely linked cultures of South vs. North vs. West vs. new immigrants of different backgrounds. Then author adds the narrative of how WWII intermixed everything and everybody in one global military and mass industrial movements, including blacks from South to the North and population of California. Author extends narrative of this chapter all the way to 1960s when economic changes, Vietnam war, civil rights movement, riots, welfare state, and cultural revolution changed everything destroying old norms, breaking black family and start breaking white families the same way.

6. MIGRATIONS OF CHOICE
The final chapter reviews the most recent waves of migration mainly internal, but with huge and increasing component of international migration from Asia and Latin America, which once again is changing American racial, cultural, religious, and all other components of population. Internally it included movement from North down South away from more bureaucratic cold states to business friendlier southern states, while externally political movement of Cubans, Koreans, Vietnamese, and at the end of century East Europeans running away from communism and likes, business and professional movement of Indians and many others to better paid and more fulfilling high tech jobs in America, Mexican and later other South Americans movement to better jobs and welfare opportunities and so on and on.

MY TAKE ON IT:

It is nice description of ethnic migration / immigration process of formation of American population, but in my opinion, it does not sufficiently describe cultural conflicts / adjustments between groups. I think it would be also very interesting to trace coalitions that groups form to support or fight each other.

The very interesting example would be to trace all groups interactions during Civil War, which initially was driven by strive to save Union at any cost by Yankees with cost often paid by others on one side and strive to save Southern states sovereignty, including its particular institution of slavery with price mainly paid by people who did not own slaves. Eventually one could say that both sides won: Yankees saved the Union and their dominant place within it, while Southerners by winning asymmetric war of Reconstruction curved out a part of country in which they managed to maintain probably something like 80% of their particular institution in form of segregation and denial of rights to the blacks for another 100 years. I think another important part would be addition of class dimension, which also led to ethnic/ racial coalitions forming and falling apart as situation developed.

20200802 – Why Chimpanzees cannot learn language

MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is to use author’s experience with Project Nim of teaching chimpanzee to use human language in order to present author’s views on development and use of language. Author stresses his believe that this development was natural evolutionary process, that it occurred as result of need in effective communication tool for complex scavenging support, that words came first and grammar much later, and, finally, that animals, even such close relatives as chimpanzees do not have such tools.  

DETAILS:

Preface
Here author describes why and how he wrote this book and defines its topic as language evolution. He refers to ideas of Chomsky and his own participation in debates on the side of behaviorists. He also describes his William Schoff lectures that are the foundation of this book.  

Prologue
The prologue is about author’s experiment (Project Nim) of teaching language to the chimp, how he come to start this project and two main contentions that rose in regard of language evolution: words vs. grammar as key foundational component of language and communications tool vs. mechanism of thinking as most important driver of evolution.

  1. Numberless Gradations

This chapter starts with brief discussion of evolution as the main tool for understanding everything in biology, which author applies to language, but not that much to its grammar, as to its words as key ingredient. After that author moves to discuss his background as behaviorist and reviews ideas of instrumental conditioning, presenting a nice table of examples:

He also discusses in some details Chomsky’s critique of verbal behavior, which pretty much moved author away from pure behaviorism and his search for empirical confirmation that starting in 1960s turned him to attempt to teach chimpanseses to use language. Author also looks at evolutionary processes and controversy caused by its requirements to have long incremental process withmeaningful improvements on each increment, which seems to be inconsistent with reals speed of human development. The author review of the newest paleoanthropological data led him to conclusions that: “In sum, there are at least three reasons to consider why recent hominin ancestors provide a more realistic baseline than chimpanzees for clues about the evolution of language: bipedalism, a large brain, and a small birth canal. Although none of these differences were selected to enhance linguistic ability, the need to cradle a human infant for six months led to profound changes in maternal care.”  In support of this idea author provides review of the development of nonverbal language during the first years of human life.

2. Ape Language

In this chapter author reviews in details experiments with teaching chimps to use language by trying to raise them as human children, sometime using sign language because chimps could not imitate human sounds. Author discusses his own “Project Nim” and Premack method, which uses graphic symbols. The key conclusion that author makes are based on these data:” Ape language projects have shown that chimpanzees can learn the imperative function of symbols (that is, how to use them to obtain rewards). Although children learn to use words as imperatives, imperatives are only a tiny portion of their vocabulary. Language would never develop if children were limited to learning imperatives. In that sense, the failure of these projects can be attributed to an ape’s inability to learn that things have names and that words can be used conversationally.”

3. Recent Human Ancestors and the Possible Origin of Words

Author starts this chapter with discussion of non-linearity of evolution that, contrary to Darwin believes, quite convincingly proved by recent paleoanthropological discoveries demonstrating parallel development of multiple hominin species. He then discusses fossils in some details: locations where they are found, dating methods, how changes in fossils relate to corresponding climate changes, and how increase in functional abilities of the human brain provided for much more efficient accommodation to these changes, eventually resulting in human expansion all over the world. After discussing usefulness of the big brain, author moves to hypotheticals of language development. Based on fossils that have traces of human scavenging evolution from being the last to being the first consumers of big animal’s corpse author believes that such activities necessitated development of worlds to communicate to others what and where was found and in what condition it currently is, so they could help with processing.  

4. Before an Infant Learns to Speak

Here author moves from species evolution to individual, discussing how infants acquire human communication abilities: first by imitating visual and/or audio communications, including human emotions and attitudes, eventually resulting in joint attention functionality unique to humans. It results in need for words to generate joint attention to something that is not present at the moment and later on to abstractions that exist only in human imagination and are communicated via language.

5. The Origin of Language, Words in Particular

Here author moves more into origin of language and how humans pick it up from parents and other around them: “The difference between animal and human communication is also reflected in the number of signals they each produce. In animals, that number rarely exceeds twenty and it does not vary with age. Human vocabulary grows with age during the first few decades of a person’s life. A two-year-old child knows approximately 300 words; a five-year-old approximately 5,000; a minimally educated adult at least 15,000; and a college graduate at least 50,000 words.” Author then discusses Chomsky’s Universal Grammar, which he generally supports except for putting much more weight on words, their creation and use. Author then reviews various relevant to his research schools and experiments.

Epilogue

This is pretty much discussion of popularization of author’s Project Nim, which left him not very satisfied, especially about documentary by Marsh.   

MY TAKE ON IT:

I am pretty much in agreement with main position of this book except for some relatively small points. I do not think that debate between what came first words or grammar makes lots of sense. I think they came in parallel. I also somewhat puzzled by controversy about liner or parallel evolution of human brains because it seems obvious that it should be both: initially with human expansion with evolutionary modifications into multiple variations of hominin living in different localities with consequent pruning out less competitive sub-species by the more effective ones, and since they all rely on the same ecological niches and were capable expand globally, the most effective – we humans, eliminated everybody else some hundreds of thousands years ago and we still continue eliminating different parts of ourselves, albeit somewhat less frequently in more recent times. I, however, hope that with advance of technology, productivity, and AI, plus clear movement of changing meaning of live from multiplication to enjoyment, we’ll find equilibrium between all types of us and between us and environment that would make our lives worth living.

