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20200712 – The Power of Bad

MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book per authors is to explore power of bad – how much stronger it is than power of good, how it operates in the brain, how it distorts one’s perceptions of people and risks, how one can minimize those distortions, how to use the power of bad for positive purposes, and how to deal with the particular challenges of the negativity effect in business and the online world. It is also to look at the innate human strengths and conscious strategies that can be marshaled against the modern barrage of bad.

DETAILS:

Prologue: The Negativity Effect
Authors start this with discussion of universality of negative attitudes, which on one hand is well known, but on other hand only recently become subject of serious research. Authors describe a number of experiments demonstrating that small amount of bad could spoil large amount of good and discusses this asymmetry. Another important point that authors make is that:” The negativity bias is adaptive; the term biologists use for a trait that improves the odds of survival for an individual or a group. On our ancestral savanna, the hunter-gatherers who survived were the ones who paid more attention to shunning poisonous berries than to savoring delicious ones.”

CHAPTER 1: How Bad Is Bad? Enlisting the Rational Mind
In this chapter authors refer to Baumeister who based on his own live experience developed “positivity ratio”, which is the number of good events required neutralize impact of every bad event. After that they discuss research into this ratio, its methodology and results that led to establishment of “Gottman ratio” 5/1. In other words, one needs 5 positive events to neutralize one negative. Another result related to emotional impact demonstrated that:” Research tracking workers’ moods during the day shows that a setback has between two and five times as much emotional impact as a positive event. Emotions make us less rational, and therefore more susceptible to the power of bad.” An interesting thing authors refer to is explanation of superstitions, which normally prevail because one needs several encounters with black cat when nothing negative happens to override one such encounter when something negative does. The authors discuss phenomenon of safety junkies – people who often irrationally increase their risks, for example driving instead of flying after 9-11, even if driving is much more dangerous. Finally, authors discuss ways to avoid emotional impact by developing some process and use example from the sport tactics.

CHAPTER 2: Love Lessons: Eliminate the Negative
Here authors move to discuss process of removing negatives in one’s love life. Authors use examples from classic literature for this purpose. At the end they present some specific strategies:

  • Don’t overpromise.
  • Don’t expect credit for going the extra mile.
  • Remember that bad is in the eye of the beholder.
  • Put the bad moments to good use.
  • Think before you blame. Beware
  • When you’re fighting, bring in an imaginary referee.
  • Get a second opinion.
  • Suspend judgment.
  • Don’t take the bait.
  • If you must respond, don’t escalate.
  • Follow the Negative Golden Rule.

 CHAPTER 3: The Brain’s Inner Demon: Wired for Bad
This chapter is about Felix Baumgartner who had unexpected psychological problem with long planned stratospheric jump, when he suddenly got paralyzed with fear and then had to apply significant effort with help from psychologist to be able to overcome this problem. Authors use it to discus works of fear in the brain and how to train the brain to overcome it.

CHAPTER 4: Use the Force: Constructive Criticism
This chapter starts with suggestion that bad could prompt people to act and even flourish as result. Authors reviews how slight change in the same review of a book can turn it from positive to negative and demonstrate that negative has a lot more impact than positive. After that authors discuss how to deliver bad news in the wrong and right way. Here are strategies:

  • Consider your objective.
  • Ask questions.
  • Once you’ve gotten the criticism across, use the power of bad to your advantage.
  • In doling out praise, don’t worry that it will seem overblown or insincere.
  • Be creative with your praise.

CHAPTER 5: Heaven or Hell: Prizes vs. Penalties
This chapter is about preference of stick over carrot as an incentive tool. Authors start with derby when nobody ever saw a jokey with a carrot dangling before horse, but all jockeys do have whips. Then they move to religions when fear of hell is much more powerful that anticipation of paradise. Finally, they discuss effective or non-effective applications in education and workplaces.  

CHAPTER 6: Business 101: Yes, We Have No Bad Apples
Here authors discuss typical American attitude to norms violation – bad apples. They make a very valid point that bad apples spoil the barrel and provide guide to different types of bad apples: The jerk, The slacker, and the downer. Author present experiments demonstrating how one bad apple decrease team performance by 35%. Finally, and most important, they provide recommendations how to deal with bad apple:

  • Protect yourself
  • Rearrange the barrels
  • Be careful whom label
  • Don’t expect bad apples to change on their own.
  • Isolate the bad apples.
  • Intervene early, and don’t be shy about it.
  • Don’t force the good apples to adapt to bad behavior.
  • Don’t hesitate to fire a jerk, but don’t be a jerk about it.

CHAPTER 7: Online Perils: The Sunshine Hotel vs. the Moon Lady
This chapter is about good and bad online reviews and how they can hurt business. Authors make a point that bad review are much more influencing that the good once and then provide recommendations on how to fight it: by providing really good service and saturating online reviewing with bad review designed in such way as to demonstrate that author is a jerk and therefore bad review should be discounted.

CHAPTER 8: The Pollyanna Principle: Our Natural Weapon Against Bad
This is another set of recommendations based on the story of Pollyanna – the girl that remained idiotically happy whatever bad things happened to her. Here is a set of recommendations of how to do it that authors provide:

  • Change the narrative.
  • Share your good news.
  • Rejoice (or at least fake it) when you hear someone else’s good news.
  • List your blessings.
  • Make time for nostalgia—and make more good memories.
  • Treasure the past, but don’t compare.

CHAPTER 9: The Crisis Crisis: Bad Ascending
This is another set of recommendations on how to deal with bad news. Authors recommend to start with three assumptions:

  1. The world will always seem to be in crisis.
  2. The crisis is never as bad as it sounds.
  3. The solution could easily make things worse.

After that they proceed to discuss that everything really got a lot better over the last few centuries and that there are lots of people who promote bad news because they believe it would be beneficial for them. Authors also provide recommendation on coping with bad news saturation.

CHAPTER 10: The Future of Good
In the final chapter authors somewhat surprisingly move to declare that despite obvious power of bad, the good’s prospects somehow improving over time: bad prophesies never realized, instead of starvation humanity had to deal with obesity, instead of nuclear war, the most peaceful time in history,  and despite all the negativity in the press, everything is getting somewhat better than it used to be despite memories filtering out bad, retain everything good, and overall generate nostalgy for the past that never existed. So, the key approach should be to take everything easy and approach both good and bad in reasonable and steady way.

MY TAKE ON IT:

I find the main ideas of these book that bad staff is powerful quite convincing and very much consistent with human psychology for which multitude of experiments demonstrate that people significantly more impacted by loss, that by gain. There are even quite consistent demonstrations that quantify these differences, by estimating how much more value is provided by retaining $100 versus gaining $100. I also agree with authors’ ideas on how one should handle bad news and overall approach to the bad staff in live. The constant fear and panic would do no good if one cannot prevent bad from happening, but steady and rational approach to whatever comes, do really allow avoiding bad if there is a chance to do it.

20200705 – The Litigation Nation

MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is to demonstrate that American Exceptionalism very much expresses itself in the way Americans use litigation not only to settle disputes between themselves, but also move ahead legal and moral advancement of the country and demonstrate history of this process moving from defamation of neighbors and witch-hunt of early America all the way to contemporary successful class action lawsuit industry.

DETAILS:

Introduction: Litigation and Honor
This starts with one of the first sexual harassment cases from which author using multiple other data infers that progress of American society moves from one litigation case to another, whether it refers to civil rights, consumer protection, and what not. Author also provides brief review of American legal structure to demonstrate how it all works and some historical data on number of lawyers to demonstrate consistency of America as litigation country throughout the history.

Part I: Litigation Defines a Nation
Here author states that litigation was prominently present in American life from the very beginning and it is to significant extent defined character of America as a nation.

  1. Defamation

The first chapter tracks an explosion of defamation suits in the seventeenth-century colonies, wherein servants, mistresses, and masters who had in England known and more or less accepted their place in the social order, in the New World accused one another of all manner of mischief. East Hampton Township on Long Island was one focal point of this miniature status uprising. The ruckus would lead to the first colonial witchcraft scare. The coda shows how defamation of public figures today demonstrated changing notions of right and wrong.

  • Land-Grabbing and Money-Grubbing

The second chapter follows a major shift (phase change) in the way the American colonists did business, focusing in particular on land disputes in eighteenth-century New Jersey. Real estate transactions whose principals did not know one another partially supplanted older customs of face-to-face exchanges of plots. The former involved documents that ordinary people did not understand. Plaintiff and defendant had to hire trained lawyers to carry on the litigation. A coda returns to litigation over mortgages, descendants of lawsuits over title.

  • Slavery and Honor

The third chapter turns to slave sales and estate disputes in the ante-bellum South, tracing a striking rise in suits for fraudulent sales and contested wills. This spike in litigation reflected the southern slave society’s shift from vigorous self-confidence to defensive anxiety. The courts were a cockpit of these often bitterly contested cases. The coda returns to the issue of reparations for slavery.

  • Free Labor?

Chapter 4 turns to the rise of free labor, focusing on suits for back pay, the appearance of craft unions, and damage awards for accidents. It closes with the most important of the modern version of these lawsuits—guest worker suits.

Part II: Litigation Defends Democracy
In this part author is moving to America after Civil war and all the way until present, discussing various types of litigation from business and matrimonial disputes between individuals to civil rights and tort litigation between large groups, corporations, and governments.

  • Stock Swindles and Swindlers

In the Gilded Age, railroads were the leading edge of these new kinds of corporate entities, and the creation of the Northern Securities trust became the nation’s great test of the tactics of the owners. The coda returns to the Regional Rail Reorganization Act Cases (1974) and a foreboding omen of corporate malfeasance for which the shareholders paid, the Enron scandal.

  • Divorce

Chapter 6 follows a rise in divorce suits in the first years of the twentieth century, as changing views of marriage and gender roles worked themselves out in the courts. Among the most reform minded of all the states’ tribunals, the New York courts experienced this shift in attitudes in telling fashion. New York was also the origin of U.S. v. Windsor (2013), the case striking down the Defense of Marriage Act (1996).

  • Civil Rights and Wrongs

Chapter 7 turns to the civil rights suits of the second half of the twentieth century, surveying how a gradual change in race relations spurred litigation over school segregation and public accommodations. The key cases are Briggs v. Elliot (1953) and Bell v. Maryland (1963).

  • Product Liability and Mass Tort Litigation

The final chapter examines an explosion in consumer tort cases, showing how the world of consumption habits in everyday life had become at the same time more faceless and more deeply personal. Called mass products liability, these involved some of the wealthiest corporations and thousands of the most ordinary Americans. The Dalkon Shield class action suit of the 1970s and 1980s captured all of these elements.

Conclusion: The Value of Litigation in America

A conclusion returns us to the themes of honor and phase change in values, featuring Boy Scouts of America v. Dale (2000).

MY TAKE ON IT:

This book demonstrates, and pretty convincingly at that, that America as a country of litigation is not a recent phenomenon, but rather an inherent feature of American culture. From my point of view, it is actually a pretty good feature, especially comparing with other cultures when disputes are resolved either by authoritarian rulers or by violent struggles. However, as any other goods thing when there is too much of this it is getting to be a lot less good. In case of litigation, its current level in America went way beyond reasonable levels. It created the whole industry with some 3 million lawyers busy with making money by preventing businesses from working effectively, spouses separating peacefully, and extracting money from public funds for imaginary civil rights violations with active cooperation from “public servants” who are eager to help and share in proceeds. In short, peaceful character of dispute resolution became deleterious due to massive instigating of disputes to generate profits for legal industry. Moreover, top level members of judicial branch routinely interfere with political process subverting democracy and, by doing so, paving way for suppression of resolution of many very important disputes that could potentially explode the whole system. I think that this situation calls for legal reforms, very big and very soon for such explosion to be prevented.

20200628 – Physical Intelligence

MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book per author is this: ” A rich and complex connection to the physical world demanding abilities that blur distinctions among mind, brain, and body; proactive decision-making regarding physiological events and action execution; physically challenging do-it-yourself projects in complicated situations that require ingenuity, strength, and a willingness to stray off the beaten path: these desiderata, in their variety and complexity of physical action, allow for the sustenance of enviable personhood. The challenge for our future, particularly as we more and more partake of a cocooned urban lifestyle, will be to find settings analogous to nature that will require sufficient complexity of physical intelligence and ensure the physical experiences we need to sustain our health and provide us with a sense of integrated well-being.”

DETAILS:

Introduction
Here author defines the notion of “physical intelligence”: the components of the mind that allow anyone to engage with and change the world. Inside the brain there is no single module or bit of tissue that makes this possible. Instead, the action-prone mind draws on a multiplicity of capabilities”. He links it to his experience as hiker, stating that it becomes evident only when one is within natural environment – wilderness. Then author points out that human evolution occurred in wilderness, rather than at home or in the office, and it is demonstrated by our physical intelligence. Finally, author discusses iceman Ötzi and how the physical intelligence kept him alive in very challenging environment.

1: The Space We Create
Author starts this chapter with describing beginning of his hiking trip into mountains and then moves to discuss how mind creates concept of space and orient body within this space:” The brain routinely combines vision, touch, and positions of the joints to make a volume around the body. There is good evidence that some neurons code for particular parts of space, such as the space within reach. Other kinds of neurons are active when an object or the hand approaches a particular spot on the face, like one cheek or the other”. The author describes several neuropathological conditions that illustrate what happens when parts of these multiple systems within the brain go out of commission or out of balance. After that author presents result of several relevant experiments using fMRI and other methods of direct scanning of the brain. He also discusses high performance sportsmen and their superior situational awareness, which allow some impressive physical feats.  

2: Surfaces
Here author movers to discuss surfaces. He starts with physical challenge of working in mountains, pointing out that it requires concentration of attention in the process of just walking to such extent that it consumes more than 80% of brain activity at the moment. He then discusses brain areas heavily involved in this process and what happens when these areas are damaged. The next topic is discussion of formation of this functionality in human brain starting with infants learning to move. The complexity of movement, especially walking, well demonstrated by inability to implement this functionality in robots. The final part of this discussion is about ground-level falls that quite surprisingly is a big problem and not only for elderly.

3: Shaping the Self
This chapter is about mental representation of body shape and ways to adjust it to environmental space in such way as it is required to achieve some objective. It is also reviewed in relation to some areas of body, which were damaged. It is not limited to the brain, but also includes “different sensory organs within the joints, ligaments, tendons, and muscles that provide information about body position had been identified through the microscope. The computations these sensors enable are complex.”  Author discusses how it all works, experiments and observations of situations when various parts of the system are broken, and then returns back to the story of his hiking for illustration.

4: The Hidden Hand
In this chapter author moves to feedback control. He starts with analysis of use of spear that requires precise control of hand movement. He compares it with process of missile control. Then author discusses what happens when due to brain damage feedback signal stop coming and person even loses notion of possession of hand for example. The details of this process author describe as “hidden hand”: representation of body and surrounding environment within the brain as internal copy of movement-producing signal (efference).

5: Pulling Strings
Here author uses the story about difficulties of repairing a stove in the field because this action required specific positioning of his hands that he initially could not do. It brings discussion to motor controlling system and here is how author describes results of research:” nearly every one of these command neurons with the strongest influence over the muscles drives only one muscle. Each cortical motor neuron will influence only one muscle. This is good news in that it simplifies the wiring diagram. It also provides enormous freedom for the motor cortex to create any sort of movement it wants (provided the bones and joints will allow it!) and to individuate, to isolate the contractions of particular muscles in new ways.” Author then points out that each cortical neuron could participate in many kinds of actions and discusses in details how it all happens.

6: Perspectives
In this chapter author moves to the problem of orientation: how people know where they are and which way to go. He starts with experiments that show that without some direction processing people tend to walk in circles. He then discusses how animal and people find way, usually by utilizing some direction clues that go into developing mental representation of the map. Then author looks at it from another angle: mapping a brain using fixed box on the head to create referential frame.    

7: Learning to Solve Problems
This is very interesting and even funny chapter about problem solving. It retells the story of struggle between bears and tourists supported by park service. The latter trying to prevent bears getting to the food by using boxes, hiding food in cars and so on, while bears often succeed in getting to this food. Then author discusses how it is done: “hierarchical reinforcement learning and model-based learning work well when there are just a few actions to plan as a sequence. But what of problems whose solution requires many steps? As steps are added, the number of potential solutions grows exponentially. Here is the curse of dimensionality in problem-solving in all its glory.”

8: Purpose
In this chapter author moves to use of tools. He points out that it used to be common believe that use of tools differentiates humans from other animals, but with better knowledge and research it is obviously not correct. The interesting part of discussion is mental mechanism that turns tools into part of a body by including it in the body schema. There is also a quite interesting discussion of related neuronal activity. Moreover, tools and actions are united in the mind and author discusses how it was discovered by observing individuals with damaged brains.

9: Costs
This chapter starts with author’s health emergency in the middle of nowhere in mountains when getting to other people become question of life and death. Author describes how he was walking all day overcoming various difficulties and exhaustion. In process author discuss in detail how process of walking is the best and most effective exercise for which human body was naturally evolved. The final and most important part of the chapter is discussion of tradeoff between cost and reward. In this case cost was loss of energy and stress on author body that author had to overcome to achieve his objective. Here is how it was achieved:” The calculus underlying all my trade-offs of speed, stability, efficiency, and grace was performed without my giving it a single thought. All I had to do was sustain the tempo”.

10: Of One Mind

The last chapter starts with discussion of fatigue. Author discusses various explanations of this phenomenon and note that continuing training allows conditioning of the body to diminish and somewhat control it. His example – top level athletes capable to control their body to such extent that they time energy complete expenditure exactly to the moment of achieving finish line. This demonstrates integrity of a person and author discusses how specifically it works by using quick stress responses:” There are two lines of evidence that will eventually need to be reconciled. The standard view, based on extensive studies of patients who have suffered strokes and brain imaging of healthy people, is that the regulation of the heart is mediated through the insula: a hidden island of cortex located underneath the temporal lobe. In healthy subjects, changes in heart rate can be correlated with insula brain activity measured by functional MRI scans. And in patients with stroke, damage here can lead to catastrophic heart failure, presumably because of brief overstimulation of the heart. Recent anatomic studies by my colleague Peter Strick suggest that the insula serves as a control center to the parasympathetic nerves. These are the nerves that actually brake the heart and allow us to rest and digest. There is also good evidence that this area senses feelings from the viscera of the body. It is monitoring heart rate, respiration, and activity of the gut, making sense of what is going on. Damaging this sensing might also eliminate feedback control and lead to runaway stimulation of the heart.

The alternative model, which we know less about, maintains that the cingulate cortex and other areas of the frontal lobe are key for connecting the mind to the body by proactively controlling fast-acting stress responses via the sympathetic nerves. This is the system that drives the heart harder and enhances blood flow to the muscles. The evidence supporting this conclusion is quickly mounting. In recent studies of patients with epilepsy, when electrodes are placed in the deep portion of the anterior cingulate and a jamming signal is introduced, there is an obvious and dramatic decline in systolic blood pressure that is sustained until the stimulator is turned off. Such fast changes could be sparked only by nerves, not circulating hormones. No other area of the human brain has ever been shown to manipulate blood pressure this reliably.”

At the end author strongly affirms his believe:” that the integrity of a person can be revealed through the intelligence of physical action. Intense physical experience, particularly in complex natural settings, places demands on the brain to learn and to be proactive, even as it refines action to allow for best performance.”

MY TAKE ON IT:

I also believe that human mind and body is one integrated entity, so any approach that concentrates only on one part of this entity is necessarily very limited and could not possibly inform effective actions of any consequence beyond direct and simple impact. Among multitude of data, research, and experiments I was very impressed with one case: person with multiple personality of which one personality was healthy and another diabetic. How switch in mind of this person from one personality to another impacted level of sugar in blood is very difficult to say, but demonstrative power of body/mind integrity of this case is unquestionable. I think that in very near future application of AI technology that would allow analysis of millions of parameters of a person simultaneously with status evaluation and valid prediction of result of any externally directed action would allow removal of the very notion of being sick or even unwell if not completely, then close to it.

20200621 – Human Diversity

MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is to provide review of the most recent scientific research into human biology and humanities related to variation between individuals belonging to three different types of groups: by sex, by race, and by class. The objective is to provide hard data on intrinsic differences between groups within each type: male vs. female; one race vs. another; one class vs. another.

DETAILS:

Introduction
The introduction is mainly about author’s intention to present scientific data that contradict currently dominant orthodoxy and support 10 propositions presented by author. Here is author’s description of orthodoxy:” The core doctrine of the orthodoxy in the social sciences is a particular understanding of human equality. I don’t mean equality in the sense of America’s traditional ideal—all are equal in the eyes of God, have equal inherent dignity, and should be treated equally under the law—but equality in the sense of sameness. Call it the sameness premise: In a properly run society, people of all human groupings will have similar life outcomes. Individuals might have differences in abilities, the orthodoxy (usually) acknowledges, but groups do not have inborn differences in the distributions of those abilities, except for undeniable ones such as height, upper body strength, and skin color. Inside the cranium, all groups are the same. The sameness premise theoretically applies to any method of grouping people, but three of them have dominated the discussion for a long time: gender, race, and socioeconomic class. Rephrased in terms of those groups, the sameness premise holds that whatever their gender, race, or the class they are born into, people in every group should become electrical engineers, nurture toddlers, win chess tournaments, and write sci-fi novels in roughly equal proportions. They should have similar distributions of family income, mental health, and life expectancy. Large group differences in these life outcomes are prima facie evidence of social, cultural, and governmental defects that can be corrected by appropriate public policy.”

The 10 propositions that author supports are:

1. Sex differences in personality are consistent worldwide and tend to widen in more gender-egalitarian cultures.

2. On average, females worldwide have advantages in verbal ability and social cognition while males have advantages in visuospatial abilities and the extremes of mathematical ability.

3. On average, women worldwide are more attracted to vocations centered on people and men to vocations centered on things.

4. Many sex differences in the brain are coordinate with sex differences in personality, abilities, and social behavior.

5. Human populations are genetically distinctive in ways that correspond to self-identified race and ethnicity.

6. Evolutionary selection pressure since humans left Africa has been extensive and mostly local.

7. Continental population differences in variants associated with personality, abilities, and social behavior are common.

8. The shared environment usually plays a minor role in explaining personality, abilities, and social behavior.

9. Class structure is importantly based on differences in abilities that have a substantial genetic component.

10. Outside interventions are inherently constrained in the effects they can have on personality, abilities, and social behavior.

Part I: “Gender Is a Social Construct”
Here author retells the story of development of feminist idea that sex is social construct and attempts to separate it from human biology. He states that last 20 years of scientific development left no doubt that this idea is completely detached from reality and then proceeds to discuss details.

1. A Framework for Thinking About Sex Differences
First author is trying to establish dimensions of discussion about male/female differences:

  • The People-Thigs Dimension
  • Height as example of statistical differences illustrated by graph below:
  • Which Effect Size is Big Enough
  • Inedividual vs. Aggregated Aproach

2. Sex Differences in Personality
In this chapter author looks at differences in personality disorders and differences within normal range. Author looks at this issue as it occurs in USA, worldwide, and especially how it depends on cultural environment: levels of equality.  

3. Sex Differences in Neurocognitive Functioning
Here author provides a long list of differences defined as result of multiple empirical studies:

  • Females tend to be better than males at detecting pure tones. 
  • Adult females tend to have more sensitive hearing for high frequencies than males. 
  • Females tend to have better auditory perception of binaural beats and otoacoustic emissions.
  • Females tend to detect faint smells better than males. 
  • Females tend to identify smells more accurately than males.
  • Males under 40 tend to detect small movements in their visual field better than females. 
  • Age-related loss of vision tends to occur about ten years earlier for females than for males. 
  • Males are many times more likely to be color-blind than females (the ratio varies by ethnic group).  
  • The balance of evidence indicates that females are more accurate than males in recognizing the basic tastes (sweet, sour, salty, bitter), though some studies find no difference. 
  • Females tend to be better than males at perceiving fine surface details by touch. This holds true for blind people as well as sighted ones.
  • Females tend to be better than males at remembering faces and names. 
  • Females tend to be better than males at recognizing facial emotions. 
  • Females tend to be better at remembering the minutiae of an event (labeled peripheral detail), while males tend to be better at remembering the core events (labeled gist)
  • Females tend to remember speech they have heard better than males, particularly when it relates to emotionally laden events in their past. 
  • Females tend to retain memories from earlier childhood better than males do. 
  • Females tend to have better short-term memory than males (e.g., given a list of single-digit numbers, they remember longer lists than males do). 
  • Females tend to have better verbal working memory (e.g., remembering a list of numbers while answering questions about an unrelated topic). 
  • Females tend to have better memory for locations of objects (e.g., remembering where the car keys were left). 
  • Males tend to have better visuospatial memory (e.g., navigating on the basis of a combination of landscape features).

4. Sex Differences in Educational and Vocational Choices
In this chapter author reviews results of multiple studies; stresses increase in female educational achievement and provides summary results of difference:

5. Sex Differences in the Brain
Here author discussesProposition #4: Many sex differences in the brain are coordinate with sex differences in personality, abilities, and social behavior.” He looks at difference in genotype and phenotype, and provides analysis of brain scans results. He summarizes it the following way:

  • Circulating sex hormones produce easily observable differences in the phenotype. Those hormones have specific, documented effects that match up with some of the differences in personality and neurocognitive functioning discussed in chapters 2 and 3. 
  • The underreported news about sex hormones is the permanent effect that prenatal and infant surges of testosterone have on masculinizing the male brain. Those effects also match up with the earlier discussions of personality and neurocognitive functioning. 
  • The greater lateralization of the male brain has been documented by a variety of evidence about sex differences in structural connectivity and functional connectivity. These findings bear on phenotypic sex differences in visuospatial and verbal skills. 
  • Differences in the functioning of the amygdala, hypothalamus, and other regions of the limbic

Part II: “Race Is a Social Construct”
This part is about another source of division – race. Author reviews history of development of idea that race is a social construct and looks at couple of famous people who promoted this idea.

6. A Framework for Thinking About Race Differences

In this chapter author is stresses that his approach in no way is supporting ideas about superior and inferior races and similar staff. His point is that science should look at genetics to define what is different in people of different races and not get beyond its area of competence. Therefore, author provides some minimal data and terminology related to genetics.

7. Genetic Distinctiveness Among Ancestral Populations
Here author looks at decoded human genome and discusses what databases are available, evolution of hominins, expansion of our species all around the world, and how genetic differences analyzed. Here is his summary: “The material here does not support the existence of the classically defined races, nor does it deny the many ways in which race is a social construct. Rather, it communicates a truth that geneticists expected theoretically more than half a century ago and that has been confirmed by repeated empirical tests: Genetic differentiation among populations is an inherent part of the process of peopling the Earth. It is what happens when populations successively split off from parent populations and are subsequently (mostly) separated geographically.”

8. Evolution Since Humans Left Africa
The next proposition author discusses is: “Evolutionary selection pressure since humans left Africa has been extensive and mostly local.” Author discusses recent findings in genetics, which move it away from relatively simple model of random and rare mutations to much more complex understanding in which diverse mechanisms impact organism in such way that evolution becomes a lot more dynamic, allowing for huge decrease in time is requires to make material changes in organisms.

9. The Landscape of Ancestral Population Differences
The final chapter of this part is designed to demonstrate that “Continental population differences in variants associated with personality, abilities, and social behavior are common.” Author going through multiple comparisons among subpopulations from the same continent and then at different continents demonstrating genetic diversity much higher between races than between subpopulations. Author’s recapitulation is:” The story of the raw material for studying continental population differences applies to SNPs related to physiological parameters, diseases, and cognitive repertoires. Substantial between-continent differences in target allele frequencies are common. Around a third of all differences meet a plausible definition of “large.” The limited amount of sophisticated genetic analysis of between-continent differences done to date suggests that these extensive differences observed in the raw material will frequently yield productive results about genuine continental population differences.”

Part III: “Class Is a Function of Privilege”
The final part of the book is about class difference. Author makes point that this difference comes not that much from formal privileges as from diversity of cognitive abilities that make individuals more or less capable to succeed in any given circumstances and that these abilities to large extent come from genotype and transferred from generation to generation. Author describes IQ role in three steps:

  • Establishing the heritability of cognitive repertoires and the relative unimportance of family background. 
  • Demonstrating that those cognitive repertoires are important causes of success. 
  • Examining the potential ways to mitigate the role of genes in determining success.

10. A Framework for Thinking About Heritability and Class
Here author discusses heritability: the process of transfer of features across generation and uses twins’ studies to demonstrate that it is valid in relation to genotype only, regardless of other forms of inheritance such as wealth, culture, and so on.

11. The Ubiquity of Heritability and the Small Role of the Shared Environment
Here author presents what he calls three laws of genetics:

  • First Law. All human behavioral traits are heritable. 
  • Second Law. The effect of being raised in the same family is smaller than the effect of genes. 
  • Third Law. A substantial portion of the variation in complex human behavioral traits is not accounted for by the effects of genes or families.

After that once again he refers to twins’ studies to support the proposition:” The shared environment usually plays a minor role in explaining personality, abilities, and social behavior.”

 Author summarizes this in quite interesting graphic form:

12. Abilities, Personality, and Success
This chapter argues that “Class structure is importantly based on differences in abilities that have a substantial genetic component.” Author uses Herrnstein syllogism:

1. If differences in mental abilities are inherited, and

2. If success requires those abilities, and

3. If earnings and prestige depend upon success,

4. Then social standing (which reflects earnings and prestige) will be based to some extent on inherited differences among people.

To support this idea author provides results of comparative studies of IQ in childhood with adult outcomes.

13. Constraints and Potentials
The final chapter of this part argues that “Outside interventions are inherently constrained in the effects they can have on personality, abilities, and social behavior.”

Author uses here another syllogism:

1. If the shared environment explains little of the variance in cognitive repertoires, and

2. If the only environmental factors that can be affected by outside interventions are part of the shared environment,

3. Then outside interventions are inherently constrained in the effects they can have on cognitive repertoires.

Then he analyses veracity of each premise based on research results, looking at specific areas:

  • Role of outside interventions
  • How genes shape environment
  • Heritability and Socioeconomic status
  • Empirical record for early childhood interventions

Author also looks at various attempts to achieve improvements:

  • The Self-esteem Movement
  • Stereotyping Threat
  • The Growth Mindset Movement

The result of analysis is conclusion that effects are minimal.

The final part of chapter is discussion of epigenetics.

Part IV: Looking Ahead
Here author refers to E.O. Wilson’s idea of Consilience: merge of all areas of human knowledge into one seamless entity in order to present a coherent vision of the future.

14. The Shape of the Revolution
In this chapter author “focuses on the problem of establishing causation with genomic material and describes a great debate about the role of genomics in social science that is already well under way. Its resolution will determine whether the social science revolution is upon us or will be deferred indefinitely.” Author presents variety of schools of thought in this area and discuss ongoing debates.

15. Reflections and Speculations
The final chapter presents author’s key conclusions:

  • Human beings can be biologically classified into groups by sex and by ancestral population. Like most biological classifications, these groups have fuzzy edges. This complicates things analytically, but no more than that. 
  • Many phenotypic differences in personality, abilities, and social behavior that we observe between the sexes, among ancestral populations, and among social classes have a biological component. 
  • Growing knowledge about human diversity will inevitably shape the future of the social sciences.

After that he discusses how it would impact understanding of human nature:

MY TAKE ON IT:

I think that results of research and analysis presented in this book demonstrate quite convincingly that men are somewhat different from women, smart people from stupid, successful from unsuccessful, and that a lot of this difference is intrinsic, coming from genetic makeup of individuals. The funny thing about all these is that I do not think that on the reasonably long run it has any relevance to human lives whatsoever. The origin of interest in differences between humans comes from the period in history when role of family origin become much less important in defining quality of individual life, while personal qualities much more important. It used to be if one born duke, he is duke to the end so IQ would not matter. When born poor got opportunity become rich then IQ become important. However, while opportunity to move up opened, the places up there remained scarce, and road there went via selection by others. For example, IQ test came from US army, which needed easy to use tool that would provide good prediction for which conscript is smart enough to become artillery calculator, which one is better fit to learn tactics and weapons to be a good infantry soldier, and which is best fit to load and unload trucks. Same for deciding if women can do this or that job and whether class position defined by robbery and banditry or by superior intellectual abilities and grit. All this is losing relevance as soon as most of necessary for production activities moves to AI and machines, so people are free to do whatever they want and do not need to compete for place in some hierarchy in order to satisfy their material and psychological needs. They just need resources to pursue their own unique type of happiness.  

20200614 – Bullshit Jobs

MAIN IDEA:

Author clearly identifies his main idea and purpose of this book in such way:” Writing this book also serves a political purpose. I would like this book to be an arrow aimed at the heart of our civilization. There is something very wrong with what we have made ourselves. We have become a civilization based on work—not even “productive work” but work as an end and meaning in itself. We have come to believe that men and women who do not work harder than they wish at jobs they do not particularly enjoy are bad people unworthy of love, care, or assistance from their communities. It is as if we have collectively acquiesced to our own enslavement. The main political reaction to our awareness that half the time we are engaged in utterly meaningless or even counterproductive activities—usually under the orders of a person we dislike—is to rankle with resentment over the fact there might be others out there who are not in the same trap. As a result, hatred, resentment, and suspicion have become the glue that holds society together. This is a disastrous state of affairs. I wish it to end.”

DETAILS:

Preface:  On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs
Here author tell the story of accidentally writing an article discussing phenomenon of Bullshit jobs and how it become unexpectedly very popular subject of popular discussion. He describes how he come to the idea that constant political fight for jobs misses a very important question of quality and meaning of these jobs. He refers to Keynes prediction of very short work days due to increase in productivity and contemplates the fact that productivity did increased, but working time did not decrease at all. He then provides key points of the article:

  • Huge swathes of people spend their days performing tasks they secretly believe do not really need to be performed.
  • It’s as if someone were out there making up pointless jobs for the sake of keeping us all working.
  • The moral and spiritual damage that comes from this situation is profound. It is a scar across our collective soul. Yet virtually no one talks about it.
  • How can one even begin to speak of dignity in labor when one secretly feels one’s job should not exist?

Author also refers to research demonstrating that bullshit jobs are not unusual. The researches asked: “Does your job “make a meaningful contribution to the world”? Astonishingly, more than a third—37 percent—said they believed that it did not (whereas 50 percent said it did, and 13 percent were uncertain).”

At the end of preface author announces the purpose of this book as political action.

Chapter 1: What Is a Bullshit Job?
Author starts with description of several meaningless jobs in which people either do nothing or some meaningless activities and then provide definition:

” Final Working Definition: a bullshit job is a form of paid employment that is so completely pointless, unnecessary, or pernicious that even the employee cannot justify its existence even though, as part of the conditions of employment, the employee feels obliged to pretend that this is not the case.”

Author also provides graphic representation of results analysis for the use of working time:

Chapter 2: What Sorts of Bullshit Jobs Are There?
In this chapter author discusses categories of bullshit jobs:

Flunkies:” Flunky jobs are those that exist only or primarily to make someone else look or feel important.”

Goons: “people whose jobs have an aggressive element, but, crucially, who exist only because other people employ them.” Author also stresses that such jobs include aggression and deception.

Duct Tapers:” Duct tapers are employees whose jobs exist only because of a glitch or fault in the organization; who are there to solve a problem that ought not to exist.”

Box tickers:” … the term “box tickers” to refer to employees who exist only or primarily to allow an organization to be able to claim it is doing something that, in fact, it is not doing.”

Taskmasters:” Taskmasters fall into two subcategories. Type 1 contains those whose role consists entirely of assigning work to others. This job can be considered bullshit if the taskmaster herself believes that there is no need for her intervention, and that if she were not there, underlings would be perfectly capable of carrying on by themselves. … Type 2 taskmasters may also have real duties in addition to their role as taskmaster, but if all or most of what they do is create bullshit tasks for others, then their own jobs can be classified as bullshit too.”

Author provides multiple examples for each type.

Chapter 3: Why Do Those in Bullshit Jobs Regularly Report Themselves Unhappy?
In this chapter author reviews multiple testimonies of people unhappy in their bullshit jobs. They mainly demonstrate how much such jobs contradict human nature and need for meaning. Author also discusses unrealistic assumption of economic man who does not care what he is paid for as long as pay is good. Another point that author discusses here is “concerning the clash between the morality of time and natural work rhythms, and the resentment it creates”.

Chapter 4: What Is It Like to Have a Bullshit Job?
In this chapter author looks at adverse effect of do-nothing jobs on human condition. The main reasons he identifies are:

  • the misery of ambiguity and forced pretense
  • the misery of not being a cause
  • the misery of not feeling entitled to one’s misery
  • the misery of knowing that one is doing harm

Author provides a bunch of descriptions for each of these miseries and concludes by discussion “on the effects of bullshit jobs on human creativity, and on why attempts to assert oneself creatively or politically against pointless employment might be considered a form of spiritual warfare”

Chapter 5: Why Are Bullshit Jobs Proliferating?
In this chapter author looks for causes of bullshit jobs and find them in dramatic increase of productivity, which moved jobs from agriculture and manufacturing to services where majority of BS jobs resides:

Significant part of the chapter author allocates to discussion of government BS jobs vs. private BS jobs, convincingly demonstrating that both sectors are not that different. He then looks in details at industry that he knows and well understand: Higher Education with its proliferation of administrative BS jobs, but also at industries that he is not really familiar with or understand: finance and information technology. Finally he puts on his Marxist hat and goes into discussion of “managerial feudalism” and its differences and similarities with “classical feudalism”. He also provides another graphic demonstrating who really pays for BS jobs: people doing non-bullshit jobs whose productivity increased, but compensation did not.

Chapter 6: Why Do We as a Society Not Object to the Growth of Pointless Employment.
Author’s reasoning here comes down to the following:

  • the impossibility of developing an absolute measure of value
  • most people in contemporary society do accept the notion of a social value that can be distinguished from economic value, even if it is very difficult to pin down what it is
  • the inverse relationship between the social value of work and the amount of money one is likely to be paid for it
  • the theological roots of our attitudes toward labor
  • the northern European notion of paid labor as necessary to the full formation of an adult human being
  • work came to be seen in many quarters either as a means of social reform or ultimately as a virtue in its own right
  • the key flaw in the labor theory of value
  • work came to be increasingly valued primarily as a form of discipline and self-sacrifice

Chapter 7: What Are the Political Effects of Bullshit Jobs, and Is There Anything That Can Be Done About This Situation?

The final chapter presents author’s “thoughts about the political implications of the current work situation, and one suggestion about a possible way out.”

These implications are mainly about unsustainable character of this situation, which per author is “maintained by a balance of resentments”. These resentments are about 99% versus rich 1%, relatively well-paid union and government worker vs non-government ununionized workers and so on. It is also about identity politics that left behind white lower and middle class, which responded by electing the Donald. Author also brings in robotization that forces people into BS jobs or unemployment. Finally, author discusses Universal Basic Income that, he believes, could be solution to BS jobs problem because it “might begin to detach work from compensation and put an end to the dilemmas described in this book”

MY TAKE ON IT:

For me it is very useful book because author spent time and effort basically conducting anthropological research that empirically supports my believe that humanity is moving in direction of increased redundancy of humans for productive processes. For me author’s designation of this process as “managerial feudalism” makes little sense, demonstrating nothing more his strong Marxist background. In my view there is no “isms” here, only continuation of increase in productivity that started a few centuries ago and due to achieve its logical completion some time before the end of this century – less than 80 years from now. The completion of this process would mean extinction of labor as human activity conducted under control and supervision of other humans and is necessary to obtain resources needed for survival. So instead of human labor, machines driven by Artificial Intelligence would automatically create resources that humans need. Author expresses support for UBI, but in my opinion it is not such a good idea because it leaves no space for human need to act for obtaining resources, overcoming some adversities and challenges in the process. Without satisfying this need society cannot be stable. If it is divided into small privileged group of acting individuals – owners of everything and large group of well-fed but deprived of meaningful activity individuals, then the deprived will inevitably direct their activity to overthrowing existing arrangement and establish the new one, in which they will be on the top.

20200607 – Storm before the Calm

MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is that America regularly going through two parallel, but mainly independent cycles: institutional and socioeconomic. At the end of each cycle it goes through severe crisis after which it comes out with renewed institutions and updated economic system. 2020s represent a unique occurrence when both cycles enter crisis stage simultaneously, making crisis more complex and difficult than usually. However, upon completion of the crisis the renewed, more productive and more powerful America will continue to move to higher levels of prosperity, as it had always done before.

DETAILS:

Introduction
Here author presents his doctrine of two parallel cycles of American History: “institutional cycle” approximately 80 years starting with Revolutionary war and “socioeconomic cycle” approximately 50 years. Then he notes that 2020s will be a very difficult time for America because both cycles include period of crisis, which happens simultaneously during this period. Then author defines American exceptionalism in such way: “The most important fact to bear in mind is that the United States was an invented nation; it didn’t evolve naturally from a finite group of people over thousands of years in one indigenous region, as did, for example, China or Russia. More than that, the United States was an intentionally and rapidly invented nation. The American regime was first conceived in the Declaration of Independence and institutionalized in the Constitution. The American people were constructed from many countries and many languages, with varied reasons for coming to America—most freely, and some by force. The people of the United States invented themselves from a blank slate. And in important ways the American land invented itself. It provided Americans with possibilities that were unimaginable to most and could be used in ways no one anticipated.”

The author presents plan of the book: “Part 1 seeks to explain the American character, American values, and the history that led to the formation of the “American people.” It also shows why the United States is so resilient and why it can survive extreme periods. Part 2 describes the two major cycles in detail and the realities that govern American history, especially what has led to the crisis the United States is currently experiencing. Part 3 is a forecast for the future, describing the crisis that will happen when the massive forces of these two cycles converge in the decade 2020 to 2030—something that has not happened before—and then looks at what will follow and the future of America when the storm has passed.”

PART ONE: THE INVENTION OF AMERICA
1. The American Regime and a Restless Nation
Here author further defines specificity of American culture, which based on both: distrust of government and distrust of people. It resulted in creation of complex dynamically changing system based on balance of power and intentionally complicated rules where everybody has some areas of protected freedom and some area where restrictions apply. The main difference from others and common core is that each American ought to be free to succeed or fail in the pursuit of happiness. Then author discusses history of how it all came to be this way.

2. The Land—a Place Called America
Here author discusses geography and climate of America, original settlers – American Indians, and reasons for British being successful in settlement of this land and suppression of both Indian resistance and French competition. Here are a few pictures supporting author’s points:

3. The American People
In this chapter author discusses people that populated America: first British settlers, who then brought in African Slaves. The second wave, well before revolution, were Scotch-Irish and Scottish Presbyterians from Ireland. Author notes that they were considered unassimilable, the first in many waves to come, but does not discuss them and just moves to culture. He discusses the dominance of Anglo-Saxon culture that lasted all the way until the end of WWII and then looks at stereotypes of Americans: The Cowboy, The Inventor, and The Warrior. In the final part of chapter author fulfils compulsory requirement to lament crimes of America against black Slaves and Indians, albeit within reasonable framing: Slavery was normal elsewhere in the world, Indians were successfully killing, fighting , raiding, and conquering each other forever, and their destruction was not caused by genocide of settlers,  but rather by diseases that settlers brought in.   

PART TWO: AMERICAN CYCLES
4. How America Changes
Here author starts with the statement that America changed a lot during 250 years and it came in somewhat predictable cycles despite of chaos of everyday lives, politics, and economics. The change was not only in America internally, but also in its global position in the world, going from peripheral small country to the globally dominant power.

5. How Geopolitics Frames the 2020s
Here author discusses his expectation of big crises of 2020s resulting with coincidental completion of two major cycles one of which is institutional cycle typically driven by a war. Author then discusses this starting from the beginning of America with special details related to America’s global empire created after WWII and currently mainly outdated after the end of Cold war, even if its institutions are still keep going. Author makes the point that it leads to coming crises.

6. The Institutional Cycles and War
In this chapter author reviewing history of such institutional cycles: The first starting with Revolutionary war, the second – Civil War, and currently the third one starting with WWII and closing to its completion now. Here is how author defines crisis at the end of such cycle:” The institutional crisis is rooted in two things. First, the governing class, and the technocrats, accumulate power and wealth, and they begin to shape the institutions to protect their interests. The second problem is that the expertise that won World War II and built the postwar world is now encountering its own problem of inefficiency—diffusion.”

7. The Socioeconomic Cycles
In this chapter author discusses the second type of cycles: socioeconomic cycle. He reviews history of 5 such cycles:

The First Socioeconomic Cycle: The Washington Cycle, 1783–1828

The Second Socioeconomic Cycle: The Jackson Cycle, 1828–1876

The Third Socioeconomic Cycle: The Hayes Cycle, 1876–1929

The Fourth Socioeconomic Cycle: The Roosevelt Cycle, 1932–1980

The Fifth Socioeconomic Cycle: The Reagan Cycle, 1980–2030

At the final analysis he links it to income distribution problem when wealth is concentrated at the top, while middle stagnates. Here is graphic he provides to support this idea:

PART THREE: THE CRISIS AND THE CALM
8. First Tremors of the Coming Storm
The storm for author is coming with Trump and in this chapter, author elaborates why it is so. The reason is practically that old cycle ran out of steam and Trump is the last hurray of descending blue color class, which is expected to lose whatever is left of its power in 2020s.

9. The Crisis of the 2020s—a Clashing of Cycles
Here author discusses coming crisis as form of class straggle when ideology of effective government and rule of technocracy would clash with traditional ideology of democratic government by elected officials. Author looks at the history of democracy and its corrupt party bosses, who nevertheless where mainly local and close enough to regular people to help with their problems. Their substitution with technocratic bureaucrats made rulers much more distant, but also less effective, often working against interests of people they are supposed to serve, as it was the case with outsourcing and globalization. The end result is massive loss of legitimacy by nearly all institutions, save military.

10. The 2020s Crisis in Technology and Education
Here author discusses another side of crisis, which he characterizes as diminishing productivity growth resulting from failure of educational system to meet requirements of technology. The result is another division of population into hostile classes: educated and prosperous and poorly educated and miserable. Author expect that for the next 8 years quality of live would be declining due to crisis of final years of Reagan era that will end in 2028 with election of the president and team that will produce new innovative and currently unknown ideas that will define the next cycle.  

11. Beyond the Storm
This chapter is somewhat optimistic when author tries to look beyond current problem to the new raise of America. He believes that it would be based on the new understanding of governance when government will become more strategic by defining main direction and allowing local much smaller bureaucracies to make tactical decisions and actually implement them much more effectively and efficiently than super big and complex federal bureaucracy. Author discusses in some detail how it would be happening in areas he is familiar with such as education. He is quite optimistic about future and states that America always came out of crises stronger than before and he believes that it will happen again this time. He also provides graph of America’s GDP growth per person and states that he does not expect it to be any worse in the future:

Conclusion: The American Age

In conclusion author discuss America as unwilling empire, which is slowly moving to maturity that would take another century to achieve. He completes this analysis on very nice note:” America is a country in which the storm is essential to clear the way for the calm. Because Americans, obsessed with the present and future, have difficulty remembering the past, they will all believe that there has never been a time as uncivil and tense as this one. They will wait for the collapse of all things and loathe all those who produced it—which will be those with whom they disagree. It will be a time of self-righteous self-certainty, hatred, sometimes murderous, for those they despise. And then the patterns of history work their way through, using the raw material available. American power in the world will sustain itself, because the power of a country like the United States, a vast economy and military and seductive culture, does not decline because it is hated. All empires are hated and envied. Power is not diminished by either. The permanent things in America’s founding—our rights and the Constitution—serve to drive both the prudence and the recklessness of the country. And it is the combination of these two things that has allowed the United States to evolve over nearly 250 years of stability and chaos. There is no evidence of it ending. The current storm is nothing more than what is normal for this time in America’s history and our lives.”

MY TAKE ON IT:

It seems to be a popular idea to find cycles in American development and there are quite a few authors doing just that. I find it somewhat interesting, entertaining, but hardly relevant for understanding the current situation or future development. I agree that America and even the world is falling periodically into crises that it then overcomes. However, I think that each crisis is unique and should be explained not by cyclicity, but rather by development of technology, modes of its use, and ideas of how multitude of individuals had to interact with each other. The crisis occurs when levels of technology, modes of its use, and modes of human interaction get out of synch, cause some kind of calamity, and force change. Example could be WWI when technology of high frequency precise shooting and heavy weight projectiles led to the crises of traditional mode of technology use for killing people and taking their staff, because cost became by far higher than benefits. It took a while to switch to other modes of human interaction that substituted war by international trade and division of labor, but killing technology is still standing by just in case. The current crisis comes from technology that first made long distance goods transfer cheap and information transfer practically free, creating opportunity to substitute expensive labor with cheap. Now in addition to this new challenge arrived in form of AI that could substitute humans in practically all productive activities. Unlike author I do not think that it is specifically American crisis, it is just America always arrives first into the future. However, like the author I think that this crisis will be overcome and the next wonderful stage of human development will arrive relatively soon.

20200531 The Evolution of Cooperation

MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is to present results of author’s research on cooperation that was conducted using tournament of computer game based on prisoner’s dilemma. The result consistently demonstrated that the best strategy is always TIT-FOR-TAT starting with default cooperation. Author also presents brief overview of history of cooperation, its evolutionary significance, and provides recommendation on how to expand cooperation.

DETAILS:

I: IntroductionChapter 1: The Problem of Cooperation
Here author discusses the problem of cooperation: why would egoists cooperate without central authority that would force them to do this? Author bases his search for solution on analysis of prisoner’s dilemma as game:

Author also provides here the review of book’s content.

II: The Emergence of Cooperation
Chapter 2: The Success of Tit FOR Tat in Computer Tournament
This chapter explores the emergence of cooperation through the study of what is a good strategy to employ if confronted with an iterated Prisoner’s Dilemma. This exploration has been done in a novel way, with a computer tournament. Professional game theorists were invited to submit their favorite strategy, and each of these decision rules was paired off with each of the others to see which would do best overall. Amazingly enough, the winner was the simplest of all strategies submitted. This was TIT FOR TAT, the strategy which cooperates on the first move and then does whatever the other player did on the previous move. A second round of the tournament was conducted in which many more entries were submitted by amateurs and professionals alike, all of whom were aware of the results of the first round. The result was another victory for TIT FOR TAT! The analysis of the data from these tournaments reveals four properties which tend to make a decision rule successful: avoidance of unnecessary conflict by cooperating as long as the other player does, provocability in the face of an uncalled for defection by the other, forgiveness after responding to a provocation, and clarity of behavior so that the other player can adapt to your pattern of action. These results from the tournaments demonstrate that under suitable conditions, cooperation can indeed emerge in a world of egoists without central authority.

Chapter 3: The Chronology of Cooperation
To see just how widely these results apply, a theoretical approach is taken in chapter 3. A series of propositions are proved that not only demonstrate the requirements for the emergence of cooperation but also provide the chronological story of the evolution of cooperation. Here is the argument in a nutshell. The evolution of cooperation requires that individuals have a sufficiently large chance to meet again so that they have a stake in their future interaction. If this is true, cooperation can evolve in three stages. 1. The beginning of the story is that cooperation can get started even in a world of unconditional defection. The development cannot take place if it is tried only by scattered individuals who have virtually no chance to interact with each other. However, cooperation can evolve from small clusters of individuals who base their cooperation on reciprocity and have even a small proportion of their interactions with each other.

2. The middle of the story is that a strategy based on reciprocity can thrive in a world where many different kinds of strategies are being tried.

3. The end of the story is that cooperation, once established on the basis of reciprocity, can protect itself from invasion by less cooperative strategies. Thus, the gear wheels of social evolution have a ratchet.

III: Cooperation Without Friendship or Foresight
Chapter 4: The Live-and-Let-Live System in Trench Warfare ion WWI
Chapter 4 is devoted to the fascinating case of the “live and let live” system which emerged during the trench warfare of World War I. In the midst of this bitter conflict, the front-line soldiers often refrained from shooting to kill— provided their restraint was reciprocated by the soldiers on the other side. What made this mutual restraint possible was the static nature of trench warfare, where the same small units faced each other for extended periods of time. The soldiers of these opposing small units actually violated orders from their own high commands in order to achieve tacit cooperation with each other. A detailed look at this case shows that when the conditions are present for the emergence of cooperation, cooperation can get started and prove stable in situations which otherwise appear extraordinarily unpromising. In particular, the “live and let live” system demonstrates that friendship is hardly necessary for the development of cooperation. Under suitable conditions, cooperation based upon reciprocity can develop even between antagonists.

Chapter 5: The Evolution of Cooperation in Biological Systems
Chapter 5, written with evolutionary biologist William D. Hamilton, demonstrates that cooperation can emerge even without foresight. This is done by showing that Cooperation Theory can account for the patterns of behavior found in a wide range of biological systems, from bacteria to birds. Cooperation in biological systems can occur even when the participants are not related, and even when they are unable to appreciate the consequences of their own behavior. What makes this possible are the evolutionary mechanisms of genetics and survival of the fittest. An individual able to achieve a beneficial response from another is more likely to have offspring that survive and that continue the pattern of behavior which elicited beneficial responses from others. Thus, under suitable conditions, cooperation based upon reciprocity proves stable in the biological world. Potential applications are spelled out for specific aspects of territoriality, mating, and disease. The conclusion is that Darwin’s emphasis on individual advantage can, in fact, account for the presence of cooperation between individuals of the same or even different species. As long as the proper conditions are present, cooperation can get started, thrive, and prove stable. While foresight is not necessary for the evolution of cooperation, it can certainly be helpful.

IV: Advice for Participants and Reformers
Chapter 6: How to Choose Effectively
Chapter 6 spells out the implications of Cooperation Theory for anyone who is in a Prisoner’s Dilemma. From the participant’s point of view, the object is to do as well as possible, regardless of how well the other player does. Based upon the tournament results and the formal propositions, four simple suggestions are offered for individual choice:

  1. Do not be envious of the other player’s success;
  2. Do not be the first to defect;
  3. Reciprocate both cooperation and defection;
  4. Do not be too clever.

Understanding the perspective of a participant can also serve as the foundation for seeing what can be done to make it easier for cooperation to develop among egoists.

Chapter 7: How to Promote Cooperation
Chapter 7 takes the Olympian perspective of a reformer who wants to alter the very terms of the interactions so as to promote the emergence of cooperation. A wide variety of methods are considered, such as making the interactions between the players more durable and frequent, teaching the participants to care about each other, and teaching them to understand the value of reciprocity. This reformer’s perspective provides insights into a wide variety of topics, from the strength of bureaucracy to the difficulties of Gypsies, and from the morality of TIT FOR TAT to the art of writing treaties.

Here are author’s recommendations:

  1. Enlarge the shadow of the future
  2. Change the payoffs
  3. Teach people to care for each other
  4. Teach reciprocity
  5. Improve recognition abilities

V: Conclusions
Chapter 8: The Social Structure of Cooperation
Chapter 8 extends the implications of Cooperation Theory into new domains. It shows how different kinds of social structure affect the way cooperation can develop. For example, people often relate to each other in ways that are influenced by observable features, such as sex, age, skin color, and style of dress. These cues can lead to social structures based on stereotyping and status hierarchies. As another example of social structure, the role of reputation is considered. The struggle to establish and maintain one’s reputation can be a major feature of intense conflicts. For example, the American government’s escalation of the war in Vietnam in 1965 was mainly due to its desire to deter other challenges to its interests by maintaining its reputation on the world stage. This chapter also considers a government’s concern for maintaining its reputation with its own citizens. To be effective, a government cannot enforce any standards it chooses but must elicit compliance from a majority of the governed. To do this requires setting the rules so that most of the governed find it profitable to obey most of the time. The implications of this approach are fundamental to the operation of authority, and are illustrated by the regulation of industrial pollution and the supervision of divorce settlements.

Chapter 9: The Robustness of Reciprocity

By the final chapter, the discussion has developed from the study of the emergence of cooperation among egoists without central authority to an analysis of what happens when people actually do care about each other and what happens when there is central authority. But the basic approach is always the same: seeing how individuals operate in their own interest reveals what happens to the whole group. This approach allows more than the understanding of the perspective of a single player. It also provides an appreciation of what it takes to promote the stability of mutual cooperation in a given setting. The most promising finding is that if the facts of Cooperation Theory are known by participants with foresight, the evolution of cooperation can be speeded up.

MY TAKE ON IT:

This classical book confirms once again my believe that the only reasonable behavior in interacting with other people is TIT-FOR-TAT despite its negative connotation as “eye for an eye”. However, the default to initial cooperation removes this negativity as long as other player uses the same strategy. Generally, author’s examples from real life confirm this finding, but a couple of important issues remain unresolved. The most important is probably the case when reciprocity is not possible, for instance because of lack of resources to use for this. Another one is complexity of the world, when players interact via multiple intermediaries who apply variety of strategies and the traceability of TIT-FOR-TAT is all but impossible. However, it is still very usable to have robust results for optimal strategy, however limited is its application in real life.  

20200524 – Duped – Truth Default

MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is to summarize and present author’s decades long research in psychology of lying and methods and tools to recognize lies and obtain truth. In order to do this author presents his Truth Default Theory (TDT) and provides wealth of experimental data supporting this theory. Author also reviews competing theories and ideas and supplies reasons why they do not work.

DETAILS:

PART I: THE SOCIAL SCIENCE OF DECEPTION
Chapter 1. The Science of Deception
This chapter starts with author recollection of listening book review of CIA agents on how they recognized lying. From this point he moves to discusses his qualifications as scientific researcher in just this area of psychology and how he came to this. He then present questions that such research supposed to answer:

1. What do people look for in order to distinguish between whether someone else is honest or lying?

2. What, if any, specific behaviors actually distinguish truthful communication from lies?

3. How accurate are people at distinguishing truths from lies?

4. Under what conditions are people more accurate or less accurate at lie detection, and what types of people, if any, are more skilled or less skilled lie detectors?

He also present results of previous research over decades that consistently shown human ability to recognize lies just slightly above random. Here is graph demonstrating these results:

Chapter 2. Cues

This chapter focuses on “cues.” Here is how author describes it:” We will take a close look at the research on:

(a) the behaviors that people think distinguish truths and lies,

(b) the behaviors that people actually rely on in distinguishing truths from lies,

(c) the behaviors that do and do not actually distinguish truths from lies.”

Here is the Summary:

What do people look for in order to distinguish whether someone else is honest or lying? People pay much attention to nonverbal behavior when assessing honesty and deceit. In terms of specific cues, there is a worldwide, cross-cultural consensus in the folk belief that liars avoid eye contact. But when behaviors that actually influence honesty assessments are analyzed, perceptions of plausibility, logical consistency, confidence, friendliness, and conversational involvement are quite important. What’s more, cues are not used in isolation, nor are they uncorrelated. Constellations of cues combine to create an honest or dishonest demeanor that guides people’s decisions about whether or not someone is honest. (There is more on this in chapter 13 when sender demeanor and the BQ [believability quotient] are discussed.)

What, if any, specific behaviors actually distinguish truthful communication from lies? The short answer is, not many. The only two cues that hold up consistently across various meta-analyses are that liars have larger pupils and higher pitch, on average, than honest senders. The differences are not large enough to have much practical use in lie detection. In general, there are few behavioral differences that distinguish truths from lies, and the differences that are there are not large, are inconsistent, and tend to diminish as scientific evidence accumulates.

Chapter 3. Deception Detection Accuracy
In this chapter author “examines people’s ability to distinguish truths from lies in traditional deception detection experiments. In both, priority is given to meta-analysis, looking at trends across larger numbers of studies rather than at the findings of individual studies. I strive to provide a coherent picture of what we know by focusing on findings that reliably replicate and by describing the big-picture implications of those results.”

