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20211023 – Escaping Paternalism

MAIN IDEA:

The main idea is to review behavioral economics at a very detailed level and demonstrate that its promoters’ claims are often excessive, often based on research isolated from reality, and greatly simplify rationality or lack thereof in human behavior.  However, the overriding objective of this book is to provide viable intellectual tools for rejection of the attempts to limit individual freedom via the coercive intervention of bureaucrats and politicians into individual decision-making under the pretense of better knowledge of what people need than these people themselves.    

DETAILS:

1 Introduction:

The Rise of the New Paternalism

The Old versus the New Paternalism

A Sampling from the Behavioral Paternalist Agenda: Sin Taxes, Default Enrollment in Savings Plans, Cooling-Off Periods, Risk Narratives, Graphic Images, Employee-Friendly Terms in Labor Contracts, Outright Bans;

A Gauntlet of Challenges

Caveats and Clarifications: Arguments versus Policies, Behavioral Arguments for Nonpaternalist Policies, Freedom and Autonomy;

People, Not Puppets

This introduction describes the new paternalism recently developed from behavioral economics. Authors suggest that it is different from old paternalism, which stated that elite experts better know what is best for people than people themselves. The new paternalism forfeits this claim and claims not to dictate but discover peoples’ wants. The new paternalists also claim to know how to make better decisions, and they want the power to nudge people to act correctly. The authors define the key objective of the book as:” presenting the conceptual and consequentialist case against behavioral paternalism. Inasmuch as the case for behavioral paternalism rests on its supposedly beneficial consequences, our response in most respects constitutes an immanent critique.”

2 What Is Rationality?

Explicit and Implicit Components of Purposeful Behavior

Rules as a Tool of Rationality

Bounded Rationality and the Limits of Models

The Functional Value of Biases and Errors

Positive, Normative, and Prescriptive

This chapter defines the new notion of inclusive rationality:” Inclusive rationality means purposeful behavior based on subjective preferences and beliefs, in the presence of both environmental and cognitive constraints. This notion of rationality preserves the core notion of purposefulness, and in that sense, it should seem familiar. But unlike other notions of rationality – many of which were invented for modeling purposes but have since taken on a life of their own – inclusive rationality does not dictate the normative structure of preferences and beliefs a priori. Instead, it allows a wide range of possibilities in terms of how real people select their goals, form and revise their beliefs, structure their decisions, and conceptualize the world. Their preferences and beliefs may be inchoate, incomplete, inconsistent, mutable, and dependent on context. Inclusive rationality can thus encompass choices and strategies that would not make sense under more restrictive notions of rationality.” The authors present specific features of inclusive rationality and discuss how it differs from formal rationality and irrationality. They also discuss conscious and unconscious components of purposeful human behavior, bounded rationality that limits human reasoning abilities, and resulting deficiencies in human actions in achieving the best available results. Finally, the authors provide the list of issues that pretty much invalidates behavior economists’ claim to be able to improve people lives by manipulating their behavior in the “correct” direction:

  • They may assume, in accordance with ordinary conversational norms, that experimenters provide only information that is relevant to solving the problem – i.e., no irrelevant or “tricky” information. They do not immediately assume the experimenters are trying to fool them.
  • They may resist the distinction between the validity of a syllogistic inference (e.g., “People with red hair are Martians, John has red hair, therefore John is a Martian”) and the truth of a conclusion itself (John is not a Martian). Normally, in everyday life, it is the truth that is more important.
  • They may not assume that prior probabilities about something – such as the likelihood that someone has a disease – must be equal to the “base rates” from the population provided to them. Instead, their priors may be affected by their evaluation of the significance of the base rates to a particular problem in front of them – say, whether a specific person who chose to visit the doctor and chose to take a test has the disease. Treating priors in this way is fully consistent with the subjectivist Bayesian view that prior probabilities are subjective – a fact frequently ignored in the rush to deem subjects “irrational.”
  • They may not agree with model-builders on the informational equivalence of different descriptions of a situation. Instead, they may infer implicit information or advice from how a problem is presented. For example, they may perceive an important difference between a stated probability of success equal to 0.7 and a stated probability of failure equal to 0.3. Perhaps the former conveys greater optimism, despite the formal mathematical equivalence of the two statements. Conversational norms and expectations do not always align with logic and probability theory. The former can be adaptive in the real world while the latter is adaptive on experimental tests. Which is more important?
  • They may attach satisfaction or utility to things other than what the analysts expect. For instance, they may value an object more because it is theirs already. Or they may care about feelings of gain and loss experienced during the experiment, not just how much money they have when they leave the laboratory. Or they may gain satisfaction purely from having a particular belief, irrespective of its truth (“My wife is beautiful and my children are gifted”).

Finally, at the end of the chapter, the authors clearly state their position:” The simple fact that individuals do not behave in accordance with standard theories is not evidence of failure in this broader normative sense. It is certainly not evidence in favor of fixing their behavior. The norms of standard neoclassical rationality are not prescriptions for better behavior. Behavioral economists have unfortunately accepted the prescriptive relevance of the received theory even as they have rejected its predictive accuracy in a wide range of behavior. In this book, the authors are mainly concerned with the normative and prescriptive aspects of rationality. Therefore, their disagreement is with both standard and behavioral economics, given that both are wedded to the same prescriptive view of rationality.

3 Rationality for Puppets:

The Axioms of Preference Rationality

Neoclassical Rationality as the Behavioral Welfare Standard

The Origin of Neoclassical Rationality in Economic Theory

Rational Violations of “Rational Preference”: Preference Discovery, Preference Formation, Economizing on Cognitive and Noncognitive Effort, Preference Rotation, Illustrative Examples;

What About the Money Pump?

Description and Redescription

The Non-Sequitur of Resolving Preference Inconsistencies

Interpreting Behavioral Inconsistency
Authors’ Conclusions:
“Behavioral paternalists rest their case on the evidence that normal people violate basic tenets of rationality. But what do they mean by rationality? It turns out behavioral economists use the same definition of rationality as their neoclassical counterparts. Neoclassical or “puppet” rationality rests on two axioms – completeness and transitivity – that together impose a form of consistency on the structure of people’s preferences. Other characteristics of neoclassical rationality, such as framing invariance and independence of irrelevant alternatives, derive from these more basic axioms. Although behavioral paternalists have rejected neoclassical rationality as a positive description of human behavior, they have nevertheless maintained it as a normative standard. In this chapter, we have argued that this was a mistake. The axiomatic definition of rationality was developed primarily, if not entirely, for positive (i.e., descriptive or explanatory) analysis. The axioms justified the use of utility functions, an important step along the path to proving propositions such as the existence of a competitive market equilibrium. They made economic models mathematically tractable, and they facilitated the generation of testable hypotheses. In short, they enabled the creation of simple, functional, and often quite useful puppets to populate economic models, thereby satisfying the needs of the model-builders. But however useful the neoclassical axioms may have been for positive purposes; they never had a strong normative justification. They may be violated in many reasonable ways. Normal people may be found in the process of discovering their preferences, or even the process of creating them. They may decide, consciously or otherwise, that the costs of completely rationalizing their preferences exceed the benefits of doing so, and so they allow their preferences to remain inconsistent. A variety of examples show that people’s preferences may be incomplete or intransitive for understandable reasons that do not obviously demand correction. Our inclusive notion of rationality allows for all of these deviations from the neoclassical structure. The simplistic axioms of puppet rationality cannot capture the breadth and variety of how real human beings evaluate options and make choices. Many of the problems discussed in this chapter are not new, but presenting them together here demonstrates that the normative case for puppet rationality is extraordinarily weak, at least outside of special cases. The neoclassical axioms of preference may have descriptive or explanatory value – or, given the work of behavioral economists, they may not. But to call them “rationality requirements” is normatively arbitrary. If we gave them another name – say, “structural assumptions” – they would still perform the function for which they were created without deceiving economists or the public into thinking that nonconforming behavior or preferences need to be “fixed.”

4 Preference Biases:

Intertemporal Trade-Offs and Time-Discounting Inconsistencies: Time: Objective and Subjective, Preference Reversal, Intransitive Intertemporal Choices, Do Nonstandard Intertemporal Decision-Makers Suffer?

Endowment Effects: Loss Aversion as a Cause of Endowment Effects, Status Quo Bias as a Cause of Endowment Effects; Mere Ownership as a Cause of Endowment Effects, Contrary Evidence;

Affective Forecasting: Impact Bias as Procedural Artifact? Cognitive Feedback: Attention and Learning;

Authors’ Conclusions: “In this chapter we have shown that the phenomena known as “preference biases” are far more complex than they are often portrayed to be. Sometimes more penetrating analysis shows that the evidence for their existence is weak. Other times they are (at least partially) artifacts of imprecise or misdirected questioning of subjects. And yet other times, evidence suggests they may function as adaptations to a broader set of behavioral and environmental factors than are normally considered. Even more importantly, the normative analysis of biases is often arbitrary. Biases are typically demonstrated by showing inconsistencies in preferences and then choosing one set as normative. But alleging inconsistencies does not in itself enable us to say which preferences are normative – particularly when other behavioral factors play a role in generating the behavior in question. For example, there is good evidence to suggest that both short- and long-run discount rates are “contaminated” and therefore neither has a clearly better claim to superiority. Or, as we’d rather say, neither is contaminated; they just are what they are. Agents do not typically exhibit pure neoclassical preferences. And this is not obviously a bad thing. In the real world, agents need not be worse off by their own lights when their behavior exhibits what outside observers would regard as bias.”

5 The Rationality of Beliefs:
The Functions of Beliefs and Learning:
Optimistic Beliefs;

Rational Irrationality;

Rational Violations of Classical Logic: Logical Equivalence versus Informational Equivalence, Wason Selection Test: Confirmation Bias? Nonmonotonicity, Wason Selection Test as Maximizing Expected Information Gain;

The Conjunctive Effect:

Conversational Norms and the Maxim of Relevance, Interpretation of Intersecting Events as Mutually Exclusive, Inductive Confirmation of Hypotheses;

Bayes’ Rule, Base-Rate Neglect, and Belief Revision: Base Rates Are Not Necessarily Prior Probabilities, Changing Causal Structure and Base-Rate Instability, False-Alarm Rates and Hit Rates May Not Be Independent of Base Rates, Magnification of Errors in a Noisy World, Not All Base Rates Are Created Equal;

Availability Bias and Frequency Judgments: Pinning Down the Meaning of Availability, Diagnosticity and Availability,

Salience;

Overconfidence and Probability Judgments: How to Make Guesses on Trivia Questions, Degrees of Confidence versus Subjective Probabilities, Subjective Probabilities and Objective Frequencies, When Is the Implied Expectation Consistent with the Actual Frequency, When Is the Implied Expectation “Overconfident” but the Frequency Judgement Accurate? Coherence or Adapted Frameworks? The Data: Extreme Format Dependence, The Economics of Prediction: Trade-Offs
Authors’ Conclusions:
“We have covered a wide range of cognitive operations and phenomena in this chapter – from the logical to the probabilistic. We have found that the literature on cognitive biases, vast though it is, tends to fail in one fundamental respect: recognizing the pragmatic and contextual nature of rational decision-making. The mistake that is constantly and consistently made is to equate rationality with an abstract system of thought unrelated to the purposes and plans of individuals in the environments in which they find themselves. In a related manner, the literature also fails to take into account the socially legitimate expectations of the participants in experiments that the researchers should not provide extraneous or misleading information. These are problems that go to the very heart of the “heuristics and biases” research program. Our perspective, by contrast, recognizes that beliefs serve a purpose – and that purpose is not always truth-tracking. Beliefs can direct attention and provide motivation. Beliefs can be a source of direct satisfaction. Even when beliefs perform a primarily truth-tracking function, there is no uniquely correct way to form and revise beliefs in real-world environments characterized by uncertainty and change. Most importantly, people in realistic contexts do not think like strict logicians and probability theorists – nor should they. While economists and psychologists are greatly concerned with the deductive consistency of beliefs, regular people need not share that concern. People acquire tools for different types of challenge in the wild, and they should not be expected to abandon all such tools when they enter the laboratory. In the study of beliefs, just as in the study of preferences, behavioral researchers have made the mistake of conflating their models with reality – and, when reality fails to conform to the model, judging it deficient.”

6 Deficient Foundations for Behavioral Policymaking:  
Context-Specificity of Psychological Findings:
Contextuality of the Effect of Moods and Emotions, Contextuality of Loss Aversion and Reference Points, Context-Specificity in Context
Generalizing Quantitative Results from the Lab to the Real World: Stated Choice and Revealed Choice, Quantitative Generalizability, Reproducibility, The Population of Relevance;
Failure to Account Adequately for Incentives: Incentives: Clearing Away the Confounds, Incentive Effects, Learning and Experience, Learning and Errors, Policy Implications of Learning and Incentives
Small-Group Debiasing: Small Groups and Task Performance (Conjunctive Effect. Wason Selection Test. First-Order Stochastic Dominance. Probability Assessment. Probability Matching.) Small Groups and Preference Biases (Myopic Loss Aversion. Present Bias.)

Self-Regulation: Context-Dependence of Self-Regulation, Automaticity of Much Self-Regulation, Biases as Self-Regulation, Self-Regulatory Processes Mistaken for Agent Naivete, Significance of Underestimating the Extent of Self-Regulation, Self-Regulation and the Opportunity Costs of Executive Function
Authors’ Conclusions: “In a survey of the literature on the use of technical research by policy actors, Bogenschneider and Corbett (2010) identify twelve criteria by which the usefulness of research is evaluated for policy purposes. Among those, three stand out as having critical significance for the behavioral and cognitive research we have discussed in this chapter. They are:

  • Definitiveness: Results are clear.
  • Generalizability: Results are applicable to the jurisdictions or populations of interest to the policymaker.
  • Policy Implications: The links between results and policy are clear.

Unfortunately for behavioral paternalism, the research displays serious deficiencies with regard to these criteria. First, it is hard to claim that the results are clear-cut. When incentives, learning, group debiasing, and self-regulation have not been adequately assessed, it is not clear which results we can confidently export to the world of public policy. Second, generalizability is uncertain because the results are highly contextual, the rate of reproducibility is unknown and possibly quite low, and the populations studied do not necessarily resemble those targeted by policy. Finally, the link between results and policy recommendations is far from clear. What appear as biases may in specific contexts actually be debiasing techniques. And the failure of quantitative results to generalize opens the real possibility of overcompensating for perceived biases. Recall our introductory remarks that the claims in this chapter constitute immanent criticism. Even if we agreed that the standard rationality norms of neoclassical and behavioral economics provided an appropriate basis for prescribing public policy, the tools that real people use to achieve their goals and to shape their own behavior are multifarious and resistant to description by simple models. To craft policies that help agents reduce their biases, we still need reliable scientific knowledge about how, when, and where those biases operate, their strength in real-life settings, the extent to which agents learn about and correct biases on their own, and so on. These questions are still largely unanswered, although we can hope that future research will begin to fill in the blank spaces.”

7 Knowledge Problems in Paternalist Policymaking:
A Typology of Knowledge Requirements:
Knowledge of True Preferences, Knowledge of the Extent of Bias, Knowledge of Self-Debiasing and Small-Group Debiasing, Knowledge of Dynamic Impacts on Self-Regulation, Knowledge of Counteracting Behaviors, Knowledge of Bias Interactions, Knowledge of Population Heterogeneity;

The Empirical Search for True Preferences: Augmented Revelatory Frame Approach, Unified Behavioral Revealed Preference
The Practically Insurmountable Knowledge Problem;

Authors’ Conclusions: “Behavioral economists overreach when they confidently attribute the increase in 401(k) participation after automatic enrollment to countering biases by creating sticky defaults that people passively accept. Much of the increase in participation is likely attributable to improved information and the recommendation effect of the new default. Biases such as anchoring, limited salient options, and loss aversion do not seem as plausible in this context. While present bias may be operative with regard to decision-making costs, its importance is diminished as decision complexity is reduced. Since automatic enrollment improves the information position of agents, it reduces the complexity of decision-making. Thus, even if employees overweight initial decision costs due to present bias, the impact of this bias is substantially reduced due to the fall in decision costs. Policy-oriented behavioralists are also mistaken in suggesting that the welfare effects of automatic enrollment are unambiguously positive to all groups. There are heterogeneous effects, especially in the class of former optimizers and, in general, when the knowledge of the planners is poor. There are distributional effects within the category of retirement benefits. In addition, there are also a number of substantial unintended consequences, including increased consumer debt and early withdrawal of retirement savings. These have been ignored in previous research because of the narrow focus on 401(k) activity. Behavioralists are also likely mistaken in claiming that the greater use of automatic enrollment observed in recent years is a consequence of private paternalism. The appearance of such may be the result of an excessively loose or vague concept of paternalism – a topic we will address directly in Chapter 10. Employers in the United States are not currently required to provide an automatic-enrollment default. They are still maximizing profits and engaging in mutually advantageous bargains with their employees. How likely is it that they have suddenly become benevolent paternalists under the influence of behavioral economics? Finally, we have to wonder why so much attention has been focused on automatic enrollment versus other options. Given the evidence that information and recommendation effects play a significant role in explaining default stickiness, why not advocate explicitly providing the information and recommendations in question?68 Such messages could be provided in the presence of either the traditional default or active choice. Changing the default rule seems a very indirect way of conveying messages that could be provided directly, especially since implicit messages can easily be misunderstood. We surmise that the focus on automatic enrollment derives from the presence of other (or additional) motives – specifically, the desire to increase retirement savings irrespective of whether that is what any particular individual truly wants”.

8 The Political Economy of Paternalist Policymaking
Rational and Irrational Mechanisms of Government Failure
Rational Ignorance
Concentrated Benefits, Diffuse Costs
Self-Interested Regulators
Bootleggers and Baptists
Public choice Paternalism in Practice:
The Definition of Overweightness and Obesity, Regulation of Cigarettes and Vaping, USDA Nutritional Guidelines
Public Sector Irrationality
Types of Bias that Affect Policymaking:
Action Bias, Overconfidence and the Illusion of Explanatory Depth, Confirmation Bias, Availability and Salience Effects, Affect and Prototype Heuristics, Present Bias and Hyperbolic Discounting
Authors’ Conclusions: Even if policymakers (including voters) were perfectly rational, there would be good reason to doubt that democratic government would generate well-designed paternalist policies. The diffusion of responsibility and accountability inherent in our form of government creates poor incentives for people to become well informed and to demand policies that genuinely track the public interest. Instead, legislators and bureaucrats will tend to promote laws and regulations that garner the support of highly motivated parties, including moralists and activists who want to promote values that others may not share, experts and academics who wish to see their research make an impact, and special-interest groups that stand to benefit financially from paternalistic laws. If policymakers are subject to the same cognitive biases that behavioral economists attribute to regular people, we should expect the policymaking process to be even worse. Such biases are more worrisome in the public sector than the private sector, because the public sector offers far worse incentives for people to curb their irrational tendencies and numerous opportunities to indulge pleasing beliefs and prejudices at low cost. Furthermore, poor decisions in the public sector almost by definition affect large numbers of people who have little or no input into them; in other words, government policy is rife with externalities. As a result, we should expect paternalist (and other) policymaking to suffer from the effects of action bias, overconfidence, the illusion of explanatory depth, confirmation bias, availability bias, and other cognitive limitations. Although we have considered both rational and irrational contributors to government failure separately, it’s worth taking a moment to consider how they interact. Behavioral economics indicates that certain types of argument will be more likely to succeed in the political sphere: those that emphasize the urgent need for taking action; those that downplay complexity and emphasize simple solutions; those that flatter people’s current beliefs and attitudes; those that rely on easily recalled and vivid illustrations of alleged problems; and those that emphasize the benevolent goals of the policies in question. Given these tendencies, we should expect the highly motivated parties mentioned earlier to exploit them to advance their agendas. Activists, academics, experts, and industry lobbyists have strong rational incentives to craft their policy proposals so as to maximize their appeal to irrational voters and legislators.

9 Slippery Slopes in Paternalist Policymaking
The Logic of Slippery Slopes
Gradients and Vagueness in Behavioral Paternalism:
How Behavioral Paternalism Creates New Gradients, How Behavioral Paternalism Exploits Existing Gradients;
Slippery Slopes with Rational Policymakers: Altered Incentives Slopes, Authority and Simplification Slopes, Expanding Justification Slopes, Application to Smoking Bans, On Experts versus Ordinary People;
Slippery Slopes with Cognitively Biased Policymakers: Action Bias, Overconfidence, and Confirmation, Present Bias and Hyperbolic Discounting,

Availability and Salience, Framing and Extremeness Aversion, Affect and Prototype Heuristics
The Paternalism-Generating Framework
Rejoinders to Behavioral Paternalist Responses

Authors’ Conclusions: “Slippery-slope arguments are often treated dismissively, sometimes even consigned to lists of logical fallacies as a form of spurious reasoning. Without doubt, some writers do deploy slippery-slope arguments in a casual and imprecise way by simply asserting that seemingly attractive policy A will lead to clearly awful policy B. But this error does not mean all slippery-slope arguments are invalid. Rather, it means that we should pay attention to the specific processes – often probabilistic rather than deterministic – that connect one policy to another, as we have sought to do in this chapter. The slippery slope is a broad category, and many different mechanisms and processes fall under its umbrella. As such, it can be difficult to describe all slippery slopes in summary form. Nevertheless, certain features characterize many, though not all, types of slope. In particular, slopes tend to occur in the presence of vague and ill-defined concepts – what we have called gradients. Consequently, the same features of behavioral paternalism that are problematic on a conceptual level also raise concerns on a pragmatic level. In the earlier chapters of this book, we argued that the theoretical and empirical foundation of behavioral paternalism is fundamentally vague. It relies on distinctions that often fail to hold up under scrutiny, and that in any case cannot be reliably identified in practice. Policies based on such unstable moorings are almost bound to drift from their original justifications, because the justifications were weak and imprecise to begin with. Another common feature of slippery slopes is the presence of multiple and diffuse decision-makers, many lacking in accountability for outcomes. When accountability is lacking due to diffuse responsibility, delayed consequences, and unclear objectives, decision-makers will typically display both rational ignorance and rational irrationality. Whatever cognitive biases are present in the private sector will tend to be magnified in the public sector, thereby creating the room necessary for the gradual drift of policies away from their initial purposes as well as the purposeful movement of policy under the influence of moralists and rent-seekers. If behavioral paternalists genuinely care about personal autonomy, as some claim, then they ought to take slippery-slope concerns more seriously than they have thus far. And if behavioral paternalists care about the implementation of thoughtful and well-designed policies, as virtually all of them claim, then they should worry about how slope processes could warp their nuanced justifications and well-intentioned plans. To ignore the risk of slippery slopes is to commit an error that behavioral paternalists often caution against: focusing on present gains at the expense of future (and uncertain) losses. To repeat: the slope risk must be counted among the costs of the initial policy intervention. What, then, can be done to avoid, or more realistically to minimize, the danger of paternalist slopes? We have suggested some of the answers in this chapter. They involve, among other things, rejecting the paternalism-generating framework suggested by behaviorally minded thinkers, and adopting instead a paternalism-resisting framework. Such a framework would emphasize the distinction between voluntary and coercive action, as well as the distinction between private and state action.”