20200726 – Fully Grown

MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is to review various potential causes of slowdown in GDP growth over the last 20 years and evaluate which of them has more and which has less impact. Author findings are that only demographics, shift from goods to services, and decline in population mobility have significant impact. Author also divides these causes into positive and negative, concluding that positive have more impact and therefore slowdown in growth is a sign of positive development.

DETAILS:

Preface
This starts with the point that until year 2000 average growth of USA economy was 2% per years, but after in decreased, but material standards of live actually continue to increase. Author then retells how this book started and who helped him to write it.

1. Victims of Our Own Success
In this chapter author starts by providing economic statistics: “The growth rate of GDP per capita, which is what I focus on in this book, averaged 2.25% per year from 1950 to 2000. But the average growth rate of GDP per capita from 2000 to 2016 was only 1%. That difference of 1.25 percentage points of growth per year means that GDP per capita today is about 25% lower than if we had matched the twentieth-century growth rate throughout the twenty-first century. It represents a significant deceleration of economic growth, but it started well before the recession in 2009.”

Then he discusses sources of growth, especially in human capital and demonstrates that its growth slowed. He also discusses switch from goods to services and how it slows growth because increase in productivity is much more difficult to achieve in services than in manufacturing. Finally, he briefly discusses different theories of slowdown. The final point in this chapter is that slowdown could be a good thing because it demonstrates that we achieved such high levels of productivity that the growth is not important anymore.

2.  What Is the Growth Slowdown?
Here author starts with meaning and provides a nice illustration.

At the end of chapter author compares American data with other countries, demonstrating that it is not that different for developed European countries and Japan, but a lot less than China. Author also makes a point that growth slowdown does not mean that anything become worse than before, but rather that it does not getting better as fast as it could be.

3. The Inputs to Economic Growth
Here author discusses components of growth:

  • Human capital as combination of number of employees, hours worked, and level of educations
  • Physical capital as combination of structures, equipment, and intellectual property

He then explains that even if growth of all components decreased, it is not enough to explain decrease in aggregate

4 What Accounts for the Growth Slowdown?
Here author looks at data per capita and demonstrates that there is residual growth not explained by growth components and it is what slowed it down:

6. The Difference between Productivity and Technology  
In this chapter author looks at technology and productivity and difference that could be related to both machines and processes. Author also discusses diminishing returns on R&D investment, asking if “we run out of innovations?”.

At the end of chapter author discusses potential explanations to residual:

  • The first explanation involves the long-run shift in the composition of our spending away from goods and toward services.
  • The second big idea for explaining slower productivity growth was the rise in market power of firms over the past few decades. The available evidence shows that the average markup—the ratio of price to marginal cost—charged by firms in the economy has increased since 1990. That rise in markups was consistent with the rise in economic profits as a share of GDP over the same time period.
  • A last explanation for the slowdown in productivity growth is also a little puzzling. What I’ll document is that along a number of dimensions, the reallocation of human and physical capital between different uses has slowed down.

The final conclusion about market power is: Increased market power was associated with a smaller share of GDP flowing toward labor or the providers of physical capital, and a larger share to the claimants on the economic profits market power creates. In general, that meant the owners of firms. There are reasons to be wary of that, even if, relative to changes in demographics and the long-run shift into services, it did not explain why the growth rate of real GDP per capita fell.”

12 Reallocations across Firms and Jobs; 13 The Drop in Geographic Mobility
Here author analyzes if reallocation is a source of slowdown in growth. He goes through reallocation within industries, slowing in turnover of establishments, job turnover, and geographic mobility, which also decreased. The conclusion is:” The decline in geographic mobility was not trivial, but it does not explain the growth slowdown.”

14 Did the Government Cause the Slowdown?
Here author reviews consequences of changes in taxes and other government policies and concludes: ”But the evidence indicates that taxation and regulation did not have a significant effect on the ability of firms to produce real goods and services, and specifically there was no substantial shift in government policies around 2000 that could explain the growth slowdown.”

15 Did Inequality Cause the Slowdown?
Here author discusses changes in inequality and provides graph demonstrating that top 1% became less dependent on equity and more on labor income:

The conclusion: “Although the effect of Chinese trade was real in terms of replacing US manufacturing firms and employment—and that had real, negative impacts on those workers and their communities—in terms of the growth slowdown, the impact of Chinese trade was not large. The growth slowdown would have happened even if China had never become a major exporter, as the US was already in the middle of a long-run shift away from goods production toward services production. China accelerated this in a small way but was not responsible for it.”

17 The Future of Growth
In the final chapter author summarizes results of analysis concluding that causes of the growth slowdown are demographic and everything else has very small impact if any. Here is the summary:

At the end author looks in the future and expresses believe that even if the growth will not accelerate, it is actually sign of success because it is result of choices that people make and achieved wealth allows to make choices less bound by material needs than ever before.

MY TAKE ON IT:

From my point of view the accounting growth of GDP is pretty much meaningless number because it does not provide any direct information on material wellbeing of people and therefore requirement for such growth. For example. if everybody who wants to have steak dinner can do it any time, what is the point in growth of beef production? It applies to everything else: houses, cars, and so on. However, leaving aside the question who needs growth and why, the author’s conclusion that slowdown caused by mainly demographics in my view is technically correct, but missing the most important part – lots of people feel big gap between what is available to them materially and want they actually want to have and this gap is not result of inability to produce enough, but rather of ineffective organization of production and distribution processes. If this organization were modified so that its main objective become to close the gap, we would probably see initially huge growth, which then drop to near 0 when human aspirations switch away from material need to something else.

20200719 – The Rise of China vs. the Logic of Strategy

MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is to review consequences, problems, and future outcome of raise of China and its increasingly open claim for world dominance, which author estimates as strategically unsound, albeit practically inevitable. Author believes that it would be met with growing resistance with very adverse consequences for China that could be avoided if Chinese move to democratic form, drop its military ambition,and become normal member of peaceful community of nations.

DETAILS:

Preface
Here author describes his multiyear interest in China’s development and how it prompted writing this book to discuss strategic issues caused by China’s development and threat it generated for the world.

  1. The Fallacy of Unresisted Aggrandizement

In this chapter author discusses raise of China which is now moving away from peaceful development as equal member of world “community” to militant development aiming at world dominance.  After that author makes point that people often tend to project previous development into the future and strategically it always leads to mistake. The change of China objectives, its militarization, and clear plans on domination inevitably cause former supporters and enablers of China’s rise turn into opponents and disablers it this rise continuation.

2. Premature Assertiveness

In this chapter author reviews signs of China leadership’s attitude change as it was demonstrated in several diplomatic encounters in 2010-11, specifically during visit to India.