This chapter answered two important questions:

How accurate are people at distinguishing truths from lies? People are slightly better than chance at distinguishing truths from lies in deception detection experiments. Accuracy is better than chance, but not by much. The across-study average is about 54% correct truth–lie discrimination.

Under what conditions (if any) are people more accurate or less accurate at lie detection, and what types of people (if any) are more skilled or less skilled lie detectors? The slightly-better-than-chance accuracy is remarkably robust and invariant. Some things make a difference of a few percentage points this way or that, but the slightly-better-than-chance holds across a wide range of conditions and methods. Besides answering these two critical questions, this chapter also highlights some important but underappreciated findings. One of these is the small standard errors in deception detection experiments involving multiple judgments per judge. The implication is that even small differences in raw accuracy can be statistically significant with ample effect sizes. Findings need to be understood in context. Second, the number of judgments strongly impacts the results, making unusual results based on small data untrustworthy. Third, raw accuracy (i.e., correct truth–lie discrimination) and accuracy for lies are not the same thing. The implication is that if people are better than chance at truth–lie discrimination, this does not mean that they are better than chance at recognizing lies per se. Finally, there is much more variability in senders than in judges. This suggests that viable explanations for findings need to account for both sender variability and judge constancy.

Chapter 4. Rivals
Here author describes competing theories that preceded his Truth Default Theory.

Author’s Summary: “This chapter provides a chronicle of prior theories of deception and deception detection. Ekman’s original leakage theory, Ekman’s updated perspective, four-factor theory, Bella DePaulo’s self-presentation perspective, Interpersonal Deception Theory, and Aldert Vrij’s cognitive load approach were each reviewed. I see much communality among Ekman, four-factor theory, IDT, and Vrij. In the next chapter, I offer the catchall idea of cue theories as a way to show the commonalities in the logic behind prominent deception theories and to show how theory has shaped research priorities and design. I offer a critical evaluation of these prior theories in specific, and cue theories in general. I hope it is obvious after this chapter why a new theory is so desperately needed.”

Chapter 5. Critiquing the Rivals
This is continuation of the previous chapter where author critiques rivals, their theories and then “provides a detailed rationale for the book and TDT. If prior theory were adequate and sufficient, there would be little to be gained from yet another theory. The case is made that prior theories have serious deficiencies and that the need for TDT is real and pressing.”

At the end of chapter author characterizes his rival as cults and summarizes them in such way:” Various camps of deception researchers have leaders who are revered by followers (e.g., Ekman, Burgoon, Vrij). The members of the various groups are very devoted to the system of beliefs that form the tenets of the various theories, and they see disagreement by outsiders over core issues as heresy. Each of the groups is relatively small in number, and each group sees the doctrines of rival theories as strange, sinister, and threatening. And, at least from my point of view, I think the admiration that the followers of the various theories have for their theories is both excessive and misplaced. Each of the rivals falls short in verisimilitude.”

PART II: TRUTH-DEFAULT THEORY
In this part author moves from critic of rivals to presentation of his Theory

Chapter 6. Truth-Default Theory Summarized
This chapter “provides a succinct and rough summary of TDT. Key definitions are provided. TDT is modular, by which author means that it is an organized collection of stand-alone mini-theories, hypotheses, and effects. Each of the modules is briefly described, and the propositional structure weaving them together laid out. But the chapter just provides an outline, with little explanation.”

TDT MODULES

TDT is a modular theory. The modules are various minitheories, models, effects, and hypotheses that can stand alone. They can be understood without reference to larger theory. Empirical support or disconfirmation for one module does not imply support or disconfirmation of another module. The modules discussed in the following chapters are:

• A Few Prolific Liars (or “outliars”; chapter 9)—The prevalence of lying is not normally or evenly distributed across the population. Instead, most people lie infrequently. Most people are honest most of time. There are a few people, however, who lie often. Most lies are told by a few prolific liars.

• Deception Motives (chapter 10)—People lie for a reason, but the motives behind truthful and deceptive communication are the same. When the truth is consistent with a person’s goals, he or she will almost always communicate honestly. Deception becomes probable when the truth makes honest communication difficult or inefficient. • The Projected Motive Model (chapter 10)—People know that others lie for a reason and are more likely to suspect deception when they think a person has a reason to lie.

• The Veracity Effect (chapter 12)—The honesty (i.e., veracity) of communication predicts whether the message will be judged correctly. Specifically, honest messages produce higher accuracy than lies. The veracity effect results from truth-bias.

• The Park–Levine Probability Model (chapter 12)—Because honest messages yield higher accuracy than lies (i.e., the veracity effect), the proportion of truths and lies (base-rates) affects accuracy. When people are truth-biased, as the proportion of honest messages increases, so does average detection accuracy. This relationship is linear and is predicted as the accuracy for truths times the proportion of messages that are true plus the accuracy for lies times the proportion of messages that are lies.

• A Few Transparent Liars (chapter 13)—The reason that accuracy in deception detection is above chance in most deception detection experiments is that some small proportion of the population are really bad liars who usually give themselves away. The reason accuracy is not higher is that most people are pretty good liars.

• Sender Honest Demeanor (chapter 13)—There are large individual differences in believability. Some people come off as honest. Other people are doubted more often. These differences in how honest different people seem to be are a function of a combination of eleven different behaviors and impressions that function together to create the BQ (believability quotient). Honest demeanor has little to do with actual honesty, and this explains poor accuracy in deception detection experiments.

• How People Really Detect Lies (chapter 14)—Outside the deception lab, in everyday life, most lies are detected after the fact, based on either confessions or the discovery of some evidence showing that what was said was false. Few lies are detected in real time based only on the passive observation of sender nonverbal behavior.

• Content in Context (chapter 14)—Understanding communication requires listening to what is said and taking that in context. Knowing about the context in which the communication occurs can help detect lies.

• Diagnostic Utility (chapter 14)—Some aspects of communication are more useful than others in detecting deception, and some aspects of communication can be misleading. Diagnostic utility involves prompting and using useful information while avoiding useless and misleading behaviors.

• Correspondence and Coherence (chapter 14)—Correspondence and coherence are two types of consistency information that may be used in deception detection. Correspondence has to do with comparing what is said to known facts and evidence. It is fact-checking. Coherence involves the logical consistency of communication. Generally speaking, correspondence is more useful than coherence in deception detection.

• Question Effects (chapter 14)—Question effects involve asking the right questions to yield diagnostically useful information that improves deception detection accuracy.

• Expert Questioning (chapter 14)—Expertise in deception detection is highly context dependent and involves knowing how to prompt diagnostically useful information rather than passively observing deception cues.

TDT Propositions

The TDT propositions provide a string of assertions, predictions, and conjectures that weave the constructs and modules together to describe and explain human deception and deception detection and to provide coherence. That is, the propositional structure shows how the various modules fit together. The propositions also provide specific, testable, and falsifiable predictions. The propositions are numbered one to fourteen and reflect the logical flow of TDT.

• Proposition one. Most communication by most people is honest most of the time. While deception can and does occur, in comparison to honest messages, deception is relatively infrequent, and outright lies are more infrequent still. In fact, deception must be infrequent to be effective.

• Proposition two. The prevalence of deception is not normally distributed across the population. Most lies are told by a few prolific liars.

• Proposition three. Most people believe most of what is said by most other people most of the time. That is, most people can be said to be truth-biased most of the time. Truth-bias results from, in part, a default cognitive state. The truth-default state is pervasive, but it is not an inescapable cognitive state. Truth-bias and the truth-default are adaptive both for the individual and for the species. They enable efficient communication.

• Proposition four. Because of proposition one, the presumption of honesty specified in proposition three is usually correct. Truth-bias, however, makes people vulnerable to occasional deception.

• Proposition five. Deception is purposive. Absent psychopathology, people lie for a reason. Deception, however, is usually not the ultimate goal, but instead a means to some other ends. That is, deception is typically tactical. Specifically, most people are honest unless the truth thwarts some desired goal or goals. The motives or desired goals achieved through communication are the same for honest and deceptive communications, and deception is reserved for situations where honesty would be ineffectual, inefficient, and/or counterproductive in goal attainment.

• Proposition six. People understand that others’ deception is usually purposive and are more likely to consider a message as potentially or actually deceptive under conditions where the truth may be inconsistent with a communicator’s desired outcomes. That is, people project motive states on others, and this affects suspicion and judgments of honesty and deceit.

• Proposition seven. The truth-default state requires a trigger event to abandon it. Trigger events include but are not limited to: (a) a projected motive for deception, (b) behavioral displays associated with dishonest demeanor, (c) a lack of coherence in message content, (d) a lack of correspondence between communication content and some knowledge of reality, or (e) information from a third party warning of potential deception.

• Proposition eight. If a trigger or set of triggers is sufficiently potent, a threshold is crossed, suspicion is generated, the truth-default is at least temporarily abandoned, the communication is scrutinized, and evidence is cognitively retrieved and/or sought to assess honesty–deceit.

• Proposition nine. Based on information of a variety of types, an evidentiary threshold may be crossed, and a message may be actively judged to be deceptive. The information used to assess honesty and deceit includes but is not limited to: (a) contextualized communication content and motive, (b) sender demeanor, (c) information from third parties, (d) communication coherence, and (e) correspondence information. If the evidentiary threshold for a lie judgment is not crossed, an individual may continue to harbor suspicion or revert to the truth-default. If exculpatory evidence emerges, active judgments of honesty are made.

• Proposition ten. Triggers and deception judgments need not occur at the time of the deception. Many deceptions are suspected and detected well after the fact.

• Proposition eleven. With the exception of a few transparent liars, deception is not accurately detected, at the time in which it occurs, through the passive observation of cues or sender demeanor. Honest-looking and deceptive-looking communication performances are largely independent of actual honesty and deceit for most people and hence usually do not provide diagnostically useful information. Consequently, demeanor-based deception detection is, on average, only slightly better than chance due to a few transparent liars, but typically not much above chance due to the fallible nature of demeanor-based judgments.

• Proposition twelve. In contrast, deception is most accurately detected through either (a) subsequent confession by the deceiver or (b) comparison of the contextualized communication content to some external evidence or preexisting knowledge.

• Proposition thirteen. Both confessions and diagnostically informative communication content can be produced by effective context-sensitive questioning of a potentially deceptive sender. Ill- conceived questioning, however, can backfire and produce below-chance accuracy.

• Proposition fourteen. Expertise in deception detection rests on knowing how to prompt diagnostically useful information, rather than on skill in the passive observation of sender behavior.

Chapter 7. Defining Deception (Beyond BFLs and Conscious Intent)
Chapter 7 takes a close look at issues in defining deception from the TDT perspective. Here is author’s definition of deception, lying, and honest communication:

• Deception is intentionally, knowingly, or purposefully misleading another person.

• A lie (or bald-faced lie, BFL for short) is a subtype of deception that involves outright falsehood, which is consciously known to be false by the teller, and is not signaled as false to the message recipient.

• Honest communication lacks deceptive purpose, intent, or awareness. Honest communication need not be fully accurate or true, or involve full disclosure.

Here author also looks at different types of deception such as self-deception, false statements, and failed deception attempts. He concludes: “An important implication is that message features like the truth and falsity of specific content, message intent, and message function or impact need to be distinguished because these things do not map perfectly onto one another. So, someone can say something that is objectively false, omit information, change the subject, and so forth, in a manner that is either intended to deceive or not. The objective truth or falsity of messages may or may not actually function as deception, and such messages may or may not be perceived as deception. In short, speaker intent, purpose, and message consequence in combination define deception, not the objective qualities of messages or information dimensions (discussed in the next chapter). Further, mere speaker intent is neither sufficient nor necessary in and of itself to define deception.

Chapter 8. Information Manipulation (Beyond BFLs and Conscious Intent, P.2)
Beginning in chapter 8, a series of numbered original empirical studies are summarized testing relevant theoretical predictions. Author discusses in details Information Manipulation theory (IMT) and IMT2, providing review of several relevant studies.

Chapter 9. Prevalence
Chapter 9 explicates TDT’s first two propositions and the Few Prolific Liars module. The empirical support is detailed by reviewing multiple studies. Then author presents his interpretation: “TDT departs from most other theories of deception regarding the prevalence of deception. According to TDT, lying is infrequent relative to the truth. Lying is not normally distributed across the population but is instead highly skewed, with most lies coming from a few prolific liars. And, according to TDT, the frequency of lying matters in deception detection.”

Chapter 10. Deception Motives
In this chapter author examines motivation of people’s lying and delves into proposition five and the People Lie for a Reason module. It provides the first part of the answer to the mystery of accuracy in research that uses deception but is not about deception. Here are key TDT claims regarding motivation:

1. People lie for a reason. That is, deception is purposive. It is therefore not random.

2. Deception is usually not the ultimate goal but instead is a means to some other end or ends. That is, deception is typically tactical.

3. The motives behind truthful and deceptive communication are the same.

4. When the truth is consistent with a person’s goals, the person will almost always communicate honesty.

5. Deception becomes probable when the truth makes honest communication difficult or inefficient.

Then author provides experimental support of these claims.

Chapter 11. Truth-Bias and Truth-Default
Chapter 11 gets to the core of TDT, focusing on truth-bias and the truth-default and summarizing author’s research on them. The existence of the truth-default and the idea of triggers provide additional insight into the mystery of accuracy in research that uses deception but is not about deception. As before author discusses in details experimental results supporting his ideas.

Chapter 12. The Veracity Effect and Truth—Lie Base-Rates
Chapter 12 focuses on two important implications of truth-bias, namely, the veracity effect and the Park–Levine Probability Model. The focus is on the empirical evidence supporting these modules and proposition three. Chapter 12 explains why base-rates are so important. A very important here is that author provides clear falsification criteria and results of its experimental validation:


Chapter 13. Explaining Slightly -Better-than-Chance Accuracy
The focus in chapter 13 shifts to offering a coherent explanation for the prior detection-accuracy findings described in chapters 1 and 3. The companion modules A Few Transparent Liars and Sender Honest Demeanor are explicated, and the evidence consistent with proposition eleven is described. The mystery of normally distributed slightly-better-than-chance accuracy is solved. Here is a very important graphic representation of matched or unmatched demeanor and behavior, which somewhat confuse even professional interrogation experts:

Chapter 14. Improving Accuracy
Here author discusses the ways of improving accuracy. How People Really Detect Lies is described, along with the Content-in-Context, Question Effects, and Expertise modules. In the process, evidence for the twelfth, thirteenth, and fourteenth propositions is provided. Author reviews research documenting five paths to improved lie detection:

• Using evidence to establish ground truth and assessing the correspondence between communication content and ground truth.

• Using situational familiarity and contextualized communication content to assess plausibility.

• Using situational familiarity and contextualized communication content to assess motives for deception.

• Strategically questioning senders to elicit diagnostically useful communication content.

• Persuading liars to be honest and tell the truth.

Chapter 15. The TDT Perspective

This chapter wraps things up, restating key points of TDT and providing 5 keys to improvement in lie detection:

1. Correspondence of communication content with evidence

2. Content in context (situational familiarity)

3. Assessment of deception motives

4. Diagnostic questioning

5. Persuading honesty

MY TAKE ON IT:

This is the great book and I highly appreciate author’s scientific approach to his ideas and TDT’s experimental support. I guess it would allow to skip the whole lot of literature about truth finding via cues analysis. It also nicely demonstrates that I am not alone finding lie to be difficult even when necessary. The findings of this book are also very helpful in design of processes involving human action, making it clear that by removing advantages that could be provided by lying would remove motivation for doing this and consequently its occurrences.  

20200517 – Willful

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MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book it to present a different view on human action. Author expands usual assumption that people act rationally, trying to maximize material benefits or emotionally, based on instinctive heuristics, by introducing the new form of motivation for action, that he calls “for self”. Consequently, he supports this idea by reviewing various areas of human behavior that, he believes, are not covered by conventional views of motivation.

DETAILS:

PART I Life Is a Mixed Drink
1 Venturing beyond Purposeful Choice
Author starts here by rejecting the idea of exclusively purposeful choice: “Both rational choice and behavioral economics assume that action is purposeful, that people seek the outcomes that best gratify their preexisting desires. People either know their preferences and can describe them out loud, or sense them and act as if they understood what they wanted. The purposeful choice model can explain many things, but not everything. Certain actions are undertaken not for any tangible benefit but for their own sake. They cannot be ranked against, or traded for, other actions. These actions belong to a second realm of behavior that is neither rational nor irrational, but for-itself.”

Then he tells the story of his intellectual development from PhD candidate in Chicago school of economics with strong believe in economic rationality, to financial trading executive discovering joy of doings difficult projects for its own sake, and all the way through wealthy early retirement and post retirement projects when life’s enjoyment is not linked to specific material purposes.

2 Two Realms of Human Behavior
Here author moves to detail his main thesis discussing meaning of “For-Self” motivation and significance of Authenticity. He also reviews relationship between realms of “Purposeful” and “For-Self”, including their interactions and inequality when default is usually set to “Purposeful”. Author also provides graphic representation of his idea:

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After that author proceeds to review in details all three parts of  “For-Self” domain, dedicating a Part of the book to each: believes, people, and time.

PART II Belief

3 Acting in Character
Here author discusses how people have infinite variety of believes and how they depend on individual character. He refers to philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce to discuss adoption of believes:

  1. A new belief X is consistent with the things one already knows.
  2. An authority to which one has committed says that X is so.
  3. X is the style of thing that one is inclined to believe. In Peirce’s words, X is “agreeable to reason.”
  4. A new belief X, when subjected to the scientific method, corresponds to data in the world.

After that author move to discuss consequences of acting based on believes, providing 2 interpretations for each one as Purposeful and another For-Self:

  1. Disregarding Expert Opinion
  2. Clinging to False Beliefs
  3. Favoring Experiential Knowledge
  4. Reacting to Extreme Unexpected Events

At the end of chapter author looks for practical implications in such area as stock picking.

4 Making Money in Financial Markets: Anatomy of a Leap
In this chapter author moves to area of his expertise – Financial Markets and first reviews Efficient Market Hypothesis, then two forms o investing: Institutional and Individual, and finally tells his individual business story with financing big and risky project Thanet.

5 For-itself Decision-Making within a Group
In this brief chapter author once again retells business story, this time with stress on reconciliation of his For-Self decision-making with other people, usually investors. Interestingly enough he even manages to link it to the Bible story of Joseph and Pharaoh.

PART III People
6 Altruism
Here author defines main categories of altruistic behavior and then looks in details at each one of them:

(1) selfish altruism, when an individual appears to subordinate his interests while actually promoting them;

(2) manners and ethics, when an individual observes social norms or adheres to established moral principles;

(3) care altruism, when one person cares directly about the well-being of another;

(4) mercy, when a person performs a sporadic altruistic act that defies rational explanation; and

(5) love altruism, which describes acts that transcend all preferences and do not stand in relation to them.

He also states that: “The purposeful choice model makes room for the first three types of altruism but not the last two.”

7 Public Policy
Author starts this chapter by applying Pareto efficiency to public policy. Then he moves to discuss moral dilemmas, including compulsory trolley problem and monetary value of human life.

PART IV Time
8 Changing Our Minds
This chapter is about choices across time, which includes planning and contradiction between current self that does planning and future self that suppose to implement it. Then author pontificate on planning horizon and discount of the futures.

9 Homo Economicus and Homo Ludens
The final chapter is about two different approaches: Homo Economicus and Homo Ludens, both of which drive human life. He also discusses freedom of choice, choice overload, need for meaningful challenges and consequently work. Finally, author suggest that economy should be changed to move away from Homo Economicus needs that becoming too easy to achieve in direction of Homo Ludens needs.

SUMMING UP Purposeful versus For-itself: A Peace Treaty

For summary author discusses behavior biases for rational choice or For-Itself, positive psychology, and provides updated graph of action drivers:

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MY TAKE ON IT:

Generally, I am in agreement with author’s point that economics fail to explain human conditions and actions and there is need to go far beyond it to what author calls “for-itself”. However, I believe that it is not possible for human to do anything that could be strictly divided into “purposeful and for-itself”. It is because human is rather complex entity, which is continuously in process of changing condition of need to satisfy multiple, often contradictory needs and wants created by the brain’s evaluation of physical, psychological, and environmental conditions both: existing and preferable. The variance causes action to move from existing to preferable, which is one and only purpose of any action whether it purposeful, selfish, altruistic, or whatever.  I wholeheartedly support all attempt to understand humans, but I am against all attempts to control them as long as they are not violent. My believe is that humans are best off if they are not controllable by others and have resources to achieve whatever they want to achieve.

 

20200510 – Narrative Economics

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MAIN IDEA:

Here is how author defines the main idea of this book:” A key proposition of this book is that economic fluctuations are substantially driven by contagion of oversimplified and easily transmitted variants of economic narratives. These ideas color people’s loose thinking and actions. As with disease epidemics, not everyone becomes infected. In the case of narrative epidemics, the people who miss the epidemic may tell you that there was no such important popular narrative.”

DETAILS:

Part I The Beginnings of Narrative Economics
Chapter 1 The Bitcoin Narratives
Author starts it with the statement that he presents a new theory of economic change that introduces new element: contagious popular stories as important factor defining economic behavior. In this chapter he presents example of such narrative: Bitcoin and then discusses its relation to bubbles, its philosophical link to Anarchism, elimination of inequality, and globalization via removing nation-state control over money supply.

Chapter 2 An Adventure in Consilience
In this chapter author looks at consilience as unity of knowledge and presents his idea that it could be build on the basis of narratives. To support this idea, he presents search results in publications from different areas of knowledge:

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Chapter 3 Contagion, Constellations, and Confluence
Here author states that economic narratives are pretty much similar to viruses and then looks at processes of contagion. Once again, he uses Bitcoin as example, comparing it with previous popular economic narrative of Bimetallism:

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He also discusses how multiple economic narratives interact and intertwine between themselves, creating environment that drives econonic events in one direction or another.

Chapter 4 Why Do Some Narratives Go Viral?
Here author looks at why narratives are so important and why anthropologists find them in all human societies, regardless of their levels of development. He also looks at the nature of narratives, discussing difference between story and narrative and then providing example with invention that had significant impact on economy – rolling suitcase and how it could not become viable for about 100 years after it was patented in 1887. It took glamourous aircrews of big airlines start using rolling suitcases for them going viral and becoming ubiquitous.

Chapter 5 The Laffer Curve and Rubik’s Cube Go Viral
In this chapter author looks at another two viral phenomenon, one economic -Laffer Curve, and another just toy – Rubik’s cube. Here is diagram of popularity search for Laffer:

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Chapter 6 Diverse Evidence on the Virality of Economic Narratives
Author starts this chapter by looking at underlying physiology of human brain related to stories and narratives. He then refers to philosophical writings to provide additional evidence that “going viral” is not a new thing, but rather natural condition of human existence that was around forever. Finally, he links it to various examples of impact of narratives on human behavior, including economic behavior. He also discusses heuristics that often define human behavior without any regard to formal logic and even, quite often, completely denying it.

Part II. The Foundations of Narrative Economics
Chapter 7 Causality and Constellations
Author starts this with note that just a few persons create new economic narrative and consequently cause big economic movement only if and when this narrative becomes accepted by many. Then author discusses direction of causality taking for example Friedman’s “Monetary history” and then reviewing the idea of “self-fulfilling prophecy”. Next stop is discussion of impact of random events on narrative including such events as anniversaries. Author also describes a number of experiments when intentional prompting caused change in behavior. The final part of the chapter is discussion of memory and impact of fake news that could cause real change of events.

Chapter 8 Seven Propositions of Narrative Economics
In this chapter author summarizes 7 propositions of narrative economics:

  1. Epidemics can be fast or slow, big or small. The timetable and magnitude of epidemics can vary widely.
  2. Important economic narratives may comprise a very small percentage of popular talk.
  3. Narratives may be rarely heard and still economically important. Narrative constellations have more impact than any one narrative. Constellations matter.
  4. The economic impact of narratives may change through time. Changing details matter as narratives evolve over time. Truth is not enough to stop false narratives.
  5. Truth matters, but only if it is in-your-face obvious.
  6. Contagion of economic narratives builds on opportunities for repetition. Reinforcement matters.
  7. Economic narratives thrive on human interest, identity, and patriotism. Human interest, identity, and patriotism matter.

Part III Perennial Economic Narratives
Chapter 9 Recurrence and Mutation
This chapter is about complex live of economic narratives, how they are created at some point and then move with time, sometimes moving into economic live and them disappearing in shadows, only later mutate and move back to live again. He provides a list of the biggest economic events in American history:

  • A depression from 1857 to 1859, followed by the secession of southern states in 1860–61 and the US Civil War (1861–65). The Civil War was the most lethal war in US history, responsible for more US fatalities than all other US wars combined.
  • A depression from 1873 to 1879 that led to the publication of the best-selling economics book of all time in the United States, Henry George’s Progress and Poverty (1879), which accused the unrestrained free-market system of producing worsening inequality.
  • A depression in the 1890s comprising two NBER contractions, 1893–94 and 1895–97. The extended depression, during which unemployment always exceeded 8%, ran from 1893 to 1899. This depression coincided with an aggressive phase in US history, with the United States launching the Spanish-American War and the Philippine War.
  • A series of three short contractions from 1907 to 1914, starting with the Panic of 1907, which ended only with the heroic advances made by J. P. Morgan and other bankers. These events led to the creation of the Federal Reserve System to prevent such banking crises in the future. These contractions were followed by World War I, which began in 1914.
  • A brief but extreme depression from 1920 to 1921 that included the sharpest deflation ever experienced in the United States.
  • The Great Depression after the 1929 stock market crash, which morphed into a worldwide depression. In the United States the extended depression ran from 1930 to 1941, with unemployment uniformly exceeding 8%. The Great Depression took its name from the 1934 Lionel Robbins book with that title. It comprised two NBER contractions, 1929–33 and 1937–38. The worldwide depression immediately preceded World War II.
  • A severe recession in 1973–75, associated with a war in the Middle East and an oil embargo. Economist Otto Eckstein called this period the “Great Recession” in his 1978 book with that title, inviting comparison with the Great Depression. z
  • A severe recession from 1980 to 1982, comprising two NBER contractions, a short contraction within the year 1980 and, soon after, another contraction 1981–82, associated with a war in the Middle East. At the time, this recession was called the “Great Recession,” again inviting comparisons with the Great Depression.
  • A severe recession from 2007 to 2009, also named the “Great Recession,” once again inviting comparisons with the Great Depression, and this time the name really went viral and has stuck to this day.

At the end of chapter author identifies 9 specific narratives that he specifically reviews in the next 9 chapters.

Chapter 10 Panic versus Confidence
Here author analyzes raise and fall of panic or levels of confidence using search for frequency of use words in contemporary publications:

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He then discusses crowd psychology which causes these movements and how they impact economy.

Chapter 11 Frugality versus Conspicuous Consumption
Here author discusses another somewhat polar narratives: frugality and need for saving that was prevalent before WWII and how it was substituted by the new narrative of “’American Dream” after WWII:

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Chapter 12 The Gold Standard versus Bimetallism
This chapter is about another pair of narratives, this time related to intrinsic value of money, which had 2 picks: one at the end of XIX century with “Cross of Gold” images and later narratives of XX century with Gold Standard as tool to limit government monetary excesses:

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Chapter 15 Real Estate Booms and Busts; Chapter 16 Stock Market Bubbles; Chapter 17 Boycotts, Profiteers, and Evil Business; Chapter 18 The Wage-Price Spiral and Evil Labor Unions;
These all are other long-living narratives, which author traces in similar ways through use of relative frequency of words in news and magazines. They all have intermediate ups and down when a narrative used to explain current events and then fades out when events change and some other narrative takes its place.

Part IV Advancing Narrative Economics
Chapter 19 Future Narratives Future Research
Here author discusses future and makes a number of important points about changes in future forms and circumstances of various narratives and anticipation of new technology changing contagion rates and recovery rates of future narratives. At the end he suggests how his approach should be used in future research and how incorporate narrative economics into general economic theory. He also suggests the great expansion of data collection efforts necessary for application of his ideas and specifies how it could be done:

  1. Regular focused interviews of respondents inviting them to talk expansively and tell stories in response to stimulus questions related to their economic decisions.
  2. Regular focus groups with members of different socioeconomic groups to elicit actual conversations about economic narratives.
  3. A historical database of focus groups conducted for other purposes in years past.
  4. Databases of sermons.
  5. Historical databases of personal letters and diaries, digitized and searchable.

 Finally author suggests to conduct tracking and quantifying narratives in order “to better understanding the patterns of human thinking about the forces that cause economies to boom at times and to stagnate at others, to go through creative times and backward times, to go through phases of compassion and phases of conspicuous consumption and self-promotion, to experience periods of rapid progress and periods of regression.”

MY TAKE ON IT:

I find this book very interesting and I think that author’s approach would be much more effective than quantitative approach to economics that dominated the last 60 years of this field development, consistently providing proves of its inability to predict future developments even for the next couple of quarters. Interestingly enough, this approach somewhat reminds me of Mises’ believe that economics is about human actions and as such is not really good place for mathematical approach based on analysis of global equilibrium and computer modeling. However, it would take tremendous change in thinking of economists on tenure that I do not think could possibly happen, unless tenure is substituted by rewards for correct predictions of future economic developments.

 

20200503 – Hive mind

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MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is that individual IQ scores have only marginal impact on individual prosperity, but IQ of a nation or hive, defined as average of its people, is much more important because it defines overall prosperity of the nation.

DETAILS:

Introduction: Paradox of IQ

The paradox author presents here is that countries which do better on various international scholastic tests have higher GDP, however inside countries high IQ does not correlate with high income at the same level. Here is how author summarizes reasons for this:

Author identifies 5 channels for IQ to pay more for nations than for individuals:

1. High-scoring people tend to save more, and some of that savings stays in their home country. More savings mean more machines, more computers, more technology to work with, which helps make everyone in the nation more productive.

  1. High-scoring groups tend to be more cooperative. And cooperation is a key ingredient for building higher-quality governments and more productive businesses.
  2. High-scoring groups are more likely to support market-oriented policies, a key to national prosperity. People who do well on standardized tests also tend to be better at remembering information, and informed voters are an important ingredient for good government.
  3. High-scoring groups will tend to be more successful at using highly productive team-based technology. With these “weakest link” technologies, one misstep can destroy the product’s value, so getting high-quality workers together is crucial. Think about computer chips, summer blockbuster films, corporate mega-mergers.
  4. The human tendency to conform, at least a little, creates a fifth channel that multiplies the effect of the other four: the imitation channel, the peer effect channel. Even a small tendency to conform, to act just a little bit like those around us, to try to fit in, tends to quietly shape our behavior. If you have cooperative, patient, well-informed neighbors, that probably makes you a bit more cooperative, patient, and well-informed.”
  5. Just a Test Score?

Here author looks at IQ tests as tool for intelligence measurement and points out that high scores in one area predicts skills in other. Then he discusses diverse methods of measuring cognitive skills and provides some research result for impact:” The payoff to a high IQ appears moderate. Those with IQs in the top 10 percent earned about 60 percent more than those in the bottom 10 percent.” Another research demonstrates that this impact did not change that much for 100 years. Finally, author discusses Emotional IQ noting that:” Better average social skills are typically just another benefit of having a higher IQ score, and since the economy is a social system, those social skills may prove important in explaining why higher-scoring nations tend to be more productive.”

  1. A da Vinci Effect for Nations

Here author extends the idea if consistent levels of IQ across different areas to Nations. First, he discusses ecological validity of tests. Then author moves to discuss main source of nations IQ – work of psychologist Richard Lynn and political scientist Tatu Vanhanen. Here is relevant graph:Capture1

  1. James Flynn and the Quest to Raise Global IQ
    This chapter is about Flynn effect of IQ raising over time. Author discusses racial implications, politically correct suppression of research, impact of nutrition, health, education, and surrounding people on IQ not only of individuals, but also groups and nations.
  2. Will the Intelligent Inherit the Earth?
    Here author moves to various experiments with delayed gratification and idea that smarter people are more patient. Author reviews various research results and financial results for savings rates and debts.
  3. Smarter Groups Are More Cooperative
    This chapter looks at another very important area of human activity: cooperation. Once again research demonstrates correlation: smarter people are not only more patient, but are also better at mind reading to predict results of cooperation or lack thereof. To analyze this at the group level author looks at data from schools with high average SAT scores adn low, finding that students in former are more cooperative than in latter.
  4. Patience and Cooperation as Ingredients for Good Politics
    Author starts this chapter with discussion of cooperation, providing example of informal truce during WWI. Then he moves to politics defining it as kind of recurring prisoners dilemma and linking it to institutions: “I contend that economic institutions—property rights, legal systems, political regimes—are often a collection of just the kinds of games for which higher average IQ pays off, games that are played day in and day out by judges, bureaucrats, politicians, and citizens.” . Author then brings in Coase Theorem: “If it’s easy for two or more parties to bargain with each other, they can bargain to an efficient, win-win outcome regardless of which party has the most power going in to the negotiation.” The final part of the chapter is about government and corruption as measured by the corruption perception index. Author makes an interesting point about IQ and corruption: “Average IQ predicts lower corruption across countries. Additional research that Potrafke and I collaborated on showed that both national average IQ and national math and science test scores do a robust job of predicting a nation’s degree of overall property rights enforcement.14 And University of Johannesburg economist Isaac Kalonda Kanyama found a moderate to strong relationship between national average IQ and yet another set of institutional quality indices created by the World Bank.15 In nations with higher average test scores, politicians tend to respect people’s property, government bureaucracies allow people and businesses to buy and sell with less interference, and bribery is less a part of daily life. In nations with higher average test scores, the government is more likely to let people and businesses find their Coasian bargains peacefully.”
  5. Informed Voters and the Question of Epistocracy
    This chapter starts with example of gap between experts and population using issue of dosage. Then he moves to discuss uninformed voters as result of low numeracy and literacy of population. It is linked to IQ with high IQ voters being better informed, more active, and generally having different attitudes, usually more pro-market. Author also discusses here formation of political opinion via social pressure and information manipulation. On Epistocracy author brings in a paradox of democracy: expansion of franchise brings in low IQ masses that vote incorrectly from the point of view of high IQ elite. He ends with this: “As an economist I will make this forecast: if a nation can find an effective way to raise the information level of its voters, it will probably become more market-oriented, more socially tolerant, and more prosperous in the long run.”
  6. The O-Ring Theory of Teams
    O-ring is reference to the piece of Shuttle equipment that failed causing catastrophe. Author uses this example to discuss that any system is as reliable as its least reliable subsystem. Author then expands this analogy to teams with good and bad workers and posits the question: If high IQ team is more productive, why individual IQ does not provide higher returns.
  7. The Endless Quest for Substitutes and the Economic Benefits of Immigration
    Here author provides his solution to paradox: in high average IQ team even low IQ individuals much more productive than they would be on low average IQ team. This become foundation of author’s discussion on immigration. His claim is that low IQ and culturally different immigrants are becoming much more productive in high IQ team, consequently benefiting everybody. He then discusses impact of such immigration including on the political system of the new country.
  8. Poem and Conclusion
    In the last chapter author become a bit poetic. Then he refers to research about top 5-10% of population with higher level of cognitive skills and whether they have disproportional impact on prosperity of the nation overall. The final inference is that individual IQ does not matter as much as overall levels of cognitive abilities and skills and politics should be directed to support their development. Author also expresses hope that Flynn effect would have global impact raising prosperity of currently lower-scoring countries.

MY TAKE ON IT:

I think that author’s attention and concentration on average IQ of the nation is somewhat strange because it does not exist. As many other thing that social “science” attempts to analyze, it is just an abstraction. IQ and other characteristics are characteristic of individual humans and sould not be applied to abstraction because it prevents clear analysis. What does matter is culture, expressed as a set of views and opinions in minds of majority of people regardless of their IQ. Average American regardless of IQ is culturally conditioned to believe that he/she is entitled to freedom of action in hope to obtain good returns if this action successful in satisfying needs of others who would pay. Whoever is the leader of the nation at the moment can help or hamper to this action, but not really define outcome. The flow of wealth is going from the bottom up with most of it supposed to stay at the bottom. Average Russian, also regardless of IQ, culturally conditioned to believe that decisive impact on his/her well being comes from whoever is the great leader, who now makes decisions and directs collective effort in creation of wealth, which them distributed down according to individuals’ position in society. Consequently, individual effort should be directed to improvement of position within society rather than to creation of wealth. IQ, either individual or national, hardly has much impact on wealth creation by overall society in either case.

 

Actually, table of cognitive abilities and IQ results by country nicely demonstrates my point. Both CA and IQ of Ukraine and Israel are exactly the same 93 and 95. Moreover the population of Israel to high extent came from Ukraine between 1880 and 2000, the last wave (10% of Israel population) coming after 1990. Israel’s GDP per capita is $42,452, while Ukraine $2,536, that is nearly 20 times difference. It is all despite Ukraine having large territory with the best agricultural land in the Europe, close to the rich EU countries, and vast industrial base built during Russian Empire and expanded by USSR. It is also mainly at peace, except for low scale conflict with Russia, which does not threaten its existence. Israel has miniature territory, is surrounded by enemies who seek its complete destruction and annihilation of its population, constantly suffers from terrorist attacks, constantly under political attack from United Nations, constantly under attack from anti-Semitic intelligentsia of nearly all countries. And, since national CA or IQ cannot explain this different in performance, something else should. Whether such explanation would be based on high individual IQ of Ashkenazi Jews that represent some 25% of population, or overall mix of Jewish cultures from all around the world that formed Israeli culture, or quality of air and water, it would be an interesting thing to explore.

 

20200426 – Great Society

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MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is to review and retell history of American “Great Society” that was supposed to end poverty and instead turned into nothing else than huge expense on bureaucracy and handouts, often resulting in increased misery of poor. Here is how author defines her objectives: “For today, the contest between capitalism and socialism is on again. Markets do promise strong growth; we do live in a creative society, the most creative in the world, creative enough to lift the nation to new heights. Yet new, progressive proposals bearing a strong resemblance to those of Michael Harrington’s and his peers’, from redistribution via taxation to student debt relief to a universal guaranteed income, are sought yet again. Once again, many Americans rate socialism as the generous philosophy. But the results of our socialism were not generous. May this book serve as a cautionary tale of lovable people who, despite themselves, hurt those they loved. Nothing is new. It is just forgotten.”

DETAILS:

Introduction: The Clash

Author starts with the story of Michel Harrington – socialist and author of the book about poverty “The Other America”, which prompted this discussion among American upper classes of politicians, bureaucrats, and intelligentsia. Author briefly describes how this discussion turned into political action resulting in massive expense on variety of government programs that often ended in complete failure.

New Frontier

  1. The Bonanza (1960-1962)

This chapters starts with discussion of very popular TV series “Bonanza”, which author characterizes as one of attempts to answer to the key question of early 1960s: What to do with the newly found huge American wealth? Author briefly describes some key points of the New Deal, which seemingly established harmony between big government, big corporations, and big labor. Then she looks behind the façade at fight between corporations vs. unions vs. government and individuals who were involved at the highest levels. Author specifically looks at GE, which leaders Lemuel Boulware, Ralph Cordiner, and Charlie Wilson strongly rejected socialist ideas, supported capitalism, and later got Ronald Reagan involved in their effort, creating popular GE theater. Government responded by Justice department investigations and via its TVA administration attack against Reagan. Unions initiated strikes. It all ended with defeat for GE after massive intervention of Kennedy administration. It also killed Reagan GE theater and pretty much ended active ideological support of capitalism by big corporations

  1. Port Huron (1962)

This chapter is about famous student statement. It turned out that it was not some spontaneous expression of students’ feelings and ideas, but union organized and financed political action. The organizer was UAW boss Walter Reuther. Author retells history of his life, including his work in USSR after which he came out as convinced anti-communist, while retaining his believes a socialist. Then she moves to Tom Hayden, other personalities, discussions, and final result – Port Huron Statement was directed against military, supported unions, and three of Roosevelt’s four freedoms, missing freedom of worship. It also spawned SDS organization. After that author moves to relationship between Reuther and unions with Kennedy and then Johnson administrations.

Great Society

  1. Great Society (May 1964)

This chapters starts with campaign of 1964 when Johnson and media succeeded in turning Goldwater into warmonger, while preparing huge expansion of government that was supposed to raise society to the new heights. This would be massive expansion of New Deal that democrats failed to achieve before.  Author describes Johnson’s legislative success and a few failures, such as inability to eliminate “right to work” at federal level.

  1. Revolt of the Mayors (January 1965)

Here author describes struggle between local, state and federal powers using example of LA democratic mayor Sam Yorty. The struggle was about many issues, not last of them civil rights. The problem was that federal government dealt with abstractions when forcing all to be equal is always good, while mayors dealt with realities when middle class neighborhoods like Watts were turning unlivable, so middle class evacuated in mass. Author looks at multiple programs imposed on cities by federal government and analyses their consequences, including Watts riots.

  1. Creative Society (August 1965 – January 1966)

This starts with NASA and its achievements, then moves to the story of Intel and birth of Silicone Valley prompted by equity compensation in startup high tech businesses. Then author returns to politics of the period: attempts to declare welfare as property, civil rights, and right to work fights.

  1. Interlude: Looking for Socialism (September 1965 – January 1966)

Here author describes Tom Hayden’s unsuccessful attempt to initiate viable political movement for socialism. At the time American attention turned to Vietnam war, which prompted powerful political movement against it that leftists pretty much took over. They revived communist propaganda similar to “I saw the future and it works”, promoting beauty of totalitarianism in Soviet Union, China, Cuba, Vietnam, and elsewhere. Author describes travels of Hayden and others to North Vietnam that was celebrated by American intelligentsia, rather than punished as support for the enemy.

  1. Housing Society (January 1966 to July 1967)

This chapter looks at HUD and massive housing programs that were supposed substitute old poorly regulated housing created by independent efforts over long period of time with government planned state of the art, well regulated and controlled projects that would force on poor much better quality of life than they could produce themselves. Author describes political and legal actions that extended eminent domain beyond any conceivable limit and for all practical purposed deprived poor of what little residential property they had, substituting it with a place in government owned hosing with lots of strings attached. Author describes these strings and impact they had on destruction of family and overall way of live. Author also describes war against landlords, which led to elimination of any incentive for private investment into housing for poor and implementation of complete bureaucratic control.

  1. Guns Butter and Gold (Thanksgiving 1967 to March 1968)

This chapter starts with discussion of gold and its link to dollar that was still valid at the time per Bretton Woods agreements. Johnson administration profligate spending led to gold outflow from USA. Author describes attempts to increase gold mining. It follows by the look at relationship with UK. Author also reviews multiple additional crises: political between Johnson and Kennedy clan, scary pronouncement of environmentalists that were gaining popular support, Tet offensive in Vietnam, legislative failures, and finally primaries challenge. All this together led to Johnson dropping out from running for the second full term.

  1. Reuther and the Intruder (August 1968 to December 1968)

This starts with description of arrival of small foreign cars like Toyota and Volkswagen that were destined to undermine both American big automakers and their symbiotic partner – UAW. Author retells story of 1968 elections, internal struggle within democratic party, and actions of UAW boss Reuter.

Abundant Society

  1. Moynihan Agonistes (1969 to 1970)

This chapter starts with discussion of unusual for liberal academic action: Moynihan joining Nixon administration.  Then author reviews events of this period somewhat via Moynihan eyes. Nixon’s cooperation with reasonable left reached the point when he supported and even tried to promote guaranteed income. However, since it would eliminate welfare system, depriving its constituents of cash flow, the proposal failed. Author also deviates a bit into history of welfare ideas all the way to Engels, Webb, and Roosevelt to demonstrate how these ideas developed in the Anglo-American world. Author describes how practically all political powers left and right rejected the idea of family assistance and how other events related to Vietnam led to complete disruption between intelligentsia and Nixon administration. The chapter ends with description of two symbolic events marking the end of era: Moynihan resignation and death of UAW boss Reuther.

  1. The Governor of California (1970)

This chapter pretty much describes initiation of the new movement, which was pretty much against direction to increase welfare and government power. It starts with description of fight against integration of all LA schools ordered by judge and discussion of popular legal doctrine of welfare being property of its recipients. Author then demonstrates how it prompted growth of Reagan’s political career. Reagan strongly rejected both ideas because LA school integration would require busing, which was huge burden on middle class kids and parents. Author then describes a number of political fights in California that made Reagan a national political figure of serious statute.

  1. Scarcity: Burns Agonistes (1971)

This chapter starts with the story of residual payments for actors that Reagan achieved when he was the union leader, which become less and less valuable with inflation. The author then moves to discussion of inflation and overall economic decline that become evident in early 1970s practically destroying the very idea of affordability of massive welfare state. Author discusses details of interplay between FED chairman Burns and Treasury’s Connally who tried stopping inflation and save economy with price and wage control, closing gold window, and using other measures, but were not that successful.

Coda: Demolition in St. Louis (March 1972)

This ends book on symbolic note of demolition of Pruitt-Igoe – one of the most visible and expensive projects of welfare state. More than anything else it demonstrated that human beings, even very poor, are not subject to easy control by bureaucratic machinery, at least in democratic country were, one way or another, they manage to avoid such control.

MY TAKE ON IT:

This is an interesting take on history written with typical American attitude of believe that politicians and bureaucrats had initiated welfare state, promoted, and continue promoting it because they want the best for poor. The problem is that they choose erroneous method to do it and that is why it continuously fails and quite miserably at that.

I think it is very naive view that impedes resolution of the problem. I like the expression that I read once about Roosevelt’s brain trust and other enthusiastic promoters of big government solution in 1930s: “They come to do good and did well”. I think that regardless what such people think when they start as politicians or bureaucrats, “do well” is the real engine of their effort, and key here is “do well” at the expense of productive people misleading them into believe that it is done to achieve fairness for all. The programs, projects, justifications, and promotions change but lust for power and wealth via control over government machinery of coercion is constant. Therefore, no effort to have reasonable and limited welfare programs could possibly be successful until this obvious fact of lust for power is internalized by majority and countermeasures decidedly applied.

These countermeasures should make it an impossibility to gain wealth and power over others via political or bureaucratic career, which could be achieved only by making all senior political and bureaucratic position temporary with prohibition to any conceivable cashing in upon the end of such career. In short people should obtain their wealth in public sector before embarking on political bureaucratic career or forever forfeit hope to be much wealthier than average.

20200419 – The Tyranny of Experts

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MAIN IDEA:

Here is how author defines his main idea: “The technocratic illusion is that poverty results from a shortage of expertise, whereas poverty is really about a shortage of rights. The emphasis on the problem of expertise makes the problem of rights worse. The technical problems of the poor (and the absence of technical solutions for those problems) are a symptom of poverty, not a cause of poverty. This book argues that the cause of poverty is the absence of political and economic rights, the absence of a free political and economic system that would find the technical solutions to the poor’s problems. The dictator whom the experts expect will accomplish the technical fixes to technical problems is not the solution; he is the problem.”

DETAILS:

PART ONE: THE DEBATE THAT NEVER HAPPENED
Chapter One: Introduction
Author starts this with imagining routine, for developing countries, application of government power to move farmers from their village to another place happening in Ohio. Then he stresses that such raw and cruel power application in developing world would occur under direction of Western technocratic elite, which finds it inconceivable in their own countries. Then author presents his claim that technocratic approach of forcing people to do “right things”, whatever it is, is not working regardless of how much money provided as “help” to support it. Author also discusses in this introduction what he wants to achieve with this book, anticipating accusations that he expects to be pointed at him, and provides a detailed list of what this book is not about.

Chapter Two: Two Nobel Laureates and the Debate They Never Had
The laureates here are Gunnar Myrdal – promoter of soft authoritarianism with socialist central planning and Friedrich von Hayek – promoter of freedom, not only as value of and in itself, but also as source of economic prosperity.

Author then discusses debates that representatives of these two polar views should have, but never did:

  • Debate on the Blank slate versus Learning from History
  • Debate on the Well-Being of Nations versus that of Individuals
  • Debate on Conscious versus Spontaneous Solutions

Finally, author states that Authoritarian point of view obtained practically unanimous support of intelligentsia, while its supporters, especially Myrdal understood that large scale planning does not work neither logically nor practically. So the only way to promote it is to avoid debates at any cost.

PART Two: WHY THE DEBATE NEVER HAPPENED-THE REAL HISTORY OF THE DEVELOPMENT IDEA
Author starts here from referring to Truman’s initiative to start foreign aid in 1949, which is considered the starting point of the process and then reject this idea and demonstrates that it had its roots in colonialism and locates its formative years between 1919 and 1949. This part reviews the development and implementation of Authoritarian, expert led development idea in three areas: China, Africa, and Colombia.

Chapter Three: Once Upon a Time in China
Author start this chapter with introduction of two economists: Condliffe, who supported free development and H.D. Fong who supported authoritarian model. Then he analyses role of racism, which was widely accepted among western intellectuals, who believed that people of “inferior” races could not develop their countries without external direction and control. Author also discusses consequences of Versailles treaty and its system of mandates. Author then moves to discuss development in China where revolution brought to power socialist Sun Yat-sen who fully supported idea of authoritarian development. Author then reviews role of American experts who brought in money from Rockefeller foundation and network from YMCA. He also looks at creation of the Institute of Pacific Relations (IPR) under leadership of H.D. Fong that start looking for development projects in China to implement authoritarian model. Author also discusses attempts to promote democratic development by Condliffe and Yuan-li Wu, which were not successful. All this ended, however, with communist takeover of China in 1948.

Chapter Four: Race, War, and the Fate of Africa
This is the story of another not very successful attempt of expert led development, this time in Africa under leadership of Lord Hailey. This one was driven by idea to save British colonies in Africa by preventing race war that was brewing from the mid of the century. There is interesting narrative here about contradictions between British and Americans when British blamed Americans for racism, while American could not stand even idea of Empire. Author then briefly discusses how out of all this was born African nationalism with strong authoritarian tendencies. As representative type author uses Kwame Nkrumah.

Chapter Five: One Day in Bogotá
This chapter moves to Latin America to trace development of Authoritarian, expert driven development in Colombia. Author starts with two events of April 9 1948: selection of Colombia as test case of development by World Bank and assassination of popular leader Jorge Caitain, which triggered long period of massive violence. Author also trace development US attitudes to Latin America during this period.

PART THREE: THE BLANK SLATE VERSUS LEARNING FROM HISTORY
This part starts with the story of Bill Gates claiming achievement of dramatic improvements in fighting child mortality in Ethiopia. Author looks at this in details and finds that it is pretty much result of poor statistics, which does not allow any serious analysis of results. Author evaluates this as example of “Blank Slate” attitude when experts believe they can apply technical solution to the country without any accommodation of its specifics such as history and cultural values.

Chapter Six Values: The Long Struggle for Individual Rights
Here author looks at history of emergence of individual values and consequently democracy. He tells the story of fight between Emperor Barbarossa (1154) against cities in Italy some of which were able to retain their rights and some were conquered. This difference in history is still shows now in prosperity levels of these places. Author then discusses collectivist values, which always are values of rulers and aristocracy versus individualist values, which lead to the freedom. He traces how individualistic values moved after expansion of trade. First from Mediterranean to Atlantic: from Italian cities to Dutch and British, and then to America. Author also analyses different effects of autocracy vs. democracy on values and how it impacts behavior. He specifically looks at case of Asian type of collectivist values, using the story of British man of Chinese origin Henry Lee who became Lee Kuan Yew – the Singapore autocrat who established seemingly very successful form of political autocracy combined with business freedom. Here author provides an interesting analysis of trust between people in different societies:

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At the end of chapter author contemplates on individual rights and values being an end in itself and then discusses findings of research on what poor really want, which turned out pretty much the same that rich and definitely includes freedom. He then points out that tradeoff between freedom and autocrat led prosperity is often illusionary and burden of prove is on experts who promote such tradeoffs.

Chapter Seven Institutions: We Oppress Them If We Can
Here author discusses oppressive institutions, which experts usually support, claiming that forcing people into some kind of behavior or organizational structure they do not want, leads to quick material improvement. Author looks at few case studies that demonstrate that cost of oppression is high, while benefits are dubious or non-existent. Author provides a very interesting data based on history of African tribes that either were victims of slave trade or avoided this, demonstrating that history of oppression carries long lasting damage to culture and attitudes, making it much more difficult to prosper. Interestingly enough, it relates not only to oppressed, but also to oppressors.

Chapter Eight: The Majority Dream
Here author looks at two places: New York and Colombia. Both places started as colonies with slavery. Author traces one street block in New York – Greene Street, who owned this place, how they lived, and what they did. He traces how this place initially was owned by aristocratic family of Bayard whose economic power was based on slavery and sugar plantations back when New York was New Amsterdam. However, by 1780s they lost this property due to changes in economy and mass influx of immigrants, opening it to succession of businessmen whose well being was based on prosperous free economy. Author briefly retells history of Erie canal that made New York into huge hub for trade between American plains with their agricultural production and Europe with its advance manufacturing. Author also traces economic development of refugees Sephardic Jewish family Seixas, who prospered for centuries in this place and still do.  Finally, author looks at change in infant mortality and how democracy positively impact this parameter.

PART FOUR: NATIONS VERSUS INDIVIDUALS
This starts with interesting example of how differently could be perceived the same fact by people with authoritarian and collectivistic mindset from individualistic. The fact is migration of professionals, in this case doctors from poor countries to USA. From authoritarian point of view: “America is Stealing the World’s Doctors”, indicating attitude that doctors are less than human, rather kind of commodity produced by the “World” so their migration is equivalent to “America is Stealing” this commodity. From individualistic point of view doctors are human and if they decide that America is better place for them to live and work, then it is just indication that America has better society, at least for doctors. Author also makes important point that authoritarian attitude treats individuals from different countries differently – nobody would even think to say that prominent American doctor was stolen by Africa if he would move there from USA.

Chapter Nine: Homes or Prisons? Nations and Migrations
This chapter is about migration between countries and nationalism. Author’s position is that migrants from poor authoritarian countries to rich and democratic West reduce overall poverty in the world, expand protection of individual rights, send money back home in excess of any official help to their countries and do other nice things. Author also discuss limits and negatives of nationalism.

Chapter Ten: How Much Do Nations Matter?
Here author discusses impact of national policies on economic development- research project that he worked on at the beginning of his career. The point is that it does have significant impact in extreme cases, but generally within limits of normalcy such impact is only marginal. Generally, it is more function of luck and circumstances, so except for periodic good or bad exceptions, the condition of nation is pretty stable. This brings author to discussion of measurement of these conditions and their changes, noise vs. signal, measurement errors, and such. Here is author’s overall conclusion: “In the debate on the prerogatives of nations versus the rights of individuals, the case for the former depended on development that happened mainly at the national level. Yet nations do not matter for development as much as the development community says they do. When they do matter, it is sometimes in a bad way, as we have just seen with Aleppo disease and trade-destroying borders. The worship of national growth success has often led to giving the national state more powers to pursue this success. The extreme emphasis on national growth performance is misguided, for it shows little evidence of paying off—or even of any way to know whether the national strategy really is paying off or not, according to questionably measured growth rates. The casualties as usual are the individual rights suppressed in the name of the nation’s collective pursuit of success.”

PART FIVE: CONSCIOUS DESIGN VERSUS SPONTANEOUS SOLUTIONS
Chapter Eleven Markets: The Association of Problem-Solvers

Here author presents an opposite way of thinking of contemporary high-level bureaucrats such as president of world bank versus thinking of Adam Smith and other supporters of freedom. Author discusses Smith’s approach as “Problem-Solving System” that includes such parts as division of labor, gains from trade, gains from specialization, and other features of free market. However, author stresses that it would be mistake to look at it as market vs. government problem. It is rather about individual rights vs. state power. Here is author’s formulation:” We have now reached another crucial moment in the argument of this book. The technocratic approach—solutions by experts—arguably gives us the worst of all worlds. Having experts in charge of solving society’s problems turns things over to agents who face neither a market test nor a democratic test. If they get the knowledge (including localized feedback) wrong, they suffer neither economic nor political penalties. If their solutions should happen to work, they get neither economic nor political rewards. So, there is nothing to spur them on to scaling up successes any more than there is anything to motivate them to kill off failures. The Invisible Hand spurs development through the virtuous circle of specialization, learning by doing, and gains from trade. The Invisible Hand guides nonexperts to something they are good at doing. They start selling it, and they get even better at it thanks to learning by doing. Trade allows them to keep increasing the scale of the virtuous circle, selling more and more, learning to do it better and better, till they take the world market by storm.”

Chapter Twelve Technology: How to Succeed Without Knowing How
Here author presents his point of view on what causes economic development and concludes that it is technology. Technology is another spontaneous order and author looks in details at multiple examples of its development, stressing that it is not really subject to planning or even knowledge of where its development will move, so there is no place here for government direction.

Chapter Thirteen Leaders: How We Are Seduced by Benevolent Autocrats
In this chapter author reviews so called autocratic miracles like Singapore and provides evidence that it is not as good as advertised.  Author presents two potential reasons for autocratic success:” The first and stronger variant is simply that autocrats are better than democrats for development (by development in this context we usually mean “rapid economic growth”). The second, weaker variant is that the best autocratic leaders are better for growth than the best democratic leaders, while conceding that the worst autocrats are worse for growth than the worst democrats.” The he proceeds to reject both of them using factual data and parables.

Chapter Fourteen: Conclusion

In conclusion author summaries the ideas of this book based on various stories told in previous chapters, making the point that use of government power to achieve progress generally fails like it did in Ethiopia and Uganda, while uncontrolled natural development generally succeeds as it did on Green Street.

MY TAKE ON IT:

I seldom agree with anybody to such extent as with this author. For me it is obvious that relationship between people, whether as equals with voluntary exchange and cooperation, or as superior and inferior with top down control, define economic success or failure, and generate prosperity or misery. The one important thing I think author did not pay enough attention to is parasitic character of all authoritarian regimes. The typical policy of authoritarian regime in a country with successful economy is to control whatever limited freedom it allows to its productive population, while continuously transferring wealth to themselves. In most important case such as China, which is now trying present itself as viable and even superior alternative to democratic fee market system, this parasitic character expressed by using cheap labor and unlimited power of regime to ignore environment, health, and freedoms of its own population in order to obtain investment and technological transfers from Western hosts. This was successful for a few decades with great help of western elite, which become rich from such transfer. However, at some point, and such point seems to be achieved, population in host democratic countries would recognize that such parasitic transfer has very strong negative impact on their well-being, leading to disconnect between them and autocratic parasite. It is quite possible that we already observing such disconnect expressed by raise op populist powers and resentment against both parasitic allies: foreign autocracies and domestic elite.

 

20200412 – Transaction Man

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MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is to review the last 100 years of economic thought and actions and demonstrate how they all, after quite a bit of hype, proved to be deficient and failed to produce what is badly needed: reliable, workable, and implementable economic and political organization of society that would meet requirement of the people for good system. Probably the most important point author makes is idea of revival of Arthur Bentley’s ideas about group interest in pluralistic societies.

 

DETAILS:

Prologue

This starts with the note that our world is very fragile and something that seemingly rock solid could be dissolved by the event in the blink of an eye. As illustration author retells the story of typical auto dealership that was created and ran by quite typical American middle-class family for decades and then was destroyed by financial crises of 2008-9. Author presents it as a example of process that he investigates in this book: “the history of our move from an institution-oriented to a transaction-oriented society.” Author also looks at raise and fall of transactional society and discuss future that he believes will be based on networking

  1. Institution Man

Here author starts at the beginning of XX century when Institutional Man came into existence and then dominance. Author uses story of Adolf Berle to present ideas of institutions and institutional man that Berle developed. These ideas were pretty much in synch with New Deal and Berle presented them in a book:” The Modern Corporation and Private Property, which had two central arguments: first, that a relatively small number of corporations had rapidly come to dominate the American economy, and second, that because these corporations had so many shareholders (the biggest one, American Telephone and Telegraph, had more than half a million), they represented a historically new kind of economic institution that was not under the control of its owners. “. Consequently, these institutions in conjunction with institutions of government that would maintain leading role, should substitute private property and free market as economic foundation of society. Berle become one of the closest advisors of FDR and author describes this relationship and how it impacted American development in details. Berle died in 1971 just before all powerful corporations led by all-knowing government brought in near destruction of American economy via stagflation.