10 Common Threads, Escape Routes, and Paths Forward
Common Threads:
The Complexity of Inclusive Rationality, The Indeterminacy of Welfare Criteria, The Role of Incentives and Learning, The Rush to Policy
Escape Routes: Revert to Objective-Welfare Paternalism, Appeal to Obviousness, Shift the Burden of Proof, Loosen the Definition of Paternalism, Rely on the “Libertarian Condition”, Invoke the Inevitability of Choice Architecture, Focus on the Irrational Subset of the Population, Rely on Extreme Cases, Treat Behavioral Paternalism as a Toolbox, Invoke Fiscal Externalities
Recommendations: Replace Puppet Rationality with Inclusive Rationality, Reject the Paternalism-Generating Framework, Have Reasonable Expectations of Policymakers, Maintain Important Distinctions
A Better Path Forward: The authors begin discussion here with the Harm Principle: “the idea that we are justified in coercing people only for the purpose of preventing harm to others “. The authors stated their believe that the behavioral paternalists reject this principle, sometimes explicitly demanding coercion use for “the better good” but sometimes implicitly by trying create conditions when people forced to do what is “good for them”.  The author also stated their position:” we believe others may be making mistakes that harm their well-being, we are free to tell them so. We may even beg and plead if the situation warrants. The advantage of this approach is that it offers potentially useful information and perspective while still respecting people’s right to choose for themselves. After all, they probably have information and perspective on their own lives that outsiders lack. “

The authors also discuss the promotion of behavioral economics as a form of self-help, which they do not mind: “Behavioral economists and psychologists have produced a great body of insights on how human beings make decisions. While many of these insights are not as solid as we’ve been led to believe, they have nevertheless advanced our knowledge of the human mind. Our exploration of behavioral paternalism has forced us to question ideas and concepts that we once thought unassailable. We have, among other things, become more acutely aware of the failings of the neoclassical model of preferences and beliefs – which in turn drove us toward the notion of inclusive rationality that we have presented in this book. Therefore, we should not be understood as rejecting the whole of behavioral economics.” What they do mind are attempts to use it as tools of coercive policymaking: “It is jarring, to say the least, to see social scientists pointing out the errors of private individuals – and then failing to consider that social scientists and policymakers are also subject to error. It is frustrating to see behavioral researchers demonstrating the complexity of real decision-making processes – and then ignoring that complexity when recommending regulatory corrections of those very processes. It is simply baffling to see behavioral economists showing how real behavior deviates from neoclassical norms – and then insisting that behavior must conform to those norms or else be judged deficient.”

In the end, the authors reject entirely the behavior economists’ attitude: “…approach humanity from a position of presumed superiority, like puppet masters correcting the behavior of errant puppets.” Instead, the authors insist on:” approach them as fellow human beings doing the best they can, trying to improve their own choices, and offering friendly advice on how others might do the same.”

In short, the experts’ advice should remain advice, not a coercive policy.

MY TAKE ON IT:

I greatly appreciate the authors’ effort in producing such a detailed and effective review of behavioral economics and the attempts of its application to policymaking. It is clearly a critical part of the contemporary clash of ideologies. On one side is the ideology of freedom when people do what they want if it does not harm anybody. On the other side is the ideology of the “better” people making decisions for everybody. It is interesting how people transformed the latter ideology throughout time: from God-appointed kings and aristocracy to all-knowing “scientific” socialist and communists, to “scientific” experts wielding not theoretical works of Marks, but experimental research of behavioral economics. As far as I am concerned, I do not want anybody making decisions for me for the simple reason that whatever is the decision, I’ll pay the cost. This book also reasonably demonstrated that the scientific foundation of behavioral economics is quite shaky, so the quality of decisions would be poor. I hope that the currently growing wave of rejection to the rule of “betters” would get solid scientific backing from this book and other works like that.

20211016 – Unsettled

MAIN IDEA:

The main idea is to present the vast amount of actual data about climate change to help people understand the problems and their scales. The author makes the point that climate change is real, but its consequences are greatly exaggerated. Unfortunately, elites’ global political and financial interests drive this exaggeration to the extreme with the use of unreliable models, massive propaganda in the media, and corruption of science.  The author also presents potential solutions and a set of requirements for them. 

DETAILS:

Introduction
The introduction begins with the facts from US assessment that remain mainly unknown because they contradict the prevailing propaganda narrative:

  • Humans have had no detectable impact on hurricanes over the past century.
  • Greenland’s ice sheet isn’t shrinking any more rapidly today than it was eighty years ago.
  • The net economic impact of human-induced climate change will be minimal through at least the end of this century.

The author then presents his credentials as a scientist and administrator with enough clout to convene a scientific workshop to assess the condition of climate science. Here is what the author discovered:

  • Humans exert a growing, but physically small, warming influence on the climate. The deficiencies of climate data challenge our ability to untangle the response to human influences from poorly understood natural changes.
  • The results from the multitude of climate models disagree with, or even contradict, each other and many kinds of observations. A vague “expert judgment” was sometimes applied to adjust model results and obfuscate shortcomings.
  • ​Government and UN press releases and summaries do not accurately reflect the reports themselves. There was a consensus at the meeting on some important issues, but not at all the strong consensus the media promulgates. Distinguished climate experts (including report authors themselves) are embarrassed by some media portrayals of the science. This was somewhat shocking.
  • ​In short, the science is insufficient to make useful projections about how the climate will change over the coming decades, much less what effect our actions will have on it.

Because the author is a natural and honest scientist and despite being a lifelong Democrat, he felt compelled to write this book and provide accurate information about the current condition of climate science, which is very different from the media’s portrayal.

Part l: The Science
Part I clarifies how the climate has changed, how it will change in the future, and the impact of those changes. It also offers some basics about the official assessment reports that we look to for answers to those questions.

Chapter 1. What We Know About Warming
The chapter explains both the importance and challenges of obtaining quality observations of the earth’s climate (which is not the same as its weather) over many decades; it also reviews some of the indications of a warming globe and puts them in a geological context. This chapter provides information about trends in climate via multiple graphs and pictures. Generally, it demonstrates some warming, but it is not catastrophic and even practically insignificant at the long-term scale.  Here are the essential graphs:

Chapter 2. Humble Human Influences
Chapter 2 then turns to how the earth’s temperature arises in the first place—from a delicate balance between warming sunlight and cooling heat radiation. We’ll see that this balance is disturbed by both human and natural influences, with greenhouse gases playing an important role. Because the climate is very sensitive, we need an accurate and precise understanding of those influences and how they’ve changed over time.

This chapter demonstrates the complexity of factors impacting climate, some of them causing the warming and some cooling:

Chapter 3. Emissions Explained and Extrapolated
The most important human influence on the climate is the growing concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere, largely due to the burning of fossil fuels. This is the focus of Chapter 3—particularly, how the connection between CO2 emissions and concentration diminishes the prospect of even stabilizing growing human influences. Here is the graph of greenhouse emissions growth:

Chapter 4. Many Muddled Models
Computer models of how the climate responds to human and natural influences are the subject of Chapter 4. Drawing upon the author’s half-century involvement with scientific computing and the authorship of a pioneering text on that subject, he shows how they work, what they tell us, and some of their deficiencies. These dozens of sophisticated models are what scientists use to make their projections. What the media cites in their coverage—alas, they give results that differ significantly not only from each other but from observations (that is, they’re right in a few ways, but wrong in many others). In fact, the results have become more divergent with each generation of models. In other words, as our models have become more elaborate, their descriptions of the future have become less certain. In other words, contemporary models are far from being scientifically sound tools because they too much rely on assumptions and, most important, have little predictable power:

At the end of the chapter, the author concludes: “The uncertainties in modeling of both climate change and the consequences of future greenhouse gas emissions make it impossible today to provide reliable, quantitative statements about relative risks and consequences and benefits of rising greenhouse gases to the Earth system as a whole, let alone to specific regions of the planet.”

Chapter 5. Hyping the Heat
Chapter 5 is the first of five chapters dealing with contradictions between the science and the prevailing notion that “humans have already broken the climate,” exploring areas where the facts and popular perception are at odds (and probing the source of those discrepancies). This chapter focuses on record high temperatures in the US—they’re no more common today than they were in 1900, yet you wouldn’t know that from the misrepresentations of an allegedly authoritative assessment report. The chapter discusses the regularly occurring hype about temperature records and provides data demonstrating that it is not justified:

He concludes:” There have been some changes in temperature extremes across the contiguous United States. The annual number of high temperature records set shows no significant trend over the past century nor over the past forty years, but the annual number of record cold nights has declined since 1895, somewhat more rapidly in the past thirty years.”

Chapter 6. Tempest Terrors
Chapter 6 likewise explains why experts conclude that human influences haven’t caused any observable changes in hurricanes, and how assessment reports obscure or distort that finding. Once again, the author demonstrates that there is some increase, but not that significant:

Chapter 7. Precipitation Perils—From Floods to Fires
In Chapter 7, the author describes the modest changes seen in precipitation and related phenomena over the past century, discuss their significance, and highlight some points likely to surprise anyone who follows the news—for instance, that the global area burned by fires each year has declined by 25 percent since observations began in 1998. Here are the data:

Chapter 8. Sea Level Scares
Chapter 8 offers a levelheaded look at sea levels, which have been rising over the past many millennia. We’ll untangle what we really know about human influences on the current rate of rise (about one foot per century) and explain why it’s very hard to believe that surging seas will drown the coasts anytime soon. Similarly, to other discussed parameters, sea level is rising but not that significantly and not out of historical patterns:

Chapter 9. Apocalypses That Ain’t
Chapter 9 covers a trio of oft-cited climate-change impacts (fatalities, famine, and economic ruin), predictions of which are belied by the historical record and assessment report projections, even if it’s hard to discern this when reading the reports themselves. Nevertheless, for each of these, the author demonstrates the triviality of the impact, even for worst-case scenarios. Moreover, the actual trend in death rates is going down:

Chapter 10. Who Broke “The Science” and Why
Chapter 10 takes up the question of “Who broke it?”—why the science has been communicated so poorly to decision makers and the public. The author describes how overwrought portrayals of a “climate crisis” serve the interests of diverse players, including environmental activists, the media, politicians, scientists, and scientific institutions.

Chapter 11. Fixing the Broken Science
Chapter 11 closes out Part I by describing how we might improve communication and understanding of climate science, including adversarial (“Red Team”) reviews of the assessment reports, best practices for media coverage, and what non-experts can do to be better informed and more critical consumers of all science media—but especially about the climate. Here the author provides a list of the symptoms of science manipulation:

  • Anyone referring to a scientist with the pejoratives “denier” or “alarmist” is engaging in politics or propaganda.
  • Any appeal to the alleged “97 percent consensus” among scientists is another red flag.
  • Confusing weather and climate is another danger sign.
  • Omitting numbers is also a red flag.
  • Yet another common tactic is quoting alarming quantities without context.
  • Non-expert discussions of climate science also often confuse the climate that has been (observations) with the climate that could be (model projections under various scenarios).

Part II: The Response
Part II begins its discussion of the response story by drawing a distinction between what society could do, what it should do, and what it will do in response to a changing climate—three very different issues often conflated, even by experts. The author also provides context for society’s response:

  • Keeping human influences on the climate below levels deemed prudent by the UN and many governments would require that global carbon dioxide emissions, which have been rising for decades, vanish sometime in the latter half of this century.
  • ​Emissions reductions would have to take place in the face of strongly growing energy demand driven by demographics and development, the dominance of fossil fuels, and the current drawbacks of low-emissions technologies.
  • ​These barriers, combined with the uncertainty and vague nature of future climate impacts, mean that the most likely societal response will be to adapt to a changing climate, and that adaptation will very likely be effective.

Chapter 12. The Chimera of Carbon-Free
Chapter 12 illuminates the issue by discussing the formidable challenges in meaningfully reducing human influences on the climate, including the lack of progress toward the goals of the Paris Agreement.  Here author reviews impact of different countries on the global emissions and how it changes over time. Two graphs represent this process:

Chapter 13. Could the US Catch the Chimera?
Chapter 13 sheds some light on the could issue by discussing the tremendous changes it would take to create a “zero-carbon” energy system in the US. Here is the illustration of the challenge:

The author discusses in details policy features required to decrease emissions in the USA.

Chapter 14. Plans B
Chapter 14 completes the response story with a discussion of “Plan B” strategies that allow the world to respond to a climate changing from either human or natural causes—adaptation, which will happen, and geoengineering, which could be deployed in extremis. Here are the key points that the author makes about adaptation:

  • Adaptation is agnostic. Humans have been successfully adapting to changes in climate for millennia, and for most of that time, they did so without the foggiest notion of what (besides the vengeful gods) might be causing them. Thus, while the information we have now will help guide adaptation strategies, society can adapt to climate changes caused by natural phenomena or by human influences.
  • Adaptation is proportional. Modest initial measures can be bolstered as and if the climate changes more.
  • ​Adaptation is local. Adaptation is naturally tailored to the different needs and priorities of different populations and locations. This also makes it more politically feasible. Spending for the “here and now” (e.g., flood control for a local river) is far more palatable than spending to counter a vague and uncertain threat thousands of miles and two generations away. Further, local adaptation does not require the global consensus, commitment, and coordination that have proved so far elusive in mitigation efforts.
  • Adaptation is autonomous. It is what societies do, and have been doing, since humanity first formed them—the Dutch, for example, have been building and improving dikes for centuries to claim land from the North Sea. Adaptation will happen on its own, whether we plan for it or not.
  • Adaptation is effective. Societies have thrived in environments ranging from the Arctic to the Tropics. Adapting to a changing climate always acts to reduce net impacts from what they would be otherwise—after all, we wouldn’t change society to make things worse!

The author provides a very nice and information-intensive graph for future handling of emissions:

Closing Thoughts

In the end, the author discusses the reasons for writing this book, its descriptive rather than prescriptive character, and his belief that climate science needs improvement. He also suggests increase research into possible measures in case of unexpected climate emergencies such as geoengineering.

MY TAKE ON IT:

I like this book a lot because of its no-nonsense approach and the wealth of data presented in an easily digestible format. I also believe that humans impact the climate, and so do ants, chickens, volcanos, asteroids, and many more factors, either living or not. However, about the issue of the scale of such impact, I believe it is moderate. It creates no real danger to existence and prosperity of humanity unless the excretable part of this humanity – the global elite succeed in imposing unreasonable restriction on energy consumption and life for everybody else. Nevertheless, I am optimistic and believe that when people start feeling this impact on their wellbeing, they will respond; hopefully, they do it peacefully and use the democratic process to bring power crazies to the heel.  

20211009 – Noise

MAIN IDEA:

The main idea is to demonstrate that errors in judgment happen all the time, and it is not a random occurrence. It is also to present the complex character of these mistakes as a combination of bias and noise, eventually recommending tools for managing this issue and maintain strict decision hygiene. 

DETAILS:

Introduction: Two Kinds of Error
The introduction presents the book’s central theme: handling human errors, and describes two types of such errors: noise and bias. It also shows graphic representation with A on target, B – noisy, C – biased, and D – a mix of noise and bias.

Part l: Finding Noise
This part explores the difference between noise and bias, showing that public and private organizations can be noisy. It reviews two areas: sentencing (public sector) and insurance (private sector).

1. Crime and Noisy Punishment
This chapter presents the result of various research projects that convincingly demonstrate judge decisions depend on many irrelevant factors such as lunchtime, weather, and whatnot. It discusses Marvin Frankel’s organization “The Lawyers’ Committee for Human Rights” and its legislative achievement in establishing sentencing guidelines. Here are data from the study of results:” expected difference in sentence length between judges was 17%, or 4.9 months, in 1986 and 1987. That number fell to 11%, or 3.9 months, between 1988 and 1993.”  In 2005 congress changed guidelines from mandatory to advisory, and variance between sentences by different judges nearly doubled.

2. A Noisy System
This chapter discusses noise in the insurance business. First, it describes the result of the noise audit in the insurance company that discovered 55% variance in underwriters’ premium estimates, even if executives’ expectations were around 10%. It then analyses how this could happen and concludes that it resulted from the illusion of agreement. The further discussion includes psychological processes that lead to this, costs of high noise levels, and the need for regular noise estimates and measures to decrease it.

3. Singular Decisions
This chapter discusses singular decisions vs. recurrent decisions and concludes that these are also quite noisy. The main point here is singular decisions are the same as recurring decisions made only once, so people should apply the same noise-reducing technics in both cases.

Part II: Your Mind Is a Measuring Instrument
Part II investigates the nature of human judgment and explores how to measure accuracy and error. It discusses how human decisions are susceptible to both bias and noise. This part makes an interesting point:” judgment can therefore be described as measurement in which the instrument is a human mind. Implicit in the notion of measurement is the goal of accuracy—to approach truth and minimize error.”

4. Matters of Judgment
This chapter presents a case study about CEO selection as an example of the judgment process overloaded with relevant and irrelevant information. First, it offers the idea of internal signal:” The essential feature of this internal signal is that the sense of coherence is part of the experience of judgment. It is not contingent on a real outcome. As a result, the internal signal is just as available for nonverifiable judgments as it is for real, verifiable ones.”  Further, it reviews ways to evaluate judgment even if results are often inconclusive. It also discusses the value of consistency and defines noise as an inconsistency that damages the system’s credibility.

5. Measuring Error
This chapter discusses how much bias and noise contribute to error. The main point here is that decision-makers should handle noise as rigorously as bias because it could cause similar levels of damage. This chapter also provides a bit of simple statistical tools relevant for measuring bias and noise.

6. The Analysis of Noise
This chapter demonstrates the use of tools to analyze noise in sentencing. It uses the breakdown of the system noise into the Level and the Pattern noises:

  • Level noise is variability in the average level of judgments by different judges.
  • Pattern noise is variability in judges’ responses to particular cases.

It also gives formula: System Noise2 = Level Noise2 + Pattern Noise2

The conclusion: “Level noise is when judges show different levels of severity. Pattern noise is when they disagree with one another on which defendants deserve more severe or more lenient treatment. And part of pattern noise is occasion noise—when judges disagree with themselves.”

7. Occasion Noise
This chapter discusses the noise from multiple small, difficult-to-measure factors. The repetitive estimates of unknown data demonstrated that the best assessment comes as an average of numerous estimates, with the first being usually closer to the truth. It parallels multiple individual estimates with one estimate by the crowd and finds it correct, naming it “the crowd within.” This chapter also discusses sources of occasional noise: psychological such as mood, gullibility, weather, and so on. The main point is that individuals are not constantly the same, and their behavior and decisions depend on multiple factors. It refers to interesting research demonstrating a 19% drop in granting asylum if the previous two positive asylum hearings. The conclusions are: “Judgment is like a free throw: however hard we try to repeat it precisely, it is never exactly identical.” and “Although you may not be the same person you were last week, you are less different from the ‘you’ of last week than you are from someone else today. Occasion noise is not the largest source of system noise.”

8. How Groups Amplify Noise
This chapter reviews group decision-making and finds it even noisier than individual decision-making. It occurs due to an increase in number and influence of irrelevant factors:” Who speaks first, who speaks last, who speaks with confidence, who is wearing black, who is seated next to whom, who smiles or frowns or gestures at the right moment.” The chapter reviews groups’ music downloads, various referenda, and web comments in the UK and the USA. The chapter also discusses informational cascades when a slight change in the sequence of presentations creates a path-dependent dynamic of support to one decision. The final part of the chapter discusses group polarization when one idea initially gets incrementally higher support than others later, resulting in increasingly higher support when people rush to join the majority. It generally leads to higher levels of noise and errors. The conclusion:” Since many of the most important decisions in business and government are made after some sort of deliberative process, it is especially important to be alert to this risk. Organizations and their leaders should take steps to control noise in the judgments of their individual members.”

Part III: Noise in Predictive Judgments
Part II explores predictive judgment, the use of rules and algorithms, and the superiority of these methods over humans in predictive power.

9. Judgments and Models
This chapter compares the accuracy of predictions made by professionals, by machines, and by simple rules. The conclusion is that the professionals come third in this competition. The chapter compares the new employee’s performance prediction based on human judgment and formal modeling and algorithms to reach this conclusion. The model beats humans not only in this case but also in clinical predictions. Moreover, it is true not only for formal modeling but also for modeling individual approaches. The model of a person predicts future outcomes better than this person’s judgment.

10. Noiseless Rules
This chapter explores why algorithms are better than experts and shows that noise is a significant factor in human judgment’s inferiority. Predictions are accurate to the extent that prediction matches outcome as measured by the percent concordant (PC). PC of 50% is a random match, and higher means more predictable power. Here is a nice graph for complexity increase:

The chapter analyses this and concludes that, generally, simple rules work better. However, AI machine learning produces even better results. The chapter then reviews an example of better bail decisions. In the end, the chapter discusses the reasons people distrust algorithms and rules.

11. Objective Ignorance
This chapter discusses an essential limit on predictive accuracy: most judgments are made in a state of objective ignorance because many things the future depends on can not be known. The chapter reviews the meaning of objective ignorance in-depth and provides multiple examples from pundits to judges and bail panels.  One fascinating point here is the defiance of ignorance and human overconfidence, which adds a lot to the noise, lowering decision-making quality.

12. The Valley of the Normal

Finally, this chapter shows that objective ignorance affects not just an ability to predict events but even the capacity to understand them—an essential part of the answer to the puzzle of why noise tends to be invisible. The chapter also describes a large-scale longitudinal project tracing thousands of children and families over decades, analyzing predictions and outcomes.  The result:” The main conclusion of the challenge is that a large mass of predictive information does not suffice for the prediction of single events in people’s lives—and even the prediction of aggregates is quite limited.” In other words, it demonstrated the difference between knowledge based on data and understanding of the situation that could produce a valid prediction. In the end, the chapter provides the following list of the limits of agreement:

  • “Correlations of about .20 (PC = 56%) are quite common in human affairs.”
  • “Correlation does not imply causation, but causation does imply correlation.”
  • “Most normal events are neither expected nor surprising, and they require no explanation.”
  • “In the valley of the normal, events are neither expected nor surprising—they just explain themselves.”
  • “We think we understand what is going on here, but could we have predicted it?”

Part IV: How Noise Happens
Part IV explores psychological causes of noise, “including personality and cognitive style; idiosyncratic variations in the weighting of different considerations; and the different uses that people make of the very same scales.”