3. Great-State Autism Defined

Here author discusses more general phenomenon that he calls “Great-State Autism” when leaders of raising great power tend to ignore others. Here is how author characterizes this: “Instead, decisions on foreign affairs are almost always made on the basis of highly simplified, schematic representations of unmanageably complex realities, which are thereby distorted to fit within internally generated categories, expectations, and perspectives.”. Author then looks at historic example of such behavior by British, Russians, and especially Chinese.

4. Historical Residues in Chinese Conduct  

Here author look at Chinese approach to dealing with powerful adversaries expressed in these rules:

  • Initially, concede all that must be conceded to the superior power, to avoid damage and obtain whatever benefits or at least forbearance that can be had from it.
  • Entangle the ruler and ruling class of the superior power in webs of material dependence6 that reduce its original vitality and strength, while proffering equality in a privileged bipolarity that excludes every other power (“G-2,” at present).
  • Finally, when the formerly superior power has been weakened enough, withdraw all tokens of equality and impose subordination.

The final result is imposing on former adversary “the tributary system, the Tianxia hierarchy”. Author also stresses that China is seeking bilateral relations of benevolent Emperor vs tamed barbarians, rather than participation in multilateral organization of equals. Author also presents Chinese understanding of the future world order based on their vision:” The practical value of the traditional Chinese vision of world order, or tianxia … [is that] … this vision anchors a universal authority in the moral, ritualistic, and aesthetic framework of a secular high culture, while providing social and moral criteria for assessing fair, humanitarian governance and proper social relations. Varied discourses indebted to tianxia have resurfaced in modern China in quest of moral and cultural ways of relating to and articulating an international society. We believe that the Chinese vision may prove productive … in the tension-ridden yet interconnected world.”

5. The Coming Geo-Economic Resistance to the Rise of China

In this chapter author moves to present his vision of the future when Chinese approach and strive to dominate will force other countries to resist its economic advance and impose different rules than once that until now supported China’s economic development. Author believes that these rules could go through continuously increasing economic pressure, all the way until complete embargo similar to USA – Cuba situation. Author then reviewing specific measures that USA and other countries applied to counter Chinese advancement economically.

6. China’s Aggrandizement and Global Reactions

Here author reviews how changes in China behavior impacted attitude to China and different countries, which become increasingly negative. Especially strong negative attitude is expressed everywhere to Chinese rapid military development, perceived as a serious threat.

7. The Inevitable Analogy

In this chapter author first notes that historical analogies are usual invalid because all events are unique, then proceed analyze history of raise of Germany at the end of XIX century and its competition with Britain that ended in WWI and WWII. Author pays special attention to British strategy which achieved formation of united front of British, French, and Russian empires against Germany, even if it had to pay price for this by settling all disputes even if at high cost.

8. Could China Adopt a Successful Grand Strategy?

Author clearly believes that the best strategy for China would be restrict its military development and diplomatic assertiveness and continue economic development, but he also understands that it is not going to happen:

“China’s failure at the level of grand strategy, absent political leadership of superhuman perspicacity and courage, is therefore overdetermined:

• It would be abnormal to adopt a humble foreign policy because China’s all-round power is increasing rapidly;

• it would be abnormal to reduce military expenditures because China’s rapid economic growth allows their rapid increase;

• it would be abnormal for the PLA to overcome universal bureaucratic proclivities to accept its own diminution; and

• it would be abnormal for Chinese public opinion, insofar as it counts, to support the unilateral renunciation of military strength, especially given the humiliating past of military impotence. Indeed, there is strong evidence of public support for more military expenditure, and more ambitious expenditure, notably the acquisition of one or more aircraft carriers.

9. The Strategic Unwisdom of the Ancients

Here author looks at Chinese attitudes and glorification of ancient Chinese strategic literature such as Sun Tzu’s “The Art of war”, which is widely accepted as superbly wise peace of work, which still highly influences Chinese strategic thinking. Here is how author characterizes comparing with Western strategic thought: “The undoubted merit of The Art of War is its presentation of the universal and unchanging paradoxical logic of strategy in a form less cryptic than that of the coeval epigrams of Heraclitus (the unity of opposites, and so forth), and altogether more succinct than the On War of Carl von Clausewitz. To be sure, the latter is altogether superior intellectually because Clausewitz explains his reasoning step by step, starting from first principles in a manner at once systematically philosophical and exhilarating, while The Art of War baldly presents its prescriptions in an oracular manner. On War therefore offers a systematic methodology lacking in The Art of War, but there is no doubt that it too conveys the same (paradoxical) truths, and far more expeditiously.” Author provides quite detailed review of this work and concludes that it is way two much based on Chinese intracultural norms to be universally good guide and demonstrates how it impacts current situation.

10. Strategic Competence: The Historical Record

Here author looks at record and notes that real history demonstrates that all this sophisticated thinking is hardly effective in practice, as it beautifully confirmed by history of Han Chinese, who were conquered by much smaller people on pretty regular bases so much so that they ruled themselves only 1/3 of time over the last millennium.  

11. The Inevitability of Mounting Resistance

In this chapter author reviews reaction to of other countries to Chinese claim for domination and stresses not only inevitability of resistance and its actual rapid development, but also notes that balance of combined powers against China is not beneficial for China’s ability to achieve its goal of dominance.

12. Why Current Policies Will Persist

In this chapter author combines many of ideas to conclude that most probable way of development is that China will persists because of:

Great-state autism, which diminishes situational awareness

Historical residues in China’s external conduct, deriving from the tributary system and the presumption of centrality within the concentric circles of the Tianxia.

Resentment, both popular and CCP elite hostility directed at outside powers, often well concealed but strongly felt and sometimes abruptly expressed

The influence of the PLA and the military-industrial establishment on Chinese policies and conduct.

The multiplicity of other expressions of Chinese power—organizations able and willing to pursue expansionism perhaps for their own purely internal motives, which include state-owned enterprises, as well as integral parts of the state apparatus.

13. Australia: Weaving a Coalition; 14. Japan: Disengaging from Disengagement; 15. Defiant Vietnam: The Newest American Ally? 16. South Korea: A Model Tianxia Subordinate? 17. Mongolia: Northern Outpost of the Coalition? 18. Indonesia: From Ostracism to Coalition; 19. The Philippines: How to Make Enemies. 20. Norway: Norway? Norway!

Here author reviews development in surrounding China countries and demonstrates that they far away from accepting China’s dominance.

21. The Three China Policies of the United States

Here author looks at China’s relation with USA and how it developed from situation hugely beneficial for China to constantly deteriorating one. It was expressed by USA’s three policies:

The First U.S. China Policy: Vigorous Promotion of China’s Economic Growth.

The Second U.S. China Policy: The State Department Confronts China.

The Third U.S. China Policy: The Department of Defense.