  1. The Time of Institutions
    This chapter moves to the next two important thinkers on economy and society: Drucker and Polanyi. Author describes Drucker’s work with GM and its struggle with Unions, Dealers, and Customers. Here author links this with initial story of auto dealership in Chicago Lawn and how it started moving from prosperous suburb of Middle America of 1950 down the hill. Author also includes into discussion financial institution – Morgan Stanley, which become key player in investment market of public offerings with shares ownership distributed to such extent that Drucker in 1976 published book” called The Unseen Revolution, in which he announced, with typical flair, that the United States was the first truly socialist country in world history. That was because the workers now owned the means of production through their union and company pension funds’ new role in the stock and bond markets.”
  2. Transaction Man
    Here author presents the next thinker – transaction man Mike Jensen, economist who in 1976 in his book ”The Theory of the Firm” started promoting idea of efficient markets, heavy computerization and mathematization of trading, combined with multitude of new financial tools: “ the derivatives markets—options, futures, index funds, swaps, mortgage-backed securities; anything that could be assembled out of existing financial instruments and then priced, packaged, and traded—had gone from being insignificantly small to producing billions of dollars in activity every year, far more than the traditional stock and bond markets.” One of the most important key ideas was recognition of agent – principal problem and corresponding attempt to remove it by getting management wellbeing directly linked to the Firm’s performance. One of effects of these ideas was boom in leveraged buyouts in 1980s. Author also describes debates between this approach and newly developed behavioral economics of 1990s. The chapter also closely traces personal and professional live of Jensen.
  3. The Time of Transactions: Rising
    Here author moves away from theory and personalities of theorist to practical history of Morgan Stanley and raise of financial industry.
  4. The Time of Transactions: Falling
    Here author moves to the fall of Morgan Stanley, starting with the story of dramatic expansion of mortgages, especially substandard, and linking it back to Chicago lawns, auto dealership, and Obama’s bailout.
  5. Network Man
    In this final chapter author moves beyond financial crises to the new network and Social media environment. He briefly retells the story of Silicon Valley and present his final hero – founder and CEO of LinkedIn Reid Hoffman. Author uses this ultimate networking company as example of emerging new economy and Hoffman’s attitudes and actions as representative for the new economic relations. Author also discusses Hoffman political views and hate of Trump and everything Trump represents.

Afterword: An Attempt to Use a Tool

Here author concisely repeat his review of century of economic thought and action development and bring another personage: Arthur Bentley and his work on “role of business in politics and of politics in the economy.” The main point in his work was to switch analysis from broad classes to much more local and limited interest groups and seek reorganization on the basis of some process of reconciliation of interests, while maintaining pluralistic character of society.

 

At the end author summarizes the book this way: “What all the major thinkers in this book had in common was an intolerance for organizing the country, in particular the economy, around a never-ending political struggle among non-gigantic interest groups. This meant that in each case, they upheld a pure and alluring idea that was supposed to transcend the inherent contention and untidiness of life in a democracy. Adolf Berle wanted to put the corporation under government’s dominion. He had in mind a two-player game that would begin in conflict but mature into tranquility. Michael Jensen dreamed of a society built around the discipline imposed by markets. The corporation-based American welfare state that Berle helped create was a casualty of the rise of transactions as our governing economic principle. A transaction-based society is anti-pluralist by definition because it lets decisions rest entirely with markets that move instantaneously, and it disempowers groups that aim to attain their goals through political means. Reid Hoffman’s idea of a technologically enabled, network-based society has brought with it a pluralist-sounding rhetoric about distributing power, giving voice to the voiceless, and enabling political organizing. This stands in contrast to the new economic and political world that the Internet-based networks have created thus far, which looks awfully similar to the world made by the railroads and oil companies and electric utilities in their early days of bigness. Pluralism requires institutions that will enact and maintain democratic ideals. A network society promotes a form of pluralism that is virtual and institution-free. That is impossible. Our notional turn away from institutions doesn’t mean that institutions no longer exist. People are social; they naturally form themselves into groups. The more established groups become institutions, and the less established try to influence institutions; and institutions constantly struggle for advantage against one another. To remove institutions from the tableau of how society is supposed to work is, inevitably, merely to allow the powerful institutions to become more powerful and the more vulnerable ones to weaken. This has happened in almost every area of American life. Deregulation produced the greatest concentration of financial power in American history, in six big companies. The advent of the supposedly power-distributing Internet produced the five big companies that now dominate technology. Understanding institutions as necessary is the only real protection against a few institutions becoming too powerful. The great project of organizing economic life so as to give most people a sense of security, belonging, and hope is still an urgent one. The economy we have now is not doing a good job of generating social trust, political calm, or widely shared prosperity. Instead, it has produced a series of terrifying economic shocks that have given rise to equally terrifying political upheavals fueled by voters who feel so ignored and angry that they are willing to blow up the system just to see what happens. The solution to this problem surely will not entail returning to some fondly remembered arrangement from the past. History moves in only one direction, forward. But the tool that Arthur Bentley attempted to fashion, with its insistence on understanding the world in terms of a ceaseless but often productive contention between groups, where the best outcomes are complicated and inclusive bargains, provides useful guidance. Using it properly entails understanding that most people, even people who think of themselves as cosmopolitan, even in the age of globalization and the Internet, live parochial lives. They are neither atomized individuals nor part of a great undifferentiated mass of the public. What’s in front of them are the groups they belong to and the institutions they can see and touch: the schools that educate their children, their local governments, the places where they pray, their trade associations, their ethnic organizations, their political movements. Those are their means of protecting themselves, of improving their condition, of addressing their needs as they define them. Reaching people, doing right by people, building the next good society means using these institutions. Not transactions. Not big ideas.”

MY TAKE ON IT:

I think that it is generally good interpretation of history and economic thought. I would agree that so far none of attempts was successful in providing theoretical guidance for building better system. I also support ideas of pluralism, but I would not limit it to the group level, even small groups. I think all analysis should eventually go to the level of individuals. The group level would probably be sufficient a while ago when groups to high extent were defined by locality and commonality of personal features and therefore remained relatively stable. It is not the case now when social media and Internet made everybody connectable to everybody else in the world providing for complete instability of the groups and possibly of instant group formation on the huge scale. In my opinion the pluralism should be accepted at individual level, the one and only way to avoid tensions and conflict.

 

 

 

20200405 – The Knowledge Illusion

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MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is to reject traditional understanding of intellect, innovation, and achievement as product of individuals, their intellect and effort and provide the new paradigm: individuals are only a small part of bigger entity and it is this entity that does thinking, inventions, and all other staff. Authors also aim to supply some advice to individuals on how to realistically estimate one’s own deficiencies and mitigate them.

DETAILS:

Introduction: Ignorance and the Community of Knowledge

This starts with description of one very important technical miscalculation: underestimate of power of thermonuclear explosion by factor 3 in 1954 that led to severe adverse consequences. From here authors define their purpose as such:” How is it that people can simultaneously bowl us over with their ingenuity and disappoint us with their ignorance? How have we mastered so much despite how limited our understanding often is? These are the questions we will try to answer in this book.”.

After that they provide a number of examples of how little people know about specific details of working even simple devices and present their view of “thinking as collective action” and knowledge as being distributed among community rather than being in individual domain. At the end of introduction, they express believe that understanding of knowledge and thinking as communal activity would help overcome American political divide, help people understand view of others, and make traditional believe in individual achievement much less influential.

ONE:  What We Know

Once again authors start with miscalculation of nuclear test, this time with chain reaction, which costed life to the person who worked on experiment and made mistake. Then they move to discussion of generally poor understanding of how everything around us work, starting with simple example of zipper about which many people mistakenly think they understand how it works. Then authors describe a number of psychological research experiments demonstrating typical illusion of knowledge. Authors discuss complexity of contemporary world and technology, concluding that individuals lack detailed knowledge of anything even moderately complex and only combined knowledge of multiple people allows humans to manage the complex world they live in, while maintaining illusion that they individually understand it.

TWO: Why We Think

This is about human memory and how important for it is human ability to forget in order to be able to act meaningfully without brain completely overloaded by unnecessary junk. Authors then discuss functionality of brain in animals such as jellyfish and conclude that even at the most primitive level it provides for serious evolutionary advantages. Then they move discussion to crabs and image recognition system in humans, which provide for very sophisticated capabilities, including ability to develop abstractions that contain enough information for effective action, while cutting off unnecessary details.

THREE: How We Think

This chapter starts with discussion of causality that seems to be required to establish link between events for animals, which is somewhat different from Pavlov’s idea of reflexes. Authors then move to well established causality of human reasoning and human use of logic. They also discuss reasoning forward and backward: from causes to effects and from effects to causes. They suggest that forward reasoning is much more natural and easier than backward. At the end they discuss storytelling as the way to pass causal information. However, it is also a way to mentally manipulate reality represented by the story trying counterfactual variation and looking at what would be changing.

FOUR: Why We Think What Isn’t So

Here authors discuss how humans common sensical expectation sometime contradict laws of physics, making it impossible to have correct expectations for something one has no experience with. Authors explain it by the fact that good enough understanding of many things in reality is better than detailed understanding of a few things. Then they discuss ideas of fast, intuitive and slow, in depth thinking. They present a bunch of psychological tricks and experiment results from Cognitive Reflection Tests (CRT) demonstrating this idea.

FIVE: Thinking with Our Bodies and the World

In this chapter authors retell the story of attempts to develop AI as symbol processing program on stand alone computer. Despite partial successes the overall attempts were not successful due to the both: insufficient technological level and poor understanding of human mind. Authors describe an interesting experiment when computer traced human eye, making meaningful test limited to the point of attention and mesh for surrounding text, which turned overall text into nonsense. Nevertheless, people thought that the text is meaningful. The inference is that people are modelling surrounding environment based on narrow glimpses on its parts and combining incoming information with preexisting expectations and assumptions. Authors also discuss wholeness of human perception when emotional condition of individual plays significant role in the way information received.

SIX: Thinking with Other People

Here authors ones again return to idea of community as one thinking and feeling entity bringing in beehive as example. They compare it to human communal hunting of big animals with complex division of activities. Then they move to evolution of human brain and hypothesis of social brain, which posits that big brain developed in order to maintain high levels of communication necessary to synchronize complex activity of many individuals. They discuss unique to human feature of shared intentionality based on the work of Michael Tomasello about human interactions versus apes. Then they move to contemporary teamwork and advantages and disadvantages of “Collective mind”.

SEVEN: Thinking with Technology

This chapter is about technological enhancement of human thinking and actions, current limitations of technology such as lack of shared intentionality and situational awareness in AI. Authors review in some detail status of most popular application and speculate a bit on future of human-computer integrated systems.

EIGHT: Thinking About Science

This chapter is about popular understanding of science and its deficiencies, which they demonstrate by presenting result of questionnaires. Somewhat unusual they do not blame people, but rather present hypothesis of why it is so: “Scientific attitudes are not based on rational evaluation of evidence, and therefore providing information does not change them. Attitudes are determined instead by a host of contextual and cultural factors that make them largely immune to change.” Authors then discuss integrated character of human believes and how human causal models impact their science understanding and provide a few typical examples such as vaccination and GMO.

NINE: Thinking About Politics

In this chapter authors apply their ideas to politics starting with example for Obamacare when people had strong opinions about Supreme Court decision and poor knowledge of details of this decision. From here they move to discuss the usual problem:” not that much what one does not know, as what one knows is not so”. They use example of political research when people estimated their position and knowledge of some ideas and then explain additional details causal implications. Authors claim that it resulted in move away from extreme positions to more moderate. Then they change it to discuss in details reasoning for position, rather than causality. This approach did not move people in any direction. Authors then move to ethics, using examples of morally repulsive suggestions with no negative consequences mainly borrowed from Haidt’s work. Theirs inference is pretty much that positions based on values are non-negotiable, while based on consequences are much more subject to compromise and resolution. At the end of chapter author discuss elite / democracy problem and, while not taking clear position, provide a number of examples of negative consequences of democratically defined decisions and reference to low levels of knowledge of average person.

TEN: The New Definition of Smart

This chapter is pretty much against “lionization of individuals”, even such iconic figures as Martin Luther King and Copernicus. Authors posit that any achievements of humanity are really collective achievements, rather than individual. They discuss human intelligence, its testing, and experiments that demonstrate superiority of group intelligence over individual.

ELEVEN: Making People Smart

This starts with experiment with a group of street kids in Brazil, comparing them with schooled kids and knowledge of math. Both groups were low on basic skills like reading big number, but street kids, who live by selling and buying staff, had much better operational math skills like adding and subtracting. The bottom line: humans develop knowledge by acting, not by listening to lectures, so formal schooling mainly creates illusion of knowledge. Authors suggest to allocate a lot more attention to teaching people identify limits of their knowledge, to know what they do not know. Authors end this chapter with discussion of improvement of group learning methods to make them more fit to individual role allocation in synch with individual abilities.

TWELVE: Making Smarter Decisions

This chapter starts with discussion of low levels of financial literacy and then moves to example of explanation of the value of modification of traditional Band-Aid. After discussing a few more ideas about information vs explanation, and nudging, authors provide check list for effective communications:

Lesson 1: Reduce Complexity

Lesson 2: Simple Decision Rules

Lesson 3: Just-in-Time Education

Lesson 4: Check Your Understanding

Conclusion: Appraising Ignorance and Illusion

Here authors summarize ideas of this book:

  • Ignorance is inevitable and should be mitigated by sober evaluation of one’s knowledge and skills
  • Intelligence resides not in individual, but in community
  • Illusion is as inevitable as ignorance and should be dealt with the same way: sober evaluation and understanding of one’s limitations.

MY TAKE ON IT:

For me it is a funny book because its ideas pretty much directly contradict my own believes that beehive or other usually used abstractions like state or society or whatever, do not have ability to think, feel, invent, and act. The funny part is that I generally agree that no human knows more than a very small part of existing information, could not survive without help from multitude of other people, and could not invent anything new without infinite number of previous inventions. I guess the difference is that where authors see one entity – collective, I see network of human individuals. Where authors see one will, intention, and actions, I see complex interplay of multiple wills, intentions, and actions some close to each other, pointing in the same direction, some diverse, pointing in different directions, and some completely opposite. Consequently, final result is combination when some actions amplify each other some counteract, and some even cancelling each other. In short, for me the object of analysis, understanding, and actions are individuals and their relations between themselves with action of the group being derivative of these complex processes. It seems that for authors the object is a group and both analysis and actions should be directed toward this abstraction.

20200329 – Republic if you can keep it

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MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is to express author’s legal philosophy as originalist and textualist, provide general overview and somewhat critic of current American judicial system, present author views on ethics of legal profession in America and support all this with texts of previous speeches and brief discussion of representative cases.

DETAILS:

Introduction

Here author presents how his confirmation as Supreme Court Justice prompted him to write this book to explain his legal philosophy, understanding of Constitution, and role of a judge. He also discusses his life, key points of development, and transitional character of his new position.

  1. “A Republic, If You Can Keep It™

This starts with discussion of the long line of Supreme Court Justices who supported American tradition of Self-rule by adhering to Constitution and laments current increasingly growing attitude to Justices as politicians in disguise who manipulate legal system in any way that supports their agendas. Author expresses his believe that it is completely wrong and that judge should act in accordance with written law the way it was understood when written and provides example of proper way of change via Constitutional Amendment.

  1. Our Constitution and Its Separated Powers

Author starts this chapter with citation from wonderful constitution of North Korea, which guaranties all conceivable freedoms and lots of free staff. Then he notes that, as all other communist / socialist constitutions it is really nothing more than words on paper with no relevance to reality. Then he contrasts it with American Constitution, which is short on promises and guaranties, but long on structural design of the system and procedural details of its functioning. Then he specifically looks at the role of Judiciary as interpreter o laws versus law giver and provides case examples when judges overstep their role. Then he discusses what happens when various branches of American government usurp powers they are not entitled to by Constitution. Author provides texts of earlier speeches and some cases demonstrating his points: Of Lions and Bears, Judges and Legislators; Power without Law; Gutierrez-Brizuela v. Lynch; Caring Hearts v. Burwell; United States v. Nichols Sessions v. Dimaya

  1. The Judge’s Tools

Author starts here with recollection of his days in Law School when he was taught about “living” Constitution, which practically means judge disregarding actual text in order to achieve preordained conclusion, which this judge consider preferable in interests of “progress”. He then describes his discovery of people who believe differently and his conversion into this believe. Then he moves to discuss in more detail ideas of Originalism and Textualism.

Originalism and the Constitution

Here author discusses notion of originalism, which he defines simply as: “Originalists believe that the Constitution should be read in our time the same way it was read when adopted.” He also provides examples of such understanding in case of huge changes of meaning of words over centuries:” Originalism teaches only that the Constitution’s original meaning is fixed; meanwhile, of course, new applications of that meaning will arise with new developments and new technologies. Consider a few examples. As originally understood, the term “cruel” in the Eighth Amendment’s Cruel and Unusual Punishments Clause referred (at least) to methods of execution deliberately designed to inflict pain. That never changes. But that meaning doesn’t just encompass those particular forms of torture known at the founding. It also applies to deliberate efforts to inflict a slow and painful death by laser. Take another example. As originally understood, the First Amendment protected speech. That guarantee doesn’t just apply to speech on street corners or in newspapers; it applies equally to speech on the Internet. Or consider the Fourth Amendment. As originally understood, it usually required the government to get a warrant to search a home. And that meaning applies equally whether the government seeks to conduct a search the old-fashioned way by rummaging through the place or in a more modern way by using a thermal imaging device to see inside. Whether it’s the Constitution’s prohibition on torture, its protection of speech, or its restrictions on searches, the meaning remains constant even as new applications arise.”

Author also debates various objection to this approach voiced by supporters of “living constitution”.

A Case for Textualism

This is another item of contention related how to interpret texts. Author position is:” any theory of interpretation seeking to comply with the Constitution and the values it seeks to serve must respect the divide between making legislation and interpreting it; honor the grueling legislative process, not seek to invent new shortcuts; and protect the people from political pressures when it comes to the application of the laws in their cases and controversies.

Textualism does all this. When interpreting statutes, it tasks judges with discerning (only) what an ordinary English speaker familiar with the law’s usages would have understood the statutory text to mean at the time of its enactment. Rather than beginning with legislative history or making economic hypotheses about social consequences, a textualist starts with dictionary definitions, rules of grammar, and the historical context in which a law was adopted to see what its language meant to those who adopted the law. In this way, textualism offers a known and knowable methodology for judges to determine impartially and fix what the law is, not simply declare what it ought to be—a method to discern the written law’s content without extraneous value judgments about persons or policies.

Maybe the most prominent interpretive tools used by textualists are the so-called “canons of construction.” But don’t let the arcane name fool you. The canons are little more than commonplace rules of English usage and grammar—like the rule that the verb “includes” followed by a list introduces examples and not an exhaustive list.”

As with originalism, this follows by debate with opponents of textualism and careful review of their rejection.

In the second part of this chapter author provides review of four cases that demonstrate real life application of these ideas: United States v. Carloss; Carventer v. United States; United States v. Games-Perez; United States v. Rentz

  1. The Art of Judging

Here author discusses quality of judges and process of judging. That’s how he defines key points:” When it comes to the art of judging, I’ve learned over the years from watching my mentors and heroes that a good judge knows a few things. A good judge knows that often the lawyers in the case have lived with it for months or years and thought deeply about it long before the judge enters the picture; they deserve the judge’s respect as valuable colleagues whose thinking can be mined and tested to better the judge’s own. A good judge recognizes that existing judicial precedents reflect the considered judgment of judges who have come before and sometimes embody the settled expectations of those in our own generation. A good judge listens carefully to colleagues, appreciating the different perspectives each brings to bear. A good judge always questions not only the positions espoused by the litigants but his own tentative conclusions as they evolve. Pride of position and fear of embarrassment associated with changing one’s mind play no useful role; regular and healthy doses of self-skepticism always do.”

He also discusses a very important issues of social pressure and courage that a good judge needs to stand his ground when public opinion is going against the law. Author includes here a few relevant speeches and discusses some cases:

On Courage; (How) Do Judges Think? Of Intentions and Consequences; On Precedent; Henson v. Santander; A.M. v. Holmes; American Atheists v. Davenport

  1. Toward Justice for All

This chapter is about distance between legal ideals and realities of life, which often makes access to law difficult if not impossible for regular people. Author starts with the story of old fight between homesteaders and cattle barons in Wyoming at the end of XIX century when legal maneuvering succeeded with helping barons literally get away with murder. Then author links it to contemporary situation when access to legal protection is all but impossible for average person due to its expense, unlimited protection for prosecutorial misconduct and even crimes, overcomplication of laws and procedures to such extent that regular, even well-educated individuals could not effectively represent themselves even in simple and obvious cases. Author also critics overproduction of criminal laws, currently over 4,500 that nobody could reasonably expected to know, leave alone follow. Author also points out dangerous trend of substitution of jury trial with plea bargains, when prosecutors achieve nearly 100% success by blackmailing defendants either by overcharging or threat of financial ruing or both in cases, they insist on jury trial. As in other chapters, author provides text of a few relevant speeches and discusses some cases to illustrate his points:

Law’s Irony; Access to Affordable Justice; A Note on Jury Trials; Mathis v. Shulkin; Hester v. United States

  1. On Ethics and the Good Life

Here author discusses ethics of legal profession, the subject he taught for many years. Specifically, he discusses whether the prima loyalty of lawyer should go to the law or to the client. The illustration:

A Tribute; White and Murrah; But My Client Made Me Do It; Ten things to do in your first ten years after graduation;

  1. From Judge to Justice

The final chapter returns to the story of author confirmation to Supreme Court:

The East Room; The Senate Judiciary Committee; The Front Porch

The book ends with Author reference to the tombstone of early American lawyer Increase Summer, which symbolizes what the good lawyer should be:

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MY TAKE ON IT:

To say that I strongly believe in legal originalism and textualism would probably be understatement because I just could not understand how “living constitution” and lawmaking by judge on the fly could be considered as anything else but complete arbitrariness: rule of men not the law. Moreover, the men in question were not a subject to any control and pretty much limited only by other men of different legal and political ideology. Currently the real law practically defined by balance of power in Supreme Court for all important issues, making it nothing but a tool of a party. Similarly, outcome of any legal proceedings is defined by balance of political power, including popular support of one or another approach, which, sometime (not that often) even overrides money and power of connections.

 

20200322 – Rebooting AI

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MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is to describe in very entertaining form various deficiencies of AI, as it is developed up until now and critic currently popular hype created by media around such systems. It is also designed to demonstrate complexity of such systems and difficult road ahead that needs to be travelled to overcome it.

DETAILS:

1: Mind the Gap

It starts with brief history of AI beginning in 1950s with its consistent over promising and underdeliver. The author provides a few examples of simple linguistic problems that easy for humans but very difficult for AI. He also provides a list of questions to ask in order to recognize overhype:

  1. Stripping away the rhetoric, what did the AI system actually do here?
  2. How general is the result? (E.g., does an alleged reading task measure all aspects of reading, or just a tiny slice of it?)
  3. Is there a demo where I can try out my own examples? (Be very skeptical if there isn’t.)
  4. If the researchers (or their press people) allege that an AI system is better than humans, then which humans, and how much better?
  5. How far does succeeding at the particular task reported in the new research actually take us toward building genuine AI?
  6. How robust is the system? Could it work just as well with other data sets, without massive amounts of retraining? (E.g., could a game-playing machine that mastered chess also play an action-adventure game like Zelda? Could a system for recognizing animals correctly identify a creature it had never seen before as an animal? Would a driverless car system that was trained during the day be able to drive at night, or in the snow, or if there was a detour sign not listed on its map?)

Finally, he discusses a number of areas where success is very close, but not achievable for a while, despite huge progress, such as driverless cars and makes the point that current AI with its trained neural networks becomes more functional and less understandable.

2: What’s at Stake

This chapter starts with the story of MSFT’s Tay – AI teenager who quickly learned lots of very bad staff from net and was shut down. It follows by discussion of AI’s lack of malice, personality and self-awareness. This makes them more controllable, but uncompetitive with humans in complex cognitive tasks. Author lists 9 specific risks linked to AI use. Author provides a couple of nice examples when non-human logic leading to logically consistent solutions unacceptable to people. Big part of it is AI substituting actual objectives of the task by some intermediate goal that is much easier to achieve. Nice example is soccer playing robot with set objective to touch ball as many times as possible, which start vibrating while touching ball. These problems are easily solvable, but practically non-predictable.

3: Deep Learning, and Beyond

Here author discusses massive move from classical – algorithmically programmed AI to deep learning self-programmed AI. The dramatic improvement in hardware power over the last 10 years greatly increased viability of this approach and shifted complexity to data selection. Author provided a nice graphic presentation of AI field:

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Then he concentrates on Neural Networks, discussing their greed for data, opaqueness of results and fragility when it is not possible to understand how it achieved some weird conclusion. Here is representation of how it works:

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4: If Computers Are So Smart, How Come They Can’t Read?

This is about another feature of AI – its inability of making sense out of reading texts or other forms of processing information. Author analyses a few examples of this happening. After this author discusses Google search algorithms and how they sometimes make mistakes inconceivable for humans, providing a few funny samples.

5: Where’s Rosie’?

This chapter is about progress in robot’s development or rather the slow tempo of such progress. So far we have Rumba, which is not that smart and hope for driverless cars that hit new hurdles all the time. Author discuses challenges of localization and situation awareness that robotics finds difficult to overcome and presents some “real life” scenarios to demonstrate impact.

6: Insights from the Human Mind

Here author reviewing some specific point, which make human intelligence so difficult to imitate:

  • There are no silver bullets- complexity
  • Excessive use of internal presentations
  • Abstraction and Generalization
  • Cognitive systems are highly structured
  • Even simple aspects of cognitive systems require multiple tools
  • Human thoughts and language are compositional
  • Humans keep track of individual things and people
  • Complex cognitive systems aren’t blank slates

7: Common Sense, and the Path to Deep Understanding

This chapters is about complexity of common sense and how difficult it is to recreate it via computers. Author reviews different attempts to recreate it algorithmically which generally fail because inapplicability of formal logic to common sense.

8: Trust

The final chapter discusses high requirements for AI system to be trustworthy and potential very high cost of errors even if probability of such errors is extremely low. Author discusses program verification methods, but admit that they are good only for simple systems like device drivers, but could not be used for complex AI, making the issue of the trust in such systems paramount to resolve before mass implementation.

Epilogue

At the end author expresses believe that eventually AI will become part of regular human environment and issues discussed in this book will be resolved, while presenting a bunch of new issues such as human employment that will need to be tackled.

MY TAKE ON IT:

I like multiple examples of clumsy AI provided in this book and generally agree that this technology is far from being close to full implementation as foreseen by Sci-fi authors and philosophers. However, I pretty sure that non-thinking, environment analyzing, and action directing systems such as required for driverless cars and based on Deep Learning are very close to implementation and will become trivial reality of everyday life. As to super sophisticated self-conscious system, I do not think they would go beyond some experimentation because in order to create such system, one would need to recreate complex experience similar to human life, which result in creation of just another human only on silicon instead of carbon base. I do not think that such artificial human would be superior in any shape and form to combination of regular human and computers with complex databases and AI analytical tools. Besides, similarly to what happened with nuclear weapons and conduct of war, not everything that could technically be done will be actually done due to multitude of ethical and common sensical limitation.

 

20200315 – We Stand Divided

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MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is that the rift and even confrontation between American Jewish establishment and majority of American Jews on one hand and Israeli Jews on another is not an anomaly, but rather is the norm of this relationship, as it was existed since the beginning of Zionist movement. The reason is simple: American Jews live in America- universal country encompassing ideas of Western Enlightenment that applicable to the whole of humanity, while Israeli Jews live in National country of Jews encompassing Jewish strive to survive in hostile world by separating themselves into entity capable for military protection and economic support. This explains hostility of many American Jews to Israel caused by the fear that even slightest affiliation could threaten their good life among generally friendly non-Jewish majority. It also explains unhappiness of Israelis who feel that they do not receive enough support and understanding in their struggle to survive.

DETAILS:

The Rift:

Introduction: “Why Can’t We All Just Get Along?”

Author starts here with reference to a number of writings and speeches demonstrating the deep division and tension between two communities. Author then discusses history of this divide and presents this book as an attempt to explain its character, inevitability, and permanence.

 

1: A Mistaken Conventional Wisdom – A Rift Older Than the State Itself

This starts with author recollection of reaction of American Jews to Entebbe raid saving hostages and war of 1973 when the very existence of Israel was questioned. He recollects the feeling of unity and unquestioned support American Jews had for Israel and then recounts how this feeling all but disappeared and was substituted with complex mix of love – hate – contempt that is expressed in multitude of ways. He retells the recent history and change from admiration of Israel fight to survive when it was weak to rejection of the same fight when it became stronger. Author makes a point that it is not something new, but rather old situation with very deep roots:

  1. The real issue that divides the world’s two largest Jewish communities, as we have noted, is not what Israel does, but what Israel is. The essential issue, we will suggest, is that, at their core, America and Israel are exceedingly different: created for different purposes, they believe in and foster very different sorts of societies with very different values and different visions of Judaism.
  2. American Jews misunderstand Israel when they assume that Israel’s founders wanted or expected it to mirror America’s core values. And Israeli Jews often wrongly read American Jews’ differences as disloyalty, or laziness, without appreciating that American Judaism has a profound, but very different, set of core values. Israel’s founders never hoped that Israel would be an imitation of America, and American Jewish leaders recognized from the outset that a Jewish state would threaten some of their deepest commitments. 

2: A Rift Older Than the State Itself

Here author looks at the rift between two Jewish communities, then rejects notion that it is a recent phenomenon and demonstrates that it is not correct by retelling the story of unhappiness of prominent American Jews with Israelis kidnapping of Eichmann. Then author refers to the refusal of American Jewish leaders support creation of Israel and rejection of Zionism. Here is a very nice confirmation: “ In 1885, American Reform rabbis adopted what is now known as the Pittsburgh Platform, the movement’s statement of core beliefs and commitments. In it, these rabbis declared, in part, that the Jews were no longer a people but now constituted a religion. “We recognize, in the modern era of universal culture of heart and intellect, the approaching of the realization of Israel’s great Messianic hope for the establishment of the kingdom of truth, justice, and peace among all men,” they said as they jettisoned Judaism’s long-standing particularism and embraced the universalism then much in vogue in philosophic and cultural circles. “We consider ourselves no longer a nation, but a religious community,” they said, and since Jews were no longer a national community, they expected “neither a return to Palestine, nor a sacrificial worship under the sons of Aaron, nor the restoration of any of the laws concerning the Jewish state.”
Author also discusses here external attitudes in America that at the time demanded 100% Americanism from new immigrants, which was completely consistent with wishes of Jewish immigrants, who feared rejection at the slightest hint of dual loyalty. Another fine point author makes is that eventual support of creation of Israel by American Jewish establishment in 1947 was prompted not by their support of Zionism, but rather they unwillingness to support admission of Holocaust survivors to America, which could strain relations with American Christian majority. Finally he traces how American Jewish attitudes to Israel mutated from supporting underdog fighting for National liberation, to protesting “Colonial power” that somehow suppresses National liberation of Palestinians.

The Causes

3: A Particularist Project in a Universalist World

Here author compares American Declaration of Independence with its Universalist character, which claims commonality for the whole of humanity with Israeli declaration of Independence, which claims Jewish Particularity. Here is how author defines the core cause of difference: “America’s applicability to “all men at all times” and Israel’s commitment to the flourishing of the Jewish people are starkly opposite foundations for two different countries. That is why for many American Jews, to whom America’s universalism seems both natural and the indisputable ideal for the basis of a country, there is something deeply problematic and discomfiting about the very purpose of the State of Israel.“
Then author reviews history of discussions regarding this issue over the last century.

4: Idealized Zion Meets the Messiness of History

This chapter is not that much about conflict between two groups of Jews as about conflict between Zionist ideals and reality. Author starts it with his own history as a member of well to do Jewish family in America when his rabbi grandfather officiated Bar Mitzvahs and weddings in mid 1940s, while millions of Jews in Europe were being killed. He then discusses difficulties of understanding between people discussing ideals in comfortable settings and people fighting to death for survival – the process when people had simple choice: to die or to kill.  American Jews are always ready to mourn those who die and condemn those who kill, while Israelis who are still alive do not inclined to be remorseful for such transgression. Author also discusses how the growing military strength of Israel opened opportunity for similar to American approach to the issue among Israeli “revisionists historians”.

5: People or Religion: Who and What Are the Jews?

This chapter is about another part of conflict – the notion of Jewishness. The American Jewish tradition is about religion, being American with somewhat different religious view, just a bit more different than between Protestants and Catholics. For Israeli religion is not the most important part of Jewishness – the nationality is. From here comes another difference: for Americans variances of religious attitudes are normal. One could be Orthodox, Reform, Conservative, or whatever other denomination outside of the state control. For Israeli Judaism is state religion, so everybody should comply, at least formally, and pay taxes to support it.

6: How Naked a Public Square: A Liberal or Ethnic Democracy?

This chapter is about continuing struggle to reconcile democratic ideals generally accepted by both group with reality when American Jews are very comfortable being one ethnic group among others in multiethnic American Nation, while Israelis struggling to maintain ethnic character of their state in fear that loosing it would leave Jews ones again to be people without a country at the mercy of some hostile majority.

The Future

7: Charting a Shared Future—and Why That Matters

Here author discusses the future of not only relation between these two groups, but also of their existence. American Jews numbers and their influence in America are on decline and with mass assimilation and intermarriage quite possibly on the way to extinction. Israel on other hand acquired millions of Jews from former Soviet Union and other socialist countries, increased birthrates of Jewish population and strengthened its ethnic/religious character as Jewish state. Author points out that both Jewish communities are vulnerable. Israel enemies could once again become more potent military and inflict crashing defeat and annihilation.  The self-confidence and comfortable existence of American Jews could also proved to be as ephemeral as existence of German Jews of early XX century who considered themselves more German than Jews, fought bravely for Germany in WWI and a couple decades later found themselves on the way to gas chambers.

Conclusion: “Forget Your Perfect Offering”

In conclusion author makes a few suggestions on what to do and expect:

  • The first order of business has to be a fundamental decision not to let the relationship founder, a commitment to the premise that the break must somehow be healed.
  • Second, no progress will be possible without each side trying to see the other in the best possible light. Institutions cannot bridge the divide if the world’s two largest Jewish communities do not begin to appreciate the various differences and tensions that this book has discussed. The beginning of the solution lies in Jews learning about themselves, about the tradition they share, and about each other.
  • Third, because the two communities are so fundamentally different, both sides need to accept that there will always be dimensions of their respective behaviors and policies that strike the other as shortsighted, morally questionable, or even disloyal.
  • Fourth, both sides, if committed to maintaining some sort of a relationship, need to mute the dismissive rhetoric that they too commonly employ. Israeli denigration of Diaspora life—which, as we have seen, is deeply rooted in Zionism—is not helpful. Israeli denigrations of Jews who do not intend to move to Israel (a habit of Ben-Gurion’s) or of Reform Jews (much in vogue among today’s ultra-Orthodox Israeli leaders) serve no one. By the same token, however, saying that the creation of a Jewish state was a bad idea (recall the comment of J Street founder Daniel Levy), calling Israel a “terrorist state” (as did several delegates to the J Street conference in April 2018), or claiming that in defending its border Israel has “chosen to shoot Palestinians” (the Forward headline discussed earlier) serves no purpose. Such reckless and irresponsible statements deplete goodwill and sow bitterness.
  • Fifth, there is little value in either side expecting the other to do the impossible. There is something not only intellectually sloppy but fundamentally immoral about American Jewish progressives’ insistence that Israel end the occupation but, when asked how, explicitly refusing to offer suggestions. If they have no idea how to end it, why would they assume that Israelis could end it but refuse to? Do they imagine that Israeli parents want to send their daughters and sons into combat? Just as one can understand why young American Jews want to end the occupation, one should understand just how offensive it is to Israelis when outsiders who have no idea how to end the conflict imply that Israelis are not interested in ending it or insist that Israel’s ending the occupation is a prerequisite to their engaging with Israel.
  • And finally (for now), there are many other steps that would help, including (though certainly not limited to) much more intensive Jewish education among American Jews and a deeper understanding of the values of the West among Israelis.

MY TAKE ON IT:

I think that the problem here is not necessarily limited to Jews. It is the common problem in contemporary globalized world when Nation-states, as they formed in XVI-XX centuries, are under pressure to find some viable accommodation between their ethnic/cultural/religious foundation and supranational rules of game that increasingly combines world into one entity. The specific of American Jews vs. Israeli is just a part of these global processes. Its uniqueness comes from American exceptional quality as the country of individuals of multiple ethnicities, races, religions, and backgrounds united into one by common ideals of individual independence and limitation on government that provides enough space for everybody to maintain their uniqueness as individuals and/or groups with various levels of commonality. I believe that the best way for future development would be creation of something like United Democracies with USA standing as nation of individuals, whose needs for commonality with others is below levels of government intervention and force so these individuals would accept and tolerate religious and cultural differences of others, while other nation-states such as Israel could stand next to USA as nations of individuals, whose needs for commonality are much higher and require government intervention to enforce common religion, ethnicity, and culture. Such United Democracy could provide unified military defense, common market with standard rules of exchange, including leveling of cost of labor and such, protection of individual rights with most important being ability to leave country, which religion, culture, and rules an individual does not want to accept.

 

20200308 – The Long Waves of Economic Life

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MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this brief, but important book is that the typical business cycles of 9-10 years do not cover the complete cyclical character of development and that there are much longer economic cycles – some 50 years long that represent powerful waves of increase or decrease in the levels of prosperity.

DETAILS:

  1. Introduction

This introduction points to the role of long cycles discovered by Kondratieff’s work, which normally masked by regular 9 years cycles.

I-III. Method

This is just a statement that statistical methods used to analyze business cycles demonstrated required per capita analysis and taking into account that 9 years moving averages typically used smoothed secular trends.

VI. The Wholesale Price Level

This chapter represents analysis of French wholesale prices that demonstrates 3 long cycles: 1789 to 1814 (60 years), 1849 to 1896 (47 years) and one starting in 1896. Here is the graph:

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Then author conducts similar analysis of cycles based on variety of statistical data:

V. The Rate of Interest

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  1. Other Series

This one is just reference to multitude of other series demonstrating the same trends.

  1. Statistical Findings

Here are key findings of author’s statistical analysis:

(1) The movements of the series which we have examined running from the end of the eighteenth century to the present time show long cycles. Although the statistical-mathematical treatment of the series selected is rather complicated, the cycles discovered cannot be regarded as the accidental result of the methods employed.

(2) In those series, which do not exhibit any marked secular trend — e.g., prices — the long cycles appear as a wave-like movement about the average level. In the series, on the other hand, the movement of which shows such a trend, the cycles accelerate or retard the rate of growth.

(3) In the several series examined, the turning points of the long waves correspond more or less accurately.

 

(4) Although for the time being we consider it to be impossible to fix exactly upon the years that marked the turning points of the long cycles, and although the method according to which the statistical data have been analyzed permits an error of 5-7 years in the determination of the years of such turnings, the following limits of these cycles can nevertheless be presented as being those most probable:

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(5) Naturally, the fact that the movement of the series examined runs in long cycles does not yet prove that such cycles also dominate the movement of all other series.

(6) The long waves that we have established above relative to the series most important in economic life are international; and the timing of these cycles corresponds fairly well for European capitalistic countries. On the basis of the data that we have adduced, we can venture the statement that the same timing holds also for the United States.

XI. Empirical Characteristics

Here are some conclusions:

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XII. The Nature of Long Waves

Here author discusses the nature of long waves. He rejects the idea that these waves are caused by external events like wars, revolutions, and technological changes. Then author discusses in details why it is so for each of potential causes he reviews.

XIII. Conclusions

Author makes the following conclusion:

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MY TAKE ON IT:

I believe that in other works beyond the scope of this book Kondratieff identified causes of long cycle with long term capital investment deterioration that lead to decrease in productivity of capital over time and consequent decrease in investment followed by decrease in consumption and depression. After long cycle hits bottom, the economy starts recovery with capital investment growth at the new and higher technological and infrastructural levels. I think it is only partially correct because levels of investment and overall economic development defined not by statistical numbers of economy performance, but by human actions, which depends less on economic statistics than on human psychological condition, moods, and believes. This links Kondratieff’s ideas of 60 years waves with idea of Saeculum cycles of societal development of approximately 80 years of psychological/political cycles when society goes through sequence: High – Awakening – Unraveling – Crisis. Historically Kondratieff’s third wave in which decline starts in 1914-20, somewhat coinciding with Unraveling-Crisis 40 years span ending in 1945. By this account we are now in 2020 approaching the end of Crisis period that sometime around 2025 would switch to High.  Here is graph of Kondratieff’s long waves from another source linking them to technological development:

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20200301 – The Fourth Turning

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MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is that the human society is developing somewhat cyclically going through 4 seasons or turns, like a year with about 20-25 years each turn, all together matching one long human life and defined by generation formed in condition of previous season. The seasons are: High – Awakening – Unraveling – Crisis and they neatly apply to American history. Correspondingly each season forms specific archetype of dominant personality: Artist – Prophet – Nomad – Hero, which in term moves through different stages of life, playing a different roles in different seasons. The idea of somewhat uniform cycles allows predicting the next development and author attempt to prove is by reviewing and predicting (somewhat correctly) the future.

DETAILS:

Chapter 1 – Winter Comes Again

The book is written in late 1990s and authors predict that the winter is coming in around 2005 and it will last for about 20 years when America would go through Crisis season completing 80-85 year cycle that started after previous cycle’s Crisis of WWII. Here is how authors define the Four Turns:

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Authors also describe dominant type of personality for generation born in each turn:

  • A Prophet generation is born during a High.
  • A Nomad generation is born during an Awakening.
  • A Hero generation is born during an Unraveling.
  • An Artist generation is born during a Crisis. 

Then they describe in details the meaning of turns and how it applies to history overall and to American history specifically.

Chapter 2 – Seasons of Time

This chapter starts with discussion of notion of seasons starting in pre-Roman Italy and then moving through a few historical societies: Rome, Babylon, Maya, Hebrew, Hindu, and Chinese.  Authors discuss specific Roman idea of Saeculum – period of time close to the length of human life during which full cycle occurs. Here is authors’ presentation for our society:

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After that authors go into details of development in each of four turns of various cycles, including population, politics, economy, foreign affairs and other areas. At the end of chapter authors provide combined timetable of all Anglo-American Saeculum:

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Chapter 5 – Gray Champions

This is reference to literary work of Nathaniel Hawthorne and Gray Champions are sign of new beginnings of every 80 some years: Puritans coming to America, American Revolution, Civil War, Great Depression/WWII, and the next one, which authors writing in mid 1990s foresee coming in 2005.

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Chapter 10 – A Fourth Turning Prophecy

This is the very interesting chapter in which authors from their vantage view of 1990s discuss the future Crisis that they expected to arrive around 2005. Obviously they could not know what is going to happen, but here is their list that now in 2020 looks much more severe than what actually happened:

  • Economic distress, with public debt in default, entitlement trust funds in bankruptcy, mounting poverty and unemployment, trade wars, collapsing financial markets, and hyperinflation (or deflation)
  • Social distress, with violence fueled by class, race, nativism, or religion and abetted by armed gangs, underground militias, and mercenaries hired by walled communities
  • Cultural distress, with the media plunging into a dizzying decay, and a decency backlash in favor of state censorship
  • Technological distress, with cryptoanarchy, high-tech oligarchy, and biogenetic chaos
  • Ecological distress, with atmospheric damage, energy or water shortages, and new diseases
  • Political distress, with institutional collapse, open tax revolts, one-party hegemony, major constitutional change, secessionism, authoritarianism, and altered national borders
  • Military distress, with war against terrorists or foreign regimes equipped with weapons of mass destruction 

Part 3 – Preparations

Chapter 11 – Preparing for the Fourth Turning

Chapter 12 – The Eternal Return

The last part of the book and its 2 chapters are about preparation for the Fourth Turn and its crisis. It provides recommendation for each generation on what to expect and what to do in order to survive. By now it is mostly irrelevant, since the Fourth Turn is coming to the end and crisis thing that authors expected to happen did happen, albeit in somewhat different form:

  • Terrorist attack on 9/11/2001 and following long war on Middle East
  • Great Recession of 2008
  • Cultural Distress of late 2010s
  • Current Cold Civil war between American tradition, culture and political system and Anti-American denial of tradition with falling monuments and renaming places, rejection of American political system with its constitution, laws, and tradition, promotion of socialism.

In short, authors’ prophecies turned out to be correct in main.

MY TAKE ON IT:

It is quite unusual book on human society because it makes predictions, which proved to be true not only in their functionality, but also in their timing. Overall the idea that human history is defined by generations of people formed by circumstances of their birth and socializing and therefore acting differently sounds pretty good to me. It makes sense that children of the First turn – Prosperity initiate the Second turn – Awakening, creating idealized and therefore impossible demands on society, which makes their children initiate the Third turn – Unraveling undermining this society, its culture and traditions, and, eventually, weakening to the point when it movers to the Fourth turn – Crisis and then either falls apart internally, succumbs to external enemies, or rejuvenate itself by restoring its tradition, refreshing its culture, and mobilizing its internal strengths to defeat external enemies and/or suppress internal subversion. The final result of the Fourth turn is either disappearance of society under conquest, dissolution into multiple parts, or recreation as even stronger society it was before. In case of survival, it starts the First turn of the new saeculum, to repeat process over the next 80 some years.

I guess we are now at the final stages of the Fourth turn – Crisis, which I believe to be completed about the final part of the second term of Trump’s presidency in 2024. By this time American culture that was under sever attack starting at the end of WWII and conducted by communist/socialist sympathizers will come back roaring, after rejecting attempts to suppress its key features: individual freedoms of speech, freedom of association, freedom of self-defense, and democratic control over bureaucracies. The new economic accommodations will be created to incorporate Artificial intelligence into the system without undermining individual ability to prosper via productive activities.  Finally the new system of international alliances will be created to remove possibility of military confrontations either on small scale of terrorism or large scale of competitive societies seeking dominance.

 

 

 

20200223 – Lifespan Why we age

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MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is that aging and deterioration of human abilities with age is not an inevitable natural process caused by irreversible accumulation of errors in DNA, but rather disease caused by accumulation of epigenetic changes that regulate genes expression. As such, this disease could be treated by restoring epigenetic environment of youth that would allow normal DNA expression and elimination not only of old age disabilities, but even death itself. In support of this idea author discusses results of his team research and findings.

DETAILS:

Introduction: A Grandmother’s Prayer

Author starts this with description of his grandmother’s quite adventurous life and her vitality that disappear with age, substituted by physical and then mental disabilities. This was one of important stimuli for author to go into the specific field of biology and medicine.

Part 1: What We Know (The Past)

Chapter 1. ‘Viva Primordium’

This starts with description of initial evolutionary development and how living things developed ability to fix breakdowns of DNA. Here is pictorial presentation:

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From here author moves to discuss overall approach to healing, noting that it is often fight against symptoms, rather than real causes. He discusses cancer as generic disease of immune system, rather then specific illness of lung or liver or some other part of the body. Author also discusses aging in evolutionary terms as seen via group selection, which prevents selection for immortality or even especially long lifespan. Author summarizes current prevailing attitude that aging is result of combination of factors and provides the list of these factors:

  • Genomic instability caused by DNA damage
  • Attrition of the protective chromosomal endcaps, the telomeres
  • Alterations to the epigenome that controls which genes are turned on and off
  • Loss of healthy protein maintenance, known as proteostasis
  • Deregulated nutrient sensing caused by metabolic changes
  • Mitochondrial dysfunction
  • Accumulation of senescent zombielike cells that inflame healthy cells
  • Exhaustion of stem cells
  • Altered intercellular communication and the production of inflammatory molecules 

Author does not really reject any of this, but rather goes around, first stating that he understands low feasibility of one cause for complex processes, but then presenting just such cause at the high level. He views bodily functions based on two types of information processing: digital presented by DNA and analog presented by epigenetics, with former reliable and unchangeable and latter vulnerable and is often broken due to variety of contingencies. Author correspondingly believes that this analog process is more or less regularly cleaned up and presents genes named SIRT1 to SIRT7, and a few other genes and enzymes that do just that. The final point author makes that accumulation of too many problems over time at epigenetic level makes this cleansing and fixing process less and less effective leading to aging. Consequently medical intervention that would restore effectiveness of such process would lead to elimination of aging.

Chapter 2. The Demented Pianist

Here author discusses incompleteness of DNA mapping and what he calls the Information Theory of Aging that he formulated. It started with research on one of the simplest living creatures – yeast. Author used it to analyze protein SIR2. Here is how author describes core of his discovery: “Broken DNA causes genome instability, which distracts the Sir2 protein, which changes the epigenome, causing the cells to lose their identity and become sterile while they fixed the damage. Epigenetic changes cause aging. There was, I imagined, a singular process that controlled them all. Not a countless number of separate cellular changes or diseases. Not even a set of hallmarks that could be addressed one at a time. There was something bigger—and more singular—than any of that. This was the foundation for understanding the survival circuit and its role in aging.“
The main analogy of this chapter is piano as DNA and epigenome as Pianist. The failing of SIR proteins allows accumulation of errors in epigenome, so pianist becomes demented, even if piano is good. Author discusses it in details and provides graphic presentations:

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The main point that author makes here is that, as disease, aging is susceptible for treatment and that is what author is working on and he believes that such treatment is possible.

Part II: What We’re Learning (The Present)

Chapter 4. Longevity Now

Here author presents what is known about longevity and various examples of it occurring. He provides some recommendations: fasting, food mix, exercise, a bit of cold exposure, and so on. However he admits that the most important factor is good DNA.

Chapter 5. A Better Pill to Swallow

Here author moves a bit to philosophy and history, discussing Gilgamesh, Schrodinger, and nature of life. Then he moves to biology presenting:” The three main longevity pathways: mTOR, AMPK, AND SIRTUINS, evolved to protect the body during times of adversity by activating survival mechanisms. When they are activated, either by low-calorie or low-amino-acid diets, or by exercise, organisms become healthier, disease resistant, and longer lived. Molecules that tweak these pathways, such as rapamycin, metformin, resveratrol, and NAD boosters, can mimic the benefits of low-calorie diets and exercise and extend the lifespan of diverse organisms.
. He also discusses resveratrol and some other compounds.

Chapter 6. Big Steps Ahead

Here is graphic representation what author believes in achieving:

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And here is the way author plans to achieve this:

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Chapter 7. The Age of Innovation

This chapter is about the last centuries of innovation in medicine. It starts with discussion of DNA and diagnostic and treatment feasts it made possible. Then author moves to more technical discussion about tools summarizing this in this picture:

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Part III: Where We’re Going (The Future)

Chapter 8. The Shape of Things to Come

Here author looks at what will happen if his anticipation of elimination of aging in near future would come true: lifespan and health span extended beyond 100, leading to families of 4-5 generations, stress on resources, slowing down of scientific and political progress because individuals in power live a lot longer, social insecurity, renewed Malthusian challenge, and so on. However author ends the chapter on semi-optimistic note that humanity managed to overcome challenges before, so there is a chance that it would overcome this one too, especially if it means population of healthy, active, and productive 100 year olds.

Chapter 9. A Path Forward

The last chapter ends book with standard pitch of contemporary science: “we are about do and make great things, just give us more public money. No, make it a lot more public money”. In this particular case it sounds like complain that other get more for various diseases with really not that big impact, while aging impacts everybody and treatment of this disease would fix all others such as:

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The final point here is that people should be able to die when they want to die and be healthy and productive until this moment.

Conclusion

In conclusion author describes his and his team current activity and stresses that so far there is no approved treatment for aging. However he can share what he himself does to prevent this disease:

  • I take 1 gram (1,000 mg) of NMN every morning, along with 1 gram of resveratrol (shaken into my homemade yogurt) and 1 gram of metformin.
  • I take a daily dose of vitamin D, vitamin K2, and 83 mg of aspirin.
  • I strive to keep my sugar, bread, and pasta intake as low as possible. I gave up desserts at age 40, though I do steal tastes.
  • I try to skip one meal a day or at least make it really small. My busy schedule almost always means that I miss lunch most days of the week.
  • Every few months, a phlebotomist comes to my home to draw my blood, which I have analyzed for dozens of biomarkers. When my levels of various markers are not optimal, I moderate them with food or exercise.
  • I try to take a lot of steps each day and walk upstairs, and I go to the gym most weekends with my son, Ben; we lift weights, jog a bit, and hang out in the sauna before dunking in an ice-cold pool.
  • I eat a lot of plants and try to avoid eating other mammals, even though they do taste good. If I work out, I will eat meat.
  • I don’t smoke. I try to avoid microwaved plastic, excessive UV exposure, X-rays, and CT scans.
  • I try to stay on the cool side during the day and when I sleep at night.
  • I aim to keep my body weight or BMI in the optimal range for healthspan, which for me is 23 to 25.

MY TAKE ON IT:

I think it would be wonderful if author is correct and his research would lead to elimination of the most profound and most dangerous epidemic that kills 100% of people impacted – aging. I would not hold my breath in anticipation of this, but I believe that a number of point here are valid:

  • Epigenetic nature of aging rather than DNA error accumulation
  • Potential for regular maintenance of this epigenetic environment that would eliminate or greatly diminish symptoms of aging.

However I do not believe that lifespan extension would be a problem economically or environmentally. Economically advance of Artificial intelligence will eventually make humans redundant for production of goods and services, freeing them to pursue happiness as the main business of live. Environmentally it would also not going to be a problem because we are getting closer and closer to finalizing stable level of population and establishing complete control over environment by setting up closed loop of production/consumption and controlling additional inputs/outputs into the system, including most important: solar radiation. In short the future is bright and we’ll probably see a glimpse of it.

 

 

20200216 – More from Less

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MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is to present a bit of reality to people brainwashed by constant flow of negativism about economy, human industrial activities and their consequences. This reality is that over the last hundred years with technology development humans produce a lot more goods and services with a lot less of raw materials and external pollution of environment. It is also demonstration of futility of CRIB ideas that come down to using less of goods and services to save the world. In addition to some reasonable ideas author moves supports panic of global warming and demands resource allocation by very big government and behavior changes from people to prevent it.

DETAILS:

Introduction: Readme

Here author previews the book, explicitly stating his argument: Unlike what people believe, in reality the world and especially USA constantly produce “more with less” raw materials.  It was achieved via computerization, by “substituting bits for atoms”. Author believes that this caused by combination of 4 factors: tech progress, capitalism, public awareness, and responsive government. Author also proudly declares that everybody will find something not to like in this book: environmentalist – his claim that industries are not evil, socialists – his support for capitalism, capitalists – his support for big government and taxes. So author calls for open mind and claims position of neutral observer.

Chapter 1: All the Malthusian Millennia

Here author reviews Malthus and Hobbes ideas and even provides quite convincing prove that it did worked like that until recent time: graph with relation of population to salaries:

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Here author moves to the bad staff of early modern age: slavery, children labor, colonialism, pollution, and destruction of wild animals such as buffaloes and whales.

Chapter 4: Earth Day and Its Debates

Here author discusses the Earth Day: April 22, 1970 when America celebrated the first Earth Day. Author considers it turning point of Environmental movement. He refers to previous disasters such as explosion on Union Oil rig in California, Cuyahoga rover fire and so on. He also writes about Paul Ehrlich and other doomsayers who predicted unrealistic scaring scenarios, which nevertheless captured imagination of population, especially miseducated youth. Then author moves to proposed remedies that he does not believe in:

  • Consume Less
  • Recycle
  • Impose Limits
  • Return to land

Somewhat interestingly author also present ideas of Julian Simon that there is no scaring emergency and the Ultimate Resource are humans, who will eventually find solution to any development problems. Author also discusses bet between Ehrlich and Simon on future availability of raw materials that Simon won hands down. Obviously it did not stop promoters of gloom from continuing promoting gloom and make money in process.

Chapter 5: The Dematerialization Surprise

Here author reviews books and essays that documented dematerialization of American economy, meaning decrease of use of raw materials to produce consumable goods and services. Here are a couple of graphs demonstrating this trend:

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Chapter 6: CRIB Notes

In this chapter author revisits of CRIB implementation: Consume less – Recycle – Impose limits – Back to land ideas, reviews how they worked over the last decades, and concludes that they had at best marginal influence on the process of dematerialization. Then he suggests that the causes are presented in the next 3 chapters.

Chapter 7: What Causes Dematerialization? Markets and Marvels

Here author states his believe that four main forces are responsible for dematerialization, and that it’s helpful to think of them as two pairs, with the first reviewed in this chapter being Capitalism and technological progress. Then he proceeds to review a few examples:

  • Increase in agriculture that dramatically decreased use of land, fertilizers, and pesticides
  • IPhone that substituted a half dozen of different devices from telephone to photo camera, to TV.
  • Decrease of use of coal, pushed out by gas
  • Computerization of transportation that dramatically decreased need for rolling stock

The key feature here is that people need benefits of final products and services, while raw materials are costs; therefore technology that reduces such costs is implemented enthusiastically.

Chapter 8: Adam Smith Said That: A Few Words about Capitalism

Here author provides kind of critic of critic of capitalism, albeit it is half hearted. He starts it with what he considers valid criticism:

  • Capitalism is selfish
  • Capitalism is immoral
  • Capitalism is unequal

The he presents his critic of what he believes invalid criticism of Capitalism:

  • Capitalism is cronyism
  • Capitalism is anarchy
  • Capitalism is oppression

Author then moves to discussing socialism. He mentions Hayek’s theoretical prove that socialism could not possibly work and then proceeds to discuss real live catastrophic consequences of implementation of socialism, concentrating on relatively benign case of Venezuela. Author even completes this chapter stating that the problem with Capitalism is that there isn’t enough of it.

Chapter 9: What Else Is Needed? People and Policies

Here author goes to critic of capitalism: externalities, such as pollution and stresses his opinion that capitalism needs supervision in form of “responsive government”. He combines it all in image of “Four horsemen of the Optimist: call technological progress, capitalism, responsive government, and public awareness.”

Chapter 10: The Global Gallop of the Four Horsemen

This chapter is quite optimistic presentation of recent developments: outreach of technology to even poorest people, demise of global Socialist system and switch of its key countries USSR and China to market, Global movement for good government, and so on.