13. Heuristics, Biases, and Noise
This chapter presents three important judgment heuristics on which System 1 extensively relies. It shows how these heuristics cause predictable, directional errors (statistical bias) as well as noise. For example, these errors could be aiming at the same bull’s eye but hitting different spots or aiming at different bull’s eyes but hitting the same place. The authors discuss substitution, conclusion, and other psychological biases. They caution against blaming errors on unspecified biases and distorting evidence to fit prejudgment based on the first impressions.  They also suggest that biases common for a group create systemic bias, but if biases are different, it just makes more noise.

14. The Matching Operation
This chapter focuses on matching—a particular operation of System 1—and discusses the errors it can produce. It mainly comes down to the difference in measurement scales when the exact estimate creates errors because of scaling mismatch.

15. Scales
This chapter turns to an indispensable accessory in all judgments: the scale on which the judgments are made. It shows that the choice of an appropriate scale is a prerequisite for good judgment and that ill-defined or inadequate scales are an important source of noise. Here authors provide the formula for measuring noisy scales:

Variance of Judgments = Variance of Just Punishments + (Level Noise) 2 + (Pattern Noise) 2

They also provide a graphic representation for punitive scales:

16. Patterns
This chapter explores the psychological source of what may be the most intriguing type of noise: the patterns of responses that different people have to different cases. Like individual personalities, these patterns are not random and are mostly stable over time, but their effects are not easily predictable.  Here is another formula:

(Pattern Noise)2 = (Stable Pattern Noise) 2 + (Occasion Noise) 2

17. The Sources of Noise
This chapter summarizes the previous discussion about noise and its components. It also proposes an answer to the puzzle raised earlier: why is noise, despite its ubiquity, rarely considered an important problem?  Here is a combined graphical representation of Mean Square Error (MSE):

Part V: Improving Judgments
Part V explores ways to improve human judgment.

18. Better Judges for Better Judgments
This chapter discusses the characteristics of superior judges.  Authors look at such characteristics as Intelligence and Cognitive style. They also discuss the role of true experts, who produce verifiable predictions and respect-experts – people with credentials who make unverifiable statements. 

19. Debiasing and Decision Hygiene
This chapter reviews many attempts to counteract psychological biases, with some clear failures and some clear successes. It also briefly reviews debiasing strategies and suggests a promising: asking a designated decision observer to search for diagnostic signs that could indicate, in real time, that a group’s work is being affected by one or several familiar biases.  The authors look at Ex Post and Ex Ante debiasing and provide some experimental data on this. They also discuss debiasing limitations. One of the methods they discuss is a decision observer with a checklist to assure proper coverage of biases and decision points. Overall, they suggest strict decision hygiene to decrease both biases and noise.

20. Sequencing Information in Forensic Science
This chapter reviews the case of forensic science, which illustrates the importance of sequencing information. The search for coherence leads people to form early impressions based on the limited evidence available and then to confirm their emerging prejudgment. This makes it important not to be exposed to irrelevant information early in the judgment process. The authors review an example of fingerprint analysis and how various biases and noise impacted its quality. They also stress the need for a second opinion that has to be independent to be meaningful. 

21. Selection and Aggregation in Forecasting
This chapter reviews the case of forecasting, which illustrates the value of one of the most important noise-reduction strategies: aggregating multiple independent judgments. The “wisdom of crowds” principle is based on the averaging of multiple independent judgments, which is guaranteed to reduce noise. Beyond straight averaging, there are other methods for aggregating judgments, also illustrated by the example of forecasting. Authors here refer to Tetlock’s “Good Judgment Project” and discuss its mixed results.

22. Guidelines in Medicine
This chapter offers the review of noise in medicine and efforts to reduce it. It points to the importance and general applicability of a noise-reduction strategy previously introduced with the example of criminal sentencing: judgment guidelines. Guidelines can be a powerful noise-reduction mechanism because they directly reduce between-judge variability in final judgments. Here authors pay special attention to psychiatry, the field with deficient levels of consistency between specialists’ judgments.

23. Defining the Scale in Performance Ratings
This chapter turns to a challenge in business life: performance evaluations. Efforts to reduce noise there demonstrate the critical importance of using a shared scale grounded in an outside view. This is an important decision hygiene strategy for a simple reason: judgment entails the translation of an impression onto a scale, and if different judges use different scales, there will be noise. Here authors suggest that the use of a relative scale is more appropriate than absolutes.

24. Structure in Hiring
This chapter explores the related but distinct topic of personnel selection, which has been extensively researched over the past hundred years. It illustrates the value of an essential decision hygiene strategy: structuring complex judgments. By structuring, authors mean decomposing a judgment into its component parts, managing the process of data collection to ensure the inputs are independent of one another, and delaying the holistic discussion and the final judgment until all these inputs have been collected.

25. The Mediating Assessments Protocol
This chapter proposes a general approach to option evaluation called the mediating assessments protocol, or MAP for short. MAP starts from the premise that “options are like candidates” and describes schematically how structured decision making, along with the other decision hygiene strategies mentioned above, can be introduced in a typical decision process for both recurring and singular decisions.

Part VI: Optimal Noise
Part VI explores the proper noise level, considering that it is not possible or even preferable to eradicate it.

26. The Costs of Noise Reduction
This chapter reviews the first two of seven major objections to efforts to reduce or eliminate noise:

  • First, reducing noise can be expensive; it might not be worth the trouble. The steps that are necessary to reduce noise might be highly burdensome. In some cases, they might not even be feasible.
  • Second, some strategies introduced to reduce noise might introduce errors of their own. Occasionally, they might produce systematic bias. If all forecasters in a government office adopted the same unrealistically optimistic assumptions, their forecasts would not be noisy, but they would be wrong. If all doctors at a hospital prescribed aspirin for every illness, they would not be noisy, but they would make plenty of mistakes.

27. Dignity
This chapter reviews five more objections, which are also common and which are likely to be heard in many places in coming years, especially with increasing reliance on rules, algorithms, and machine learning:

  • Third, if we want people to feel that they have been treated with respect and dignity, we might have to tolerate some noise. Noise can be a by-product of an imperfect process that people end up embracing because the process gives everyone (employees, customers, applicants, students, those accused of crime) an individualized hearing, an opportunity to influence the exercise of discretion, and a sense that they have had a chance to be seen and heard.
  • Fourth, noise might be essential to accommodate new values and hence to allow moral and political evolution. If we eliminate noise, we might reduce our ability to respond when moral and political commitments move in new and unexpected directions. A noise-free system might freeze existing values.
  • Fifth, some strategies designed to reduce noise might encourage opportunistic behavior, allowing people to game the system or evade prohibitions. A little noise, or perhaps a lot of it, might be necessary to prevent wrongdoing.
  • Sixth, a noisy process might be a good deterrent. If people know that they could be subject to either a small penalty or a large one, they might steer clear of wrongdoing, at least if they are risk-averse. A system might tolerate noise as a way of producing extra deterrence.
  • Finally, people do not want to be treated as if they are mere things, or cogs in some kind of machine. Some noise-reduction strategies might squelch people’s creativity and prove demoralizing.

28. Rules or Standards?
This chapter presents the authors’ general conclusion that even when the objections to various methods such as rigid guidelines are given their due, noise reduction remains a worthy and even an urgent goal. It defends this conclusion by exploring a dilemma that people face every day, even if they are not always aware of it.

Review and Conclusion: Taking Noise Seriously

Here the authors once again summarize the main points of this book. They strongly recommend paying attention to the noise and applying massive efforts to limit the noise to acceptable levels while stressing that it is not possible and even not reasonable to remove it altogether.

MY TAKE ON IT:

I think this is an excellent book on the problem of poor decision-making that causes myriad issues and cost lots of treasure and, in some cases, lots of blood. The division of the problem into noise and bias is very effective, and specific suggestions of improvements via checklists, second independent opinions, explicit recognition of various biases, and, overall, strict decision hygiene could be highly valuable. However, I would not hold my breath anticipating improvements. I believe that problem is more in the absence of solid feedback for decision-makers in government and top levels of big corporations, which makes these people irresponsible and therefore uninterested in improving decision-making processes.

20211002 – Imagined Communities

MAIN IDEA:

The main idea is to review the origin of nations and nationalism based on the author’s suppositions that it is a cultural phenomenon that originated as the result of the printing press. This new technology prompted the new religiosity of Protestantism when people started searching for who they were not only as individuals but also as members of a community defined by language, culture, and attitudes. It is also quite often, but not always linked to unchangeable characteristics such as race, and the author demonstrates the multiracial nationalism of Creole nations.    

DETAILS:

1 Introduction

The author begins by defining his starting point:” My point of departure is that nationality, or, as one might prefer to put it in view of that word’s multiple significations, nation-ness, as well as nationalism, are cultural artefacts of a particular kind. To understand them properly we need to consider carefully how they have come into historical being, in what ways their meanings have changed over time, and why, today, they command such profound emotional legitimacy.”

After that, he presents what he considers three paradoxes:

(1) The objective modernity of nations to the historian’s eye vs. their subjective antiquity in the eyes of nationalists.

(2) The formal universality of nationality as a socio-cultural concept – in the modern world everyone can, should, will ‘have’ a nationality, as he or she ‘has’ a gender – vs. the irremediable particularity of its concrete manifestations, such that, by definition, ‘Greek’ nationality is sui generis.

(3) The ‘political’ power of nationalisms vs. their philosophical poverty and even incoherence.

Finally, the author defines the notion of the nation:” it is an imagined political community – and imagined as both inherently limited and sovereign.”

2 Cultural Roots

The author begins the discussion of cultural roots with the popular symbol: the Tomb of Unknown Soldier. From there, he proposes:” that nationalism has to be understood by aligning it, not with self-consciously held political ideologies, but with the large cultural systems that preceded it, out of which – as well as against which – it came into being.” The first such system the author discusses is a religious community, specifically Christianity, and its transition from the global Latin-based Church to multiple communities using their local languages. The second system was royal dynasties that curved, shaped, and reshaped realms through wars, marriages, and other tools. After that author discusses historical changes in apprehensions of time from the perception of static and unchangeable to historically developing process within which a nation is growing much like one unified organism with individuals being just a tiny part of it.  Finally, the author discusses prosperity or lack thereof as a condition of this organism. Here is the author’s summarization of ideas presented in this chapter:” I have been arguing that the very possibility of imagining the nation only arose historically when, and where, three fundamental cultural conceptions, all of great antiquity, lost their axiomatic grip on men’s minds. The first of these was the idea that a particular script-language offered privileged access to ontological truth, precisely because it was an inseparable part of that truth. It was this idea that called into being the great transcontinental sodalities of Christendom, the Islamic Ummah, and the rest. Second was the belief that society was naturally organized around and under high centers – monarchs who were persons apart from other human beings and who ruled by some form of cosmological (divine) dispensation. Human loyalties were necessarily hierarchical and centripetal because the ruler, like the sacred script, was a node of access to being and inherent in it. Third was a conception of temporality in which cosmology and history were indistinguishable, the origins of the world and of men essentially identical. Combined, these ideas rooted human lives firmly in the very nature of things, giving certain meaning to the everyday fatalities of existence (above all death, loss, and servitude) and offering, in various ways, redemption from them.”

3 The Origins of National Consciousness

Here, the author discusses mass book printing in the Middle Ages that prompted the Reformation and became the foundation of the formalization of languages and correspondingly national consciousness. The author describes in detail the development of what he calls “print-capitalism,” concluding at the end:” We can summarize the conclusions to be drawn from the argument thus far by saying that the convergence of capitalism and print technology on the fatal diversity of human language created the possibility of a new form of imagined community, which in its basic morphology set the stage for the modern nation. The potential stretch of these communities was inherently limited, and, at the same time, bore none but the most fortuitous relationship to existing political boundaries (which were, on the whole, the highwater marks of dynastic expansionisms).

4 Creole Pioneers

This chapter is about intermixing of populations in America and elsewhere and how it created new nations from creole communities:” the growth of creole communities, mainly in the Americas, but also in parts of Asia and Africa, led inevitably to the appearance of Eurasians, Eurafricans, as well as Euramericans, not as occasional curiosities but as visible social groups.” The author also discusses the mixing of languages and overall communications, starting with Ben Franklin and newspapers. In the end, the author concludes:” By way of provisional conclusion, it may be appropriate to re-emphasize the limited and specific thrust of the argument so far. It is intended less to explain the socio-economic bases of anti-metropolitan resistance in the Western hemisphere between say, 1760 and 1830, than why the resistance was conceived in plural, ‘national’ forms – rather than in others. The economic interests at stake are well-known and obviously of fundamental importance. Liberalism and the Enlightenment clearly had a powerful impact, above all in providing an arsenal of ideological criticisms of imperial and anciens régimes. What I am proposing is that neither economic interest, Liberalism, nor Enlightenment could, or did, create in themselves the kind, or shape, of imagined community to be defended from these regimes’ depredations; to put it another way, none provided the framework of a new consciousness – the scarcely-seen periphery of its vision – as opposed to centre-field objects of its admiration or disgust. In accomplishing this specific task, pilgrim creole functionaries and provincial creole printmen played the decisive historic role”.

5 Old Languages, New Models

In this chapter, the author looks at methods and tools of nation formation in the XIX-XX centuries, especially languages:” Europe. If we consider the character of these newer nationalisms which, between 1820 and 1920, changed the face of the Old World, two striking features mark them off from their ancestors. First, in almost all of them ‘national print-languages’ were of central ideological and political importance, whereas Spanish and English were never issues in the revolutionary Americas. Second, all were able to work from visible models provided by their distant, and after the convulsions of the French Revolution, not so distant, predecessors. The ‘nation’ thus became something capable of being consciously aspired to from early on, rather than a slowly sharpening frame of vision. Indeed, as we shall see, the ‘nation’ proved an invention on which it was impossible to secure a patent. It became available for pirating by widely different, and sometimes unexpected, hands. In this chapter, therefore, the analytical focus will be on print-language and piracy.”

6 Official Nationalism and Imperialism

Here the author discusses the transformation of old dynasties from mainly royalty-based genealogies to nations based on the commonality of language and narratives. In such nations, while remaining at the top of the nation, the royals were incapable of transforming it. Instead, they had to accommodate themselves to losing the ability to control the population. It was also true for the periphery of different empires when the local elite was educated and deeply connected to imperial capitals and main population, conflicting with their loyalty to their local population. After looking at the variety of cases from India to Hungary, the author concludes:” In almost every case, official nationalism concealed a discrepancy between nation and dynastic realm. Hence a world-wide contradiction: Slovaks were to be Magyarized, Indians Anglicized, and Koreans Japanified, but they would not be permitted to join pilgrimages which would allow them to administer Magyars, Englishmen, or Japanese. The banquet to which they were invited always turned out to be a Barmecide feast. The reason for all this was not simply racism; it was also the fact that at the core of the empires nations too were emerging – Hungarian, English, and Japanese. And these nations were also instinctively resistant to ‘foreign’ rule. Imperialist ideology in the post-1850 era thus typically had the character of a conjuring-trick. How much it was a conjuring-trick is suggested by the equanimity with which metropolitan popular classes eventually shrugged off the ‘losses’ of the colonies, even in cases like Algeria where the colony had been legally incorporated into the metropole. In the end, it is always the ruling classes, bourgeois certainly, but above all aristocratic, that long mourn the empires, and their grief always has a stagey quality to it.”

7 The Last Wave

In this chapter, the author moves to WWI and WWII that led to the dissolution of empires and the birth of many nation-states based on linguistic, cultural, and historical commonality. The author discusses this process in several locations, from Russia in 1917 to Indonesia in the 1970s. The author stresses that this process was driven by educated part of populations of empires, that often were minorities:” As bilingual intelligentsias, however, and above all as early-twentieth-century intelligentsias, they had access, inside the classroom and outside, to models of nation, nation-ness, and nationalism distilled from the turbulent, chaotic experiences of more than a century of American and European history. These models, in turn, helped to give shape to a thousand inchoate dreams. In varying combinations, the lessons of creole, vernacular and official nationalism were copied, adapted, and improved upon. Finally, as with increasing speed capitalism transformed the means of physical and intellectual communication, the intelligentsias found ways to bypass print in propagating the imagined community, not merely to illiterate masses, but even to literate masses reading different languages.”

8 Patriotism and Racism

In this chapter, the author looks at the intertwining of patriotism and racism. The author stresses the nobility of patriotism and provides a few samples of relevant literature. The author makes the point that it is also mainly imagination:” It may appear paradoxical that the objects of all these attachments are ‘imagined’ – anonymous, faceless fellow-Tagalogs, exterminated tribes, Mother Russia, or the tanah air. But amor patriae does not differ in this respect from the other affections, in which there is always an element of fond imagining.”

9 The Angel of History

Here, the author returns to the theme of imagination giving birth to the new reality, in this case, patriotic vision giving birth to the nation that existed only in the imagination. He refers to some examples: Russia and its revolution, China, and Vietnam. The author then talks about leadership that creates new reality mainly acting in their own interests:” I emphasize leaderships, because it is leaderships, not people, who inherit old switchboards and palaces. No one imagines, I presume, that the broad masses of the Chinese people give a fig for what happens along the colonial border between Cambodia and Vietnam. Nor is it at all likely that Khmer and Vietnamese peasants wanted wars between their peoples, or were consulted in the matter. In a very real sense these were ‘chancellory wars’ in which popular nationalism was mobilized largely after the fact and always in a language of self-defence. (Hence the particularly low enthusiasm in China, where this language was least plausible, even under the neonlit blazon of ‘Soviet hegemonism.’)”

10 Census, Map, Museum

Here the author discusses how three key institutions foster nationalism and even create it in the first place: Census, The Map, and the Museum.

11 Memory and Forgetting

The author begins this chapter with a discussion about an interesting habit of people from Europe who moved to the new places to name these new places after the old ones, such as New York. Interestingly, it is not the case with Chinese or Arabs. This difference moves the author to contemplate reasons for nationalism’s origin in America in the wake of anti-colonial revolutions.  He writes: “… none of the creole revolutionaries dreamed of keeping the empire intact but rearranging its internal distribution of power, reversing the previous relationship of subjection by transferring the metropole from a European to an American site.”  Overall, by the end of the XIX century, this, plus biology, plus philosophy, prompted nationalistic awakening elsewhere, first of all in Europe. This awakening, in some cases, produced fratricide, and the author traces its reflection in literature. Finally, the author discusses the personification of Nations, noting that they are different because they have no clear beginning or end.

MY TAKE ON IT:

I agree that human cultures and imagination create nations. Still, the nations are not imaginary. They reflect the complex reality of shared characteristics such as language, culture, and mutual support. They also protect against external violence when needed and internal criminality. I think that history demonstrated many times over and over again that nations are not a given unchangeable object, but rather are forever work in process. They combine multiple groups of people into an ever-increasing whole that expands protection bubble and economic cooperation broader and broader, which would eventually cover everything and everybody, but only after decades, if not centuries of development. This process is analogous to earlier processes that made Germany, France, and other countries out of small states or provinces merging into one nation with dynamic accommodation of languages and cultures. In short, humanity develops by way of “E Pluribus Unum.”

20210925 – Cultural Evolution

MAIN IDEA:

Here is the author’s formulation:” This book presents a new version of modernization theory – Evolutionary Modernization theory – which generates a set of hypotheses that we test against a unique data base: from 1981 to 2014, the World Values Survey and European Values Study carried out hundreds of surveys in more than 100 countries containing over 90 percent of the world’s population.”  The critical point of this theory is that human values are dependent on levels of security and economic development achieved by the people: secure and wealthy people switch to non-materialistic, secular values supportive to self-expression, individualism, and tolerant of others, who are assumed to be friendly and have similar values, while insecure and poor people retain traditional values of in-group solidarity, religion, and defense against others, who are assumed to be hostile and have entirely different values.

DETAILS:

Introduction: An Overview of This Book
Here the author presents this book as a look at the new situation in human history. It was the situation when economic development achieved such levels that physical survival is not the primary concern of the vast majority of people anymore.  At least, it is not the case in the developed world. It led to the “shift from Materialist to Postmaterialist values – which was part of an even broader shift from Survival values to Self-expression values.”  In this new and secure world, people have the luxury to pursue happiness rather than survival, be tolerant to others, and have a relaxed attitude to just about everything. However, this near paradise condition was brief and is threatening now by increased automatization of everything based on AI. This development brings back insecurity and, in turn, leads to:” High levels of existential security are conducive to a more tolerant, open outlook – but conversely, declining existential security triggers an Authoritarian Reflex that brings support for strong leaders, strong in-group solidarity, rigid conformity to group norms and rejection of outsiders.”

1 Evolutionary Modernization and Cultural Change
The author begins by defining:” Evolutionary Modernization theory – which argues that economic and physical insecurity are conducive to xenophobia, strong in-group solidarity, authoritarian politics and rigid adherence to their group’s traditional cultural norms – and conversely that secure conditions lead to greater tolerance of outgroups, openness to new ideas and more egalitarian social norms.”

The author then refers to the methodology of data collection via surveys.

Classic Modernization Theory and Evolutionary Modernization Theory
Here, the author discusses Modernization theory and repeats his central thesis that evolution optimized people for survival. When survival is practically guaranteed, people move on to develop some new previously non-existing values and direct their effort to achieve these values. 

Converging Evidence of the Importance of Existential Security

Here author reviews the situation when:” Working independently, anthropologists, psychologists, political scientists, sociologists, evolutionary biologists and historians have recently developed strikingly similar theories of cultural and institutional change: they all emphasize the extent to which security from survival threats, such as starvation, war and disease, shape a society’s cultural norms and sociopolitical institutions.”

The Rise of Postmaterialism in the West
Here the author presents the theory of intergenerational value change, which is based on two key hypotheses:

1. A scarcity hypothesis. Virtually everyone values freedom and autonomy, but people give top priority to their most pressing needs. Material sustenance and physical security are closely linked with survival, and when they are insecure, people give top priority to these Materialistic goals; but under secure conditions, people place greater emphasis on Postmaterialist goals such as belonging, esteem and free choice.

2. A socialization hypothesis. The relationship between material conditions and value priorities involves a long time-lag: one’s basic values largely reflect the conditions that prevailed during one’s preadult years, and these values change mainly through intergenerational population replacement.

The author then discusses these hypothesizes and inferences that they lead to in various areas: Cultural Change and Societal Change; Cognition and Emotions as Sources of Value Change; An Alternative Explanation: Rational Choice; Slow and Fast Cultural Change;
At the end of the chapter author presents the following list of significant predictions:

1. When a society attains sufficiently high levels of existential security that a large share of the population grows up taking survival for granted, it brings coherent and roughly predictable social and cultural changes, producing an intergenerational shift from values shaped by scarcity, toward increasing emphasis on Postmaterialist values and Self-expression values.

2. As younger birth cohorts replace older cohorts in the adult population, it transforms the societies’ prevailing values – but with long time-lags. The youngest cohorts have little political impact until they reach adulthood, and even then they are still a small minority of the adult population; it takes additional decades before they become the dominant influence in their society.