22. Conclusions and Predictions

This book was published in 2015 and predictions that author made today in 2020 look pretty valid: “At this time, the rising threat emanates from an authoritarian, increasingly assertive China empowered by very rapid economic growth. The logic of strategy evokes corresponding reactions, which are diplomatic in the main but may still be warlike even in our nuclear era, though they can no longer achieve purposeful aims by actual warfare, except on the small scale allowed by escalation risks at each remove. Hence, if the economic disparity between China and the anti-China coalition were one day to reach proportions that no longer allow a tolerable military balance to be maintained, the reaction must assume economic forms, even if it is wholly strategic in content. Only a fully democratic China could advance unimpeded to global hegemony, but then the governments of a fully democratic China would undoubtedly seek to pursue quite other aims, to maximize the happiness of the population rather than their own power. In the meantime, the strategic aim of the United States and other like-minded powers cannot be to outmaneuver and defeat China, but rather to dissuade its own self-defeating pursuit of military aggrandizement in the best interests of the peoples of the world, and China’s first of all”.

MY TAKE ON IT:

Author’s analysis is pretty much in line in what I believe after reading quite a few books about China and its raise. I absolutely agree that the only way to avoid confrontation hopefully economic and political without it turning into war, is for China implement democratic reform and allow removal of Communist party from power. However, I do not believe that it would be easy. It would require complete change of Western attitude to China, which is not possible without internal transformation of Western states, especially USA, that would suppress power of internal pro-China forces such as ideologically pro-communism intelligentsia and big business that benefits highly from access to Chinese lower paid and nearly regulation free environment. I am sure it would cause quite serious struggle, but I believe that America can handle it successfully and Chinese communism will be put to rest in the dust been of history next to the Soviet developed socialism and German National-socialism.

20200712 – The Power of Bad

MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book per authors is to explore power of bad – how much stronger it is than power of good, how it operates in the brain, how it distorts one’s perceptions of people and risks, how one can minimize those distortions, how to use the power of bad for positive purposes, and how to deal with the particular challenges of the negativity effect in business and the online world. It is also to look at the innate human strengths and conscious strategies that can be marshaled against the modern barrage of bad.

DETAILS:

Prologue: The Negativity Effect
Authors start this with discussion of universality of negative attitudes, which on one hand is well known, but on other hand only recently become subject of serious research. Authors describe a number of experiments demonstrating that small amount of bad could spoil large amount of good and discusses this asymmetry. Another important point that authors make is that:” The negativity bias is adaptive; the term biologists use for a trait that improves the odds of survival for an individual or a group. On our ancestral savanna, the hunter-gatherers who survived were the ones who paid more attention to shunning poisonous berries than to savoring delicious ones.”

CHAPTER 1: How Bad Is Bad? Enlisting the Rational Mind
In this chapter authors refer to Baumeister who based on his own live experience developed “positivity ratio”, which is the number of good events required neutralize impact of every bad event. After that they discuss research into this ratio, its methodology and results that led to establishment of “Gottman ratio” 5/1. In other words, one needs 5 positive events to neutralize one negative. Another result related to emotional impact demonstrated that:” Research tracking workers’ moods during the day shows that a setback has between two and five times as much emotional impact as a positive event. Emotions make us less rational, and therefore more susceptible to the power of bad.” An interesting thing authors refer to is explanation of superstitions, which normally prevail because one needs several encounters with black cat when nothing negative happens to override one such encounter when something negative does. The authors discuss phenomenon of safety junkies – people who often irrationally increase their risks, for example driving instead of flying after 9-11, even if driving is much more dangerous. Finally, authors discuss ways to avoid emotional impact by developing some process and use example from the sport tactics.

CHAPTER 2: Love Lessons: Eliminate the Negative
Here authors move to discuss process of removing negatives in one’s love life. Authors use examples from classic literature for this purpose. At the end they present some specific strategies:

  • Don’t overpromise.
  • Don’t expect credit for going the extra mile.
  • Remember that bad is in the eye of the beholder.
  • Put the bad moments to good use.
  • Think before you blame. Beware
  • When you’re fighting, bring in an imaginary referee.
  • Get a second opinion.
  • Suspend judgment.
  • Don’t take the bait.
  • If you must respond, don’t escalate.
  • Follow the Negative Golden Rule.

 CHAPTER 3: The Brain’s Inner Demon: Wired for Bad
This chapter is about Felix Baumgartner who had unexpected psychological problem with long planned stratospheric jump, when he suddenly got paralyzed with fear and then had to apply significant effort with help from psychologist to be able to overcome this problem. Authors use it to discus works of fear in the brain and how to train the brain to overcome it.

CHAPTER 4: Use the Force: Constructive Criticism
This chapter starts with suggestion that bad could prompt people to act and even flourish as result. Authors reviews how slight change in the same review of a book can turn it from positive to negative and demonstrate that negative has a lot more impact than positive. After that authors discuss how to deliver bad news in the wrong and right way. Here are strategies:

  • Consider your objective.
  • Ask questions.
  • Once you’ve gotten the criticism across, use the power of bad to your advantage.
  • In doling out praise, don’t worry that it will seem overblown or insincere.
  • Be creative with your praise.

CHAPTER 5: Heaven or Hell: Prizes vs. Penalties
This chapter is about preference of stick over carrot as an incentive tool. Authors start with derby when nobody ever saw a jokey with a carrot dangling before horse, but all jockeys do have whips. Then they move to religions when fear of hell is much more powerful that anticipation of paradise. Finally, they discuss effective or non-effective applications in education and workplaces.  

CHAPTER 6: Business 101: Yes, We Have No Bad Apples
Here authors discuss typical American attitude to norms violation – bad apples. They make a very valid point that bad apples spoil the barrel and provide guide to different types of bad apples: The jerk, The slacker, and the downer. Author present experiments demonstrating how one bad apple decrease team performance by 35%. Finally, and most important, they provide recommendations how to deal with bad apple:

  • Protect yourself
  • Rearrange the barrels
  • Be careful whom label
  • Don’t expect bad apples to change on their own.
  • Isolate the bad apples.
  • Intervene early, and don’t be shy about it.
  • Don’t force the good apples to adapt to bad behavior.
  • Don’t hesitate to fire a jerk, but don’t be a jerk about it.

CHAPTER 7: Online Perils: The Sunshine Hotel vs. the Moon Lady
This chapter is about good and bad online reviews and how they can hurt business. Authors make a point that bad review are much more influencing that the good once and then provide recommendations on how to fight it: by providing really good service and saturating online reviewing with bad review designed in such way as to demonstrate that author is a jerk and therefore bad review should be discounted.

CHAPTER 8: The Pollyanna Principle: Our Natural Weapon Against Bad
This is another set of recommendations based on the story of Pollyanna – the girl that remained idiotically happy whatever bad things happened to her. Here is a set of recommendations of how to do it that authors provide:

  • Change the narrative.
  • Share your good news.
  • Rejoice (or at least fake it) when you hear someone else’s good news.
  • List your blessings.
  • Make time for nostalgia—and make more good memories.
  • Treasure the past, but don’t compare.

CHAPTER 9: The Crisis Crisis: Bad Ascending
This is another set of recommendations on how to deal with bad news. Authors recommend to start with three assumptions:

  1. The world will always seem to be in crisis.
  2. The crisis is never as bad as it sounds.
  3. The solution could easily make things worse.