Chapter 11: Getting So Much Better

This is discussion of the world’s getting better thanks to some extent to feeling worse. He complains about humans leading other species to extinction, compulsory global warming, and so on, but then presents a bunch of graphs demonstrating that everything is actually getting better like this one:Screen Shot 2020-02-07 at 1.15.43 PM

Chapter 12: Powers of Concentration

Here author moves to discuss urbanization and globalization that connects world into one with mix of positive and negative consequences. He provide 3 scenarios of change:

  1. There’s strong economic growth. The rich get much richer, but middle class and poor households also do better. Because wealth and income gains are fastest at the top—because the rich get richer faster than the rest do—inequality increases, but all segments of society see growing incomes and wealth. Tech progress exists but is not highly disruptive; people continue to do the same kinds of jobs for the same kinds of companies in the same communities year after year. Important institutions such as the educational system and the courts remain stable and inclusive.
  2. The elites capture the economy and the political system and turn inclusive institutions into extractive ones. They change the laws, pack the courts, demand bribes, assume control of the largest companies (publicly or behind the scenes), hire security services for themselves and let law and order decay for everyone else, and so on. The economy slows down because it’s so badly managed, and all tech progress has to be imported. The elite get fantastically rich while everyone else suffers and becomes poorer. Wealth and income inequality skyrocket.
  3. Economic growth is healthy and institutions remain inclusive, but tech progress is extraordinarily powerful—so much so that it disrupts industry after industry. This progress fuels many types of concentration; it allows more crops to be grown on less land, more consumption from fewer natural resources, more output from fewer factories, and more sales and profits from a smaller number of companies. The people at the top of these superstar companies see huge wealth and income gains. Gains for those in the middle, however, slow down considerably. And some segments of the labor force face particularly tough challenges; the factories and farms that used to employ them close, and new ones don’t open. Job opportunities concentrate in cities and in service industries. Wealth and income inequality rise a great deal. 

Chapter 13 Stressed Be the Tie That Binds: Disconnection

Here author moves to discuss disconnect that developed between Americans of different persuasions. He starts with James Mattis stating that it is his biggest worry, by far bigger than Iran or North Korea. It follows by discussion of decrease in social capital due to multiple challenges such as deindustrialization and loss of good jobs, opioids, inequality, and widely existing knowledge of staff that is not so. All this creates disconnect between members of society and consequently undermines its stability.

Chapter 14: Looking Ahead: The World Cleanses Itself This Way

After giving way to challenges in previous chapters, author states here his overall optimist based on believe that:

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Chapter 15: Interventions: How to Be Good

This is author recommendation to what should be done to reconnect country back. So he goes through main points starting with “statecraft” required to save the world from global warming with taxes. Then he takes on corporations that should drop whatever they are doing and direct resources to saving planet. Finally he does the same for non-profits and citizenry, at the end issuing the list of strong recommendations:

  1. Reducing pollution. Pollution is not a necessary cost of doing business; it’s a negative externality that causes great harm to people and the environment. However, efforts are now underway in America and other countries to roll back restrictions on pollution to reduce businesses’ costs. The better health is much more important than higher profits.
  2. Reducing greenhouse gases. Greenhouse gases deserve to be called out separately from other forms of pollution because of the long-term harm they can cause across the planet, and because they’re not yet being controlled with regulations, taxes, and the many other tools used for dealing with externalities.
  3. Promoting nuclear energy. We currently have only one power source that doesn’t emit greenhouse gases and is scalable, safe, reliable, and widely available. We should be working to drive down the cost of nuclear power, and to overcome barriers to adopting it.
  4. Preserving species and habitats. Even though capitalism is now shrinking its geographic footprint in many countries, it still has a great thirst for attractive pieces of real estate, and for many animals. Conserving land, limiting hunting, and banning trade in products made from threatened species are highly effective interventions.
  5. Promoting genetically modified organisms. GMOs have been extensively studied and found to be safe. They also have the potential to greatly improve crop yields, reduce pesticide use, and improve nutrition. Yet they are strenuously resisted in many parts of the world. This needs to change.
  6. Funding basic research. Private businesses spend money on research and development, but they tend not to invest much in areas and ideas that won’t become products anytime soon. This means that governments have an important role to play in supporting more fundamental scientific and technical research as well as research into social phenomena such as disconnection.
  7. Promoting markets, competition, and work. Capitalism is widely unpopular at present, and socialist ideas are making a comeback. Yet markets, competition, and innovation have brought us previously unimaginable prosperity. As we’ve seen, they’ve also finally enabled us to take less from the earth. So we should not turn away from them now. Instead, we need to focus on finding meaningful opportunities for people at risk of disconnecting from society.

Conclusion: Our Next Planet

In conclusion author laments what humans did to the planet by living and multiplying and expresses hope that his “4 horsemen of optimism” will save whatever has left of it.

MY TAKE ON IT:

From my point of view this book is filled with duality. On one hand author looks at the past with optimism and recognizes that doomsayers where absolutely wrong and technological growth and increase of knowledge led to vast expansion of production combined with decrease in use of raw materials and pollution. This part is convincing, filled with data, and very reasonable. On the other hand author jumps to the same panic mode about global warming that he just criticized about previous fear of resource exhaustion and environment annihilation. This part is not supported by any serious data, filled with the same unjustified fear, and the same demands for government to interfere and save the world. I think that there is no real difference between people who made good living by scaring everybody about population bomb, resource exhaustion, and pollution in process falsifying data and attacking everybody who did not agree, and people who currently doing the same under the flag of global warming. Actually they are either the same people that did it in 1960s and 70s, if they are older, or just the next generation of crooks who look to make good living and obtain power over others by scaring them out of their wits.

 

 

20200209 – The Meritocracy Trap

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MAIN IDEA:

Author presents main points of this book in introduction as such:

  • Meritocracy promises to open way up for lower and middle classes and this promise become false
  • Meritocracy oppresses middle class and exploits elite
  • Meritocracy divides society into haves and have notes
  • It is paradoxical because on one hand it divides society into elite and non-elite, but on other hand it makes both of them miserable creating resentment in non-elite and anxiety in elite.
  • There is the way to escape this trap and author see it in political actions:” To escape the meritocracy trap, politics must overcome all the vulnerabilities and bad incentives that meritocracy enshrines in public life. Both the rich and the rest must learn to see through the anxieties—from populist and nativist resentment through small-minded competitiveness and arrogant condescension—that currently divide them. Both classes must recognize that their distresses, and even their antagonisms, share in meritocracy a single source. And both classes must join in a coalition in which each eases its own afflictions by empathizing with, and even shouldering, the meritocratic burdens that now afflict the other.

DETAILS:

Part One: Meritocracy and Its Discontents

ONE. THE MERITOCRATIC REVOLUTION

This chapter describes history of meritocracy raise beginning in early XX century when leisured rich started to be pushed out by up and coming meritocrats trained in elite schools. These meritocrats without great wealth worked hard to obtain it via complex intellectual work in law, management, science, and arts. Author discusses in some details the nature of such works.

TWO. THE HARMS OF MERITOCRACY

Here author uses a town of St. Clair Shores, which used to be prosperous manufacturing town with middle class and elite living side by side. Now it is not that awful yet, but it is not any more prosperous town, which elite left behind and where the next generation of middle class cannot repeat success of previous decades. The author looks at what happened to elite and finds it not less awful: practically unlimited long hours, constant work stress, and even difficulty to enjoy significant wealth produced via these efforts. In short, elite highly exploited.

THREE. THE COMING CLASS WAR

Here author looks at one of the most elite places in USA – Palo Alto where rich people are miserable due to stress and poor find it hard to satisfy elementary needs like housing. Then author moves to discuss formation of new class of meritocrats via marriages and raising children in highly competitive environment, which requires lots of money to keep up with others. The next part of discussion is growing political division between meritocrats who use money, connections and skills to control government and use it for their benefits at the expense of middle and lower classes. In response these classes move to nativism and populism and use their numbers and democratic process to bring to political power their own champions. This political struggle scares author and makes him believe that country is moving to revolution.

Part Two: How Meritocracy Works

FOUR. THE WORKING RICH

This is somewhat repetitive description of how working rich pushed out from center stage old leisured rich, how much money top meritocrats make, how stressed they are and how they are different from majority of middle class that could not catch up with development of technology and knowledge based economy, seeing their own earning power stagnating or even going down. The result is the growth of inequality and corresponding stress on society.

FIVE. THE MERITOCRATIC INHERITANCE

This is about how difficult and expensive it is now to raise a meritocratic child, how much investment it involves from paying for upscale kindergarten to hiring multiple tutors, trainers, and consultants to get into top college without which it is not possible to achieve high level position anywhere. Author applies here monetary calculations for all fees and other payments required, eventually concluding that successful raising of contemporary meritocratic individual costs around $10 million. Author considers it as non-taxable inheritance.

SIX. GLOOMY AND GLOSSY JOBS

Here author compares meritocratic and regular jobs in various areas from restaurant to hedge funds management demonstrating the huge gap between them in both: efforts and returns.

Part Three: A New Aristocracy

SEVEN. A COMPREHENSIVE DIVIDE

The chapter starts with Clinton and Bush who had similar childhood even if one was son of salesman and another son and grandson of high-level bureaucrat and politician. It is not the case any more – the lives of their children is very different than the same generation middle class kids. Then author goes to review various aspects of these differences: Work, Family, Culture, Consumption, and Place of living,

EIGHT. SNOWBALL INEQUALITY

Here author reviews history of how this divide happened starting with increased role of education, changes in business management, and overall change in economics that values knowledge and skills much more than just plain hard work.

NINE. THE MYTH OF MERIT

In this final chapter author discusses where the notion of meritocracy came from and what is the nature of merit now in real live. He finds that it relates mostly to obtaining credentials, successfully playing some kind of bureaucratic games, and/or conducting complex activities in areas of information processing such as law, high level management, and such.

CONCLUSION: What Should We Do?

In conclusion author provides currently obligatory logically inconsistent invective of Trump and complains that “progressives” fail to answer effectively because they are under “meritocracy’s thumb”. Author points out that their move to identity politics and demands for equalization would inflict damage on meritocrats and middle class so it is not viable solution. He believes that solution is comprehensive restructuring of society:” To escape the meritocracy trap, politics must overcome all the vulnerabilities and bad incentives that meritocracy enshrines in public life. Both the rich and the rest must learn to see through the anxieties—from populist and nativist resentment through small-minded competitiveness and arrogant condescension—that currently divide them. Both classes must recognize that their distresses, and even their antagonisms, share in meritocracy a single source. And both classes must join in a coalition in which each eases its own afflictions by empathizing with, and even shouldering, the meritocratic burdens that now afflict the other.

In order to achieve this author suggests two paths to reform: ” First, education—now concentrated in the extravagantly trained children of rich parents—must become open and inclusive. Admissions must become less competitive, and training less all consuming, even at the best schools and universities. Second, work—now divided into gloomy and glossy jobs—must return mid-skilled labor to the center of economic production. Industry that is now concentrated in a superordinate working class must be dispersed widely across a broad middle class.”

Author also suggest to close meritocrats’ ability to transfer wealth to children via expensive elite education. Author considers it unfair tax shelter so he wants tax such expenses. On the other path: gloomy vs. glossy work author is looking for massive government intervention to define how what kind of jobs exists and how they paid.

MY TAKE ON IT:

Author is university professor and it shows. While his analysis is generally correct, it suffers from relatively poor connection to reality. For example the idea that law firm that charges 500 billable hours a week for work done by 5 lawyers has 5 people working non-stop 100 hours per week is very touching, but not at all realistic. Much more important however is author’s missing the most important part of the idea of meritocracy: who defines what merit is. Traditionally merit in American republic was defined by market place. Person who did something that other people voluntary pay for would earn more merit, expressed in more wealth. Because human beings generally are not that different in their capabilities, it led to society of nearly equals. Certainly a few people, who get in the very right place at the very right time and are capable to come up with some great idea that they are capable to implement, benefit hugely. These people like Rockefeller or Ford or Gates becomes million times richer than average not because they are million times smarter and hard working, but because being somewhat smarter they won lottery of time and place. This lottery winner as all other lottery winners are lucky exception to general rules of live and therefore have little impact on society’s structure. The current meritocracy comes not from ability to do something that people need. It comes from government power to take from people resources by force and redistribute these resources between hierarchical structures of government supported multitude of educational, legal, environmental, non-profit, and other bureaucracies, which do something that nobody would voluntary paid for. Correspondingly good places in these bureaucracies come from connections, elite education, based not on real knowledge and skills acquisition, but rather credentialism, racist preferences, donations, and other forms of corruption.   Idea that it could be remediated by more government intervention strikes me as something slightly funny and completely unrealistic.

In my opinion, the real remedy would be dramatic decrease in government intervention in economy and all other areas of human live, removal of massive redistribution apparatus that mainly redistribute wealth not from rich to poor, but rather from middle class to bureaucrats, making these bureaucrats rich. Actually it looks like American people already start applying this remedy by electing and supporting Trump’s administration that author and majority of his peers so sincerely despise.

 

20200202 Morland, Paul – The Human Tide

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MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is that the demographic is very important part of any society’s survivability and prosperity. This feature to significant extent defines society’s economic and military power and place in the world among other societies. The secondary idea is that there is quite consistent path of development that occurred over the last few centuries:

Step 1: scientific, economic, and cultural progress lead to decrease in childhood deaths, while level of births remains the same causing population explosion

Step 2: increase in survivability, new opportunities for improvement of quality of life, decrease in dependency on children in old age, and reproductive control technologies lead to decrease in births, which lead to stabilization or even decrease in population

Because different countries go through this process at different time and at different tempo, the end result is that countries that got there first, specifically Anglo-sphere and then Europe end up with materially smaller populations than countries that got there later eventually changing balance of power between different populations of the world.

DETAILS:

Part One: Population and History

  1. Introduction

It starts with the story from 1754 in London when life was nasty, brutish, and short, killing lots of children who died very young, living population numbers very stable despite high number of births per woman. Then author briefly retells the story of the last 250 years when improved hygiene and medical services dramatically decreased number of deaths, while social welfare, emancipation, education, and growing opportunities greatly decreased number of births. Finally author defines the objective of the book: discuss role of population in history. Author cautious to stress out that demographic is not the destiny, but it is material part of it.

  1. The Weight of Numbers

Here author defines time scope of this book as starting from 1800 and Malthus and ending in the future. He then presents demographic history of British royals, which he shows to be quite representative to overall trends. Author then expands this discussion to overall population of the world and its dramatic increase. He also introduces idea that because process started with developed nations the cycle: improvement of living conditions – decrease of infant deaths with corresponding dramatic population growth – further improvement in living conditions leading to decrease of births and pursuit of happiness leading to decrease of births below replacement level – probable stabilization of population. This process seems to be common for all nations, religious, and other groups with the once that delayed process had stabilized at higher levels of population, sometimes much higher. Finally he discusses the difference that demographic makes in military balance of power and economic clout and applies this logic not only to balances between countries, but also to balance between various groups within countries, specifically referring to USA. Finally he provides a nice graph demonstrating current status:

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At the end of chapter author identifies his own point of view on demographic issues:

First, human life is an inherently good thing, and the saving and extension of it is a worthy pursuit. If it is good to save the life of a single child then all the more is it good to save the lives of millions of children, which is what happens when infant mortality is brought down. Healthy, civilized and long lives are better than nasty, brutish and short ones. Violent and catastrophic mass deaths are an inherently bad thing; if we regret the loss of a single life then the regret at the loss of multiple lives should be proportionately greater. What we do not wish for our families and friends we should not wish for other human beings, whether this is in the name of equality or environmentalism or any other potentially worthy but abstract goal.

 Second, when women have control over their own fertility, they collectively make wise decisions, with or without input from their male partners. When women are educated and have access to contraception, they will not choose to have more children than they can support and, just as the hidden hand of the market works in economics, so the hidden hand of demography will work if allowed to do so. Enforced limitations on childbearing are not only wrong; they are unnecessary. In matters of demography as in so many others, the decisions of ordinary people, given the educational and technical tools to take them, will turn out to be best for their societies and for the planet as a whole.”

Part Two: The Gathering Tide: Among the Europeans

  1. The Triumph of the Anglo-Saxons

This chapter is about Britain being the first country that successfully broke through Malthusian trap by using scientific approach and industrial revolution. Author discusses here also other countries of Anglo-Saxon sphere, especially USA, claiming that its dominance of the world was derived from the rapid growth of population that resulted from being the first in this change.

  1. The German and Russian Challenges

This chapter is about similar processes in European countries that picked up steam in late XIX / early XX century. Author specifically discusses how it changed balance of European power making France fearing Germans who ran ahead in population growth, then Germans fearing Russian who did the same.

  1. The Passing of the ‘Great Race; 6. The West since 1945 From Baby-Boom to Mass Immigration; 7. Russia and the Eastern Bloc from 1945

Here author moves to the overall picture when Europe started falling behind in population growth because its advancement in technology, including medical, public services, economy, and overall prosperity that makes families smaller, promoting quality over quantity. Author also discusses here Europe self-inflicted tragedy of World Wars, massive epidemics that still occurred, and immigration with racial issues related to it. Finally author discusses European dictatorships of the first half of XX century and their demographic impact. At the end author poses the question “Is the Europeans in Retreat?” and pretty much replies that they are based on decrease in European population as percentage of the world.

Part Three: The Tide Goes Global: Beyond the Europeans

  1. Japan, China and East Asia The Ageing of Giants; 9. The Middle East and North Africa 10. Nothing New Under the Sun? Final Frontiers and Future Vistas

In chapters of this part author applies the same logic to all other countries of the world where he finds the same processes under way: Improvement in quality of life, leading to decrease in early death, which initially results in dramatic growth of population, but later on it leads to decrease in family sizes and stabilization or even decrease in population. Author ends very reasonably refusing to make any predictions on future demographics either of the worlds or specific countries. He only stresses his believe that whatever will happens demographics will be intertwined with destiny as it had always been before.

MY TAKE ON IT:

I completely agree with author’s presentation of demographic trends and history as it developed over the last couple centuries. However I do not think that division of people of the world in different populations makes a lot of sense presently and would make any sense in near future. Whatever is racial and cultural breakdown of the world population we find up at the moment in next 50 years, when population growth stops, it will become less and less relevant due to continuing mix of all populations both genetically via interracial births and culturally via expansion of popular culture in which input of population of western developed countries is completely dominant. I believe that in relatively short period of time, a hundred years at most, an average person would have as hard time answering question about his/her genetic roots, as average American with all 8 great-grandparents being non-immigrant with various roots: English, Scottish, German, Italian, or whatever else went into the mix. The only question in my mind is not about genetic demographics, but rather cultural dominance: which of European traditions become dominant in future genetically intermixed world: hierarchical, even totalitarian big state with suppression of individual freedoms and control from the top down, or flexible free association society based on individual freedom with minimalistic state restricted to prevention of wars and maintenance of law and order. The future answer to this question will define whether people of the world will live in misery or relative happiness.

20200126 William – Money Changes Everything

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MAIN IDEA:

The man idea of this book is to review development of financial technology from the earliest known records and artifacts all the way to contemporary complex and highly mathematized financial tools and demonstrate how it impacted functioning of various complex societies. It is also aims to demonstrate importance of careful and sophisticated approach to financial technology necessary not just for society’s effective functioning, but for its very existence.

DETAILS:

Introduction

Here author presents the view that finance is the main method of resource allocation that lays in foundation of great many important human activities.

Finance has four key elements:

  1. It reallocates economic value through time;
  2. It reallocates risk;
  3. It reallocates capital; and
  4. It expands the access to, and the complexity of, these reallocations.

Author briefly discusses each of these functions and then looks at finance’s impact on culture, development of civilization, knowledge acquisition, and finally hardware and software that it is based on. Author also presents various perspectives that he uses to look at finance in this book:

  • Investor perspective
  • Researcher perspective
  • Empirical perspective
  • Cultural perspective

PART I FROM CUNEIFORM TO CLASSICAL CIVILIZATION

  1. Finance and Writing

Author starts with earliest historical artifacts of writing found in Mesopotamia and demonstrates that they closely related to financial transaction records, contracts, and accounts maintenance.

  1. Finance and Urbanism

Here author uses one of such artifacts: the Warka Vase to discuss link between religious and economic sides of worshipping and culture. He then looks at Babylonian samples of writing, demonstrating the use of compound interests, financial planning, borrowing and lending, and other financial activities.

  1. Financial Architecture

Here author looks at archeological evidence demonstrating spatial impact on cities where financial activities led to development of special districts where such activities were concentrated. Author uses specific documents to review activities of individuals in areas of debt and risk, trade financing, and joint ventures. Author also discusses government interference into financial activities, specifically periodic forced debt forgiveness and other methods of robbery that made finance high-risk enterprise.

  1. Mesopotamian Twilight

Here is author summarizes the first part of this book: The primary goal of Chapters 1–4 is to document the early development of the hardware and software of finance. This includes the first appearance of financial contracts, as well as the development of financial mathematics and financial thought. A secondary goal was to show the integral role these played in Mesopotamian society. Finance developed out of the need for intertemporal contracting, which was the economic foundation of the first cities. It also made possible the organization and intensification of long-distance trade. While such trade existed in societies with less financial architecture, the toolkit in the ancient Near East included a silver-based monetary system, equity-like partnerships, and a legal system of enforcement that was evidently robust and flexible enough to allow even small, combative city-states to access prestige goods and metals from afar.

  1. Athenian Finance

Here author looks at Western financial tradition starting at the beginning: “The classical civilizations of Greece and Rome developed sophisticated financial economies based on money and markets. The Greeks invented banking, coinage, and commercial courts. The Romans built on these innovations and added business corporations, limited liability investments, and a form of central banking. Unlike the ancient cities of Mesopotamia, which were primarily organized around the redistribution of local produce and secondarily around long-distance”. Author mainly discusses finance as it was used in support of trade, especially high-risk long distance overseas trade, but also land privatization and mining rights. He assigns high importance to the fact that trade disputes were resolved by jury trials with hundreds of jurors, which required very high levels of financial literacy.  

  1. Monetary Revolution

This chapter is about invention of money coinage and specifics of Athens that differentiated it from other ancient societies: unique form of governance unlike temple based forms of Sumerian city-states and high dependence on trade even for food supplies that made it necessary to establish distributed financial system resulting in independent decision making and democratic form of government.

  1. Roman Finance

This is somewhat continuation of Greek traditions, only much more dependent on local slavery based agriculture and heavy use of debt. Author discusses here archeological discoveries that allowed much better understanding of Rome business model that by then included shareholders and limited liability. The Roman form for this was publican societies based on private property that was dominant form of resources control. Finally author discuses link between wealth and political power, which in Rome was quite direct: senator who lost wealth would lose his place in senate.

PART II THE FINANCIAL LEGACY OF CHINA

  1. China’s First Financial World

This chapter is very brief description of financial history of China, demonstrating that China developed pretty much the same financial technology as the West, but its use was concentrated not in the hands of private citizens, but in the hands of sophisticated bureaucracy, with the state controlling just about everything. Author also stresses importance of paper money invention that occurred in China long before recreated elsewhere.  Author also discusses in some detail philosophical foundation of Chinese attitude: potentially attributable to the Jixia Academy collection of essays called the Guanzi.

  1. Unity and Bureaucracy

Here author moves to Confucius and his teachings, especially in regard to finance and “principal-agent” problems, which could be resolved by indoctrination of agent in such way that would assure internal drive to do right thing by principal. It includes also sophisticated method of bureaucrats’ selection and severe punishment for failure or corruption. Author looks in details at use of money in their various forms in Chinese society and also at western point of view on Chinese financial innovations.

  1. Financial Divergence

This is a look at the diversions between Chinese and Western development not only in finance, but also in key industries of early industrial age that made industrial revolution reality in the West, but absent in China. The main point: big organization bureaucratic system makes individuals dependent on superiors, consequently limiting innovation to their judgment, while private business that relies on market would be open to any innovation that owner wants to try.

PART III THE EVROPEAN CRUCIBLE

Here is how author defines key points of this part: ”I argue that the fragmentation of European states was the stimulus for a variety of creative, somewhat independent financial experiments. The fragmented political economy of Europe fostered the development of investment markets; the reinvention of the corporation; extra-governmental banking institutions; complex insurance contracts on lives, property, and trading ventures; and a sophisticated tradition of financial mathematics, reasoning, and analysis. These innovations, in turn, changed human behavior. I argue that they altered attitudes toward risk and chance, leading on the one hand to probabilistic thought and calculation and on the other hand to unbridled speculation that fueled the world’s first stock market bubbles. Europeans ultimately turned themselves and the rest of the world into investors. The key stages in Europe’s development are first, the emergence of financial institutions; second, the development of securities markets; third, the emergence of companies; fourth, the sudden explosion of stock markets; fifth, the quantification of risk; and finally, the spillover of this system to the rest of the world.

  1. The Temple and Finance

In this chapter author traces development of European banking system, starting with Templars who provided financial support for pilgrimage and crusades to Jerusalem.

  1. Venice

Here author reviews commercial empire of Venice: “The creation of a market for financial securities in Venice in the twelfth century represents a watershed in European history. It began the practice of deficit spending by the state, financed by the issuance of liquid debt. Finance became one of Venice’s key instruments of power in its rise as a mercantile empire. Its financial architecture was every bit as important as its bricks and mortar.

  1. Fibonacci and Finance

This is about the next development of finance – its quantification with development of double entry bookkeeping, notion of net resent value, and business education that allow massive expansion of trade.

  1. Immortal Bonds

This chapter is about finance development that led to expansion of business transactions timeframe beyond limits of individual human life.

  1. The Discovery of Chance

This chapter discusses emerging understanding of probabilities that led to development of such financial tools as insurance, annuities, and other forms of risk management. Author also discusses probabilities in China where no mathematics of chance was developed.

  1. Efficient Markets

This is about development of efficient market ideas in late XIX century that led to such developments as options market and in late XX century application of complex mathematical models like Black-Scholes formula. Author discusses in some detail mathematization of finance.

  1. Europe, Inc.

Here author moves a bit from discussing specifically financial area to forms of business organization – specifically European forms of limited liability corporations. He specifically looks at the oldest existing corporation: Honor del Bazacle formed in 1372 in Toulouse.

  1. Corporations and Exploration

This chapter is about a chain of event that transformed the world: use of corporate form to explore world in order to discover new lands, gold and other goods, and markets. Private business corporations of Europe, only slightly supported by governments, conducted the world exploration. These corporations, while privately financed, nevertheless had their own armies and navies, which colonized nearly all the planet.

  1. A Projecting Age

This is detailed description of one of such enterprises linked to famous English writer Defoe. It included raising money via subscription to deferred payment plans, investment in some type of usually monopolistic operation that would become ongoing concern with liquid participation via external trade of shares. Here is author’s note about this:” Broken down by industry, these new British firms included companies for mining, salvage, fishing, forestry, agriculture, textile and mechanical manufacturing, overseas trade, infrastructure, real estate, leasing, and finance. Ever since 1623, when England enacted the Statute of Monopolies, an inventor had the exclusive right to profit from a novel invention. The new financial market after 1688 married capital with creativity and intellectual property rights. Perhaps because they were engines of innovation, joint-stock companies grew dramatically in importance relative to the rest of the economy. The historian William Robinson Scott estimated that in 1695, they represented 1.3% of the national wealth of Great Britain, but by the end of 1720, this had grown to 13%.

Author also reviews here the bubble phenomenon and attempts to rule it in by regulations such as British “Bubble Act” of 1720.

  1. A Bubble in France

This chapter looks at one specific and very large instance of bubble that developed in France by John Law in early XVIII century and then burst. However author states that not all bubbles were created equal and compares two of them:” What was missing from the Mississippi Bubble, in contrast to the South Sea Bubble, was the wellspring of innovation. France had its projectors, with plans for public works and trading companies, but there seems to be no evidence that any other shares were seriously traded in the Rue Quincampoix. Law apparently had no successful competitors for the public appetite for share investing. The creation of a share market appears to have been a means to an end—a method for building the Mississippi Company out of investor cash, rather than an institution used to channel resources to innovation.”

  1. According to Hoyle

This is about Insurance Corporation in Rotterdam created in response to British “Bubble law” that prevented limited liability for British companies. It started boom of public companies in Netherlands, some of which become prominent in financing Atlantic trade. Author discusses this trade and its impact on bubble formation in some details including regulation that it prompted. At the end of chapter author points out that financial technology developed during this period was widely used later in XIX and XX centuries to finance massive infrastructure projects.

  1. Securitization and Debt

This is about the next step in development of finance – securitization. It starts with discussion of Dutch mutual funds, then moves to American land banks and notes how much American founding fathers and their families were linked to land speculation, which somewhat explains readiness of Dutch and French investors finance American revolution, at least partially. Author also discusses financial implications of French revolution and ends the chapter by reflecting on European financial innovations that made countries of his continent very distinct from others like China.

PART IV THE EMERGENCE OF GLOBAL MARKETS

Here is how author defines his objectives in this part: “In Part IV we will see the reassertion of earlier amoral characterizations of finance and a seductive argument against the fundamental principles that support financial technology, including private property and entrepreneurial freedom. This reinvigorated dialectic over the role of finance in society comes to a crescendo in the early twentieth century and literally breaks the world in two.”

Author also discusses here globalization, worldwide access to equity financing and global debt.

  1. Marx and Markets

Here author briefly discusses Marx, his failed theory of labor-based value and huge influence Marx’s ideas have despite their complete failure to explain reality and predict future developments. Author then discusses Hobson’s “Imperialism”, and Suez Canal as example of early stages of globalization and violent reaction of Egypt’s population to it.

  1. China’s Financiers

Here author moves to similar event of imperialistic intervention in China with Opium wars, revolution, railroad construction, and China’s initial moves to be part of global capitalist system, using example of Shanghai stock exchange in 1920s as an example.

  1. The Russian Bear

The “Russian” chapter discusses capitalism development in Russia and its disruption by first WWI and then by revolution. Author kind of links to it Ayn Rand and her objectivism, even if she left Russia as young woman and her ideological development mainly occurred in America despite very strong hate for communism typical for any thinking person with real live experience with consequences of this ideology.

  1. Keynes to the Rescue

This chapter is another very brief description of ideology, this time dominant on the West.

  1. The New Financial World

This chapter looks at financial world of XX and early XXI centuries, discussing financial instruments like bonds and stocks, funds, and financing of construction and infrastructure in America. The chapter ends with discussion of great depression and its legacy.

  1. Re-Engineering the Future

Here author moves to massive government intervention in resource allocation and distribution in form of Social security and multitude of other programs.

  1. Post-War Theory

The final chapter is about mathematization of finance with computers and various technical approaches to investment and financial management including optimal investment portfolio, indexation, sovereign funds, institutional investment, and public/government business ownership.

Conclusion

Here author restates his objective to review historical development of financial technology and its interaction with development of complex societies. Here is how author completes this book:” History is interesting in its own right, but it is also important as a measure of the present and a guide for the future. As the world moves toward a collective global civilization with a greater proportion of its population participating in complex society, financial tools need to keep up. The lessons from our collective financial past take on more relevance. History has shown us financial mechanisms for risk sharing and intertemporal transfers and how variations in these tools can be adapted to different kinds of societies. We are free to repurpose past successes and learn from past failures about what to avoid. The experience of five millennia of financial innovation, however, suggests that finance and civilization will forever be intertwined.“

MY TAKE ON IT:

I generally agree that finance or, more precisely, resource allocation across time and space with corresponding risk management, is foundation of human civilization. The history of financial technology is interesting, but much more significant is that its role in the near future will probably be even more important than it was in the past. It is because the future most probably will contain automated production of goods and services, making it impossible for anybody to be self-sufficient and survive outside of financial networks. This means that much more complex financial systems will be developed based on much more complex models aiming at continuing evolutionary optimization of resources allocation via process of individual competitive decision making at various levels and localities. Then, as it is now, the top down all-knowing modeling of socialist type would not be possible due to infinite level of complexity, albeit in primitive suboptimal form that could exist only if supported by massive state intervention. It remains to be seen whether ideological and moral development of humanity will move in the direction of integrated market resource allocation with minimal restriction or in direction of socialistic type of top down resource allocation with its inherent inefficiencies.

20200119 – Against the Grain

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MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is that the latest discoveries in archeology and anthropology demonstrate link between type of agriculture and development of the state. Specifically, only grain based agriculture led to development of sedentary way of life with consequent development of hierarchies and state because the grain output is easy to control and tax. Correspondingly literacy and numeracy were developed to support information processing linked to taxes and population control. Other forms of agriculture, not grain related, used by barbarians, provided for higher quality lifestyle and, until very recently were more than competitive military.

DETAILS:

Preface

Here author explains how he came to this book by preparing for a lecture. It made author to look at early states, conventionally divided into:

  • Ubaid (6,500–3,800 BCE)
  • Uruk (4,000–3,100)
  • Jemdet Nasr (3,100–2,900)
  • Early Dynastic (2,900–2,335)
  • Akkadian (2,334–2,193)
  • Ur III (2,112–2,004)
  • Old Babylonian (2,004–1,595 BCE) 

The core of author’s finding relates to links between not only agriculture but its specific part – grain production to formation of early states.

INTRODUCTION. A Narrative in Tatters: What I Didn’t Know

Author continues here with presentation of time line of human development that does not comply with traditional sequence, which directly links agriculture and state creation. He points out that there is huge gap between archeological and ecological evidence of agriculture and formation of states. Here is how this time line looks based on the latest research

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The key paradox author formulates is this:” Homo sapiens appeared as a subspecies about 200,000 years ago and is found outside of Africa and the Levant no more than 60,000 years ago. The first evidence of cultivated plants and of sedentary communities appears roughly 12,000 years ago. Until then—that is to say for ninety-five percent of the human experience on earth—we lived in small, mobile, dispersed, relatively egalitarian, hunting-and-gathering bands. Still more remarkable, for those interested in the state form, is the fact that the very first small, stratified, tax-collecting, walled states pop up in the Tigris and Euphrates Valley only around 3,100 BCE, more than four millennia after the first crop domestications and sedentism. This massive lag is a problem for those theorists who would naturalize the state form and assume that once crops and sedentism, the technological and demographic requirements, respectively, for state formation were established, states/empires would immediately arise as the logical and most efficient units of political order.

It is also directly connected to relatively recently discovered fact that:” Contrary to earlier assumptions, hunters and gatherers—even today in the marginal refugia they inhabit—are nothing like the famished, one-day-away-from-starvation desperados of folklore. Hunters and gathers have, in fact, never looked so good—in terms of their diet, their health, and their leisure. Agriculturalists, on the contrary, have never looked so bad—in terms of their diet, their health, and their leisure.”

In short it seems that state based agriculture allowed dramatic increase of quantity of people, while similarly dramatically decreasing quality of individual lives.

One. The Domestication of Fire, Plants, Animals, and…US

The theme of the first chapter turns on the domestication of fire, plants, and animals and the concentration of food and population such domestication makes possible. Before we could be made the object of state making, it was necessary that we gather—or be gathered—in substantial numbers with a reasonable expectation.

Author discusses here environmental conditions required for switch to sedentism: wetlands and such – areas that provided sufficient food to stay around. Author also poses the question why people started plant grains. He rejects usual explanation that it is because the product could be saved for long period, providing insurance against bad year. He also rejects idea that it provided better returns from cooperation. Author’s explanation is that the reason is much higher productivity from flooding area that then made raising crops much easier.

Two. Landscaping the World: The Domus Complex

Here author explore meaning of domestication as it relates to plants, animals, and also humans. He discusses notion of Domus as a module of evolution that allowed coevolution of semi closed local ecosystem. The impact was not only on plants and animals, but also on humans. Author discusses how use of agriculture could be easily identified by human remnants that have indelible traces of agricultural work. Author also analyses changes in tempo of life, which for hunter-gatherer defined by external cycles of availability of various food types that required huge knowledge base about environment. For agriculturalists it was pretty standard year around cycle requiring a lot less knowledge and a lot more routine manual work.

Three. Zoonoses: A Perfect Epidemiological Storm

In this chapter author discusses specific features of agro-pastoralism, which come to dominate first Mesopotamia and then the world. The first part of discussion is drudgery that was direct consequence of the switch. It caused material deterioration of quality of life and there is plenty of archeological evidence confirming this. Then he moves to epidemiology discussing how increased concentration of people combined with closeness to animals produced periodic epidemics killing significant shares of population, but creating immunities for survivors. At the end author discusses fertility and population growth brought in by switch to sedentism.

Four. Agro-ecology of the Early State

Here author discusses material or more precisely agricultural foundation of early states, concluding that it necessarily had to be based on a grain for a number of reasons: “The key to the nexus between grains and states lies, I believe, in the fact that only the cereal grains can serve as a basis for taxation: visible, divisible, assessable, storable, transportable, and “rationable.” Other crops—legumes, tubers, and starch plants—have some of these desirable state-adapted qualities, but none has all of these advantages. To appreciate the unique advantages of the cereal grains, it helps to place yourself in the sandals of an ancient tax-collection official interested, above all, in the ease and efficiency of appropriation.

Author also discusses evidence that agriculture was often based on state violence and taxation. Another important point he makes is that one of consequences was development of literacy and numeracy – absolutely necessary tools for top down control and systematic robbery, which of no real use for hunter-gatherers.

Five. Population Control: Bondage and War

This chapter is about the role of coercion in formation and maintenance of the states. Its main form initially and all the way until now were slavery and bondage. Initially slavery was product of war, when captives were enslaved. Overtime it was expanded so parts of population were slaves from the beginning of life, with people breaded and controlled the same way as domesticated animals. Actually it would not be possible to maintain effective society at low levels of productivity with lots of manual works required without such institution as slavery or something close to it.

Six. Fragility of the Early State: Collapse as Disassembly

The historical and archeological data show that early states were extremely fragile popping up and going down within historically short periods of time, sometime materially less than length of a human life. In this chapter author discusses reasons for this fragility such as:

  • Hypersedentism and lack of movement
  • Ecocide: Deforestation and Salinization
  • Politicide: Wars and Exploitation of the Core

At the end author actually praises state “collapse” as a necessary part of evolutionary process.

Seven. The Golden Age of the Barbarians

In the last chapter author looks outside of the sate borders at people who habituated there – barbarians and how they interacted with “civilized” peoples of the states, in actuality living in dichotomy of these two method, often moving between them at will. Author provides somewhat unusual, but quite convincing explanation why barbarians underappreciated:

  • The history of the peasants is written by the townsmen
  • The history of the nomads is written by the settled
  • The history of the hunter-gatherers is written by the farmers
  • The history of the nonstate peoples is written by the court scribes
  • All may be found in the archives catalogued under “Barbarian Histories”

Author discusses relationships between “civilized” and barbarians in details and quite convincingly demonstrates that mainly it was balance of either equal power or even with military advantages going to barbarians. He also discusses trade, military alliances, mercenaries, and other interactions between these two parallel flows of human development and existence. The point is that it lasted forever and arrived to complete dominance by the states only very recently.

MY TAKE ON IT:

It is a very interesting approach to understanding human development, which makes a lot of sense to me. From my point of view the idea of parallel development of highly organized grain based hierarchical society and non-grain based barbarian societies, either pastoralist or hunter-gatherers, explains quite a bit of known history. This history was narrated by literate society that is grain-based states, so barbarians were diminished and poorly understood. The puzzle was how come, that barbarians overrun such highly developed societies as Rome? The answer provided here is that barbarians were as highly developed, only in different way. They did not need literacy and numeracy because the cultural tradition could be well maintained via oral tradition, while without taxation need in numeracy was quite limited. As to military, much looser structure of barbarian military, often based on cavalry and therefore much more mobile, with more space for individual initiative was generally superior to massive, but slow moving and rigid infantry of grain-based states. The aristocracy, as more mobile and more military effective specialized part of society developed by these states, sometimes compensated for difference, but overall for some 10,000 years neither grain-based agriculture and slave-based hierarchical “civilized” states nor non-grain agriculture and loose organization of barbarian entities had decisive advantage. Only with advance of scientific method of thinking and consequent technological and industrial development, literacy and numeracy became convertible into military power, leading to triumph of “civilization”.

20200112 – Sword and Scimitar

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MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is not that much to present military history of the most important battles between Islamic and Christian armies, as to demonstrate that despite illusion of peace caused by contemporary overwhelming power of the West, Islamic ideology of conquest and proselytizing by force did not go away. It is also warning that if West continues its historical amnesia and ideological appeasement, the bloody fight could start again and cost dearly.

DETAILS:

Preface

Here author characterizes this book as work of military history reviewing 8 key battles between Islamic and Christian forces. These battles, while different by time, place and participants, represent key points in 14 centuries long struggle between followers of two religions one of which generally being on offensive from 636 to 1683, while another generally losing territory and adherents during the same time. Here is the map demonstrating this point:

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Introduction

The initial part of the book is discussion of the nature of Islam, its creation by Muhammad as a tool to overcome tribalism and create religion-based unity open for everybody to join. It was also an effective tool of using force to expand. Author discusses notion of jihad defined as religious duty of conquest with huge rewards either in this or the other world for participants. Author also discusses West, Christendom, and their nations, which were converging into more or less loose alliances coming to life under threat of annihilation and dissipating when this threat diminished. Author also discusses very limited tolerance in Islam of Jews and Christians as “people of the book”, stressing temporary character of this tolerance.

Chapter 1 Islam Takes Christendom by Storm: The Battle of Yarmuk, 636

Here author discusses the first major victory of Islam when relatively small force of Muslims destroyed numerically superior forces of Byzantine Empire. Author stresses religious fervor of Muslims and their ability to fight in the dark, which eventually brought their victory. After the battle author reviews consequent conquests that followed: successful siege of Jerusalem, conquest of Egypt and North Africa. Author especially stresses that unlike other conquests of the period this one had very strong religious component of proselytizing by the sword and atrocities. The end result was complete change of population’s religion and permanent conversion of these territories into Islamic lands. Here is how author characterizes consequences of this battle: “two-thirds (or 66 percent) of Christendom’s original territory†—including three of the five most important centers of Christianity—Jerusalem, Antioch, and Alexandria‡—were permanently swallowed up by Islam and thoroughly Arabized. For unlike the Germanic barbarians who invaded and conquered Europe in the preceding centuries—only to assimilate into Christian culture, civilization, and language (Latin and Greek)—the Arabs imposed their creed and language onto the conquered peoples so that, whereas the “Arabs” once only thrived in the Arabian Peninsula, today the “Arab world” consists of some twenty-two nations spread over the Middle East and North Africa.”
Author then briefly discusses events after Yarmuk when Muslim powers consolidated their gains and continuing warfare against Byzantine.

Chapter 2 The Jihad Reaches an Eastern Wall of Stone: The Siege of Constantinople, 717

This chapter describes temporary slowdown of Muslim conquest when they failed in the first siege of Constantinople in 674-678. Then author reviews follow up struggles and stresses the role of slaves’ acquisition, especially women, as significant driving force of Muslim raids, strongly supported by religions duty of jihad.  Practically it meant psychologically win-win situation when strive to obtain earthly pleasures was combined with definite promise to supply high quality of such pleasures in afterlife for fallen jihadists. Author also describes growing understanding among Christians of ideological, religious character of the struggle and impossibility of permanent accommodation. At the end of chapter Author describes the second 717-718 siege of Constantinople, which also ended in Muslim defeat.

Chapter 3 The Jihad Reaches a Western Wall of Ice: The Battle of Tours, 732

This chapter moves just a dozen years later, but to different part of Europe. First author discusses Muslim conquest of Spain and initially Mediterranean coastline that was completed by 730. As usual author stresses multiple atrocities committed during this process and massive forcible conversions of previously mainly Christian population. Then he reviews history of Charles Charlemagne who defeated Islamic force in battle of Tour in 732, stopping cold their movement farther into Europe. At the end of chapter author however mentions that it did not prevent follow up attempts such as Muslim landing in Italy in 846 that ended with occupation of Sicily, many Mediterranean islands, and new long-term feature of life in these areas – Muslim piracy. Author somewhat asserts that Charlemagne victory at Tours was overstated because it did not really prevented Mediterranean from becoming “Muslim Lake”. Author even completes the chapter by stating that Muslims often not even were looking for complete conquest, but rather for raiding, looting, and acquiring slaves so actual Muslim chronicles not even mention Tours as something significant.

Chapter 4 Islam’s New Champions: The Battle of Manzikert, 1071

Here author moves to another part of Islam, the one related to Abbasid Caliphate, based on Shia branch situated in Persia with center in Baghdad. In 838 Caliph Mutasim destroyed important Byzantium city Amorium, which led to Christian counterattack when for the next two hundred years fight was continued until Turks formed Seljuk Empire and first devastated Armenia in 1019, then destroyed Byzantium forces at Manzikert and captured Roman emperor. Author characterizes this as Turkish Yarmuk, meaning that it was similarly to Arabs opened road for conquest for Turks.

Chapter 5 Christendom Strikes Back: The Battle of Hattin, 1187

The next point of this long struggle was the first Crusade when continuing deprivation against Christian by Muslims in what used to be Christian territories containing multiple religious sites. Author describes it as the holy war initiated in response and retaliation against Muslims’ jihad. Author starts this part of history in 1095 with Christian mobilization, initial victories resulted not in small part because of general indifference of Muslim population. Muslims were much more busy fighting each other in Shia vs. Sunni struggle to pay attention to such insignificant things as Jerusalem and area around. However they noticed that something is not exactly right and produced Saladin, who manage mobilize Muslims, win battle of Hattin and expel Crusaders.

Chapter 6 The Crusade Victorious: The Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa, 1212

This chapter starts with discussion of incomplete conquest of Spain in 8th century by Muslins when small Christian enclaves in mountainous Astoria managed to survive and repulse many consequent attacks for centuries. Author also discusses what he believes erroneous narrative for Muslim tolerance and scientific prosperity of Islamic Spain. Author discusses an interesting dynamics created by massive use of slavery, especially enslaved women of European background that, combined with acceptance of children produced by these women as legitimate issue of their Muslim fathers. Author describes details of this long continuing war, which eventually ended by complete expulsion of Muslims from Spain in 1492.

Chapter 7 Muhammad’s Dream: The Siege of Constantinople, 1453

Here author reviews the late part of Byzantine decline and raise of Ottomans with their peculiar institution of kidnapped in childhood slaves-soldiers that eventually become key component of Ottoman state. At the end author discusses final destruction of Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantine) and fall of Constantinople due to numeric and technological superiority of Ottomans.

Chapter 8 The Rise and Fall of Islam: The Siege of Vienna, 1683

This chapter is about pick Islam when Ottomans sieged Vienna, but where defeated by alliance of European Christian armies. Author looks at previous events in Eastern Europe when Mongols conquered Russia in 1240 and then become Islamized by 1300. It was not an easy process and author describes it in some detail. By 1380 Russians achieved some success in repulsing Tatars, but the fight was periodically continuing until in 1478 Russia stopped paying tribute. The Islamic raids with plunder and abduction continued for another century, but complete dominance over Russia ended. Author reviewing similar evens all over the Europe and Middle East when Islam was stopped and after a few centuries of relative equilibrium with raids and mutual retaliations until very religious Ottoman Grand Vizier Kara Mustafa decided renew Islamic conquest and moved against center of European Holy Roman Empire – Vienna. Despite usual betrayals of some Christian nations and leaders, enough forces arrived to protect Vienna with key role played by Jan Sobieski’s Polish army to achieve victory, forcing Ottomans to retreat. After another 15 major battles from 1683 to 1697 the treaty of Karlowitz was signed practically ending 1000 years Islamic military offensive against Christianity.

Author briefly describes the following centuries when Islamic forces were limited to raids with no ability to launch massive military attack any more. The response was various from Russian conquest of Crimea to American punitive naval expedition against barbarian pirates.  Author ends in 1924 when the last great Islamic power – Ottoman Empire was dissolved and West European countries divided Islamic lands between themselves as mandates or colonies.

Postscript Muslim Continuity vs. Western Confusion

Author’s postscript kind of laments current situation that he believes characterized by Western loss of memory about 1500 years war and came up with politically correct interpretation of Islam as religion of peace, that no truly religious Muslim really accept. Consequently the Islamic jihad renewed in form of terrorism. It is clearly supported by restoration of Islamic states such as Iran or ISIS. These Islamic states are way too weak to be serious threat for now, but are quite inspirational for Muslims in their ability to stand up against non-Islamic powers and dogged pursuit of nuclear weapons. Author makes the point that current overwhelming military power of West is combined with ideological weakness and loss of history and understanding of enemy, making situation quite dangerous with potential to be be costly in the future: “In short, if Islam is terrorizing the West today, that is not because it can, but because the West allows it to. For no matter how diminished, a still swinging Scimitar will always overcome a strong but sheathed Sword.“

MY TAKE ON IT:

I think that author is quite correct in his estimate of dangers of Islamic ideology. However I do not think that Islam is as strong as it was 1000 years ago mainly because humans are moving away from strong religious believes. It is fully applied to Muslims all over the world and a pretty good example of this had been provided during 1950s and 60s when people in these countries moved to quasi-scientific secular ideology of socialism. It ended in disaster and misery and partial return to militant Islam is reaction to this disaster. However the terrorism against West and application of Sharia laws is even more disastrous for Muslims. The problem is they see no alternative since West at this point does not inspire following despite overwhelming technological and economic superiority. The resolution of these problems will actually come from the West’s accommodating to tremendous technological and political changes it is undergoing right now. Such western renewal would once again provide example for emulation and people in Islamic world eventually leave this militant religious ideology of 7th century in dustbin of history where it belong.

 

20200105 – Polarization

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MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is to review recent sociological research on American political conditions and present massive prove that it is now in the state of deep polarization between traditional parties of Democrats and Republicans. Author provides statistics on polarization between various part of society: elite, including media, partisans of both parties, and general population. Author aims to convince that at least part of the cause for this is regional realignment between North, South, and West, but also wealthy ideological donors, a bit of gerrymandering, and a lot of Divergence and Sorting of population.

DETAILS:

  1. Introduction

Here author briefly characterizes what is current polarization of American politics and discusses what he intends to presents in each chapter of this book.

  1. What Is Political Polarization?

What is the difference between partisanship and polarization? What Is the difference between mass and elite polarization? What is partisan sorting and is it different from polarization? What is belief constraint and ideological consistency; Who is polarized—the public or the politicians? Why is polarization bad? What have we learned?

In this chapter author defines polarization “as the increasing support for extreme political views relative to the support for centrist or moderate views. He contrasts it with partisanship which “is reflected as a strong bias in favor of one’s party and strong dislike or prejudice against other parties” and argues that this distinction in “how we understand and evaluate the performance of our political system.”
Author provides very clear graphic representation of polarized vs. centrist situation:

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  1. Are Partisan Elites Polarized?

How do we measure elite polarization! Why do you assume legislative voting occurs only on the liberal-conservative Are there other sources of data for measuring congressional polarization? Do roll-call ideal points really reflect congressional ideology! What issues divide Congress the most? Are both parties responsible for polarizations; Are state legislatures polarized? Are the courts polarized? And the media? What have we learned?

Here author discusses polarization of elites and how it could be measured. Mainly the measurement is based on votes and how many of them went in synch or out of synch with one’s party. Here is the graph demonstrating that we moved into highest polarized period since the New Deal:

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  1. Is the Public Polarized?

How is it even plausible that the public is not polarized? Is the public moderate? What is the evidence in favor of increased voter sorting? Why does it matter whether voters are sorted but not polarized? Is sorting a good thing or a bad thing? What issues are the public is sorted on? Is it the economy, stupid? Does polarization reflect a “culture war? What is affective polarization? What have we learned?

In this chapter author moves from elite to regular people:” Here we will see that the evidence is more mixed. It is true that there is much more disagreement on policy issues between voters who identify with the Democratic Party and those who identify with the Republican Party. But how to interpret that fact is open to considerable disagreement. Many scholars argue that it is indeed evidence that voters have polarized in the sense of adopting more extreme views. But other scholars are equally insistent that it reflects the fact that voters are simply better sorted into parties so that most conservative voters are now Republican and most liberal voters are now Democratic—something that was far from true in earlier eras.”

Here author offers some conclusions:

  • The first is that the partisan polarization or sorting of voters occurred considerably later than the polarization of the political elites and activists. This suggests that the polarization we observe from the elites is probably not a simple reaction to changes among the electorate. Indeed it is more plausible that the positions and partisanship of the voters are a reaction to the polarization of elected officials and other elite actors.
  • Second, despite the widely held belief that voters are polarized along a set of hot button social issues, such as abortion and gay rights, political scientists have routinely found that positions on economic and social welfare issues better predict the partisanship of voters. There are sharp disagreements, however, to the extent to which preferences on social welfare issues are in turn derived from differences in racial attitudes.

At the end of chapter author discusses how political views become part of people’s identity and what he calls “affective polarization”

  • Finally, I discuss the related concept of affective polarization that focuses on the increased salience of partisanship as a social identity. As a consequence of heightened party identification, citizens now show considerably more animus to supporters of the other party. I discuss the roles of ideological and policy polarization as well as the partisan sorting on other social identities in the rise of affective polarization.
  1. What Are the Causes of Polarization?

Why was polarization so low from the 1930s to the 1960s? Senate? Can the polarization of the late nineteenth century be compared to what we see today? What is the Southern Realignment and why did it happen! Why did southern whites move to the GOP? Why is congressional voting on racial issues no longer distinctive? Does economic inequality cause polarization? Do party leaders engineer polarization? Is the rising competition for congressional majorities to blame? Why don’t more moderates run for Congress? Is the media responsible for polarization! What about the emergence of the Internet and social media? Is the United States unique? What have we learned?

Here author moves to causes of polarization. He point out regional realignment when Democrats lost their Southern base. Author also “consider large-scale economic and social change as explanations as well as important developments in the media environment, including cable television, the Internet, and social media.”  Author also links it to the growth of inequality:

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The final point he makes here is that leadership of both parties push for polarization to enhance their position inside the party, while media actively promotes it because without polarization there is no story to tell. 

  1. How Does Electoral Law Affect Legislative Polarization?

How much does polarization reflect geographic sorting? Does gerrymandering cause polarization? Isn’t it possible that the effects of gerrymandering on the House carried over to the Senate? But isn’t gerrymandering responsible for a decline in electoral competitiveness? Are there other ways in which redistricting can impact polarization? Do partisan primaries cause polarization? Hasn’t California’s “Top-Two” system reduced polarization there? What role does campaign finance play in polarization? Would stronger parties reduce polarization? Would a different electoral system reduce polarization? What have we learned?

Here author analyses and then rejects the idea of institutional prompting of polarization despite changes in some features such as partisan primaries and gerrymandering. He suggests that it is rather wealthy ideological donors who push polarization up. He rather blames polarization on sorting and divergence – the situation presented in the graph below:

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  1. What Are the Consequences of Polarization for Public Policy and Governance?

Why does polarization impact congressional policymaking capacity? How do legislative parties turn polarization into gridlock? What about the filibuster and the presidential veto? Does polarization make Congress less productive? How has polarization affected the executive branch and the bureaucracy? Has the American judiciary and legal system changed as a result of polarization? How has polarization affected the balance of power between the national and state governments? Has polarization affected policymaking in the states? Has polarization increased the political power of the wealthy relative to others? Does polarization have a conservative bias? What have we learned?

Here author discusses “the impact of polarization on policy outcomes and governance. The focus is on how polarization has affected the level and quality of policymaking in the legislative, executive, and judicial branches. “ Author believes that the problem is in Congress’ failure to legislate due to polarization which prevents its members from creating effective majorities. Author expresses hope that courts and presidents could pick up the slack, but he is afraid that it could benefit conservatives.

  1. Is the Trump Presidency a New Normal or More of the Same?

As any other person of seemingly liberal persuasion, author cannot avoid the Donald. Author notes that while Trump ran as populist, probably closer to traditional democratic politics than to GOP, he rules as pretty orthodox conservative. Author discusses Trump’s achievements in populating Supreme Court with 2 constitutionalists in mold of Federalist Society, which author seems to be unhappy about. While giving Trump some credit for legislative and judicial achievements, author expresses fear that Trumps popularity could lead to authoritarian change of type implemented by Hugo Chavez and Erdogan. He also concerned that Trump strong support of working class would be somehow detrimental to non-white people. As it is usual for currently popular among western elites racist / leftist stereotype of dividing people by race and inability to see that Trump success in creating jobs and improving economy is beneficial to all working class with non-whites probably benefiting even more than whites. At the end author expresses hope that “ The press, the civil service, the states, and the judiciary continue to place formidable checks on the president’s power. While the president’s co-partisans in Congress should have challenged him more publicly and investigated his administration more thoroughly, they declined to move on some of his legislative priorities, opened independent investigations into his campaign, and refused to provide him cover should he have decided to fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Yet cloth can tatter only so long before it rips. The preservation of liberal democracy in the United States will eventually require overcoming our deep divisions in order to rekindle our faith in the virtues of compromise.“

MY TAKE ON IT:

This book is fine as a source of political statistics packed in a bunch of nice diagrams. However it does not look deeply into ideological causes of polarization, which in my opinion strongly linked to change not that much in ethnic mix of population as change in types and availability of jobs and correspondingly decent quality of life. This quality, while improving technologically and materially, greatly deteriorated psychologically due to elite moving manufacturing jobs out of country to China and other places where labor is cheap and environmental and other American regulations are non-existent. Combined with massive immigration of low skill illegal immigrants and, as well educated and much cheaper than Americans, legal immigrants from developing world, it squeezed middle and working class. The elite prospered, while many others suffered. It’s no wonder that these others start looking for a champion who would be fully on their side. After failing to find it either with Bushes or Clintons / Obamas, they practically dropped both parties and found the champion in Donald Trump, who with their help defeated elite of both parties, eventually remaking GOP to fit his vision. I think that idea that this Jeannie once out of bottle could be put back in is completely insensible and could lead to Jeannie being very upset and even violent against elite. It would be much better to negotiate way to restoration of psychological well-being of Americans of lower classes by all means necessary even if it includes limitation of immigration, regulatory enthusiasm, racist politics, and other things dear to American elite.

 

20191229 – The Evolution of The Sensitive Soul

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MAIN IDEA:

Authors define the main idea of this book as attempt to answer the question: “How did minimal animal consciousness originate during animal evolution?”
. This attempt is based on identification of a marker that indicate transfer from preconscious to conscious animal. Overall authors define three levels from self-maintaining activities to complete consciousness: “nutritive soul” – plants, “sensitive souls” – animals, and “rational soul” – humans. Authors define this marker the following way: ”the evolutionary-transition marker for consciousness is unlimited (open-ended) associative learning (UAL). This, we argue, was the phylogenetically earliest manifestation and driver of the evolution of sustainable minimal consciousness. UAL refers to an organism’s ability to attach motivational value to a compound, multifeatured stimulus and a new action pattern and to use it as the basis for future learning. We argue that UAL is a good transition marker because the features that neurobiologists and philosophers regard as essential for consciousness are also required for UAL. If UAL is accepted as a transition marker, one can identify this capacity in different taxa and provide an account of the distribution of consciousness in the animal world—a major issue with important biological and ethical implications.“

DETAILS:

Introduction to Part I: Rationale and Foundations

Here authors discuss main ideas of the book and present brief descriptions and objectives for each part and chapter of the book.

  1. Goal-Directed Systems: An Evolutionary Approach to Life and Consciousness

Here authors describe their evolutionary approach and provide nice picture of Aristotelian approach to differentiation of all things living:

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After that authors discuss some epistemological issues of defining life and present table of history for this in XX century:

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2. The Organization and Evolution of the Mind: From Lamarck to the Neuroscience of Consciousness

In this chapter authors go through work and thinking of outstanding researches: Lamarck, Spencer, Darwin, William James, Pavlov, and Skinner reviewing developments up to the recent time.

3. The Emergentist Consensus: Neurobiological Perspectives

Here authors review contemporary status of the field and identify areas of consensus. Here is the graphic representation:

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Authors link UAL to consensus of seven properties characterizing consciousness:

  1. Global activity and accessibility of information
  2. Binding and unification
  3. Selection, plasticity, learning, and attention
  4. Intentionality
  5. Temporal thickness
  6. Emotions, goals
  7. Embodiment, agency, and a notion of “self”

At the end authors suggest:” that UAL is the transition marker for consciousness has obvious implications for the distribution question. Discovering whether or not UAL occurs in different groups could provide an answer to the question about which animals can positively be said to possess minimal consciousness.”