3. Intergenerational value change is shaped by short-term period effects such as economic booms or recessions, in addition to population replacement, but in the long run the period effects often cancel each other out, while the population replacement effects tend to be cumulative.

4. Intergenerational value change can eventually reach a threshold at which new norms became socially dominant. At this point, conformist pressures reverse polarity, supporting changes they had formerly opposed and bringing much more rapid cultural change than that produced by population replacement alone.

5. Cultural change is path-dependent: a society’s values are shaped by its entire historical heritage, and not just its level of existential security.

2 The Rise of Postmaterialist Values in the West and the World
The author points out that western societies are switching to postmaterialist values and presents several graphs supporting this idea. Here is one for Western countries:

The author also provides similar data for other world areas where the same process occurs, albeit slower. The author also expresses the belief that younger generations drive this process. It possesses a positive feedback loop that all but guarantees the change happening with the shift in generations.   

3 Global Cultural Patterns
This chapter discusses data obtained from Global Values Surveys that monitored 90% of the world population. The analysis included two main dimensions: Traditional vs. Secular-Rational and Survival vs. Self-Expression. The author provides a sample of questionary that used to separate individuals with “Survival values” from individuals with “Self-Expression values”:

Modernization-Linked Attitudes Tend to Be Enduring and Cross-nationally Comparable
The conclusion is:” Our theory holds that Self-expression values should be strongly correlated with indicators of economic modernization. Although measured at different levels and by different methods, we find remarkably strong linkages between individual-level values and societies’ economic characteristics. Across all available societies, the average correlation between Self-expression values and ten widely used economic modernization indicators, ranging from per capita GDP and mean life expectancy to educational levels

The Self-expression/lndividualism/Autonomy Super-dimension
The author then presents metanalysis demonstrating that the critical factor defining cross nations clustering of values is the Self vs. Group dimension:

Conclusion

The conclusion is that society’s values are predictable based on the economic and overall security position, with individualism characteristic of a wealthy and secure community. That movement nearly always occurs with successful development, and that change is path-dependent.

4 The End of Secularization?
In the first part of this chapter author traces emergence of need in moral god depending on the primary method of production:

However, the author also notes counter-secularization trends: low fertility of secular population vs. high fertility of religious people, the substitution of hierarchically organized religion of agricultural and industrial ages with mixed bag of religious ideas and DIY spirituality of information age.  

5 Cultural Change, Slow and Fast: The Distinctive Trajectory of Norms Governing Gender Equality and Sexual Orientation
In this chapter author discusses characteristics of the process of change and attempts to demonstrate these points:

1) These value changes involve very long time-lags between the onset of the conditions leading to them, and the societal changes they produce. There was a time-lag of 40–50 years between when Western societies first attained high levels of economic and physical security after World War II, and the occurrence of such relevant societal changes as legalization of same-sex marriage.

2) One distinctive set of norms concerning gender equality, divorce, abortion and homosexuality supports a pro-fertility strategy that was essential to the survival of pre-industrial societies but eventually became superfluous. This set of norms is now moving on a trajectory that is distinct from that of other cultural changes.

3) Although basic values normally change at the pace of intergenerational population replacement, the shift from Pro-fertility norms to Individual-choice norms has reached a tipping-point where conformist pressures have reversed polarity and are now accelerating value changes they once resisted, bringing major societal changes such as legalization of same-sex marriage.

The author presents a formal statement for Hypotheses of his Evolutionary Modernization Theory and then empirical data and analysis supporting these hypotheses. For example, here is one of his data sets for Income/Tolerance correlation:

In conclusion, the author notes that slow change in attitudes to sexuality and fertility seems to reach the tipping point when the conformist majority finds it detrimental to maintain old norms of sexuality, which leads to acceleration of changes. For some reason, the author also refers here to xenophobia, noting that high-income countries somehow become not less xenophobic and explain it by very high levels of immigration and terrorism.  The author also cannot help but complain about Trump’s victory in 2016.

6 The Feminization of Society and Declining Willingness to Fight for One’s Country: The Individual-Level Component of the Long Peace
Here the author offers four Hypotheses:

(1) Cross-sectionally, the publics of more developed societies will place more emphasis on Individual-choice values and be less willing to risk their lives in war.

(2) Longitudinally, in societies in which Individual-choice values are most widespread, people’s willingness to risk lives in war will fall most sharply.

(3) In multi-level perspective, individuals who live in societies with widespread Individual-choice values will be less willing to risk their lives in war.

Since historical learning is also an influence on cultural evolution, this adds a fourth hypothesis:

(4) Historically, the former Axis powers’ devastating defeat in World War II sharply diminished their people’s willingness to fight for their country; while the exceptionally strong prevalence of Self-expression values in the Nordic countries led to the emergence of a military primarily geared to peace-keeping missions and developmental aid; this, in turn, led to the emergence of a distinctive and positive view of the role of the military among the Nordic publics, making them more willing to fight for their country.

The author provides some graphs demonstrating changes in willingness to fight generally supportive of presented Hypotheses. However, he is justifiably cautious because of the dynamic character of the issue. He even provides a very relevant point:” These trends are reversible. Russia’s seizure of Crimea and intervention in the Eastern Ukraine evoked widespread concern, bringing economic sanctions, capital flight from Russia and impelling Nordic political leaders to reassess the role of their countries’ military forces. But so far, no influential Western leaders – not even the Hawks – have advocated military action against Russia. The norms of the Long Peace continue to prevail for now.”

7 Development and Democracy
The author begins this chapter with the discussion of “democratic recession,” noting that it is not unusual for long-term development.  – one should recall 1930-40 and the tidal wave of fascism and communism. Then he discusses the link between democracy and development and concentrates on the connection between self-expression and effective democracy:

The author also provides a detailed explanation of the graph:” The incongruence between the institutional supply of democracy and the cultural demand for democracy is calculated by subtracting the demand from the supply. In order to measure the incongruence that was present before the Third Wave transition, we use the pre-transition levels of democracy, as measured during 1981–1986, to indicate the supply. To calculate the cultural demand for democracy, we use Self-expression values measured around 1990 as an indication of how strong these values were before the transition.

The more Self-expression values surpass a society’s level of democracy, the greater the unmet demand. In the analysis shown on Figure 7.2, a score of –1 indicates the strongest possible lack of demand for more democracy, while a score of +1 indicates the maximum demand for more democracy. Our sample includes a number of stable Western democracies in which the levels of democracy have been constant since measurement began. These 16 democracies are in an equilibrium where supply and demand for democracy are in balance; accordingly, they are at the zero-point on the incongruence scale. They also are at the zero-point on the vertical dimension, which measures how much change a country experienced in its level of effective democracy from the early 1980s to the late 1990s: since the supply and demand for democracy were in balance, they experienced no change.”

After discussing supply and demand for democracy based on the level of development of society, the author makes an important point that general movement is in the direction of congruence between these two:

The author ends this chapter with a brief discussion of China as an outlier: economic development, in the author’s opinion, created unmet demand for democracy, that in the long run would somehow lead to the democratization of Chinese society, although he admits that there is no sign that it is happening and that he does not believe it could happen while communist party controls security forces.   

8 The Changing Roots of Happiness

Here the author discusses happiness and points out that it is not a set value, maybe even genetic, as usually thought but rather an improvable parameter. His justification:” Extensive empirical evidence indicates that the extent to which a society allows free choice has a major impact on happiness. From 1981 to 2007, economic development, democratization and rising social tolerance increased the extent to which the people of most countries had free choice in economic, political and social life – leading to higher levels of happiness and life satisfaction.” The author presents a graphic expression of empirical results:

The author also discusses the correlation between religiosity and life satisfaction, which is generally between 0 and 0.15, with a significant outlier in China, where the correlation is negative.

In the end, the author provides a summary of the results of path analysis for causal sequences for perceived well-being:

9 The Silent Revolution in Reverse: The Rise of Trump and the Authoritarian Populist Parties
This chapter discusses the rise of populism in the USA and Europe and what the author calls xenophobic and authoritarian movements. The author provides some interesting data demonstrating that Trump’s support is growing with age but limited by class with low- and high-income groups aligning against Trump, while middle-income group supporting:

The author also discusses the shift from economic to non-economic issues in political discourse in western democracies:

At the end of the chapter, the author allocates quite a bit of space to discuss growing inequality and political influence of the upper class, concluding that:” Rising inequality and economic insecurity are already generating powerful political dissatisfaction.”

10 The Coming of Artificial Intelligence Society
In this last chapter, the author looks at the future impact of mass implementation of AI and sees quite a bleak picture of increased inequality and practical destruction of the middle class. Here is the graph of trends that point in this direction:

All this looks very scary to the author, and he sees signs of impending danger in such events as the Trump election and presidency. So, he is looking for a political solution to substitute the old New Deal Democratic coalition with the new incarnation of an ever bigger government that will reallocate income more fairly. The author believes that it could be done by converting stupid middle- and lower-class people who voted in mass for Trump into believing that they will be much better off if they vote for democrats. The foundation of this conversion and the goal of big benevolent government supported by unchallengeable majority will be increased recognition of unfair distribution of wealth when most wealth goes to already rich with consequent mass demand for redistribution, and by “Developing well-designed programs to attain this goal will be a crucial task for social scientists and policy-makers during the next 20 years.”

MY TAKE ON IT:

This book is fascinating, with a significant amount of interesting empirical data. I agree that values change with the increase in wealth and security. Still, I think that author underestimates to what extent the parameters of wealth and security are relative to the wealth and safety of others. For example, an American who lost a good job and had to live on handouts because the company shipped this job to China or hired an illegal immigrant may drop his values of tolerance and openness to others.

Despite this underestimation, the author clearly understands that shifting the population of Western democracies from wealth and security to poverty and insecurity that will hugely accelerate by implementing AI does not sound suitable for continuing the status quo. However, the author’s suggested solution: an ever bigger government that redistributes more wealth according to the wise advice of social scientists is not workable. It is because of the relative character of wealth and security. The people who cannot act on their own and achieve what they want will not accept some Universal Basic Income that makes them equal in poverty. It is especially true when the top levels of the society, from government-made billionaires to well-paid social scientists, time after time waste resources on implementing costly and non-working social programs. Obviously, nobody knows what lies ahead, but I am afraid that it could be as funny and entertaining as the Russian or French revolutions.   

20210918 – The Revolt of the Public

MAIN IDEA:

The main idea is that developments of the information age broke government and elite stronghold on information flow. It resulted in the dissolution of trust in authority and the ability of people to organize by using the social network, sometimes so effectively that the popular revolt with no straightforward program or effective organization could overthrow established authoritarian governments. The author supports this idea by presenting details of such processes as they occurred in the Arab revolution and then provides a warning that it could also happen in established western democracies in which authorities and the elite are currently losing the support of the public. The author also provides recommendations on preventing the unraveling of democracy, which comes down to protecting the private sphere, increasing government transparency, and avoiding big unrealistic projects that usually fail, undermining whatever is left of public trust in government.  

DETAILS:

1 PRELUDE TO A TURBULENT AGE
The author begins by making a connection between online universities and Arab insurgencies. He then links it to the crisis of governments, financial systems, and overall cultures in developed countries. He also concludes that the present is turbulent, and the future is unknown and unpredictable. The explanation for all this was in information explosion when its abundance deprived it of authoritativeness that it used to have. Here is an excellent illustration:

And here is the author’s formulation:” Uncertainty is an acid, corrosive to authority. Once the monopoly on information is lost, so too is our trust. Every presidential statement, every CIA assessment, every investigative report by a great newspaper, suddenly acquired an arbitrary aspect, and seemed grounded in moral predilection rather than intellectual rigor. When proof for and against approaches infinity, a cloud of suspicion about cherry-picking data will hang over every authoritative judgment.”

In short, the author sees the dissolution of authority and fears that it would crash everything he holds dear, which are institutions of the contemporary western world.

2 HODER AND WAEL GHONIM

In this chapter author looks at two Internet personalities: Hoder – a very popular Iranian blogger who caused the wrath of Iranian ayatollahs, ran away, but then unreasonably came back to Iran and winded up in prison with 20 years sentence. Another one Ghonim – the Facebook executive who provided effective media support for Arab Revolution that removed Mubarak in Egypt and a few other dictators in other places from power. The author uses these examples to observe the strange embrace between information and power when information and disinformation could be saturated to such an extent that it changes people’s minds not only on the side of the oppressed but also on the side of oppressors. Hence, tanks and guns are not enough to keep power if people who sit inside and hold these guns stop complying with orders because their minds are changed.  

3 MY THESIS
Here is how the author defines his main point:” My thesis is a simple one. We are caught between an old world which is decreasingly able to sustain us intellectually and spiritually, maybe even materially, and a new world that has not yet been born. Given the character of the forces of change, we may be stuck for decades in this ungainly posture. You who are young today may not live to see its resolution.”

And here is how the author defines forces fighting in this conflict:” Each side in the struggle has a standard-bearer: authority for the old industrial scheme that has dominated globally for a century and a half, the public for the uncertain dispensation striving to become manifest. The two protagonists share little in common, other than humanity—and each probably doubts the humanity of the other. They have arrayed themselves in contrary modes of organization which require mutually hostile ideals of right behavior. The conflict is so asymmetrical that it seems impossible for the two sides actually to engage. But they do engage, and the battlefield is everywhere.”

The author then describes methods and tools used in this fight, mainly in information and networks. He also discusses polarization, the weakening of the Center, and the resulting threat to democracy:” That democracy became hierarchical, organizational, an institution of the Center, is less a paradox or a conspiracy theory than a historical accident. The consequences are beyond dispute. Many aspects of representative democracy have become less democratic, and are so perceived by the public. The defection of citizens from the voting booth and party membership give evidence to a souring mood with the established structures. Many have been moved to a sectarian condemnation of the entire system as ungodly and unjust. The more assertive political networks today proclaim our current procedures to be the tyranny of Big Government or a farce manipulated by Big Business.”

The author then reviews the positions and ideas of some well-known theorists of the information age and generally finds them lacking. The last part of the chapter demonstrates how people in control of information flow between individual and political regimes mediate this flow and how this process is changing. The author presents it in a series of graphs, starting with individuals accepting status quo situations mainly based on exclusive control over information by the political regime. Then, increasingly doubting the validity of status quo based on additional information from other sources and ending with the rejection of status quo based on acceptance of some alternative source as more valid than existing political regime:

At the end of the chapter author presents his position as believing that control over information flow can influence political power and offers his hypothesis in the form of three specific claims:

4 WHAT THE PUBLIC IS NOT
In this chapter, the author discusses the nature of the public by using the method of exclusion in analyzing complex questions. Here are the author’s points:

  • The public is not the people but likes to pretend that it is

The public is not, and never can be, identical to the people: this is true in all circumstances, everywhere. Since, on any given question, the public is composed of those self-selected persons interested in the affair, it possesses no legitimate authority whatever, and lacks the structure to enforce any authority that might fall its way. The public has no executive, no law, no jails. It can only express an opinion, in words and in actions—in its own flesh and blood.

  • The public is not the masses but was once buried alive under them

It seems to the author that the public is at least somewhat educated, informed, and definitely thinking part of the population that has constantly been increasing from the beginning of the industrial age and had been applying democratic political forms. Eventually, the small numbers of members of the Republic of Letters back in the XVIII century turned into millions.  These people wanted control over their lives, and political regimes had to manage this via controlling information, propaganda, and public relations.  If these tools failed, the public could become so upset and unsettled that it would incite the masses to action.

  • The public is not the crowd, but the two are in a relationship (it’s complicated)

Here are the author’s definitions:

“The relationship between the public and the crowd is not transparent. Though closely associated with one another, the two are never identical. The public, we know, is composed of private persons welded together by a shared point of reference: what Lippmann called an interest in an affair, which can mean a love of computer games or a political disposition. Members of the public tend to be dispersed, and typically influence events from a distance only, by means of “soft” persuasion: by voicing and communicating an opinion.

A crowd, on the contrary, is always manifest, and capable of great physical destructiveness and ferocity. It is a form of action which submerges the desires of many individuals under a single rough-hewn will. In direct democracies like ancient Athens, it could be said to represent the will of the sovereign people. Everywhere else, the crowd can represent nothing but itself. Yet the persons who integrate a crowd invariably make larger claims of identity: with political crowds, such claims often reflect the more emotive aspects of the public’s agenda. A crowd can thus perceive itself, and be perceived by others, as the public in the flesh, “the people” or “the proletariat” or “the community” in action.”

At the end of the chapter author characterizes the current situation in such a way:” In the worldwide political collision between the new public and established authority, the image of the crowd has assumed a decisive importance. A willingness to face down power, even to die, in front of cell phone cameras, has equalized the asymmetry of this conflict to a surprising extent. A government can respond with old-fashioned brute force, as it did in Syria, but at the cost of tearing to shreds the social contract and becoming a global pariah. Every beating and every shooting will be recorded on video and displayed to the world. Every young man killed will rise again on the information sphere, transformed, in the manner of Mohamed Bouazizi and Khaled Said, into a potent argument for revolt.”

5 PHASE CHANGE 2011
The author begins this chapter with a discussion of distrust and fear that increasingly dominates the public and the elite relationship. Then, he specifically reviewed events of 2011 when mass demonstrations occurred in many western countries. Finally, he describes events in Spain, UK, Israel, and the USA and notices how little is needed to initiate mass protests against the elite. 

6 A CRISIS OF AUTHORITY
The author begins with defining the meaning of authority:” authority, as I use the term, flows from legitimacy, derived from monopoly. To some indeterminate degree, the public must trust and heed authority, or it is no authority at all. An important social function of authority is to deliver certainty in an uncertain world. It explains reality in the context of the shared story of the group. For this it must rely on persuasion rather than compulsion, since naked force is a destroyer of trust and faith. The need to persuade in turn explains the institutional propensity for visible symbols of authority—the patrician’s toga, the doctor’s white frock, the financier’s Armani suit. Authority being an intangible quality, those who wield it wish to be recognized for what they are.”

Then he describes how various branches of authority in western societies: science, experts, financiers, and politicians, lost the public’s trust by overpromising and underdelivering in a great many areas of life, consistently being caught lying just about everything and distorting reality. He then describes symptoms of life without authority: uncertainty and impermanence.

7 THE FAILURE OF GOVERNMENT
In this chapter, the author extends the discussion of loss of authority to the government. He compares public attitudes to many failures of JFK, which the press covered up and quickly forgave and forgot, with the mass movement of Tea Parties against Obama for his Obamacare. Here is the author’s point:” The claims of competence made by the government over which Barack Obama presided were as extraordinary and improbable as those asserted in JFK’s time. Everything had been diminished except the talk. The radical disconnect between the rhetoric and the reality of government was apparent to anyone with eyes to see, and, amplified by the information sphere, was itself a major vector for the contagion of distrust.”

The author retells the story of the city of Brasilia: an excellent example of the disconnect between government experts and reality, which typically cost a lot of lives and treasure to the public. The author completes the chapter with a discussion of “why most things fail.” The last part of the chapter is about the negativity of Obama and his attempts to be on the side of the public against out-of-control authority despite the simple fact that he, Obama, was this authority.  

8 NIHILISM AND DEMOCRACY
Here, the author discusses what could substitute for the declining grand hierarchy of the industrial age and could find nothing except for nihilism. Everything around is getting worse: climate, economy, and international politics. He concludes that:” The crisis of authority was a crisis of democracy. The public’s assault on the institutions was often an assault on the democratic process.” And it is not only a loss of belief in democracy, and it is even a loss of faith in revolution. It looks like the massive rise of nihilism caused by obsolesces of industrial mode, and the author is afraid that:” To the extent that the institutions of democracy remain lashed to the industrial mode of organization, they risk becoming part of an immense cultural extinction event.”

9 CHOICES AND SYSTEMS

In this chapter author moves from analysis to recommendations, which are: Protect the personal sphere from political interference and use the diversity of available options for everything. “The failure of government isn’t a failure of democracy, but a consequence of the heroic claims of modern government, and of the constantly frustrated expectations these claims have aroused. Industrial organization, with its cult of the expert and top-down interventionism, stands far removed from the democratic spirit, and has proven disastrous to the actual practice of representative democracy. It has failed in its own terms, and has been seen to fail, and it has infected democratic governments with a paralyzing fear of the public and with the despair of decadence.”  The author then discusses that a great many people do just that: ignore the government. He even presents a nice graph demonstrating that cute cats beat government hands down as an object of the public interest:

The author’s to-do list then has the requirement to change that by improving government transparency and a more realistic approach to claims and objectives. The author seems to believe this is imperative because:” Tremendous energies have been released by people from nowhere, networked, self-assembled, from below. That is the structural destiny of the Fifth Wave—the central theme of my story. Democratic government in societies of distrust can choose to ride the tsunami or to be swamped by it. The latter choice will leave government mired in failure and drained of legitimacy. It will leave democracy, I fear, at the mercy of the first persuasive political alternative.

10 FINALE FOR SKEPTICS
The author begins here with another precise formulation of his central thesis:” My thesis, again, is a simple one. The information technologies of the twenty-first century have enabled the public, composed of amateurs, people from nowhere, to break the power of the political hierarchies of the industrial age. The result hasn’t been a completed revolution in the manner of 1789 and 1917, or utter collapse as in 1991, but more like the prolonged period of instability that preceded the settlement of Westphalia in 1648. Neither side can wipe out the other. A resolution, when it comes, may well defy the terms of the struggle. None is remotely visible as I write these lines.”

After that author discusses failures of democracy in various places such as Venezuela, Ukraine, and Turkey, then makes the point that history demonstrated unpredictability of the future. Therefore, the author ends with this:” The failure of democracy plays no part in the null hypothesis, but becomes a possibility in the framework of my thesis. A rebellious public, sectarian in temper and utopian in expectations, collides everywhere with institutions that rule by default and blunder, it seems, by habit. Industrial hierarchies are no longer able to govern successfully in a world swept to the horizon by a tsunami of information. An egalitarian public is unwilling to assume responsibility under any terms. The muddled half-steps and compromises necessary to democracy may become untenable under the pressure applied by these irreconcilable forces.

Democracy isn’t doomed. As an analyst, I have rejected prophecy and destiny as tools of the trade. I see the future with no greater clarity than you, reader. But processes at play today, right now, if continued, could well lead to the crumbling of what has always been a fragile system of government.”

— TRUMP, BREXIT, AND FAREWELL TO ALL THAT

The original book was published in 2014 before Brexit and Trump, a supplement for the new edition. The author is bitching about this authentic expression of populism and, while clearly understanding the decay of the elite, he has a tough time accepting this reality. It shows in his description of events of 2017.  

MY TAKE ON IT:

I agree with the author that new information technology opened access to the public forum to all kinds of amateurs. It undermined and practically destroyed old forms of authoritarian governments based on limited access to information.  It also seriously damaged traditional forms of democracy when the elite controls narrative and consequently obtains legitimacy in the ballot box mainly by minimizing access to alternative narratives and, if needed, just falsifying election results. However, I think that this does not mean that either authoritarianism or democracy became unviable. On the contrary, they will have to change and include new information processing functionality in their corresponding systems. For example, AI and networks would allow authoritarian governments much stronger control over people’s behavior and thoughts than had ever been possible before.