After that they proceed to discuss that everything really got a lot better over the last few centuries and that there are lots of people who promote bad news because they believe it would be beneficial for them. Authors also provide recommendation on coping with bad news saturation.

CHAPTER 10: The Future of Good
In the final chapter authors somewhat surprisingly move to declare that despite obvious power of bad, the good’s prospects somehow improving over time: bad prophesies never realized, instead of starvation humanity had to deal with obesity, instead of nuclear war, the most peaceful time in history,  and despite all the negativity in the press, everything is getting somewhat better than it used to be despite memories filtering out bad, retain everything good, and overall generate nostalgy for the past that never existed. So, the key approach should be to take everything easy and approach both good and bad in reasonable and steady way.

MY TAKE ON IT:

I find the main ideas of these book that bad staff is powerful quite convincing and very much consistent with human psychology for which multitude of experiments demonstrate that people significantly more impacted by loss, that by gain. There are even quite consistent demonstrations that quantify these differences, by estimating how much more value is provided by retaining $100 versus gaining $100. I also agree with authors’ ideas on how one should handle bad news and overall approach to the bad staff in live. The constant fear and panic would do no good if one cannot prevent bad from happening, but steady and rational approach to whatever comes, do really allow avoiding bad if there is a chance to do it.

20200705 – The Litigation Nation

MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is to demonstrate that American Exceptionalism very much expresses itself in the way Americans use litigation not only to settle disputes between themselves, but also move ahead legal and moral advancement of the country and demonstrate history of this process moving from defamation of neighbors and witch-hunt of early America all the way to contemporary successful class action lawsuit industry.

DETAILS:

Introduction: Litigation and Honor
This starts with one of the first sexual harassment cases from which author using multiple other data infers that progress of American society moves from one litigation case to another, whether it refers to civil rights, consumer protection, and what not. Author also provides brief review of American legal structure to demonstrate how it all works and some historical data on number of lawyers to demonstrate consistency of America as litigation country throughout the history.

Part I: Litigation Defines a Nation
Here author states that litigation was prominently present in American life from the very beginning and it is to significant extent defined character of America as a nation.

  1. Defamation

The first chapter tracks an explosion of defamation suits in the seventeenth-century colonies, wherein servants, mistresses, and masters who had in England known and more or less accepted their place in the social order, in the New World accused one another of all manner of mischief. East Hampton Township on Long Island was one focal point of this miniature status uprising. The ruckus would lead to the first colonial witchcraft scare. The coda shows how defamation of public figures today demonstrated changing notions of right and wrong.

  • Land-Grabbing and Money-Grubbing

The second chapter follows a major shift (phase change) in the way the American colonists did business, focusing in particular on land disputes in eighteenth-century New Jersey. Real estate transactions whose principals did not know one another partially supplanted older customs of face-to-face exchanges of plots. The former involved documents that ordinary people did not understand. Plaintiff and defendant had to hire trained lawyers to carry on the litigation. A coda returns to litigation over mortgages, descendants of lawsuits over title.

  • Slavery and Honor

The third chapter turns to slave sales and estate disputes in the ante-bellum South, tracing a striking rise in suits for fraudulent sales and contested wills. This spike in litigation reflected the southern slave society’s shift from vigorous self-confidence to defensive anxiety. The courts were a cockpit of these often bitterly contested cases. The coda returns to the issue of reparations for slavery.

  • Free Labor?

Chapter 4 turns to the rise of free labor, focusing on suits for back pay, the appearance of craft unions, and damage awards for accidents. It closes with the most important of the modern version of these lawsuits—guest worker suits.

Part II: Litigation Defends Democracy
In this part author is moving to America after Civil war and all the way until present, discussing various types of litigation from business and matrimonial disputes between individuals to civil rights and tort litigation between large groups, corporations, and governments.

  • Stock Swindles and Swindlers

In the Gilded Age, railroads were the leading edge of these new kinds of corporate entities, and the creation of the Northern Securities trust became the nation’s great test of the tactics of the owners. The coda returns to the Regional Rail Reorganization Act Cases (1974) and a foreboding omen of corporate malfeasance for which the shareholders paid, the Enron scandal.

  • Divorce

Chapter 6 follows a rise in divorce suits in the first years of the twentieth century, as changing views of marriage and gender roles worked themselves out in the courts. Among the most reform minded of all the states’ tribunals, the New York courts experienced this shift in attitudes in telling fashion. New York was also the origin of U.S. v. Windsor (2013), the case striking down the Defense of Marriage Act (1996).

  • Civil Rights and Wrongs

Chapter 7 turns to the civil rights suits of the second half of the twentieth century, surveying how a gradual change in race relations spurred litigation over school segregation and public accommodations. The key cases are Briggs v. Elliot (1953) and Bell v. Maryland (1963).

  • Product Liability and Mass Tort Litigation

The final chapter examines an explosion in consumer tort cases, showing how the world of consumption habits in everyday life had become at the same time more faceless and more deeply personal. Called mass products liability, these involved some of the wealthiest corporations and thousands of the most ordinary Americans. The Dalkon Shield class action suit of the 1970s and 1980s captured all of these elements.

Conclusion: The Value of Litigation in America

A conclusion returns us to the themes of honor and phase change in values, featuring Boy Scouts of America v. Dale (2000).

MY TAKE ON IT:

This book demonstrates, and pretty convincingly at that, that America as a country of litigation is not a recent phenomenon, but rather an inherent feature of American culture. From my point of view, it is actually a pretty good feature, especially comparing with other cultures when disputes are resolved either by authoritarian rulers or by violent struggles. However, as any other goods thing when there is too much of this it is getting to be a lot less good. In case of litigation, its current level in America went way beyond reasonable levels. It created the whole industry with some 3 million lawyers busy with making money by preventing businesses from working effectively, spouses separating peacefully, and extracting money from public funds for imaginary civil rights violations with active cooperation from “public servants” who are eager to help and share in proceeds. In short, peaceful character of dispute resolution became deleterious due to massive instigating of disputes to generate profits for legal industry. Moreover, top level members of judicial branch routinely interfere with political process subverting democracy and, by doing so, paving way for suppression of resolution of many very important disputes that could potentially explode the whole system. I think that this situation calls for legal reforms, very big and very soon for such explosion to be prevented.

20200628 – Physical Intelligence

MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book per author is this: ” A rich and complex connection to the physical world demanding abilities that blur distinctions among mind, brain, and body; proactive decision-making regarding physiological events and action execution; physically challenging do-it-yourself projects in complicated situations that require ingenuity, strength, and a willingness to stray off the beaten path: these desiderata, in their variety and complexity of physical action, allow for the sustenance of enviable personhood. The challenge for our future, particularly as we more and more partake of a cocooned urban lifestyle, will be to find settings analogous to nature that will require sufficient complexity of physical intelligence and ensure the physical experiences we need to sustain our health and provide us with a sense of integrated well-being.”