Introduction to Part II: Major Transitions in the Evolution of the Mind

Authors start by presenting 8 levels of genetically supported information processing in living objects identified by John Maynard Smith and Eörs Szathmáry:

(1) From replicating molecules to populations of molecules in compartments (protocells);

(2) From independent genes to chromosomes;

(3) From RNA as both an information carrier and catalyst to DNA as the carrier of information and proteins as enzymes;

(4) From prokaryotes to eukaryotes;

(5) From asexual clones to sexual populations;

(6) From single-cell eukaryotes to multicellular organisms with differentiated cells;

(7) From solitary individuals to colonies with nonreproductive castes

(8) From primate societies to human societies with language

Then they discuss their approach to research as development-oriented (evo-devo), in which they identify 5 research themes:

  • First, using the comparative method, it is developmental processes from the fertilized egg onward that are being compared, rather than the biological features of adult animals.
  • Second, there is a strong focus on the effects of genetic variations on embryonic development and recognition that some variants can have large, saltational outcomes.
  • Third, the role of developmental plasticity—the ability of the same genotype to generate different phenotypes in different environmental conditions—and the primacy of developmental responses in evolution are highlighted.
  • Fourth, the generation of developmental variations and their maintenance and inheritance within and between individuals—play a role in evolutionary explanations.
  • Fifth, physical, chemical, and cybernetic constraints on the direction, mode, and tempo of development, and their role in evolution, are emphasized.

Then they discuss role of phenotype in selection and model of exploration – stabilization perspective on selection.

Authors also provide here brief description of remaining chapters of the book.

6. The Neural Transition and the Building Blocks of Minimal Consciousness

Authors start this chapter “with the building blocks of learning, provide an overview of the transition to neural animals, and discuss the molecular and behavioral components found in cnidarians, from which simple forms of associative learning, and later UAL, probably evolved. Authors link the evolution of the nervous system with the evolution of mobility and muscles. They also stress the problem mobility opened up: once moving macroscopic animals had evolved, they had to distinguish between the sensory effects of their own movements and those that were independent of their own actions, a difficulty that led to the evolution of new modulatory interactions between sensory and motor neural centers.”

7. The Transition to Associative Learning: The First Stage

In this chapter authors ” describe the evolution of limited associative learning and the problem that this great adaptive innovation brought about—the problem of overlearning. This stumbling block was partially overcome by restricting learning to surprising, newsworthy discrepancies between expectations based on what has been learned and the actual, current effects of a new stimulus.”

Here is graphic comparison of authors’ model with previous:

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8. The Transition to Unlimited Associative Learning: How the Dice Became Loaded

“Building on the discussion in the preceding seven chapters, this chapter considers the transition to UAL and to minimal consciousness. Authors describe the functional neural architecture that constructed UAL, which, they argue, is the architecture underlying the simplest mental representations, and describe the different realizations of this architecture in vertebrates, arthropods, and mollusks. UAL led to a great increase in adaptability, but like limited associative learning, it also led to a severe problem of overlearning, which was evolutionarily solved by modulating the animals’ memory and their responses to stress.”

Authors also discuss UAL in Bayesian terms, somewhat linked to AI developments and provide nice graphic presentation of functional evolution:

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9. The Cambrian Explosion and Its Soulful Ramifications

Here authors position their “evolutionary proposal within an ecological context. They suggest that the evolutionary emergence of limited and unlimited associative learning had dramatic effects, acting as an adaptability driver of the Cambrian explosion. Once in place, the evolution of UAL led in some lineages (notably, birds and mammals, but also in the very different cephalopods) to the emergence of “Popperian” animals, creatures endowed with imagination.”

Here is general presentation of author views on Cambrian:

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10. The Golem’s Predicament

In this final chapter authors “discuss the continuity between life and consciousness, examine the possibility (and implications) of constructing artificial conscious beings, and outline a further stage in the evolution of consciousness: the transition to the human “rational soul,” to human symbolic-based cognition, and to human abstract values. This last chapter takes the form of a dialogue, with a critical reader who questions authors’ interpretations and who wants to understand the implications of our proposal for neural and cognitive consciousness studies, for the philosophy of mind, and for ethics.“

Here is the table authors compiled to present totality of development from non-living materials to rational (human) consciousness:

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MY TAKE ON IT:

This is very well researched, logically constructed, and very convincingly presented view on evolutionary development of rational beings. I pretty much agree with authors approach and I think that presented understanding of interaction between genotype and phenotype is very plausible and probably quite close to reality. The limitation of this book to sensitive soul and especially final discussion shows authors understanding, that I fully agree with, of necessity of expanding research into group functionality in order to fully understand evolutionary meaning of rational soul. I really hope that authors will move into this direction and produce as well researched and analyzed book on this next step, as this one.

 

20191222 – Upheaval

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MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is that a crisis that occurs in lives of individuals and history of countries is an important and difficult process with unpredictable outcome. The response to such crisis requires mobilization of all individual and societal strength and abilities to overcome successfully. From detailed analysis of history of countries in crises author is trying to derive some rules how to handle crises successfully and then suggests ways to deal with what he considered current and/or potential crises in USA and the World.

DETAILS:

Prologue: Legacies of Cocoanut Grove

Two stories—What’s a crisis? – Individual and national crises—What this book is and isn’t— Plan of the book

Here author refer to tragic fire in dancing hall in 1942 Boston that killed some 492 people. This tragedy caused multiple people, either survivors or relatives of victims to undergo difficult psychological crisis, which not all of them were capable to overcome. Here is how author defines crisis: ”one can think of a crisis as a moment of truth: a turning point, when conditions before and after that “moment” are “much more” different from one another than before and after “most” other moments.”  After that author expands this notion of crisis from individuals to societies, providing as example history of Rome: ”a historian of ancient Rome might apply the word “crisis” to only three events after the foundation of the Roman Republic around 509 BC: the first two wars against Carthage (264–241 and 218–201 BC), the replacement of republican government by the empire (around 23 BC), and the barbarian invasions leading to the Western Roman Empire’s fall (around AD 476).”  At the end of prologue author presents plan of the book, which is mainly discussion of historical crisis in several countries and look at the future for USA and the World.

PART 1 INDIVIDUALS

Chapter 1. Personal Crises

A personal crisis—Trajectories—Dealing with crises—Factors related to outcomes—National crises

Author begins this chapter with personal crisis story that he successfully overcame with the help of his father. Then he provides kind of algorithm of how to deal with crisis and discusses each item in his list:

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PART 2.NATIONS: CRISES THAT UNFOLDED

In this part author reviews history of several countries where severe crises occurred and then connects these histories to factors that he provided in the table.

Chapter 2. Finland’s War with the Soviet Union

Visiting Finland—Language—Finland until 1939—The Winter War—The Winter War’s end – The Continuation War—After 1945—Walking a tightrope – Finlandization—Crisis framework Chapter

Here author retells the story of Russo-Finland winter war of 1940 and its continuation until 1945. Finland lost this war but not until it inflicted severe casualties on the USSR and caused serious ideological and psychological damage, eventually resulting in Stalin’s decision to tolerate its limited independence. Author makes point here that overcoming crisis took difficult steps of accepting Soviet humiliating demands and learning not to irritate this powerful neighbor.

  1. The Origins of Modern Japan

My Japanese connections—Japan before 1853—Perry—1853 to 1868—The Meiji Era—Meiji – Reforms—“Westernization”—Overseas expansion—Crisis framework—Questions

Here author reviews another crisis, this time from XIX century when Japan discovered that its traditional isolation stop working because Western military become so superior that it allowed force imposition of trade rules. Japan leadership successfully resolved this crisis by dramatically changing their behavior not only opening country, but also actively searching acquisition of knowledge and skills that consequently led to liquidation of military and industrial deficiencies, so within some 50 years Japan was able to win war against Russia in 1904.

Chapter 4. A Chile for All Chileans

Visiting Chile—Chile until 1970—Allende—The coup and Pinochet—Economics until “No! ‘— After Pinochet—Pinochet’s shadow—Crisis framework—Returning to Chile

This is review of another crisis, this time internal crises in Chile when socialist Allende, after being democratically elected, start moving to communist totalitarian regime. Chile’s society resisted, leading eventually to military coup. Author manages to maintain reasonably fair narrative retelling not only negatives, but also positive economic development that brought in relative prosperity to Chile after market reforms.

Chapter S. Indonesia, the Rise of a New Country

In a hotel—Indonesia’s background—The colonial era—Independence—Sukarno—Coup—Mass legacies—Crisis framework—Returning to Indonesia

This chapter is about another crisis, somewhat similar to Chile when leftist coup was stopped by military and consequential massacre of everybody even remotely on the left. This time the dictatorship was not able to move effectively to market economy and suppress corruption, so no happy ending occurred at the time. However author describes how he visited this country recently and found a lot less corruption and working economy.

Chapter 6. Rebuilding Germany

Germany in 1945—1945 to 1961—Germans holding judgment—1968—1 968’’s aftermath— Brandt and re-unification—Geographic constraints—Self-pity?-Leaders and realism—Crisis framework

This chapter about Germany concentrates on several crisis in this country and its post WWII history from division of the country to rise of Berlin wall to the fall of this wall. For some reason author pays lots of attention to students riot in 1968, but his main stress is on the change of this country from aggressive and highly militaristic to quite pacifistic.

Chapter 7. Australia: Who Are We?

Visiting Australia—First Fleet and Aborigines—Early immigrants

—Federation—Keeping them out—World War One—World War Two—Loosening the ties—The end of White Australia—Crisis framework

The final chapter of this part is about Australia, which did not have such tragic and bloody crises with wars or coups, just slow moving identity crises. This was pretty much recognition that Australia is not part of Britain any more and old mother country does not have neither resources nor will to provide protection and support. It was a slow process on both sides, but eventually Australia moved to practically complete independence, even if it still recognizes queen as formal head of the state.

PART 3 | NATIONS AND THE WORLD: CRISES UNDERWAY

In this part author moves to more consequential countries: Japan and USA and changes focus from looking back at historical crises to looking at ongoing crisis in these two countries, and what he believes could lie in the future not only for these two countries, but for the whole world.

Chapter 8. What Lies Ahead for Japan?

Japan today—Economy—Advantages—Government debt—Women—Babies—Old and declining—Immigration—China and Korea—Natural resource management—Crisis framework

This chapter is about what author believes is Japan crisis. The reasons are aging and decrease of population, debt, and not complete reconciliation with Korea and China after the war. He then moves through his list of crisis factors and checks pluses and minuses of Japan situation and crises handling.

Chapter 9. What Lies Ahead for the United States? Strengths, and the Biggest Problem The U.S. today—Wealth—Geography—Advantages of democracy—Other advantages—Political polarization—Why? —Other polarization

Chapter 10. What Lies Ahead for the United States? Three “Other” Problems

Other problems—Elections—Inequality and immobility—So what? —Investing in the future—Crisis framework

Similarly to analysis of Japan, only more detailed, is author’s analysis of USA that author provides in these two chapters. At the end he provides typical American summary:” What is going to happen to the U.S.? That will depend upon the choices that we make. The enormous fundamental advantages that we enjoy mean that our future can remain as bright as has been our past, if we deal with the obstacles that we are putting in our own way. But we are presently squandering our advantages.

Chapter 11. What Lies Ahead for the World?

The world today—Nuclear weapons—Climate change—Fossil fuels—Alternative energy sources—Other natural resources—Inequality—Crisis framework

Here author dutifully and obviously sincerely checks all the fears that academic class uses to scare people into agreeing for more taxes and more grants. He even provides very funny diagram describing how global warming works and a few numbers about resource depletion and population growth.

Epilogue: Lessons, Questions, and Outlook

Predictive factors—Are crises necessary? —Roles of leaders in history—Roles of specific leaders —what next? – Lessons for the future

Here author combines his two tables into one list and goes in details through each part at global level:

  1. Acknowledgment that one is in crisis
  2. Accept responsibility, avoid victimization, self-pity and blaming others
  3. Build a fence / selective change
  4. Help from other nations
  5. Use other nations as models
  6. National Identity
  7. Honest self-appraisal
  8. Historical experience of previous national crises
  9. Patience with national failure
  10. Situation-specific national flexibility
  11. National core values
  12. Freedom from geopolitical constrains.

At the end author discusses need for crisis for people to take situation seriously and do something to overcome it. He also stresses role of leaders, which importance could never be clearly identified.

MY TAKE ON IT:

It is a nice review of crisis situations, which nevertheless overestimates importance of crisis in many cases, underestimates human ability to handle them, and somewhat missing luck or lack thereof in crisis situations. I think that crisis situation itself is only indicator of how well entity, either person or nation, is adjusted to environment and how much resources, both tangible and intangible, this entity has for modification if needed. Author’s to do list is nice, but it would only work if both levels of adjustment and resource availability sufficient to overcome the crisis. Otherwise to do list is not going to help in the least. To take one of his many example at national level, the Japan Meiji success was possible only because it dealt with Western trading nations, which had no intention of conquest and subjugation while happily allowing Japan to acquire technology and know-how, the generosity for which these Western nations later paid a lot in lives and treasure during WWII. In case of Finland, its successful resistance in the winter of 1940 did not stop Stalin from winning this small war, but demonstrated that it would require resources for occupation and complete subjugation that Stalin, busy with Poland, Baltic States, and preparation for war, just was not willing to allocate. At the end of war Stalin decided that remotely controlled satellite placed within Western camp – kind of small trap door in Iron curtain, used as conduit for technology transfer and source of convertible currency would better serve his purposes than another soviet republic. In both cases success was not that much what was done by leaders of these countries, as what opportunities were open for them. Such opportunities were completely closed for others, like Poland or Baltic countries.

 

20191215 – The Coddling of American Mind

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MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is to demonstrate how contemporary American Academia violate or even trying completely eliminate the great Western tradition of free thinking and research, propagating untruths and hurting the young generation of students. It is also to demonstrate how this generation is already severally handicapped by development of super safe parenting, fear of exposure to reality, and social media that leaves young people with no experience of real social interaction by substituting it with remote electronic forms. The main idea also includes recommendations for how to move to wiser kids, universities, and eventually society by acting according to the rules and ideas of Western traditions that served well to create prosperous society that leftists are trying to destroy.

DETAILS:

INTRODUCTION: The Search for Wisdom

Here authors explore untruth that currently taught to the young generations:

This is a book about three Great Untruths that seem to have spread widely in recent years:

  • The Untruth of Fragility: What doesn’t kill you makes you weaker.
  • The Untruth of Emotional Reasoning: Always trust your feelings.
  • The Untruth of Us Versus Them: Life is a battle between good people and evil people.

While many propositions are untrue, in order to be classified as a Great Untruth, an idea must meet three criteria:

  • It contradicts ancient wisdom (ideas found widely in the wisdom literatures of many cultures).
  • It contradicts modern psychological research on wellbeing.
  • It harms the individuals and communities who embrace it.

Authors also discusses in introduction their experiences as leftist academics who observed changes in universities from 1970 till now and got scared by massive debilitating impact on the young generation of massive indoctrination, suppression of free speech and free thinking and isolation of student from exposure to Western culture and its values.

PART I: Three Bad Ideas

CHAPTER 1 The Untruth of Fragility: What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Weaker

Here author discusses correctness of usual wisdom:” What does not kill you makes you stronger”, even if it is not absolute and critic its opposite that is in vogue in colleges right now. They refer to Antifragility, which is normal product of evolutionary process human development and retell how it is undermined by Safetyism, implementation of Safe spaces, and such. Their conclusions are:

  • Children, like many other complex adaptive systems, are Antifragile. Their brains require a wide range of inputs from their environments in order to configure themselves for those environments. Like the immune system, children must be exposed to challenges and stressors (within limits, and in age-appropriate ways), or they will fail to mature into strong and capable adults, able to engage productively with people and ideas that challenge their beliefs and moral convictions. Concepts sometimes creep.
  • Concepts like trauma and safety have expanded so far since the 1980s that they are often employed in ways that are no longer grounded in legitimate psychological research. Grossly expanded conceptions of trauma and safety are now used to justify the overprotection of children of all ages—even college students, who are sometimes said to need safe spaces and trigger warnings lest words and ideas put them in danger.
  • Safetyism is the cult of safety—an obsession with eliminating threats (both real and imagined) to the point at which people become unwilling to make reasonable trade-offs demanded by other practical and moral concerns. Safetyism deprives young people of the experiences that their Antifragile minds need, thereby making them more fragile, anxious, and prone to seeing themselves as victims.

CHAPTER 2 The Untruth of Emotional Reasoning: Always Trust Your Feelings

This is about handling emotions and most important not to become slave of one’s emotions. One of expressions of emotional debility of contemporary students, especially leftist is disinvitation of speakers on campus. They provide nice graph for frequency of such idiocy:

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Here is summarization of this chapter:

  • Among the most universal psychological insights in the world’s wisdom traditions is that what really frightens and dismays us is not external events themselves but the way in which we think about them, as Epictetus put it.
  • CBT is a method anyone can learn for identifying common cognitive distortions and then changing their habitual patterns of thinking. CBT helps the rider (controlled processing) to train the elephant (automatic processing), resulting in better critical thinking and mental health.
  • Emotional reasoning is among the most common of all cognitive distortions; most people would be happier and more effective if they did less of it.
  • The term “microaggressions” refers to a way of thinking about brief and commonplace indignities and slights communicated to people of color (and others). Small acts of aggression are real, so the term could be useful, but because the definition includes accidental and unintentional offenses, the word “aggression” is misleading. Using the lens of microaggressions may amplify the pain experienced and the conflict that ensues. (On the other hand, there is nothing “micro” about intentional acts of aggression and bigotry.)
  • By encouraging students to interpret the actions of others in the least generous way possible, schools that teach students about microaggressions may be encouraging students to engage in emotional reasoning and other distortions while setting themselves up for higher levels of distrust and conflict.
  • Karith Foster offers an example of using empathy to reappraise actions that could be interpreted as microaggressions. When she interpreted those actions as innocent (albeit insensitive) misunderstandings, it led to a better outcome for everyone.
  • The number of efforts to “disinvite” speakers from giving talks on campus has increased in the last few years; such efforts are often justified by the claim that the speaker in question will cause harm to students. But discomfort is not danger. Students, professors, and administrators should understand the concept of Antifragility and keep in mind Hanna Holborn Gray’s principle: “Education should not be intended to make people comfortable; it is meant to make them think.”

CHAPTER 3 The Untruth of Us Versus Them: Life Is a Battle Between Good People and Evil People

This is about identity politics, which authors contrast with MLK’s common-humanity approach. Authors also discuss intersectionality and provide nice graph explaining this concept:

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Here is the summary of the chapter:

  • The human mind evolved for living in tribes that engaged in frequent (and often violent) conflict; our modern-day minds readily divide the world into “us” and “them,” even on trivial or arbitrary criteria, as Henri Tajfel’s psychological experiments demonstrated.
  • Identity politics takes many forms. Some forms, such as that practiced by Martin Luther King, Jr., and Pauli Murray, can be called common-humanity identity politics, because its practitioners humanize their opponents and appeal to their humanity while also applying political pressure in other ways.
  • Common-enemy identity politics, on the other hand, tries to unite a coalition using the psychology embedded in the Bedouin proverb “I against my brothers. I and my brothers against my cousins. I and my brothers and my cousins against the world.” It is used on the far right as well as the far left.
  • Intersectionality is a popular intellectual framework on campuses today; certain versions of it teach students to see multiple axes of privilege and oppression that intersect. While there are merits to the theory, the way it is interpreted and practiced on campus can sometimes amplify tribal thinking and encourage students to endorse the Untruth of Us Versus Them: Life is a battle between good people and evil people.
  • Common-enemy identity politics, when combined with microaggression theory, produces a call-out culture in which almost anything one says or does could result in a public shaming. This can engender a sense of “walking on eggshells,” and it teaches students habits of self-censorship. Call-out cultures are detrimental to students’ education and bad for their mental health. Call-out cultures and us-versus-them thinking are incompatible with the educational and research missions of universities, which require free inquiry, dissent, evidence-based argument, and intellectual honesty.“

Part II: Bad ideas in Action

In this part authors “show the Great Untruths in action. We examine the “shout-downs,” intimidation, and occasional violence that are making it more difficult for universities to fulfill their core missions of education and research. We explore the newly popular idea that speech is violence, and we show why thinking this way is bad for students’ mental health. We explore the sociology of witch-hunts and moral panics, including the conditions that can cause a college to descend into chaos.”

CHAPTER 4 Intimidation and Violence

Here authors move to contemporary left’s Orwellian ideas like “Words are Violence; Violence is Safety”. Here is authors’ summary:

  • The “Milo Riot” at UC Berkeley on February 1, 2017, marked a major shift in campus protests. Violence was used successfully to stop a speaker; people were injured, and there were (as far as we can tell) no costs to those who were violent. Some students later justified the violence, as a legitimate form of “self-defense” to prevent speech that they said was violent.
  • Hardly any students say that they themselves would use violence to shut down a speech, but two surveys conducted in late 2017 found that substantial minorities of students (20% in one survey and 30% in the other) said it was sometimes “acceptable” for other students to use violence to prevent a speaker from speaking on campus.
  • The “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in which a white nationalist killed a peaceful counterprotester and injured others, further raised tensions on campus, especially as provocations from far-right groups increased in the months afterward.
  • In the fall of 2017, the number of efforts to shut down speakers reached a record level.
  • In 2017, the idea that speech can be violence (even when it does not involve threats, harassment, or calls for violence) seemed to spread, assisted by the tendency in some circles to focus only on perceived impact, not on intent. Words that give rise to stress or fear for members of some groups are now often regarded as a form of violence.
  • Speech is not violence. Treating it as such is an interpretive choice, and it is a choice that increases pain and suffering while preventing other, more effective responses, including the Stoic response (cultivating nonreactivity) and the antifragile response suggested by Van Jones: “Put on some boots, and learn how to deal with adversity.”

CHAPTER 5 Witch Hunts

Here authors discuss history of witch-hunt and note that it happens when some ideologies came to dominate and then trying to retain this dominance forever. They provide graph demonstrating left dominance in universities:

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They also discuss some recent events and provide summary of the chapter:

  • Humans are tribal creatures who readily form groups to compete with other groups (as we saw in chapter 3). Sociologist Emile Durkheim’s work illuminates the way those groups engage in rituals—including the collective punishment of deviance—to enhance their cohesion and solidarity.
  • Cohesive and morally homogeneous groups are prone to witch hunts, particularly when they experience a threat, whether from outside or from within.
  • Witch hunts generally have four properties: they seem to come out of nowhere; they involve charges of crimes against the collective; the offenses that lead to those charges are often trivial or fabricated; and people who know that the accused is innocent keep quiet, or in extreme cases, they join the mob.
  • Some of the most puzzling campus events and trends since 2015 match the profile of a witch hunt. The campus protests at Yale, Claremont McKenna, and Evergreen all began as reactions to politely worded emails, and all led to demands that the authors of the emails be fired. (We repeat that the concerns that provide the context for a witch-hunt may be valid, but in a witch-hunt, the attendant fears are channeled in unjust and destructive ways.)
  • The new trend in 2017 for professors to join open letters denouncing their colleagues and demanding the retraction or condemnation of their work (as happened to Rebecca Tuvel, Amy Wax, and others) also fits this pattern. In all of these cases, colleagues of the accused were afraid to publicly stand up and defend them.
  • Viewpoint diversity reduces a community’s susceptibility to witch-hunts. One of the most important kinds of viewpoint diversity, diversity of political thought, has declined substantially among both professors and students at American universities since the 1990s. These declines, combined with the rapidly escalating political polarization of the United States (which is our focus in the next chapter), may be part of the reason why the new culture of safetyism has spread so rapidly since its emergence around 2013.

PART Ill: How Did We Get Here’?

In Part III authors “try to solve the mystery. Why did things change so rapidly on many campuses between 2013 and 2017? We identify six explanatory threads: the rising political polarization and cross-party animosity of U.S. politics, which has led to rising hate crimes and harassment on campus; rising levels of teen anxiety and depression, which have made many students more desirous of protection and more receptive to the Great Untruths; changes in parenting practices, which have amplified children’s fears even as childhood becomes increasingly safe; the loss of free play and unsupervised risk-taking, both of which kids need to become self-governing adults; the growth of campus bureaucracy and expansion of its protective mission; and an increasing passion for justice, combined with changing ideas about what justice requires. These six trends did not influence everyone equally, but they have all begun to intersect and interact on college campuses in the United States in the last few years.”

CHAPTER 6 The Polarization Cycle

Here authors discuss polarization between political parties:

  • The United States has experienced a steady increase in at least one form of polarization since the 1980s: affective (or emotional) polarization, which means that people who identify with either of the two main political parties increasingly hate and fear the other party and the people in it. This is our first of six explanatory threads that will help us understand what has been changing on campus.
  • Affective polarization in the United States is roughly symmetrical, but as university students and faculty have shifted leftward during a time of rising cross-party hatred, universities have begun to receive less trust and more hostility from some conservatives and right-leaning organizations.
  • Beginning in 2016, the number of high-profile cases of professors being hounded or harassed from the right for something they said in an interview or on social media began to increase.
  • Rising political polarization, accompanied by increases in racial and political provocation from the right, usually directed from off-campus to on-campus targets, is an essential part of the story of why behavior is changing on campus, particularly since 2016.

CHAPTER 7 Anxiety and Depression

Being teachers, authors constantly interact with the young generation and they notice dramatic increase in metal problems:

  • The national rise in adolescent anxiety and depression that began around 2011 is our second explanatory thread.
  • The generation born between 1995 and 2012, called iGen (or sometimes Gen Z), is very different from the Millennials, the generation that preceded it. According to Jean Twenge, an expert in the study of generational differences, one difference is that iGen is growing up more slowly. On average, eighteen-year-olds today have spent less time unsupervised and have hit fewer developmental milestones on the path to autonomy (such as getting a job or a driver’s license), compared with eighteen-year-olds in previous generations.
  • A second difference is that iGen has far higher rates of anxiety and depression. The increases for girls and young women are generally much larger than for boys and young men. The increases do not just reflect changing definitions or standards; they show up in rising hospital admission rates of self-harm and in rising suicide rates. The suicide rate of adolescent boys is still higher than that of girls, but the suicide rate of adolescent girls has doubled since 2007.
  • According to Twenge, the primary cause of the increase in mental illness is frequent use of smartphones and other electronic devices. Less than two hours a day seems to have no deleterious effects, but adolescents who spend several hours a day interacting with screens, particularly if they start in their early teen years or younger, have worse mental health outcomes than do adolescents who use these devices less and who spend more time in face-to-face social interaction.
  • Girls may be suffering more than boys because they are more adversely affected by social comparisons (especially based on digitally enhanced beauty), by signals that they are being left out, and by relational aggression, all of which became easier to enact and harder to escape when adolescents acquired smartphones and social media.
  • iGen’s arrival at college coincides exactly with the arrival and intensification of the culture of safetyism from 2013 to 2017. Members of iGen may be especially attracted to the overprotection offered by the culture of safetyism on many campuses because of students’ higher levels of anxiety and depression. Both depression and anxiety cause changes in cognition, including a tendency to see the world as more dangerous and hostile than it really is.

CHAPTER 8 Paranoid Parenting

This chapter is about paranoid parenting that become typical in America:

  • Paranoid parenting is our third explanatory thread.
  • When we overprotect children, we harm them. Children are naturally antifragile, so overprotection makes them weaker and less resilient later on.
  • Children today have far more restricted childhoods, on average, than those enjoyed by their parents, who grew up in far more dangerous times and yet had many more opportunities to develop their intrinsic antifragility. Compared with previous generations, younger Millennials and especially members of iGen (born in and after 1995) have been deprived of unsupervised time for play and exploration. They have missed out on many of the challenges, negative experiences, and minor risks that help children develop into strong, competent, and independent adults (as we’ll show in the next chapter).
  • Children in the United States and other prosperous countries are safer today than at any other point in history. Yet for a variety of historical reasons, fear of abduction is still very high among American parents, many of whom have come to believe that children should never be without adult supervision. When children are repeatedly led to believe that the world is dangerous and that they cannot face it alone, we should not be surprised if many of them believe it.
  • Helicopter parenting combined with laws and social norms that make it hard to give kids unsupervised time may be having a negative impact on the mental health and resilience of young people today.
  • There are large social class differences in parenting styles. Families in the middle class (and above) tend to use a style that sociologist Annette Lareau calls “concerted cultivation,” in contrast to the “natural growth parenting” used by families in the working class (and below). Some college students from wealthier families may have been rendered more fragile from overparenting and oversupervision. College students from poorer backgrounds are exposed to a very different set of risks, including potential exposure to chronic, severe adversity, which is especially detrimental to resilience when children lack caring relationships with adults who can buffer stress and help them turn adversity into growth.
  • Paranoid parenting prepares today’s children to embrace the three Great Untruths, which means that when they go to college, they are psychologically primed to join a culture of safetyism.

CHAPTER 9 The Decline of Play

This chapter is about necessity of play for development not only humans, but also animals and how American children now deprived of this necessity:

  • The decline of unsupervised free play is our fourth explanatory thread. Children, like other mammals, need free play in order to finish the intricate wiring process of neural development. Children deprived of free play are likely to be less competent—physically and socially—as adults. They are likely to be less tolerant of risk, and more prone to anxiety disorders.
  • Free play, according to Peter Gray, is “activity that is freely chosen and directed by the participants and undertaken for its own sake, not consciously pursued to achieve ends that are distinct from the activity itself.” This is the kind of play that play experts say is most valuable for children, yet it is also the kind of play that has declined most sharply in the lives of American children.
  • The decline in free play was likely driven by several factors, including an unrealistic fear of strangers and kidnapping (since the 1980s); the rising competitiveness for admission to top universities (over many decades); a rising emphasis on testing, test preparation, and homework; and a corresponding deemphasis on physical and social skills (since the early 2000s).
  • The rising availability of smartphones and social media interacted with these other trends, and the combination has greatly changed the way American children spend their time and the kinds of physical and social experiences that guide the intricate wiring process of neural development.
  • Free play helps children develop the skills of cooperation and dispute resolution that are closely related to the “art of association” upon which democracies depend. When citizens are not skilled in this art, they are less able to work out the ordinary conflicts of daily life. They will more frequently call for authorities to apply coercive force to their opponents. They will be more likely to welcome the bureaucracy of safetyism.

CHAPTER 10 The Bureaucracy of Safetyism

This is basically about people who benefit from all this – bureaucrats:

  • The growth of campus bureaucracy and the expansion of its protective mission is our fifth explanatory thread.
  • Administrators generally have good intentions; they are trying to protect the university and its students. But good intentions can sometimes lead to policies that are bad for students. At Northern Michigan University, a policy that we assume was designed to protect the university from liability led to inhumane treatment of students seeking therapy.
  • In response to a variety of factors, including federal mandates and the risk of lawsuits, the number of campus administrators has grown more rapidly than the number of professors, and professors have gradually come to play a smaller role in the administration of universities. The result has been a trend toward “corporatization.”
  • At the same time, market pressures, along with an increasingly consumerist mentality about higher education, have encouraged universities to compete on the basis of the amenities they offer, leading them to think of students as customers whom they must please.
  • Campus administrators must juggle many responsibilities and protect the university from many kinds of liabilities, so they tend to adopt a “better safe than sorry” (or “CYA”) approach to issuing new regulations. The proliferation of regulations over time conveys a sense of imminent danger even when there is little or no real threat. In this way, administrators model multiple cognitive distortions, promote the Untruth of Fragility, and contribute to the culture of safetyism.
  • Some of the regulations promulgated by administrators restrict freedom of speech, often with highly subjective definitions of key concepts. These rules contribute to an attitude on campus that chills speech, in part by suggesting that freedom of speech can or should be restricted because of some students’ emotional discomfort. This teaches catastrophizing and mind reading (among other cognitive distortions) and promotes the Untruth of Emotional Reasoning.
  • One recent administrative innovation is the creation of “Bias Response Lines” and “Bias Response Teams,” which make it easy for members of a campus community to report one another anonymously for “bias.” This “feel something, say something” approach is likely to erode trust within a community. It may also make professors less willing to try innovative or provocative teaching methods; they, too, may develop a CYA approach.
  • More generally, efforts to protect students by creating bureaucratic means of resolving problems and conflicts can have the unintended consequence of fostering moral dependence, which may reduce students’ ability to resolve conflicts independently both during and after college.

CHAPTER 11 The Quest for Justice

Here authors expand on leftist understanding of justice and provide timetable of events that impacted their perception of current situation. Here is their summary:

  • Political events in the years from 2012 to 2018 have been as emotionally powerful as any since the late 1960s. Today’s college students and student protesters are responding to these events with a powerful commitment to social justice activism. This is our sixth and final explanatory thread.
  • People’s ordinary, everyday, intuitive notions of justice include two major types: distributive justice (the perception that people are getting what is deserved) and procedural justice (the perception that the process by which things are distributed and rules are enforced is fair and trustworthy).
  • The most common way that people think about distributive justice is captured by equity theory, which states that things are perceived to be fair when the ratio of outcomes to inputs is equal for all participants.
  • Procedural justice is about how decisions are being made, and is also about how people are treated along the way, as procedures unfold.
  • Social justice is a central concept in campus life today, and it takes a variety of forms. When social justice efforts are fully consistent with both distributive and procedural justice, we call it proportional-procedural social justice. Such efforts generally aim to remove barriers to equality of opportunity and also to ensure that everyone is treated with dignity. But when social justice efforts aim to achieve equality of outcomes by group, and when social justice activists are willing to violate distributive or procedural fairness for some individuals along the way, these efforts violate many people’s sense of intuitive justice. We call these equal-outcomes social justice.
  • Correlation does not imply causation. Yet in many discussions in universities these days, the correlation of a demographic trait or identity group membership with an outcome gap is taken as evidence that discrimination (structural or individual) caused the outcome gap. Sometimes it did, sometimes it didn’t, but if people can’t raise alternative possible causal explanations without eliciting negative consequences, then the community is unlikely to arrive at an accurate understanding of the problem. And without understanding the true nature of a problem, there is little chance of solving it.

Part IV: Wising Up

In the final part authors “offer advice. We suggest specific actions that will help parents and teachers to raise wiser, stronger, more independent children, and we suggest ways in which professors, administrators, and college students can improve their universities and adapt them for life in our age of technology-enhanced outrage.“

CHAPTER 12 Wiser Kids

Here authors discuss how to raise kids to be ready for real world. It is mainly to provide knowledge of this real world, train to rely on sober analysis, rather than emptions and feelings, develop resilience to opinions and even hostility of others, avoid confrontation because good and evil are inside people not between groups of people. They also propose a practical measure: do service or work before college.

CHAPTER 13 Wiser Universities

For universities authors’ recommendations are: defend freedom of inquiry; pick more mature students; look for viewpoint diversity, and educate for “productive disagreement”.

CONCLUSION Wiser Societies

In conclusion authors summarize the whole book in one small table:

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MY TAKE ON IT:

I find in somewhat charming and encouraging that authors, despite being leftists, nevertheless are capable to think, analyze, and understand the harm the current takeover of higher education by the left is causing not only to students and universities, but also to internal peace of the country. The eye opening for them came from situation when more extreme leftists attack less extreme the same way as they attack conservatives. It looks like something called self-preservation kicks in, making them more reasonable. This self-preservation expands also to their children and way of live because being smart people they seems to understand that combination of debilitating education based on primacy of emotion, denial of intellectual freedoms, and aggressive attempts to suppress others could lead to such powerful pushback from these others that would force them to lose their comfortable way of life. Certainly, being leftists, they comply with compulsory requirement to say some lies about Trump and express their hate, but to me it seems like they do not have real passion behind this. Anyway, I think in general it is great development and whatever these people can do, and they are really trying, to return American education back to traditions of Western civilization would be a valuable help in this struggle.

20191208 – How to lie with Statistics

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MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this small book is to demonstrate how by using various presentation methods and statistical tools, which are technically correct, one can nevertheless create false believes in the mind of user.

DETAILS:

Introduction

Author provides a brief narrative of his encounters with people being misled by either misuse of statistical tools or by intentional use of such tools for this purpose and then moves to specific examples.

  1. The Sample with the Built-in Bias

Here author looks at income statistics for “Average Yale man, class 24” and demonstrates how misleading is this statement because it contains a bunch of imbedded biases. He makes an important point: “To be worth much, a report based on sampling must use a representative sample, which is one from which every source of bias has been removed.”

After that author discusses another issue with selection of representative sample: “The test of the random sample is this: Does every name or thing in the whole group have an equal chance to be in the sample? The purely random sample is the only kind that can be examined with entire confidence by means of statistical theory, but there is one thing wrong with it. It is so difficult and expensive to obtain for many uses that sheer cost eliminates it. A more economical substitute, which is almost universally used in such fields as opinion polling and market research, is called stratified random sampling.
 Finally author demonstrates how difficult it is to meet these requirements.

  1. The Well-Chosen Average

The next point author makes is use of averages without clarifying what they mean. He provides a very nice graphic presentation for this issue:

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  1. How to Talk Back to a Statistic

The final chapter is about overcoming manipulation with statistics and presentations by asking a few very reasonable questions:

  • Who says so?
  • How does he know?
  • Did somebody change the subject?
  • Does it make sense?

MY TAKE ON IT:

This is a great collection of manipulation tools from some 50 years ago. It is funny that despite huge progress in information processing these methods did not change that much. Practically all these technics could be found now in books, news, and on Internet. Sometimes it requires some effort to recognize such manipulation, but usually it is very primitive and obvious to any even slightly educated person. Unfortunately after 12 years of high school and often even after additional 4 years of college the general level of mass education could be estimated as much less than slightly, which created the basis for mass manipulation of people. Consequently lots of politicians and bureaucrats make a great living out of this manipulation. I think that American society is pretty close to saturation with this lies because the net result is deterioration of quality of live, which at some point could create some serious push for a change, including massive improvement in education that would prevent manipulation or at least make it much more difficult.

20191201 – Global Crisis

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MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is demonstrate that “Little Ice Age” of XVII century had huge impact on human history. The global cooling caused significant decrease in agricultural productivity all over the world and consequently mass starvation in many places. The consequence was an increased fight for survival that included wars, revolutions, and political changes. Author clearly intent to caution everybody about direct link between climate and human affairs, which requires constant preparedness to handle similar crises in the future.

DETAILS:

Introduction: The ‘Little Ice Age’ and the ‘General Crisis‘

Here author briefly recount tragedies of XVII century: English Civil War, German 30 years religious war, French Civil war, Russian-Polish-Ukrainian struggle, Ming-Qing dynasty change in China, Mughal empire suffering from the draught, and so on. The only country that got away from this calamity relatively easy was Japan. Author links all this to climate change that had global character and provides nice table summarizing political consequences:

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PART I. THE PLACENTA OF THE CRISIS

1 The Little Ice Age

Here author retells adverse climatic events of the period and then discusses typical response of people highly consistent with the level of civilizational development: the Search for Scapegoats. Author also discusses agricultural productivity, its reliance on climate, and human need in food for survival. With humanity at the time being at the early stages of technological development it was not feasible effectively prevent decrease in food supply, which led to Malthusian solution: massive deaths and decrease in population. The problem was not only death, but also impact on physiological condition of population. As example author provides graph of average height of French males born between 1650 and 1770:

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2 The ‘General Crisis’

In this chapter author discusses how humanity responded to adversity: mainly by starting massive wars, which despite multiple disguises religious and otherwise, were pretty much straggle for resources. Here is well-documented example from Europe:

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At the second part of chapter author discusses how various absolutist monarchies of the time handled the crisis.

3 ‘Hunger is the greatest enemy’: The Heart of the Crisis

Here author reviews details of agricultural production in several countries and its marginal character. Combined with societal conditions of the time any variance in food production quickly led to variance in population. Author also discusses role of cities as “urban graveyard effect”, which occurred when people failed to live off the land and move to cities in hope to obtain sustenance there. Here is example:

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Author reviews this situation in multiple countries and their big cities, concluding that similar circumstances led to similar outcomes.

4 ‘A third of the world has died’: Surviving in the Seventeenth Century

Here author discusses various modes of destruction directly or indirectly caused by climate: massive suicides, increase in deadly diseases, infanticide and abortions, mass migration both voluntary and involuntary. Finally author stresses demographic effects that led to decrease in various cohorts of population.

PART II. ENDURING THE CRISIS

5 The ‘Great Enterprise’ in China, 1618-84; 6 The great shaking’: Russia and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, 1618-86; 7 The ‘Ottoman tragedy’, 1618-83;

8 The lamentations of Germany and its Neighbors 1618-88; 9 The Agony of the Iberian Peninsula, 1618-89; 10 France in Crisis, 1618-88; 11 The Stuart Monarchy: The Path to Civil War 1603-42; 12 Britain and Ireland from Civil War to Revolution, 1642-89

This part is country-by-country detailed history of crisis with all its famines, massacres, revolutions, wars, and tremendous suffering of people all over the world.

PART III. SURVIVING THE CRISIS

13 The Mughals and their Neighbors; 14 Red Flag over Italy; 15 The ‘dark continents’: The Americas, Africa and Australia; 16 Getting it Right: Early Tokugawa Japan

This part continues the history of the crisis, but moves to countries where it was somewhat less severe. It was still pretty bad, just a bit better than extreme cases. However one country: Japan was much more successful in handling it. Author provides a small table demonstrating this success by increase in population and harvests:

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Author explains this success by referring to a number of measures that allowed start up Tokugawa dynasty to achieve this result. The most important was what author calls “Industrious Revolution” – massive intensification of agricultural process that allowed increase in productivity and overall output, consequently preventing or at least alleviating severity of famines that caused so many problems in other countries. Another important achievement was Tokugawa’s success in ruling in feudal lords (daimyo) by forcing them to stay close to the center and provide hostages, which made for effective control over their actions.  Not a small part in this success was result of control over information flows, publishing, and religious activities. Author also stresses comparatively beneficial circumstances: Japan at the time was somewhat under populated so climate cooling had a lot less impact than in countries where previous period of population growth and expansion of agriculture to marginal productivity areas created potential for disaster, when harvest failed in these areas.

PART IV. CONFRONTING THE CRISIS

This part traces response to the crisis from different groups of population.  Author cites LU Kun – Chinese bureaucrat of Ming dynasty who identified four types of rebellious people:

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Then he follows on to discuss rebels breakdown along similar lines in different countries.

17 ‘Those who have no means of support’: The Parameters of Popular Resistance

At the beginning of chapter author provides table for France and graph for China that demonstrate massive increase in revolts during climate crisis:

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He provides narrative of such revolts and looks at deterring factors that demonstrated some preventative power:

  • First, the need to earn a daily wage formed a powerful restraint on rebellion: a family that did not work – whether because on strike, in rebellion, or unemployed – might not eat.
  • Second, the vertical links of kinship, friendship, faction, patronage and ritual in each community created ties between the dominant and the dominated that discouraged violent action.
  • Third, and paradoxically, any economic development within the community that increased social divisions also militated against collective action. Thus a shift towards producing crops (especially industrial crops) for export normally created groups of prosperous cultivators who, as long as strong demand for their goods lasted, remained largely insulated from the frustrations and sufferings of those still tied to subsistence farming; and this significantly reduced the likelihood of unified resistance.
  • Fourth and finally, in most farming communities of the early modern world, the poor often depended for their survival on deference and subordination. Better-off neighbors were more likely to provide relief in time of need to those who showed constant respect and obedience, whereas neglect or surliness might lead to denial of charity and even expulsion from the community. However much the poor may have resented their subordination and humiliation, their circumstances compelled them to conform: they might try to negotiate the terms of subordination, but they rarely dared to challenge it.

Author also looks at such details as role of clerics, etiquette of collective violence, place and time of rebellions, weapons and emblems, and, finally, at outcomes: whether it ended in Concession or Repression.

18 ‘People who hope only for a change’: Aristocrats, Intellectuals, Clerics and ‘dirty people of no name’

Here author moves from the bottom to the near top of societies looking at such causes as crisis of Aristocracy, Education, that typically makes it difficult to accept low level station and lack of resources, and finally at people of “no name” who are practically situated outside of main society, but at some condition could invade it – good examples are Russian Cossacks (Stenka Razin) and Chinese pirates (Li Zicheng). Author also discusses in details legal and philosophical justification of Disobedience and violent revolts.

19 ‘People of heterodox beliefs … who will join up with anyone who calls them’: Disseminating Revolution

Here author looks at similarity between development of revolts and contagious diseases: both starting with some spark in local place, but then quickly expands when encountering large numbers of people without immunity and psychologically at the limits of tolerance. Author also discusses situation when fire moves across national borders, exporting revolution. Finally author looks in details on ‘public sphere’ in different countries meaning foundation of literacy, which is always instrumental in promotion of ideas, including revolutionary ideas. A very interesting note at the end of the chapter relates to the number of initial revolutionaries who in nearly all cases is exceedingly small, which is quite consistent with idea of spark causing huge fire.

PART V. BEYOND THE CRISIS

In this part author moves to aftermath of the crisis in late 1680s when despite continuing adverse climate effects well into XVIII century with continuing wars and revolts, wars and revolts decreased in frequency and intensity. Author rejects the idea that it was result of depopulation. He rather stresses human ability to adjust citing evidence of increased crises preparedness, new technological and organizational measures like quarantine that were applied and, most important, shift away from religious thinking to new way – scientific thinking that provided much better ability to handle adversity. The chapters of this part look at all these consequences.

20 Escaping the Crisis

Here author discusses personal reactions of contemporaries and kind of links it to what it would look like now: “ Many of those who lived in the seventeen century reacted to adversity and anxiety which they could neither explain nor avoid in much the same way as their descendants today: some killed themselves; others went to consult a therapist or a cleric; while others found solace in an absorbing pastime. All three categories are difficult to document, because they left few traces in the surviving sources.
. Author looks at each of these groups
reviewing escapist measures used from emigration to suicide, prevailing psychological mode of melancholy, how it was documented in multiple diaries and other documents and so on. Finally author discusses how it happened that Europe shifted from mass wars to peace as result of general exhaustion.

21 From Warfare State to Welfare State

Here author moves to resilience and recovery starting with notes about Germany that was probably the most devastated part of the continent. Then he reviews similar situation in China and other countries. Finally he reviews multiple technological and economic changes that he characterizes as “Agricultural revolution, Consumer revolution, containment of diseases, advancement and periodic renewal of cities, often after massive fires, and other economic changes that led to increased prosperity.

22 The Great Divergence

Here author analyses reason for divergence between Europe and other parts of the world, citing mainly intellectual changes: development of universities, decrease in power of religious thought controls, overall increasing use of scientific method in all areas of life.

Conclusion: The Crisis Anatomized

In conclusion author discusses who were winners and losers of the crisis, which were somewhat different in different countries generally with peasants and others in lower classes being losers and soldiers and governments being winners.

Epilogue: ‘It’s the climate, stupid’

This stresses human dependency upon climate and discusses in details various occurrences of extreme climate variations. Author laments calm attitude of population to global warming alarmism and presents in details how analysis of London potential floods led to preventive intervention in form of building barrier, which despite being very expensive did prevent massive damages afterword.

MY TAKE ON IT:

It is an interesting history clearly demonstrating human dependency on climate in XVII century when technology was primitive, understanding of environment even more primitive and hate, that was periodically exploding in violence between various nations, religious groups, and classes was just a normal condition of humanity. We now live in different world and current knowledge, scientific method, and technology allows not only much better understanding of climate, but also multitude of measures that could allow handling many a crises in effective way. For example such thing as famine due to cooling, could be easily prevented by shifting agriculture to wormer places, or even moving it to controlled environment, not even accounting for human current ability to modify plants or even produce artificial food. I think that alarmist approach is not supported by demonstrated levels of climate understanding and often driven more by power plays and greed of pseudo scientists who derive lots of money and publicity, than by actually demonstrated problems. In any case, it is typical for people who spend time outside of real business environment attempting to find universal solution for multitude of problems, when in reality problems should be resolved one by one as they clearly present themselves.

 

20191124 – Impossible to Ignore

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MAIN IDEA:

The main idea is to present and discuss in details 15 variables that author believes could be used to influence other people’s memory: “context, cues, distinctiveness, emotion, facts, familiarity, motivation, novelty, quantity of information, relevance, repetition, self-generated content, sensory intensity, social aspects, and surprise.

The end result should be ability of the reader to prepare and deliver memorable presentations that would have material impact on people.

DETAILS:

Author provided a nice summary at the end of each chapter, so I would just go with it. Here is a couple of key diagram around which author builds the narrative:

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CHAPTER 1: MEMORY IS A MEANS TO AN END Why Memory Matters in Decision-Making

  • People act on what they remember, not on what they forget
  • What matters most is what happens next. People need memory to predict their next move
  • Memory guides action toward maximum rewards.
  • To be on people’s minds, plug into their: Reflexes Habits Goals
  • Establish a framework, and then decide which items must stand out. Weaken their neighbors.
  • Consider the memory from the standpoint of proportions, not precision.

CHAPTER 2: A BUSINESS APPROACH TO MEMORY Three Steps to Influence Memory and Decisions

  • Prospective memory, which means remembering a future intention, has remarkable advantages for any business because it keeps us viable: we stay in business when people remember what we say and act on it in the future.
  • When people act on future intentions successfully, they complete these three steps, sometimes within fractions of seconds: they notice cues that are linked to their intentions; search their memory for something related to those cues and intentions; and if it is rewarding enough, they execute.
  • The effectiveness of cues depends on how strongly they are related to a desired intention and how salient they are to draw attention at the time of remembering. •   Memory, emotions, and motivation are influenced by the presence, absence, or termination of rewarding or punishing stimuli.
  • People execute on intentions according to the following variables tied to rewards: effort, time delay, risk, and social aspects.

CHAPTER 3: CONTROL WHAT YOUR AUDIENCE REMEMBERS Practical Ways to Avoid the Hazards of Random Memory

  • The forgetting curve hypothesizes that we lose information over time when we make no effort to retain it. We can lose as much as 90% after a few days.
  • Unless we take control of the metaphorical 10% message, an audience will remember things at random.
  • According to fuzzy-trace theory, people form two types of memories: verbatim and gist. Verbatim memories are word-for-word, accurate representations of what we’ve learned in the past. Gist memories include the general meaning of what has happened in the past, and they are less accurate and specific.
  • Determine what type of memories (verbatim or gist) you would like to place in people’s minds and in what proportions.

CHAPTER 4: MADE YOU LOOK How Cues Pave the Way to Action

  • When the cues you use to attract attention at Point A are similar to what people encounter later at Point B, the cues are more likely to signal action.
  • Physical properties of stimuli such as unusual colors, textures, size, motion, loud sounds, harmony, or orientation of objects can force people to look “despite themselves.” These types of cues work because they do not require much cognitive effort.
  • Create cues that are linked to existing habits (e.g., associating new information with a software application people already use) Attention driven by habits is potent because people can sustain it on their own, and once habits are formed, they do not require much cognitive effort.
  • Use cues to direct attention inward and prompt audiences to focus on habitual thoughts. When you engage your audiences in reflective attention, you promote long-term memory because of a process called elaborate encoding.
  • Link your message to people’s most important goals. Unlike reflexes or habits, goals require cognitive effort, but attention is still possible because goals are fueled by needs. Consider acknowledging that an audience may have conflicting needs, such as uncertainty versus structure, people versus privacy, and survival versus transcendence. •   Tie your message to a current but unfulfilled goal. People tend to pay greater attention to and remember more of what is not finished because the brain seeks closure.
  • Link cues to social desirability because impression management is a strong motivation driver. People tend to pay attention to what makes them look good in front of others.
  • Ensure that people have enough willpower to pay attention to you (e.g., present important messages early in the day).
  • Strengthen the association between cues, memory, and intentions.

CHAPTER 5: THE PARADOX OF SURPRISE The Price We Pay for Extra Attention, Time, and Engagement

  • Our audiences form expectations so that they can predict the next moment. When you give them something they expect, you satisfy a human need for accurate predictions, which generates pleasure.
  • Audiences form expectations automatically and mostly unconsciously based on what they pay attention to, memories of past experiences, motivations, emotions, and beliefs they form along the way. To get attention, tie your content to existing beliefs for a better future and provide effective tools they can use after consuming your content, such as checklists, how-to videos, or free software trials.
  • Too much predictability can lead to boredom. Offer your audiences something they expect (and can predict), as well as something that takes them by surprise. Use linguistic, perceptual, cultural, or social norms to break conventions.
  • Juxtapose seemingly unrelated but existing schemas to create surprise.
  • Continue elevating your content to ensure you are meeting your audiences’ ever-evolving palate for satisfying experiences.

CHAPTER 6: SWEET ANTICIPATION How to Build Excitement for What Happens Next

  • Use the word “imagine” to create anticipation and invite action. People don’t just think about the future; they feel the future, and emotion influences decision-making. •   People feel more motivated to take action with a boost of dopamine. The presence of dopamine increases the likelihood that people have enough motivation to not only notice cues but come and get the rewards we’re promising and return to us again. •   Dopamine is released when we help people anticipate a reward accurately, but also when we reserve room for some uncertainty. The area of the brain that predicts rewards is the same area that handles novelty.
  • Dopamine spikes in the face of unexpected events. In general, uncertainty makes us uneasy, which is why it is often referred to as “tension.” We can tolerate some tension as long as (1) we know its degree, (2) we are reminded about the importance of the final outcome, and (3) we can tolerate the amount of delay until that outcome is realized.
  • Unusual activities or performers with skills different from your teams’ are anticipation hooks and serve as strong cues that announce worthy outcomes.
  • If the delay before realizing a promised reward is brief, find the right words for the reveal and practice them.
  • Use foreshadowing, which means frequently giving signs of what will come next.

CHAPTER 7: WHAT MAKES A MESSAGE REPEATABLE? Techniques to Convince Others to Repeat Your Words

Criteria for repeatable messages:

  • Portable
  • Timeless
  • Simple syntax
  • Tied to long-term goals
  • Aspirational
  • Generic (no articulate prepositions or definite articles)
  • Appeal to self-interest (make us look good to ourselves)
  • Social currency (make us look good to others)
  • Universal

CHAPTER 8: BECOME MEMORABLE WITH DISTINCTION How to Stay on People’s Minds Long Enough to Spark Action

  • Distinctiveness is important for long-term memory because isolated items draw more attention and rehearsal time. In addition, isolated items come to the foreground, reducing interference with other items, and also appear in smaller numbers, which makes them easier to recall long term.
  • The more similar things are, the harder it will be to retrieve them later. However, similarity is important for the brain to detect distinctiveness.

  • The brain is constantly looking for rewards. In business, when many messages are the same, we can create distinctiveness, and therefore improve recall, by being specific about these rewards, which we can frame as tangible results.
  • If you’re not first to market, observe pockets of similarity in your domain and then strike with distinctiveness. Allow your audiences’ brains to habituate to similarity; it will be easier for your message to stand out.
  • The more an item differs from other items, the bigger its effect. Select a property you want to isolate and increase its distinctiveness by at least 30% compared with neighboring items.
  • Find opportunities to deviate from a reality your viewers have learned to expect. •  Create distinctiveness by thinking in opposites. This is helpful not only because it helps the brain distinguish some stimuli more strongly than others, but also because contrast is a shortcut to thinking and decision-making.
  • Enable self-generated distinctiveness.
  • Achieve distinctiveness with a human touch and deep meaning.

CHAPTER 9: “I WRITE THIS SITTING IN THE KITCHEN SINK” The Science of Retrieving Memories Through Stories

  • Memorable stories contain the following components: perceptive (sensory impressions in context and action across a timeline), cognitive (facts, abstract concepts, and meaning), and affective (emotion).
  • Something is concrete if we can perceive it with our senses. If we can’t perceive it with our senses, we are talking about an idea or a concept, which is abstract. Balance both in your communication and, to avoid habituation, break the pattern an audience learns to expect.
  • While abstract and concrete are opposites, generic and specific are subsets of each other, with generic being a large group and specific representing an individual item within that group. Zoom in on specific details based on your audience’s level of expertise (advanced audiences can handle abstracts better).
  • Text and graphics have the potential to be equals in memory. Make pictures easy to label and text easy to picture.

  • Pair abstract words with concrete pictures to ensure that your audience extracts a uniform meaning from your message.
  • Use visual metaphors to explain abstract concepts. Steer away from clichéd metaphors by either giving an old metaphor a fresh meaning or using unexpected metaphors.
  • Wrap abstract words in concrete contexts. Repeat information in the same context for verbatim memory. Vary the context for gist memory.
  • Appeal to the senses to activate multiple parts of the brain and create more memory traces. The more personal experiences you share, the more opportunities to include sensory details.
  • Avoid clichéd images. Instead, use vivid images to evoke tension, mystery, wabi-sabi, or nostalgia.
  • Use strong emotions by showing an audience how to: Move toward rewards: pleasure, happiness, elation, ecstasy, love, sexual arousal, trust, empathy, beauty.  Move away from rewards: frustration, indignation, disbelief, sadness, anger, and rage.  Move toward punishments: apprehension, disgust, aversion, fear, terror, unfairness, inequity, uncertainty, and social exclusion.  Move away from punishments: relief, liberation.

CHAPTER 10: HOW MUCH CONTENT IS TOO MUCH? How to Handle Content Sacrifice

  • Clarifying what an audience must remember and do helps to filter unnecessary content.
  • Keep it brief when an audience must identify with the content. Offer more when your listeners don’t have much information or context, and they must make an important decision.
  • Earn the right to provide more information by offering value.
  • If your content is long, alter your audience’s perception of time by offering visible signs of progress, shifting the audience’s focus frequently, and making the content aesthetically pleasing.

CHAPTER 11 HOW DOES THE BRAIN DECIDE? The Neurobiology and Neuroeconomics of Choice

  • If your audience has been performing a task for a long time, link your content to an existing habit. If there are no habits related to your products or ideas, present goal-oriented information. When you do it repeatedly, you help an audience form new habits.
  • Habits are formed by doing, not by not doing. Frame your messages in a positive way.
  • Decisions typically include four steps:
  1. Identify sensory stimuli: What are they?
  2. Select an action that will maximize a reward: What is it worth?
  3. Act on the intention.
  4. Evaluate the results: Did you predict the outcome well?
  • The values our audiences assign to different objects, people, and experiences can range from functional and concrete to something more abstract. People buy things because of emotional, epistemological, aesthetic, hedonistic, or situational value. Clarify these values for your audiences.
  • Even unattended stimuli influence choice. There is no break from greatness for the communicator who aspires to be influential, because everything you share has the potential to influence decisions.
  • Variables that have an impact on our choices include effort to get the reward (physical, financial, or mental), time delay until we get the reward, perception of risk in getting the reward, and social impact in relation to that reward.
  • If your audiences perceive a high amount of uncertainty in their interactions with you, consider heuristics, such as availability, familiarity, or authority, to help them make quick decisions.
  • Fast decision-making is also based on the perception of a stable environment and social factors.
  • A balance between desirability and feasibility leads to more persuasive content. This is because feasibility will help people with their own decisions, and desirability will help them in their transactions with others.
  • Develop content that hooks into rewards from the past but also provides sources for new rewards.

CHAPTER 12

THE RIGHT TO BE FORGOTTEN AND THE INTENT TO BE REMEMBERED How to Balance Accidental and Purposeful Forgetting

The final chapter is about memory management: need to correctly define what is one need to keep in and what dispose off memory. It is also about Black Swans and need to be prepared by continuously modifying understandings and assumptions. Here is graph that author provides to demonstrate this idea:

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MY TAKE ON IT:

I think it is a great tool to understand works of human perception, understanding, and memorizing of presentations. It well worth it to look through before any important presentation and ask question about how each part of it support or maybe not support the checklist provided and ideas presented in this book.

 

20191117 – Blueprint

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MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is that humans carry in them DNA based and evolutionary developed blueprint of their social behavior and that this blueprint had to be taken into account in all issues related to social engineering and societal changes. The neglect to do so could and did lead to dysfunction, sometime on the huge scale like WWI and WWII. So we would be much better off if we learn to understand it and comply with its requirements.

DETAILS:

Preface Our Common Humanity

Author starts his book about common humanity with personal experience being an outlier in the mob, as an American kid and later as teenager in the middle of Greek nationalist demonstrations with anti-American feelings. He then moves to his experience as doctor and scientist that clearly demonstrated human commonality among all the groups regardless of how they were defined: ethnic, religious, national, or whatever. After that he expresses believe in possibility to overcome divisions because: “The fundamental reason is that we each carry within us an evolutionary blueprint for making a good society. Genes do amazing things inside our bodies, but even more amazing to me is what they do outside of them. Genes affect not only the structure and function of our bodies; not only the structure and function of our minds and, hence, our behaviors; but also the structure and function of our societies. This is what we recognize when we look at people around the world. This is the source of our common humanity. Natural selection has shaped our lives as social animals, guiding the evolution of what I call a “social suite” of features priming our capacity for love, friendship, cooperation, learning, and even our ability to recognize the uniqueness of other individuals. Despite all the trappings and artifacts of modern invention—our tools, agriculture, cities, nations—we carry within us innate proclivities that reflect our natural social state, a state that is, as it turns out, primarily good, practically and even morally. Humans can no more make a society that is inconsistent with these positive urges than ants can suddenly make beehives.“
Chapter 1: The Society Within Us

Once again author starts this chapter with recollection of his childhood playing with kids from different ethnic groups. It followed by discussion of commonalities and formulation of what author calls the Social Suit:

 (1) The capacity to have and recognize individual identity

 (2) Love for partners and offspring

(3) Friendship

(4) Social networks

(5) Cooperation

(6) Preference for one’s own group (that is, “in-group bias”)

(7) Mild hierarchy (that is, relative egalitarianism)

(8) Social learning and teaching

The final point author makes here is that tremendous amount of variation between human groups generally is not coming from human genetic makeup, but universal commonalities, as they are expressed in Social Suit, do come from human DNA common for individuals in all groups.

Chapter 2: Unintentional Communities

This chapter is about unintentional communities that where created by unusual circumstances such as shipwreck leaving a number of individuals in isolation. Author analyses how ability or inability to self-organization had decisive impact on chances to survive in this circumstances. In order to support this point author reviews in details several such cases.

Chapter 3: Intentional Communities

This is analysis of different type of communities: intentionally created utopian and/or religious communities with well-documented histories such as Brook Farm, The Shakers, Kibbutzim, Walden, and finally Urban communities of 1960s.  Author provides detailed scientific analysis of human networks formed in isolated community of scientists working in Antarctic station.  The concise result comes to this: “In short, though the specific circumstances vary, two broad sorts of forces serve to promote the success of, or hasten the collapse of, communalist dreams to make society anew: intrinsic biological pressures and extrinsic environmental pressures. Pushed by the blueprint within us, and even if pulled by the forces around us, it is not easy, or feasible, to abandon the social suite.“
Chapter 4: Artificial Communities

The artificial communities in this case are product of social experimentation with use of Amazon Mechanical Turk. Author describes methodology of these experiments first in building Small societies, and then in use of Massive online games. Here are some graphic results:

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Then author discusses use of topology to systemize variety of shell forms using multidimensional space that opens possibility to define all conceivable forms, even if they do not exists. Author then applies this methodology to discuss societies:” To do this, we would have to define the key axes, just like Raup’s three parameters. One important axis might be the hypothetical size of the society, perhaps defined as the size at which people actually know the others in the group well, even if they are not close friends; this could range from, say, zero (meaning that no one knows anyone in our imagined society) to two thousand (each person knows two thousand other people intimately). In reality, most people have about four or five close social contacts and know roughly one hundred and fifty people well—well being defined as familiar enough that they can pick up a conversation where they left off after an absence. This latter number is known as Dunbar’s number. Another axis we might focus on is the cooperativeness of the society or some measure of its proclivity for intragroup violence, perhaps quantified as the chance that two people would cooperate with each other when playing a public-goods game (using a percentage ranging from 0 to 100, 100 percent being the most cooperative). In real human societies, the chance is typically about 65 percent, meaning that roughly two-thirds of people are inclined to cooperate with a stranger when it comes to sharing a possible reward. But the extent of cooperative behaviors can vary somewhat across societies. A third axis might be related to the structure of the social ties—for example, the number of connections people have or the likelihood that their friends are themselves friends with one another (this is known as transitivity in the network, and it ranges from 0 percent to 100 percent). An alternative parameter for the third axis could be a measure of hierarchy or equality in the distribution of some key resource. Once we chose and defined our various axes, we could put all our examples—and, indeed, all

known societies—into such a grid with three (or more) dimensions.

At the end of chapter author makes the point: “genes may have come to work outside our bodies, having their impact at some distance from their source—like fireworks exploding far from their origin—helping to shape the societies far above the genes themselves. They may do this by affecting the human tendency to cooperate with and befriend others, to care for others’ children, to value other people’s individuality, and to love one’s partners. Because of this, in all the seemingly strikingly different human cultures around the world, in all the repeated opportunities to make new societies, we see the same core patterns again and again. Even the social organization and function of political units, like tribal chiefdoms and modern nation-states, are grafted onto this ancient heritage, and they must respect the principles guiding the organization of smaller groups. Rapidly invented, deliberately designed, or wholly novel social systems that seek to abrogate the social suite cannot be as functional as organically evolved ones.”

Chapter 5: First Comes Love

Here author moves to area of love demonstrating how exceptions in societal behavior kind of reaffirm existence of rules. For this author uses kissing as expression of love. It is pretty much common for all humans except for Tsonga people and some others in southern Africa that just do not do this. It follows by discussion of variety of sexual behavior: monogamy, polygamy, polygyny, and their impact on corresponding societies.

Chapter 6: Animal Attraction

Here author compares all this with animal attraction, reviewing pair bonding in animals. Author reviews male and female strategies and behavior genetics research. As example author uses Prairie Vole and genetically close Meadow Voles. Due to the small genetic variation the former are strictly monogamous, while latter are not. The extension of such research to humans demonstrated that genetic component is present in mating behavior.

Chapter 7: Animal Friends

Here author looks at deeper roots of connectivity, first at animal to humans and then between primates. For this he uses massive amount of data collected by Jane Goodall. In addition he provides contemporary analysis of social networks for various animas from chimpanzees to dolphins.

Chapter 8: Friends and Networks

In this chapter author discusses human networks and their strength, starting with example of men who protected others with their bodies during mass shooting. He characterizes this as inherent tendency to include other into self. Here is graphic representation of this idea:

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After that author discusses patterns of friendship in 60 different societies. Based on research of genetic and fraternal twins author demonstrates inherited character of individual networking with others. Author also provides some statistical research data:” In 2009, we asked a national sample of households two key name generators (“Who do you trust to talk to about something personal or private?” “With whom do you spend free time?”), and we found that Americans identify an average of 4.4 close social contacts, with most having between 2.6 and 6.2. The average respondent lists 2.2 friends, 0.76 spouses, 0.28 siblings, 0.44 co-workers, and 0.30 neighbors in response to these questions. These numbers have not changed appreciably in decades, and we see similar results around the world.44 People have roughly four to five close social ties on average, typically including a spouse, perhaps a sibling or two, and usually one or two close friends. These numbers can change somewhat over the course of a person’s life (for instance, as people become widowed).“

The last part of chapter is about friends, enemies and universal bias to one’s own group, however defined.

Chapter 9: One Way to Be Social

This starts with example of failed human heart valves that contemporary medicine can substitute with valves from animals. Author uses it to demonstrate continuity of human and animal worlds. However after discussing similarities author moves to discussing individual variances in humans providing this nice illustration:

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Author characterizes individuality and recognition of Self as mainly human feature seldom existing in other species, at least based on Mirror test. Then author discusses link between identity and grief, which is also characteristics of human and very few other species. The final part of the chapter is about cooperation in humans and animals, teaching and learning and so on, with conclusion that humans societies are not that radically different from other species as usually thought.

Chapter 10: Remote Control

This is about Genes’ use of bodies to change the worlds, as author puts it. Author stresses role of evolution in formation of human network and societies and then reviews various animal artifacts as example of evolutionary development of complex systems. The point he makes is that practically everything was developed by this process, therefore networks and societies are also based on evolutionary developed DNA.

Chapter 11: Genes and Culture

Author starts this chapter with description of impact of technology on productivity and cumulative nature of culture. This is followed by discussion of complexity and unpredictability of cultural development and how it depends on size of population and length of history. The final and most interesting part is discussion of culture and genes coevolution, the process that created us and the environment we live in.

Chapter 12: Natural and Social Laws

Author starts this chapter with reference to old image of body-politics when different parts of society correspond to body parts, kind of Leviathan.  This follows by discussion of human societies link to nature and their separation in theological doctrines. Correspondingly industrial age views brought this link back to be dominant idea. Here is how author describes key change processes human ideologies: “It is not just the social sciences that are vulnerable to revision. New thinking and discoveries have upended many scientific claims, such as the number of chromosomes in human cells, the composition of the core of the Earth, the existence of extrasolar planets, the health risks of various nutrients, the efficacy of anti-cancer treatments, and so on. But the provisional nature of scientific discovery does not mean—cannot mean—that it is simply impossible to observe any objective reality. Over time, items of belief become formalized into hypotheses and then, after sustained testing and much experimental evidence, get widely accepted as facts: Cold, hard facts. The social sciences, like the natural sciences, advance. Their previous errors are not sufficient grounds for their present rejection. Especially in the social sciences, we need to determine whether it is the world that is transforming or just our understanding of it. For instance, just because the manner in which we understand certain core aspects of society is updated, (for example, if we invent new statistical methods or develop new theories and discard old ones) does not mean that those same aspects of society are somehow new. Some of these changes are even to be expected; the contingency we see in the social life of our species is in fact a contingency we evolved to be universally capable of manifesting. One of the ways humans differ from other primates, for instance, is in the variety of mating practices we adopt, albeit grafted onto the core practice of pair-bonding, as we saw.

The author moves to discuss philosophical Isms: Positivism, Reductionism, Essentialism, and Determinism. Then author returns to his idea of social suit, which is to significant extent genetically human behavior, but it is far from being deterministic. It rather defines general framework of humans’ existence, but not its details and it is what author calls “blueprint”. At the end of chapter author looks at new technology such as AI and concludes that humanity is moving to hybridization of humans with machines, retaining however the blueprint as foundational feature. He ends this book with a word of caution: “Humans have always had both competitive and cooperative impulses, both violent and beneficent tendencies. Like the two strands of the double helix of our DNA, these conflicting impulses are intertwined. We are primed for conflict and hatred but also for love, friendship, and cooperation. If anything, modern societies are just a patina of civilization on top of this evolutionary blueprint. There is another reason to step off the plateau and look at mountains rather than hills. A key danger of viewing historical forces as more salient than evolutionary ones in explaining human society is that our species’ story then becomes more fragile. Giving historical forces primacy may even tempt us to give up and feel that a good social order is unnatural. But the good things we see around us are part of what makes us human in the first place. We should be humble in the face of temptations to engineer society in opposition to our instincts. Fortunately, we do not need to exercise any such authority in order to have a good life. The arc of our evolutionary history is long. But it bends toward goodness.”

MY TAKE ON IT:

I think it is generally not completely correct approach to look at DNA as blueprint of anything. I would rather compare it to the typographical letters in drawers with moving type. One can build whatever text is fit to circumstances, but only if there is enough letters of required types. I would also add that it is time dependent. It other words DNA contains potential, but not a blueprint, however sketchy, of result. In any case it is an interesting book, only slightly skewed by author’s expectation for encountering resistance when he states something obvious, commonsensical, and not fitting into some racist and intersectional doctrine dominant in leftist academia. Normal people who are making living not from academic positions and government grants do not require too much supporting material when they see something clearly consistent with their common sense developed via real life experiences.

20191110 – On Freedom

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MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is that freedom is good in theory and not really good in practice because regular people do not really know what they want or if they do think they know it, they could be wrong, or even if it would be good for them, it could be not so good for society. Therefore people should be nudged by some, not really specified, assumingly expert, external forces into doing right things, and if it is not enough, then coerced.

DETAILS:

Introduction: Bitten Apples

It starts with discussion of Navigability, stating that difficulty of navigation in some areas is a major source of “unfreedom in human life”. Author considers it a blind spot in Western philosophy and seems to be ready to remove it. Here is his statement of intent: “While my main focus is on navigability, I shall also be asking these questions about freedom and well-being: What if people’s free choices are decisively influenced by some aspect of the social environment, and they are happy either way? In such cases, how should designers of the social environment—employers, teachers, doctors, investment advisers, companies, and governments—proceed? As we shall see, these questions are both difficult and fundamental.

He also expresses believe that one of the most important is self-control which could be help via external intervention, which could be done to people so they would comply, “while retaining their freedom (and from a certain point of view, even increasing it)”

Chapter 1: What the Hell Is Water?

Here author discusses choice architecture ”—the environment in which choices are made. Choice architecture is inevitable, whether or not we see it, and it affects our choices. It is the equivalent of water.” After that he moves to “Nudges”, which he defines as “Nudges are interventions that fully preserve freedom of choice, but that also steer people’s decisions in certain directions. In daily life, a GPS device is an example of a nudge. It respects your freedom; you can ignore its advice if you like.

Author discusses real nudges implemented by government to direct people and identifies causes of, what he believes, is unreasonable resistance:

  • Fear of government, which he rejects mainly because the private actors could be as bad;
  • Need to decide for themselves what is good or not, which he also reject based on 3 issues:
    • External manipulation
    • People could deem as “good for themselves” some ugly things like racism;
    • People could learn to “love Big Brother”.

 

After that author moves to the problems of the Nudger that he divides in 3 categories:

  1. Those in which choosers have clear antecedent preferences, and nudges help them to satisfy those preferences.
  2. Those in which choosers face a self-control problem, and nudges help them to overcome that problem.
  3. Those in which choosers would be content with the outcomes produced by two or more nudges, or in which after-the-fact preferences are a product of or constructed by nudges so that the “as judged by themselves” criterion leaves choice architects with several options, without specifying which one to choose.

Chapter 2: Navigability

This starts with Food Pyramid that later turned into Food Plate as example of improvement in “choice architecture”. Then author moves to the problem of navigation overall and life navigation specifically, discussing advices to poor to take responsibility by rich people who have little responsibility because their wealth protects them. Then he discusses a problem of destination: people often do not know where they want to go. At the end of chapter author discusses the problem of sludge by which he means decrease in Navigability.

Chapter 3: Self-Control

This is about failure of self-control and/or awareness of it such as all forms of addiction, present bias, unrealistic optimism, and others. Here again author maintains his main point that it is warrants external intervention, at least in the form of nudge. He reports survey of 200 people he conducted with 70% complaining on lack of self-control from which he infer that people would generally welcome intervention. He also discusses time line: “Preference at Time 1; make certain choices at Time 2; and regret those choices at Time 3. Perhaps an intervention will eliminate the conflict. Perhaps an intervention, or a nudge, will increase freedom”.
From here author infers: “In my view, there is no alternative to resorting to some kind of external standard, involving a judgment about what makes the chooser’s life better, all things considered. That judgment might require moral evaluations of options and outcomes. It might require some kind of aggregate judgment about people’s personal wellbeing. In many cases in which people think differently at Time 1, Time 2, and Time 3, we have to ask: “What is the effect of honoring one or another thought on the person’s well-being over time? … Valuing freedom of choice does not tell us what we need to know.

Chapter 4: Happy Either Way

Here author analyzes cases when “It is not clear if we have antecedent preferences at all. Perhaps we do not. We might have no idea what we want. We might lack important information, and if we have it, we still might not know what we want. In other cases, our after-the-fact preferences are an artifact of, or constructed by, the nudge. Sometimes these two factors are combined (as savvy marketers are well-aware). We are speaking here of “endogenous preferences,” and in particular of preferences that are endogenous to, or a product of, the relevant choice architecture. In such cases, how should we think about freedom of choice? And how ought the “as judged by themselves” criterion to be understood and applied?”

Once again author apply the same solution: external intervention in form of nudge. The final part is about what to do if nudge does not work. The obvious solution for author is coercion. Here is his logic: “hard paternalism, and no mere nudge—might end up producing an outcome akin to what we would see if consumers were at once informed and attentive. Suppose that the benefits of the mandate greatly exceed the costs and that there is no significant loss in terms of consumer welfare (in the form, for example, of reductions in safety, performance, or aesthetics). If so, there is good reason to believe that the mandate does make consumers better off. Freedom of choice fails. “

Epilogue: “Through Eden Took Their Solitary Way”

Here is author summarization: “Freedom of choice should be cherished, but cherishing it is hardly enough. Countless interventions and reforms increase navigability, writ large. They enable people to get where they want to go, and therefore enable them to satisfy their preferences and to realize their values. They operate like maps. Many other interventions and reforms, helping people to overcome self-control problems, are also welcomed by choosers. Such interventions increase navigability and promote freedom. They can be consistent with the “as judged by themselves” standard. Numerous people acknowledge that they suffer from self-control problems. They welcome the help. They exercise their freedom of choice in its favor. Sometimes people lack clear preferences. Sometimes their preferences are not firm. When a nudge or other intervention constructs or alters their preferences, and when they would be happy either way, the “as judged by themselves” standard is more difficult to operationalize. It may not lead to a unique solution. But it restricts the universe of candidate solutions, and in that sense helps to orient choice architects. To resolve the most difficult questions, it might make sense to see what informed, consistent choosers do, or instead to make direct inquiries into wellbeing. The first approach is best unless choosers suffer from a behavioral bias—and if choice architects cannot be trusted. The second is best if choosers suffer from a behavioral bias—and if choice architects can be trusted. For the future, we need far more careful consideration of the ingredients of wellbeing, informed by evidence as well as by theory. We need the arts and the humanities, social science, law, and theology.”

MY TAKE ON IT:

The big problem that I have with this approach is with author’s practically complete omission of what are these external, all knowing forces that always know what is good for us individually, or for us as society. Author does recognize the problem with “choice architects” imperfectability, but dispatches with this problem by saying that it requires careful consideration.  I think no amount of consideration would be enough for one person “feel your pain” in reality. It is just human nature that, as once eloquently described: ”paper cut of a person’s finger is tragedy, but million people dead after earthquake in distant land is unhappy incident”.  So whatever government “experts” want people believe, their own well being will always be tremendously more important for them than wellbeing of people they nudge or coerce in direction of their choice. Consequently I think that individuals who will enjoy or suffer consequences should do all decision-making, otherwise decision maker would never pay enough attention and effort for making good decision as defined by preference of outcome.

Actually author’s idea could be expressed in much more concise way just by following Orwellian traditions: ” Slavery is the Real Freedom”.

20191103 – Permanent Revolution

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MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is to demonstrate that traditional historical understanding of Western transition from medieval Dark Ages to Enlightenment is not exactly correct because early Reformation was much darker than Dark Ages and brought with it religious violence, suppression of human individuality, and lots of other nasty things on the scale unknown before.  Author’s point, however, is that eventually it produced its opposite: Enlightenment as one and only way out from initial tragedy of societal self-distraction of the Western Europe that occurred in the beginning of the process. Here is how author defines this:

Permanent Revolution, then, addresses the competing claimants to Anglo-American (and global) modernity (i.e. evangelical religion and the Enlightenment), and poses the following questions with regard to the British Reformations: (i) how did we get from the first, illiberal Reformation to the Protestant proto-Enlightenment?; and (ii) why did we need to?

Three perceptions animate the argument: (i) that dissident, repressive, non-conservative sixteenth-century evangelical religious culture was revolutionary; (ii) that revolutionary evangelical culture was simultaneously a culture of permanent revolution, repeatedly and compulsively repudiating its own prior forms; and (iii) that permanent revolution was, as it always is, punishingly violent, fissiparous, and unsustainable, so much so that it needed to invent self-stabilizing mechanisms. In the seventeenth century, I argue, English Calvinist Protestantism necessarily produced its opposite cultural formation (what I call the proto-Enlightenment), against the punishing, crushing, violent, schismatic logic of the evangelical Reformation. The Protestant proto-Enlightenment made the permanent revolution of evangelical religion at least socially manageable and personally livable, even if the liberal order remained scarred by the effort.

DETAILS:

Each part of the book looks at specific aspect of the period going chronologically through 3 steps:

  1. Appropriation of powers and carnivalesque, revolutionary energy (c. 1520–1547);
  2. Revolutionary grief (c. 1547–1625);
  3. Escaping revolutionary disciplines (c. 1603–1688).

PART 1: Religion as Revolution:

1 Revolutionary Religion;

In this part author first trying to demonstrate revolutionary character of reformation due to it’s nearly complete break with pre-Reformation past. Author looks at theological differences and finds that it kind of mirrors historical process of switch from multiple feuds coexisting via mutual obligation to centralized monarchies being installed all over the Europe.  Here is author presentation of this contrast: “ The late medieval European Christian God was a constitutionalist of sorts: despite the fact that he could do whatever he liked, he freely made reliable agreements with humans according to which they could negotiate their way out of sin. Most (not all) late medieval theologies had imagined God working out from various combinations of his agreed, reliable, ordained power (potentia ordinata) and his wholly unrestrained absolute power (potentia absoluta). Of course the late medieval God had absolute powers at his disposal, but he freely decided to hold by his ordained, which is to say his established and rationally perceptible, power. Sixteenth-century Protestant theology was starkly different. The Protestant God acted, not coincidentally, like sixteenth-century monarchs, insisting on his absolute prerogatives. He actively repudiated any reliable agreements that would abrogate his “independent and unlimited Prerogative.”

Author also provides a comprehensive list of features that identify a process as revolutionary:

  • Posited unmediated power relations between highly centralized, single sources of power on the one hand, and now equalized, atomized, interiorized, and terrorized subjects on the other;
  • Looked aggressively upon, and sought to abolish, horizontal, lateral associational forms;
  • Produced a small cadre of internationally connected, highly literate elect who belonged to the True Church, and who felt obliged by revolutionary necessity both to target the intellectuals of the ancien régime, and to impose punishing disciplines on the laity, who were expected, in this case, to become a “priesthood of all believers”;
  • Generated revolutionary accounts of both ecclesiology and the individual life: both could achieve a rebirth, wholly inoculated from the virus of the past;
  • Demanded total and sudden, not developmental, change via spiritual conversion;
  • Targeted the hypocrisy of those who only pretended to buy into the new order;
  • Abolished old and produced new calendars and martyrologies;
  • Proclaimed the positivist literalism of a single authoritative text, to be universally and evenly applicable across a jurisdiction, if necessary with violence;
  • Demanded and enacted cultural revolution, through iconoclasm of the repudiated past’s accreted, erroneous, idolatrous visual culture and by closing down its theatrical culture;
  • Distributed the charisma of special place across entire jurisdictions, thereby legitimating the destruction of sites considered in the old regime to have compacted charisma most intensely, or to provide sanctuary;
  • Actively developed surveillance systems;
  • Legitimated violent repudiation of the past on the authority of absolute knowledge derived from the end of time. The saints were in a position confidently to judge and reshape the saeculum, or the world of everyday experience, precisely because, as elect members of the eternal True Church, they were saints; they beheld the everyday world from the determinist vantage point of the eschaton, or the end of time. They knew how to see historical error (it was in fact easy), and they knew the denouement of History’s narrative;
  • Promoted the idea of youth’s superiority over age;
  • Appropriated the private property of religious orders and centralized previously monastic libraries;
  • Redefined and impersonalized the relation of the living and the dead, notably by the abolition of Purgatory and the prohibition on masses for the dead;
  • And, by no means least, legitimated revolutionary violence by positing a much more intimate connection between violence and virtue than the Maoist dictum “no omelet without breaking eggs” would imply. In this culture, persecution and violence were a sure sign that the Gospel was being preached, that Christ was indeed bringing not peace but the (necessary) sword. The absence of tumult was symptomatic of somnolent hypocrisy.
  • Violence was a necessary obligation within the logic of History.
  1. Permanently Revolutionary Religion;

Author identifies Protestant revolution with other revolutions, especially communist revolutions and Marxist ideology in which permanent revolution is permanent class war with revolution periodically destroying generations of revolutionaries. Author looks at several examples of destroyed destroyers during period of 1540s and 1550s, especially at live of John Bale in some detail. Then he proceeds to discuss struggle between Catholic Church and Protestant reformation in England that produced Anglican Church. Finally he looks at its reflection in works of John Milton and Thomas Edwards.

PART 2: Working Modernity’s Despair: 3 Modernizing Despair; 4 Modernizing Despair: Narrative and Lyric Entrapment; 5 Modernizing Despair’s Epic Non-Escape

Author first discusses nature of human despair and then identify general causes of such despair as disconnect between human effort and reward, which happens when society establish strictly enforced rules transferring wealth from its creators to elite.  In chapter 3 author sketches the theology of this human depravity; the peculiar psychic cruelty of its necessary consequence (i.e. the doctrine of predestination, whether double or not); and the energy that exclusivism produces. He pursues that theological story up to the end of the reign of Elizabeth (1603). In Chapter 4, author turns to literary expressions of near-total subjection to predestinarian punishments, between 1530 and 1620 or so, in the form of brilliant, claustrophobic lyric poetry and endlessly recursive romance narrative, both forever unable to move out of or beyond the Cave of Despair. From 1625 or so, the promise of a recovered freedom of will and then Miltonic epic seem to produce an escape route from the punishing disciplines of predestination and its attendant despair. In the final chapter of this part author looks to the ways in which that apparent escape route to the proto-liberal future does not, in fact, offer its promised, full escape from early modernity’s despair. Rebellion against the early modern absolutist God and his revolutionary theology themselves took revolutionary form, and thereby remain profoundly scarred by the struggle.

PART 3: Sincerity and Hypocrisy: 6 Pre-Modern and Henrician Hypocrisy; 7 The Revolutionary Hypocrite: Elizabethan Hypocrisy; 8 Managing Hypocrisy?: Shakespeare, Milton, Bunyan, 1689

In this part author moves from despair to Hypocrisy stating that sectarian division brought continuing squabbling between clerics with claims of sincerity and accusations in hypocrisy created high potential for violence. Hypocrisy accusation and sincerity claims have a history within revolutionary moments, since the kinesis of revolution produces an intelligible sequence of phases, each of which seeks to exploit and / or to manage the impossible demands of revolutionary sincerity, and the impossible burden of avoiding hypocrisy. In this and the following two chapters, author aims to delineate the story of early modern English hypocrisy. As he does so, his essential argument is that sincerity and hypocrisy are of ecclesiological origin; that they are inevitable, unmanageable products of the centralizations and disciplines of revolutionary early modernity; and that the only way to deal effectively with the threat of hypocrisy (the Shakespearean solution) is to become a hypocrite. In chapter 6, author tells the story from its late medieval sources up to and including the first, energetic outburst of Reformation hypocrisy accusation in the first half of the sixteenth century. In Chapter 7, he turns to the subsequent, more somber trajectory of hypocrisy accusation, as it rebounds back onto Elizabethan evangelicals. Chapter 8 looks to hypocrisy management (or lack thereof), from Shakespeare to Bunyan.

PART 4: Breaking Idols: 9 Liberating Iconoclasm; 10 Saving Images and the Calvinist Hammer; 11 One Last Iconoclastic Push?

In this part author looks at iconoclasm that is typical characteristic of all revolutionary movements. In this particular case of reformation Protestants saw themselves as ancient Israeli who destroyed idols per God’s commandment. Author divides this process in 3 phases: “The kinesis of iconoclasm begins with energetic and irreverent evangelical destruction of physical religious images. That first phase of material destruction (c. 1538–1553) was, however, just the easy start, before a much more painful, unjoyful second sequence (c. 1558–1625) began. Iconoclastic hygiene around the absolutist, modernizing God targeted all forms of idolatry, not only visual images. It therefore worked its way into the liturgy, to be sure, but also into the most intimate recesses of the soul, breaking visual imaginations, and breaking the idols of false doctrine. In that second phase, lovers of the image needed to invent ways of managing the punishing dynamism of iconoclasm. One key form of management was to stabilize and rename our love of, and need for, salvific representations of others, and ourselves otherwise known as images… A third phase (c. 1625–1670s) is mixed: on the one hand, the counterrevolutionary is determined to replace the images; on the other, the revolutionary is determined to return to iconoclastic business, precisely in response to counterrevolutionary attempts to reinstate images.

In chapter 9 author delineates phase 1, the carnivalesque, fun phase of iconoclasm (1538–1553 or so), before turning in Chapter 10 to phases 2 and 3: the less amusing matter of breaking the psyche’s images (c. 1558–1625); and the further, overlapping struggle between lovers and destroyers of the image in England (c. 1625–1670s).

PART 5: Theater, Magic, Sacrament: 12 Religion, Dramicide, and the Rise of Magic; 13 Enemies of the Revolution: Magic and Theater; 14 Last Judgment: Stage Managing the Magic

This part is about use of magic and art during reformation revolution. Author argues that evangelicals invented black magic primarily because they needed to attack Catholic sacramental practice, in which performative language (e.g. “Hoc est enim corpus meum”) makes something happen between earth and heaven. The Catholic Mass in particular needed to be described as juggling magic or as “hocus pocus”This attack also applied to other sacraments, and from there extended to denigrate the entire Catholic Church. Author connects it to “linguistic performativity in all its forms” making “fundamental argument that, as early modern fears of sacramental and black magic rose, so too did drama fall, or at least shrank its own magic circle.”

Author looks at key areas of art to support this point: Chapter 12 is about theater, Chapter 13 narrates the evangelical persecution of witches and the correlative evangelical prosecution of theater in early modern England. Chapter 14 turns to the production and shrinkage of drama itself, from Marlowe and Shakespeare to Milton.

PART 6: Managing Scripture: 15 Scripture: Institutions, Interpretation, and Violence; 16 Private Scriptural Anguish; 17 Escaping Literalism’s Trap

Here author turns to ideological foundation of Reformation revolution: “Like most revolutions, the Reformation had its book and its reading practice. The book was the Bible, and the reading practice was literalism. Revolutions all usher in a new textual canon in their train, and they all, of necessity, locate interpretative truth in the literal sense. They must do that, since the revolution, by definition, constitutes a radical break with the past; the new society is determined by a document, either freshly written or rediscovered. The reading protocols for that document must be open and incontrovertible in the present; and the truth claim of any such document must not make appeal to a past reading community, with historically shaped interpretive practices. To recognize any historical determination of meaning would compromise the revolution’s claim to have started afresh, without reliance on any practice of the ancien régime. The society brought into being by the revolution, whether in 1517, 1688, 1776, or 1789, is brought into being by the document, not the other way around. The document must therefore be self-generating; must posit literalism as the hermeneutic default position; and must itself lay claim to literalist status. Its understanding of textuality is nearly the opposite of, say, English common law, and of English constitutionalism, both of which depend wholly on precedent, so much so in the case of English constitutionalism as to abjure any single codified, written document whatsoever.” After that author discusses information revolution of the time caused by implementation of printing press and movable type that made bible and other literature widely accessible, giving impetus to various interpretations and conflicts based on them. The chapters of this part “pursue less the material history of the book than the history of reading and community formation (and fracture). They pursue, to put it another way, the relation of textual interpretation and violence. The evidential materials author uses are less material books than, on the one hand, Reformation discourse about how scriptural writing legitimates or delegitimates institutional practice and spiritual status; and, on the other hand, Reformation literary texts that express, and sometimes seek to neutralize, the violence of early modern revolutionary Biblical reading.”
PART 7: Liberty and Liberties: 18 Liberty Taking Liberties

The final part is about author’s contemplation of Liberty. He writes: “I distinguish the main traditions of liberty in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Two are of especial importance: evangelical liberty and the so-called Neo-Roman theory of liberty, traditions that are, evidently, wholly heterogeneous in content. I will not parse which of these traditions was the principal force in the English Revolution (a task outside my competence in any case). Instead, I look first to the ways in which these wholly heterogeneous traditions in fact share formal properties in their understanding of Liberty as singular and animated…  In sum, this final chapter aims to work out when liberties (plural) became Liberty (singular). I’ll also attempt to elucidate what the stakes of that change were. The essence of my argument is that singular Liberty is a product of early modernity: it comes into re-existence as a response to the theological and political centralizations—singularizations, if you will—of early modernizing Europe. Above all, it comes into existence as the response to two distinctively early-modern neoclassical resurgences: those of political absolutism on the one hand, and of theological absolutism on the other.”
Author also discusses role of Liberty, difference in its understanding (economic liberty and social choice liberty) in contemporary USA by different political forces, then links it back to early modernity and specifically to Protestant Reformation: “The key articulations of this longer narrative occur in the Reformations of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The key driver of this change in early modernity is as follows: as power centralizes and singularizes, so too does resistance to power centralize and singularize. As power claims absolutist prerogative, so too does resistance to power. The subjects of absolute power describe their condition as one of slavery. The past is described as the period of enslavement, enslavement either to the tyranny of the Roman Church, or to absolutist, or to potentially absolutist monarchical power. In response to those enslavements, singular, revolutionary, absolutist Liberty commands attention. The pattern also works in reverse: in response to a notion of singular Liberty defined negatively, as a savage state of nature, theorists such as Hobbes turn to the attractions of singularized, absolute Power. Promoters either of Liberty, or of absolutist monarchy, work within distinctively early modern singularizations of both liberty and power. Singularization of one produces a mirroring response in the other.”

Author also provides an interesting table for this thesis:

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Conclusion

In conclusion author describes his work as analysis of history and foundations of Liberalism and that’s how he characterizes result:

First, contemporary Liberalism looks unpersuasive in its account of its own history. When many liberal early modernist scholars go back to the sixteenth century, they focus on the following (for example) with approval: liberty, equality, free will, consent, the individual conscience, interiority and individuality, division of powers, rationality, toleration, reading, work, revolution. They focus on the following (for example) with disapproval: absolutism, predestination, hypocrisy, iconoclasm, anti-theatricality. “Protestantism” tends to be a code for the terms of approval, whereas “Catholic” encodes many of the terms of disapproval.

Second, Liberalism has not escaped the influence of its older sibling, evangelical religion. The reader will have noticed that in my chapters I consistently say that anti-evangelical movements “almost,” “nearly,” or “partially” succeeded in neutralizing the forces of permanent evangelical revolution. These qualifications are crucial, even if they cannot be fully substantiated within the bounds of the present book. If a revolution is truly permanent, then it leaves its scars on even the most resourceful alternative cultural forms that seek to neutralize and survive its punishing regime. For good or ill, liberals continue automatically to distrust institutions; overwork; calibrate agency with minute attention; fear inauthenticity; enjoy visual art in aesthetic conditions that remain partially iconoclastic; remain appalled at various forms of idolatry, even if the idolaters are now consumers; read to save themselves. Above all, many of us remain historical secessionists, vigilantly insisting on the legitimacy of the modern age, even as we find ourselves forever rowing against the current. We liberals remain children of our permanent revolutions; both energized and scarred by them.

Third, and finally, progressivist liberals stand in danger of damaging the good of Liberalism by claiming impossibly excellent standards for Liberalism. Liberals regard Liberalism as a worldview, or what Germans would call a Weltanschauung. A worldview proper implies claims about the process of history and the makeup of human being. A worldview claims to understand the historical process and to deliver humans from history, so as to liberate full human being. Christianity and Marxism are, for example, worldviews, with their separate salvation histories and anthropologies…

Liberalism is not a worldview. It claims no scheme of salvation history, or Heilsgeschichte, and has no developed anthropology. It does not offer itself as a category to sit beside a religious or political Weltanschauung. When those with a proper Weltanschauung (what might be called a first-order belief system), either religious or secularist, dismiss Liberalism as “hollow” (as they frequently do), they are missing the point. Liberalism is meant to be hollow. Liberalism is a second-order belief system, a tool for managing first-order belief systems. It is derivative (as its historical appearance would suggest), and secondary to first-order belief systems. It promises only to manage and mediate those first-order systems. The clash of first-order belief systems leads to violence; Liberalism promises to manage the violence. Liberalism is a tool, an instrument designed to govern first-order belief systems that tend not to negotiate. For this reason, Liberalism stands always in an asymmetrical rhetorical position with regard to first-order belief systems, looking cool and detached against its hot and committed first-order competitors. When progressivist liberals treat Liberalism itself as a first-order belief system, they produce what look like hollowed-out versions of first-order belief systems. Liberalism’s minimalist anthropology; the abstract, universalist legal principles that flow from that anthropology; its lack of a salvation history; its default positions of institutional distrust; its often impoverished conception of singular Liberty: each make Liberalism look weak as long as liberals claim that Liberalism is a worldview rather than a tool for governing worldviews.”

MY TAKE ON IT:

It is very interesting approach and I think it would be great if one could divide systems of believe in the first and second orders. However I think such attempts are possible only if and when mode of behavior linked to Liberalism: such as tolerance, non-violent discussions, and peaceful change of control over government, are the first-order believes and worldviews are secondary. The contemporary Progressivism is the product of Socialist ideology only slightly disguised as something different, kind of related to Liberalism, and not related to oceans of blood spilled on behalf of this ideology in XX century. Historically this Socialist ideology was very successful in using Liberalism to get power and then pushed it out of window. The only way Liberalism can survive is to recognize that it is the first-order believe system and start responding violently to any hint of violence, and intolerantly to any hint of intolerance. For example heckler’s veto should be responded to by heckler removal and punishment to compensate others for time lost. In the past the victory over illiberal forces came from competitive illiberal forces. I think the time is nigh to remove such forces from existence.

 

20191027 – The Age of Living Machines

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MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is to present the latest technological achievements of MIT and other American high tech institutions and then convince reader that bright future depends on giving them lots and lots of government money above and beyond of lots and lots of government money they are receiving now.

DETAILS:

Prologue

This refers to growth of population and need to overcome Malthus ideas about population growth outpacing resources, resulting in wars and starvations. Author points out that it was prevented by technological development of XIX and XX centuries and her believe that we need another technological breakthrough to prevent it in the future. Author also presents here the plan of the book with annotation for each chapter.

1 WHERE THE FUTURE COMES FROM

This starts with a bit of biography of how author became MIT president and then moves to ideas of integrating different scientific fields, with such integration providing for new discoveries and inventions. Author discusses the first such integration of physics and engineering and then promotes the new integration of biology and engineering.

2 CAN BIOLOGY BUILD A BETTER BATTERY?

This chapter introduces the nucleic acids, DNA and RNA, which serve as biology’s information system. Nucleic acids direct the assembly of biological structures and ensure the accurate transmission of traits from one generation to the next. Nucleic acids can be manipulated, and this chapter describes how nucleic acids of viruses have been manipulated for next-generation battery fabrication. DNA and RNA carry the instruction set for the assembly of proteins, the mini-machines responsible for many biological functions.

3 WATER, WATER EVERYWHERE A CANCER-FIGHTING NANOPARTICLES

This chapter tells the story of the discovery of protein, called aquaporin. Aquaporin serves as a highly specific channel for water flowing into and out of cells (in bacteria, animals, and plants) and is now being deployed in commercial water filters.

4 CANCER FIGHTING NANOPARTICLES

The technologies discussed in this chapter introduce one of the fastest growing areas of medicine—namely, molecular medicine—with its central premise that disease processes reflect perturbations in the normal molecular processes of our cells. Highly sensitive new technologies that recognize those perturbations make early disease detection more reliable and less expensive. Our complex biological functions, such as breathing, digestion, and hearing, are carried out by complex tissues composed of an array of different kinds of cells gathered and organized together, with the brain the most complex tissue of all.

5 AMPLIFYING THE BRAIN

This describes how the brain sends messages along nerves to move limbs and how new technologies can restore to amputees and victims of brain injury the ability to move their limbs.

6 FEEDING THE WORLD

This is the last technological chapter that returns us to the sum of the parts. For every living organism, the sum of gene and protein expression is revealed in its physical traits -its phenotype. Over at least the last ten thousand years humankind has selected and propagated plants and animals by evaluating their phenotypes. Here author describes new engineering tools that accelerate phenotype-based selection, promising to identify more productive and more resilient food crops in time to nourish the planet’s growing population.

7 CHEATING MALTHUS, ONCE AGAIN: Making Convergence Happen Faster

The final chapter discusses what author calls Convergence 2.0: combination of technical and biological sciences, which follows historical conversion of physics and engineering – Conversion 1.0. Author notes that all fundamental discoveries necessary for Conversion 1.0 were made before 1930, but somehow fails to mention that it was done with private support with no government money whatsoever. After that she greatly praises government role in its implementation, which was driven by military needs of WWII and then Cold War. Author then links scientific progress directly to government funding and call for its dramatic increase.

MY TAKE ON IT:

This book is interesting for me in two ways. One is description of current and coming technological achievements based on scientific research. The other one is author’s mode of thinking, which is probably highly typical for contemporary bureaucratic scientist who probably spent good chunk of her time in all kinds of competitive bureaucratic fights for funding. Understandably, the future of science in her mind depends on outcome of these bureaucratic games. I do not believe that it is correct approach. Government / Bureaucratic funding produces well fed, wealthy bureaucrats rather than well developed technology. I would like to see real breakdown of funding, which I have no doubt would demonstrate huge waste on meaningless projects like “Future impacts of increase in temperature from global warming on something in XXV century”. I think that America had very good scientific arrangement when Universities funded by private charities and reasonable tuition fees produced high quality fundamental science and well educated citizens who were capable developing new technologies and run successful businesses, while adjusting these technologies to human needs and making huge amounts of money in the process. Later on these successful people donated significant resources back to Universities partly to satisfy their scientific curiosity, something that well educated people usually develop, and partly to establish their legacy. The current system of government funding from money confiscated from productive people and allocated vie political and bureaucratic games is detrimental to development of real science and supports huge waste on pseudo science, which is always much more politically correct than real science.

 

20191020 – The Human Swarm

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MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is to look at formation, maintenance, and dissolution of all types of societies from ants to humans, their functioning and/or malfunctioning. The main points are:

  • Society membership based on various parameters, which define individuals that belong as separate and different from those who do not belong, creating support for the former and rejection and often hostility to latter.
  • Societies are tremendously different and it is questionable that there are ways to avoid clashes, even if interests are irreconcilable.
  • There is some logical commonality in origin, maintenance, and dissolution of societies that could be understood by methods of science including “biology, anthropology, and psychology, with some philosophy thrown in for good measure.”
  • The future depends on human ability to overcome limitations of struggle of one’s society against others and find accommodation and resolution of difference within societies and between them.

DETAILS:

Author describes his objectives for each chapter in some detail, providing pretty good overview of the book.

SECTION I: AFFILIATION AND RECOGNITION

This part “takes in the wide range of vertebrate societies”,
that author is familiar with as biologist
.

Chapter 1: What a Society Isn’t (and What It Is)

This is about the role of cooperation in societies, which author believes is less essential than the matter of identity; societies consist of a distinct set of members in a rich tapestry of relationships, not all of which are harmonious.

Chapter 2: What Vertebrates Get out of Being In

This chapter covers other vertebrate species, especially the mammals, to illuminate how societies, despite whatever imperfections in the system of partnership that exists within them, benefit the members by providing for their needs and protecting them.

Chapter 3: On the Move

“The third chapter probes into how the movements of animals within and between societies are important to the success of the various groups. One versatile pattern of activity, fission-fusion, creates a dynamic that helps explain the evolution of intelligence in certain species, humans most obviously among them, and the subject will come up repeatedly in this book. “

Chapter 4: Individual Recognition

“Chapter 4 investigates how much the members of most mammal societies must know about each other for their societies to stay together. Here, author reveals a limiting factor in the societies of many species: all their members are obliged to know each other as individuals, whether they like each other or not, restricting the societies to, at most, a few dozen individuals. This sets up a puzzle about how the human species broke free of such a constraint.

SECTION Il: ANONYMOUS SOCIETIES

This section addresses a group of organisms that readily crash through the population limit of individual-to-individual familiarity: social insects. He states as one of his objectives to break down any aversions that the reader may have about likening insects to “higher species,” especially humans, by making clear the value of these comparisons.

Chapter 5: Ants and Humans, Apples and Oranges

Chapter 5 reports on how social complexity generally climbs with an increase in the size of insect societies with features like infrastructure and division of labor becoming more complex, a trend paralleled in humans.

Chapter 6: The Ultimate Nationalists

Chapter 6 looks at how most social insects, and a few vertebrates such as the sperm whale, demonstrate affiliation with a society by using something that marks their identity: chemistry (a scent) in ants, and a sound in whales. These simple techniques are not constrained by the limitations of memory, and thus permit the societies of certain species to reach immense sizes, in a few cases without an upper bound.

Chapter 7: Anonymous Humans

The chapter after that, “Anonymous Humans,” spells out how humans employ the same approach: our species is attuned to markers that reflect what each society finds acceptable, including behaviors so subtle they may only be noticed subliminally. By this means people can connect with strangers in what author calls an anonymous society, thereby breaking the glass ceiling in the size societies can achieve.

SECTION III: HUNTER-GATHERERS UNTIL RECENT TIMES

Chapter 8: Band Societies; Chapter 9: The Nomadic Lite; Chapter 10: Settling Down

This section asks what the societies of our species were like before the advent of agriculture. Authors covers people who existed as hunter-gatherers up to recent times, ranging from those who lived nomadically in small, spread-out groups, called bands, and others who settled down for much or all of the year. Although the nomads have gotten most of the attention and are treated as the gold standard for our ancestral condition, a readily defensible conclusion is that both options have been within the reach of human beings likely going back to the origins of our species. We can also conclude that hunter-gatherers were not archaic people living an archaic mode of existence. Their people must be recognized as essentially no different from us: humans, as it were, “in the present tense.” Despite traces of ongoing, even rapid human evolution in the past 10,000 years, the human brain clearly hasn’t been restructured in any fundamental way since the appearance of the first Homo sapiens. This implies that notwithstanding any human adjustments to modern life, we can look to the lifestyles of hunter-gatherers in recorded history and consider the nature of early human societies as the bedrock that underlies our own. What concerns author most are the extraordinary differences between the nomadic hunter-gatherers—equality-minded jacks-of-all-trades, who solved issues by discussion—and settled hunter-gatherers, whose societies often became open to leaders, division of labor, and disparities in wealth. The former social structure points to a psychological versatility we still possess, even if most people today behave more like settled hunter-gatherers. Two conclusions of Section III are that hunter-gatherers had distinct societies and that those societies were distinguished, just as societies are now, by markers of identity. What that means is that at some point in the distant past, our ancestors must have taken the crucial but heretofore overlooked evolutionary step of making use of badges of membership that would, in time, permit our societies to grow large.

SECTION IV: THE DEEP HISTORY OF HUMAN ANT

Chapter 11: Pant-Hoots and Passwords

For clues about how this happened, Section IV transports us into the past and also scrutinizes the behavior of modern chimps and bonobos. Author puts forward the hypothesis that a simple shift in how the apes use one of their vocalizations, the pant-hoot, could make that sound essential for identifying each other as society members. Such a transformation, or something like it, could have easily occurred in our distant ancestors. Ever more markers would have been added to this initial “password,” many of them connected to our bodies, transforming them into flesh-and-blood bulletin boards for displaying human identity. Having looked at how markers of identity originated, we are in a position to explore the psychology underlying those markers and society membership.

SECTION V: FUNCTIONING (OR NOT) IN SOCIETIES

Chapter 12: Sensing Others; Chapter 13: Stereotypes and Stories; Chapter 14: The Great Chain; Chapter 15: Grand Unions; Chapter 16: Putting Kin in Their Place

The five chapters of Section V, “Functioning (or Not) in Societies,” review a fascinating range of recent findings about the human mind. Most of the research has focused on ethnicity and race, but should apply to societies as well. Among the topics are the following: how people see others as possessing an underlying essence that make societies (and ethnicities and races) so fundamental that they think of these groups as if they were separate biological species; how infants learn to recognize such groups; the role stereotypes play in streamlining our interactions with others, and how those stereotypes can become tied to prejudices; and how the prejudices are expressed automatically, and unavoidably, often leading us to perceive an outsider more as a member of his or her ethnicity or society than as a unique individual. Our psychological assessments of others are many and varied, including our penchant for ranking outsiders as “below” our own people or in some cases as subhuman altogether. The fourth chapter of Section V elucidates how we apply these assessments of others to societies as a whole. People believe that the members of foreign groups (and their own people as well) can act as a united entity, with emotional responses and goals of its own. The final chapter steps back to draw from what we have discovered about the psychology of societies and the underlying biology to pose more sweeping questions about how family life fits in the picture—whether, for example, societies can be understood as a kind of extended family.

SECTION VI: PEACE AND CONFLICT

Section VI, entitled “Peace and Conflict,” takes on the issue of the relationships among societies.

Chapter 17: Is Conflict Necessary?

In this chapter author documents the evidence from nature, which shows that while animal societies need not be in conflict, peace between them is relatively rare, present in just a few species and supported by situations of minimal competition.

Chapter 18: Playing Well with Others

The second chapter then highlights hunter-gatherers to examine how not merely peace but active collaborations between societies provided additional options for our species.

SECTION VII: THE LIFE AND DEATH OF SOCIETIES

Chapter 19: The Lifecycle of Societies; Chapter 20: The Dynamic “Us”; Chapter 21: Inventing Foreigners and the Death of Societies

Section VII, “The Life and Death of Societies,” examines how societies come together and fall apart. Before writing about people, author surveys the animal kingdom, concluding that all societies go through some sort of lifecycle. Although, other mechanisms for starting new societies exist, the pivotal event in most species is the division of an existing society. The evidence from chimpanzees and bonobos, bolstered by data on other primates, is that a division is preceded by the emergence, over months or years, of factions in the society, which increases discord and ultimately causes a split. The same formation of factions, usually over the passage of centuries, takes place with humans also, except for a key difference: the primary pressure that severed human factions was when the original uniting markers keeping a society together were no longer shared, leading people to see themselves as incompatible. This section lays plain how people’s perceptions of their own identities change over time in a way that could not be stopped in prehistory, mainly the result of poor communication across hunter-gatherer bands. For this reason, hunter-gatherer societies split apart when they were tiny by today’s standards.

SECTION VIII: TRIBES TO NATIONS

Chapter 22: Turning a Village into a Conquering Society; Chapter 23: Building and Breaking a Nation

The expansion of societies into states (nations) was made possible by the social changes author lays out in section VIII, “Tribes to Nations.” Some hunter-gatherer settlements and tribal villages with simple agriculture took the first tentative steps in this direction as leaders extended their power to take control of neighboring societies. Author begins by describing how tribes were organized into multiple villages, each of which acted independently much of the time. The leaders of these loosely connected villages were not very proficient at sustaining social unity and curtailing social breakdowns, in part because they lacked the means of keeping their people on the same page with regards to identifying with the society—things such as roadways and ships that connected people with what their compatriots were doing elsewhere. Growth also required societies to expand their dominion over the territories of their neighbors. This didn’t occur peacefully: across the animal kingdom author finds little evidence of societies freely merging. Human societies came to conquer each other, thereby bringing outsiders into their fold. Occasional transfers of membership take place in other species too, but in humans such exchange was taken to a new level with the advent of slavery, and finally, the subjugation of entire groups. Now that we understand the forces that can cause small societies to scale up to large ones, including the nations of today, the final chapter of Section VIII evaluates how these societies tend to meet their end. What’s typical of societies put together by conquest isn’t division between factions, as we saw earlier for hunter-gatherers, nor utter collapse, though it can happen, but rather a fracturing that almost always occurs roughly along the ancient territorial lines of the peoples that have come to make up the society. Large societies may be no more durable than small ones, fragmenting on average once every few centuries.

SECTION IX: FROM CAPTIVE TO NEIGHBOR… TO GLOBAL CITIZEN

The final section carries us along the circuitous route that led to the rise of ethnicities and races and the at times muddy waters of current national identities.

Chapter 24: The Rise of Ethnicities

To become an interlocking whole, a conquering society had to make the shift from controlling what had been independent groups to accepting them as members. This requires an adjustment in people’s identities, in which ethnic minority groups adjust to the majority people—the dominant group that most often, founded the society and controls not only its identity, but also most of the resources and power. This assimilation would be accomplished only to a degree, for this reason: ethnicities and races—as demonstrated earlier in the book for individual persons and for societies as well—will be most comfortable together if they share some commonalities and yet differ enough to feel distinct. Status differences emerge among the various minorities too, and may change over the course of generations—though the majority almost always stays firmly in control. Bringing the minorities into the fold as society members entails allowing them to intermix with the majority people, a geographical integration of populations that not all past societies have permitted.

Chapter 25: Divided We Stand

This chapter tackles how modern societies have made the friendlier incorporation of large numbers of outsiders possible through immigration. Such movements have seldom occurred easily, and, as in the past, have assigned lower power and status to the immigrants, who may face the least resistance when they take on social roles that minimize competition with other members while giving them a sense of value and esteem. The identity immigrants had once treasured in their ethnic homeland is often recast into broader racial groups. The shift in perception may initially be pushed on the newcomers, but they can accept the changes because of the advantages of having a more extensive base of social support in the adopted society. The chapter closes by describing how criteria for citizenship have come to deviate from the psychology of how people register who has a rightful place in a society. The latter is heavily influenced by people’s attitudes about how important a society should be in providing for different individuals or groups versus protecting themselves—attitudes relating to patriotism and nationalism, respectively. Variation among the members in these points of view may well be required for a healthy society, even though it also compounds the social conflicts that make headlines today.

Chapter 26: The Inevitability of Societies

This raises the issue of whether societies are necessary. In making what inferences author can in this book, he admits up front that a unified field of study of societies is a distant dream. All too often, academic disciplines foster a habitual concentration on certain modes of thought and a disdain for the unfamiliar by dividing the intellectual world into mutually alien fields known as biology, philosophy, sociology, anthropology, and history, thus leaving much room in the nooks and crannies between for debate. For instance, “modernist” scholars of history view nations as a purely recent phenomenon. Author’s contention will be that the national pedigree has ancient roots. Some anthropologists and sociologists go a step further and see societies as entirely optional, with people forming such unions when it serves their interests. Author’s goal is to show that membership in a society is as essential for our well being as finding a mate or loving a child. Author frustrates somewhat in his own discipline of biology. He has listened to biologists adamantly oppose the idea that societies ought to be examined as groups of distinct identity and membership when their study species don’t quite match with this criterion—a passionate reaction that more than anything makes plain the cachet of the word “society.” Disputes among the specialists aside, readers of every political persuasion will find both good and bad news in the current science. Whatever readers’ social views, author urges them to consider insights from fields beyond their usual interests to become aware of how one’s own, often subliminal, biases and those of people around – writ large, across multitudes – might affect both the actions of a country and individual’s daily conduct with others.

Conclusion: Identities Shift and Societies Shatter

Here author summarizes his views on human relations within society and between societies. This includes absolute necessity of society for human existence, expansion of societies beyond limitations of individual recognition, with necessity of market to support such expansion. He then discusses treatment of aliens, and consequently relations between societies as based on levels of maturity of individuals and their society with more mature societies being more tolerant. Author also discusses issues of individual freedom and group freedom and how they relate to others using American experiment to make major points of his views. Finally he expresses caution for future developments that he believes currently moves away from pursuit of diversity to pursuit of national prosperity and fear that any discontent will be directed at outsiders. His hope is that human trend to cooperate to mutual benefit would be more powerful than trend to blame and attack others for any arising problems.

MY TAKE ON IT:

I think author provides pretty good narrative of history, formation, functioning, and/or dis-functioning of societies in animal world including humans. I think that we are in process of formation of one global society covering all individuals on this planet. Only I do not believe that it would be easy and fast process and I also do not believe that it would be done with kind of salad plate when different cultures remain mixed and separate at the same time. I think that it would be rather melting pot of formation of the one united society with one language and one culture formed on the bases of previously existing cultures providing very different input: some cultures huge and some very small. The process of such formation is unpredictable and may or may not include massive violence and forced accommodation to some norms. It also may or may not be very benign with individuals’ voluntary accepting features of preferred culture they think to be more beneficent for them. One thing I am pretty sure about is that it all depends on triumph of failure of ongoing American experiment, which is now endangered by uncontrollable cancerous growth of bureaucracy and administrative state that are suppressing individual freedoms, making peaceful accommodation all but impossible. Actually I hope that existing American society is strong enough to overcome this disease and consequently open the way to universal truly democratic society, but it is just a hope.

 

20191013 – Discrimination and Disparities

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MAIN IDEA:

The main idea here is to restate once again author’s believes in complexity of the world and futility of applying simple and primitive solutions to many complex problems of contemporary society. Author goes one by one through hot points of contemporary discussions, demonstrating that in complex world only multitude of specific decisions made by individuals for themselves could lead to improvement, while violent intervention by power crazy leftists via government directives could only hurt everybody, eventually leading to dramatic decline of society.

DETAILS:

Chapter 1: Disparities and Prerequisites

Here author presents an idea that the result of any actions depends on combination of prerequisites and demands of the moment. For example someone with 5 prerequisites to achieve something that requires all 5 will achieve it, while everybody else with either any 1 or 4 prerequisites will fail. Since these prerequisites not always and not all depend on person’s effort, the achievement is combination of luck and effort. Author provides very interesting result of Harvard longitude study of men with very high IQ, which demonstrated low correlation between lifetime achievements and IQ. Another peace of empirical data is the variance in achievement between twins raised in the same family. There is also high level of correlation between birth sequence of individuals and their achievements, with earlier born having higher achievements. Author also analyses history of Jews as high achieving group and points out that it was case at the very specific time period when their prerequisites fit to circumstances. Author also applies this point for institutions and organizations, demonstrating the same evolutionary fitness or lack thereof. Finally author discusses implications of these ideas, stating that various factors help or hamper developments, but not define them deterministically neither for individuals nor for groups.

Chapter 2: Discrimination: Meanings and Costs

Author defines two types of Discrimination:

Type I:” The broader meaning is an ability to discern differences in the qualities of people and things, and choosing accordingly”. This pretty much means evaluate people as individuals – effective, but very costly and not always easily available process.

Type II: This means evaluate people based on their belonging to some group, automatically assigning real or perceived characteristics of this group to individual – ineffective and often harmful, but low cost, intuitive, and very speedy method.

Author also discusses what he calls Discrimination IB – discrimination based on small number of group characteristics. As example author provides assumption of low creditworthiness and high insurance rate in localities with high crime rate.

After that author discusses examples of discrimination with interesting patterns when clearly ideological racists fought against discrimination that was detrimental to their own well being, like demand for segregated railroad cars when there were not enough passengers to keep it profitable: for example enough whites to fill 0.5 of car and blacks to fill 1.5. With discrimination one needs 3 cars, 2 being half-empty, while without only 2 cars.

Chapter 3: Sorting and Unsorting People

This is about human tendency to settle among people who could help one to manage life challenges. Typically it is similar people and author discusses such sorting not only on ethnic or racial basis, but also within communities: sometimes by place of origin and sometimes by business similarities. Author also discusses assumption that people immediately make about others by appearance. He provides a couple stories about rich blacks professors causing fear because they are big and black before people recognize them as rich and educated. Author also discusses government imposed sorting that unlike self-sorting is not possible remediate by better knowledge about individual.

Author also discusses methods of unsorting: Education, Residential, and equal employment. In all cases author points out to distortion brought in by government intervention, which actually causes problem for people who are really trying to rise. For example government programs of subsidized housing often leads to placement of disturbing people into locations with lower middle class population who are paying full price for housing in these areas at great sacrifices to provide safe environment for their children, only to see government nullifying their efforts.