In contrast, applying such technology in a real democracy would allow the removal of intermediary information repackaging by the elite and open direct and unlimited flows of data to support the interests of non-elite members of society. So, in the short run, the authoritarian regime could become more stable, while democracy less so because the reconciliation of many often conflicting interests without elite control would become more complex.  However, the authoritarian regime could become increasingly unstable in the long run due to the fights for power at the top with periodic massive leaks in the interests of one faction or another, made possible by the instant distribution of information to the population. The traditional solid beliefs in the god-given legitimacy of top leaders are gone and will never come back. So one bunch of authoritarian crooks could use a sudden leak of negative news to push the currently incumbent bunch of crooks out of power.

Democracy, on the other hand, could become much more robust because massive access to information from a multitude of sources would disqualify anybody who would pretend to be the Demos and will eliminate the ability of the elite to make large-scale decisions for all. The massive distrust of the elite would eventually push most decisions down to the private sphere, leaving for the government a minimal role as envisioned in the American Constitution.

20210911 – Who we are and How we got here

MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is to present the latest discoveries based on the newly obtained ability to read ancient DNA, even DNA from bones of Neanderthals that were dead for 30,000 years. This ability allowed drastically reassess the history of human migrations, expansion of humans all over the globe, and formation of different human populations. It is also allowed to reassess, at least to some extent role of interbreeding between humans and other humanoids. In addition, other areas of research are presented: the historical narrative that could be extracted from the DNA of currently living people, for example, male/female interactions over time-based on wars and conquests. Another, not precisely, the scientific objective of this book is to protect the author and his research against political correctness attacks because the research results clearly demonstrate that human populations are genetically diverse in many essential areas.

DETAILS:

Introduction
The author begins with reference to “Luca Cavalli-Sforza, the founder of genetic studies of our past.” Then, he describes ideas of past genetic research and provides an original model of historical human movements based on primitive technology of 1993. Finally, the author presents a map based on the technology of 2015:

After that author provides an estimate of accumulated genetic data and discusses how it is massively used:” This book is about the genome revolution in the study of the human past. This revolution consists of the avalanche of discoveries based on data taken from the whole genome—meaning, the entire genome analyzed at once instead of just small stretches of it such as mitochondrial DNA. The revolution has been made far more powerful by the new technologies for extracting whole genomes’ worth of DNA from ancient humans.” The author also describes some key results:” A great surprise that emerges from the genome revolution is that in the relatively recent past, human populations were just as different from each other as they are today, but that the fault lines across populations were almost unrecognizably different from today. DNA extracted from remains of people who lived, say, ten thousand years ago shows that the structure of human populations at that time was qualitatively different. Present-day populations are blends of past populations, which were blends themselves. The African American and Latino populations of the Americas are only the latest in a long line of major population mixtures.”

The author also describes in introduction structure of the book and the objectives that he targets to achieve in each chapter.

Part l: The Deep History of Our Species

This part:” describes how the human genome not only provides all the information that a fertilized human egg needs to develop, but also contains within it the history of our species.”

1: How the Genome Explains Who We Are
This chapter:” argues that the genome revolution has taught us about who we are as humans not by revealing the distinctive features of our biology compared to other animals but by uncovering the history of migrations and population mixtures that formed us.”

2: Encounters with Neanderthals
This chapter:” reveals how the breakthrough technology of ancient DNA provided data from Neanderthals, our big-brained cousins, and showed how they interbred with the ancestors of all modern humans living outside of Africa. The chapter also explains how genetic data can be used to prove that ancient mixture between populations occurred.”

3: Ancient DNA Opens the Floodgates
This chapter:” highlights how ancient DNA can reveal features of the past that no one had anticipated, starting with the discovery of the Denisovans, a previously unknown archaic population that had not been predicted by archaeologists and that mixed with the ancestors of present-day New Guineans. The sequencing of the Denisovan genome unleashed a cavalcade of discoveries of additional archaic populations and mixtures, and demonstrated unequivocally that population mixture is central to human nature.”

Part II: How We Got to Where We Are Today

This part:” is about how the genome revolution and ancient DNA have transformed our understanding of our own particular lineage of modern humans, and it takes readers on a tour around the world with population mixture as a unifying theme.”

4: Humanity’s Ghosts
This chapter:” introduces the idea that we can reconstruct populations that no longer exist in unmixed form based on the bits of genetic material they have left behind in present-day people.”

5: The Making of Modern Europe
This chapter:” explains how Europeans today descend from three highly divergent populations, which came together over the last nine thousand years in a way that archaeologists never anticipated before ancient DNA became available.”

6: The Collision That Formed India
This chapter:” explains how the formation of South Asian populations parallels that of Europeans. In both cases, a mass migration of farmers from the Near East after nine thousand years ago mixed with previously established hunter-gatherers, and then a second mass migration from the Eurasian steppe after five thousand years ago brought a different kind of ancestry and probably Indo-European languages as well.”

Here is the general picture of agricultural expansion:

7: In Search of Native American Ancestors

This chapter:” shows how the analysis of modern and ancient DNA has demonstrated that Native American populations prior to the arrival of Europeans derive ancestry from multiple major pulses of migration from Asia.”

8: The Genomic Origins of East Asians
This chapter:” describes how much of East Asian ancestry derives from major expansions of populations from the Chinese agricultural heartland.”

9: Rejoining Africa to the Human Story
This chapter:” highlights how ancient DNA studies are beginning to peel back the veil on the deep history of the African continent drawn by the great expansions of farmers in the last few thousand years that overran or mixed with previously resident populations.”

Part III: The Disruptive Genome

The last part:” focuses on the implications of the genome revolution for society. It offers some suggestions for how to conceive of our personal place in the world, our connection to the more than seven billion people who live on earth with us, and the even larger numbers of people who inhabit our past and future.”

10: The Genomics of Inequality
This chapter:” shows how ancient DNA studies have revealed the deep history of inequality in social power among populations, between the sexes, and among individuals within a population, based on how that inequality determined success or failure of reproduction.”

The discussion here is mainly about the typical process of mixing of populations when winners-male killed out losers-male and enslaved losers-female, resulting in different levels of genetic diversity between mitochondrial DNA and Y Chromosome:

Based on the genetic evidence, the author concludes that inequality has deep, maybe even biological roots. He expresses hope that:” Evidence of the antiquity of inequality should motivate us to deal in a more sophisticated way with it today, and to behave a little better in our own time.”

11: The Genomics of Race and Identity
Here author:” argues that the orthodoxy that has emerged over the last century—the idea that human populations are all too closely related to each other for there to be substantial average biological differences among them—is no longer sustainable, while also showing that racist pictures of the world that have long been offered as alternatives are even more in conflict with the lessons of the genetic data. The chapter suggests a new way of conceiving the differences among human populations—a way informed by the genome revolution.”

The author basically agrees that there are DNA-based differences between populations and then spends quite a bit of time debating Nicolas Wade’s work that highlights these differences and explains them by different evolutionary paths of these populations. The author accuses Wade of racism, but then states:” So how should we prepare for the likelihood that in the coming years, genetic studies will show that behavioral or cognitive traits are influenced by genetic variation, and that these traits will differ on average across human populations, both with regard to their average and their variation within populations? Even if we do not yet know what those differences will be, we need to come up with a new way of thinking that can accommodate such differences, rather than deny categorically that differences can exist and so find ourselves caught without a strategy once they are found.” The author very reasonably calls to get over racial differences and look at individuals, but then praises racist organizations specializing in African ancestry. The author also hilariously complains that his own population – Ashkenazi Jews are too smart and overstudied, so he announces that he would not spend his lab resources to learn about his own DNA. 

12: The Future of Ancient DNA

This chapter:” is a discussion of what comes next in the genome revolution. It argues that the genome revolution, with the help of ancient DNA, has realized Luca Cavalli-Sforza’s dream, emerging as a tool for investigating past populations that is no less useful than the traditional tools of archaeology and historical linguistics. Ancient DNA and the genome revolution can now answer a previously unresolvable question about the deep past: the question of what happened—how ancient peoples related to each other and how migrations contributed to the changes evident in the archaeological record. Ancient DNA should be liberating to archaeologists because with answers to these questions in reach, archaeologists can get on with investigating what they have always been at least as interested in, which is why the changes occurred”.

MY TAKE ON IT:

It is an excellent book with lots of valuable data presented in very nice and clear form. I agree with the author that the future of history would include a significant amount of information derived from DNA that could create lots of knowledge of who we humans are, where we came from, and what kind of evolutionary history we have. Moreover, it could be done not only at the population level but also at the level of individuals. I am also with the author in his belief that new tools and obtained data would help drive one last nail in the coffin of racism, but unlike the author, I hope that this would happen to all forms of racism: anti-black, anti-white, and anti-whatever. I also hope that all this staff about inequality would also be put to rest. As far as I am concerned, we all are different, and we all should be equal before the law and in the eyes of others regardless of our ancestry, race, good or bad luck of our ancestors, or whatever. One final thing that I would like to say is about stereotypes. Attempts to forbid and suppress stereotype use are unrealistic and bound to fail because it is a necessary evolutionary tool for survival. The normal process of thinking while encountering somebody else is to use stereotypes for external presentations of individuals and then discard this stereotype as soon as individuals become more familiar. We just need to speed up and automate data extraction for this process as much as possible, so using stereotypes would become redundant

20210904 – Freedom an Unruly History

MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is to reject the usual understanding of freedom as a combination of individual rights and the ability of individuals to live free from interference from coercive government and convince the reader that it is entirely different: the ability to participate in government decisions and election of individuals to the government. To achieve this author provides a nice historical review of the appearance and expressions of the idea of freedom in history from ancient Greeks to our time.   

DETAILS:

Introduction: An Elusive Concept
The author begins by posing the question that she intends to answer in this book: “TODAY MOST PEOPLE TEND TO equate freedom with the possession of inalienable individual rights, rights that demarcate a private sphere no government may infringe on. But has this always been the case? Does this definition, whereby freedom depends on the limitation of state power, really offer the only—or even the most—natural way of thinking about what it means to be free in a society or as a society? And if not, how and why did our understanding of freedom change?”

The author answers that the current understanding of freedom is wrong and offers a different understanding:” For centuries, Western thinkers and political actors identified freedom not with being left alone by the state but with exercising control over the way one is governed. Theirs was a democratic conception of freedom: a free state was one in which the people ruled itself, even if it lacked a bill of rights, an independent judiciary, and other mechanisms to patrol the boundaries of legitimate state power.”

The author then proceeds to define the understanding of freedom as individual freedom as a counterrevolutionary concept. The author also goes into some “Nuts and Bolts” of the historical development of the notion of Freedom.  She apologies that this book is based on Western history, presents some references to existence of such notion in other cultures and seeks excuse for this transgression in her limitations of her own expertise.

Part l: The Long History of Freedom
1. Slaves to No Man: Freedom in Ancient Greece
Autor begins this chapter in 480 BC when Spartans refused to submit to Xerxes’ power, even if submission meant protection and economic benefits and rejection could mean annihilation. The reason for this rejection was high value of freedom in Hellenic culture.  Author then discusses notion of freedom as opposite of slavery, specifically personal freedom from bondage, rather than political freedom. However right away she switched it to something different when referring to Spartans’ rejection:” They had, in other words, a democratic conception of freedom: in their view, a free state was a state in which the people controlled the way it was governed; it was not a state in which government interference was limited as much as possible.” author then discusses “invention of political freedom by Greeks and their celebration of tyrant-killers Harmodius and Aristogeiton. After retelling a bit of Herodotus’s history, the author poses the question whether Greek freedom was mirage or reality.  She answers that Greek understanding of freedom was political and meant democratic form of government and rule of law: features that differentiated Greeks from anybody else. Author then compares conditions of Persians, which despite being formally completely submissive to the king, in reality had quite a bit of freedom of possessions and actions, while Greek formal freedoms were quite limited not only by being extended only to a small share of population – free male citizens, but also by variety of political actions available for individuals in power. Author then discusses ancient critics of freedom: Oligarchs, Sophists, Plato, and many others. The final part of chapter deals with the raise of Macedon that brought all Greeks under power of king Philip and then Alexander, but with a special feature when local powers in many places still were selected democratically and maintained the rule of low. The establishment of kings power in Hellenic world brought change to debates about freedom:” While many Greek intellectuals continued to extol the importance of democratic freedom, others came to argue for a very different understanding of the term. Freedom, they argued, did not necessarily depend on the political institutions under which one lived. Rather, whether one could live a free life or not had more to do with the one’s strength of character or self-control. A person could be free even when he was ruled by a tyrant, as long as he had the appropriate moral strength. Thus, Hellenistic thinkers came to propagate a wholly personal, inner kind of freedom, mirroring the growing disempowerment of ordinary citizens in Greek political life.”

2. The Rise and Fall of Roman Liberty
Author begins this chapter with the story of Lucretia that led to revolt and establishment of republic: res public or “public thing”. Obviously in reality it was rule of patricians, but plebeians managed to establish some participation in power via Tribunal Assembly. Author then discusses validity of various sources of Roman history and notes that Romans pretty much accepted Greek notions of freedom. Author then allocates quite a bit of space to discussion of struggle for power distribution between different parts of Roman society men vs. women, patrician vs plebeians, and rich vs. poor. All this struggle was for control of political power via control such institutions such as the senate, which lasted for a long time in multiple incarnations and had various levels of impact on individual freedom of Roman citizens. Eventually republic was substituted by Empire, in which power struggle become more concentrated at the top. Author describes an interesting approach when Emperor strictly avoided formal designation as the king in order to maintain perception of freedom, just a bit better managed than in old Republic. For example, coins and other image carrying artifacts normally included goddess of Liberty. Author then describes some intellectual works such as Livy and Plutarch nostalgic for Republic. Another writer that author reviewed in details is Tacitus. Overall these writers maintained kind of Cult of Freedom, which eventually was demised during later imperial period when Christianity shifted top level control to the god, consequently promoting externally submission to power that is, while remaining internally submissive to God only. At the end of chapter, the author describes Middle Ages when power of kings and queens was established everywhere in Europe and notion of freedom was mainly moved into personal domain as spiritual pursuit. Any remnants of political power of population slowly disappeared remaining only partially in some urban areas.        

Part II: Freedom’s Revival
3. The Renaissance of Freedom
This chapter begins with reference to Dante who placed tyrannicides Brutus and Cassius into the Hell – direct opposite of Greek’s attitude, indicating that the only legitimate form of government is monarchy. The author describes how Renaissance undermined this approach in Italy, how this process was reflected in arts, and how after reviving ancient cult of freedom in XIV-XVI centuries it faded away. However. it did not disappear, but rather moved across Alps, where Gutenberg’s invention prompted expansion of freedom in Northern Europe, especially in such places and Switzerland, Netherlands, and others. Author describes in some detail events related to search of freedom and personalities that were driving these events in France and England. After that author looks at Reformation and notes that while fighting papal authoritarianism this movement was also authoritarian. However, this struggle between two quite intolerant religious movements opened gate for breakthrough to tolerance and freedom that was demanded by both these movement in places where they were not strong enough to suppress others. Eventually it produced a curious result: appearance of ideas of natural rights. Here is how author describes this result: “By the late seventeenth century, the notion that one could be free only if one did not depend on the will of another—meaning that individual freedom could exist only amid collective freedom—was so well established that dictionaries confirmed it.”. All this led to English Glorious Revolution and penetration of ideas of freedom into culture of European aristocracy, creating ideological foundation for revolutions.

4. Freedom in the Atlantic Revolutions
In this chapter the author describes revolutions that came at the end of XVIII century on both sides of Atlantic: American and French. Author mostly concerned with ideological and artistic representation of ideas of freedom, which was understood in variety of ways. Author defines and discusses in details one specific understanding presented by Richard Price as widely shared among American and other revolutionaries:” In Price’s view, being free in a society or as a society had nothing to do with the extent to which government interfered with one’s life. Rather, one was free as long as one had a say in the direction of one’s country. This was not because the act of governing in and of itself set one free. Price carefully avoided such claims. Rather, in Price’s view, self-government was necessary for the robust enjoyment of Liberty. Under a despotic government, private men “might be allowed the exercise of liberty; … but it would be an indulgence or connivance derived from the spirit of the times, or from an accidental mildness in the administration.” Author also discusses inconsistencies of American revolution when American freedom was perceived at least somewhat consistent with slavery. By the end of XVIII century Cult of freedom triumphed at least as ideal if not as reality of everyday lives of great many people. Author allocates lots of space to ideas of natural rights and various declarations of individual rights, but somehow at the end of chapter she managed to conclude that these individual rights are not intrinsic part of freedom and democracy, but contradict these ideas:” Yet, the late eighteenth century was not just a crucial time for the dissemination of the democratic theory of freedom; the outbreak of the Atlantic Revolutions also sparked a powerful backlash against democracy. This backlash led to the conceptualization of a wholly new way of thinking about freedom, in which Liberty had nothing to do with establishing popular control over government. Rather, a person was free if they could peacefully enjoy their lives and goods—and that condition was, if anything, threatened rather than secured by the introduction of democracy. Thus, as we shall see, the concept of freedom was gradually transformed from being a weapon to fight for democracy into an instrument that could be used to battle against it.”

Part III: Rethinking Freedom
5. Inventing Modern Liberty
Author begins this chapter with reference to work of Johann Eberhard who presented the new understanding that:” when talking about “the liberty of the citizen,” one should distinguish between two very different kinds of Liberty: civil Liberty and political Liberty. A people had political Liberty when it participated in government. Hence political Liberty existed only in republics, and it was most extensive in democratic republics. In contrast, individuals who had the right to act as they wished, insofar as such acts were not restricted by law, enjoyed civil Liberty. This type of Liberty did not depend on the form of government; it could exist as easily in a monarchy as in a republic.” Author then describes polemics about these ideas and designate the ideas of individual freedom as counterrevolutionary and directed against democracy. This way she puts Burke who supported American revolution and opposed French revolution on the same side as loyalists who were against both. Actually, author does not hide unpleasant features of French revolution such as terror, she even provides some illustrations of the period contrasting these two revolutions:

However, she clearly expresses her position:” In short, in the decades after the outbreak of the Atlantic Revolutions, counterrevolutionary thinkers rejected the democratic theory of freedom again and again, arguing that freedom, or at least civil Liberty, should be understood as the ability to peacefully enjoy one’s life and possessions. It might be tempting to dismiss these arguments as self-serving and empty of meaning; and indeed, some counterrevolutionary publicists seemed to claim that any kind of government—as long as it was not democratic—was capable of guaranteeing Liberty. But other counterrevolutionary thinkers developed more sophisticated arguments, reviving a number of claims already put forward by ancient critics of freedom while also developing new views. Some ideas developed by counterrevolutionary thinkers proved so powerful that they would continue to be echoed in the debate about freedom for decades to come.”

Author then provides historical review of ideological struggle between the two notions of freedom in West European countries and America, consistently stressing that individual freedom is counterrevolutionary concept that complicates achievement of “true freedom” of democratic self-government. 

6. The Triumph of Modern Liberty
In this chapter the author continues her historical review of the period after failed revolutions of 1848. She describes how ideas of individual freedom became strongly linked to America where there were no army, police, and little bureaucracy. The America was considered a crazy place, which somehow provided the best living conditions in the world without anybody actually directing society from the top. Author then describes the Modern Liberty in America (1848-1914):” Around the turn of the century, in short, the counterrevolutionary conception of Liberty had become more widely accepted in the United States than ever before. While, for most of the nineteenth century, this way of thinking had been defended in public debate by relatively few, most of whom were disgruntled members of the elite, this changed in the wake of a backlash against democracy provoked by the Civil War and mass migration. Doubts about the political abilities of blacks and new migrants led Gilded Age liberals to claim that Liberty needed protection from democracy. That protection was secured by limiting state power, instituting countermajoritarian institutions, and restricting the suffrage.” After that author describes powerful movements against Modern Liberty in Europe (1880-1945) that led to Soviet communism that author describes with some sympathy and fascism that author just briefly mentions.  The last part of this chapter is description of reincarnation of individual freedom ideas as “negative freedom”, strongly supported in America after WWII despite massive expansion of “positive freedom” of the New Deal and strong support of government expansion from intellectuals.

Epilogue: Freedom in the Twenty-First Century

Here author repeats her central thesis that traditional historical understanding of freedom is popular self-governance, but the new understanding of freedom as freedom of individual in society is result of reactionary reaction to Atlantic revolutions: American and French. Once again, she summarizes the ideological struggle of the last two centuries as “democratic freedom” vs. “modern freedom” and laments that the former often considered thread to latter and the modern – individual freedom remain dominant ideal:” In virtually every American political camp, the idea that freedom should be identified with personal security and individual rights predominates. But perhaps we would do well to remember that there is another side to the story of freedom. After all, for centuries freedom was seen as a compelling ideal because it called for the establishment of greater popular control over  government, including the use of state power to enhance the collective well-being. In particular, we might do well to remember that, for the founders of our modern democracies, freedom, democracy, and equality were not in tension but were inherently intertwined.”

MY TAKE ON IT:

This book is an excellent example of sophisticated leftist-academical thinking that would make Orwell proud of his foresight. The idea of juxtaposing democracy/self-governance and individual freedom, one as the traditional and noble understanding of the notion of freedom and another one as reactionary, counterrevolutionary, and therefore somewhat illegitimate, strikes me as an excellent articulation of the contemporary divide of dominant American ideologies. However, the most interesting here is the author’s continuing lament that everybody, even leftist commentators on big government propaganda media such as CNN and MSNBC, continues to pretend that they kind of support individual Liberty. She would rather have them announce, clearly and unequivocally, that the “real freedom” going back to ancient Greeks is the unrestricted ability of elected or unelected politicians and bureaucrats to suppress “counterrevolutionary” individual freedom. It seems that for the author, an individual’s ability to own and control one’s own body and property is subject to limitations in the name of “enhance collective well-being.”

The author’s obvious frustration with Americans provides hope that America is still healthy enough society to reject the thesis of “slavery is freedom” that the author promotes as soon as this thesis is expressed clearly enough. As to the core of author’s argument of “freedom is democracy/self-government”, it is hardly deserving serious consideration due to the simple fact that there is no Demos or collective Self as thinking, feeling, and acting entity. Democracy and self-government are nothing more than the method of selection of individuals to wield coercive power of the state in hope, usually futile, that they would do it in some vaguely defined “common interest” instead of clearly defined, albeit always hidden, their own interests. It is clearly better than selection of individual into such position by birthright as in Aristocratic societies or by who kill whom first, as in autocratic societies, but really not by that much. Even such clear advantage of Democracy as ability of people remove unpopular leaders is usually overestimated if one look at reality of senators not capable to speak and in diapers due to fragility of old age as Strom Thurmond or FDR who become president for life for all practical purposes. The prosperity of America and high quality of live that is still the norm in areas not under leftist control, comes from individual freedom to do what people want and private property to do it with. If this individual freedom is lost, the prosperity and high quality of live will be lost too.