DETAILS:

Introduction
Here author defines the notion of “physical intelligence”: the components of the mind that allow anyone to engage with and change the world. Inside the brain there is no single module or bit of tissue that makes this possible. Instead, the action-prone mind draws on a multiplicity of capabilities”. He links it to his experience as hiker, stating that it becomes evident only when one is within natural environment – wilderness. Then author points out that human evolution occurred in wilderness, rather than at home or in the office, and it is demonstrated by our physical intelligence. Finally, author discusses iceman Ötzi and how the physical intelligence kept him alive in very challenging environment.

1: The Space We Create
Author starts this chapter with describing beginning of his hiking trip into mountains and then moves to discuss how mind creates concept of space and orient body within this space:” The brain routinely combines vision, touch, and positions of the joints to make a volume around the body. There is good evidence that some neurons code for particular parts of space, such as the space within reach. Other kinds of neurons are active when an object or the hand approaches a particular spot on the face, like one cheek or the other”. The author describes several neuropathological conditions that illustrate what happens when parts of these multiple systems within the brain go out of commission or out of balance. After that author presents result of several relevant experiments using fMRI and other methods of direct scanning of the brain. He also discusses high performance sportsmen and their superior situational awareness, which allow some impressive physical feats.  

2: Surfaces
Here author movers to discuss surfaces. He starts with physical challenge of working in mountains, pointing out that it requires concentration of attention in the process of just walking to such extent that it consumes more than 80% of brain activity at the moment. He then discusses brain areas heavily involved in this process and what happens when these areas are damaged. The next topic is discussion of formation of this functionality in human brain starting with infants learning to move. The complexity of movement, especially walking, well demonstrated by inability to implement this functionality in robots. The final part of this discussion is about ground-level falls that quite surprisingly is a big problem and not only for elderly.

3: Shaping the Self
This chapter is about mental representation of body shape and ways to adjust it to environmental space in such way as it is required to achieve some objective. It is also reviewed in relation to some areas of body, which were damaged. It is not limited to the brain, but also includes “different sensory organs within the joints, ligaments, tendons, and muscles that provide information about body position had been identified through the microscope. The computations these sensors enable are complex.”  Author discusses how it all works, experiments and observations of situations when various parts of the system are broken, and then returns back to the story of his hiking for illustration.

4: The Hidden Hand
In this chapter author moves to feedback control. He starts with analysis of use of spear that requires precise control of hand movement. He compares it with process of missile control. Then author discusses what happens when due to brain damage feedback signal stop coming and person even loses notion of possession of hand for example. The details of this process author describe as “hidden hand”: representation of body and surrounding environment within the brain as internal copy of movement-producing signal (efference).

5: Pulling Strings
Here author uses the story about difficulties of repairing a stove in the field because this action required specific positioning of his hands that he initially could not do. It brings discussion to motor controlling system and here is how author describes results of research:” nearly every one of these command neurons with the strongest influence over the muscles drives only one muscle. Each cortical motor neuron will influence only one muscle. This is good news in that it simplifies the wiring diagram. It also provides enormous freedom for the motor cortex to create any sort of movement it wants (provided the bones and joints will allow it!) and to individuate, to isolate the contractions of particular muscles in new ways.” Author then points out that each cortical neuron could participate in many kinds of actions and discusses in details how it all happens.

6: Perspectives
In this chapter author moves to the problem of orientation: how people know where they are and which way to go. He starts with experiments that show that without some direction processing people tend to walk in circles. He then discusses how animal and people find way, usually by utilizing some direction clues that go into developing mental representation of the map. Then author looks at it from another angle: mapping a brain using fixed box on the head to create referential frame.    

7: Learning to Solve Problems
This is very interesting and even funny chapter about problem solving. It retells the story of struggle between bears and tourists supported by park service. The latter trying to prevent bears getting to the food by using boxes, hiding food in cars and so on, while bears often succeed in getting to this food. Then author discusses how it is done: “hierarchical reinforcement learning and model-based learning work well when there are just a few actions to plan as a sequence. But what of problems whose solution requires many steps? As steps are added, the number of potential solutions grows exponentially. Here is the curse of dimensionality in problem-solving in all its glory.”

8: Purpose
In this chapter author moves to use of tools. He points out that it used to be common believe that use of tools differentiates humans from other animals, but with better knowledge and research it is obviously not correct. The interesting part of discussion is mental mechanism that turns tools into part of a body by including it in the body schema. There is also a quite interesting discussion of related neuronal activity. Moreover, tools and actions are united in the mind and author discusses how it was discovered by observing individuals with damaged brains.

9: Costs
This chapter starts with author’s health emergency in the middle of nowhere in mountains when getting to other people become question of life and death. Author describes how he was walking all day overcoming various difficulties and exhaustion. In process author discuss in detail how process of walking is the best and most effective exercise for which human body was naturally evolved. The final and most important part of the chapter is discussion of tradeoff between cost and reward. In this case cost was loss of energy and stress on author body that author had to overcome to achieve his objective. Here is how it was achieved:” The calculus underlying all my trade-offs of speed, stability, efficiency, and grace was performed without my giving it a single thought. All I had to do was sustain the tempo”.

10: Of One Mind

The last chapter starts with discussion of fatigue. Author discusses various explanations of this phenomenon and note that continuing training allows conditioning of the body to diminish and somewhat control it. His example – top level athletes capable to control their body to such extent that they time energy complete expenditure exactly to the moment of achieving finish line. This demonstrates integrity of a person and author discusses how specifically it works by using quick stress responses:” There are two lines of evidence that will eventually need to be reconciled. The standard view, based on extensive studies of patients who have suffered strokes and brain imaging of healthy people, is that the regulation of the heart is mediated through the insula: a hidden island of cortex located underneath the temporal lobe. In healthy subjects, changes in heart rate can be correlated with insula brain activity measured by functional MRI scans. And in patients with stroke, damage here can lead to catastrophic heart failure, presumably because of brief overstimulation of the heart. Recent anatomic studies by my colleague Peter Strick suggest that the insula serves as a control center to the parasympathetic nerves. These are the nerves that actually brake the heart and allow us to rest and digest. There is also good evidence that this area senses feelings from the viscera of the body. It is monitoring heart rate, respiration, and activity of the gut, making sense of what is going on. Damaging this sensing might also eliminate feedback control and lead to runaway stimulation of the heart.

The alternative model, which we know less about, maintains that the cingulate cortex and other areas of the frontal lobe are key for connecting the mind to the body by proactively controlling fast-acting stress responses via the sympathetic nerves. This is the system that drives the heart harder and enhances blood flow to the muscles. The evidence supporting this conclusion is quickly mounting. In recent studies of patients with epilepsy, when electrodes are placed in the deep portion of the anterior cingulate and a jamming signal is introduced, there is an obvious and dramatic decline in systolic blood pressure that is sustained until the stimulator is turned off. Such fast changes could be sparked only by nerves, not circulating hormones. No other area of the human brain has ever been shown to manipulate blood pressure this reliably.”