Chapter 4: The World of Numbers

This chapter is about manipulation of statistics to promote some bureaucratic and/or political agenda. This is very typical when used to find racism where there is none: either in income distribution, crime data, capital gains calculations, and so on. The implication of such manipulation is often false believes, political support for ineffective and even harmful measures, and waste of resources.

Chapter 5: The World of Words

This chapter is about manipulation of words similar to manipulation of data and used for the same purpose: promote some political agenda and direct public resources into whatever schema manipulators desire to promote. Author presents a number of examples of such manipulation such as “Diversity” use to promote racism, Ex Ante substituted based on Ex Post events like explaining someone’s achievement by some unspecified privileges that nobody could see before the achiever obtained results. Another contemporary innovation of the left is use of word “Violence” on context where no violence could be occurring like in response to words or images. There is the whole are of manipulation when manipulator targets some ridiculous idea or notion linking it to opponent’s position, even if opponent never subscribed to this idea. Examples are “Trickle down economics”, “Racism”, “White supremacism”, and many others. One interesting example of such use is “Freedom” used with meaning of absence of fear, poverty, and poor health, even if none of these has anything to do with freedom of person to obtain information, to express self, to get job to escape poverty, or use treatment to improve health.

Chapter 6: Social Visions and Human Consequences

This chapter is the critic of prevailing social vision that diminishes individuals responsibility for their prosperity, health, and wellbeing or lack thereof. It includes absolutely unfounded assumption that results for everybody should be the same and if they are not, then some politico-bureaucratic intervention is justified to enforce equality of results. Author then discusses typical human consequences of such interventions and notes how what he calls “toxic vision” completely blinds people who religiously cling to this vision despite reality of multitude of factual data demonstrating failures of their programs.

Chapter 7: Facts, Assumptions and Goals

Author starts this chapter by stating that his goal is not really propose solutions, but rather “provide enough clarification to enable others to make up their own minds about the inevitable claims and counter-claims sure to arise from those who are promoting their own notions or their own interests.”

Correspondingly he discusses:

  • Meanings and prospects of equality, which is inexorably linked to question of merit vs. productivity: do people deserve to get something that other people produce or they should be productive to get something. Another point is inequality of languages some of which are more developed then others.
  • Disparities: people represent not only their inherent qualities, but also background, which are in some circumstances beneficial, but in others detrimental.
  • Culture: author compares Scandinavia with Middle East and then discusses issues of culture clash when people from Middle East immigrate to Scandinavia
  • Process goals versus Outcome Goals: the former highly beneficial, creating conditions for people to obtain what they want, while latter highly detrimental, prompting people demand something they did not earn.
  • Social Justice understood as“(1) the seemingly invincible fallacy that various groups would be equally successful in the absence of biased treatment by others, (2) the cause of disparate outcomes can be determined by where statistics showing the unequal outcomes were collected, and (3) if the more fortunate people were not completely responsible for their own good fortune, then the government—politicians, bureaucrats and judges—will produce either efficiently better or morally superior outcomes by intervening.
  • The Past and the Future: the look at history is both frustrating and aspiring because it filled with examples of decline of highly developed societies and blossoming of previously dormant societies and peoples.

MY TAKE ON IT:

As nearly always with his other books, I agree with main points that Tomas Sowell makes in this book. However I think that his position of not looking for solution is not sufficient. Presenting intellectual and moral deficiencies of contemporary left and their “toxic vision” should be combined with presentation of another vision, which would go beyond just asking for less government intervention, but also demonstrating how to decrease it and how to make people left behind to fight people of the government in order to protect themselves and retain the freedoms they still have.

 

 

20191006 – Big Business

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MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is to present kind of pro-business manifesto that would reject typical attacks against business and present reasons to believe that overall role of business and specifically big corporations is a lot more positive, than many people believe.

DETAILS:

  1. A New Pro-Business Manifesto

It starts with the simple statement that without business nothing in economy would be created or moved. Then author proceeds to extoll particular virtues of American Business such as superior management practices: “It has been estimated that Chinese firms could increase their productivity by 30 to 50 percent and Indian firms could do so by 40 to 60 percent merely by bringing the quality of their management practices up to American levels.”  After that author compares American Business and Government and concludes that former clearly works better than latter. Finally he states that he was prompted to write this book by massive attack against business from the left and from the right that led to low level of trust that it has with American public, which is even worse than trust in nearly all other institutions:

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At the end of chapter author expresses his believe that business deserves better trust and his intention to provide prove of it in this book.

  1. Are Businesses More Fraudulent Than the Rest of us?

The obvious response presented in this chapter is “NO”, the business is no more fraudulent than regular people and probably quite a bit less than public employees. Author discusses a number of studies confirming this and then moves into psychological research demonstrating that CEOs are more trusting than regular people. He also provides some interesting data obtained from cross-cultural research demonstrating that people more exposed to developed market economy are more honest.

  1. Are CEOs Paid Too Much?

Author position here is that CEO properly paid that much because their decisions have huge impact on success or failure of very big businesses and these decisions are highly non-trivial. He discusses skill set of the modern CEO and here is some really funny citation:”The CEO is the modern world’s equivalent of a successful philosopher, as a good CEO must have a reasonably well-rounded sense of nearly the entirety of the contemporary human experience, whether as worker, consumer, funder, media communicator, or political activist. In reality, there is no other job that is as—yes I will stick with that word—philosophical. Good CEOs are some of the world’s most potent creators and have some of the very deepest skills of understanding.

Author also refer to interesting research on what happens when CEOs dies. The usual consequence: companies lose at least some value. The final point in this chapter is author’s attempt invalidate usual view that CEO’s time span of planning is too short and they are sacrificing long term prospective for short term gains.

  1. Is Work Fun?

Author looks at polls demonstrating that work is not fun, but then at work time data demonstrating that people work now more hours than they used to. There was also an interesting research checking hormones of people during work hours and at home for stress. It turned out that being at home often is more stressful than work.

Author concedes that not everything is perfect in work places and there is not very nice staff about harassment, companies taking advantage of their workers using market power, and so on. However all this often comes not from company policy, but from other employees. At the end of chapter author compares different organizational forms and finds that coop is not that good either.

  1. How Monopolistic Is American Big Business?

The analysis here provides that business is by far less monopolistic than people think and that really big and bad monopoly are government monopolies such as K-12 education.

  1. Are the Big Tech Companies Evil?

Here author goes through usual litany of accusations and responds:

  • Competition in high tech did not disappear
  • Tech Companies continue innovating
  • Internet and computers does not make humans stupid

However there is one area in which author does have a very serious concern: loss of privacy, and he discusses it in details.

  1. What Is Wall Street Good for, Anyway?

This chapter is response to wave of accusations against financial business, usually by people who have now clue about finance role in contemporary world. So author explains:

  • VC drive innovation – no startups without money
  • Companies shares allow people participate in financing business and benefit from stock appreciation
  • Comparatively to other countries Americans are taxed less and have reliable banking system.
  • American financial system did not grow unreasonably big, but rather grows in proportion to increased wealth of society when ratio of assets to income is growing all the time.
  • Americans have huge benefit from the scale of their financial system because it supports global peace and prosperity by assuring money, goods, and services flow relatively unimpeded.
  1. Crony Capitalism: How Much Does Big Business Control the American Government

This chapter is about business influence on government, and author makes very valid point that government constantly interfere into business imposing demands and regulations, so all this lobbying is pretty much business self-defense against predatory politicians.

  1. If Business Is So Good, Why Is It So Disliked?

In the first part of this chapter author discusses anthropomorphizing corporations. The corporations encourage this attitude by using symbols that aim to personalize them as trusting friends and supporters. It is especially obvious no when corporations are active on social media and use AI to interact with customer via humanlike conversations and images. However there is downside from personalizing and it is ease with which corporation as personal friend could be turned into enemy. There is the whole industry, which is built on vilifying corporations – Hollywood. The movies usually based on fight between good and evil and humans who pay for entertainment associate with good in movies. Obviously the good had to be represented by humans, while evil could not. It had to be represented by some abstract entity like Nazis or Aliens or most often by soulless corporations. Similarly even if majority of people are corporate employees, they tend to perceive whatever good comes from their employment, as their fair deserve and whatever bad as expression of inhumane corporate nature. Author final word is about social responsibility of business and this is how he puts it: “And what, in turn, is the social responsibility of business? I don’t think there is a single concrete answer to that question except the following: the social responsibility of business is to come up with new and better conceptions of the social responsibility of business, ones that will both boost corporate profits and further other social ends, including prosperity and liberty. You might say the social responsibility of business is to come up with the magic of a vision that will help us trust it more, whether as consumers or as workers. Corporations won’t succeed all of the time at this, but American business, by enabling so much wealth creation and by creating so many new opportunities, arguably has outperformed any other set of private institutions in all of world history.” 

MY TAKE ON IT:

I think that the whole idea of anthropomorphized corporation is very harmful for the society because it allows really bad people to hide beyond corporation and often denies good people appreciation that they truly deserve. There are very complex and historically deep reasons for corporations obtaining personality including some legal and human rights like sue and being sued and recently even free speech. I personally think that this structure is outdated and just remains from time when it was impossibly to process information to the human individual level so one had to trust brand name of corporation or sue corporation for negligence of individual working for it. I think over the next few dozen years this approach will be gone and reward or punishment for good or bad actions would be directed not at the abstract corporation, but at the specific human actors.

I generally agree with author in his description and rejection of typical accusations against corporations, except for CEOs income.  With all justifications that author provides, the reality is that CEO compensation decided by boards appointed by CEOs, consistent of current and formers CEO, who, quite normally, view the world through CEOs lenses. If we remove possibility of CEOs as a group having infinitely higher moral standards than general population, which in my view is negligible, we should expect them to pay themselves out of investors’ pocket as much as legal system would allow. However taxes are not a reasonable way to go because taxes just mean that resources transferred from corporate bureaucrats to government bureaucrats, which generally are usually lot less competent. Similarly any limitations on CEO compensation only serve to direct efforts at avoiding such limitations instead running corporation to benefit of owners. The only reasonable way, in my view, would be create direct and simple link between company performance and CEO actions in such way that poor performance would guarantee low levels of compensation, unlike stock options, which quite often provide enormous compensation for average performance and huge compensation for poor performance.

 

20190929 – End of Work

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MAIN IDEA:

The main point of this book is that the work one does because he/she loves it is not really work, but rather enjoyable application of one’s energy. The consequence of increased prosperity is ability of people to do what they love, so the work would not feel like work, constituting therefore the end of work. The most important extension of this idea into the future is that non-routine works like sports, games, cooking, and such could provide joyful employment allowing doing what they love for people who will lose their jobs to automation.

DETAILS:

INTRODUCTION

Author starts this with description of the band in which players reached retirement age, but continue perform because they love what they do. It leads to the statement: “The central message of this book is that you’re not lazy, you’re simply in the wrong job. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Successful people will tell you that success springs from the pursuit of all kinds of work—with lots of failure in the process”. So author promises: “Whatever you’ve been told and whatever you believe about yourself, you have within you the work ethic, intelligence, and charisma that you marvel at in others. What’s missing is the kind of work that inspires the heroic effort of which you’re capable. I’m going to show you that that work is within your grasp and how to recognize it. Truly, the end of work is near.

CHAPTER ONE: Why College Football Players Should Major in College Football

This chapter is about Football players that make millions, but have to go through college, pretending that they learn something else. Author’s recommendation is to teach football as a profession.

CHAPTER TWO: Intelligence and Passion Don’t Stop at Football

This chapter is about basketball and baseball, both being also a pretty good source of income for top players. In addition author refers to book “Moneyball” and discusses high levels of special intellect required to be successful in all these games.

CHAPTER THREE: Education Isn’t Meaningless, But It’s Grossly Overrated

This chapter starts with very wise quote from Ludwig von Mises: “The successful conduct of business demands qualities quite other than those necessary for passing examinations—even if the examinations deal with subjects bearing on the work of the position in question.”

Then author proceeds to demonstrate using a few examples how musicians with no formal musical education like Beatles not just achieved huge success, but also changed how music is played. In addition to Beatles he discusses Rolling Stones and their impact on popular music. Author also brings in a few more examples like Brothers Wright, a few movie starts, Internet personalities and so on. The main point here is that education follows technological and cultural breakthrough rather that creates them.

CHAPTER FOUR: What Was Once Silly Is Now Serious

This chapter presents more examples of people following their dreams and doing what they love and achieving huge success. This time it is about cooking, restaurant business, and, once again, more actors that achieved success. One point added at the end of chapters is that new technology allows everybody make movie and post it on YouTube, or some equivalent for other professions, so barriers to entry become lower every day.

CHAPTER FIVE: Abundant Profits Make Possible the Work That Isn’t

The chapter starts with reference to high performing businessmen: Goizueta, Warren Buffet, Bill Gates and others who used their money for all kinds of charity, in process creating lots of jobs in non-profit organizations. Similarly author points out that without high profit there would be no high culture such as symphonies, universities, and such.

CHAPTER SIX: The Millennial Generation Will Be the Richest Yet—Until the Next One

Here author moves to discuss complains of current generation that they could not find jobs adequate to their education levels. He looks at this and other generations after WWII and concludes that they all were richer than previous ones, albeit not right away, but after some struggle.

CHAPTER SEVEN My story

Here author retells his story as college graduate of 1992, the time before Internet. Unlike ancient times when people were happy to find good enough jobs to earn living, author and his generation spend years or even decades looking for jobs that they would enjoy and make lots of money. In author’s case the search was successful.

CHAPTER EIGHT The “Venture Buyer”

Author starts this chapter with discussion of well known fact that nobody knows the future and government bureaucrats is not any better at predictions than capitalists. However people in free market environment evolutionary selected for their ability to move quickly to catch up in time with any new technology, trend or fashion making money from successful innovation. It is not only in production, but also in consumption. People with money, author calls them Venture buyers, buy new and exiting staff and if it is any good, promote it to everybody, consequently increasing demand, which in turn initiate economy of scale and improvements making this staff more and more effective and less and less expensive over time.

CHAPTER NINE: Why We Need People with Money to Burn

This is another bunch of examples that rich and semi rich spenders move progress either by using their wealth to invent things like brothers Wright, manage creation of new consumer products like Steve jobs, or do something else productive.

CHAPTER TEN: Love Your Robot, Love Your Job

Here author refers to the work of Henry Hazlitt and links his book to it:” I make three arguments in this book. First, everyone is intelligent in his own way. Second, everyone has a huge capacity to work if his work is matched with passion. Third, economic growth will allow work and passion to become one and the same for the greatest number of people. That’s why Hazlitt’s insight is so important. An “economy” is nothing more than a collection of individuals. When we take our economic thinking down to the level of the individual, we discover the secret to roaring economic growth: No individual is made more prosperous if local, state, and federal taxes shrink his income. What governments spend represents lost spending and savings for every individual.”

After that author moves to discuss technology and productivity growth that made contemporary world wealthy and his believe that it should cause game change from what it is now when people often do work they hate to the new game when people do what they like. In his opinion it would be world without laziness.

CHAPTER ELEVEN: Come Inside and Turn on the Xbox, You Have Work to Do

Here author recounts how in contemporary world people make good money playing golf, poker, or some X-box games. He presents the idea that such games require support like caddies who are high-level professionals in their own right and discusses real life examples at length. The inference from this is: ” The United States is already becoming a nation of happy workers, but we’ve only scratched the surface. The end of work has in a sense already arrived, but it could be so much better if our government taxed and spent more sensibly. You’re not lazy, you’re not stupid, and you’re not bereft of talent. You, like so many others, simply suffer a capital deficit. That can change if we demand that it change. If that happens, a life of enriching work will be our reward, and a certain reward for our children.”

MY TAKE ON IT:

Nice try, but somewhat light on thinking. At no point author try to compare numbers of jobs that will be lost to automation with number of jobs real or potential that could be created by sports, entertainment, and other areas that author believes susceptible to joyful working. The way reality looks now is that productive work removed by automation will be substituted not by some joyful jobs allowing people to play while working, but rather some miserly handouts like guarantied income and/or by soul killing miserable jobs of filing slots in some bureaucratic structure that pays better than this guarantied income in exchange for mindless conformity. I believe that there are better ways. These ways are not about doing something that one likes, even if nobody wants to pay for it, but rather about everybody having equal rights to natural resources including our biological DNA, cultural, and technological heritage so that people capable create wealth in amounts higher than average would have to buy rights for use of it from people who produced less than average.

20190922 – Genesis-The Deep Origin of Societies

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MAIN IDEA:

The main idea here is to present idea of Eusociality that applies not only to humans, but also to other extremely successful forms of live –insects, especially ants. This idea helps to answer main philosophical questions humanity posed by referring to the process of evolution and not at the level of DNA only or even organism only, but at the level of society as whole with this process being broken into multiple levels, including competition between groups.

DETAILS:

Prologue

Author starts with defining the scope: “ALL QUESTIONS OF PHILOSOPHY THAT ADDRESS the human condition come down to three: what are we, what created us, and what do we wish ultimately to become.
 Author believes that answers are in evolution and it is good not only for humans, but also for other forms of societies: ants and bees.

Chapter 1. The Search for Genesis

Here author presents his believes on key points for human self-understanding:

  • Every part of the human body and mind has a physical base obedient to the laws of physics and chemistry. And all of it, so far as we can tell by continuing scientific examination, originated through evolution by natural selection. 

 

  • The unit of genetic evolution is the gene or ensemble of interacting genes. The target of natural selection is the environment, within which selection favors one form of a given gene (called an allele) over other forms (other alleles). 

 

  • During the biological organization of societies, natural selection has always been multilevel. Except in the case of “superorganisms,” as found in a few kinds of ants and termites, where subordinates form a sterile working class, each member competes with other members for rank, mates, and common resources. Natural selection simultaneously operates at the level of the group, affecting how well each group performs in competition against other groups. 

 

Finally after that author discusses the key points of evolution: inheritance with variance and statistical selection of better breeders.

Chapter 2. The Great Transitions of Evolution

Here is how author defines the great transitions of evolution:

1.​The origin of life

2.​The invention of complex (“eukaryotic”) cells

3.​The invention of sexual reproduction, leading to a controlled system of DNA exchange and the multiplication of species

4.​The origin of organisms composed of multiple cells

5.​The origin of societies

6.​The origin of language

 

 

Author expresses his conviction that all teleological approaches to human evolution are false – the great transitions demonstrate that it is just natural process with no purpose whatsoever. He explains how each of these transition naturally occurred. Actually humans are not alone, huge number of other species moved along pretty far, with some all the way to level 5 and a few to level 6, albeit their language being very primitive, unlike human.

Chapter 3. The Great Transitions Dilemma and How It Was Solved

The dilemma here is about altruism and low probability of development of complex systems through multiple transitions. Author believes that it could be explained by evolution: “The solution begins with an appreciation of the enormity of the problem and the improbability, in fact near impossibility, of its solution. The great transitions together, composing the dragon challenge of evolution, lead through a field of extreme difficulty. Similarly, each of the transitions required almost unimaginably vast numbers of components (chemical compounds to simple living cells to eukaryotic cells and so on up), consuming long geologic periods of time, to create the next higher level. Each transition required, or at least was enhanced by, multilevel selection—occurrence of natural selection at the group levels added to selection at the individual level. “

Chapter 4. Tracking Social Evolution Through the Ages

Here author discusses formation of groups among various animals and their evolution. This process occurred many times so there is enough evidence to understand how it works. It seems to be done via: “…universal principle of modularity, the tendency of all biological systems to divide one way or another into semi-independent but cooperative groups. Members of the different groups specialize in function, even if just temporarily, in a way that serves the overall assembly as a whole and thereby on average benefits each individual singly”. Author believes that this process could lead to increase in groups’ complexity to the level, which is seldom achieved that he calls EUSOCIALITY.  In Eusociality “the colony is divided into a “royal” caste specialized for reproduction, and a nonreproductive “worker” caste that performs the labor of the colony. Eusociality may be a relatively rare condition in evolution, but it has resulted in the most advanced levels of individual altruism and social complexity. It has conferred ecological dominance on the land by some of the species that possess it, particularly the ants, termites, and humans. “

Chapter 5. The Final Steps to Eusociality

Here author discusses evidence of Eusociality obtained from research of insects. He discusses difference between Eusociality and superorganisms such as Atta fungus and states that:” Eusociality, the organization of a group into reproductive and nonreproductive castes, occurred in only a tiny percentage of evolving lines, then relatively late in geological time, and almost entirely on the land. Yet
these few, leading to the ants, termites, and humans, have come to dominate the
terrestrial animal world. “

Chapter 6. Group Selection

Here is how author defines group selection:” Group selection is natural
selection of alleles (alternative forms of the same gene) that prescribe social traits. The traits favored by natural selection are those that entail the interaction of individuals within groups, including the initial formation of the groups. As groups of the
same species then compete, the genes of their members are tested, driving social evolution by natural selection up or down. A rich documentation of this process has been provided by both natural history and experimental studies. “
 Then he provides support for this position both theoretically and referencing experimental studies in nature. Especially interesting are DNA studies on other Eusocial creatures – ants where prosocial behavior uses chemical communications based on DNA.  Finally author provides some serious reasons for rejecting popular ideas of kin selection and inclusive fitness (Hamilton rule – General or HRG):

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Chapter 7. The Human Story

The final chapter applies all this to human history: ”Humanity arose on the
African savanna from a line of australopiths by essentially the same route as the other known eusocial animals. A major driving force in social evolution was competition between groups, frequently violent. The final surge to the Homo level was enabled by the combination of an initially large brain, fire from the frequent lightning- struck savanna that could be captured and controlled, and the advantages of tightly gathered groups of cooperating members. “
 To support idea of continuous process of violent competition between human groups author provides a very interesting table:

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But it is not group violence that makes us human. Even more than that it was social interaction: ” From the earliest Homo formed, as brain size increased, the time devoted to social interactions likely increased. The trend upward has been inferred by Robin I. M. Dunbar of the University of Oxford. He used two correlations from existing species of monkeys and apes: first, time spent grooming as a function of group size, and second, the relation among apes between group size and cranial capacity. Extended to the australopithecines and the Homo line of species born from them, this method—admittedly tenuous—suggests that the “required social time” evolved from about one hour a day to two hours in the earliest species of Homo, thence four to five hours in modern humanity. In short, longer social interaction is a key component in the evolution of a larger brain and higher intelligence.”

 

MY TAKE ON IT:

I think that ideas expressed in this book are not just plausible, but actually completely correct. I do not see any other reasons for developing such huge and multifunctional tool for abstract thinking as human brain but for necessity to process complex tasks of strategizing, planning, communicating, and analyzing results. From current achievement in mathematics and computer science in modeling neural networks, it is clear that it requires huge amount of computing power. This is what evolution provided us with in the form of human brain. So far we used it relatively well, but now accumulated level of knowledge and skills become so big and sophisticated that it is a challenge for humanity to use it well enough to survive.

20190915 – First Freedom

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MAIN IDEA:

The narrative here is to review history of guns in America, the role they played in its settlement by Europeans, and analyze features of American culture that to large degree were formed by constant need in self-protection, either individual or in loosely formed militias against hostile Indians and/or other Europeans. However the main idea is to reject attempts by the left to rewrite history of American adherence to guns and demonstrate that American freedom depends on people’s ability to have arms, without which it would be indefensible.

DETAILS:

PROLOGUE: From Prey to Predator

It starts with David and his use of projectile against Goliath. From this point author discusses history of projectile weapons from sling and stone to bow and arrow and all the way to firearms of XIV and XV centuries.

PART I NEW WORLDS

1: First Contact

After prolog about firearms coming to Europe author moves to America and initial European invaders – conquistadors. These guys’ guns were useful not that much through their firepower as for psychological effects of their noise and lights, which scared the hell out of people not familiar with technology.

2: Pilgrims Progress

The next stop is for Pilgrims and their guns. Author discusses technology of “Mayflower gun”, which was wheel lock – when rotating wheel had generated spark needed to ignite charge. Here is how author describes main use of guns in colonial America: “Hunting, not war, was the main use of the gun in early America. By the turn of the century, Indian reliance on European firearms for stalking prey was also growing. As Native Americans gradually adopted the apparatuses, they became increasingly adept at fixing and maintaining the weapons—even, occasionally, making their own ammunition. However, Indians were never able to manufacture and craft iron, and this doomed their hold on the land.

. Then author discusses technological development that found very good acceptation in America – Kentucky rifle that provided longer distance and better accuracy at the expense of difficulty of reloading. Comparatively speaking it was hunting weapon, not really appropriate for military engagement, which at the time was based on marching columns and disciplined volley firing that followed by bayonet attack. This tactic was based on smoothbore musket technology that provided much faster reloading.

3: Powder Alarm

This is about powder in America. Author discusses its chemistry and production technology. The production of powder in America was very limited and was subject of British attempt on confiscation whatever inventory colonials have on one side and attempts to setup production by colonials on other side. Both attempts failed so America kept powder it possessed and could not produce much more but consequently succeeded by relying on French supplies.

4: “Fire!”

Here author discusses beginnings of American revolutionary war and provides an interesting observation on why revolution would not be an easy thing to defeat: ” In 1774, Richard Price, the Welsh philosopher and intellectual who championed the American cause in Britain during the Revolution, pointed out that in the colonies “every inhabitant has in his house (as part of his furniture) a book on law and government, to enable him to understand his civil rights; a musket to enable him to defend these rights; and a Bible to enable him to understand and practice his religion. In that same year, an Englishman visiting New England wrote home that there “is not a Man born in America that does not Understand the Use of Firearms and that well . . . It is almost the First thing they Purchase and take to all the New Settlements and in the cities you scarcely find a Lad of 12 years that does not go a Gunning.””

5: The Finest Marksmen in the World

Here author discusses a special feature of American way of war at the time – massive use of snipers with rifles who were targeting officers. Initially it was quite successful and widely popular. However, as everything else, it caused changes in British tactics that explore deficiencies of rifles: their slow and difficult reloading that made coordinated action in battle very difficult. The fact that it was practically one-shot weapon that made American fighters vulnerable to bayonet attack caused its decline in popularity and eventual return to the regular method of fighting: in columns with musket volleys.

6: Liberty’s Teeth

In this chapter author refer to famous diary of Joseph Plumb Martin who went through all revolutionary war. He describes a war of muskets when both sides were armed by “Brown Bess” musket or equivalent weapon.

7: Freedoms Guarantee

In this chapter author completes his discussion of American revolution, its causes and history by noting that not a small reason for this was British attempt to disarm population. He links these events to our time by noting:“The First Amendment of the Bill of Rights lists the most vital freedoms of man. The second lists the only way to attain them and preserve them. Without the second, there is no first. It was in this context that the newly minted nation enshrined this natural right. The words written by James Madison in 1791, “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed,” would not be controversial until the twentieth century when a seemingly ungrammatical comma plunked in the middle of this sentence offered a generation of gun-control advocates a justification to question whether individuals were afforded the right to self-defense.

PART Il DISCOVERY

8: Go West

This chapter about American movement West starts with Lewis and Clark and their weapons. One of the most important was a small-bore cannon and couple blunderbusses. It follows by the story of Daniel Boone. Author describes how much attention and effort Lewis applied to have the best available weapons, which were custom made at Harpers Ferry Armory. Especially interesting was air gun that could be fired without reloading a number of times using magazine with some 22 rounds and enough compressed air to shoot 40 times. It greatly amazed Indians who already were familiar with firearms and new their deficiencies, which quite possibly discourage potential attack.  Author then discusses establishment of mass production of weapons with changeable parts. One of the most important inventions of the period was bridge-loaded gun. It was the first known patented gun.

9: Peacemaker; 10: Bullet; 11: Those Newfangled Gimcrackers;

These chapters retell story of technological developments of XIX century: Colt revolver, Smith and Wesson gun with cartages, and Spencer repeating rifle,

12: Fastest Gun in the West

Here author moves to people who used these technologies: Bill Hickok, Billy the Kid, and a few others.

13: The Showman

The final chapter of this part is about gun culture expressed in entertainment with Buffalo Bill’s show as exhibit number one. It also refers to extermination of Buffalos, how it was done, and special weapon: Sharps Rifle used to do it. The final part of the chapter is about Annie Oakley and her unmatched shooting skills.

PART III MODERNITY

14: Hellfire; 15: An American in London; 16: American Genius; 17: The Chicago Typewriter; 18: Great Arsenal of Democracy;

These chapters retells story of several types of guns of the late XIX and XX centuries and their inventors. Author discusses here Gatling gun, Maxim machinegun, Browning rifles, Thompson sub-machinegun, and Garand rifle.

19: Fall and Rise of the Sharpshooter

In this chapter author moves from hardware of guns to software – tactics of guns use – mainly about sniper fire. American military revived sniper training and extensive use during Vietnam War and since then only extended it.

20: Peace Dividends

This chapter is about contemporary automatic rifles and it discusses ongoing competition between Soviet AK-47 and American AR-15 / M16. Generally these two are designed with different ideas of fighting in mind. AK-47 was designed with preference of low cost and reliability over accuracy, while M16 for accuracy and ergonomics. Author also trying explain reasons for initially poor reputation of M16 by bureaucratic incompetence during its roll out to the troops.

21: The Great Argument

The final chapter is about continuously advancing efforts of gun control by bureaucrats and politicians. However so far these effort mainly failed because guns so much imbedded into American culture that it hard to imagine that any confiscation attempt would succeed.

CONCLUSION: Molon Labe

In conclusion author discusses revisionist attempt by leftist historians to separate guns from American history and by politicians to promote idea of the Second Amendment as “collective right”. So far it failed in Supreme Court and in popular support.

MY TAKE ON IT:

I agree with author’s position, but I think it is not sufficient. The current trend to justify individual ownership of guns by reasons of self-defense and hunting opens it to continuing attempts for regulation and confiscation. I think founders understood that armed individuals are not sufficient for protection of freedom. Only independent organizations of armed individuals could protect it against enemies foreign and domestic, which means military for protection against former and militia for protection against latter. As for military it should be small and professional to be used exclusively against other countries and their forces. As for militia, it should be based on mass participation of all adult so no politician or gang of politicians could believe that there is any chance to deprive people of their freedoms. This mass participation in militia long gone and so was significant parts of freedom that Americans used to have. Whether it is gone forever, however, still remains to be seen.

 

20190908 – An Elegant Defense

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MAIN IDEA:

The main idea here is to present contemporary understanding of immune system workings and humanize this discussion with real live example of 3 people who suffer from immunity system problems and one person who possess unusually powerful immune system, which allowed him to survive AIDs at the time before treatment was developed and the vast majority of infected people died.

DETAILS:

Part I: Lives in the Balance

  1. The Ties That Bind 2. Jason 3. Bob. 4. Linda and Merredith

In this part author discusses a little bit on the nature of immune system and then presents stories of four people: his friend Jason who suffered from cancer at middle age, Bob – gay man who survived AIDS, Linda – high power workaholic who encountered rheumatoid arthritis, which is autoimmune disease, and Merredith, who has genetic version of autoimmune disease.

 

Part II: The Immune System and the Festival of Life

  1. The Bird, Dog, Starfish, and Magic Bullet

Here author starts with the origins of immunology, which started in Italy first with discovery of chicken bursa by Fabricius ab Aquapendente
and then in 1622 with discovery of lymph circulation. The next step was in XIX century when Metchnikoff discovered phagocytes and developed theory of immunities, which was supplemented by work of Paul Ehrlich who discovered antigens.

  1. The Festival;

Here author describes what he calls festival of life: permanent movement of cells in the body and some processes used to fix the problems that periodically occur.

  1. Festival Crashers;

This is about all kind of challenges to this festival: Bacteria, Viruses, Parasites, and Cancers. Then author discusses how body’s immune system handles these challenges. The common problem of this handling is the difficulty of correct recognition between hostile and own healthy cells so that body would not attack the latter (autoimmune illnesses) and would not protect malignant cells (cancer). Here is how author describes his task: “ It is the story of scientific discovery. It goes like this, in brief: scientists got an idea about these things called T cells and B cells, started applying big conceptual knowledge through life-saving vaccines and transplants, and then these imaginative and innovative immunologists delved into the tiny fragments of the immune system, the cogs, and built a blueprint of the machine. They understood, as I’ll describe, what inflammation is about, and the molecules that make up our communications network. With each advance of science came another practical step, like building medicines by replicating our defense cells, and then would come another extraordinary scientific leap, like the discovery only a few years ago of a second immune system.

  1. The Mystery Organ

This starts with the story of tuberculosis patient who died shortly before discovery of antibiotics and whose sister became medical researcher who discovered thymus – the mystery organ strongly influencing work of immune system.

9 The B-Word

This is about discovery of two different immune cells that body produced- B-cells originating in bone marrow and generated antibodies, while T-cell went through thymus and could direct actions against disease.

  1. T Cells and B Cells

This is about functionality of B and T cells with nice picture of both:

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  1. Vaccines

This is brief, but important part describing how vaccines work. They present immune system with relatively weak cell form of enemy that allow it to develop response to this particular problem, so when real virus hit, the immune system already prepared to defeat it.

  1. The Infinity Machine

This is about big mystery of immune system – how it recognizes good cells vs. bad that needs to be attacked. Turned out that immune system has preset pieces of DNA ready to create antibodies for multitude of different invaders.

  1. Transplant

This chapter is about transplantation of organs that was very challenging process before medicine achieved good enough understanding of immune system to be able suppress it enough for body accept transplant, but not enough to leave it defenseless against infection.

14 The Immune System’s Fingerprint

This is an interesting chapter about uniqueness of immune system and its ability to sent chemical signals externally, based on MHC gene. Among other things it was discovered that close enough MHC repels people from each other, while different attracts, providing chance for increased diversity.

  1. Inflammation

This is another interesting and not trivial look at inflammation. Author links it to immune system and complex process of organism reaction to invasion with use of various more or less specialized killer cells: neutrophils, macrophages, and natural killer cells.

  1. Fever

This chapter is about discovery of a molecule that controls fever in the body – leukocytic pyrogen, even if it is present in miniscule quantities.

  1. Flash Gordon

This is about interferon (IFN) – a medicine that is based on dead virus. It prepares immune system to recognize DNA of virus in case of infection and attack it.

  1. The Harmonious Way

This very brief chapter is about change in approach to immune system from perceiving it as defensive system that attacks intruders to understanding that it is kind of homeostatic mechanism that maintains overall cellular balance of the body reacting to violation of this balance in such way as to restore it.

19 Three Wise Men and the Monoclonal Antibody

This is about the research that developed process for isolating specific antibodies and produce them in volume. Such antibodies called monoclonal antibodies that could be potentially produced for any disease.

  1. A Second Immune system

This is the story of discovery of second signal system – innate immunity based on gene called Toll receptor that defines which cell attack and which should be not attacked. The understanding of immune reaction is now includes coordinated working of both: innate and adaptive immune systems. Here is brief description:

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Part III: Bob: 21. Sex Machine; 22. GRID;  23. The Phone Call; 24 CD4 and CD8; 5. Magic; 26. The Prime; Part IV: Linda and Merredith: 27. Linda; 28 The Wolf: 29. Invisible Evidence 30. Best of Both Worlds (Sort Of); 31. Merredith;

This part of the book follows stories of 3 people that author selected for the “human interest” part of the book.

  1. Should You Pick Your Nose? 33. Microbiome; 34. Stress; 35. Sleep;

The 3 chapters about factors impacting immune system. They discuss correspondingly: need to train immune system in real life, so too much sterility in life and too cautious approach to raising children puts people at risk of having poorly trained immune system, resulting in allergies and openness to infection; value of microbiome that surround human body and provides vital support for its functioning, so overuse of antibiotic and other suppressors of micro organism could be not just harmful, but deadly; Finally minimization of stress and optimization of amount and quality of sleep are important factors in maintaining immune system in good shape.

Part V: Jason 36. A Word About Cancer 37.Laughter and Tears

In these two chapters author once again returns to the story of his friend Jason and Jason’s struggle with cancer.

38 The Lazarus Mouse

Here author moves to discuss interaction of immune system with cancer, which is practically comes down to its failure to attack cancerous cells. The research found that it seems to be possible to remove the restriction that disrupt this process and prompt immune system to attack, consequently leading to possibility of developing qualitatively new method of cancer treatment.

  1. Wound Healing

Here author discusses process of wound healing and suggests that cancer related to this process when immune system react to cancer cells as a wound and start protecting it.

  1. Programmed Death

In this chapter author retells the story of antibody development that would prompt immune system attack cancer cells. Here is author’s description of how it was done:(For those interested in the details, Lonberg and his peers, in the late 1990s, were figuring out how to cause the T cell to receive its signal at CD28, which is the spot where the “go” signal is received, and not at CTLA-4, where the “stop” signal arrives. Both receive their signal from the molecule B7-1; if B7-1 binds to CTLA-4, the immune system stops, and if it binds to CD28, the attack goes forward. In some cancers, “CTLA-4 is hogging B7,” Lonberg said. So the goal was to “displace” B7-1 from the CTLA-4 so that CD28 could bind. They did this by creating an ultra-specific antibody to bind to CTLA-4. When the antibody bound to CTLA-4, it pried loose the B7-1. Now the brakes would have been turned off. The immune system could attack the tumor as if it were foreign and dangerous, not innocuous and self.)

  1. The Breakthrough 42. Jason Races Time 43. Shepherd of Death 44. Trials, Personal and Clinical 45. The Other Shoe Part VI: Homecoming 46. Bob 47. Linda 4S. Jan and Ron 49. Jason Down the White Tunnel; 50. Jason Rises; 51. Apollo 11; 52. Home; 53. Jasons Way; 54. The Meanings of Life; 55. The Meaning of Jason

These final chapters retells current state of four people used to illustrate the book: author’s friend Jason died, but others keep going, indicating increased level of knowledge and abilities of current medicine.

MY TAKE ON IT:

This book clearly improved my understanding of immune system, how it works, what is current level of understanding of this system, and what could be expected in reasonably near future. The human-interest story was in my view a bit out of place, but it is not that bad. Anyway, the information from this book indicates that humanity is getting closer and closer to real understanding of immune system workings and therefore closer to eliminating practically all diseases known to humanity, including not only auto-immune diseases and allergies, but also immune deficiency diseases such as all kinds of cancers. It would be very interesting to see the results.

20190901 – China Vision of Victory

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MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is to use author’ experience on site in China to demonstrate that Chinese totalitarian regime is real danger to the world not only economically, but also politically and military. The point is that China’s objective to be dominant power in the world, if obtained, would inevitably lead to loss of freedom and democracy. This experience included talking with regular people that followed and greatly enhanced by subsequent education in political science with stress on China and research in details of Chinese leadership’s communications to the people formal and informal

DETAILS:

Introduction: Chinas Vision of Victory

Author starts by referring to failed idea of China’s transfer to democracy in due time when it would become rich enough. This idea was the main driver of Western support of China’s growth, inclusion into international trade system, and, most important, tolerance to China’s violation of all Western norms. Instead of democratization the economic growth created believe in China’s leadership of their inherent superiority and expectation in short period of time to take leading position in the world both economically and militarily. Author stresses that unlike democratic USA it would not be benign leadership, that usually meant American protection for freedom in all its forms. It would rather mean world dominance of Chinese communist party leadership and suppression of freedom in all its forms all over the world.

After stating this main thesis of the book author describes his live in China, which he started at age 22 as backpacker travelling from place to place and learning people, culture, and language. It followed by some other travels, learning and communicating with experts, strategic studies at Oxford, and author’s maturation into expert and consultant. Author combines his presentation into two parts: the first Chinese understanding of self and their society historical destiny, which could be briefly summarized as “rule the world” The second part is about comprehensive planning and implementation strategy to achieve with objective. The total layout of book is implemented across 5 dimensions:

  1. A Vision of National Destiny
  2. Strategic Geography and Military Plans
  3. Economic and Technological Ambitions
  4. Growing Global Reach
  5. A Vision of a New World Order

Part I: “The Great Rejuvenation of the Chinese Nation”: China’s Vision of National Destiny

1.1 National Resurrection; 1.2 “The New China”: Mao Zedong; 1.3 “Hide Your Brightness, Bide Your Time”: Deng Xiaoping and Jiang Zemin; 1.4 “The Period of Strategic Opportunity”: Hu Jintao; 1.5“The China Dream”: Xi Jinping;

1.6 “The New China” Meets “The China Dream”; 1.7 From “the Peaceful Rise of China” to “Fighting the Bloody Battle Against Our Enemies’; 1.8 From “Able To Fight And Win Wars” to “Preparing to Fight and Win Wars”

This part is about Chinese perception of their own history and China’s place in the world the way it is promoted by communist party and readily accepted by Chinese people. This pretty much comes down the morality story quite similar to the story told to their people by German and Russian rulers. The story is that the great nation, superior in all areas to all other nations was denigrated by foreigners due to incompetence and corruption of previous leaders, but now is regaining its place under wise leadership of current leaders. Author goes through historical sequence of Chinese Communist leadership starting with Mao, demonstrating how initial strong believes in superiority of socialist ideology led to disasters of Mao years and how it was substituted by retreat from these ideals. This retreat included allowing somewhat market economy with communist party retaining power while permitting Western capital and knowledge inflow in exchange for cheap labor and shelter against environmental and other regulations. Author describes how this policy succeeded beyond all expectation in moving China to the level of industrial development tat was closing gaps with the West and causing current Chinese leadership decision that time arrived to through away mask of peaceful participant in international economic and political order and take what they believe is proper place of China – world wide dictatorship of Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Author provides plentiful evidence of Chinese leaders’ expressing these believes and, moreover, readiness to achieve this goal by all means necessary including military.

Part II: “Blue National Soil”: China’s Strategic Geography and Military Plans

2.1 The Military Rise of China; 2.2 New Technologies, New Frontiers; 2.3 Internal Security and Homeland Defense: China’s Traditional Military Geography; 2.4 The New World Map: Regional Expansion and Global Military Presence; 2.5 Toward 2049: China’s Vision of Military Power “Catch up to America, Surpass America”: China’s Economic and Technological Ambitions

This chapter is about Chinese military ambitions and it starts with something that so far was only rarely mentioned in literature: Chinese territorial claims. Something that pretty much disappeared in international relations since WWII. Here is the map of these claims:

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Author reviews different areas of recent Chinese military development and concludes that building of military capable successfully conduct world wide conflict and win in it became clear objective of Chinese leadership. There is also pretty clear formulation of who is considered the enemy, and it is USA and by extension all countries that would refuse to accept China not just as superior power, but also as rule maker and dictator.

Part III:

3.1 “Comprehensive National Power; 3.2 Made in China 2025: Mastering Future Industries and Going Global; 3.3 The Importance of Economic Power: Technology and National Strength; 3.4China’s Economy: Rejuvenation’s Engine;

3.5 China’s Ambitions in Technology and Innovation; 3.6 China Goes Global: State and Private Enterprise Take on the World; 3.7 Toward 2049: China’s Vision of Economic Power

This part is about economic power. Author provides graph representing past, present, and future economic balance of GDP between countries and regions:Screen Shot 2019-09-01 at 9.31.15 AM

It demonstrates vision of achieving economic superiority by 2030. It is not only GDP, but also technological superiority that Chinese leadership is expecting to achieve. The method used is to transfer technological achievement from other countries to Chine either via purchase or stealing IP, or forcing transfers as price to access Chinese market. So far this worked wonderfully for China allowing it to jump to forefront of technological advancement without spending really that much on R&D.

Part IV: FF Reo “The Ceaseless Expansion of National Interests”: China’s Growing Global Reach

4.1 Overview: China’s Need for the World’s Resources; 4.2 China in The Middle East; 4.3 China in Africa; 4.4 China in Latin America; 4.5 China in the Arctic and Antarctic; 4.6 The Indo-Pacific: The Indian Ocean Region and South Pacific States; 4.7 China And The “Major Powers”: The United States, Russia, India, Japan, and Europe;

This part is about China expansion of its influence around the worlds in search of resources, bases, and vassals. Author moves through all major geographical points demonstrating how it is currently in process.

Part V: “A Community of Common Destiny for Mankind”: China’s Vision for the New World Order

5.1 China’s Vision for World Order; 5.2 A Global “Middle Kingdom; 5.3 “Interior Vassals” and “Exterior Vassals” in the “Community of Common Destiny for Mankind”; 5.4 A World Transformed: A Day in the Life of Chinese Power; 5.5 2049: China’s Vision of a New World Order;

Here is how author presents main question of this part and the answer he provides:

“WHAT WOULD IT MEAN FOR CHINA TO RULE THE WORLD? The answer has been in front of us all along. It has been in front of us as we read the Chinese Communist Party’s statements, observe their strategies and actions, and come to understand the intentions behind China’s ascendency in this century. It is simple: China’s rise, in the minds of its leaders and many of its people, is not a rise, but a restoration. It is a restoration, simply put, of the power and prosperity enjoyed by the Chinese Empire. It is the restoration, as the Communist Party sees it, of an entire world defined by China’s supremacy. Most importantly, both as a political culture and as a civilization, China has plenty of experience ruling a world system. It is from the earlier time of supremacy that much of the character of current-day Chinese political thought and action derives.

Author also provides an interesting list of values of Western world that are completely unacceptable to Chinese communist party and are intensively suppressed by all means necessary:

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Author also presents a vision of what world would look like if Chinese communist party will be successful in achieving economic, military, and ideological supremacy, and it is not a pretty picture.

MY TAKE ON IT:

To me the author’s warning about China’s ideology and objectives sound quite convincingly. Actually it is not that China specific, as author believes. Russia, Germany, and some others believed in their special destiny as world superpower coming from century or two of humiliations. I appreciate author’s understanding of complete support of Chinese people that party enjoys, which is kind of a feast for an American whose culture built on idea of people thinking for themselves.  I also think that China is real and present danger to the free world, but I believe that we are already over the pick of this danger. Reason for my opinion is that China’s superfast growth was not generated by its system or even by its people. It was more consequence of China’s low labor cost and protection from regulations, especially environmental regulations ubiquitous in the Western world. There are a number of factors that made this calculation outdated, not last of which is Chinese leadership’s arrogance in announcement of China’s intentions. All together it lead to wide recognition of danger by the Western politicians and business, which in turn will most probably cut China off Western investment, technology transfer, and access to know how in many areas, most important military. The consequence will be beneficial for China because it will eventually send its Communist part to the same place where Soviet Communist and German National-Socialist parties ended – dustbin of history. The only question is whether it will happen within near term with CCP leadership starting process of peaceful self-dissolution with intermediate transfer to oligarchy or over long Cold War with the whole world consolidated around USA.

 

20190825 The Global Age 1950-2017

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MAIN IDEA:

This is a history book, so the main idea is to narrate events in Europe from the end of WWII until 2017 and do it with reasonably factual approach.

DETAILS:

  1. The Tense Divide

This chapter is mainly about events of the Cold War, especially when it was getting close to the Hot War. Author describes origins and conduct of Korean War and how it happened that it was UN, mainly USA, against North Korea and China. It also describes creation of NATO, with complex interplay around West Germany and its sovereignty. It followed by creation of Warsaw Pact combining militaries of Soviet Block countries. Finally author describes creation of neutrals like Yugoslavia, Austria, and a few more countries. The narrative then goes through nuclear competition, and process of settling of blocks’ areas of influence, including struggle over West Berlin that was completed with building of the Wall.

The second part of the chapter describes population attitudes to the nuclear weapons, including anti-nuclear movements and Anti-Americanism – both actively supported by Soviets. Author also describes anti-nuclear campaigns in the Soviet block. It is funny how both Western and Eastern Campaigns were directed against American nuclear weapons and neither one against Soviet nuclear weapons.

  1. The Making of Western Europe

This is about growing cooperation between countries of Western block and European Neutrals. It describes creation of European Economic Community (EEC) in 1957, decolonization, driven partially by liberation movement, partially by democratization of colonial powers, their military / economic weakness, and post-war change in population attitudes to colonialism.  Author also describes various ways of accommodation between popular socialist ideology, capitalist economy, and democratic policies in Western countries. Author goes through details of this by regions and some big countries: Southern Europe, Scandinavia, Italy, Britain, West Germany, and France.

The second part of the chapter provides more details on “Imperial retreat” of UK during Egypt crisis and Suez mini-invasion. Similarly French fight in Alger and Vietnam also discussed. The chapter ends with funeral of Churchill in 1965, which could be considered the end of colonial era and after the war consolidation of western democracies.

  1. The Clamp

This chapter is about another consolidation – consolidation of Soviet Empire and non-democracies in Eastern Europe. Author starts with rejection of usual characterization of events after death of Stalin in 1953 as “thaw”. He provides different analogy – the Clamp. This clamp was somewhat loosened in late 1950s leading to emergence of some non-compliance with soviet ideology ranging from unionist movement in Poland to revolution in Hungary, all of which were suppressed.

Loosening the Clamp: The Soviet Union

This part is about internal Soviet loosening under Khrushchev when Stalin was denigrated, his terror methods and Cult were condemned as anti-party activities, and some very limited freedoms were allowed. Contrary to Khrushchev’s and his mainly young supporters believes the loosening of the clamp did not lead to increase of popular support and prosperity, but rather led to the situation when demand for improvement by far outstrip actual improvement in quality of live. Under Khrushchev soviet people leaved better than at any time since 1917 when communists took power, but they used newly acquired relative freedom of speech to express unhappiness as never before. Eventually this led to removal of Khrushchev from power and reestablishment of dictatorship, albeit in much less murderous form.

Yugoslavia’s ‘Heresy

Here author describes clash between Yugoslavia dictator Tito and Stalin, which caused this country to move out of the Soviet Block and find some place between blocks, accommodating communist dictatorship internally with semi-market economy and economic and political interaction with the west. Probably most interesting here was ability of Tito to suppress ethnic enmity between different groups of population and non-conformist movements, providing for relatively prosperous society, at least during Tito’s lifetime.

Tightening the Clamp: The Soviet Bloc

This part describes how Khrushchev’s “loosening of clamp” was perceived in different countries of the Soviet block and how it was eventually tightened up, in some cases by using military power.

  1. Good Times

This is about prosperity of Western Europe in 1960s. One of the signs was that by 1963 West Europe exported twice USA share of the world manufacturing exports. Author describes how it happened, emergence of consumer society in the West Europe and massive move of integrating economies into one European market.  This move included Marshal Plan under European Recovery Plan of 1947, creation of Organization for European Economic Cooperation (OEEC) by sixteen European countries, establishment of the Council of Europe in 1948, creation of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC),
and many other steps. The relations not always were smooth, and author discusses multiple problems and their resolution.

  1. Culture after the Catastrophe

This is about cultural development in Western Europe after the war. Author discusses pop music, rock n roll, and other art forms. The common feature for all was the breaking with the past and movement not only to the new form, but also to the new values. Instead of prevailing before the war nationalism new antimilitarism become the trend. There was also massive movement away from organized religion in the West. Overall the society had become more tolerant and liberal, but far less cohesive.

  1. Challenges

This chapter is about youth revolt against capitalism and traditional society in 1960s. Author discusses in details protest movements that got to the point of quasi-revolution, with some elements of society resorting to terrorism. Mostly it is about protests in Germany and France conducted by students with little support outside universities, which did not create real existential threat to Western society. It was different in the East were every easement of repression caused generation of movement to democracy, which had to be suppressed with open use of violence, as in was with Prague Spring in 1968.

  1. The Turn

This chapter is about the end of prosperity of 1950-60s that started with Arab embargo and oil crisis of 1973. It caused breakdown of economy in practically all-Western countries including USA. It went through monetary crisis, which removed gold standard then moved to deep recession caused by labor and other economic relationships build in the years of after was prosperity driven by cheap resources and need to rebuild after destruction of WWII. It was also very much undermined by generally accepted ideas of socialism or at least social democracy with its welfare state and multitude of benefits for not working. Eventually democracy triumphed in the West, causing communist powers to lose hope for the world revolution and recognize that their own economies can barely survive on their own. It was also political recovery of the West with Reagan and Thatcher turning decline around and making their respective countries more powerful than ever.

  1. Easterly Wind of Change

This chapter describes the beginning of end of Soviet empire. Prompted by new assertiveness of the West, natural process of old soviet leaders dying out, and general stagnation of economy, soviet elite decided to promote new leader – Gorbachev whose career raised mainly after Stalin’s death and by all accounts was true believer in socialism. The problem was that this true believe was so far from reality that each and every effort of Gorbachev to revive economy and political live of Soviet Union ended in disaster. Author nicely demonstrates that West went out of its way to help, rather than to use situation to win. They provided loans, political support, and very positive media coverage, but to no avail. The corrupt socialist system underwent improvement attempt by a bunch of true believers was doomed and consequently fallen apart. Author also discusses political and cultural developments of this period in western countries noting that new trend brought in by computerization started to have impact on everyday lives of people.

  1. Power of the People

This chapter is retelling the story of soviet satellite states crumbling without support of soviet military, because they had no support from their own population, which considered themselves under soviet occupation. Among this suddenly found freedom the great reshuffling of Europe occurred: Germany was reunited, while Czechoslovakia split into two. Soviet union itself was split into 15 countries, some of which like Ukraine came to existence first time in history, while others like Baltic States just restored independence they had before WWII. Author also describes reaction of western intelligentsia, not a few of which members mourning Soviet demise.

  1. New Beginnings

This chapter is about early consequences of Soviet empire demise and it starts with discussion of Balkan’s bloody civil war between parts of Yugoslavia.  The second part of chapter is mainly description of process of coping with the ideological blow that western social democrats went through. For some countries like Germany it was difficulties of assimilating former socialist population of East Germany into contemporary world. This period ended on September 11 2001 with massive terrorist attack against USA.

  1. Global Exposure

This chapter describes events of the first part of XXI century that included global war against Islamic terrorist movements, globalization problems when opening of Western for Chinese products produced with Western capital and technology very cheaply due to cheap labor and absolute neglect of all and any environmental and legal restrictions imposed on western businesses by politicians. The obvious result was huge deprivation of working and middle classes in the West that by the second decade of XXI century started creating populist movements against globalization. Other issues author discusses a lot are EU problems. These were caused by typical for all socialists drive to move all decisions up, in this case to the EU leadership at the expense of localities. Finally author brings in “Putin factor” discussing partial economic and military revival of Russia with some aggressive actions against neighboring countries.

  1. Crisis Years

The final chapter describes financial crisis of 2008 and its consequences: massive bailout of bank, deep economic recession, austerity politics of debt overloaded countries, and such. The final point is about even more profound consequences of globalization including migrant issue, terrorism continuity, and finally political change in form of Brexit.

MY TAKE ON IT:

It is an interesting narrative of events that I lived through, so it all is very much familiar staff for me, especially starting in 1960 when, as any other 7 years old in Soviet Union, I solemnly promised to Soviet people and personally to Nikita Sergeievich Khrushchev to work and fight for the cause of Communist Party. This book looks at events mainly from social democratic point of view, but generally it is even handed, so this book is not screwed too much in any direction. It provides lots of information that would be very surprising for this 7 years old and I am sure that if he knew even a small part of the evil that was Communism, he would never promised to support it. As to the Western democracy, if looked at it as a stand alone system, it is far from perfect and even slightly below decent, but in comparison to the Evil of Communism / Socialism it looks like shining summer day vs. dark and cold winter night.

 

 

20190818 – The Human Network

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MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is to present contemporary understanding of human networks, how they are formed, behave, and facilitate relationships between people, including information dissipation, contagion, and power distribution between nodes. Lots of attention assigned to homophily – human tendency to attract to similar people as self and repulse dissimilar, and how it lead to polarization between groups of people. There is also discussion of “wisdom of crowds”, which depends on quality and diversity of the crowd as network, and intergenerational income mobility as result of maintenance of family networks across generations. Finally author presents his attitude to globalization as dramatic change in networks with some very significant consequences that may or may not be beneficial or dangerous.

DETAILS:

  1. Introduction: Networks and Human Behavior

It starts with reference to the beginning of Arab Spring and the role of human networks in it. Author aims to discuss: “two different perspectives: one is how networks form and why they exhibit certain key patterns, and the other is how those patterns determine our power, opinions, opportunities, behaviors, and accomplishments.”

After that author provides examples of human networks in school, graphically demonstrating how networks split:

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2. Power and Influence: Central Positions in Networks

In this chapter author discusses various position in networks, stressing importance of central position. Here is another graph demonstrating this point:

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Author then discusses issue of centrality of individual in network and how it creates or undermines power. He provides a nice historical example when superior network led to the victory in power struggle:

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3. Diffusion and Contagion

This chapter is about diffusion and contagion between different nodes in network. It starts with discussion of diffusion of plague and sexual diseases in networks of medieval Europe and contemporary school. Then author moves to vaccination and similar externalities that could impact the contagion process. He also discusses such measures as quarantine and their deficiencies.

4. Too Connected to Fail: Financial Networks

Here author expands these ideas to financial network discussing how failure of some financial institutions prompted failure of others during financial crisis of 2008. Here is graphic representation of the idea that distributed network is more stable than one that relies on a few core institutions:

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Author then discusses regulation and externalities and poses the question whether crisis was like domino with pieces causing the fall of each other or like popcorn when conditions of market caused the individual pieces to pop up at approximately the same time, even if they were independent from each other.

5.Homophily: Houses Divided

Homophily here means love for people like self with rejection of people unlike self. Author uses Indian caste system to discuss separation of one village network sub-networks by caste. After that he discusses process of self-segregation and Shelling’s model of this process. At the end of chapter author discusses negative impact of segregation levels on overall productivity of society as expressed by GDP per capita,

6. Immobility and Inequality: Network Feedback and Poverty Traps

Here author discusses intergenerational income mobility in inequality using Gini and demonstrating how it changed over time:

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He also looks at reasons for these changes that he finds in educational levels, changes in structure of economics when old manufacturing jobs disappeared, and role of job networks, which facilitate acquisition of a preferable place in network for next generation of its members. The chapter ends with call to fight homophily and inequality by increasing transparency of opportunities, providing education so people were qualified to move up and by removing barriers to such mobility.

7. The Wisdom and Folly of the Crowd

This is usual discussion of the wisdom of the crowd and need for diversity that is necessary for such wisdom to occur. Then author discusses polarization of news and political discourse in America, nicely supporting it by comparative diagram of voting patterns in US Senate in 1990 and 2015. The former shows relatively high number of votes cross party line, while the latter much lower number, making contrast very vivid:

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8. The Influence of Our Friends and Our Local Network Structures

This chapter is about human behavior in crowds and the tendency of people to conform to majority. Author discusses different behavior of ants and lemmings, then providing examples of human behavior under carefully designed nudging, and that quite often achieves significant results comparatively with control groups.  Author also discusses here clustering when connected nodes of network are linked to each other via multiple connection such as friends of a person are also friends between themselves. Here is a nice graphic presentation of this with and without clustering:Screen Shot 2019-08-18 at 10.08.06 AM

9. Globalization: Our Changing Networks

The final chapter is a look at contemporary world with extensive globalization when massive trade networks growth coincided with decreases in wars and increases in global GDP. To demonstrate increase of networking between countries author provides graph of military alliances from 1875 till now:

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However the final thoughts are about disruptions, especially massive urbanization that dramatically increased density of networks, but also created conditions for growing impact of homophily and resulting polarization, which potentially could lead to explosion. Author ends by calling to develop better understanding of human networks and externalities so humanity could avoid such explosion and continue increase in productivity that linked to increase in networking.

MY TAKE ON IT:

It’s a nice book with decent set of facts and experiments description that provides more or less good picture of current understanding of human networks, their functionality, and impact on human relations and power distribution. Generally I think that presentation is correct, but it is somewhat minimalistic on the role of human individuals and their self-understanding and formation that has huge impact on functioning of networks. This leads to overuse of homophily as explanatory method for behavior of both networks overall and their human nodes. I believe that this is not exactly correct, and such thing as political polarization comes not from individual attraction / repulsion, but more for commonality of interest as they are perceived by individuals.

20190811 – Invisible Influence

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MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is to present multiple experiments demonstrating how human decisions are influenced by society surrounding individuals and how these individuals often do not understand or recognize this influence. It is also reviews human strive to differentiate self from others, but not too much, so one would find goldilocks’ place in live. Finally it is also to demonstrate how understanding of social influence could improve attempt to change behavior of some individuals, specifically poor so they would become more productive and successful in handling life’s challenges.

DETAILS:

Introduction

It starts with discussion about choices and huge influence of other people on one’s choices. As example author refer to lawyers buying BMW to show off that they belong to the group of people that buy these cars. Author did research and found that people believe that others buy BMW under influence, but not themselves. Another case author discusses is mating, which often occur with somebody close by – coworker high school mate, and so on. Author describes a few experiments that support that: “The idea that mere exposure increases liking may seem strange at first, but it has actually been shown in hundreds of experiments. Whether considering faces in a college yearbook, advertising messages, made-up words, fruit juices, and even buildings, the more people see something, the more they like it. Familiarity leads to liking.”  Moreover he demonstrates that people could be reliably influenced without recognizing so. For example a set of words presented before reading personal description could define whether described person perceived positively or negatively, even if the description remains the same.  After that author provides a brief description of each chapter.

  1. Monkey See, Monkey Do

Chapter 1 explores our human tendency to imitate. Why people follow others, even when they know the answer is wrong. Why one man’s soda is another man’s pop. How mimicking others can make us better negotiators. And why social influence makes Harry Potter and other blockbusters hard to predict, even for industry experts.

Author discusses here Ash’s experiments and similar experiments by Sharif demonstrating power of conformity. After that he digs into reasons for conformity, which he defines as need for information from others, need for social cohesiveness, and need to synchronize emotions to increase effectiveness of collective action. From here the discussion moves to negotiations when mimicry improves chances of success. At the end of chapter author makes a very interesting take on popularity noting that it is actually random event when some initial variance makes an item a bit more popular than other similar items, resulting and higher chances of additional attention, which increase popularity, turning it into snowball. He provides an interesting example with cars on empty parking lot. Whatever side of lot the first car use becomes more attractive to the next driver, so cars tend to concentrate around the first one parked. The final important point is that even the lonely dissident could free people from internal need for compliance, which is very well demonstrated in the same Ash experiments.

2 A Horse of a Different Color

Chapter 2 examines the drive for differentiation. Sometimes people jump on the bandwagon and follow others, but just as frequently they jump off once it gets too crowded. We’ll discuss why most sports stars have older siblings, why babies all look the same (unless they’re ours), and why some people want to stand out, while others are happier blending in.

So per author first born get more parents attention so they do better academically, but younger children are better in athletics because they are looking up to older siblings. Author describes a number experiments demonstrating that decision making highly dependent on what other people do. However he also points out to nonconformist behavior and individualism specific to American culture. Finally he discusses how all this used in sales providing people with goods that are unique and similar to everybody’s goods at the same time.

  1. Not If They’re Doing It

Chapter 3 starts to explain how these competing tendencies combine. Whether we imitate others or do something different depends in part on who those others are. We’ll discuss why expensive products have fewer logos, why companies pay celebrities not to wear their clothes, and why people pay $300,000 for a watch that doesn’t tell time. Why skin tone affects school performance and why small green frogs are the counterfeiters of the animal kingdom.

Here author discusses dog that was not barking, signaling with example of changing business use and people signaling belonging to something like ideology. As example of pure signaling he discusses extremely expensive watch that does not show time.

  1. Similar but Different

Chapter 4 examines the tension between familiarity and novelty, and the value of being optimally distinct. We’ll learn why prototypical-looking cars sell better, what chickens have in common with the thirtieth president of the United States, and why hurricanes influence the popularity of baby names. Why modern art might seem grating the first time we see it, but why, after looking at a couple Picassos, Kandinsky are more pleasing on the eye.

Here author also discusses goldilocks effect and how to get it exactly right for promoting something new – hide nature of radically new under disguise of something old and familiar so people would feel comfortably to try. If trial is successful, the advantages of the new could attract people to implement this new in their lives.

  1. Come On Baby, Light My Fire

Chapter 5 illuminates how social influence shapes motivation. Why having other people around makes us faster runners but worse parallel parkers. How our best chance at saving the environment may come from watching our neighbors. What cockroaches can teach us about competition and why losing at halftime makes professional basketball teams more likely to win
.
 

It starts with experiment on cockroaches demonstrating that even for them social influence has impact: on simple task performance improves, on complex task performance deteriorates. People are the same. So author describes how he and his team apply it to nudge people to decrease electricity use. After that there is interesting discussion of specificity situation when loosing in the middle of game sometimes increases chances to win the game overall, but in some other cases makes people to give up and then loose catastrophically.  Author also discusses a bit visual versus audio perception and how to use this and other discoveries to control people and prompt them to act enthusiastically to achieve objectives of controller.

Conclusion: Putting Social Influence to Work

In conclusion author retells sad story of public housing in USA, which was created to eliminate slums and become slums themselves because they were build in poor areas for poor people, so the nature of social influence led to behavior that makes people poor. However when new approach was tried to move poor people into middle class area with vouchers in small numbers, it worked much better because new social influence was prompted behavior that moves people into middle class.

MY TAKE ON IT:

It is one of this books usually written by psychologists and sociologists that seek to understand impact of environment on human behavior, consequently using it to control and direct other people to behave the way controller wants them to. I do not believe that it is possible. The experiments and anecdotes provided in his book are mainly true and they do represent reality. However what is missing is the understanding that reality is very dynamic and so is human perception of reality, making it impossible to control people’s behavior with reliable levels of predictability. As author correctly notes there is mix of needs to conform and to be different making the very fact of interference highly impactful on results. In my opinion it all is pretty good for understanding, but of no use for controlling.

 

20190804 – Good Reasons for Bad Feelings

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MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is that current development of scientific thought is more and more conducted based on evolutionary understanding of biological and specifically human development, which is fully applicable to understanding of mental diseases and disorders. Author reviews results of multiple studies of mental and emotional disorders in view of his experience as clinical psychologist and concludes that evolutionary approach does promise to achieve much better understanding of these problems and possibly define good direction for finding fixes.

DETAILS:

Preface

Here author describes his interest in application of evolutionary biology to explanation of mental diseases. Author is practicing psychiatrist and he is disturbed by slow progress in this area. So he is trying to use the new approach and believes that its fundamentally new perspective could be instrumental in finding solutions.

Part One: Why Are Mental Disorders So Contusing?

  1. A New Question

Author starts with description of one of cases he had treated when patient claimed that she cannot get consistent explanation of reasons for her problems and 4 different medical professionals provided different recommendations. This led author to understanding that psychiatry is quite confused. After that he discusses difficulties of mental diseases diagnosis and story of DSM from 1 to 5. He discusses relation between process of evolution functioning of human brain and refers to Tinbergen’s 4 questions:

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Author also adds another question: “Why did natural selection leave our bodies with traits that make us vulnerable to disease?”

  1. Are Mental Disorders Diseases?

Here author continues discussion of diagnosis and posits question about nature of mental disorders. He looks at development of sequential DSMs in search of truly scientific definition but could not be satisfied with this. Here is how he defines the problem: “The core problem for psychiatric diagnosis is the lack of a perspective on normal useful functions that physiology provides for the rest of medicine. Internal medicine doctors know the functions of the kidneys. They don’t confuse protective defenses such as cough and pain with diseases such as pneumonia and cancer. Psychiatrists lack a similar framework for the utility of stress, sleep, anxiety, and mood, so psychiatric diagnostic categories remain confusing and crude.

  1. Why Are Minds So Vulnerable?

Here author provides 6 reasons and discusses them in detail:

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Part Two: Reasons for Feelings

4 Good Reasons for Bad Feelings

Here author discusses evolutionary meaning of bad feelings and here they are: “four good reasons for thinking that symptoms have evolutionary origins and utility. First, symptoms such as anxiety and sadness are, like sweating and coughing, not rare changes that occur in a few people at unpredictable times; they are consistent responses that occur in nearly everyone in certain situations. Second, the expression of emotions is regulated by mechanisms that turn them on in specific situations; such control systems can evolve only for traits that influence fitness. Third, absence of a response can be harmful; inadequate coughing can make pneumonia fatal, inadequate fear of heights makes falls more likely. Finally, some symptoms benefit an individual’s genes, despite substantial costs to the individual.

Author also provides definition of emotions:” Emotions are specialized states that adjust physiology, cognition, subjective experience, facial expressions, and behavior in ways that increase the ability to meet the adaptive challenges of situations that have recurred over the evolutionary history of a species.” Finally he provides graphic representation and table:

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  1. Anxiety and Smoke Detectors

Here author concentrate on specific type of emotions that cause lots of psychiatric problems – anxiety and discusses different varieties of it from phobias to PTSD:

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He even applies apparatus from economics – The Marginal Value Theorem, to demonstrate how mood helps to obtain optimal time / effort allocation when picking up berries:

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The final inference: “the capacity for mood can be said to have a general function: mood reallocates investments of time, effort, resources, and risk taking to maximize Darwinian fitness in situations of varying propitiousness. High and low moods adjust cognition and behavior to cope with propitious and unpropitious situations.”

  1. Bad Feelings for No Good Reason: When the Moodostat Fails

Here author moves to the area of pathology when mood variations incapacitate person either by depression or bipolar disorder or by some other malfunction. Author provides general description of such malfunctions:

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Part Three: The Pleasures and Perils of Social Life

8 How to Understand an Individual Human Being

Author begins this chapter with the story of his experience when in the morning he did analytical jobs with numbers and parameters of multiple patients and in the second half of the day he worked with individual patients. He found it very hard to reconcile these two experiences. Eventually he understood that it requires two different approaches: “Explanations based on general laws that are always true he called nomothetic (nomos refers to laws, thetic to a thesis). Explanations based on historical sequences that occur only once he called idiographic (idio refers to individual unique events, graphic to description). “  It helped him to embrace the idea of psychiatric analysis based on live events, even if reaction to similar events is idiosyncratic depending on values, personality, and experience. Author also provides the breakdown of environment impacting individual into various social systems, emotional states, general and specific sets of influences:

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  1. Guilt and Grief: The Price of Goodness and Love

This is about cooperation between people and emotions it creates. Here is how author summarizes its origins:” (1) Benefits to groups of unrelated individuals cannot explain the evolution of extreme human social abilities. (2) Benefits to kin who share the same genes explain most altruistic behavior. (3) Much apparent cooperation among nonrelatives is just individuals doing things that help themselves and that also happen to help others. (4) Extensive cooperation among nonrelatives is explained mostly by reciprocal favor trading. (5) Reciprocity systems shape costly traits for establishing a good reputation. (6) The previous five explanations explain most social behavior in most organisms, but not quite all. They represent a spectacular fundamental advance in human knowledge even though they cannot fully explain human capacities for commitment and moral behavior. Important additional explanations are offered by cultural group selection, commitment, and social selection“. Then he provides table for links between cooperation and emotions based on prisoner’s dilemma with points for win/loose:

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Author then looks at Social Anxiety and Self-Esteem with a bit of discussion about psychopaths and their specifics. The final discussion of this chapter is about Grief and research on older couples that demonstrated surprising ease with which many people were able overcame it after a few months since the loss. Interesting point author makes about anniversaries. Often people experience unexplained sadness until they realize that it is anniversary of loss.

  1. Know Thyself—Not!

Here author refer to psychoanalysis, which he considers debunked and admits that there is something to its idea of repression. Then he proceeds to discuss psychological studies of the adaptive unconscious and how to access one’s own motives and emotions.

Part Four: Out-of Control Actions and Dire Disorders.

  1. Bad Sex Can Be Good—for Our Genes

Author starts with the sexual fantasy of the world in which everybody finds ideal partner and has perfect sex with them. Then he moves to discuss partner selection and its evolutionary meaning. On the side he provides evolutionary explanation of homosexuality as option exercised by family oriented species in conditions adverse for new family creation. In birds it means adults cold not build viable new nest and stays with parents providing support to siblings, consequently supporting 50% of their DNA. Author also discusses here sex frequency in marriage and problems when it is out of synch between partners.

  1. Primal Appetites

This chapter is about eating problems that author characterizes as failures of homeostatic control systems. From this point of view obesity is similar to the great many other diseases. He then discusses contemporary environment, which is very challenging to humans because of technological enticement of various kinds from candies and junk food to pornography and sex robots.

  1. Good Feelings for Bad Reasons

This is about people who consciously choose self-harmful behavior, which nevertheless satisfies their needs to feel good and enjoy whatever this behavior produces from alcoholic stupor to venereal diseases. He then discusses evolutionary meaning of drugs production by plants and use of drugs by humans.

  1. Minds Unbalanced on Fitness Cliffs

In this final chapter author discusses reasons for mental diseases and hopes for DNA decoding to fix everything that were dashed in the last 20 years. He then provides a graph for the Standard model of evolutionary fitness followed by Cliff-Edged model:

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Epilogue: Evolutionary Psychiatry: A Bridge, Not an Island

The epilogue discusses Evolutionary Psychiatry as bridge between evolutionary biology and psychiatry, which is valuable for two reasons:  “In the long term, an evolutionary perspective will transform our understanding of mental disorders in ways that lead to better treatments. In the short term, evolutionary perspectives can be somewhat helpful even now.” This helpfulness comes in the form of Cognitive Behavioral Therapies and better understanding of various disorders by psychiatrists.

MY TAKE ON IT:

I think that evolutionary approach is much wider than pure biology. It also applies to information systems, technology, sociology, and all other areas in which there are systems, continuously changing whether randomly or not with following up test for fitness. So it could and should be applied as major methodological tool to research and understand human beings and their mental conditions. I think that most productive way would be longitudinal studies on individuals throughout their lifetime to identify periods of perfect functioning, some positive or negative deviations, and dynamics of changes from one state to another. The treatment of mental problems without knowledge of what is normal for the specific individual is like trying to repair car without knowing its make, year, mileage, and details of how it normally works. Humans quite a bit more complicated, so need much more data collection to understand how individual psyche works when it is OK and what variation from this OK state developed that makes it fail.

 

20190728 – It’s Only a Joke, Comrade

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MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is to use history of humor in Stalin’s Soviet Union to analyze human need for agency in live, which is so important that people still were telling all kind of jokes unacceptable for soviet authorities even when there was real and present danger of being imprisoned or even shot as a consequence. Author also analyses what kinds of jokes were told and psychological reasons for each of them. Finally an important part is rejection of dualism when historians look for support / resistance for regime. Author believes that people mainly supported regime, but had to resolve to humor when contrast between official propaganda and personal experience was too big and people needed some reconciliation between these two.

DETAILS:

Introduction

Here author briefly describes the story and reasons he become so interested in jokes telling in totalitarian society. He describes political and economic situation of Soviet Union in 1930s and response of extremely suppressed people expressed via all kind of humor. Author also introduces notion of Crosshatching, which he applies to situation, trying to demonstrate how intersection of the dominant official and suppressed, but not eliminated unofficial discourses, values, and assumption created complex mix of soviet live.

PART 1: TAKING LIBERTIES

Chapter 1: Kirov’s Carnival, Stalin’s Cult

This chapter “explores the myriad ways Soviet people dethroned their leaders and brought them down to earthy reality, from the quietly subversive to the raucously sexualised and scatological, focusing on the irrepressibly carnivalesque responses to the murder of Leningrad Party boss Sergei Kirov in December 1934.

Author characterizes is as kind of counterculture that provided people with some space to at least partially get away from official craziness.

Chapter 2: Plans and Punchlines: ‘The anecdotes always saved us’

Here is how author characterizes function of humor of the time: “At first glance, humour might seem anathema in such dark days, but, as Chapter 2 shows, in fact this was precisely when it was needed the most. From the Five-Year Plans to the bloody collectivization campaign, an endless slew of mandatory state loan subscriptions, and the growing suspicion that their blood, sweat and tears might all be for nothing (exacerbated by a truce with Nazi Germany), people’s everyday realities clashed painfully with regime promises. Just as contemporaries used anekdoty to read the regime’s often bloody policies through the incongruous lens of their everyday experiences, they used the blackest humour to cope with the fear of denunciation and the dreaded 3 am knock of the NKVD at their apartment door. People were not struck mute by terror during these years; in humour they found ways to deal with the hardships and uncertainties, rather than standing frozen and isolated in the headlights of the NKVD’s paddy wagons. If humour could not save them from the secret police, it could always save them from despair. “

Chapter 3:Speaking More than Bolshevik: Crosshatching and Codebreaking

This chapter is about specifics of soviet speak – the new language that was strongly promoted by soviet officials in order to wipe out history and even language that existed before communists came to power. However it was not only imposed from above, but also actively supported from below by majority of population who were seeking way to survive in attempt to become truly new soviet person. It proved to be impossible and old (real) way of thinking and talking proved to be quite resilient, creating mix of old and new.

PART 2: JOKING DANBEROUSLY

Chapter 4: Who’s Laughing Now? Persecution and Prosecution

This is about price of humor that people sometimes paid: “Chapter 4 shifts our focus from how joke-tellers perceived the regime to how the regime perceived the joke-tellers. It reconstructs for the first time how the Bolsheviks struggled to control and contain all unofficial humour, and reveals how its perception of humour changed from considering it a blunt instrument to a mind virus, which could infect all but the most ardent ideologues. This was a twisted evolution that was largely opaque to the general population, but even if some people managed to keep up with policy, it might already have been too late. If historians have long known that the Soviet legal system was capricious and unpredictable, the criminal case-files of those convicted for humour reveal that it also practiced retroactive ‘justice’. A joke that seemed acceptable at the time it was told could be reinterpreted months or years later as evidence of counterrevolutionary intent and could land even devoted Party members in jail. In such a climate of uncertainty and unpredictability, even though joke-tellers might know they were taking a risk, they had little chance of judging the true danger of their actions. Even so, the content of what they actually said frequently turns out to have been less important than who they were.”

PART 3: ALONE TOGETHER

Chapter 5: Beyond Resistance: The Psychology of Joke-Telling

This is probably the most interesting and important chapter: what were psychological reasons to say jokes and laugh in the face of death or at least prison term. Here is how author describes it:” Studying an extreme case can highlight elements of the ordinary. Everything exceptional, if it endures for long enough, becomes ordinary – that is, at some level accepted and understood as ‘how things are’. People seek to normalize and adapt to their circumstances – so they can find a degree of stability and predictability as they go about their daily lives – but this is not the same as blindly accepting them. Joke telling could even become a statement of your own existence in this climate of smothering conformity: ‘I joke, therefore I am’. This could be quite practical as well as psychological. Wit and anekdoty did not just pick holes in the fabric of the official world and its claims, but actually began to create new ways of looking at it – unofficial rules, which could help people, get by just a little more comfortably and successfully. These were ways to solve problems and get by within the system, rather than attempts to destabilize or to confront it. In-jokes became a secret language between those in the know, and, while pointing out what didn’t work in the Soviet system, many jokes simultaneously conveyed a kind of clandestine ‘ know-how ’ – hints and tips people shared which explained how to get by to their minimum disadvantage. Barbed as they might be, they were often simultaneously affectionate, expressing a desire that things should work as they were supposed to, rather than writing the system off at large. In this way, they were actively trying to find patterns within the confluence – the crosshatching – of both their own perspectives and official ideology.”

Chapter 6:In On the Joke: Humor, Trust and Sociability

The final chapter is about trust. Author rejects idea of Hanna Arendt that totalitarian system destroys private life. On contrary, author’s research demonstrates that private life become even more important because it was the one area where individual could be save – there were no data found showing family members denouncing each other to authorities. Moreover strong friendships also provided shelter where individuals could express opinions with little fear and doing so satisfy his/her need for at least some semblance of agency.

Conclusion

In conclusion author points out that his research demonstrated that society was not really “atomized” into bunch if individuals trembling with fear. It rather turned into some king of mix of intersecting multiple realities in one of which Soviet Union made huge progress and build superior socialist society, in another reality it was all for show and Soviet Union was the place of massive incompetence, corruption, and suppression in which individuals were telling jokes not that much to undermine regime as to save self-respect and some semblance of control over their lives.

MY TAKE ON IT:

This is a great research on human psychology under totalitarian regime in which ideology, while being generally supported by vast majority, nevertheless was so far away from reality that it was necessary to find some way to diminish cognitive dissonance that was done by using humor and jokes. Far from being method of resistance the humor was method to maintain sanity and reaffirm one’s agency by demonstrating to self and few trusted others ability to see ridiculousness of socialist environment and official propaganda. There is also another point that I’d like to make, which is the use of notion “real”. For soviet people telling jokes there was no contradiction between believing in ideas of communism and laughing over real live implementation of these ideas. The duality is kind of simple: “real communist” was incorruptible, but local party boss was highly corrupt. “Real” socialist plant was super-efficient, but the plant one worked at was super-wasteful. This tolerance of inconsistency was the great achievement of totalitarism, which by suppressing real information and supplying huge amounts of propaganda successfully pushed handling of cognitive dissonance into area of underground humor, consequently preventing population from facing real problem of failing system and extending existence of the socialist system for decades after its economic and ideological bankruptcy become obvious to anybody in possession of real and truthful information.

20190721 – Frontier Rebels

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MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is revive memory of mainly forgotten part of American Revolution that was not less or probably even more important than most celebrated revolutionary movement of coastal elites in Boston and New York. This coastal elite revolted against taxes, regulations, and increased government control. The other part of revolution was rebellious movement of frontier settlers who decided that British attempts to accommodate Indian tribes, while refusing provide military protection to settlements makes it detrimental for them, so they started revolutionary fight for independence.

DETAILS:

PREFACE: THE CRISIS OF EMPIRE

This starts with the story of important mission sent in 1765 to Indians by British government under leadership of Robert Callender. The objective was to bring massive amount of gifts including weapons and ammunition to Indians in order to establish firm foundation for permanent peace with American settlements expansion stopping at Appalachia and Indian tribes maintaining complete sovereignty further West. The mission was practically destroyed by resistance of settlers who had no intention to limit their advance and who considered British attempts to stop such advance and settle the border with Indians completely treasonous. They believed that Indians would continue attack frontier settlements in any case. The people who stopped this mission were called Black Boys. Their resistance eventually grew into kind of frontier rebellion that continued on and off until it merged with coastal movement into one American Revolution.

  1. SETTING THE STAGE

This chapter is about prehistory of main events – the British / French 7 years war in which British were victorious and took North America away from French. However this victory left Britain economically deprived and in need for money. This quite reasonably prompted the Crown to make its colonial subjects to help with payments for their defense and start looking for settlement with Indian tribes that would sharply decrease needs in such defense. The latter was the main reason to arrange delegation with gifts to Indian tribes in order to convince them in British peaceful intentions.

  1. THE MISSION

Here author describes preparations for the mission, its main players like George Croghan, and complex machinations between government and private interests used to raise significant money required for the mission. Author also describes attitudes of Indian side somewhat tangibly led by Pontiac who tried establishing peaceful relations with British after French were mainly gone.

  1. THE CONVOY DEPARTS

Here author describes final preparations, content, and departure of the mission led by Robert Callender – one of Croghan’s business partners. Croghan himself was waiting them at Fort Pitt. The mission on its way moved to Conococheaque – an area close to frontier, were population was well familiar with Indians and was undergoing regular attacks.

  1. THE ATTACK

This chapter describes actual attack of Black boys against Callender’s mission with destruction of gifts prepared for Indians. It also includes one of the first direct clashes of Americans with British troops. When train came to Sideling Hill Black boys attacked it, but the British soldiers of 42ndRegiment successfully protected the train and disarmed Black boys. British, however, could not prevent destruction of much of convoy’s property. On the Indian side another leader Charlot Kaske did not believe in possibility of accommodation with whites and did all he could to stop new settlements.

  1. TRANSFORMATION

This is detailed narrative of attack’s consequences when attempt to prosecute Black boys failed because of jury support for them. This story includes lots of legal and executive maneuvering and also some semi military confrontations around Ford Pitt and Fort Charles. It also includes details of Penn’s thinking and his politics of trying to find some way to accommodate both sides: British and settlers, which had directly opposite objectives.

  1. CRISIS

This chapter starts with the story of capture of Fort Loudon commander lieutenant Grant by Black boys. The main point here was the struggle for settler’s guns captured by British troops in previous confrontation. Author describes general mood of settlers and provides support to this description in form of popular ditty describing these events as clash between patriotic settlers and treasonous authorities that preferred to support Indians against Americans. Author stresses that it was the same period of time in the summer of 1765 when coat cities were boiling excited by Stamp act.

  1. INDEPENDENCE

This starts with description of Indian, more specifically Pontiac attempts together with Croghan to establish peace and stop settlements. It has a very interesting point about difference in notion of “father” between Indians and British. The former did not perceive it as someone superior in hierarchical order, but rather equal friend. This created confusion when British believed that Indians accept their rule, while Indians believed that it is just agreement coexist in exchange for gifts. Even when British authorities and people like Croghan were dealing directly with Indians, they would be satisfied with formalities because it supported their of objective peace and no more settlements. For them gift to Indians including weapons and ammunition were just a normal condition of peace. For settlers peace would mean complete cessation of Indian attacks against settlements, which settlers did not believe to be possible, so any transfer of weapons and ammunition to Indians meant treason of authorities against them. Therefore logically dependence on British would be detrimental for settlers.

  1. THE ELUSIVE PEACE

This is narrative of the following events when Penn broke with settlers as result of massacre against peaceful Indian tribe by Frederick Stump. Initially disgusted, by Stump’s actions settlers put him in prison, but their opinion changed when they found that authorities supported his punishment. Consequently mob broke prison and set Stump free. In turn authorities with William Johnson at the head turned against settlers even more. In October 1768 Johnson signed treaty with Iroquois at Fort Stanwix to establish Ohio River as natural border between Indian lands and settlements. As byproduct it included generous land grants to Johnson himself and his deputy George Croghan, making them the richest landowners in the area. It turned out to be not a stable solution.

  1. DISINTEGRATION

This chapter describes the next confrontation when Black boys start patrolling highways near Fort Pitt to prevent transfer of weapons and ammunition to Indians. Some of them were arrested, leading to Black Boys taking Fort Pitt in September of 1769 and freeing their people. In following encounter the man was killed and Black boys leader Smith was accused of murder. Instead of escaping, he decided to comply with laws, stand trial and was acquitted. Then author discusses legal situation on the frontier, when settlers often ignored directions and legal requirements of British authorities and used their own courts and juries to resolve issues. Especially explosive was their rejection of authorities demand to give Indians the same legal protection as any British subjects. This was so much unacceptable for these British subjects that they start moving in direction of ceasing to be British subjects. The final part of the chapter discusses Indian internal struggle that eventually led to the murder of peace promoting Pontiac and raise of militant Charlot Kaske who believed that no real peace with settlers is possible and just wanted to win military against all odds.

  • IMPERIAL FAILURE

This chapter moves to events in 1772 – close to revolution. The British authorities decided to stop protection of settlers and removed a few forts including Fort Pitt. The idea probably was that without military protection settlers exhausted by Indian attack would stop resisting and become much more compliant subjects.  Another plan was set into movement was Croghan plan to create new colony: Vandalia. Ironically this plan failed in court when multiple claims on the same land forced administration to drop this idea. Croghan did not give up and continued fight, eventually getting approval for Vandalia in 1775 just when revolutionary war started in Lexington.  After that author describes London political events of 1770s and events on the East Coast including Tea Party that made war for independence inevitable.

  • REVOLUTION

In this last chapter author discusses events and meaning of American Revolution for the West and events during period of 1777 to 1783 substituted British authorities with new American Authorities, which were a lot less concerned about Indians than about settlers, supporting Western movement all the way to Pacific with Indians being just a bumps on this road that were continuously removed.

EPILOGUE: LEGACIES

This is an interesting part where author somewhat links these events of long time ago with contemporary issues when current American coastal elite, which for all purposes is not that different from historical British elite once again bumped into resistance of lower classes, which are also for all purposes not that different from historical settlers. He specifically looks at issue of guns ownership and control and provides an example of older man explaining to young students that it is not possible to keep freedom if one cannot keep guns to protect this freedom. In his final thought of this book author states that this direct confrontational approach to elite is legacy of American history and revolution and one should not treat it easily because such easy treatment by president Buchanan in 1850s was one of the causes of devastating Civil War.

MY TAKE ON IT:

The author’s recovery of important, but often-missed part of American Revolution provides an interesting material for thought. The cruel and unstoppable movement of European settlers West was inevitably destroying Indian civilization, which was by far inferior numerically, technologically, and organizationally to fight successfully against this movement. I do not see how it could be different, all good feeling and compassion of British elite notwithstanding. For me it is interesting clash between two groups of people belonging to one civilization, specifically British Europeans that developed different believes who should be included into group of “us” and who should be treated as “others”. The settler had not doubt that Indians could not be included into ‘us’, while for elite the contempt and disgust of settlers was strong enough so to include Indians into the group of ‘us’ and suppress settlers who were not agree with this. It is understandable because this disgust of settlers came from somewhat familiarity, while good feelings and admiration of Indians came from the lack of familiarity. One should not discount purely financial consideration. For elite formal land grant meant little because of difficulties to use it, while protection of settlers meant loss of resources for causes elite had difficult time benefiting from. The Indian area free of settlers with clear border and peace meant profits from trade and little need for protection expense. For settlers peace with Indians meant loss of opportunities to acquire new lands and life under constant threat and real attacks every time when their interest clash with Indians. The free trade obviously would mean for settlers to deal with Indians who are well armed and equipped.  In short interests of elite and settlers could not be reconciled.

 

20190714 – The Pursuit of Oblivion

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MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is to trace history of drugs use mainly in the Western world, present some technological history of variety of drugs and methods of their use, and use multitude of historical examples to demonstrate that consequences are quite different for different individuals. It is also history of government intervention with drug use, prohibition, and, generally futile, attempts to prevent such use.

DETAILS:

Prologue

Author starts providing definition of various types of chemicals impacting humans psyche:

Narcoticsrelieve pain, induce euphoria and create physical dependency. The most prominent are opium, morphine, heroin and codeine.

Hypnoticscause sleep and stupor; examples include chloral, sulphonal, barbiturates and benzodiazepines. They are habit-forming and can have adverse effects. These side effects are shared with tranquillisers, which are intended to reduce anxiety without causing sleep.

Stimulantscause excitement, and increase mental and physical energy, but create dependency and may cause psychotic disturbance. Cocaine and amphetamines are the pre-eminent stimulants, but others include caffeine, tobacco, betel, tea, coffee, cocoa, qat and pituri.

Inebriantsare produced by chemical synthesis: alcohol, chloroform, ether, benzine, solvents and other volatile chemicals.

Hallucinogenscause complex changes in visual, auditory and other perceptions and possibly acute psychotic disturbance. The most commonly used hallucinogenic is cannabis (marijuana). Others include LSD, mescaline, certain mushrooms, henbane and belladonna.

Then he briefly discusses prohibition and its counter-effectiveness, providing a number of statistical factoids.

ONE Early History

The contemporary story starts in 1670 when English sailors first encountered drug use in Bengal. Then author narrates discovery of opium, cannabis, coca, and other drugs. He also refers to drug use in history starting with Sumerian records, including Egypt, Greeks, Romans, and everybody else.

TWO: Opium during the Enlightenment

This chapter describes use of drugs during Enlightenment when they became a potent part of medical toolset. At the time drugs action was poorly understood so it was used without limitation and author describes numerous real stories of opium users of this period. Some of these users were destroyed by constantly increasing need to have drugs, but many others found some stable level of drug use that practically had little impact on their live, just slightly enhanced their perceptions and alleviated discomforts. The important point here is unpredictability of individual consequences, however with high probability of developing strong dependency.

THREE: The Patent Age of New Inventions

Here author describes significant changes in drug use that occurred beginning in 1820s. Drugs, as everything else, were industrialized being included into multitude of patented medicines and then produced and marketed on the big scale. Author also discusses here Chinese opium wars that were mainly result of economic disequilibrium between China that had plenty of products for international sale like silk and British Empire including India that had little useful for China and therefore paid silver in exchange of goods. It was clearly unsustainable and sale of opium from India was very useful tool to resolve this problem. As elsewhere in this book author narrate a number of personal stories of drug users mainly from the upper crust of British and French societies, once again demonstrating that consequences of drug use are highly individual and range from financial and health ruin to mainly benign enhancement of everyday perceptions, physical conditions, and mood.

FOUR: Nerves, Needles and Victorian Doctors

This chapter is about development of various methods of drug delivery into human body: digesting, smoking, injection and so on. It is also about differences in drug impact depending on the method.

FIVE: Chemistry

This starts with description of coca leaves in recipes of various drinks. Then author describes a wave of Chloral addiction, use of amyl nitrite, and other stimulants.

SIX: Degeneration

This chapter starts with the story of dr. Pemberton – founder of Coca Cola Company. Then it moves to Freud and his unethical behavior promoting use of Coca. It is also about medical use of cocaine to treat depression and neuralgia. Author compares level of addictiveness of various drags, concluding that cocaine is more harmful than opium. It resulted in continuously growing stigmatization of cocaine and its users. Author describes the growing concern about drug use and results of various government commissions reviewing the issue.

SEVEN: The Dawn of Prohibition

This chapter is about beginning of prohibition. Author looks first at Moscow and London where at the beginning of XX century many thousands of patients were treated from addition. One of the interesting points author makes hare is that every new drug developed first was considered non-addictive and was used to wean people out from another drug. He reviews this process in details using development and initial use of heroin as example. About the same time in early XX century first contemporary restriction on drug use begin to apply.

FIGHT: Law-breaking

This chapter is about the history of legal limitations on drugs as it developed from 1919 on in UK and then in parallel in USA: The Jones-Miller Narcotic Drugs Import and Export Act of 1922 further institutionalized and restricted drug supplies. The Porter Act of 1924 prohibited the manufacture and medical use of heroin.

As usual these developments included multiple controversies, but by the end of 1930 elsewhere in Europe and America governments prohibited drugs.

NINE: Trafficking

The production and transportation drugs was probably the first international trade when product cultivation was moving regularly from country to country finding new and new places where government control was very weak as in former colonies or very strong as in communist countries where government itself was the main producer and distributor of drugs to international market.

TEN: The Age of Anxiety; ELEVEN: The First Drugs Czar; TWELVE: British Drug Scenes; THIRTEEN: Presidential Drugs Wars

This was the age after WWII when drugs came into use massively and produced lots of feed to mass media and Cultural Revolution in Western world, which start destroying traditional values substituting sobriety and hard work as models of behavior with search for satisfaction via all means available including drugs. The political and moral reaction was traditional – attempt to forbid and suppress use of drug by police force. Author describes history of this process and multiple personal stories involved. There are a lot of details here, but they are generally retelling the same story of the failure of this suppression.

FOURTEEN: So Passé

The final chapter is about multiple new drug that are getting created all the time, their various impacts on human body and histories of typical loop: creation of the new drug, its penetration through the market, alarms caused by some negative effects like overdose deaths or some other negative consequences, prohibition, and indefinitely ongoing and generally futile fight to enforce this prohibition.

MY TAKE ON IT:

This very detailed and thorough account of history of drug discovery, production, distribution, use, abuse, and prohibition is quite interesting. It provides very good description of how many of drugs work, their impact on human body, and long fight of multitude of authorities in multitude of countries to prevent or stop their use. I generally agree with author that prohibition does not work, but I would go as far as it is possible to allow people to use whatever they want in pursuit of happiness, and if it is just chemical reaction inside of body that make them happy, so be it. I think it is meaningless and cruel to deprive some people of resources they produce in order prevent other people from hurting themselves. I think that example of one of the most potent drug – alcohol is quite obvious: some people never use it, some use it very moderately without any negative consequences, but some destroy their lives with alcoholism. I guess it would be no different with all other drugs, so it would be better allowing people decide what they want and obtain drugs if they want to and medical help to get off drugs if they want to.  However I think it is very important that drug use started only when person is adult and can take responsibility of his/her action. Children should be educated at early age about potential consequences with visits to hospitals for addicts so that children had very vivid picture of consequences. Correspondingly pushing drugs to children should be treated as murder, since it does has potential to ruin human life.

20190707 – Government- Industrial Complex

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MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is to identify true size of government counting total FTE employees not only of government, but also of contractors and grants recipients. Author intends to demonstrate that American strive to limit government had resulted not that much in small government, but rather in big government-industrial complex in which many government tasks conducted by employees of private companies via government contracts and grants, making it actually less effective and more cumbersome, even more expensive. The solution author proposes is to increase number of government employees so they would do tasks that need to be done and in process actually save money on contracting overhead, complexities, and inefficiencies.

DETAILS:

  1. A Warning Renewed

“Chapter 1 starts discussion by focusing on Eisenhower’s warnings about the conjunction of what he described as an “immense military establishment” with “a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions” and proceeds to a description of the methods used to calculate the true size of the federal, contract, and grant workforce. As chapter 1 argues, Eisenhower presented a framework for tracking the “unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought,” of any government-industrial conjunction, large or small, and even outlined a method for measuring the true size of government through head counts of federal employees and funding for contract firms and grant agencies.”

Here author provides description of methodology and results of analysis of head count and functional allocation of government employees in 2017:

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Author also discusses how much there is hidden government-funded employment and provides a comprehensive list of reasons why nobody can even estimate these numbers:

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2. The True Size of Government

Chapter 2 explores patterns in the number of federal, contract, and grant employees under Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama. The chapter starts with an overview of the measurement challenges in estimating the true size of government, a discussion of threats to accuracy, and a description of an estimating approach based on contract transactions and grant awards. The chapter also offers caveats on using the information and examines the data deficits that currently frustrate efforts to monitor the blended workforces that faithfully execute the laws from both sides of the complex. The chapter then turns to a history of the changing size of government under Reagan, George H. W. Bush, Clinton, George W. Bush, and Obama. Reagan and George W. Bush pushed the total size of government upward during war, while George H. W. Bush, Clinton, and Obama all harvested the peace dividends that followed. The chapter examines each president’s view of the federal workforce and explores patterns of growth and decline as the true size of government surged during war and economic crisis and compressed during peace and recovery. Readers are urged to pay particular attention to Reagan’s role in creating a Cold War peace dividend that reduced the number of employees on both sides of the government-industrial complex. Reagan also helped launch two decades of military base closing that gave his successors enough savings to hope for no new taxes and declare an end to the era of big government. The chapter ends with a quick review of President Donald Trump’s early relationship with the government-industrial complex and ends with a discussion of the federal personnel caps, cuts, and freezes that have done so much to alter the government-industrial balance. Although most of these post–World War II employment constraints had negligible effects on federal employment, they fueled public demand for a government that looks smaller but delivers more and the use of contract and grant employees as a work-around.
Despite difficulties of accounting presented in the first chapter author provides some official data on history of government-funded head counts:

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3. Pressures on the Dividing Line

Chapter 3 examines the time limits, bureaucratic constraints, and political realities that drive federal functions and jobs across the dividing line between government and industry. Whether by accident or intent, the fifteen pressures catalogued in the chapter give Congress, the president, and federal officers ample incentive to use contract and grant employees in lieu of federal employees. The pressures also frustrate effective deployment of federal, contract, and grant employees. The chapter ends with a short discussion of the prospects for reducing the pressure through comprehensive reform.

This chapter is also interesting by author’s analysis of differences between direct and indirect government-funded employees. Here is result of one research:

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Another interesting part here is the example of bureaucratic structure that includes some number of layers in bureaucracy and people that occupy them:

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4. A Proper Blending

Chapter 4 starts with a short history of recent efforts to realize Eisenhower’s proper meshing of government and industry. As author argues, six of the past seven presidents focused on one-sided reforms designed to cut big government or discipline the contracting process. Obama is the only recent president who focused on both sides through a broad agenda for government improvement and aggressive reforms in the blend of federal and contract employees. Obama eventually retreated from both efforts, but provided an inventory of options for future two-sided action. The Chapter draws on this history for developing a “reset and reinforce” process that might be used for a regular reblending of the federal government’s federal, contract, and grant workforces. Based on rigorous annual head counts and workforce planning, this proper blending involves six steps:

(1) Clarify terms,

(2) Force both sides of the government-industrial complex to take social responsibility for their work,

(3) Track movement across the divide between government and industry,

(4) Sort functions based on careful definitions of which workforce should do what,

(5) Monitor and reset caps on the true size of the total workforce, and

(6) Reinforce the dividing lines between government and industry. Anchored by more precise inventories of who delivers what for government, this reblending process could ease long-standing limits on federal employment, while acknowledging the important role that contract and grant employees play in launching bold endeavors and achieving success.
Author looks in details t every one of these steps and concludes the chapter with question: who can deliver on these recommendations?

5. Conclusion: The “Next Gen” Public Service

“Chapter 5 ends the book with a discussion of the “next gen” public service. Even following a careful reblending using the sorting system presented in chapter 4, Congress and the president must assure that the government-industrial complex embraces a continued commitment to public service, a mission that matters to the nation’s future, and a workforce that bring new vitality to aging institutions. Federal employees are going to retire in record numbers over the next decade, but their departures will create a destructive “retirement tsunami” unless Congress and the president act now to recruit and train the next generation of public servants wherever they work in the government-industrial complex. Congress and the president must make sure that every federal, contract, and grant employee is committed to faithfully executing the laws, including laws they might oppose. Too many decisions about the choice and deployment of the federal government’s blended workforce are made without concern for cost, benefit, performance, accountability, and the underlying public-service motivation that should call all government employees to their work. Just as Eisenhower argued that the military-industrial complex was imperative to the nation’s safety, this book argues that the government-industrial complex is critical for supporting bold endeavors and creating lasting achievements. And just as Eisenhower also argued that a proper meshing of the military and armaments industry was the only way to protect liberty, this book asks how to align a much larger government-industrial complex than Eisenhower could ever have imagined. It is impossible to know whether Eisenhower would describe today’s government-industrial complex a conjunction of an immense federal workforce and a large contract and grant industry, but it is easy to imagine that he would say its size creates the same “grave threats” may be perfectly appropriate, if not much too weak.”

MY TAKE ON IT:

This book is an interesting artifact of American society demonstrating how deep is foundation of American culture that forces bureaucrats and politicians go to very long ends to hide size of the government. One should make no mistake that it is all about this hiding. Practically in any other country no bureaucrat or politician would think twice about increasing size of government workforce, but in USA such increase is done underground, even if per author’s tables this underground of formally private employees represents 5 out of 7 millions people paid by government. I well understand frustration of author who obviously would like all these people to be moved to government jobs in which he believes they would be more effective and productive. I do not believe that it would be the case, but I would also like to see the same happen. Unlike author I believe that most of these jobs have nothing to do with legitimate government functions and mainly represent malignant growth on American society, which simultaneously deprives its economy millions of potentially productive people and deprives millions of actually productive people from keeping significant share of result of their work. I would hope that open and clear presentation of government workforce and results of their activities would make it politically necessary really decrease size of government and move great many of its activity to private sector.

20190630 – The Goodness Paradox

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MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is that humans evolutionary developed via self-domestication, which occurred by process of elimination of troublemakers, either tyrannical or just non-conforming. The group’s elimination of such people created evolutionary pressure against tendency to resort to reactive aggression. Such aggression usually unplanned and happens within group, which undermines its survivability. At the same time competition between groups supported genes for planned aggression that would be directed either externally against outsiders or internally against individuals who become too powerful and therefore subject to elimination via conspiracy of a group of weaker individuals. These theses supported by multiple data obtained from genetic analysis and observation of two species of human close relatives: chimpanzees and bonobos.

DETAILS:

Introduction: Virtue and Violence in Human Evolution

It starts with discussion of human paradox when individuals that clearly demonstrate nice and humane features and behavior at the same time can commit huge crimes against humanity. Author looks at ideas of inherently good human nature, spoiled by civilization and inherently evil human nature, constrained by civilization and finds both inadequate, albeit having some merit to them. Then author expresses his believe that one should look at evolutionary explanation of human behavior, which is defined by the fact that: “Human societies consist of families within groups that are part of larger communities, an arrangement that is characteristic of our species and distinctive from other species.”
At the end of introduction author describes plan of the book and objectives of each chapter.

Chapter 1: The Paradox

This chapter launches the investigation by documenting behavioral differences among humans, chimpanzees, and bonobos. Decades of research suggest how species differences in aggression can evolve. Aggressiveness was once thought of as a tendency running from low to high along one dimension. But we now recognize that aggression comes in not one but two major forms, each with its own biological underpinnings and its own evolutionary story.

Chapter 2: Two Types of Aggression

Here author is trying to demonstrate that “humans are positively dualistic with respect to aggression. We are low on the scale of one type (reactive aggression), and high on the other (proactive aggression). Reactive aggression is the “hot” type, such as losing one’s temper and lashing out. Proactive aggression is “cold,” planned and deliberate. So our core question becomes two: why are we so lacking in reactive aggressiveness, and yet so highly proficient at proactive aggressiveness? The answer to the first explains our virtue; the answer to the second accounts for our violence. Our low tendency for reactive aggression gives us our relative docility and tolerance. Tolerance is a rare phenomenon in wild animals, at least in the extreme form that humans show.

Chapter 3: Human Domestication

Here author discusses “the similarities between domesticated animals and humans, and show why an increasing number of scientists believe that humans should be regarded as a domesticated version of an earlier human ancestor. One of the exciting aspects of the biology of domesticated animals is that researchers are beginning to understand puzzling similarities that occur among many unrelated species. Why, for example, do cats, dogs, and horses frequently sport white patches of hair, unlike their wild ancestors?

Chapter 4: Breeding Peace

This chapter “explains new theories linking the evolution of physical features such as these to changes in behavior. Humans exhibit enough such features to justify calling us a domesticated species. That conclusion, which was first intimated more than two hundred years ago, creates a problem. If humans are like a domesticated species, how did we get that way? Who could have domesticated us?”

Chapter 5: Wild Domesticates

Author believes that some clues to human evolutionary development could be found in the behavior of bonobos. Author reviews “the evidence that bonobos, like humans, show many of the features of a domesticated species. Obviously, bonobos were not domesticated by humans. The process happened in nature, unaffected by human beings. Bonobos must have self-domesticated. That evolutionary transformation seems likely to be widespread among wild species. If so, there would be nothing exceptional in the self-domestication of human ancestors.”

Chapter 6: Belyaev’s Rule in Human Evolution

Here author traces “the evidence that Homo sapiens have had a domestication syndrome since their origin, about 300,000 years ago. Surprisingly few attempts have been made to explain why Homo sapiens arose, and as I describe, even the most recent paleoanthropological scenarios have not addressed the important problem of why selection should have favored a relatively tolerant, docile species with a low tendency for reactive aggression. How self-domestication happened is in general an open question, with different answers expected for different species. Clues come from the way that aggressive individuals are prevented from dominating others. Among bonobos, aggressive males are suppressed mainly by the joint action of cooperating females. Probably, therefore, bonobo self-domestication was initiated by females’ being able to punish bullying males. In small-scale societies of humans, females do not control males to the same extent as they do among bonobos. Instead, among humans, the ultimate solution to stopping male aggressors is execution by adult males.”

Chapter 7: The Tyrant Problem; Chapter 8: Capital Punishment

These two chapters are about the process of self-domestication, which author believes is based on “the use of execution in human society to force domineering men to conform to egalitarian norms, … through the selective force of execution was responsible for reducing humans’ reactive aggression from the beginnings of Homo sapiens. If genetic selection against reactive aggression indeed occurred through self-domestication, we should expect human behavior to share aspects of the behavior of domesticated animals beyond reduced aggression.”

Chapter 9: What Domestication Did

Here author “emphasize that the proper comparison is not between humans and apes, because too many evolutionary changes have occurred in the seven million years or so since we had a common ancestor. Instead, the proper comparison is between Homo sapiens and Neanderthals”

 Chapter 10: The Evolution of Right and Wrong

Here author looks at reasons “why our evolved moral sensibilities often make people afraid of being criticized.” He concludes that sensitivity to criticism “would have promoted evolutionary success thanks to the emergence of the same new social feature that was responsible for self-domestication: a coalition able to carry out executions at will. Our ancestors’ moral senses helped protect them from being killed for the crime of nonconformity. The ability of adults (and particularly men) to conspire in the act of capital punishment is part of a larger system of social control using proactive aggression that characterizes all human societies.”

Chapter 11: Overwhelming Power

Here author discusses impact of types of aggressions on evolutionary selection of humans. “Since proactive aggression is complementary to reactive aggression (rather than its opposite), proactive, planful aggression can be positively selected even while reactive, emotional aggression has been evolutionarily suppressed. Humans can therefore use overwhelming power to kill a selected opponent. This unique ability is transformative. It has led our societies to include hierarchical social relationships that are far more despotic than those found in other species.”

Chapter 12: War

Obviously war is the highest form of proactive aggression and author discusses its specificity in this chapter: “Although contemporary war is much more institutionalized than most prehistoric intergroup violence, our tendencies for proactive and reactive aggression both play important roles, sometimes promoting and sometimes interfering with military goals.

Chapter 13: Paradox Lost

The final chapter “assesses the paradox that virtue and violence are both so prominent in human life. The solution is not so simple or morally desirable as we might wish: humans are neither all good nor all bad. We have evolved in both directions simultaneously. Both our tolerance and our violence are adaptive tendencies that have played vital roles in bringing us to our present state. The idea that human nature is at the same time both virtuous and wicked is challenging, since presumably we would all wish for simplicity.

Afterword

Here author expresses his pain that his theory of self-domestication via elimination of troublemakers is kind of linked to capital punishment and therefore could not be feely expressed by western academic with fear of massive attack from the left. So he feels that the strong denial of support of this measure is absolutely necessary, even if his research demonstrate that consequences of capital punishment are highly beneficial for human development.

MY TAKE ON IT:

This is another very interesting approach to evolutionary roots of human species. Its concentration on aggression makes a lot of sense because it is what needed for survival in the natural world with its wonderful choices between the necessities to eat and real possibility to be eaten. I think ideas and research results presented in this book support approach to human being as the entity of dual types of evolutionary pressure: individual survival and group survival. It is very interesting that group survival required not only ability successfully fight outsiders, but also maintain cohesiveness within group. Author’s idea that this was achieved via elimination of too powerful and non-conformists looks very plausible, especially in the view of provided data. I think that this newly achieved realistic understanding of human nature would help in the current process if reformatting it to the new methods of production when old need for human labor is going extinct and new construction of society needs to be developed.

 

20190623 – Confessions of a Greenpeace Dropout

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MAIN IDEA:

This book has two objectives. One is autobiographical to tell author’s story of growing up in logging community in the family of business owners, his education in environmental science that led him to activism and participation in creation of Greenpeace organization, which later become powerful anti-human advocacy group seeking limits on human use of environment and most of all power over other people, which in turn led author to drop out from this organization. The other one is to express author’s environmental views, which mainly come down to very reasonable approach trying to find way to build sustainable future by designing such forms of human interaction with environment that would create dynamically stable system supporting comfortable existence for humanity.

DETAILS:

Introduction

Here author briefly retells his story with Greenpeace, including critic of extreme movement to the left of this organization. More important, he formulates his environmental believes.

  1. First Principles

Here author defines his principles and provides his definition for relevant notions such as: Renewable, Sustainable, Clean, and Green. Then he critics all kind of environmental noise makers who are often driven by strive for power combined with some idealism, but not without greed for donations money and academic or political career.  He also expresses here his attitude to Philosophy, Religion, Politics, Dogma, Propaganda, and Science. Then he discusses the “Precautionary Principle” and how often it is taken beyond any reasonable limit.

  1. Our Present Predicament

This chapter is a brief review of current situation, specifically global warming, species extinction, and such. He critic unreasonable and unscientific alarmism and contrasts it with his vision presented in this book.

  1. Beginnings; 4. No Nukes Now! 5. Saving the Whales; 6. Baby Seals and Movie Stars;

These chapters narrate author’s upbringing in the woods of Canada, his education and development as environmental scientist and creation of Greenpeace – organization that started by fighting nuclear testing by USA and France, but quite reasonably restraining it to Western testing because of unwillingness to spend rest of their life in Gulag if they would try doing the same for USSR or China. The Wales and Seals were the following up causes Greenpeace was fighting for with nice cameo of Brigitte Bardot who somewhat helped.

  1. Taking the Reins; 8. Growing Pains; 9. Greenpeace Goes Global

This is mostly about period when author was president of Greenpeace and how it developed into typical organization with power politics between different personalities, local offices, and ideological divisions. Author continues here narrative of their activities harassing waling fleets, oil companies, and such, but internal politics seems to be taking most of his attention.

  1. Consensuses and Sustainable Development Discovered

This brief chapter is about Greenpeace big win on seals hunting, but more about author’s discovery that the goal should be not stopping human activity, but rather integrate this activities into such interaction with environment that dynamic equilibrium between using resources and restoring them could be achieved.

  1. Jailed Whales, Curtains of Death, Raising Fish, and Sinking Rainbows

This is continuation of narrative about Greenpeace fight to protect baby seals and terrorist act against them by French authorities that exploded  “Rainbow Warrior” ship, but it is also about author discovery of Aquaculture – fish harvesting in closed waters.

  1. Greenpeace Sails Off the Deep End

Here author describes the end of his affiliation with Greenpeace, which move into direction of the use of pseudoscience to raise alarms, money, and prestige while author moved into direction of building sustainable future by growing salmon – the process he describes in some detail.

  1. Round Tables and Square Pegs

This is about author’s participation in a number of environmental round tables in UN and elsewhere and his experiences in art of negotiation. He also mentions his first encounter with ideas of global warming and then describes in detail the second, after the salmon, fission between him and environmental movement – his support of sustainable forestry based on specific rules negotiated with business that was countered by the hate and accusation in treason. He describes attacks by environmental zealots who wanted logging completely stopped. He also describes hypocrisy of Greenpeace, which fought sinking of outdated oil platform to create marine habitat, while doing the same with its own outdated ship.

  1. Trees Are The Answer

This is about author’s position on wood, which he considers the most important renewable resource already produced in controlled environment similar to other agricultural product, albeit with much longer maturity period: decades instead of months.

  1. Energy to Power Our World

Here author reviews all known sources energy and concludes that any effective mix should include nuclear power, which is the only serious source of energy that does not rely on fossil fuel. He provides detailed analysis of all aspects of nuclear demonstrating that fears are overblown and by far.

  1. Food, Nutrition, and Genetic Science

This is similarly detailed overview of food production where author once again finds contemporary activism unscientific and harmful, especially in regard to genetic engineering.

  1. Biodiversity, Endangered Species, and Extinction

Here author addresses another panic promoted by environmentalists and quite reasonably notes that not only humans, but also all other species led each other to extinction, so there is nothing new about. The difference is that humans are the only species, which can and do consciously recognize the problem and act to remedy it. He also discusses how activist environmentalists capture more and more formerly scientifically sound publications such as National Geographic and turn them into sources of propaganda.

  1. Chemicals are us; 19. Population Is Us; 20. Sustainable Mining; 21. Climate of Fear

In these chapters authors reviews multiple areas where environmentalists fight completely save materials and processes that constitute contemporary industry and provide goods and services necessary for human live. He allocates especially significant amount of space to Climate discussion, providing multiple data graphs and concluding that, while human do have impact on climate it is not that significant, that the system is way too complicated and dynamic for scientists to be able reliably understand and predict its future changes at this point. So the hysterical alarms sounding all over the world combined with often successful attempts to generate financing, government grants, and regulatory power grabs that makes alarmist rich and powerful have no scientific foundations.

  1. Charting a Sensible Course to a Sustainable Future

In this final chapter author summarizes his believes about environment in such way:

  • We should be growing more trees and using more wood, not cutting fewer trees and using less wood as Greenpeace and its allies contend. Wood is the most important renewable material and energy resource.
  • Those countries that have reserves of potential hydroelectric energy should build the dams required to deliver that energy. There is nothing wrong with creating more lakes in this world.
  • Nuclear energy is essential for our future energy supply, especially if we wish to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels. It has proven to be clean safe, reliable, and cost-effective
  • Geothermal heat pumps, which too few people know about, are far more important and cost-effective than either solar panels or windmills as a source of renewable energy. They should be required in all new buildings unless there is a good reason to use some other technology for heating, cooling, and making hot water.
  • The most effective way to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels is to encourage the development of technologies that require less or no fossil fuels to operate. Electric cars, heat pumps, nuclear and hydroelectric energy, and biofuels are the answer, not cumbersome regulatory systems that stifle economic activity.
  • Genetic science, including genetic engineering, will improve nutrition and end malnutrition, improve crop yields, reduce the environmental impact of farming, and make people and the environment healthier.
  • Many activist campaigns designed to make us fear useful chemicals are based on misinformation and unwarranted fear.
  • Aquaculture, including salmon and shrimp farming, will be one of our most important future sources of healthy food. It will also take pressure off depleted wild fish stocks and will employ millions of people productively.
  • There is no cause for alarm about climate change. The climate is always changing. Some of the proposed “solutions” would be far worse than any imaginable consequence of global warming, which will likely be mostly positive. Cooling is what we should fear.
  • Poverty is the worst environmental problem. Wealth and urbanization will stabilize the human population. Agriculture should be mechanized throughout the developing world. Disease and malnutrition can be largely eliminated by the application of modern technology. Health care, sanitation, literacy, and electrification should be provided to everyone.
  • No whale or dolphin should be killed or captured anywhere, ever. This is one of my few religious beliefs. They are the only species on earth whose brains are larger than ours and it is impossible to kill or capture them humanely.

MY TAKE ON IT:

It is an interesting story of man growing from somewhat mindless activism to maturity and understanding that human interaction with environment not one way movement when benevolent or evil humans to something to environment destroying or conquering it. It is not even two ways interaction, but rather humans being part of environment, as any other species changing it, making it more or less fit for them. The key here is that this part of environment has conscience and recently acquired powerful intellectuals tools: science and technology, which allow them more or less control their own actions, predict future results of these actions, and correct these actions in such way that would be the most beneficial for humans. It is also nice to see person, who spent decades in activism, recognizing that lots of this activism represents the worse that is in humanity – strive for power over other people and ability to take advantage of them.

 

20190616 – Science and the Good

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MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is to examine quest by scientists and philosophers for understanding biological, evolutionary, and historical origin of the notion of good and how to build “good society” based on of scientific foundation of morality. The conclusion is that science is far from meeting challenges posed by these questions and as of now science failed as well as religion failed before provide foundation for morality strong enough to be generally accepted.

DETAILS:

Preface: The Argument, in Brief

Here author explicitly formulates his objectives in this book, which is to demonstrate failures of religion to bring order and peace, followed by similar failure of Enlightenment and science, then redirects this question to finding just “useful solutions“ that science can discover, which per author could lead to “moral nihilism”.

PART I: Introduction

1 Our Promethean Longing

Here author is looking at the question “ if science can be foundation of morality.

He discusses “the Dilemma of Difference”, which is resulting from the need to find common moral ground for multitude of different cultures that now encounter each other in common place of interconnected world of economics and politics.  The difficulties are greatly increased by the problem of complexity that resulted from overload of information. Author then moved to the promise of science that was supposed to provide common language and objective methodology to define good and bad, but could not do so.  After that author discusses his method and approach to the problem of finding objective and universal criteria of good and bad.

PART II. The Historical Quest

  1. Early Formulations

Author starts with 3 challenges to traditional philosophy that where posed by Europe social transformation: These challenges included:

(1) The inability of old ways of knowing—philosophy, religious authority—to resolve exploding moral and political conflict;

(2) A need for a convincing basis for shared international trade laws as global commerce swelled and broadened;

(3) A sense that the world was bigger and more complex—in terms of natural, cultural, and moral phenomena—than older medieval conceptions could account for.

Author looks at Aristotelian Scholasticism, then at the conflict and complexities of me