20210828 – Last Best Hope America in Crisis

MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of author – convinced socialist, is to express his hate and contempt to Trump, uneasiness with his supporters, and most important, to convince readers, whom he expects to be strongly on his side, that removing Trump, imposing high-tech censorship, and taking over the main institutions is not yet a victory. Author describes four main political forces in America that he defines this way: Free America, Real America, Smart America, and Just America with the first two loosely aligned with republicans and the second two strongly aligned with democrats. This division is so strong and get stronger every day that author afraid it could lead to another Civil War.

DETAILS:

Prologue
Author begins with an interesting statement that he does not want pity for being born American and that many American want to leave this country because it is in decline. He then expresses challenge of remaining civil upon learning that people in rural area, to which he moved to recently, are supporting Trump. After stating his believe in decline of the country and deep political division of its population author tries to provide diagnosis of what went wrong:” Self-government is democracy in action—not just rights, laws, and institutions, but what free people do together, the habits and skills that enable us to run our own affairs. Tocqueville described self-government as an “art” that needs to be learned. It’s what Americans no longer know how to do, or even want to do together. It’s hard work, for it needs not just ballots and newspapers and official documents, which we still have, but also trust, which we’ve lost. It depends on the ability to argue, persuade, and compromise in order to achieve things for the common good, like the suppression of a catastrophic pandemic. It requires you to imagine the experience of others, to recognize their autonomy, and yet to think for yourself.” He then continues list of signs of decline from deteriorating roads to souring attitudes, but ends up with statement that:” No one is going to save us. We are our last best hope.”

Strange Defeat
Author begins this chapter by repeating typical democratic invective against the Donald as authoritarian and source of all bad:” all-American flimflam man and demagogue, a traditional character of our way of life.” Then he follows with description of COVID pandemic as disaster, which is all Trump’s fault. After that, interestingly enough, author actually demonstrates some understanding of reality and reason for Trumps popularity:” Populism is the politics of “the people” turned against “the elites.” It’s inherent in democracies, always lurking, and it grows out of control when citizens feel that their needs are going unmet or their voices unheard. Then they will revolt against the class above them that claims to rule by right of superior knowledge and seems to do so for its own benefit. The experts—civil servants, trade negotiators, think tank analysts, scientists, professors, journalists—have a tenuous hold on their status, if not their jobs. No one elected them. They’re unaccountable to the mass public. The same credentials and special language that make them recognizable and admirable to one another render them suspect in the eyes of the noncredentialed.”  Author ends this chapter by expressing his believe that removal of Trump from presidency was saving of democracy, but he also is pretty clear about the problem:” We are two countries—that was the real message of the 158 million votes. But we still have to live together. We’re stuck with one another. That fact poses a supreme problem, one that will take even more urgency, intelligence, and cooperation than the remarkable achievement of a vaccine in less than a year”.

Four Americas
Here author moves to a bit more interesting staff than repeating democratic invectives: analyzing logic of current ideological division of Americans. He identifies four groups each supporting different narrative:

Call the first narrative Free America. In the past half century, it’s been the most politically powerful of the four. Free America draws on libertarian ideas, which it installs in the high-powered engine of consumer capitalism. The freedom it champions is very different from Tocqueville’s art of self-government. It’s personal freedom, without other people—the negative liberty of “Don’t tread on me.” Author links free America to republican party, Reagan and generally antigovernmental movement.

The second is “Smart America – a new class of Americans: men and women with college degrees (at the very least), skilled with symbols and numbers, salaried professionals in information technology, scientific research, design, management consulting, the upper civil service, financial analysis, medicine, law, journalism, the arts, higher education.”  This America is America of top 10% in income, it is cosmopolitan, supports meritocracy, accepts affirmative actions and redistribution, but only to some extent, and generally realigned with democrats. It is somewhat contemptuous to lower middle and working classes and uneasy with patriotism. 

The third is “Real America”:” Real America is a very old place. The idea that the authentic heart of democracy beats hardest in common people who work with their hands goes back to the eighteenth century. It was embryonic in the founding creed of equality. “State a moral case to a ploughman and a professor,” Jefferson wrote in 1787. “The former will decide it as well, and often better than the latter, because he has not been led astray by artificial rules.” Moral equality was the basis for political equality. As the new republic became a more egalitarian society in the first decades of the nineteenth century, the democratic creed turned openly populist. Andrew Jackson came to power and governed as champion of “the humble members of society—the farmers, mechanics, and laborers,” the Real Americans of that age.”

It used to be backbone of democratic party, but it is now strongly republican. This America is hard working, religious, and very patriotic. Somewhat unexpectedly author denies that Trump is fascist, but still repeats lots of standard democratic BS about him.

The final narrative is “Just America”. This America came from campuses and based not on real life experiences, but rather on massive indoctrination into identity politics and anti-white racism under pretense of fight against anti-black racism. Author obviously feels very close to this America, but seems to be a bit scared by its totalitarian inclinations, while also being scared that it would raise a serious resistance.

Equal America
After defining 4 different types of America author presents his view of current political divide with Smart and Just America on one side and Free and Real America on the another. He follows with discussion of potential secession and eventually concludes that it is not realistic. In discussion of political competition between these four forces author clearly puts himself on the side of Smart and Just (democrats) against Free and Real (republicans) and accuse republicans in attempt to obtain and hold power by undemocratic means. Despite all this author then talks about global character of America as no other country and unique features of American culture that differentiate all Americans from others and one of the most important features of this difference is an American’s disconnect from his/her roots whether these are European, African, Asian, or whatever, from which follows strong and in author’s opinion incorrect, believe that all humans are basically the same in their hopes and strives. Another key feature:” Equality is the hidden American code, the unspoken feeling that everyone shares, even if it’s not articulated or fulfilled: the desire to be everyone’s equal—which is not the same thing as the desire for everyone to be equal. Equality is the first truth of our founding document, the one that leads to all the others.” Author then goes through other American features: Loudness, Bluntness, Violence, Anti-Intellectualism, and unwillingness accommodate to other cultures. At the end of chapter author comes to this conclusion:” National characteristics don’t create national unity. Civil wars have been fought in countries with a common culture, including ours. The qualities I’ve sketched out—you might have others to add or put in their place—don’t make us a nation. They just show the contours of concealed ligaments that would be torn if we continue pulling apart.”

Equalizers
In this chapter author reviews equalizing movements on American history and a few prominent personalities of these movements: Horace Greely of The New York – tribune against slavery, Francis Perkins of Roosevelt administration – fighter for women rights, and black labor leader A. Philip Randolph I fighter for Civil Rights for blacks.

Make America Again
In the beginning of chapter author attempts to be optimistic: “We’ve been here before. These stories should sound familiar: a house divided, monopoly and corruption, fixed classes of rich and poor, racial injustice…The same kinds of things were said in 1861, in 1893, in 1933, and in 1968. The sickness, the death, is always a moral condition.” Then author expresses believe that this will be overcome and American democracy will survive. This follows by another round of bitching against Trump, his voters, and 1776. However, interestingly enough, author understands that his side has difficulties to overcome:” Americans won’t accept the leveling hand of government in every corner of our lives. Socialism that proclaims itself enters any election with a debilitating handicap. Having spent a decade in a socialist organization, I’m acquainted with the hairsplitting futility that these long odds impose.”  After that author proposes a bunch of quasi-socialist measures in line of typical approach: more taxes, more anti-white racism to confront anti-black racism, expand very visible government monopolies to confront “invisible monopolies” of private business, and so on. Author also writes against high tech censorship, even if it supports his side, probably because he understands that it is not sustainable. He also provides as example brief story of one of Trump’s supporters that protested on January 6th and is very typical white working-class man that actually represent if not majority, then clear plurality of population that could not be ignored.

Epilogue

Here author describes his feeling that 2021 looks like 1861 and then resides letter of Bayard Rustin to children of Cleveland from 1969 calling on them to believe in Democracy, Equality, and America. Author ends his book this way:” Rustin didn’t assure the children that their country had already reached this promised land, or warn them that it could never get there. Democracy is a continuing experiment with no end point of perfection, no eternal truths outside human action. Those truths that we hold to be self-evident, the ones that Rustin explained to the children of Cleveland, will survive only if we can realize them through our own efforts. Self-government puts all the responsibility in our hands. No strongman or expert or privileged class or algorithm can do it for us. As soon as we abandon the task, the common skeleton unknits and collapses in a heap of bones. All of this asks us to place more faith in ourselves and one another than we can bear. On some days the project seems preposterous and the effort exhausting. But I am an American and there’s no escape. We’ve never known any other way of life. We have to make this one.”

MY TAKE ON IT:

It is an interesting analysis of situation from relatively far left by author who is not completely brain dead and therefore scared. I think that his analysis of political forces is close to reality, but somewhat screwed. What he calls “Smart America” I would characterize as “Credentialed America” because people of this group may have PhDs, but are not necessarily smart and make their living not by doing smart things, but rather by getting spoils of big government either as lawyers, or government supported enterprises, or government supported “non-profits”. Similarly, “Free America” of libertarianism is actually smarter, than “Smart America” because these people understand how economics really works, but have hard time understanding that people who do not have property would not accept sanctity of property of others. Also, it is ridiculous to call brainwashed young Americans in colleges, their professors, and assorted race hustlers “Just America”. There is nothing just in racial quotas, segregation by race, refusal of due process in case of sexual harassment, rioting in order to suppress free speech of others, and similar antics of this part of population. Finally, the “Real America” is meaningless for two reasons: the first is that all Americas in all political groups are real, and the second, more important reason is that this part of population is divided between productive and parasitic ways of live. The productive way means producing goods and services that others would voluntarily buy, the parasitic way is to receive goods and services paid for by others via taxes and other forms of governmental coercion. This division is not even between people, but often within each individual when part of individual’s consumption paid for by earned money and part by handouts.

What seems to be bother author is that while “Smart America” controls economy, institutions and “Just America” controls narrative, both areas show signs of degeneration while igniting discontent among majority of people belonging to all groups. New censorship suddenly hits lifelong liberals and libertarians who still want to express their thoughts and ideas without fear. Sexual harassment accusations without prove or even reasonable possibility hit everybody around spoiling normal interactions between sexes. Anti-White racism by becoming more visible and harmful to 70% of population causes people to ask simple question:” Do I want to be a second- or third-class citizen? Do I want my children denied access to top level of various institution because of color of their skin? Do I want to be deprived of tools of self-defense when criminals are roaming around untouchable to police?”.

These are all dangerous questions for democrats in power and author rightly afraid that it is not just that answer will be “No”, but that this answer would be expressed via actions. He also rightly afraid that these auctions may not be expressed just by voting one way or another – this works when people believe that vote is fair, secret, and correctly counted.  What author seems fail to understand is that when he talks about 74 million for Trump and 81 million against, great many of people do not agree with him. Nobody seems to be disputing 74 million, but lots of people believe that the 81 million is imaginary number. It should not be surprising taking into account all irregularities, struggle against auditing, and simple fact that results counted and investigations of complains were conducted or not conducted by government employees: people whose wellbeing clearly depended on defeating Trump.  So, I agree with author that situation is dangerous, it will have to be resolved one way or another, and we’ll probably have to live in “interesting times” for a while until this resolution will be completed.

20210821 – The Science of Consequences

MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is somewhat trivial: actions have consequences, which define conditions of actor’s existence and consequently lead to the new set of actions based on this conditioning. Generally, it is just restatement of the notion of feedback, albeit with deeper look at mechanics: nurture/nature and somewhat valuable presentation of experiments and research demonstrating various aspect of this simple notion.  

DETAILS:

PART 1: Consequences and How Nature-Nurture Really Works
Chapter 1. Consequences Everywhere:
Origins and Definitions; Waltzing Pigeons and Roller-Coaster Fish: Consequences across Species; Getting Stimulated: Sensory Consequences; The Spice of Life: Variety as a Consequence; The Creative Consequence; Taking Advantage of Variety; The Positive Side of Problems; Taking Control

In this chapter author defines the notion of consequences similarly to the notion of positive or negative feedback that either amplify or suppresses some behavior:” …research illustrates what reinforcers are: By definition, reinforcers both depend on behaviors and sustain them. If a behavior gets going and keeps going because of a consequence, that consequence is a reinforcer. If a behavior declines because of a consequence, that consequence is a negative (a punisher). Things that seem like rewards sometimes aren’t: what matters is what actually happens, not the intention.”

After that author presents examples from variety of experiments with animals that demonstrates how it works and defines what happens when there are no consequences either negative or positive: the awful condition of Boredom. Then she discusses the Variety, Sensory stimulation, and Taking control as conditions necessary for well-being not only humans, but also other animals.

Chapter 2. Consequences and Evolution: The Cause That Works Backward: Dance of the Balloons; Flexible Instincts; Songbirds; Bugs That Learn; Which Came First? The Evolution of Consequences; Bird Beaks Pointing the Way: How Consequences Lead Evolution; The Cause That Works Backward

Here author discusses interplay between instincts and learned behavior using several examples from research on bugs and birds, eventually concluding that “consequences lead evolution” that basically means recording into genetic code effective response to specific and consistently occurring environmental signals, resulting in positive consequences.

Chapter 3. Genes and Consequences: Meet Your Genome; Getting Turned on; The Genetics of Consequences; Interactions Everywhere; What’s Inherited—and What Isn’t; Epigenetics: New Kid in the Neighborhood

In this chapter author moves to discuss the recently acquired understanding of flexibility of genetic mechanisms when not only genes get switched on and off by environmental signals, but also epigenetics could modify genes expression and consequently condition of organism. Author also refers to research, which demonstrated that “DNA methylation patterns—and behavior patterns—could be reversed when disadvantaged rat pups were given extra licking and grooming by adult females (regardless of genetic relationship”.  

Chapter 4. Neuroscience and Consequences: Enrichment on the Brain; Neurons and Connections; Rewarding Chemicals: Dopamine and Its Cousins; Pleasure Centers; The Sky’s the Limit: Neuroplasticity and Real-Life Applications

In this chapter author discusses:” the neurophysiological flexibility that plays with all this genetics/epigenetics/nature-and-nurture flexibility—and the cavalry-to-the-rescue role of consequences to take full advantage of it.” She reviews structure and some electro-chemical processes in the brain that support this flexibility. Author also describes experiments demonstrating this flexibility: for example, long time blindfolded person’s brain switching visual cortex to process touch and sounds.

Here is how author summarizes Part one:” The chapters in part 1 illuminate how essential a systems approach is to understanding nature-and-nurture: genes, past history, behavior, environmental factors of all sorts, “pleasure centers,” neurotransmitters, long-term potentiation, synaptogenesis, neurogenesis, epigenetics, and other biological factors—everything working together. Newly revealed are reserves of tremendous flexibility previously undreamt of.”

Part 2: There’s a Science of Consequences?

Chapter 5. Consequences on Schedule: simple Principles with Surprising Outcomes: False Consequences; Consequences on Schedule; Work-Based Schedules and the Power of Unpredictability; Consequences on Time; Progress and Perseverance; Making the Most of Schedules; Schedules Everywhere

This chapter is about earning consequences or in other words planning and implementing some actions with expectation that some specific consequences will follow. Initially author discusses widely occurring situation when consequences incorrectly linked to previous, but inconsequential actions. Then she discusses schedules that supposed to produce specific consequences, but rarely do it completely and therefore require perseverance to achieve intendent consequences.

Chapter 6. The Dark Side of Consequences: Shades of Gray; Feelings; Choosing Pain; Aggression; Making Negatives Work—Positively

Here author moves to discuss unpredictable negative consequences. Author discusses “gray” or mixed consequences: something good and bad, both coming from complex actions. She refers to research that demonstrates that ratio 5 to 1 for complex actions such as marriage to be perceived generally positive. She then looks at feelings that paint consequences as either positive or negative or mixed. Author then moves to talk about range of consequences for example more or less pain and how sometimes lower-level negative is willingly accepted to avoid higher level negative, as in case of surgery. Another interesting point is to look at aggression as an attempt to avoid negative consequences by inflicting high levels of negative consequences on somebody or something that perceived as cause of this negatives. The final part of the chapter is about handling negatives. Overall author concludes:” Negatives can be downers, there’s no escaping that. But we’ve seen how lifesaving they can be—how grateful we should feel for evolution’s painful solution. And let’s not forget that positives have a negative side, even when good feelings abound.”

Chapter 7. Choices and Signals: The Matching Game; So, What Can the Matching Law Do? Winning Matches; Getting the Signal; A Smorgasbord of Signals; Of Signal Importance

This chapter starts with Frost’s “less travelled road” and talks about choices. Author describes matching law:” The matching law was originally derived from animal research in the lab, where conditions can be precise. In its full technical form, the equation gets complicated, covering a host of factors and parameters: bias between the behavior choices (an SO who really dislikes baseball), different levels of effort (someone lost the remote, so you have to get up and change channels manually), different types and values of the consequences, delays, schedules, signals, and so forth.”

The author discusses what this law does, which matches are winning, getting correct signal out of multitude of signals and noise, and, finally how important signals are.

Chapter 8. Pavlov and Consequences: An Essential Partnership: Compensating Reactions and Drug Tolerance; Not All in Your Head: The Placebo Effect and Other Mind-Body Surprises; Getting Emotional; Value, Anticipation, and Learned Consequences; Learned and Unlearned

This chapter is about Pavlov’s conditioning and its implication in drugs’ use, and other interactions between mind and body that lead to such things as placebo effect, link between emotions and bodily reactions. Author also discusses habituation of emotions to levels of signals such as use to violence in entertainment. At the end of chapter author moves to discuss learned and unlearned consequences, meaning some unlearned consequences that results from intrinsic qualities of organism like perception of tase or reaction to alcohol and learned consequences as result of signals transferred via language. 

Chapter 9. Observing and Attending: The Many Roles of Attention; Not-So-Simple Observations; Beneath the Radar: Consequences without Awareness; It’s Automatic; Observing Others; The Ultimate in Observing: Imitation

In this chapter author discusses role of attention and it starts with the famous “not seeing gorilla” experiment. Author points out link between attention and learning as in case of driving in the new place with attention and in well familiar place without. It is also about human need for attention of other that sometime achieves pathological levels. Author then discusses methods to attract attention as in experiment with animals. In humans paying attention or not is also dependent on expectation of positive or negative consequences as for example, when investors check portfolio more often when market goes up. Author also describes some interesting experiments with consequences without awareness, for example, when people rewarded for something unrelated to the task there are doing, but linked to their behavior. The result was subconscious adjustment of behavior to maximize award, even if there is no conscious understanding of what is rewarded. Author also discusses automated behavior and interaction with others, including imitation.  

Chapter 10. Thinking and Communicating: Categories Large and Small; Simple Communication; The Understanding Animal: Simple Language; Human Language and Its Consequences; Same Word, Different Consequence; Babble On; Language Learning in Real Life; Strictly Private; Making Up the Rules; Language and Biology

In this chapter author looks at communications and language in animals and humans from point of view of consequences of designating categories, transmitting and receiving signals via language, process of language development and learning, and use of all this to create rules to support effective communication and interactions between individuals.

Part 3: Shaping Destinies

Chapter 11. Everyday Consequences: Creating Rewards; How We Treat Each Other; Altruism; Shaping the Future; The Challenging Side of Parenting; What Marriage Can Be; Real Self-Esteem

Here author looks even deeper into human communications, interactions, and how much they are based on consequences, meaning creating awards and punishments, that is consequences for variety of different actions. It is also about internal consequences such as taking responsibility or avoiding it and how raise children to be able dealing effectively with life’s challenges. Finally, author discusses use of consequences in long term relationships such as marriage that could be stable and effective if ratio 5:1 positive to negative successfully maintained.  The chapter ends with an interesting take on validity of consequences in relation to building self-esteem. Turned out that undeserved rewards or, in other words, false positive consequences, do not help, mainly because it distorts signal about effectiveness of action, resulting in absence of valid feedback that is necessary to fix errors and mistakes.

Chapter 12. Fighting the Impulse: Self-Control, Anyone? Detecting Delays; The Disappearing Reward; The Marshmallow and the Kid Fighting the Impulse: Using What We Know; Taking Charge of Weight

This chapter is about self-control or lack thereof that usually leads to a bunch of negative consequences. Author describes a number of research experiments, including famous “marshmallow test” demonstrating this link. She also provides some technics of fighting impulse and achieving difficult objectives such as weight loss.

Chapter 13. Endangered Species, undercover Crows, and the Family Dog: Applications for Animals: Animal Companions; At the Zoo: Animal Care the Easy Way; Life at the Zoo; From Endangered Species to Farm Animals; Animals That Save Our Lives;

This chapter describes how better understanding of animal and human processing of consequences of their actions and ability to manipulate such consequences allowed completely new way of interaction and training of animals without cruelty and excessive punishments. Author describes how this approach is used in variety of environments from Zoos to Farms to Schools for animals used for direct support to humans.

Chapter 14. The Rewards of Education and Work There Are No Shortcuts; Consequences in Classroom Management; Maximizing Potential; Successful Programs; More on Motivation Consequences at Work;

In this chapter author expands the same way of using consequences to train animals to training humans. She describes how it is done in LA school so it opened potential of poor children. She even claims that:” It is well established, for example, that simply rewarding disadvantaged children for trying hard on intelligence tests can immediately raise their IQ scores by ten points or more. (Without some source of motivation, why strive to do their best?) A recent meta-analysis assessed the findings of many such experiments, including over 2,000 participants altogether—children of all sorts, not just disadvantaged children. Overall, rewarding youngsters for trying harder significantly raised IQ scores, and larger incentives consistently produced larger effects. The effects were greatest when the original IQ scores were lower (not surprising).” Then author discusses motivation and claims that if paying kids real money to learn the improve their results is real possibility, with a very important caveat that payment should be applied as reward for behavior, not results and applied immediately. The positive results occurred in due time as consequence of improved behavior and motivation. Same applies to adults in their work activities.  

Chapter 15. Help for Addiction, Autism, and Other Conditions Churchill’s “Black Dog”: Depression; Anxiety and Fear; Getting Unhooked: Addiction; Autism; Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: Drugs or Consequences? Brief Notes;

In this chapter author discusses application of the same methods to people with variety of mental disorders from depression to dementia. Author reviewing some examples of application of consequences-based method and claims that sometimes there is clear success story.

Chapter 16. Consequences on a Grand Scale: Society, the Long Term, and the Planet Obedience and Disobedience; Overcoming Prejudice; Politics: The Art of the Possible Meets the Science of Consequences; The Short Term versus the Long Term: Having It All?