At the end author strongly affirms his believe:” that the integrity of a person can be revealed through the intelligence of physical action. Intense physical experience, particularly in complex natural settings, places demands on the brain to learn and to be proactive, even as it refines action to allow for best performance.”

MY TAKE ON IT:

I also believe that human mind and body is one integrated entity, so any approach that concentrates only on one part of this entity is necessarily very limited and could not possibly inform effective actions of any consequence beyond direct and simple impact. Among multitude of data, research, and experiments I was very impressed with one case: person with multiple personality of which one personality was healthy and another diabetic. How switch in mind of this person from one personality to another impacted level of sugar in blood is very difficult to say, but demonstrative power of body/mind integrity of this case is unquestionable. I think that in very near future application of AI technology that would allow analysis of millions of parameters of a person simultaneously with status evaluation and valid prediction of result of any externally directed action would allow removal of the very notion of being sick or even unwell if not completely, then close to it.

20200621 – Human Diversity

MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is to provide review of the most recent scientific research into human biology and humanities related to variation between individuals belonging to three different types of groups: by sex, by race, and by class. The objective is to provide hard data on intrinsic differences between groups within each type: male vs. female; one race vs. another; one class vs. another.

DETAILS:

Introduction
The introduction is mainly about author’s intention to present scientific data that contradict currently dominant orthodoxy and support 10 propositions presented by author. Here is author’s description of orthodoxy:” The core doctrine of the orthodoxy in the social sciences is a particular understanding of human equality. I don’t mean equality in the sense of America’s traditional ideal—all are equal in the eyes of God, have equal inherent dignity, and should be treated equally under the law—but equality in the sense of sameness. Call it the sameness premise: In a properly run society, people of all human groupings will have similar life outcomes. Individuals might have differences in abilities, the orthodoxy (usually) acknowledges, but groups do not have inborn differences in the distributions of those abilities, except for undeniable ones such as height, upper body strength, and skin color. Inside the cranium, all groups are the same. The sameness premise theoretically applies to any method of grouping people, but three of them have dominated the discussion for a long time: gender, race, and socioeconomic class. Rephrased in terms of those groups, the sameness premise holds that whatever their gender, race, or the class they are born into, people in every group should become electrical engineers, nurture toddlers, win chess tournaments, and write sci-fi novels in roughly equal proportions. They should have similar distributions of family income, mental health, and life expectancy. Large group differences in these life outcomes are prima facie evidence of social, cultural, and governmental defects that can be corrected by appropriate public policy.”

The 10 propositions that author supports are:

1. Sex differences in personality are consistent worldwide and tend to widen in more gender-egalitarian cultures.

2. On average, females worldwide have advantages in verbal ability and social cognition while males have advantages in visuospatial abilities and the extremes of mathematical ability.

3. On average, women worldwide are more attracted to vocations centered on people and men to vocations centered on things.

4. Many sex differences in the brain are coordinate with sex differences in personality, abilities, and social behavior.

5. Human populations are genetically distinctive in ways that correspond to self-identified race and ethnicity.

6. Evolutionary selection pressure since humans left Africa has been extensive and mostly local.

7. Continental population differences in variants associated with personality, abilities, and social behavior are common.

8. The shared environment usually plays a minor role in explaining personality, abilities, and social behavior.

9. Class structure is importantly based on differences in abilities that have a substantial genetic component.

10. Outside interventions are inherently constrained in the effects they can have on personality, abilities, and social behavior.

Part I: “Gender Is a Social Construct”
Here author retells the story of development of feminist idea that sex is social construct and attempts to separate it from human biology. He states that last 20 years of scientific development left no doubt that this idea is completely detached from reality and then proceeds to discuss details.

1. A Framework for Thinking About Sex Differences
First author is trying to establish dimensions of discussion about male/female differences:

  • The People-Thigs Dimension
  • Height as example of statistical differences illustrated by graph below:
  • Which Effect Size is Big Enough
  • Inedividual vs. Aggregated Aproach

2. Sex Differences in Personality
In this chapter author looks at differences in personality disorders and differences within normal range. Author looks at this issue as it occurs in USA, worldwide, and especially how it depends on cultural environment: levels of equality.  

3. Sex Differences in Neurocognitive Functioning
Here author provides a long list of differences defined as result of multiple empirical studies:

  • Females tend to be better than males at detecting pure tones. 
  • Adult females tend to have more sensitive hearing for high frequencies than males. 
  • Females tend to have better auditory perception of binaural beats and otoacoustic emissions.
  • Females tend to detect faint smells better than males. 
  • Females tend to identify smells more accurately than males.
  • Males under 40 tend to detect small movements in their visual field better than females. 
  • Age-related loss of vision tends to occur about ten years earlier for females than for males. 
  • Males are many times more likely to be color-blind than females (the ratio varies by ethnic group).  
  • The balance of evidence indicates that females are more accurate than males in recognizing the basic tastes (sweet, sour, salty, bitter), though some studies find no difference. 
  • Females tend to be better than males at perceiving fine surface details by touch. This holds true for blind people as well as sighted ones.
  • Females tend to be better than males at remembering faces and names. 
  • Females tend to be better than males at recognizing facial emotions. 
  • Females tend to be better at remembering the minutiae of an event (labeled peripheral detail), while males tend to be better at remembering the core events (labeled gist)
  • Females tend to remember speech they have heard better than males, particularly when it relates to emotionally laden events in their past. 
  • Females tend to retain memories from earlier childhood better than males do. 
  • Females tend to have better short-term memory than males (e.g., given a list of single-digit numbers, they remember longer lists than males do). 
  • Females tend to have better verbal working memory (e.g., remembering a list of numbers while answering questions about an unrelated topic). 
  • Females tend to have better memory for locations of objects (e.g., remembering where the car keys were left). 
  • Males tend to have better visuospatial memory (e.g., navigating on the basis of a combination of landscape features).

4. Sex Differences in Educational and Vocational Choices
In this chapter author reviews results of multiple studies; stresses increase in female educational achievement and provides summary results of difference:

5. Sex Differences in the Brain
Here author discussesProposition #4: Many sex differences in the brain are coordinate with sex differences in personality, abilities, and social behavior.” He looks at difference in genotype and phenotype, and provides analysis of brain scans results. He summarizes it the following way:

  • Circulating sex hormones produce easily observable differences in the phenotype. Those hormones have specific, documented effects that match up with some of the differences in personality and neurocognitive functioning discussed in chapters 2 and 3. 
  • The underreported news about sex hormones is the permanent effect that prenatal and infant surges of testosterone have on masculinizing the male brain. Those effects also match up with the earlier discussions of personality and neurocognitive functioning. 
  • The greater lateralization of the male brain has been documented by a variety of evidence about sex differences in structural connectivity and functional connectivity. These findings bear on phenotypic sex differences in visuospatial and verbal skills. 
  • Differences in the functioning of the amygdala, hypothalamus, and other regions of the limbic

Part II: “Race Is a Social Construct”
This part is about another source of division – race. Author reviews history of development of idea that race is a social construct and looks at couple of famous people who promoted this idea.

6. A Framework for Thinking About Race Differences

In this chapter author is stresses that his approach in no way is supporting ideas about superior and inferior races and similar staff. His point is that science should look at genetics to define what is different in people of different races and not get beyond its area of competence. Therefore, author provides some minimal data and terminology related to genetics.

7. Genetic Distinctiveness Among Ancestral Populations
Here author looks at decoded human genome and discusses what databases are available, evolution of hominins, expansion of our species all around the world, and how genetic differences analyzed. Here is his summary: “The material here does not support the existence of the classically defined races, nor does it deny the many ways in which race is a social construct. Rather, it communicates a truth that geneticists expected theoretically more than half a century ago and that has been confirmed by repeated empirical tests: Genetic differentiation among populations is an inherent part of the process of peopling the Earth. It is what happens when populations successively split off from parent populations and are subsequently (mostly) separated geographically.”

8. Evolution Since Humans Left Africa
The next proposition author discusses is: “Evolutionary selection pressure since humans left Africa has been extensive and mostly local.” Author discusses recent findings in genetics, which move it away from relatively simple model of random and rare mutations to much more complex understanding in which diverse mechanisms impact organism in such way that evolution becomes a lot more dynamic, allowing for huge decrease in time is requires to make material changes in organisms.

9. The Landscape of Ancestral Population Differences
The final chapter of this part is designed to demonstrate that “Continental population differences in variants associated with personality, abilities, and social behavior are common.” Author going through multiple comparisons among subpopulations from the same continent and then at different continents demonstrating genetic diversity much higher between races than between subpopulations. Author’s recapitulation is:” The story of the raw material for studying continental population differences applies to SNPs related to physiological parameters, diseases, and cognitive repertoires. Substantial between-continent differences in target allele frequencies are common. Around a third of all differences meet a plausible definition of “large.” The limited amount of sophisticated genetic analysis of between-continent differences done to date suggests that these extensive differences observed in the raw material will frequently yield productive results about genuine continental population differences.”

Part III: “Class Is a Function of Privilege”
The final part of the book is about class difference. Author makes point that this difference comes not that much from formal privileges as from diversity of cognitive abilities that make individuals more or less capable to succeed in any given circumstances and that these abilities to large extent come from genotype and transferred from generation to generation. Author describes IQ role in three steps:

  • Establishing the heritability of cognitive repertoires and the relative unimportance of family background. 
  • Demonstrating that those cognitive repertoires are important causes of success. 
  • Examining the potential ways to mitigate the role of genes in determining success.

10. A Framework for Thinking About Heritability and Class
Here author discusses heritability: the process of transfer of features across generation and uses twins’ studies to demonstrate that it is valid in relation to genotype only, regardless of other forms of inheritance such as wealth, culture, and so on.

11. The Ubiquity of Heritability and the Small Role of the Shared Environment
Here author presents what he calls three laws of genetics:

  • First Law. All human behavioral traits are heritable. 
  • Second Law. The effect of being raised in the same family is smaller than the effect of genes. 
  • Third Law. A substantial portion of the variation in complex human behavioral traits is not accounted for by the effects of genes or families.

After that once again he refers to twins’ studies to support the proposition:” The shared environment usually plays a minor role in explaining personality, abilities, and social behavior.”

 Author summarizes this in quite interesting graphic form:

12. Abilities, Personality, and Success
This chapter argues that “Class structure is importantly based on differences in abilities that have a substantial genetic component.” Author uses Herrnstein syllogism:

1. If differences in mental abilities are inherited, and

2. If success requires those abilities, and

3. If earnings and prestige depend upon success,

4. Then social standing (which reflects earnings and prestige) will be based to some extent on inherited differences among people.

To support this idea author provides results of comparative studies of IQ in childhood with adult outcomes.

13. Constraints and Potentials
The final chapter of this part argues that “Outside interventions are inherently constrained in the effects they can have on personality, abilities, and social behavior.”

Author uses here another syllogism:

1. If the shared environment explains little of the variance in cognitive repertoires, and

2. If the only environmental factors that can be affected by outside interventions are part of the shared environment,

3. Then outside interventions are inherently constrained in the effects they can have on cognitive repertoires.

Then he analyses veracity of each premise based on research results, looking at specific areas:

  • Role of outside interventions
  • How genes shape environment
  • Heritability and Socioeconomic status
  • Empirical record for early childhood interventions

Author also looks at various attempts to achieve improvements:

  • The Self-esteem Movement
  • Stereotyping Threat
  • The Growth Mindset Movement

The result of analysis is conclusion that effects are minimal.

The final part of chapter is discussion of epigenetics.

Part IV: Looking Ahead
Here author refers to E.O. Wilson’s idea of Consilience: merge of all areas of human knowledge into one seamless entity in order to present a coherent vision of the future.

14. The Shape of the Revolution
In this chapter author “focuses on the problem of establishing causation with genomic material and describes a great debate about the role of genomics in social science that is already well under way. Its resolution will determine whether the social science revolution is upon us or will be deferred indefinitely.” Author presents variety of schools of thought in this area and discuss ongoing debates.

15. Reflections and Speculations
The final chapter presents author’s key conclusions:

  • Human beings can be biologically classified into groups by sex and by ancestral population. Like most biological classifications, these groups have fuzzy edges. This complicates things analytically, but no more than that. 
  • Many phenotypic differences in personality, abilities, and social behavior that we observe between the sexes, among ancestral populations, and among social classes have a biological component. 
  • Growing knowledge about human diversity will inevitably shape the future of the social sciences.

After that he discusses how it would impact understanding of human nature:

MY TAKE ON IT:

I think that results of research and analysis presented in this book demonstrate quite convincingly that men are somewhat different from women, smart people from stupid, successful from unsuccessful, and that a lot of this difference is intrinsic, coming from genetic makeup of individuals. The funny thing about all these is that I do not think that on the reasonably long run it has any relevance to human lives whatsoever. The origin of interest in differences between humans comes from the period in history when role of family origin become much less important in defining quality of individual life, while personal qualities much more important. It used to be if one born duke, he is duke to the end so IQ would not matter. When born poor got opportunity become rich then IQ become important. However, while opportunity to move up opened, the places up there remained scarce, and road there went via selection by others. For example, IQ test came from US army, which needed easy to use tool that would provide good prediction for which conscript is smart enough to become artillery calculator, which one is better fit to learn tactics and weapons to be a good infantry soldier, and which is best fit to load and unload trucks. Same for deciding if women can do this or that job and whether class position defined by robbery and banditry or by superior intellectual abilities and grit. All this is losing relevance as soon as most of necessary for production activities moves to AI and machines, so people are free to do whatever they want and do not need to compete for place in some hierarchy in order to satisfy their material and psychological needs. They just need resources to pursue their own unique type of happiness.  

20200614 – Bullshit Jobs