The final chapter is about using method of consequences in politics and controlling of people within society. Here author discusses Milgram’s experiments, My Lai massacre, Gandhi’s disobedience, prejudice, group loyalty to “us” and hostility to “them”, and so on. Finally, she also discusses political implication of consequences from MAD strategy to zero/non-zero games. The final part of the chapter is about solutions, which author defines as adding and subtracting consequences in order to achieve targeted behavior. She also presents list of technics such as control over schedules, checklists, commitments, and role models. 

MY TAKE ON IT:

The approach of trying understand actions of living things via understanding of their perception of consequences of such actions in my opinion is highly productive, providing it is done seriously, with open mind and scientifically valid protocols, rather than cherry-picking process with predefined objective to prove some point or achieve some result. Too bad that it is often applied in latter way rather than in former, especially when in the area of politics. One thing that I’d like to add to all this is that consequences in real life are always unpredictable and could be easily predefined only in case of simple and repetitive actions. Consequently, in real world any complex action plan should be build not only on expectations of specific consequences based on previous experience, but also on incorporating as much flexibility as possible in action plan so one could achieve effective dynamic process leading to the same objectives via variety of different ways that would allow to handle inevitable occurrence of unexpected intermediate consequences popping up elsewhere due to complexity of rial live.      

20210815 – The Social Consequences of Preference Falcification

MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is that in any society there are two different opinions: Private Opinion within mind of each individual based on this individual’s Preferences and Public Opinion that may or may not coincide with Preferences of any individual, but is generally accepted as dominant and therefore supported by variety of tools of coercion from very soft disagreement to secret police executing on the spot any defiant. As result at least some share population uses Preference Falsification: openly and often loudly expressing different and even opposite opinions than ones this person really has. The result is in the mild case inefficient functioning of the society when actions somewhat deviate from pronounces, but in the severe case it could be sudden revolutionary explosion with massive restructuring of the society. The mild case is typical for Democracies where suppression of defiant opinions is moderate, while the revolutionary explosion often happens in totalitarian and/or autocratic societies where suppression is quite hard.    

DETAILS:

I. Living a Lie

1. The Significance of Preference Falsification

In the first chapter of this book author defines the meaning of key notion of this book: “preference falsification, the act of misrepresenting one’s genuine wants under perceived social pressuresPreference falsification aims specifically at manipulating the perceptions others hold about one’s motivations or dispositions”. In other words, it is a form of lying under social pressure and/or threat of negative impact on one’s wellbeing as punishment for being honest.

After defining the main notion, author then presents objective of this book:” to classify, connect, and explicate the unintended consequences of preference falsification. How, precisely, does preference falsification affect the mechanics of politics? How does it influence the evolution of public opinion? What are its implications for the efficiency of social policies and institutions? To what extent and by what mechanisms does it transform beliefs, ideologies, and worldviews? Finally, does it facilitate or hinder efforts to predict and control the social order?” After that author provides a number of real-life examples:

  • Religious dissimilation
  • Veiling in Turkey
  • Gay officials outing by gay rights movement in USA in 1990s

Author also discusses various technics applied either to make sure that expressed preference would not hurt expressor:

  • Leaks and Trial Balloons
  • The Secret Ballot, Blind Refereeing, and Secluded Negotiations

At the end of chapter author discusses the social effects of Preference Falsification and presents overview of the book:

  • Chapters 2–5 explore how public opinion emerges from the interdependent public preference choices of individuals.
  • Chapters 6–9 explore collective conservatism: widespread public support for policies that would be rejected in a vote taken by secret ballot
  • Chapters 10–14 explore how preference falsification affects private preferences.
  • Chapters 15–18 explore how preference falsification shapes patterns of social change.

2. Private and Public Preferences

Here author starts by defining private and public preferences, noting that it is highly dependent on culture and state power which is which. His example: pork chops is private preference in USA, but public preference in Saudi Arabia.

Author then discusses mechanics of public preference and defines notion of Intrinsic Utility as some point among continuum of choices that makes individual happiest:

Then author defines Reputational and Expressive Utilities, the former maximizes individual’s reputation among others, while latter individual’s self-respect: the necessary condition for psychological well-being.

Here is the graphic representation:

Author then discusses possibility and even necessity of Preference falsification for individual to maximize total utility. Author also provides a beautiful example of multifaceted Preference Falsification:” In 1989, a Soviet citizen admitted to having worn “six faces” under communist repression: “one for my wife; one, less candid, for my children, just in case they blurted out things heard at home; one for close friends; one for acquaintances; one for colleagues at work; and one for public display.”

Author also discusses how Intrinsic Utility often manipulated by limiting access to information or providing false information, especially in totalitarian and authoritarian societies. At the end of chapter author looks at social sciences that look at individual’s utility from different angles often ignoring reality that everything is intertwined:” The foregoing model depicts the individual as having multiple sources of happiness: economic, social, and psychological. These three sources have tended to be studied within separate disciplines that differ in their conceptions of the individual. Homo economicus is a self-controlled, calculating utility machine, who is immune to social pressure and a stranger to inner turmoil. Homo sociologicus, his very identity the product of social stimuli, is ruled by social demands. And a common conception of homo psychologicus is as an impulsive and tormented soul, struggling, seldom successfully, to escape the dictates of his conscience. However simplistic, these constructs provide valuable insights into human behavior. Yet they obscure as much as they enlighten. A more composite construct allows glimpses, we shall see, into phenomena that its unidisciplinary rivals oblige us to ignore.”

 3. Private Opinion, Public Opinion

Author begins this chapter by providing definition:” An activity forms a political issue if it is a matter of social concern, a nonissue if it is widely considered a matter of personal choice.” He then discusses limitations on public issues and paradox of people getting involved with public issues even if these issues have little impact on their lives, Author then links this phenomenon to Expressive needs of individuals that causes them to become activists. The next point of discussion is formation of the pressure groups that separates public and private opinion by creating cultural pressure to join one position or other that results in polarization of public opinion even if private opinion distributed evenly:

4. The Dynamics of Public Opinion

In this chapter author discuss the process of formation of public opinion via enforced Preference Falsification necessary to maintain belonging to a group in which some public opinion becomes dominant. As result population is initially divided into groups around different opinions based on individual threshold. Author provide graphic and explanation of movement of public opinion to position when it is dominant, even if it represents minority opinion:” Remaining focused on Figure 4.3, imagine that the expected public opinion somehow starts out at 20. The propagation curve indicates that 35 percent of the population has a threshold at or below 20. So, this share of the population will give its public support to 100 and the remaining 65 percent will support 0. An expectation of 20 has thus generated a public opinion of 35. Having turned out to be an underestimate, the initial expectation will be revised upward. According to the figure, any expectation below 40 will fall short of the corresponding realization and generate further revisions. To become self-fulfilling, and thus self-reproducing, the expected public opinion must rise to 40. The figure shows Ye = 40 to lie at the only intersection between the propagation curve and the diagonal. So there is a single self-fulfilling expectation, a unique equilibrium.7 Only when individuals base their public preferences on the expectation of a public opinion of 40 does actual public opinion match the expectation that generated it. Panel B of Figure 4.3 uses a topographic metaphor to capture the movements of public opinion. It depicts a valley whose lowest point is at 40. If a ball is placed at 40, it will remain at rest indefinitely. Placed anywhere else, it will roll toward 40.”

Author then discusses details of this process and expresses caution against incorrect perception of public opinion:” The human tendency to underemphasize the external determinants of human choices and overemphasize the internal determinants is known as the fundamental attribution error. The normatively correct principle of attribution calls for caution in ascribing an act to the actor’s personal disposition insofar as that act is typical.”

5. Institutional Sources of Preference Falsification

Author begins this chapter by pointing out institutional difference in imposing Preference Falsification between democratic and totalitarian countries: relatively soft pressure in former and deadly violence in latter. After that author discusses Expressive constrains from Athenians ostracizing individuals with unpopular opinions to McCarthyism in USA and Official responses to Public and Private opinion, which is very different in democracies when leaders have a lot less tools to form opinions via disinformation and suppress challenging opinion carriers by force. Nevertheless, even in democracies Preference Falsification is widely used and author discusses remedies that could minimize damage caused by this phenomenon. Such remedies include first of all the Secret Ballot and traditions of Tolerance to different opinions. The real practical use of these remedies is rarity that happens only in democracies and even in this case they are very fragile. Author refers here to American constitution and intention of its framers to use clash of ambitions to save democracy, but he also notes that maintaining democracy requires general agreement on fundamentals, which is often just not possible.  

II. Inhibiting Change:

6. Collective Conservatism; 7. The Obstinacy of Communism; 8. The Ominous; Perseverance of the Caste System; 9. The Unwanted Spread of Affirmative Action

In this part author discusses situation when Public Opinion remains stable for a long time after Private Opinion had changed, sometimes dramatically. The main reasons for this usually established historical narrative, spiral of prudence when individuals disenchanted with status quo believe that they are small minority when in fact the majority of people unhappy, but remain silent or falsify their preference.  There is also unequal distribution of opinions among generations and other processes that impact willingness of individuals to support or resist change such as Conservatism, Traditionalism, Persistence, and Rigidity. Here is graphic representation of this process:

Then author reviews real life examples of such processes: Communism in Soviet Block, Caste system in India, and Affirmative actions in USA.

III. Distorting Knowledge:

10. Public Discourse and Private Knowledge

In this part author discusses impact of Preference Falsification not only on Public Discourse, but also on Private knowledge and opinion. Here is authors formulation:” …preference falsification can alter the appearance of one’s personality without modifying its essence. Yet in practice preference falsification does affect private preferences. It distorts public discourse—the corpus of assertions, arguments, and opinions in the public domain. In turn, the distortion of public discourse transforms private knowledge—the understandings that individuals carry in their own heads. The transformation of private knowledge ends up reshaping private preferences.” Author then discusses human cognitive processes that are susceptible to external influences via such processes as framing or accepting externally imposed overall model of reality, but only to the extent that this model possesses at least somewhat effective predictable power and help individual achieve his/her objectives.  Author discusses in some details the role of deception, censorship, and general political illiteracy resulting from dependency of individuals on information provided by society. In this context author discusses Heuristics of social proof and its use in politics of Persuasion. Author also applies notions of hard and soft knowledge:” Hard knowledge is grounded in substantive facts and systematic reasoning. By contrast, soft knowledge is grounded in one or more forms of social proof. Either type of knowledge may be erroneous, of course. Just as the causes of a social phenomenon may be misperceived, perceptions of public opinion may be substantially off. In practice, moreover, “hardness” and “softness” form a continuum. Beliefs concerning social phenomena are ordinarily based both on personal observation and on perceptions of what others think.” Author also discusses Believe Perseverance. That is tendency of people to fit new information into existing framework of believes, even if this information completely contradictory to these believes. Overall author rejects idea of individual autonomy and objective interests noting impact of the Public opinion imposed by powers that are on individuals believes, even if they are hidden from external control.

11. The Unthinkable and the Unthought;

Here author discusses cognitive limitations and provides definitions:” An unthinkable belief is a thought that one cannot admit having, or even characterize as worth entertaining, without raising doubts about one’s civility, morality, loyalty, practicality, or sanity. An unthought belief is an idea that is not even entertained.”

After that author discusses technics of using Knowledge falsification so the Public Discourse could be distorted, consequently leading to reshaping Soft Knowledge of individuals. From here comes Cognitive dissonance. Which is basically conflict in the mind of individual between Soft and Hard Knowledge this individual possess. Here is how author presents this:” The distortion of public discourse thus affects both hard and soft knowledge, but through different mechanisms. Soft knowledge changes readily because its mobility is constrained only by difficulties in ascertaining the course of public opinion. And in any case, perceptual obstacles lose significance where public opinion shifts massively. In contrast to soft knowledge, hard knowledge does not necessarily move with perceived shifts in public opinion. Someone with information favorable to a certain program will not lose faith in it merely because public opinion now favors an alternative. His faith in the program may be shaken, however, and he may be unable to discover new justifications for rejecting the alternative.”

Author however rejects idea of Cognitive dissonance because he believes that people can easily entertain multiple contradictory ideas at the same time.  Here is his position:” When a person’s beliefs change this happens not through his own personal efforts but, rather, through a social process in which he is just one of many participants. If public discourse treats two issues as unrelated, he is apt to do the same, because he cannot explore all possible connections. He may well remain unaware of important connections without feeling any discomfort. In a vast array of contexts, the linkages individuals make among events, outcomes, and phenomena are governed largely by public discourse. Where public discourse is itself inconsistent—as when it promotes the literal accuracy of the Bible while also celebrating the explanatory power of modern biology—people may not even notice the contradiction. Many will do so, however, if the inconsistency begins to receive public attention.”

Author also reviews process of shifting some ideas from unthinkable to unthought, creating ideological gap between generations with shifting of Private Preferences. Author then review this process in details with graphs and theoretical example.

12. The Caste Ethic of Submission; 13. The Blind Spots of Communism; 14. The Unfading Specter of White Racism

In these chapters author reviews actual examples of developments in various societies to demonstrate how it all works in reality.

IV. Generating Surprise: 15. Unforeseen Political Revolutions;

This part is very interesting because it demonstrates how seemingly invincible totalitarian or authoritarian society with powerful police, mass indoctrination, and routine Preference Falsification could suddenly explode and change nearly overnight. Author defines simplified forces within society this way:” The dual preference model of this book posits a predefined issue on which there is a political struggle between two pressure groups. For this chapter and the next, the issue is the incumbent political regime’s legitimacy. The two pressure groups are the government, which recognizes its own right to govern, and the opposition, which does not. Within this particular context, Y, our measure of public opinion, represents the size of the public opposition to the government. As usual, it is expressed as a percentage of the population. At the start of our story Y is near 0, indicating that the government commands almost unanimous public support. A revolution would take the form of a sudden and enormous jump in Y that makes it impossible for the government to continue governing. By this definition, revolution entails a mass-supported shift in political power. It is immaterial whether the transfer of power brings about meaningful change in people’s lives. All that matters is that the transfer be swift and extensive.”

Author provides very interesting graphic presentation of how small society of 10 people either explodes into revolution and moves from equilibrium Y=30 to equilibrium Y=90 or it remains in the same state depending on threshold of one individual c:

Author then discusses inessentiality of mass discontent, the role of political structure, and inevitability of combination of poor Foresight with Excellent Hindsight.

16. The Fall of Communism and Other Sudden Overturns;

In this chapter author provides real life examples of sudden revolutions.

17. The Hidden Complexities of Social Evolution;

This chapter expand discussion and here is how author defines it: “The purpose of this chapter is to extend and knit together the evolutionary themes of past chapters with an eye to generating further lessons for historical interpretation and social forecasting. I first introduce several complications into the basic framework, highlighting factors that make private preferences somewhat autonomous from public discourse, and actual public policies somewhat autonomous from public opinion. As in earlier contexts, it turns out that changes in one variable may have disproportionate effects on other variables. Turning attention to the circularities of the model, I explore the inefficiencies they produce and the added difficulties they pose for prediction and control. Among my key points is that discontinuities, unintended outcomes, and inefficiencies flow from a coherent social process. The whole chapter demonstrates, from a broader perspective than earlier chapters, that one can understand the complexities of social evolution without being able to pinpoint the causes of particular historical outcomes.”

He also provides graphic representation:

18. From Slavery to Affirmative Action

Here author applies his ideas to historical development of American race relations and Indian Caste system.

19. Preference Falsification and Social Analysis

In this final chapter author provides detailed description of his objectives:”

First, it highlights the ways in which the dual preference model serves to integrate disciplines and scholarly traditions often viewed as mutually incompatible paths to social understanding. I show how the model links traditions that focus on social structure with ones that emphasize individual choice. Drawing on properties of the model, I stress that structuralist and individualistic traditions should be viewed as complementary components of social analysis.

The second point of the chapter is that in illuminating past events and delineating future possibilities, the dual preference model also identifies certain limitations of scientific analysis. In particular, the model proposes that on sensitive issues pressures that breed preference falsification inevitably constrain what can be explained and predicted.

The chapter’s third task is to explore the measurability of preference falsification. To this end, it presents techniques for identifying and quantifying hidden perceptions, resentments, fears, and aspirations—some developed by anthropologists, others by opinion scholars. I argue that the techniques can be put to new uses in improving—up to a point, of course—our capacity to explain and predict social evolution.

Finally, I address the matter of refutability. Can the arguments be disproved? What tests may be used to establish their significance or insignificance? Because concepts such as concealment, cognitive limitations, small events, complexity, and unpredictability have played essential roles, the last task should be of special interest to readers inclined to deny scientific status to theories that involve poorly observable variables.”

At the end author lists multiple movements around various issues that all strive to achieve position of dominance when their opponents would have to use Preference Falsification in order to survive, therefore opening road for society’s change in whatever direction leaders of these movements want.

MY TAKE ON IT:

I think this is one of the most insightful books on human interactions in society that I ever read. It explains a lot of human behavior that I observed growing up in totalitarian Soviet Union when Preference Falsification was at the highest conceivable level. At the same time, it was Soviet Union of 1950s and 60s in which telling joke about leadership and discussing real condition of the country did not mean death sentence or even serious negative consequences for career, providing discussion was non-public. It was a very interesting society in which history was mainly false with great many factual events never mentioned, formerly great leaders’ images removed from photos, and official party papers and materials published just a few years ago not available in libraries except per special permission. In this society practically nobody believed that future is bright despite mass indoctrination and general believe that ideas of socialism and communism are great, and only general incompetence of leadership stands between people and prosperity. Eventually the moment when true believers such as Gorbachev, which naively accepted massive Preference Falsification as expression of true Preferences and opened gates for open expression of the Private Preferences, become the moment when system fall apart because it turned out that real socialism and communism were true Preference only of miniscule part of population. Interestingly enough this opening came from country leadership’s correct understanding that without valid information the competent management of economy and country is not possible combined with the lack of understanding that false information was foundation of socialist society without which it could not stand. We are now in the middle of a very interesting experiment when American elite intelligentsia and bureaucracy attempt to change society into some weird combination of economic capitalism and political socialism with pretention of being a democracy by using so far mainly non-violent coercive measures to push everybody into Preference Falsification to support this monstrosity. Nobody really knows what will happen, but my guess is that this attempt will fail and it will fail with such thunder that there will be no place for communism and socialism on this planet any more. 

20210808 – The Coming of Neo Feudalism

MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is that current political development leads America to the new form of Feudalism – society based on permanent aristocracy at the top and all other population situated in hierarchical structures below. To support this idea author provides data about dynamics of ownership of land and other resources, increasing substitution of meritocracy with birth rights to places at the top, decline of liberal capitalism that used to provide more or less equal opportunity. Author also reviews emerging class structure of the Neo Feudalism, its geographical distribution with California being the most prominent example, and its potential to ignite class war similar to peasant rebellions of the Old Feudalism.

DETAILS:

PART I. HOW FEUDALISM CAME BACK

  1. The Feudal Revival

In this chapter author defines current situation as comeback of Feudalism – stratified society with very limited upward mobility and strict class differentiation with privileges assigned to individuals based mainly on the class belonging. He briefly describes historic feudalism as a system, notes that history could regress and then recounts signs of such regression:

  • Concentration of land ownership and overall wealth at the top
  • Power nexus between Clerisy and Oligarchy
  • Loss of faith in Liberal Democracy among population
  • Emergence of periodic rebellions of lower strata of population against existing order

At the end of chapter author points out that course of history is never inevitable, therefore whether Feudalism will fully come back or not depends of people.

  • The Enduring Allure of Feudalism

Here author discusses ideological nature of Feudalism in the Christian world where spiritual area was important and included equality of people before God, while unequal and strictly hierarchical structure of this world provided somewhat comfortable and secure society of mutual obligations when everybody know his/her place. Author then discusses multiple countries such as Russia and China where this ordered arrangement always had been and is preferrable to chaotic nature of Liberal Capitalism. Author also refers to several Western well-known intellectuals who also expressed similar preferences.

  • The Rise and Decline of Liberal Capitalism

In this chapter author briefly retells the story of the raise of Liberal Capitalism and then jumps to contemporary world when Western countries fell into stagnation and China raised to the point of presenting challenge with its Antiliberal Capitalism based on totalitarian control of communist party over society. However, author points out China’s demographic problems, which are also becoming typical for other countries. At the end of chapter author suggests that rapid development of technology creates gap between high tech professionals and all others similar to Feudal gap between knights in undefeatable armor at the top and peasants and others at the bottom of society.

After discussing emerging New-feudal hierarchy of society, author moves to reviewing class structure of such society allocating one part of the book to each layer: Oligarchy, Clerisy, Yeomanry, and New Serfs.

PART II. THE OLIGARCHS

  • High-Tech Feudalism

Here author identifies the new class at the top of New-Feudal Hierarchy as Oligarchs who control most of the real property, and, even more important, they control technology. Author describes birth of this New Oligarchy as similar to raise of knights only instead of superior arms it is based on superior technology that allowed creation of huge corporation such as Apple or Amazon that control technology of society. Author describes how such process merges new power with Communist party’s political control in China and how formerly “meritocratic entrepreneurs” of the Western world transform themselves into evil plutocrats. 

  • The Belief system of the New Oligarchs

This chapter is about oligarch’s ideology. Author describes their understanding of themselves as purely meritocratic high achievers and relate with contempt to others as underachievers. Author describes their preferred organization of society in such way:” This model could best be described as oligarchical socialism. The redistribution of resources would meet the material needs of the working class and the declining middle class, but it would not promote upward mobility or threaten the dominance of the oligarchs.” Author then discusses methods that oligarchs use to take control over society: initially via Cultural revolution that would establish their preferable set of believes and attitudes and then via establishment of mass surveillance that would make any deviation from this believes practically impossible.

  • Feudalism in California, Harbinger of the Future

In this chapter author describes the real place where oligarchs’ objectives pretty much achieved – state of California. It is one party state, which is simultaneously the richest state by amount of wealth at the top and the poorest state by the number of destitute people at the bottom: the number one state in USA for inequality. Author also refer to this type of society as “Feudalism with Better Marketing”.

PART III. THE CLERISY

  • The New Legitimizers

Author begins this chapter with reference to Orwell, Atwood, and Huxley – Sci fi about future societies run by elite and links it to ideology based on the notion of cognitive elite that in American culture turned into notion of professional, non-interested, non-political experts who know how to run things to everybody’s benefit. He then describes as credentialed upper class of just a few percent of population that he calls Clerisy, which are in reality often not very knowledgeable, very political and class conscious, and run everything for their own benefit, often at the expense of others. Author also refers to similarities with communist and fascist bureaucracy that ran totalitarian states of XX century.

  • The Control Tower

In this chapter author analyses how members of Clerisy developed via process of higher education in American Universities controlled by ideologues of this class, which slowly took control by demanding freedom for themselves when they were minority and then start suppressing everybody else when they become dominant. A very important part of this suppression is their so far successful attempt eliminate Western culture and especially original American ideology from educational process.

  • New Religions

Here author briefly reviews ideologies that are becoming new religions in service of Clerisy:

  • The Church of “Social Justice”
  • The Green Faith
  • Transhumanism: the search for eternal life through technology.

PART IV. THE EMBATTLED YEOMANRY

  1. The Rise and Decline of Upward Mobility

The part about middle class that author calls Yeomanry starts with discussion of declining opportunities for its members after author briefly retells the story of their raise. Author measure this decline by increased gap between the middle and the top:” The wealth differential between middle-income and upper-income households had reached unprecedented levels by 2015. Data from the Census Bureau show that the share of national income going to the middle 60 percent of households has fallen to a record low. Wealth gains in recent decades have gone overwhelmingly to the top 1 percent of households, and especially the top 0.5 percent.” Author notes that such gaps were typical for feudal societies, especially those based on “meritocratic” mandarin class controlling overall wealth of society as in China, but atypical for European democracies where wealth was widely distributed. 

  1. A Lost Generation?

This chapter is about loss of opportunity for young generation. Author specifically analyses decrease in home ownership due to overpriced housing, so the young generation increasingly dependent on inheritance in order to achieve home ownership. It leads to typical for feudalism economic stagnation.

  1. Culture and Capitalism

In this chapter author looks at alliance of wealthy oligarchs and clerisy, especially the part of Clerisy in control of key areas of culture: media, education, and science. He looks at attempts to distract people from setting up economic goals and substituting them with some ideological constructs, promotion of green agenda in order to scare people into forfeiting strive to achieve high levels of material wellbeing. The massive attack of this cultural Clerisy against middle class is also directed against institution of nuclear family, which is foundation of middle-class way of life.  

PART V. THE NEW SERFS

  1. Beyond the Ring Road

The ring road here is metaphor for line dividing privileged dwellers of big cities living within Ring Road surrounding these cities over others living outside, typical for totalitarian countries with dominance of bureaucracy such as Chine or former Soviet Union. After discussing these inequalities author looks at history of development of serfdom on the remnants of Roman empire, its slow conversion to capitalism and transformation of serfs into working class. Then raise of big part of working class into the Middle class in USA in the middle of XX century, and its decline by the end of this century.  

  1. The Future of the Working Class

In this chapter author follows on describing loss of labor power and another transformation from proletariat to “precariat” – people with limited control over conditions of their work and low levels of compensation due to change from industrial mode of production to post-industrial with lots of contract work, individualization of working processes that limit unionization, cultural erosion of working class, and its abandonment by the Left, which moved to another promising power: combination of intellectuals at the top and underclass at the bottom, both living off government transfer of resources to them at the expense of others.

  1. Peasant Rebellions

In this chapter author compares contemporary political situation with peasant rebellions of Feudalism, equating them with contemporary wave of election of populist leaders such as the Donald. Author discusses such important part of this rebellion as movement against mass migration that swells welfare dependent part of population, greatly increasing support for government transfers. Intellectuals that are dependent on such transfers support mass migration even if it brings people with strong religion believes and intolerant culture that from time to time express itself in murderous eruptions. Author end this chapter by asking if “Is There Mass Insurrection in Making?”   
PART VI. THE NEW GEOGRAPHY OF FEUDALISM

  1. The New Gated City

Here author looks at the new landscape of America when cities become divided into areas of gated communities, slums of non-working people, areas of rich international business and disappearing local commercial centers, densification and gentrification of city centers, all this combined with exodus of middle class to suborns and exurbs.  

  1. The Soul of the Neo-feudal City

Here author discusses ideas of the Global City where elite is concentrating and develops common attitudes and approaches that are outside and even above cultural landscape of their societies, simultaneously pushing non-elite of their countries into subservient positions. Author also discusses such dramatic cultural changes as destruction of family and childless way of life. Such attitude and objective of elite are clearly on collision course with Middle class suburban way of life. Author provides a very interesting reference linking elitists hate of suburb and strive to increase density to Soviet ideas and practice of exemplary communist city where people packed into cheap small flats.     

  1. The Totalitarian Urban Future

The final chapter of this part discusses in more details ideals that elite wants to implement by creating “Totalitarian Urban Future” with central control of everything, including China style surveillance and control over individual behavior. Author question whether it would be possible to resist these ideals.
PART VII A MANIFESTO FOR THE THIRD ESTATE
The Technological Challenge

Author describes here the new feudal elite, which seeks to exercise their power via experts and their control over communications and media, especially social media that allow them dumb down general population to such level that they willingly accept their status as inferiors, while using biotechnology to enhance their own intellectual and physiological abilities.

  1. The Shaping of Neo-feudal Society

In this chapter author goes into details if shaping Neo-feudal society by undermining institution of family, scaring people with Global warming and other forms of environmental alarmism and so on. Author then advocates response by investing in resilience similarly to dikes in Netherlands in area of technology and resisting power of oligarchy in the area of politics.
21. Can We Challenge Neo-feudalism?

In the final chapter author asks if it is possible to challenge Neo-feudalism and suggests promotion and support of the Third estate – middle and working classes as bulwark against oligarchy. Author also expresses expectation that alliance of leftists and oligarchs is unreliable and could fall apart rather quickly. In any case author believes that solution is in reinforcement of values of Western civilization and adjustment to new landscape of automated production, probably via application of UBI, that has increasing support of people.   

MY TAKE ON IT:

I do not think that there is any need to apply old political and class structure of Feudalism to the newest incarnation of the strict hierarchical system with all important parameters such as methods of production, system of believes, norms of behavior, and technology very different from this old Feudalism. The key difference is that old Feudalism was based on need for manual production by peasants and military capabilities of aristocrats creating mutually dependent society united by religious believes in propriety of hierarchical order of things with God at the top and proper places for everybody all the way down. The current incarnation is much weaker because hardly anybody believes in God and clearly nobody believes in the proper hierarchical order. The current situation is result of increasing disappearance of need for mass of peasants toiling at the bottom of society providing food and other goods and services. Similarly disappeared the need for aristocratic warriors to provide protection of society against hostile powers, this function actually firmly resides with professional military mainly recruited from the middle and working class. The new society that existing bureaucratic hierarchy of America is trying to establish is just finalization of the process that was under way for nearly two hundred years of expansion of this hierarchy. At the end it divides population into two categories: minority of population: credentialed bureaucrats and members of establishment enjoying power and control over all resources, while majority of population deprived of traditional American freedoms of speech, ability for self-defense, and opportunity to achieve material independence from others, will meekly accept its boring lives of quiet despair in exchange for some leftovers in form of basic income or low salaries at the bottom of hierarchy. I do not think that this attempt would be successful just because boring lives of despair are not consistent with human nature that requires actions and achievements, making such society unsustainable.

20210801 – Deaths of Despair

MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is to recognize serous problems of American society that expressed by decrease in life expectancy of one part of population – low educated white men due to increase in suicide, drug overdose, and alcoholism among this population. It is also to analyze reasons for these “Deaths of Despair” and recommend measures, mainly in form of government intervention to handle this problem.

DETAILS:

Introduction: Death in the Afternoon
Authors start introduction by describing their thoughts upon discovery that suicide rates of white middle age males is rapidly growing. Then they added to these other categories: deaths from drugs and alcohol combining all into one category – deaths of despair.  They linked it to failure to pass tests of meritocracy, which they associate with education that divide prosperous and poor parts of population. Authors then compare white and black uneducated people and somehow conclude that blacks have it harder, but whites suffer more because of loss of white privilege. Finally, they link it to stagnant wages and loss of jobs, specifying that:” Jobs are not just the source of money; they are the basis for the rituals, customs, and routines of working-class life. Destroy work and, in the end, working-class life cannot survive. It is the loss of meaning, of dignity, of pride, and of self-respect that comes with the loss of marriage and of community that brings on despair, not just or even primarily the loss of money.”

Authors also discuss causes: globalization, increase of corporate power versus unions, and even healthcare. Finely, they express concern that all these combined with loss of believe in Democracy that perceived to be captured and corrupted by elite could lead to serious push back and they see signs if it in election of Trump.

Part l. Past as Prologue
1. The Calm before the Storm
In this chapter authors look at statistical history of mortality in USA and the great progress that occurred until last decade. They discuss mortality causes that moved away from contagious diseases to illnesses of old age and self-inflicting damage such as drugs and alcohol. They present a graphic support for these ideas:

At the end of the chapter, they describe the range of the problem they are trying to understand in such way:” There are two stories, often seen as competing, though they need not be. One, the “external” or circumstantial account, emphasizes what happened to people, the opportunities that they had, the kind of education, occupation, or social environment that was available to them. The alternative, “internal” account emphasizes what people did to themselves, not their opportunities but their choices among those opportunities, or their own preferences. It is a debate between worsening opportunities, on the one hand, and worsening preferences, or declining values or even virtues, on the other.”

3. Deaths of Despair
Here authors discuss the specific causes of deaths of despair and present a few anecdotes describing how it happens and how sometimes it is difficult to differentiate suicide form unintentional drug overdose.

Part ll. The Anatomy of the Battlefield
4. The Lives and Deaths of the More (and Less) Educated
Here authors move to compare circumstances of different parts of population that are inflicted by deaths of despair to very different degrees. First of all, they discuss difference in education and how it impacts human life in environment of “meritocracy”:

They describe an interesting dynamic in Black community when success of civil rights movement opened gates for talented and hard-working individuals and the first thing that they did was to run away from Black community, “denuding” it from their talents and role models. Authors link it to earlier epidemic of use of crack cocaine in inner city and corresponding mortality. They also critic Murray thesis that in both cases welfare states suppressed industriousness and morality of people leading to all these negative consequences.

6. The Health of the Living
Here authors move from deaths of despair to general and mental health conditions of population and link it to education:

8. Suicide, Drugs, and Alcohol; 9. Opioids
These two chapters overview final causes of increase in mortality, also demonstrating that this is quite recent phenomenon inflicting uneducated population:

Authors also provide an interesting breakdown of costs:” American physicians pay more for malpractice insurance, although the total cost of around 2.4 percent of total healthcare expenditures is small compared with the expenditures on hospitals (33 percent), physicians (20 percent), and prescription drugs (10 percent). Compared with those in other rich countries, American hospitals and doctors make more intensive use of “high margin, high volume” procedures, such as imaging, joint replacements, coronary artery bypass graft surgery, angioplasty, and cesarean deliveries.” Authors discuss some typical tricks such as use by companies and charitable foundations to pay inflated prices of their medical products.

14. Capitalism, Immigrants, Robots, and China; 15. Firms, Consumers, and Workers
These chapters are about other features of contemporary American capitalism that devalue American labor, eventually causing deprivations and deaths of despair.

16. What to Do?

These chapter is about authors’ prescription for what to do:

Opioids – create new government agency

Healthcare – Increase government expenditures and create Cost Control Board

Corporate governance – more power to unions with representation on company board

Tax and benefits policy – UBI, but not now, rather sometime in the future.

Antitrust – limit mergers and force payment for monetizable information provided to companies.

Wage Policies – raise minimum wage and provide subsidies for jobs.

Rent-Seeking – limit use of patents and curtail protection of small business. Per authors the main cause of inequality are not CEOs, but rather owners of “small” businesses with 20M in sales and 100 employees. Also impose restrictions on lobbying.

Education – modify the systemin in such way as to remove sharp cut off at bachelor degree, maybe via expansion of apprentice system.

The final advice – to learn more from Europe.

At the end authors profess their optimism and believes that Democracy in America and Capitalism could do much better job that they do now and remove causes of death of Despair.

MY TAKE ON IT:

It is the great collection of statistical data demonstrating beyond reasonable doubt that white men with low levels of education are under serious stress due to their redundancy for contemporary production process that causes loss of meaning of life and escapism to drugs, alcohol, or even suicide. I am fully in agreement with authors’ presentation of the problem, but in complete disagreement with their analysis of reasons and suggested solution for the problem. The reasons that authors present: Healthcare high cost and low quality, Immigration, Robots, China, and loss of labor power to oppose management – all of this in my opinion result of massive and constantly increasing intervention of government into areas of economy and overall lives of regular people. There is tendency to refer to government as some kind of superior being either good or bad, but I completely reject this approach because government is nothing more then hierarchically organized group of individuals in possession of coercive power that allow them make decisions and enforce implementation of these decisions without any responsibility whatsoever. Any area in which these individuals interfere: Healthcare, Education, Financial markets demonstrate dramatic deterioration in their functionality and similarly dramatic increase in costs. Consequently, authors’ suggestions to increase power of these individuals and their interference in all areas of life is bound to be ineffective. In my opinion, for example, Healthcare could be improved not by implementation of National system as had been done in many socialist and semi-socialist countries, but rather expulsion of government interference in health insurance and delivery of services, obviously with exception of prosecution of criminal deception and misrepresentation of information.

20210725 – The Hungry Mind

MAIN IDEA:                                      

The main idea of this book is to present curiosity as a very important natural phenomenon specific for humans, review vast range of experiments that supports specific understanding of curiosity development in human children, demonstrate vulnerability of this process and negative impact on educational and consequent wellbeing success if this curiosity suppressed. It is also to provide some recommendations on methods to support curiosity in children.

DETAILS:

1. Capturing Curiosity
Author begins with her childhood recollection of all kinds of experimentation as free child in 1960s and how much it was driven by the plain curiosity, which then decreased over time. Then she refers to research demonstrating that curiosity decreases between ages 7 and 12. She refers to work of Daniel Berlyne who identify the human specific feature: curiosity without immediate utilitarian application, which is mainly prompted by need to resolve uncertainty. Author also discusses research related to development of curiosity that led to conclusion that sometime between ages 3 and 11 children either develop appetite for knowledge or they don’t. At the end of chapter author discusses in some detail individual differences in curiosity, needs for knowledge acquisition, and formulates her objective this way:” there are several sources of individual variation, and each has its developmental moment. Attachment in toddlerhood, language in the three-year-old, and a succession of environmental limitations and open doors all contribute to a person’s particular kind and intensity of curiosity. The twenty-two-year-old bears the imprint of all these experiences, which act as a series of layers on which each exploration or question in adulthood rests. This book is about why some children remain curious and others do not, and how we can encourage more curiosity in everyone.”

2. Safe Havens and Expeditions
In this chapter author looks at different periods of human development starting with curiosity of baby, which is universal and practically insatiable, but only to the point of familiarity. Author discusses several experimental works related to genetical equipment necessary for human specific need to know:” At a surprisingly early age human babies show how different they are from the young of other species by attending to differences beyond the bare necessities—novelty that helps them simply survive. They have what is called epistemic curiosity—an interest not only in what, who, when, and where, but why and how. Not only are children between the ages of nine months and thirty-six months eagerly absorbing information about what objects look like, taste like, sound like, can do, and can be done to, they are beginning to try to figure out why things happen the way that they do. They don’t always know that they are looking for reasons and explanations, but their behaviors tell us they are.” After that author discusses what quells curiosity in toddlers, confirming once again that it is familiarity, but also stating that it is highly personal and depends on temperament of a child. She refers here to works of Jerome Kagan on individual development, Nachman Stern and Best on novelty, and Simon Baron-Cohen of autism. Author also goes beyond individual internal process, stressing:” equally important idea that emerges from the work: human relationships are a key ingredient in the child’s ability to investigate the physical environment. Indeed, a series of experiments has shown that children with greater emotional and self-governing resources do in fact exhibit more curiosity as they get older.”

3. The Conversationalist
This chapter is about the next step in human development: use of language to obtain information from others. Author discusses the process of development of ability to ask questions that begins with pointing and then normally develops into highly intensive process of questioning. She looks at works of William Labov and his wife who traced in minute detail linguistic development of their child and questions this research asked. Author also present another interesting research:” Using the CHILDES database, Michelle Chouinard analyzed the questions of four children from the time they were fourteen months old until they were five years and one month of age. The recordings provided a total corpus of 24,741 questions and represent 229.5 hours of conversation. The children in this study asked an average of 107 questions per hour—an extraordinary volume of questions” Obviously all this is highly individual, but among consistent findings is strong correlation between levels of language acquisition in early childhood and future success in learning or lack thereof. Author also refers to cross cultural studies looking not only at quantity, but also quality of questions and type of information a child is trying to obtain.

4. Invitations and Prohibitions
In this chapter author moves to discuss exploratory behavior of child that starts with ability to move independently.  However, this independence is generally limited by adults, which encourage some behavior and limit other. Author reviews this process by comparing environment and limits on exploration of city vs. rural children. Author also looks at methods that adults use to control children behavior and especially curiosity. It turned out that adult attitude has huge impact on development and curious and innovative people usually grew in permissive and supportive environment where they were encouraged exploring whatever they were interested in and supported in this exploration.

5. Curiosity Goes to School
In this chapter author discusses process of encounter of developing child with formal educational system. Author presents research in which incidents of curiosity in class were observed, counted, and analyzed. General finding is that formal education generally causes curiosity level drop over time. Here is author’s explanation of this process:” So what might explain the drop? When you look at children’s sensitivity to social clues, and their increasing selectivity about what makes them curious, and you put this together with teachers’ reluctance to deviate from a plan, the pressure they are under to meet certain goals (goals that are not consonant with sating one’s curiosity), and the general neglect toward providing young learners with the materials that speak to their particular curiosity, one begins to see why children seem so incurious in schools.”

6. What Fuels Learning
Here author discusses drivers of learning referring to specific experimental work:” We’ve had experimental evidence for at least the past fifty years to support the idea that children’s intrinsic interest is the most powerful ingredient for learning. Daniel Berlyne’s experiments were premised on the idea that curiosity was a drive, much like hunger or sexual desire. And much like other kinds of arousal, it can be negative or positive. Either way, it motivates the person feeling it to reduce the arousal. The reduction of such arousal feels temporarily rewarding. The greater the arousal and its reduction, the greater the sense of reward.” She also discusses role of attention in learning process and experiments demonstrating how it works. Finally, author looks at variances in individual curiosity and approach to learning and presents some experimental evidence that it could be improved via interactions with other children and adults:” To sum up, from an early age, some children are more curious than others. But there is also great fluctuation from one setting to another. A child who is usually timid about opening things or asking questions can be beckoned into inquiry. Children who are ordinarily inquisitive can be hushed into a kind of intellectual listlessness. The characteristics that fuel curiosity are not mysterious. Adults who use words and facial expressions to encourage children to explore; access to unexpected, opaque, and complex materials and topics; a chance to inquire with others; and plenty of suspense … these turn out to be the potent ingredients.”

7. The Gossip
In this chapter author moves from the processes of curiosity and learning to object of these processes, which is for the gossip is live of other people. Author discusses how gossip is naturally developing in children from the early age, forming foundation of ability to learn from words of others about something not directly accessible or observable by individual. Finally, author discusses how the process of gossiping used as social weapon applied to manipulate people and obtain some objectives of gossiping individual. She also uses her childhood memories about Truman Capote, who was close friend of author’s mother, to discuss how gossip in its highest form could produce literature.

8. The Uses of Time and Solitude
In this chapter author expands the discussion of gossip as precursor of literature by moving to books and human:” ability to understand the world as a series of stories (hence the primacy of scripts in early cognitive development). Anthropologists and cross-cultural psychologists have found that though every culture uses stories, cultures vary greatly in how frequently they tell stories, how they form their narratives, and why they tell stories. But one thing everyone everywhere seems to have in common is the ability to follow a plot. And therein lies the first reason reading satisfies curiosity”. She then connects this with solitude and discusses unappreciated importance of this process:” Solitude plays an important and often underrecognized role in a child’s chance to pursue her questions and interests. In recent years there has been such focus on the importance of peer relations, and on the value of good instruction and good schooling, we may have lost track of an equally vital strand of childhood experience—free time and time alone. The bulk of contemporary developmental research has emphasized the perils of time alone, which tends to be cast as loneliness rather than solitude. Research has focused on children who have trouble making friends, or who are alone because of adverse life circumstances (weak family structure, poverty, and so on). It’s no wonder then that a relationship emerges between solitude and various kinds of problems—depression, and difficulty in social situations, to name two. The link, once established, leads to research that frames solitude in its most extreme or persistent forms—children who unwillingly spend time alone, or spend copious amounts of time alone.

This is reflected in society at large, where sociability is valued so highly. When children report on how they feel when they are by themselves, they may unconsciously see such time as the absence of companionship, rather than the opportunity to think, garner one’s personal resources, or experience things without the noise or dilution of others. The bias toward sociability overlooks the importance of unstructured solitude when it comes to developing one’s interest and feeding one’s curiosity in specific domains. A look at the lives of many of our greatest minds suggests that time spent daydreaming and exploring while alone, free of responsibilities, is crucial to the acquisition of knowledge—in other words, crucial for the curious mind.”

In the second part of chapter author discusses an importance of time available for free and unstructured research and experimentation, which is necessary for developing some area of deep interest and curiosity. Author discusses relevant research with use of internet and some implications of overzealous use of SWIBAT (for “students will be able to.…”) that leads to time limitation on free search. Here is how author summarizes the finding of research presented in this chapter:” Curiosity is an internal phenomenon—a feeling like a tickle, or an itch. But it’s a feeling that leads to action (including the act of thinking). This book for the most part has not focused on fleeting moments of curiosity, but the kind of curiosity that persists, unfolding over time and leading to sustained action (inquiry, discovery, tinkering, question asking, observation, research, reflection). Such sustained inquiry may be more likely to blossom when children have free time, and some time alone. This chapter began with a book—because reading is one of the most accessible and richest ways for people to satisfy all kinds of intellectual appetites. But books require time alone, and the kind of reading that satisfies curiosity depends on freedom to read what you want.”

9. Cultivating Curiosity

The final chapter is about methods of cultivating curiosity, which includes embracing ambiguity and promote a free search to satisfy curiosity, rather than formal data acquisition directed at success in testing. Author then discusses various methods used to cultivate curiosity, and concludes with the following statement:” Einstein was only partly right when he said, “Curiosity is a delicate little plant which, aside from stimulation, stands mainly in need of freedom.” It turns out that like many delicate plants, in order to flourish, curiosity needs to be cultivated.”

MY TAKE ON IT:

I find that lots of experimental data presented in this book pretty much consistent with my believes based on what I know from both books and my own life experiences. I generally agree that methods of cultivating curiosity presented in this book are valid and do work, but I am afraid that their implementation is not realistic in settings of formal educational system that treats individuals as machine parts on conveyor to be filled with some knowledge and indoctrinate into some set of believes. The cultivating of curiosity and development of individual’s routine ability to use scientific method in knowledge acquisition could be achieved only outside of formal educational system. Some lucky individuals have time, ability, and supportive adults around so they are able to develop the precious ability to maintain lifelong curiosity, but great many others do not, the circumstance that makes some lives much more satisfactory than others. I believe that this complex process could be implemented only in one-on-one individual unstructured interactions between competent adult and child. It could not be achieved in factorylike settings of contemporary educational system. This could occur only after full completion of restructuring of society from industrial method of production to AI method, which would probably take a few decades.    

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: