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20210418 – The Strange Order of Things

MAIN IDEA:

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

DETAILS:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Author then proceeds to discuss relevant processes in some details:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

13: The Strange Order of Things

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

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

MY TAKE ON IT:

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

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

20210411 – The China Nightmare

MAIN IDEA:

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

DETAILS:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MY TAKE ON IT:

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

20210404 – The Problem of Political Authority

MAIN IDEA:

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

DETAILS:

Author provided detailed Analytical Content:

Here is how author summarizes these arguments:

13.5.1   The argument of Part I:

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

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

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

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

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

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

13.5.2   The argument of Part II:

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

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

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

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

13.5.3   The argument of the last chapter:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MY TAKE ON IT:

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

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

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

20210328 – America’s Revolutionary Mind

MAIN IDEA:

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

DETAILS:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 5 Equality and Slavery

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

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

Chapter 7 Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Epilogue Has America Lost Its American Mind?

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

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

MY TAKE ON IT:

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

20210321 – Biology of Desire

MAIN IDEA:

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

DETAILS:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter Nine: Developing Beyond Addiction

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

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

MY TAKE ON IT:

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

20210314 – This View of Life

MAIN IDEA:

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

DETAILS:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Author provides three examples:

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

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

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

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

CDP 1. STRONG GROUP IDENTITY AND UNDERSTANDING OF PURPOSE.

CDP 2. PROPORTIONAL EQUIVALENCE BETWEEN BENEFITS AND COSTS.

CDP 3. FAIR AND INCLUSIVE DECISION-MAKING.

CDP 4. MONITORING AGREED-UPON BEHAVIORS.

CDP 5. GRADUATED SANCTIONS.

CDP 6. FAST AND FAIR CONFLICT RESOLUTION.

CDP 7. LOCAL AUTONOMY.

CDP 8. POLYCENTRIC GOVERNANCE.

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

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

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

MY TAKE ON IT:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

20210307 – Fraud in the Lab

MAIN IDEA:

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

DETAILS:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

10. Toxic Literature

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

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

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

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

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

15. Slow Science

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

MY TAKE ON IT:

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

20210228 – Democracies at War

MAIN IDEA:

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

DETAILS:

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

Perspective 1: Political Structures

Perspective 2: Political Culture

Perspective 3: International Community

Perspective 4: Economic Might

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

Two: Democracy, War Initiation, and Victory

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

Authors analyze two propositions:

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

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

They also provide table with summary of historical outcomes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Proposition 3.4: Democratic armies enjoy superior levels of leadership.

Authors then provide statistical analysis supporting validity of these propositions.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eight: Why Democracies Win Wars

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

MY TAKE ON IT:

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

20210221 – Evilicious

MAIN IDEA:

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

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

DETAILS:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3 steps author refers to are:

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

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

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

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

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

Epilogue. Evilightenment

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

MY TAKE ON IT:

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

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

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

20210214 – Fire and Light

MAIN IDEA:

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

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

DETAILS:

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

1: The Revolution in Ideas

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

2: Rule Britannia?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

10. The American Experiment

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

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

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

13. The Transformation

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

MY TAKE ON IT:

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

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

20210207 – Primal Screems

MAIN IDEA:

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

DETAILS:

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

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

2. A New Theory: The Great Scattering

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MY TAKE ON IT:

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

20210131 – Neither Free nor Fair

MAIN IDEA:

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

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

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

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

DETAILS:

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

Part One: 

Chapter 2 – Fear;

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

Chapter 3 – ‘Russia Collusion”;

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Summary – Part Four

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

MY TAKE ON IT:

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

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

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

20210124 – War: How Conflict Shaped Us

MAIN IDEA:

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

DETAILS:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

MY TAKE ON IT:

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

20210117 – Unruly Americans

MAIN IDEA:

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

DETAILS:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MY TAKE ON IT:

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

20210110 – The bonobo and atheist

MAIN IDEA:

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

DETAILS:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is nice graphic representation:

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

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

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

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

MY TAKE ON IT:

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

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

20210103 – The Parasitic Mind

MAIN IDEA:

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

DETAILS:

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

Author then briefly describes ideas and structure of the book.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter Eight Call to Action

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

Author’s recommendations also include:

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

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

MY TAKE ON IT:

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

20201227 – Mind in Motion

MAIN IDEA:

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

DETAILS:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CHAPTER TEN The World Is a Diagram

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

MY TAKE ON IT:

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

Putnam, Robert – The Upswing

MAIN IDEA:

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

DETAILS:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unions – decline in support and membership

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Authors provide combined graph:

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

Chapter 9: Drift and Mastery

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

MY TAKE ON IT:

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

20201213 – Plagues and People

MAIN IDEA:

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

DETAILS:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MY TAKE ON IT:

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

20201206 – Through the Language Glass

MAIN IDEA:

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

DETAILS:

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. Those Who Said Our Things Before Us

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

EPILOGUE: Forgive Us Our Ignorance

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

MY TAKE ON IT:

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

20201129 – The Great Debate

MAIN IDEA:

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

DETAILS:

ONE: ​TWO LIVES IN THE ARENA

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

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

TWO: ​NATURE AND HISTORY

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

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

THREE​: JUSTICE AND ORDER

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

FOUR: ​CHOICE AND OBLIGATION

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

FIVE​: REASON AND PRESCRIPTION

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

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

SIX​: REVOLUTION AND REFORM

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

SEVEN: ​GENERATIONS AND THE LIVING

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

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

MY TAKE ON IT:

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

20201122 – The Mystery of Capital

MAIN IDEA:

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

DETAILS:

CHAPTER ONE: The Five Mysteries of Capital

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

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

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

CHAPTER TWO: The Mystery of Missing Information

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

CHAPTER THREE: The Mystery of Capital

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

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

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

Property Effect No. 3: Making People Accountable

Property Effect No. 4: Making Assets Fungible

Property Effect No. 5: Networking People

Property Effect No. 6: Protecting Transactions

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

CHAPTER FOUR: The Mystery of Political Awareness

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

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

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

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

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

CHAPTER SIX: The Mystery of Legal Failure

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Part I: The Legal Challenge

Part II: The  Political Challenge

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

CHAPTER SEVEN: By Way of Conclusion

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

MY TAKE ON IT:

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

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

20201115 -Ideological Origins of American Revolution

MAIN IDEA:

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

DETAILS:

I: THE LITERATURE OF REVOLUTION  

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

II SOURCES AND TRADITIONS  

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

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

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

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

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

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

III POWER AND LIBERTY: A THEORY OF POLITICS

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

IV THE LOGIC OF REBELLION

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

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

Note on Conspiracy

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

V TRANSFORMATION

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

1. Representation and Consent

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

2. Constitutions and Rights

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

3. Sovereignty

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

VI THE CONTAGION OF LIBERTY

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

1. Slavery

2. Establishment of Religion

3. The Democracy Unleashed

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

POSTSCRIPT. FULFILLMENT: A COMMENTARY ON THE CONSTITUTION INDEX

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

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

MY TAKE ON IT:

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

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

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

20201108 – You will be Assimilated

MAIN IDEA:

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

DETAILS:

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

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

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

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

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

Myth #3: “China Can’t Innovate”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter Three World Domination, One Country at a Time

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

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

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

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

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

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

Author also finds American response to this challenge inadequate.

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter Seven: China’s Sovereignty Tripwire in Hong Kong

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

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

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

• Defeating the current generation of Russian air defense systems

• Enhanced use of drones in place of manned aircraft

Hardening of satellites against prospective enemy attack

• Cyber warfare

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

• Quantum communications and encryption

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

Detection and defeat of the next generation of hypersonic missiles

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

MY TAKE ON IT:

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

Ridley, Matt – How Innovation Works

MAIN IDEA:

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

DETAILS:

Introduction: The Infinite Improbability Drive

Here author discusses improbability of everything due to the second law of thermodynamics, then discusses nature of innovation and offer this definition:” Innovation, like evolution, is a process of constantly discovering ways of rearranging the world into forms that are unlikely to arise by chance – and that happen to be useful. The resulting entities are the opposite of entropy: they are more ordered, less random, than their ingredients were before. And innovation is potentially infinite because even if it runs out of new things to do, it can always find ways to do the same things more quickly or for less energy.” Author also links it to the individual freedom without which innovation is nearly impossible.

1. Energy

In this chapter author presents history of steam engine and overall conversion of heat into work going all the way back to 1700.  He moves the narrative through all various phases of industrial energy acquisition and use: steam, electricity, internal combustion engines, turbines, nuclear, and finally oil and gas acquired via fracking technology.

2. Public health

Here author also starts in early 1700s with initial attempts to use smallpox inoculation. He than moves to the story of Pasteur and discovery of vaccination. The next he jumps to 1908 and implementation of chlorine for water supplies. Other innovations with significant impact on health of population that author discusses in this chapter are: vaccination against whooping cough, penicillin, polio vaccine, anti-malaria nets with insecticide, and prevention of tabaco use.

3. Transport

The chapter on transportation starts with steam locomotive then moves to the use of screw for ships propelling, then to various engines: from internal combustion to diesel. Author also discusses here flight and innovations by individuals with passion such as brothers Wright versus government driven fake attempts by Samuel Langley. After that author extends discussion of engines and flight to jets and completes chapter with discussion of extreme safety of air travel.

4. Food

The chapter on food starts with the story of potato and its implementation in Europe. After that author moves to implementation of ammonia production that provided practically infinite amounts of fertilizer. The addition of new dwarf genes to existing plants in the second part of XX century and development of genetical engineering technology the humanity achieved practical independence of food production from normal range variations in weather leading to very recently unimaginable situation when problems of people in poverty changed from hunger to obesity.

5. Low-technology innovation

This chapter starts with discussion of numbers notation and how Indian numbers are much more effective than Roman and how much value this added to al numerical processing. Then author moves to another innovation that he considers low tech – sewage. He obviously not familiar how hi-tech sewage processing is, but at least he understands value of this process. Other low-tech, but highly valuable inventions author discusses are: corrugated iron, containers, wheeled baggage, restaurants, and the latest business methodology – shared services.

6. Communication and computing

Probably the most innovated area over last century is communication and information processing. Author starts this chapter with telegraph and then wireless transmission that practically moves increased speed of communications to speed of light, making them instantaneous. He then moves to discussion of computer, Moor’s law, and Internet, all of which so much increased human data processing ability that new and formerly unimaginable application become a reality.

7. Prehistoric innovation

Here author discusses slow moving, but critical innovation of developing agriculture, which actually was evolution of symbiotic development between humans and domesticated plants and animals. Author then discusses domestication of dogs, development of stone tools and use of fire. Author even classifies beginning of life as innovation.

8. Innovation’s essentials

In this chapter author concentrates on essentials: Innovation being gradual, different from invention, often serendipitous, and nearly always recombinant. Author also discusses conditions and methods under which innovations occur such as use of trial and error, team of people dividing effort according to skills and abilities. It is also occurring in conditions when governance is fragmented, opening options to try, while overall technological level of society achieved some level development that is causing multiple people coming up with similar ideas and products.

9. The economics of innovation

Here author touches on unusual economic characteristics of innovations such as increasing returns, sometime dramatically, advantage of bottom up development instead of economy of scale, practical development before there is scientific or theoretical understanding of corresponding processes. Author also makes somewhat interesting claims that it does not increase unemployment because opportunity for leisure is so widely distributed, that it increases independence.

10. Fakes, frauds, fads and failures

Here author discusses specifics of contemporary world when innovation became so popular that opportunities and rewards for cheating dramatically increased. Author provides examples: fake bomb detectors, phantom game consoles, and Theranos. Author also bring in failures of innovation through diminishing returns using example of mobile telephones. The final part of the chapter is about necessity for failure as part of the process of innovation.    

11. Resistance to innovation

Here author provides a few examples of resistance to innovation: coffee, which was considered a drink solicitous of subversion, GMO food, weed killer chemicals, and cell phones. Author also looks at forces that prevent innovation – government directives and law protecting monopolies, big companies suppressing competition, various requirements to obtain permission for this or that. Author also provides a brief note on successful evasion of limitations in digital domain of economy.

12. An innovation famine

In the last chapter author looks at contemporary world in which innovation in developed countries somewhat stalled, but it speeds up in China, expressing concern that West will be left behind. However, author believes that freedom is necessary condition for innovation, and China is far from being free, so he hopes that innovation will be expanding to India, which has huge and increasingly well-educated population combined with political freedom. The final word: the future is thrilling and innovation will grow.

MY TAKE ON IT:

It is an interesting review of innovation, but I think it a bit too heavy on technological history and not sufficiently concentrates on analysis of drivers of innovation in some societies, but not others. I also skeptical about author’s believe that China is the next big innovator. I think author underestimates to what extent current Chinese innovation in 5G, and what not, relies on Chinese companies’ R&D conducted in western world. Author understands value of freedom for innovation, but seems to believe that it is not completely applicable to China. Actually, I would say that Chinese people are great at innovation, but only when they are free. Corruption and suppression that are unalienable features of any socialist country, China included, would make innovation stop there as soon as decoupling with West become reality.

20201025 – Calculated Risk

MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book to demonstrate how often people misunderstand data and how easy it is to manipulate people who are innumerate or at least poorly understand statistics and their representation. Even more important, it is to provide people with tools that allow practical methods of problem’s representation that make it a lot easier achieve statistically valid understanding.

DETAILS:

Part l: Dare to Know
1: Uncertainty
This starts with the story of pain and suffering of women who has false positive for HIV, then discuss similar problems with Prozac, Mammograms, DNA ID for courts, and so on. Author’s main point is that reality is filled with uncertainty, while people seek certainty and, because it is often impossible, they settle for illusion of certainty. Author provides a good advice how avoid it:” When thinking and talking about risks, use frequencies rather than probabilities. Frequencies can facilitate risk communication”

2: The Illusion of Certainty
Here author start discussion of illusion of certainty by using picture:

Then author discusses source of illusion: human mind does not just transmit information about reality, it actually constract internal image of reality. Important thing to understand is that evolution selected individuals not on the basis of their ability correctly represent reality, but rather on the basis of their ability to act on such perception of reality that increases their chances of procreation.  Author then discusses a number of examples such as fingerprinting, believe religious and/or  trivial based purely on authority, marketing, and political propaganda. He also tells the story of physisians and their relations with patients, in which they usually have problems communicating real levels of their certanty or lack thereof about diagnosis and treatment. Finally author summarizes it in such way:” Learning to live with uncertainty is a daring task for individuals as well as societies. Much of human history has been shaped by people who were absolutely certain that their kin, race, or religion was the one most valued by God or destiny, which made them believe they were entitled to get rid of conflicting ideas along with the bodies polluted with them. Modern societies have come a long way toward greater tolerance of uncertainty and diversity. Nevertheless, we are still far from being the courageous and informed citizens whom Kant envisaged—a goal that can be expressed in just two Latin words: Sapere aude. Or in three English words: “Dare to know.””

3: Innumeracy
Here author looks at reasons for difficulties that people experience in dealing with uncertainty such as inability to manage probability, misunderstanding of statistical analysis, and other forms of innumeracy. Then author discusses connection between illusion of certainty and innumeracy, providing this list:

• Illusion of certainty. Franklin’s law is a mind tool to overcome the illusion of certainty, to help make the transition from certainty to uncertainty.

• Ignorance of risk. This is an elementary form of innumeracy in which a person does not know, not even roughly, how large a personally or professionally relevant risk is. This differs from the illusion of certainty in that the person is aware that there may be uncertainties, but does not know how great these are. The major tool for overcoming the ignorance of risk consists of various forms of information search (for example, scientific literature).

• Miscommunication of risk. In this form of innumeracy, a person knows the risks but does not know how to communicate these so that others understand them. The mind tool for overcoming miscommunication is representations that facilitate understanding.

• Clouded thinking. In this form of innumeracy, a person knows the risks but not how to draw conclusions or inferences from them. For instance, physicians often know the error rates of a clinical test and the base rate of a disease, but not how to infer from this information the chances that a patient with a positive test actually has the disease

After this author moves to defining Risk and quantifiable uncertainty and reviewing three major versions of probability interpretations: Degree of believe, Propensity, and Frequencies.

Then author discusses ignorance of risk and its miscommunication. As example, author applies this approach to communicating medical benefit for a drug:

Author ends this chapter with recommendation:” Overcoming innumeracy is like completing a three-step program to statistical literacy. The first step is to defeat the illusion of certainty. The second step is to learn about the actual risks of relevant events and actions. The third step is to communicate the risks in an understandable way and to draw inferences without falling prey to clouded thinking. The general point is this: Innumeracy does not simply reside in our minds but in the representations of risk that we choose.”4: Insight
Here author describes his work with physicians on decreasing their innumeracy and ignorance. Specifically, he used technic of modelling change from probabilities to frequencies. Here is graphic example:

Part II: Understanding Uncertainties in the Real World
In this part author reviews application of his approach in the following specific areas, providing some conclusion for each:

5: Breast Cancer Screening; 6: (Un) lnformed Consent; 7: AIDS Counseling;

8: Wife Battering; 9: Experts on Trial; 10: DNA Fingerprinting; 11: Violent People

Part III: From Innumeracy to Insight
12: How Innumeracy Can Be Exploited
Here author reviews a few examples when innumeracy of people in authorities effectively used to get money. Here is graph for 2 of them:

In short, effective presentation is a great tool to get whatever one wants from other people.

13: Fun Problems
This chapter presents a few funny applications and here is the one clearly demonstrating that majority does indeed could be much better than average:

14: Teaching Clear Thinking

Here author provides tips on how to improve understanding of reality:

Step 1 – Remember that everything is at least somewhat uncertain.

Step 2 – Analyze Risks

Step 3 – Analyze Communication and Representation

At the end author provides an interesting review of cultural differences in learning, but consistency of eventual ability to retain knowledge depending on training approach:

MY TAKE ON IT:

This is a very useful book that facilitates sound approach to understanding multitude of data provided by media and businesses in such form as to manipulate individual perception to achieve intendent political or business outcome. Analytical tools provided in this book make it a lot easier to see through manipulated data and therefore avoid being manipulated either into support of some party that is acting against one’s interest or buying something that one does not needs or really wants.

20201018 – The Abandonment of the West

MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is to trace cultural degradation of Western civilization through its historical stages starting with period of Columbian republic from late XIX century until end of WWI when West and colonialism was pretty much glorified, then trough disappointment of the great war self-inflicted pain and suffering that caused raise of fascism, communism, and struggles of WWII, period of Cold War when Western values were undermined, but still hold, at least longer than socialist values of Soviet Union, and finally post-Cold War disintegration of Western Culture by Western elite that developed ideas of reparations for previous sins and complete rejection of Western values including equality and individual freedom.

DETAILS:

Introduction
Author begins here with recollection of 9/11 and Bush’s mentioning of Crusades, which was immediately withdrawn as incorrect historical analogy.  Then he discusses overall propensity of Americans to use the notion of Crusade to just about everything from Civil War to WWII and others, noting how this changed over time and formulate the objective of this book as to answer that change and provide:” history of the West within American foreign policy, a West that is not exactly a cultural affinity or a strategic posture but some complicated, fluid combination of these two things.”  Author also defines the West as “as a transatlantic idea of liberty, traces this Enlightenment idea through two forms and through a drama in four acts.”  Author briefly describes these acts with 3 of them having dedicated chapter and 4th and the last 3 chapters of the Part II discussing it.

Part l: The Rise of the West
CHAPTER 1: The Columbian Republic, 1893-1919
The first act covers Columbus discovery of America, creation of USA and its development from the small republic to huge and powerful, both economically and militarily, country that could have significant impact on the world as whole, as it did in WWI. Author extensively discusses administration of Teddy Roosevelt and Wilson when this power came to forefront and become obvious for the world.

CHAPTER 2: The Case for the Wqest, 1919-1945
Author starts this chapter with discussion of Oswald Spengler and his ideas about “Decline of the West”. Author then moves to two products of Western thought: fascism and communism and how the former was destroyed by military efforts during WWII with the help of the latter.

CHAPTER 3: The Rise of the west, 1945-1963
This chapter narrates how West was consolidated by USA into effective economic and military alliance while recovering after WWII destruction and struggling in Cold War with Soviet Union to protect political and economic freedom that was slowly established in all included countries.

Part II: The Abandonment of the West
CHAPTER 4: Questions, 1963-1979
This starts with discussion of Malcolm X, black supremacy movement and support they found among intelligentsia and universities. 1950s and 60s. This followed by Vietnam war, which was successfully used by communist propaganda to undermine American society. Author then reviews various famous personalities in America that helped Soviet Union to win propagandist war against the West using anti-war and anti-black racism issue, which was later extended to support for Palestinians, South American communists, Iranian mullahs and everything else under the sun as long as it would be useful.    

CHAPTER 5: The Suicide of the West? 1963-1992
This chapter looks at period before 1990s when communist block fall apart and Soviet Union disappeared. Author briefly reviews anti-communist movements in USA in 1950s, especially role of Chambers, their complex relationship with Eisenhauer, and its transformation into conservative movement that incorporated many former leftists in 1980s. Author looks at works of Buckley and especially Burnham with his “Suicide of the West”. Author ends this chapter with Fukuyama’s “The End of History” and vain hope that liberal democracy won.

CHAPTER 6: The Post-Columbian Republic, 1992-2016
The last chapter covers Clinton, Bush, and Obama administration that lasted 32 years during which anti-West movement acquired commanding position in western culture and started increasingly pushing for annihilation of Western values of individual freedom, liberal order, and democracy. Author ends this chapter with brief discussion of Trump as America’s first president who unexpectedly initiated serious counterattack in defense of the West, leading to the huge disruption of existing trends.

Conclusion

In conclusion author reviews transatlantic relationship with Europe, which came farther than USA in dismantling western culture and values, causing significant tensions between these two. Author ends with symbolic story of creation of new museum on Washington’s National mall: NMAAHC, which presents history of blacks in America as movement from slavery to freedom. In author’s view its symbolic significance is not that much denial of West as promotion of the new more inclusive West.

MY TAKE ON IT:

I only partially agree with the thesis of Western Culture disintegration, because I see it as intermediate point in formation of general whole human culture, which will be eventually build on the foundation of Western civilization just because it provides for much better quality of life than any other known culture. A number of problems, mainly economic problems connected with disappearance of Western middle jobs pushed out of existence initially by cheap foreign labor and then by automatization leaves lots of semi-educated young people without anchor in their life forcing them to seek substitution for traditional values and successful behavior. I expect these problem to be resolved within a few dozen of years, which will provide for stable and both materially and psychologically satisfactory environment, which will result in turn in formation of some global combination of best of all known civilizations with the Western Culture taking by far superior share of this combination because it provides for the best quality of live for individuals.

20201011 – The Hardhat Riot

MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is to retell the story of huge backlash of working-class Americans against leftist protest movement that was shaking up America in the late 1960s and early 1970s. This backlash was expressed by massive riot of blue color workers in New York and political realignment of GOP with “silent majority”.

DETAILS:

Introduction
Here author briefly refer to events of May of 1970 when blue color workers physically clashed with antiwar demonstrators and links these events to 2016 when blue color billionaire Trump was elected on GOP ticket with mass support of blue color workers. He also states that workers won the clash but lost long struggle because of technological and demographic developments.

PART ONE Backdro

1: “Out for Blood”

Here author puts these events on time line and refers to contemporary events such as Kent University shootings.

2: The Revolutionaries of Grand Central and Columbia

This is about Yippies, who were radicalized hippies and their demonstrations and other actions against Vietnam and society’s order overall. Author describes occupation of Columbia university, clashes with police, and arrests.

3: Chicago ’68

The next stop is Chicago democratic convention of 1968 with details of events and political environment of the time.

4: Two Moratorium Days

This chapter moves to October 1969 when big demonstration in DC declared Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam. Author describes this demonstration in details, including participation of New York GOP Mayor John Lindsay who supported antiwar movement.  

5: “Law and Order” and the Decline of Cities

This chapter describes response from society overall, which did not supported movements, giving opening to Nixon and his promotion of Silent Majority. It also analyses demographic and consequent political changes such as black migration from south to big cities and correspondent migration of white middle class from cities to suburbs. Here are some numbers:” Between 1940 and 1970, amid flourishing wartime industry, the black population skyrocketed—Chicago, from 8 to 33 percent; New York City, 6 to 21 percent; Los Angeles, 4 to 18 percent. Detroit’s black population rocketed from 9 to 44 percent.”  Then in late 1960s started deindustrialization of America, living city dwellers without employment, creating situation when people resorted to crime on mass scales and riots. It all coincide with expansion of welfare state, destruction of black family, and initiation of leftist ideological movement to blame all these on racism. Author describes some initial occurrences such as the riot in New York, which mayor Lindsay refused to call a riot.

6: The Political Fallout of “Law and Order”

This chapter is about increase in crime in the cities. Author nicely demonstrates attitude of leftists by this quote: “With half of women in America uptight about law and order what was the liberal response? ‘Law and order,’ they said, ‘is a code word for racism.’ In other words, ‘Lady, you’re not really afraid of being mugged; you’re a bigot,” read The Real Majority (1970). “Instead of saying, ‘We are for civil rights and against crime,’ many seemed to feel that anyone against crime must also be against civil rights.”” He also provides some statistics on victims demonstrating that they are mostly blacks. Then author specifically discuss situation in New York.

7: Blue-Collar Whites Are “Rediscovered” (in Middle American Gotham)

Author begins this chapter with discussion of environment – poor air conditions in New York then moves to relationship between parts of GOP: liberal as presented by Lindsay and more conservative by Nixon. Author then stresses cultural changes that were quite negative for lower middle class:” The counterculture had inverted common values. Serving your country was now bad. The flag was denigrated. “Suckers” worked for “the Man.” Marriage was compared to “colonization.” Housewives were compared to servants. Being a workingman, once a badge of honor, was the image of the piggish and plodding yeomanry, a genus of man presumed too dumb to even recognize its ennui. And the condemnation often came from “rich kids” able to “turn on, tune in, drop out”—those who could afford to be a hippie.” All these generated a torrent of articles about blue color whites and also some cultural response.

8: Those Who Did the Fighting and Dying

In this chapter author discusses growing class division in attitudes to patriotism and service between upper and middle classes. If during WWII Hollywood celebrities and rich served in military and were proud of it, by the middle of Vietnam war it become acceptable not only avoid service, but even wave enemy flag or visit enemy military position to demonstrate support for their struggle against “American imperialism”.

9: The New Left and the “Great Test for Liberals”

In this chapter author discusses emergence of the New left. It was rejecting not only Vietnam, but also key elements of American society. Once again author uses Lindsay as example, by reviewing in details Lindsay run for reelection that demonstrated its clash between old liberals on one hand and attempts unite on the other.

10: Building the Twin Towers, Ethnic New York, and Race

Here author moves a bit away from politics to discuss massive construction projects like twin towers that brought into the city multitude of blue color construction workers. Author also discusses development of different ethnic groups.

11: Cambodia and Kent State;

By 1970 antiwar movement developed to such extent that it become source of constant conflict between state and big part of population, which culminated in Kent State shooting. Author discusses Nixon and cabinet reaction to these events.

12: Kent State Shakes New York

Here author presents narrative of impact on people in New York. He then describes beginning of demonstration on May 7, 1970.

PART TWO “Bloody Friday”
13. USA All the way! 14. Melee; 15. “About Time the Silent Majority Made Some Noise”; 16. Violence Becomes “Contagious”; 17.”We’ve Lost Control!”; 18. The Riot Spreads; 19.”I’m Not Having City Hall Taken Over on My Watch”; 20. Full Circle to Federal Hall.
The chapters of this part describe in great details the fight, who hit whom, when, and where. The general presentation is that hardhats had overwhelming advantage in numbers and passion, so they beat a lot of Yippies up. Interestingly enough when it came to the fight many of Yippies expected and demanded protection from police, which they attacked and denigrated for months. Unsurprisingly police provided such protection only in extreme cases and without any enthusiasm whatsoever.

PART THREE Afterward and Aftermath

21. The Days After: Knicks Utopia, a Fraught City, and Nixon at the Brink

Author begins this chapter with reference to another America, the one that was watching NBA games, but then returns to aftermath of rioting, describing Nixon’s reaction and his walk to Lincoln memorial and talk with students.

22.The Riot Reverberates; 23. “Workers’ Woodstock”
These two chapters describe the following days when huge numbers of workers went to the streets protest against leftist protesters and local authorities like Lindsay who supported leftists.  

24. “Our People Now”: Nixon Sees a Future in an Un-Silent Majority
This brief chapter is about Nixon’s and his team reaction to these events and their actions that were designed to connect with unions and retain mass support.

25. Honor America Day
Here author moves a few months later to 4th of July when some 400,000 people came to Washington Mall for Honor America day. There were also protesters against America coming from all over the country trying to spoil celebration.

26.”Born with a Potmetal Spoon”: Nixon Launches the GOP’s Blue-Collar Strategy
Here author describes political implication and reorientation of Nixon administration away from traditional GOP relaying on educated classes to seeking mass support from blue color workers who were increasingly going under pressure from early results of open competition from recovered economies of Europe and Asia that with their cheap labor start undermining prosperity of American workers.

27.How America(s) Saw It
Here author discusses reaction and what is interesting is the leftist’s attempt to present events as racial controversy even if it was white construction workers beating up white students. Here is author’s general description of attitudes:” In the final measure, the antiwar movement was less popular than the Vietnam War. After 1968, most Americans deemed Vietnam a mistake. By 1971, six in ten lamented the war. That same year, roughly two-thirds of the public condemned antiwar protests. Meanwhile, in this era, only about five of every hundred Americans demonstrated against the Vietnam War. It was the vehemence and violence, the concentration of that protest at colleges—especially elite schools, especially as the mass media began its unending fixation on youth—that rocked American life. Americans were against both the war and the antiwar movement. In this sense, most hardhats were indicative of the wider public—not in their violence, but in their cause. Indeed, for those actually listening to Peter Brennan, he consistently stated he wanted the war ended. Ultimately, most doves didn’t even like the antiwar activists. Back in September 1968, after the Chicago convention, two-thirds of those who wanted to deescalate the Vietnam War backed Mayor Daley’s use of police “to put down the demonstrators.” Seven in ten whites, and the plurality of blacks, saw “radical troublemakers” as the cause of student unrest, rather than “deeply felt” beliefs in the “injustices in society.” Even among whites who thought the Vietnam War was a “mistake,” two-thirds thought “most student unrest” was caused by “radical troublemakers” rather than a belief in societal “injustices.”

28.The End of the Beginning

The final chapter describes what happened next: country’s turn away from liberalism and leftist movement and Nixon’s landslide victory in 1972. Author ends, however, making point that position of working class was continued deteriorating with globalization and that eventually we arrived to current point – Trump election in 2016 and raise of resistance by bureaucracy and government dependent part of society.

MY TAKE ON IT:

It is a nice example for just in time historical analysis that was more up to date than author could possibly imagine. The events of 2020 when stress on population produced by pandemic and resulted economic crises prompted explosion of somewhat strange race riots when leftist mainly white rioters in the name of “racial justice” destroyed many small, mainly black and Asian immigrant owned businesses, attacked and denigrated blue color police officers of all races, and attacked all kinds of American symbols: burning flags, pulling down monuments, and demanding destruction of American society. Somewhat similarly to GOP realigning with “silent majority” after hardhat riots, Democratic party massively moved left openly declaring intention to destroy capitalism and establish socialism, albeit in “democratic” form. As of the moment of this writing some 25 days before election of 2020 there is general feeling that country is moving to civil war. I think that the feeling is correct and civil war is just around the corner, but I believe it will be either very brief, with small number of casualties if America wins elections, democrats lose election at all levels, and socialism is defeated or it could be more protracting fight with much more casualties if America defeated, coalition of democrats, socialists, communists, and anti-white racists takes power and try to remove Bill of Rights in its entirety and turn country into vassal state to Chinese communist party. In either case I expect America of 1776 to win and initiate its own revolution to overthrow Administrative state established beginning in 1933.

20201004 – The Gunpower Age

MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is that somewhat arrogant attitude that people of West have to Chinese culture and abilities based on the experiences of 1850-1945 (the century of humiliation) is misplaced. This period was an aberration and one of the main objectives of this book is to demonstrate that it is the case, especially in military area. Author uses review of historical development of gunpowder technology and its use in China to demonstrate that most of the early period China was ahead, then maintained parity in XVII and XVIII centuries, and became week only in the middle of XIX century. Now it has restored as practically equal to USA industrial power, quickly catching up as technological power, and rapidly growing as military power.

DETAILS:

INTRODUCTION: The Military Pattern of the Chinese Past
Here is how author introduces the book:” This book examines the Great Divergence between China and the West by concentrating on warfare. It suggests that there is a military pattern to the Chinese past that can help us make sense of China’s periods of strength, decline, and resurgence. But it doesn’t focus on China alone. Its aim is to bring Asian and European military history into conversation, asking not just how China diverged from the West but also how the West diverged from East Asia.”  Author then presents the main thesis of the book that:” China’s modern weakness—apparent not just in its loss to Japan in 1895 but in the debilitating and nearly constant warfare that afflicted it from 1850 to 1949—may best be viewed not as a symptom of a failure to modernize but rather as the most recent variation on an ancient theme: the tumult of dynastic transition, which is invariably accompanied by frequent and intense warfare, rebels from within, invaders from without. Dynastic transitions are also associated with military, technological, and political innovation.”

PART I: CHINESE BEGINNINGS
CHAPTER 1: The Crucible: The Song Warring States Period
Author starts at the beginning of gun power age, going all the way to 1000 CE when use of gun power first recorded. At the time it was mainly in the form of incendiary devices attached to a bird. Author then traces development during Song Dynasty 960-1279, the period which included multiple wars that author uses to demonstrate that idea of Chinese not developed guns due to constant peace is just not true.

CHAPTER 2: Early Gunpowder Warfare
In this chapter author moves to discuss technology of this period and use of gunpowder in arrows, pots – something like crude bombs. He presents evidence that by 1023 these weapons were produced on industrial scale. Historically that resulted in massive use of such weapons in the war between Song and Jin circa 1115.

CHAPTER 3: The Mongol Wars and the Evolution of the Gun
Then came Mongols and use of gun powder in different weapons – fire lance that was basically a tube emitting fire. The fight against Mongols was conducted by Song and Jin separately with both using iron bombs. Author then discusses evidence that first guns made of iron appeared after Song were defeated around 1280.

CHAPTER 4: Great Martiality: The Gunpowder Emperor
This chapter is about Zhu Yuanzhang, founder of Ming Dynasty who stressed use of guns so much that by 1380 10% of troops were supplied with guns. With number of troops around 1.5 million it required significant industrial power. Author then discusses guns application in Battle of Poyang Lake in 1363. He notes that guns used were small: between 8 and 30 kilos and were mainly supplemental to traditional weapons. Author also discusses the siege of Suzhou in 1366 once again stressing that Chinese guns were small and mainly used as anti-personal weapons. One of explanations for this that author provides is Chinese tradition of building very wide walls with lots of filling between external and internal sides making them practically impenetrable by gunfire.

PART II: EUROPE GETS THE GUN
CHAPTER 5: The Medieval Gun
In this chapter author looks at European development of firearms. Interestingly enough he points out that there is no evidence of indigenous development in Europe: there are no fire arrows or fire lances. The firearms arrived from China in form of guns shooting arrows sometime around 1350 at technological level equal to China’s at the time.

CHAPTER 6: Big Guns: Why Western Europe and Not China Developed Gunpowder Artillery
Here author traces European development and finds that by 1377 big guns capable to shot 200 kilos projectiles were used in battles, mainly as siege weapons. Author’s explanation is related to different design of Chinese and European walls, with European narrow design made wall vulnerable to breach by artillery, but Chinese very wide design was not.  

CHAPTER 7: The Development of the Classic Gun in Europe
Here author moves from discussion of comparative artillery use and effectiveness to technical design of gun, pointing pout that European guns by end of 1400s become long with relatively small bore with decreasing thickness at the end, making them lighter, easier to load and aim.  It was also linked to development of granulated gunpower in Europe that allowed slower burning, preventing guns cracking. From this point on the gap start developing between European firearms and Chinese. Author discusses various explanation of this development, such as difference in the nature of war: in Europe it was static siege warfare in which artillery is most important, in China it was more dynamic action against various nomads; rigidity of Chinese culture, relatively low intensity of Chinese wars after Yongle Emperor’s death in 1424 and so on.

CHAPTER 8: The Gunpowder Age in Europe
This is about military revolution in Europe between 1500 and 1600 when mobile field guns were developed and extensively used in battles and sieges. However, author points out that these developments were by far not sufficient to provide material advantage for Europeans over Chinese. Author reviews unsuccessful campaign of Portuguese against China in 1536, which demonstrates this point.

CHAPTER 9: Cannibals with Cannons: The Sino-Portuguese Clashes of 1521—1522
In this chapter author reviews preceding Sino-Portuguese clashes of 1521-1522, which also were unsuccessful for Europeans.    

PART III: AN AGE OF PARITY
CHAPTER 10: The Frankish Cannon
Here author looks at Chinese adaptation of Frankish cannons in the late 1400s as early example of Europe technological advance. However, author notes that Chinese were not just producing duplicate, they improved on technology so there were no lasting advantage derived.

CHAPTER 11: Drill, Discipline, and the Rise of the West
This chapter moves to training, discussing effective tactic of Volley fire that allowed troop maintain uninterrupted fire by moving soldiers through sequential steps of reloading and firing synchronized among lines. This tactic required extensive training if one to achieve its effective use in the battle. Author then discusses opinion that complexity of soldiers synchronized movement, firing, and reloading were attained via complex training through extensive drilling. However, author also notes that Chinese were used to drilling a lot more than Europeans and provides comparative review of East vs. West drills and classical heritage.

CHAPTER 12: The Musket in East Asia
This is about use of muskets and even valley fire in Japan, Korea, and China in mid 1500s. Here author looks not that much at technology and tactic as at history of Qi Jiguang- national hero of China due to his victories over pirates and others of the kind. He promoted muskets and flexible configuration of troops that required extensive drilling, so author looks at details at Qi’s actions.

CHAPTER 13: The Seventeenth Century: An Age of Parity?
In this chapter author reviews history of Dutch and Russians fights with Chinese in 1600s which they mainly lost. From these events author infers that it was period of military parity. Author presents Geoffrey Parker’s evaluation of source of European advantage as such:” According to the military revolution model, Europeans had a fourfold advantage: (1) superior guns; (2) the use of advanced infantry drilling techniques, which “permitted the defeat of far larger enemy forces”; (3) ships that dominated sea lanes by means of deadly broadsides; and (4) fortresses that allowed small garrisons to control large areas.”. Author notes, however, that all these matured only later in XVIII century.

CHAPTER 14: A European Naval Advantage

Here author discusses how Chinese managed protect their shores by adapting European design for canons, but their naval capability was limited, which author demonstrates by retelling Dutch-Chinese naval battle around Taiwan when 3 Dutch ships won battle against 60 Chinese ships in 1661.

CHAPTER 15: The Renaissance Fortress: An Agent of European Expansion?
In this chapter author discusses European invention of Artillery fortress with angled bastions. This provided ability to fight with small garrison against numerically superior enemy. Author retells siege of Fort Zeelandia 1661-1662 where small Dutch garrison was successful for a long time until a German specialist switched sides and provided know how to Chinese that allowed them to win.  Similar story was with siege of Russian fort Albazin in 1685-1689.

PART IV: THE GREAT MILITARY DIVERGENCE
CHAPTER 16: The Opium War and the Great Divergence
In this final part author moves all the way to XIX century’s Opium wars that demonstrated increasing dominance of European military. Author analyses reasons for this and concludes that these were: The Great East Asian Peace, which led to Chinese swords to rust, but even more important European development of Experimental science and its massive military application.

CHAPTER 17: A Modernizing Moment: Opium War Reforms
Here author discusses Chinese attempts to catch up by adapting technology and conducting massive modernization, but it generally failed not only due to bureaucracy, which excelled in intrigues that author nicely describes, but also due to absence of industrial base.

CHAPTER 18: China’s Modernization and the End of the Gunpowder Age
This is continuation of the story of attempts to modernize which sometimes were partially successful, especially when included importing talent from the west all the way as to making some Europeans top level commanders of Chinese forces. However other countries did it more effective and author reviews Sino-Japanese war of 1894-1895 which China lost.

Conclusions: A New Warring States Period?

In conclusion author discusses our time when China became leading industrial power due to massive transfer of technology supported by massive investment in exchange for huge profit for Western businesses from cheap labor suppressed by totalitarian state. Until recently Chinese communist party was happy to maintain these processes, but at this point it decided that they strong enough to challenge USA and West overall and establish their control over the world. Author expresses hope that some kind of mutually accepted accommodation will be found, but he is clearly afraid that it would not be a case.

MY TAKE ON IT:

This book nicely demonstrate that Chinese traditions are as militant as everybody else and that idea of China’s peaceful development somehow misses previous millennium of warfare both internal and external experienced by this country. Moreover, it demonstrates that Chinese bureaucracy and Confucian culture is not that big problem as people used to think and neither of these features prevent Chinese communist leadership to aggressively pursue dominance over the world. I do not think they will succeed, but I have no doubt that they are already trying. I think that the proper response would be complete decoupling in all areas of high technology, especially anything related to military and finance. China should be deprived of any western investment and technology transfer until Communist party accept necessity not just comply with rules, but also allow western freedoms to take roots in Chinese society.  The most powerful response to Chinese attempt to dominate world would be strong attack on Communist party, demand of freedom of speech, assembly, and free election for Chinese people. This should include freedom of Internet connection for Chinese people or, if CPP defines it, complete disconnection of China from access to Western Internet, especially for industrial use. It should also include disconnect of Chinese access to higher levels of scientific and technological education if there is even slight possibility of military use. In short, West could not win if game is continue to be play in such way that Chinese continue to have access to wester technology and finance.

20200927 – Apocalypse Never

MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is to systematically go through all major environmental issues and controversies and demonstrate that in most cases alarmism is unwarranted, activism too often connected to corruption, and there is much better way to resolve problems than shut down industries, dramatically decrease quality of life for majority of people in developed countries, and prevent improvement for people in developing countries.

DETAILS:

1: It’s Not the End of the World
This starts with description of IPCC reports predicting moderate increase in temperature of 1.5 degrees and rise of sea level by a couple feet in 2050 which, as usual, caused panic in mass media. Author does not challenge IPCC reports, he just makes point that it is not the end of the world as AOC and other political crooks claim. After that author recounts factors that make global warming and other potential changes quite manageable: human resilience and contemporary technological achievement that allow managing raise of sea level and actually decrease number of victims of all kinds of natural disasters. After that author discusses reality of poor world of Congo and similar places where Apocalypse is occurring right now and it happens mainly due to political and cultural reasons. Author presents a narrative of his interaction with extreme environmentalists and concludes that there is what he calls “Exaggeration Rebellion” when any indication of climate change is turned into future catastrophe, which had to be prevented by some usually unreasonable measures with huge negative economic impact. The final word in this chapter is that in reality there is many reasons to believe that Apocalypse will never come and track record of all doomsayers and their ideologically driven extreme environmental predictions is nearly perfect in its failures. The following chapters present author’s findings in various specific areas where environmentalists were fighting.

2: Earth’s Lungs Aren’t Burning
This chapter is about Amazon rain forest and environmental claims that they produced most oxygen and are in danger of elimination because of industrial and agricultural development. Author provides data that it is completely incorrect – Amazon is pretty much self-contain system which does not produced more oxygen than it consumes. Net result of rich countries intervention – suppressed development for poor in Brazil.

3: Enough with the Plastic Straws
Here author looks at fight against plastic straws and everything else plastic. The results of analysis: they by far less dangerous than it is claimed. It is also about waste management and need to direct resources not to forbid use of plastic, but rather create infrastructure to manage all waste, especially human waste, which is a lot more dangerous and polluting.

4: The Sixth Extinction Is Canceled
In this chapter author first looks at claims that we are in the middle of great extinction of species and bluntly rejects this idea. He claims that:” Conservationists, it turns out, are skilled at maintaining small populations of animals, from yellow-eyed penguins of New Zealand to mountain gorillas of central Africa. The real challenge is expanding the size of their populations. It’s not the case that humankind has failed to conserve habitat. By 2019, an area of Earth larger than the whole of Africa was protected, an area that is equivalent to 15 percent of Earth’s land surface. The number of designated protected areas in the world has grown from 9,214 in 1962 to 102,102 in 2003 to 244,869 in 2020.”

After that author moves to energy, stating that lots of people in poor countries get their energy by burning wood, which is highly inefficient and should be substituted by other forms like hydroelectricity and fossils, but environmentalists prevent this. Another issue is that rich countries push to protect animals, often at the expense of people as in case of protecting gorillas even if they destroy crops of poor farmers. Author calls such approach “Colonial Conservatism”.

5: Sweatshops Save the Planet
This chapter is about sweatshops in developing countries. As usual rich and stupid people in developed world so much worried about working conditions for poor people in developing world that they prevent these poor people from improving their lives by moving from subsistence agriculture where they work hard, but starve to industries where they work as hard, but earn a lot more and do not starve.

6: Greed Saved the Whales, Not Greenpeace
This chapter about environmentalists and their fight to save whales demonstrate another typical process: whale hunting greatly decreased because much better substitutes found for its products: author specifically discusses palm oil. Author also discusses other methods and substitutes that both provide better goods and services instead of traditional and environmentally unsound methods and products and then provide examples of environmentalists using disinformation to promote their objectives. One such example are documentaries against fracking. Author points out that fracking is much more environmentally friendly because it opened opportunity for natural gas production substituting coal.

7: Have Your Steak and Eat It Too
Here author discusses similar story about meat production: reality is human bodies need proteins, meat provides them, and enviros are trying prevent it by using all kinds of ethical and environmental reasons that does not make lots of sense.

8: Saving Nature Is Bomb
This chapter is about nuclear energy, which is actually the safest, cleanest, and most effective method of energy production. Author retells the story how it was restrained and nearly annihilated by anti-nuclear movement with use of massive government regulations.

9: Destroying the Environment to Save It
Next step in this show of horrors is “renewable” energy which in reality is unreliable, inefficient, and, funniest of all, the dirtiest because production, maintenance, and decommission of equipment for this “renewables” is far from clean. Adding such small thing that it is costlier than anything else, which should also be taken into account.  

10: All About the Green
This is very a interesting chapter demonstrating how “green” activism is quite profitable business. Author reviews how exactly it is done with multiple examples.

11: The Denial of Power
This chapter is about another form of satisfaction that rich people obtain via environmental activism, this time via climate alarmism. Author not only presents usual examples of hypocrisy, but more interestingly discusses the specific example of how a young man in 1976 put up fight against building infrastructure project in poor village. He lost, but when he came back many years later, he found that this project changed lives in the village a lot and to the better. After that author looks at history of ideas starting with William Godwin and Malthus ideas of late XVIII century when one side believes in human ability to solve problems and control such things as population growth, while another believing that whatever are current problems, they could only get worse and could not be resolved ever except by some violent measures directed by elite against regular people. Author also discusses here ideas of leapfrog when poor nations just jump to superior technology without going through sequential process of development. The main example would be providing telephone to everybody in poor country without building wired connections infrastructure. Unfortunately, this could not apply to great many other things, especially energy, so attempt to do it often leads to waste of resources and increased misery of the poor.

12: False Gods for Lost Souls
This chapter starts with polar bears that supposedly were under the threat, but in reality, are doing just fine. After that author proceeds to discuss persecution of scientists who do not agree with alarmists and call for reasonable approach. Finally, author analyzes quasi-religious approach to environment and fanaticism it causes.

Epilogue

Here author discusses his current activities in promotion of reasonable approach to energy, climate, and other environmental issues that is founded on science and puts humanity first. Author calls such approach Environmental Humanism.

MY TAKE ON IT:

This is a nice catalog of environmental battles of the last 50+ years when various issues were used to scare public and mobilize people to fight against various industries in order to undermine capitalist societies. Meanwhile promoters of these issues are getting rich and increasingly hope to be able eventually take political power. I think it is actually a big sign of success for democratic capitalist societies that old issues such as exploitation of working class, poor housing, poor nutrition, long working hours, dangerous working conditions, and other big items of early XX century pretty much done with and do not elicit significant excitement among population. Correspondingly the general failure of socialist revolution due to lack of demand for it led to need for another set of issues that their promoters believe to be capable igniting revolution. This book nicely demonstrate that these issues are often just make-believe provocations, and I really doubt that they would provide enough ideological power to achieve what previous set of issues failed to achieve – socialist revolution.

20200920 – Radical Uncertainly

MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is to provide explanation of difference between uncertainty, radical uncertainty, probabilities, and ambiguities. It is also about communication when information transferred via narrative or statistical representations could mislead people into believing false narrative. Book also provides some tools on how to deal with different uncertainties.

DETAILS:

Part I: Introduction: The Nature of Uncertainty
1. The Unknowable Future
Authors begins by defining notion of “unknown unknowns” and provides examples such as Columbus discovery of America, Financial crisis, and so on, and then critic the idea that risk could always be measured, referring to statements of financial leaders about extremely low probability of events of 2008. Authors make this important point: “Economists (used to) distinguish risk, by which they meant unknowns which could be described with probabilities, from uncertainty, which could not. They had already adopted mathematical techniques which gave the term ‘risk’ a different meaning from that of everyday usage. In this book we will describe the considerable confusion and economic damage which has arisen as a result of the failure to recognize that the terms ‘risk’, ‘uncertainty’ and ‘rationality’ have acquired technical meanings in economics which do not correspond to the everyday use of these words. And over the last century economists have attempted to elide that historic distinction between risk and uncertainty, and to apply probabilities to every instance of our imperfect knowledge of the future.”

“We have chosen to replace the distinction between risk and uncertainty deployed by Knight and Keynes with a distinction between resolvable and radical uncertainty. Resolvable uncertainty is uncertainty which can be removed by looking something up (I am uncertain which city is the capital of Pennsylvania) or which can be represented by a known probability distribution of outcomes (the spin of a roulette wheel). With radical uncertainty, however, there is no similar means of resolving the uncertainty – we simply do not know. Radical uncertainty has many dimensions: obscurity; ignorance; vagueness; ambiguity; ill-defined problems; and a lack of information that in some cases but not all we might hope to rectify at a future date.”

Authors also define 3 main propositions of this book:

  • the world of economics, business and finance is ‘non-stationary’ – it is not governed by unchanging scientific laws. Most important challenges in these worlds are unique events, so intelligent responses are inevitably judgements which reflect an interpretation of a particular situation.
  • individuals cannot and do not optimize; nor are they irrational, victims of ‘biases’ which describe the ways they deviate from ‘rational’ behavior. The meaning of rational behavior depends critically on the context of the situation and there are generally many different ways of being rational. We distinguish axiomatic rationality, as used by economists, from evolutionary rationality, as practiced by people. Many so-called ‘biases’ are responses to the complex world of radical uncertainty.
  • humans are social animals and communication plays an important role in decision-making. We frame our thinking in terms of narratives. And able leaders – whether in business, in politics, or in everyday life – make decisions, both personal and collective, by talking with others and being open to challenge from them.

2. Puzzles and Mysteries
Here authors compare NASA probe processes, which are based on calculations and well-known equations with processing in political or economic world where there is no stable equation that would provide framework for effective decision making. They also provide some technical language:” Engineers also distinguish between puzzles and mysteries, and give them technical names – ‘aleatory’ and ‘epistemic’ uncertainty, respectively. Meteorological records will describe the regular tides and winds to which a bridge is likely to be exposed (aleatory uncertainty), but since every bridge and every bridge location is different the effect of these conditions on the structure is never completely known (epistemic uncertainty). The tides and winds are the subject of known frequency distributions (tables showing how frequent are particular values of tide and wind speed); uncertainty remains because every complex structure is necessarily idiosyncratic. This distinction between the uncertainty which can be described probabilistically and the uncertainty which surrounds every unique project or event is important in all applications of practical knowledge and central to the argument of this book.”

Authors discuss several examples of uncertainties and them formulate another important point:” The claim of the modern science of decision theory is that most mysteries can be reduced to puzzles by the application of probabilistic reasoning. Such reasoning can provide solutions to puzzles, but not to mysteries. How to think about and cope with mysteries is the essence of managing life in the real world and is what this book is all about.”

3 Radical Uncertainty is Everywhere
In this chapter authors move to define scope of probabilistic reasoning and impossibility of its application to “unknown unknown” or “black swans.” Here is where authors defy popular ideas of behavior and mathematical economics clearly stating that:” Real households, real businesses and real governments do not optimize; they cope. They make decisions incrementally. They do not attain the highest point on the landscape, they seek only a higher place than the one they occupy now. They try to find outcomes that are better and avoid outcomes that are worse.”

Part II: The Lure of Probabilities
4 Thinking with Probabilities
Here authors discuss probabilistic approach to prediction. They start with mortality table and life insurance and then proceed to probability as frequency pointing out that one needs history of repetitive occurrences to calculate probability of event. They also discuss Bayes work and “The Bayesian dial is a visual representation of what is known as Bayesian reasoning. We deal with uncertainties by attaching ‘prior probabilities’ to uncertain events.”

The last part of chapter dedicated to the Monty hall problem, Indifference principle, and massive use of Bayesian algorithm in consulting and analysis using Gigerenzer’s analysis of breast cancer recognition technic.

5 A Forgotten Dispute
This refer to dispute between John Stuart Mill and Pierre-Simon Laplace about application of probability technic to unknowable sequences of events. Author discuss subjective probabilities and demonstrate quite convincingly that this is not a valid approach.

6 Ambiguity and Vagueness
In this chapter authors look at two notions that often mixed and provide definition for each one:” There is often vagueness or ambiguity in the description of future states of the world. Concepts are called vague when the ‘law of the excluded middle’ – either it is so, or it is not so – is not satisfied. Either it is Saturday, or it is not Saturday. But we are less confident whether it is warm, or not warm. Such vagueness is not necessarily a matter of loose or sloppy reasoning. Many descriptions are useful, but necessarily vague in this sense.” Correspondingly: “Although the term ‘ambiguity’ is often employed to describe many kinds of uncertainty, we prefer to limit its use to genuine linguistic ambiguity. The word ‘bank’ has a different meaning depending on whether the context is fishing or financial regulation.”

At the end authors review difficulties of communicating uncertainty and demonstrate it graphically:

7 Probability and Optimization
This is another problem, which is based on assigned values. Authors review use of this approach in economics with its move from values to utility. Authors also allocate significant space discussing notion of risk and its application to various problems.

Part III: Making Sense of Uncertainty
8 Rationality in a Large World
Authors start this part with discussion of what is rational and what is not. They provide useful definition for styles of reasoning:”

Deductive reasoning reaches logical conclusions from stated premises. For example, ‘Evangelical Christians are Republican. Republicans voted for Donald Trump. Evangelical Christians voted for Donald Trump.’ This syllogism is descriptive of a small world. As soon as one adds the word ‘most’ before either evangelical Christians or Republicans, the introduction of the inevitable vagueness of the larger world modifies the conclusion.

Inductive reasoning is of the form ‘analysis of election results shows that they normally favor incumbent parties in favorable economic circumstances and opposition parties in adverse economic circumstances. Since economic conditions in the United States in 2016 were neither particularly favorable nor unfavorable, we might reasonably have anticipated a close result. Inductive reasoning seeks to generalize from observations, and may be supported or refuted by subsequent experience. Abductive reasoning seeks to provide the best explanation of a unique event. For example, an abductive approach might assert that Donald Trump won the 2016 presidential election because of concerns in particular swing states over economic conditions and identity, and because his opponent was widely disliked.

After that authors provide examples of bias, discuss arrogant ideas of Nudge. Finally, they review Herbert Simon’s idea of Bounded Rationality, meaning search for “good enough” solution rather than optimal, by limiting area of search to some feasible solutions rather than all conceivable solutions.

9 Evolution and Decision-Making

This chapter challenges behavior economics by rejecting idea that people’s heuristics are illogical and inferior to mathematical approach with formal logic. The point is that evolution occurred in environment of radical uncertainty, so formal logic could not possibly work. Then authors go through specifics: Altruism, kinship, and mutuality; multilevel selection; superiority of loss aversion, value of confidence and optimism even if they could not be formally justified. At the end authors discuss Kahneman’s dual system, and human versus machine intellect.

10.The Narrative Paradigm

In this chapter authors move from analysis to communications and discuss narrative method. They look at its application in business schools, strategy sessions, and diagnosis. They also review use of historical narratives of various forms.

11.Uncertainty, Probability and the Law

Here authors discuss use of probabilities in criminal cases, review two cases one British and another O.J. Simpson to demonstrate how it could be misused. They also look at differences between probabilistic and legal reasoning:” Balance of probabilities’ means that it is more likely that the proposition is true than that it is not. The probability that it is true must exceed 50%. But to demonstrate a proposition ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ is to establish its truth to some very high degree of probability – perhaps at a level of 95% or beyond. Yet conversations with lawyers establish that things are not really like that. Indeed, when US judges were asked what probability was required to meet the requirement of ‘preponderance of the evidence’, not only did they offer a wide variety of answers, but most answers were higher – sometimes much higher – than 50%. US jurors’ estimates differed by more.”

12. Good and Bad Narratives

This is continuation of discussion about narratives. First authors look at whether narratives are true or false, then, regardless of this, at these narratives being good or bad. Authors also discuss some narrative tools such as metaphors, narratives of the future, and so on.  

13. Telling Stories Through Numbers

This chapter is about numbers and statistics. Authors discuss various statistical data and then talks about power law:” The American linguist George Zipf studied word frequencies long before computers could take over such tasks, and formulated what is known as Zipf’s Law.7 When word frequency is plotted on a logarithmic scale, the result is more or less a straight line, with a stable relationship between the popularity of a word and the number of words of similar popularity. The nth most frequently used word appears with frequency 1/n times that of the most frequently used word.” After that authors move to discuss polling and specifically sample selection processes. The last part of chapter is about false information derived from statistics sometime because of statistical illiteracy, but sometimes intentionally for disinformation.

14. Telling Stories Through Models  

Here authors look at models and they start with very wise observation:” All models are wrong, but some are useful.” Author discuss such examples of economic models as Adam Smith’s in “Wealth of Nations” and David Ricardo. Then they move close to our time and review efficient market theory, Akerlof’s lemons, and auction theory, eventually explaining why these theoretical constructions do not really work for real live.

15. Rationality and Communication

This chapters starts with comparison of Obama’s and Carter’s decisions to send special forces: one success and another failure. Authors suggest that in reality the difference maybe more depended on luck than on decision makers. After that they present interesting notion of Resulting – situation when evaluation of decision quality depends on result, which may or may not be driven by external circumstances and luck. They also discuss here communicative rationality and collective intelligence, which they differentiate from human intelligence.

16.Challenging Narratives

This chapter is about need for variety of models and need to challenge narratives, which author illustrate with a number of examples and a great quote from A. Sloan:” ‘Gentlemen, I take it we are all in complete agreement on the decision here. Then, I propose we postpone further discussion of this matter until the next meeting to give ourselves time to develop disagreement, and perhaps gain some understanding of what the decision is all about.’

Part IV: Economics and Uncertainty

17. The World of Finance

In this chapter authors bring another differentiation between models and reality: small-world models in a large world. The point here is that theoretical models are always include assumptions, which to significant degree restrict area of model application define its outcome. In real world there is not such restrictions. Author then provide example of failed model in finance, pension models, and others, demonstrating limits of financial theory.

18.Radical Uncertainty, Insurance and Investment;

This is another detailed look at “science” of economics, specifically in areas of insurance, pensions, and how certainty is not the same as security. Authors complete this with note that volatility is good for investors.

19. (Mis)Understanding Macroeconomics

Here authors move to discuss dangerous combination of macroeconomics with powerful computers that allowed create super complex models very good in creating illusion of understanding reality without possessing such understanding at all. Eventually authors return to important theme of need to understand that economics way too complex for engineering approach, which result in severe mismanagement of economics.

20. The Use and Misuse of Models

Here authors provide examples of failure of models’ use. It starts with prediction for UK coal usage, and quite a few others. More importantly they provided suggestion on how do it properly:”

First, deploy simple models to identify the key factors that influence an assessment. A common response to criticisms of the kind we have described above is an offer to add to the model whatever we think is missing. But this is another reflection of the mistaken belief that such models can describe ‘the world as it really is’. The useful purpose of modelling is to find ‘small world’ problems which illuminate part of the large world of radical uncertainty.

Second, having identified the parameters which are likely to make a significant difference to an assessment, undertake research to obtain evidence on the value of these parameters. For example, what value do rail passengers attach to a faster journey? Quantification can often serve as a reality check even when precise quantification is obviously spurious. The preservation of the beautiful and well-preserved Norman church at Stewkley in England (close to a proposed new high-speed rail line) is worth something, but surely not a billion pounds. Often this kind of calibration is enough to resolve some aspects of a decision.

Third, simple models provide a flexibility which makes it much easier to explore the effects of modifications and alternatives. For example, the WHO demographic model not only diverted attention from the key issue but its complexity made it harder to investigate alternative specifications of the model structure and parameters. Scenarios are always useful in conditions of radical uncertainty. How might this policy decision look in five years’ time – or fifty?

Fourth, under radical uncertainty, the options conferred by a policy may be crucial to its evaluation. Faced with a choice as to which of London’s two major airports, Gatwick or Heathrow, should be chosen for expansion, recognition that the topography of Gatwick allows piecemeal adaptation of the development of facilities in the light of uncertain future demand, while that of Heathrow does not, should be an important factor in the choice. Options may be positive or negative in value – facilitating policies not directly connected to the initial objectives, or excluding possible attractive alternatives.”

Part V: Living with Uncertainty

21. Practical Knowledge

Here authors present what they believe to be proper approach to dealing with uncertainty: treat economics as practical knowledge, meaning measuring validity of theories by practice rather that by opinion of authoritative economists.  Consequently, authors discuss use of models as tools with limitations rather as final word of oracle and always apply then to resolve specific practical problems.

22. Adapting to Radical Uncertainty

In this chapter authors discuss how to adapt to prevalence of radical uncertainty in life and provide some guidance:

  • Recognize that live is not stationary so no algorithm could provide valid response to all future events.
  • Remember that humans are social animals and analyze at the level of groups rather than individuals
  • Challenge narratives

Authors also clearly express their believe that groups are better decision makers because groups have more information than individuals.

23. Embracing Uncertainty

In this final chapter authors call to embrace uncertainty by clearly differentiating it from risk and actively hone robustness and resilience, while trying to avoid path dependency. Finally, they link uncertainty with evolution, correctly stating that latter could not exist without former. They also link uncertainty to entrepreneurship.

MY TAKE ON IT:

I think it is useful book and authors very nicely classify different risks, uncertainties, and probabilities. They also define methods of dealing with them and how to apply different approaches for it could have some practical usage. I wish more people were educated in different forms of uncertainty and how to handle it and have much better understanding of models and their use. Maybe if it were the case, we would not have to deal with great many craziness of our time from global warming to universal everything.  The one point that I completely disagree with authors is their believe in superiority of group decisions over individual decisions. I believe that there is not such thing as a group decision – all decisions are made by individuals. Sure, multiple people are in possession of more information than one individual and any decision made via interaction of multiple individuals would be better if all this information is taken into account. The problem is that any group is formal or informal hierarchy and an individual at the top of hierarchy is the one who makes “group” decision. It is true that in condition of equal power of a few individuals at the top a decision could be a compromise, but it still would be individual decision of each group member whether to accept of reject somebody’s decision rather than actually participate in decision making.  

20200913 – You are not Listening

MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is to demonstrate importance of listening as main tool of communication much more important and effective than just talking. Author provides some neurological background of this process, but mainly tries to uncover what impedes listening and how overcome these impediments.

DETAILS:

1. The Lost Art of Listening
Author starts with recollection of her experience as interviewer and notes that even famous people she interviewed accustomed to situation when nobody listening to them. She then moves to epidemics of loneliness and links it to people inability to listen to each other. She provides example of Algonquin Round Table – group of writers who regularly meet together to kind of compete in both talking and listening and them use British parliament QA tradition as example of people not listening. She finally concludes that good listeners are difficult to come about.

2. That Syncing Feeling: The Neuroscience o Listening
This chapter starts with review of faulty listening behavior:

  • Interrupting
  • Responding vaguely or illogically to what was just said
  • Looking at a phone, watch, around the room, or otherwise away from the speaker
  • Fidgeting (tapping on the table, frequently shifting position, clicking a pen, etc.)

She then provides characteristics of good listening:

“Hearing is passive. Listening is active. The best listeners focus their attention and recruit other senses to the effort. Their brains work hard to process all that incoming information and find meaning, which opens the door to creativity, empathy, insight, and knowledge. Understanding is the goal of listening, and it takes effort.”

She also refers to research that demonstrate how good listening synchronizes brain activities of interacting individuals. Author also reviews several cases and infer: “To listen well is to figure out what’s on someone’s mind and demonstrate that you care enough to want to know. It’s what we all crave; to be understood as a person with thoughts, emotions, and intentions that are unique and valuable and deserving of attention. Listening is not about teaching, shaping, critiquing, appraising, or showing how it should be done (“Here, let me show you.” “Don’t be shy.” “That’s awesome!” “Smile for Daddy.”). Listening is about the experience of being experienced. It’s when someone takes an interest in who you are and what you are doing.”

3. Listening to Your Curiosity: What We Can Learn from Toddlers
In this chapter author brings in an experienced CIA investigator, who told her that key to interrogation is to find out what people are most concerned with, assure them that they save to express it, and listen carefully. Toddlers are brought in as example of unbounded curiosity and author stresses that such curiosity about other people is indispensable for effective listening to others.  

4. I Know What You’re Going to Say: Assumptions as Earplugs
This is about one of the biggest problems of failure to listen when people convinced that they already know what other is going to say, which is very seldom, if ever, is correct. Author then refer to a number of experiments, which demonstrate this even among people intimately close such as spouses. Author discusses somewhat inverse relationship between signaling and listening and ends the chapter by calling to pay real attention to others, rather than use formalities:” “Staying in touch” or “keeping up” with someone is nothing more than listening to what’s on that person’s mind—the frequency with which you check in determining the strength and longevity of the relationship. It’s all too easy to get complacent about how well you know those closest to you, just as it’s hard not to make assumptions about strangers based on stereotypes, particularly when reinforced by that person’s own overt social signaling. But listening keeps you from falling into those traps. Listening will overturn your expectations.”

5. The Tone-Deaf Response: What People Would Rather Talk to Their Dog
Here author presents research, which “shows that people are more likely to feel understood if a listener responds not by nodding, parroting, or paraphrasing but by giving descriptive and evaluative information. Contrary to the idea that effective listening is some sort of passive exercise, Bodie’s work reveals it requires interpretation and interplay.”

It follows by discussion of mass shooters, crisis negotiations tactic, and examples of how much could be the loss from non-listening.

6. Talking Like a Tortoise, Thinking Like a Hare: The Speech-Thought Differential
Here author discusses an important reason why people are poor listeners:” speech-thought differential, which refers to the fact that we can think a lot faster than someone can talk. The average person talks at around 120–150 words per minute, which takes up a tiny fraction of our mental bandwidth powered by some eighty-six billion brain cells. So, we wander in our excess cognitive capacity, thinking about a multitude of other things, which keeps us from focusing on the speaker’s narrative”.

Consequently: “to be a good listener means using your available bandwidth not to take mental side trips but rather to double down on your efforts to understand and intuit what someone is saying. He said listening well is a matter of continually asking yourself if people’s messages are valid and what their motivations are for telling you whatever they are telling you.”

Author provides a couple simple rules: Avoid thinking about your response and make pauses before replying.

7. Listening to Opposing Views: Why It Feels Like Being Chased by a Bear

This analogy comes from fMRI research that demonstrated that the same area of brain if highlighted in both cases. Author provide a couple examples from politician’s behavior, but states that it is necessity because:” The truth is, we only become secure in our convictions by allowing them to be challenged. Confident people don’t get riled by opinions different from their own, nor do they spew bile online by way of refutation. Secure people don’t decide others are irredeemably stupid or malicious without knowing who they are as individuals. People are so much more than their labels and political positions. And effective opposition only comes from having a complete understanding of another person’s point of view and how they came to develop it.”

  • Focusing on What’s Important: Listening in the Age of Big Data

Author begins this chapter by discussing conferences of Qualitative Research Consultants Association (QRCA), the organization of “professional listeners”. This is kind of opinion research mainly done for marketing purposes, but also for political and ideological sales. One of the most popular tools they use are focus groups. Author explains that quality of focus group is highly dependent on moderator’s ability to listen and extract real opinion with high levels of precision. She provides of example of such high-level professionals and discusses their technics.

  • Improvisational Listening: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Work

Author starts this chapter with Google research on great teams, which discovered that good teams listen to each other. After that she moves to discuss improve comedy as example of improvisational listening when partners had to pick up cues from each other in order to present consistent narrative. Then she explains how this skill promotes collaborative dynamic necessary for success.

  1. Conversational Sensitivity: What Terry Gross, LBI, and Con Men Have Common

This chapter expands on the same topic of listening sensitivity, only this time using example of professional interviewers and con man.

  1. Listening to Yourself: The Voluble Inner Voice

In this chapter author changes direction of listening and talks about listening to one’s own internal voice rather than to others. To illustrate this author provides quote from Feynman: “By trying to put the points of view that we have in our head together and comparing one to the other, we make some progress in understanding and in appreciating where we are and what we are.”

  1. Supporting, Not Shifting, the Conversation

This chapter is about importance of control over conversation and need to focus on other not self. She provides nice example of different approach related by Churchill’s mother:” “When I left the dining room after sitting next to Gladstone, I thought he was the cleverest man in England. But when I sat next to Disraeli, I left feeling that I was the cleverest woman.”

 The practical advice is to suppress impulses to:

  • suggest you know how someone feels
  • identify the cause of the problem
  • tell someone what to do about the problem
  • minimize their concerns
  • bring perspective to a situation with forced positivity and platitudes
  • admire the person’s strength

Author also discusses some other control technics.

  1. Hammers, Anvils, and Stirrups: Turning Sound Waves into Brain Waves

This is more technical chapter, discussing how sound waves turned into electrochemical conditions of neurons of brain, vulnerabilities of human hearing system, and how all inputs are always fractional and scrambled, leaving to the brain process creation of consistent representation of perceived signals. The negative result is that people often hear something that wasn’t said and do not hear something that was. Author also goes a bit beyond hearing system describing how everything else such as facial expressions, circumstances of time and space and so on influence interactions.

  1. Addicted to Distraction

This is about multiple things that distract people from carefully listening: everything from smoking to smart phones. To demonstrate change in psychology author refers to research that found that average attention span decreased from 12 to 8 seconds. Consequently, author promotes such activities as family dinner isolated from external interventions.   

  1. What Words Conceal and Silences Reveal

This is about conversation being much more complex process than just talking because it includes visuals, pauses, inarticulate expressions, and other such things. She provides example of real estate broker who succeeds by not interfering into potential buyers thinking process, patiently waiting for outcome. Author uses as example of strategic use of silence and then discusses other uses for this tool. Here is her conclusion:” Silence is what allows people in. There’s a generosity in silence but also a definite advantage. People who are comfortable with silence elicit more information and don’t say too much out of discomfort. Resisting the urge to jump in makes it more likely you will leave conversations with additional insight and greater understanding. “

  1. The Morality of Listening: Why Gossip Is Good for You

In this chapter author discusses gossip as another useful tool:” While gossip often has a negative connotation, it actually has a positive social function. There’s a reason why as much as two-thirds of adult conversation is gossip, defined as at least two people talking about someone who is absent. Men gossip as much as women, and children are adept gossipers by age five. We all do it (although not with as much flair as my great-great-aunt) because gossip allows us to judge who is trustworthy, who we want to emulate, how much we can get away with, and who are likely allies or adversaries. In this way, listening to gossip contributes to our development as ethical, moral members of society.”

  1. When to Stop Listening

Here author moves from promoting listening to defining when one should stop doing this. She presents four maxims for conversational expectations without which listening is just a waste of time:

  1. Maxim of Quality—we expect the truth.
  2. Maxim of Quantity—we expect to get information we don’t already know and not so much that we feel overwhelmed.
  3. Maxim of Relation—we expect relevance and logical flow.
  4. Maxim of Manner—we expect the speaker to be reasonably brief, orderly, and unambiguous.

After that she discusses ways of withdrawing from conversation and their consequences.

Conclusion

In conclusion author provides example of Catholic priest at the Basilica of Our Lady of San Juan del Valle who is very proficient in listening to people all over the world. She uses this example to stress importance of listening not only as expression of empathy, but also as the way to strengthen relationships and develop understanding of others. Here is the final conclusion:” While listening is the epitome of graciousness, it is not a courtesy you owe everyone. That isn’t possible. It’s to your benefit to listen to as many different people, with as much curiosity as you can muster, but you ultimately get to decide when and where to draw the line. To be a good listener does not mean you must suffer fools gladly, or indefinitely, but rather helps you more easily identify fools and makes you wise to their foolishness. And perhaps most important, listening keeps you from being the fool yourself. Listening is often regarded as talking’s meek counterpart, but it is actually the more powerful position in communication. You learn when you listen. It’s how you would divine truth and detect deception. And though listening requires that you let people have their say, it doesn’t mean you remain forever”

MY TAKE ON IT:

It’s a nice collection of ideas and examples of listening as highly useful and very complex communication tool without which it is not possible achieving effective interaction with others. Description and discussion of the process is nice, but mainly trivial. Probably the most interesting part is at the end when author discusses when not to listen. I do not remember encountering this kind of advice anywhere else. It is also pretty good in reviewing various distractions and how to deal with them.

20200906 – Democracy Versus Autocracy

MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is that despite persistent pessimism of elite in democratic countries, the reality of theory and history is that Democracy provides for more powerful societies in all conceivable areas: economically, military, and diplomatically. Author supports this thesis by discussion of theory, presentation of history, and review of contemporary state of affairs.

DETAILS:

Introduction
Here author makes point that American economic, political, and military dominance maybe coming to the end due to the rise of China. Author, however, cautions everybody from jumping to conclusion because America is democracy, while China is autocracy and history indicates that democracies have multiple advantages in such competition. Author briefly refer to specific advantages and disadvantages of each system and present the structure of the book.   

PART I: Democracy versus Autocracy
This part lays out the central argument. It draws on ideas from the political philosophy canon and the latest social science research to advance the idea that democracies do better in long-run geopolitical competitions. It also considers and critiques the competing arguments about a possible autocratic advantage.

  1. The Democratic Advantages in Theory

Author begins this discussion with Machiavelli and discusses two forms of democracy: republican or representative vs. direct democracy. Then author continues with Montesquieu using as example history of Athens (direct democracy) and Rome (republic). Then author moves to discussion of modern theory of democracy: its forms, economic, diplomatic, and political advantages. At the end author provides a great graphic representation of his argument:

2. The Autocratic Advantage?

In this chapter author moves to discuss the Autocratic Advantage, but he marks it with big question. He starts with reference to Tocqueville’s comparison American democracy and its seemingly big deficiencies with autocratic systems. Then he moves to contemporary views and presents a number of examples of awe of contemporary western “intellectuals” before efficiency of China’s communist system. He also looks under the hood of this systems and find that there so many deficiencies there that this awe is not much more justified than their historic excitement about Soviet system. Author lists autocracies’ specific supposedly superior features such as easy decision making, independence from public opinion, uncontrolled resource allocation, and absence of individual rights, could impede pursuit of common good, and so on. For each of these specifics author convincingly demonstrate why it is not so and why democratic approach to this specific is actually much better.

PART II: The Democratic Advantage in History
The second part of the book examines the empirical basis for this idea through simple quantitative analysis and a historical study of democratic and autocratic competitors from the ancient world to the present. Specifically, the book examines the following seven cases: Athens, Sparta, and Persia; the Roman Republic, Carthage, and Macedon; the Venetian Republic, the Byzantine Empire, and the Duchy of Milan; the Dutch Republic and the Spanish Empire; Britain and France in the 18th and 19th centuries; the United Kingdom and Germany in the late 19th and early 20th centuries; and the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War. This section of the book does not show that democracies always achieve everlasting hegemony, but it does demonstrate that they tend to excel in great power rivalry and for the precise reasons identified by the theoretical framework

3. The Democratic Advantage by the Numbers

In this chapter author provides numbers demonstrating relative power of democracies vs. autocracies. Author notes that:” …the leading states in the international system for the past four hundred years (the timeframe of his study) have been: the Dutch Republic (1609–1713), Great Britain (1714–1945), and the United States (1945–present). These states were also among the most democratic of their time. According to this reckoning, therefore, liberal leviathans have led the world for the past four centuries and counting.”  Author looks in more details at current most powerful countries specifically USA comparatively with Russia and China:

After discussion overall pattern of Democracies being more powerful, in the next 6 chapters of this part author presents history of competition between Democracies and Autocracies:

4. Athens, Sparta, and Persia; 5. The Roman Republic, Carthage, and Macedon; 6. The Venetian Republic, the Byzantine Empire, and the Duchy of Milan; 7. The Dutch Republic and the Spanish Empire; 8. Great Britain and France; 9. The United Kingdom and Germany; 10. The United States and the Soviet Union

PART III: The Democratic Advantage Today
This part is the real payoff of the book. What does all of this mean for contemporary international politics? This section examines the United States, Russia, and China. It studies how their domestic political systems prepare them for the coming competition and finds that U.S. institutions are a continuing source of strength, while Russian and Chinese institutions are dragging down their attempts to amass international wealth and power.

The next 3 chapters represent author’s summarization of contemporary key competitors:

11. The Russian Federation

“If Russia is a great power, it is barely one. Its autocratic system is undermining its economic, diplomatic, and military performance. Its economy is smaller than Italy’s. Its financial system is under serious strain. Russia lacks effective alliances and soft power and its aggressive behavior has provoked rival alliances to take countervailing measures. Its military is overly focused on domestic threats and is ill-equipped for the strategic-technological competitions of the 21st century.”

12. The People’s Republic of China

“China led by the CCP is unlikely to become the world’s leading state. Its Marxist-Leninist model is not well suited to building a world-beating, innovative economy, to winning friends and allies around the world, or to constructing a lethal military force with global power-projection capabilities. China’s autocratic system has undermined its competitiveness before, including under the Qing dynasty and Mao’s CCP. China did better when it followed Deng’s liberalizing economic guidance, but it is reverting to its old form of dysfunctional authoritarianism under President Xi.”

13. The United States of America

Here author characterizes American status as such:” In sum, America’s vibrant economy, its strong alliance relationships, and its unmatched military, all reflections of the U.S. domestic political system, will continue to provide a significant source of strategic advantage for the United States over its autocratic competitors in the years to come.”

PART IV: The Democratic Advantage in the Future
This part takes stock of what we have learned and draws out the implications for U.S. foreign policy and also looks ahead to the future. How can the United States best shore up its sources of strength? How can, or should, it seeks to exploit its opponents’ weaknesses? And, given the previous arguments, will the American era endure?

14. Implications for American Leadership

In this final chapter author discusses increasing competition between China and Russia, which accumulated significant economic and military power via massive investment and technology transfers these authoritarian regimes received from Democracies in early years of XXI century in hope that they would become full pledged Democracies – the happy outcome that did not happen. Author obviously convinced that the competition will end with victory if not for America then for Democracy:” Indeed, if or when the United States declines, it will most likely be overcome only by another democracy. Over the past four centuries, democratic hegemons have lost their positions exclusively to other democratic challengers. Autocrats have all tried and failed in their attempts. At present, a truly unified European Union, or possibly India, are the only democratic entities with enough power resources to plausibly rival the United States for global ascendance over the coming century. But a democratic transition in China would suddenly transform Beijing into a much more serious competitor.”

MY TAKE ON IT:

I absolutely agree that democracy is much better form of society than autocracy and I believe that outcome of current (summer of 2020) massive attack against democracy by leftist ideologues and their stormtroopers prompted by seemingly overwhelming opportunity provided by pandemic, will fail. The victory of Democracy in America will lead to significant upgrade of its foundational ideas to provide better immunity against similar attacks in the future. This immunity will be provided by prevention of unchallenged indoctrination into collectivistic, racist, and intolerant doctrines that currently occurs. I think that as soon as such ideas challenged at all levels starting in kindergarten, individuals who promote such ideas would have no chance to obtain such numbers of supporters as they have now inflicting mayhem on American live.

20200830 – Intelligence All that matters

MAIN IDEA:

The main idea here is to discuss meaning of IQ, how it relates to overall intelligence, how it is tested, where it comes from (nature/nurture) and, most important, how to increase it. Author also discusses controversies around IQ and its value for individual achievement and prosperity. The overall objective is to convince readers that IQ research important and should be supported.

DETAILS:

  1. Introducing intelligence
    This starts with definition: “Intelligence is a very general mental capability that, among other things, involves the ability to reason, plan, solve problems, think abstractly, comprehend complex ideas, learn quickly, and learn from experience. It is not merely book-learning, a narrow academic skill, or test-taking smarts. Rather, it reflects a broader and deeper capability for comprehending our surroundings, ‘catching on’, ‘making sense’ of things, or ‘figuring out’ what to do.”

After that author provides a brief history of IQ starting with Francis Galton (1822-1911) and then discussing works of McKeen Cattell (1860–1944) – Sensory testing, Alfred Binet (1857–1911) – children with mental disabilities selection, Théodore Simon (1872–1961) – mental tasks for low IQ children, Lewis Terman (1877–1956)- tasks for high IQ selection, Robert Yerkes (1876–1956) – Group testing, Charles Spearman (1863-1945) – Statistical technics for analysis, and Sir Godfrey Thomson (1881–1955) – education.

2. Testing intelligence
In this chapter author is looking through a set of tasks one could expect to complete for IQ test today. How does a person’s performance on one task relate to performance on the others? To what extent was Spearman correct about ‘general intelligence’? The author responds affirmative and then discusses idea of multiple intelligences and substructure of intelligence. He also provides a few graphs for IQ distribution and substructure change with age:

4. The biology of intelligence
Chapter 4 goes ‘under the hood’ to look at the biology of intelligence: how it might have evolved, how it relates to genetics, and what a smarter person’s brain looks like. Author discusses nature/nurture, provides some images and concludes:” A common mistake is to come away with the impression that, since intelligence is related to biology, it must be immutable. Nothing in the genetic studies (which never show 100-per-cent heritability) or the neuroimaging (which shows only neural correlates of intelligence) leads to that conclusion. Certainly, the genetic results imply that attempts to equalize outcomes in areas like education are fool’s errands: it will be extremely difficult to eradicate genetically influenced differences between children. There may be biological limits on what we can expect from some people: although intelligence is not immutable, it is unlikely to be infinitely malleable

5. The easy way to raise your IQ
Chapter 5 asks whether we might be able to improve intelligence and make people brighter. Do ‘brain training’ games work? What about education? So far there is no reason to believe that there is reliable way to get smarter either via “Mozart effect”, or breastfeeding, or brain training. However, there is well known Flynn effect that demonstrates IQ increase over generations.

6. Why is intelligence so controversial?
The final chapter, Chapter 6, asks why, if there’s all this scientific evidence backing it up, intelligence is still so controversial. In the historical sketch above, author mentioned a couple of reasons, but the discomfort with intelligence testing goes deeper than just revulsion at its history: it touches on profound political and moral issues about equality, race differences. Author briefly reviews these and other aspects of IQ debate and provides reasons for IQ studies:

a. Link between IQ and health: smart people are healthier and live longer

b. Ageing – need to maintain IQ at good level to the end

c. Societal importance of intelligence

d. Scientific curiosity

Conclusion

The political and moral (but usually evidence-free) debate around intelligence distracts from the truly interesting questions. What causes the general factor of intelligence? Which specific genes make a person smarter? Why, exactly, do these seemingly simple tests relate to so many important things in life? What, precisely, is happening in the brain when it’s working through an IQ test? How can we make it do that more efficiently? Lately, the field of intelligence research has been buzzing with intriguing new results that begin to address these questions. We can ignore these results, and continue to pretend that intelligence tests are a discredited remnant of psychology’s past. Or we can engage with them, and uncover the science of what makes us differ in this most human of attributes.”

MY TAKE ON IT:

It is nice and brief review of IQ, its definition, meaning, value, and validity of methods of its increase. Based on my own live experience I am pretty sure that lower IQ would not only decrease quality my live, but would probably prevent its continuation on a couple occasions in the past. Obviously few people had such a wonderful opportunity to recognize its value, but everybody could see value of IQ and try to improve it as much as possible.

20200823 – The Measure of Civilization

MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is to provide technical support for author’s other book “Why the West Rules – for Now” by reviewing methodology of social development processes divided into four domains: Energy Capture, Social Organization, War-Making Ability, and Information Technology.

DETAILS:

1 Introduction: Quantifying Social Development  
The problem author discusses here is the one that Western intellectuals had for the last 250 years. It is difficulty of explaining why the West took over the world. Author then defines his objectives in this book and moves to provide some key definitions such as:

Social Development: “is a measure of communities’ abilities to get things done in the world; social development is the bundle of technological, subsistence, organizational, and cultural accomplishments through which people feed, clothe, house, and reproduce themselves, explain the world around them, resolve disputes within their communities, extend their power at the expense of other communities, and defend themselves against others’ attempts to extend power.”

Author also provides intellectual background for this discussion starting with Spencer’s idea of evolution increasing complexity of the systems. Author reviews Marxist approach to progress and then return to evolutionary approach. Author also reviewing various attempt to quantify progress and even provides table based on history:

Finally author looks in some detail at core conceptps of social evolution:

  • Differentiation
  • Complexity
  • Evolution
  • Progress
  • Stage Theories
  • Society
  • Quantification

 2 Methods and Assumptions  
Here are assumptions author puts in the core of his ideas:

  1. Quantification
  2. Parsimony
  3. Here is how author defines traits using of Human Development Index (HDI):
    1. The Criteria of Useful Trait”: The trait must be relevant: that is, it must tell us something about social development as I defined it in chapter 1.
    1. The trait must be culture independent. We might, for example, think that the quality of literature and art are useful measures of social development, but judgments in these matters are notoriously culture bound.
    1. Traits must be independent of each other—if, for instance, we use the number of people in a state and the amount of wealth in that state as traits, we should not use per capita wealth as a third trait, because it is a product of the first two traits.
    1. The trait must be adequately documented. This is a real problem when we look back thousands of years because the evidence available varies so much. Especially in the distant past, we simply do not know much about some potentially useful traits.
    1. The trait must be reliable, meaning that experts more or less agree on what the evidence says.
    1. The trait must be convenient. This may be the least important criterion, but the harder it is to get evidence for something or the longer it takes to calculate results, the less useful that trait is.
  4. Focusing on East and West rather than the whole world
  5. The Meaning of East and West
  1. Chronological Intervals of Measurement
  2. Units of Analysis
  3. Approximation and Falsification

Author also provides notes on calculation and geographical representation of meaning of East and West:

MY TAKE ON IT:

Generally, I believe the technical content of this book is valid and makes lots of sense, except for linking Social development to the size and population of the cities. The size of cities is probably more depends on density of population, which in turn depends on productivity of land: rice supports more people per acre than wheat. I think author could easily avoid it by linking Social development to share of urban population. This parameter would provide picture consistent with other domains. For example, China achieved 50-50 breakdown between urban and rural population in 2010, while USA in 1920. Probably if one makes adjustment for different levels of technology, he would find similar parity between USA of 1920 and China of 2010 in other domains.

20200816 – The Kill Chain

MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is to use author’s experience as military adviser to late senator McCain to bring to light issues that in author’s opinion put future American security in jeopardy due to continuing support of outdated systems and failure to develop and stand up new systems mainly because of political and bureaucratic processes in which people are more concerned with well-being of their constituencies that US military power. This situation was developed over decades after fall of USSR when USA had no military peer and was absolutely dominant everywhere in the world. Now rise of China and somewhat revival of Russian military made these attitudes not sustainable and USA had to change or it will fall behind.

DETAILS:

INTRODUCTION: PLAYING A LOSING GAME
Author starts by presenting his credentials as close adviser to senator McCain and notes how much McCain was disturbed by military growth of China and its emerging ability to win conventional war against USA. Then author explains notion of kill chain and states that America needs in order to avoid defeat: ”It requires a sweeping redesign of the American military: from a military built around small numbers of large, expensive, exquisite, heavily manned, and hard-to-replace platforms to a military built around large numbers of smaller, lower-cost, expendable, and highly autonomous machines. Put simply, it should be a military defined less by the strength and quantities of its platforms than by the efficacy, speed, flexibility, adaptability, and overall dynamism of its kill chains”.

1. What Happened to Yoda’s Revolution
In this chapter author refer to former director of Office of Net Assessment Andrew Marshall, nicknamed Yoda, who argued that technological revolution makes existing American military based on large expensive platforms outdated and vulnerable. Yoda proposed massive change in approach to the new equipment, but he was not successful and was defeated by two forces – political preference for massive platform and war on terror that completely distracted military away from preparing to fight peers, not low grate rebels and terrorists.

2. Little Green Men and Assassin’s Mace
In this chapter author discusses wakeup call that occurred on February 27, 2014 when Russian military invaded Ukraine demonstrating the great improvement in its equipment, training, and tactical ability. American military leaders were impressed and realized that the new Russian military could be a difficult adversary and that American technological superiority was greatly diminished. Similar discovery occurred with another much more powerful adversary – China, which developed a number of effective weapons designated as Assassin Mace that would provide for ability successfully win regional war against USA.  Author briefly describes these weapons and stresses that they based on the latest achievements of information technology.

3. A Tale of Two Cities
Author starts this chapter with reference to American development of intercontinental missiles and politico-bureaucratic straggle around it with air force leadership resisting. The result was successful implementation of the newest technology. Author admires what happened then, but express fear that now it is different America that is not capable for such feats of ingenuity and industry. Current leadership both political and military cares more about getting more dollars for their constituency and themselves producing expensive, but not effective systems that could fail against Russian and Chinese forces.

4. Information Revolution 2.0
In this chapter author discusses Information revolution that occurred in private sector and produced very powerful technology that could be used in military. However contemporary military procurement system and interplay of multitude of special interests made it all but impossible, so military technology is a lot less powerful than regular civil technology available over the counter. Author also describes attitude changes that make it difficult for Silicon Value companies cooperate with American military.

5. Something Worse Than Change  
Here author starts with claim that the problem of loosing technological superiority did not occur because people’s failure or technological deficiencies, but rather because of incorrect strategic approach of investing in large, expensive, and eventually vulnerable platforms rather then in multitude of smaller and less expensive platforms that would be difficult to trace and destroy. Author correctly notes that it is just about impossible to keep military effectively upgraded because only actual war would demonstrate what works and what not. However, author provide examples such as Assault Breaker that were developed during Cold War and eventually proved to be effective. Author suggests that it should be done now again and stresses how important it is:” The stakes of this emerging strategic competition with the Chinese Communist Party are nothing less than what kind of future world we want to live in. This competition will require the full mobilization of our society, our economy, our diplomacy, our values, and our allies who share them. But the foundation for all of this is America’s hard power, because the only way to ensure that this competition stays peaceful is by clearly being capable of defending what is most precious to us if the Chinese Communist Party—or anyone else, for that matter—chooses to confront us through aggression or violence. And that is what most concerns me: The entire basis by which the US military understands events, makes decisions, and takes actions—how it closes the kill chain—will not withstand the future of warfare. It is too linear and inflexible, too manual and slow, too brittle and unresponsive to dynamic threats, and too incapable of scaling to confront multiple dilemmas at once. That is why there is a growing concern within our defense establishment that America could lose a future war against a great power such as China. This, to me, is something worse than change. Most Americans have lived blissfully free from the many kinds of privation, injustice, aggression, and depredation that countries through history have suffered at the hands of more powerful rivals that realized they could prevail in war if push came to shove. I have no desire to see how dangerous the future could become for Americans if we lose the ability to deter conventional war against the Chinese Communist Party or any other competitor. This situation should compel us to build different kinds of military forces that can defend Americans and our core interests in the absence of military dominance. This is possible, but it requires us to reimagine the kill chain and compete more urgently in the new strategic race over emerging technologies that is now under way.”

6. A Different Kind of Arms Race
This chapter is about new types of weapons – specifically AI controlled autonomous drones. The author’s concern is that while Western military are restricted by ethical norms, their adversaries Chinese and Russians have no moral or ethical restrictions whatsoever. Author discusses in some details shift information warfare and advances made by China. At the end of chapter author suggest that the new arms race is not possible for USA to win and the best one can hope is achievement of some sort of parity.

7. Human Command Machine Control
Author starts this chapter with discussion of aerial bombing and then moves to ethics of killing and possibility of decision-making transfer to AI. He states that in near future the only feasible use is for narrow AI and analyses how the decision breakdown between human and AI could work out in the future.  

8. A Military Internet of Things
This is mainly about drones and how they would interact with each other with minimal if any human intervention via battlefield network – Internet of things. Author especially concerned that current version of it is slow, not very reliable and overall is behind of commercial development.

9. Move Shoot Communicate
Author starts this chapter with the story of Jan Bloch – the railroad magnate of early XX century who without any military experience was able to predict correctly nature of future wars. Then author discusses each component and notes that with current saturation of the world with sensors and communications both military and civilian it is nearly impossible to hide movement of big assets. Similarly, the second part also demonstrate vulnerability of such assets because they could be more readily attacked by swarm of small and relatively cheap weapons of high lethality. The same applies to communication – it is easier to find and suppress communications of big valuable target such as air career than multitude of cheap self-controlling distributed in space.

10. Defense Without Dominance
This chapter is about American loss of military dominance, which is per author reality that has to be accepted. The consequence should be change in assumptions and the new strategy: “a strategy of defense without dominance.”. Author proposes a number of various measures, but the main change is strategic objectives: instead of traditional American search for dominance the objective should be prevention of China dominance: “The United States is headed into a future that will be as unsettling as it is unfamiliar, but we do not need to fear it. We can still manage to defend the people, places, and things we care about most. Even amid the erosion of our military dominance, America can avoid a future in which a peer competitor is able to consolidate its own position of military dominance. Achieving this more limited, defensive goal requires a wide-ranging reimagination of America’s defense strategy, which is possible, but not optional. The main question is not whether the US military should change but whether we can change—and change fast enough.”

11. Bureaucracy Does Its Thing
This chapter is about workings of American military and political system with its huge bureaucracy, special interests, and stakeholders all of which makes system highly conservative, keeping investment flowing into outdated technologies that have political support and starving emerging technologies with no established special interests supporting them. Author provides a nice example for selection of the new pistol for Army, which took many years and millions of dollars to decide.

12. How the Future Can Win
Here author discusses how to overcome bureaucratic resistance and provides an example of change in old JSTARS being successfully retired despite multiple constituencies fighting against it. The key to success per author was a very sophisticated political plan of developing new constituency for the change inside existing system. At the end author expresses his optimism:” National defense will always be fundamentally different from everything else we do in the civilian and commercial worlds. But does it have to be this different? Do the men and women of America’s military really have to struggle this hard to do their jobs and get faster access to better technologies, many of which they use in their daily lives? Can’t things be better?

Yes, things can be better. There is no structural or cultural reason why not. We have the money, the technological base, and the human talent. And our leaders have all of the flexibility and authorities they need, both in law and policy, to carry off the transition from the military we have to the military we need. As I have said, it ultimately comes down to incentives. If we want different and better outcomes, we have to create different and better incentives to get them. This is hardly beyond our reach. It involves doing a lot more of the commonsense things that many within our defense establishment struggle to do every day: define problems correctly and clearly, compete over the best solutions, pick winners, and spend real money on what is most important and can make our military most effective.”

CONCLUSION: A FAILURE OF IMAGINATION
In conclusion author once again expresses his loyalty to McCain and believe in his greatness and ability to direct things to correct objectives. The final thought is that even without McCain not everything lost.

MY TAKE ON IT:

I think that author pretty much correct about both of his main statements: deadly bureaucracy and need to change from building military around few high value assets to expanding multitude of much cheaper assets that would make swarm attacks practically impossible and allow rapid expansion if and when needed, especially if they are based on AI, Internet of things, new materials, and designed consequently remove requirement to have massive human involvement. I am more optimistic than author, probably because I believe that massive changes are coming that will completely reshuffle existing politico-bureaucratic structures in all areas, making military change just one of many changes, albeit with extremely high price of failure, that I hope would never happen.

20200809 – Shaping our Nation

MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is to describe history of immigration and internal migration in the United States based on racial/ethnic groups from before independence until recently. The groups authors reviews are: Northern Yankees, Southern Grandees, Scotch-Irish, Irish, Germane, Blacks, and some more recent arrivals. The point is that, while each group maintains its identity at least partially, they also go through complex process of mutual assimilation: groups to mainstream of America and its mainstream adapting at least some characteristics of groups.

DETAILS:

Preface: A Story for Our Time
This starts with description of author’s deep interest in American ethnic make up and how it was developed over the centuries. Author describes books he previously written about American and British revolutions and multiple books written by others that describe historic migrations of different population all over the world. Then he briefly describes content of this book that traces both immigration into America from different parts of the world and then internal migration to the West after Eastern part of USA was pretty much populated.

1. THE FIGHTING SCOTS-IRISH
This chapter is about the first massive non-English migration that occurred even before United States obtained independence:” During the course of the eighteenth century some 250,000 Scots-Irish migrated from the British Isles to the North American colonies, about 125,000 in the decades between 1717 and 1763, and another 125,000 in the dozen years from 1763 to 1775.” Author describes political situation in the country of origin and reasons that pushed people out. He also describes the first push of newly arrived immigrant away from coast deep into continent where they encountered not only Indian resistance, but also resistance of colonial authorities, which would prefer containment of white population at Appalachia. Author uses example of Andrew Jackson’s family to narrate the story of this movement. Here is American settlement geography in the pre-revolutionary time:

After that author describes further expansion of this group and discusses some of its cultural specificities, especially their military prowness that demonstrated itself on many occasions in all American wars, especially Civil War. Another important ferature of this groups is this: The Scots-Irish have been the least ethnically conscious of America’s migrant groups. From Jackson’s time to the 2010 Census, they have tended to describe themselves not as being of Scots-Irish (or Scotch or Irish) ancestry but as simply being American.”

2. YANKEES AND GRANDEES
This chapter is about two ethnic groups that became the first Americans. Yankees: descendants of New England Protestants that for over 2 centuries expanded into Midwest and Grandees descendants of Virginia settlers that expanded by Southern route from Virginia, Carolinas, and Georgia. The Yankees main characteristics was hard work, religiosity, hypocrisy, and persistent attempt to force their believes on others. The Grandees were nice people with a small flaw – their particular institution of slavery. Author discusses in details how this institution that was seemingly on its last legs in early XIX centuries was revived and became highly productive due to improvements in methods of cultivating cotton. Here is a graphic illustration:

Author then discusses in detail how both these movements: Yankee’s Northern movement to the West pushing Indians out and substituting them with farmers and Grandees’ Soutehrn movement expanding slavery created America with dual sensitivities, attitudes, and believes that eventually clashed in the Civil War to decide which one of them will be dominant in one America. The Scotch -Irish during this epic clash were divided and bravely fought on the both sides of the war. The Yankees eventually won the war, but lost peace, failing to overcome resistence to reconstraction and eventually accepted division into separate development way up until civil rights movement of 1960.

3. THE IRISH AND GERMANS
This chapter is about another wave of European immigrants, which came to America in XIX century. The first were Germans coming after failed revolutions of 1848, but not far behind were masses of Irish running away from potato hunger in 1850-60s. Author uses example of Kennedys to demonstrate a success story, but there were millions of others by far less successful. Author provides two maps demonstrating results of these waves:

Author discusses in details patterns of settlement for both groups, their preferred types of business and employenment, patterns of behavior, consequences of their Catholizism, and finally, their impact on American politics.

4. INCOMPLETE CONQUEST
Author starts this chapter by characterizing Civil War and Yankees conquest of America. However, this conquest was incomplete because South managed to retain its specificity for another hundred years after it lost the war. The price paid was high: economic stagnation for the most part of this period. Author looks at reasons why it happened and why there were no mass migration from South up North despite difficulties for both Southern populations: black and white:” The conclusion one must draw is that they thought they would not be welcome—and they were surely right. White men born in the 1830s and 1840s had been shooting and killing one another in large numbers, with many suffering disabling injuries; those who survived lived on for decades, many well into the twentieth century. Confederate veterans, whose only pensions came from state governments, had an economic as well as cultural disincentive not to move to the land of their recent foes. Union veterans, conscious that the troops and officials enforcing Reconstruction until 1877 had been attacked as corrupt carpetbaggers and had been shunned by southern elites, had no desire to reenter what had been a scene of conflict after the troops were withdrawn. In 1898 officials in the War Department in Washington, dispatching troops to Tampa for embarkation to Cuba in the Spanish-American War, stationed sentries along the rail lines to prevent southern attacks, while one southern army officer in his delight at seeing the Spanish forces retreat in Cuba, yelled, “We’ve got the damn Yankees on the run.”

Author ends this chapter with discussion of mass immigration from East and South of Europe at the end XIX and beginning of XX centuries – Ellis Island immigration. Here how it changed demographics of America:

This new immighrants brough lots of good things: hard work, talents, entrepreneurship, but also not a few nasties like socialism, leading eventually to laws restricting immigration.

5. PROMISED LANDS
Author begins this chapter with discussion of Hollywood and myths creation that forged one American culture by movies, sports, books, and radio in the place multiple and only loosely linked cultures of South vs. North vs. West vs. new immigrants of different backgrounds. Then author adds the narrative of how WWII intermixed everything and everybody in one global military and mass industrial movements, including blacks from South to the North and population of California. Author extends narrative of this chapter all the way to 1960s when economic changes, Vietnam war, civil rights movement, riots, welfare state, and cultural revolution changed everything destroying old norms, breaking black family and start breaking white families the same way.

6. MIGRATIONS OF CHOICE
The final chapter reviews the most recent waves of migration mainly internal, but with huge and increasing component of international migration from Asia and Latin America, which once again is changing American racial, cultural, religious, and all other components of population. Internally it included movement from North down South away from more bureaucratic cold states to business friendlier southern states, while externally political movement of Cubans, Koreans, Vietnamese, and at the end of century East Europeans running away from communism and likes, business and professional movement of Indians and many others to better paid and more fulfilling high tech jobs in America, Mexican and later other South Americans movement to better jobs and welfare opportunities and so on and on.

MY TAKE ON IT:

It is nice description of ethnic migration / immigration process of formation of American population, but in my opinion, it does not sufficiently describe cultural conflicts / adjustments between groups. I think it would be also very interesting to trace coalitions that groups form to support or fight each other.

The very interesting example would be to trace all groups interactions during Civil War, which initially was driven by strive to save Union at any cost by Yankees with cost often paid by others on one side and strive to save Southern states sovereignty, including its particular institution of slavery with price mainly paid by people who did not own slaves. Eventually one could say that both sides won: Yankees saved the Union and their dominant place within it, while Southerners by winning asymmetric war of Reconstruction curved out a part of country in which they managed to maintain probably something like 80% of their particular institution in form of segregation and denial of rights to the blacks for another 100 years. I think another important part would be addition of class dimension, which also led to ethnic/ racial coalitions forming and falling apart as situation developed.

20200802 – Why Chimpanzees cannot learn language

MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is to use author’s experience with Project Nim of teaching chimpanzee to use human language in order to present author’s views on development and use of language. Author stresses his believe that this development was natural evolutionary process, that it occurred as result of need in effective communication tool for complex scavenging support, that words came first and grammar much later, and, finally, that animals, even such close relatives as chimpanzees do not have such tools.  

DETAILS:

Preface
Here author describes why and how he wrote this book and defines its topic as language evolution. He refers to ideas of Chomsky and his own participation in debates on the side of behaviorists. He also describes his William Schoff lectures that are the foundation of this book.  

Prologue
The prologue is about author’s experiment (Project Nim) of teaching language to the chimp, how he come to start this project and two main contentions that rose in regard of language evolution: words vs. grammar as key foundational component of language and communications tool vs. mechanism of thinking as most important driver of evolution.

  1. Numberless Gradations

This chapter starts with brief discussion of evolution as the main tool for understanding everything in biology, which author applies to language, but not that much to its grammar, as to its words as key ingredient. After that author moves to discuss his background as behaviorist and reviews ideas of instrumental conditioning, presenting a nice table of examples:

He also discusses in some details Chomsky’s critique of verbal behavior, which pretty much moved author away from pure behaviorism and his search for empirical confirmation that starting in 1960s turned him to attempt to teach chimpanseses to use language. Author also looks at evolutionary processes and controversy caused by its requirements to have long incremental process withmeaningful improvements on each increment, which seems to be inconsistent with reals speed of human development. The author review of the newest paleoanthropological data led him to conclusions that: “In sum, there are at least three reasons to consider why recent hominin ancestors provide a more realistic baseline than chimpanzees for clues about the evolution of language: bipedalism, a large brain, and a small birth canal. Although none of these differences were selected to enhance linguistic ability, the need to cradle a human infant for six months led to profound changes in maternal care.”  In support of this idea author provides review of the development of nonverbal language during the first years of human life.

2. Ape Language

In this chapter author reviews in details experiments with teaching chimps to use language by trying to raise them as human children, sometime using sign language because chimps could not imitate human sounds. Author discusses his own “Project Nim” and Premack method, which uses graphic symbols. The key conclusion that author makes are based on these data:” Ape language projects have shown that chimpanzees can learn the imperative function of symbols (that is, how to use them to obtain rewards). Although children learn to use words as imperatives, imperatives are only a tiny portion of their vocabulary. Language would never develop if children were limited to learning imperatives. In that sense, the failure of these projects can be attributed to an ape’s inability to learn that things have names and that words can be used conversationally.”

3. Recent Human Ancestors and the Possible Origin of Words

Author starts this chapter with discussion of non-linearity of evolution that, contrary to Darwin believes, quite convincingly proved by recent paleoanthropological discoveries demonstrating parallel development of multiple hominin species. He then discusses fossils in some details: locations where they are found, dating methods, how changes in fossils relate to corresponding climate changes, and how increase in functional abilities of the human brain provided for much more efficient accommodation to these changes, eventually resulting in human expansion all over the world. After discussing usefulness of the big brain, author moves to hypotheticals of language development. Based on fossils that have traces of human scavenging evolution from being the last to being the first consumers of big animal’s corpse author believes that such activities necessitated development of worlds to communicate to others what and where was found and in what condition it currently is, so they could help with processing.  

4. Before an Infant Learns to Speak

Here author moves from species evolution to individual, discussing how infants acquire human communication abilities: first by imitating visual and/or audio communications, including human emotions and attitudes, eventually resulting in joint attention functionality unique to humans. It results in need for words to generate joint attention to something that is not present at the moment and later on to abstractions that exist only in human imagination and are communicated via language.

5. The Origin of Language, Words in Particular

Here author moves more into origin of language and how humans pick it up from parents and other around them: “The difference between animal and human communication is also reflected in the number of signals they each produce. In animals, that number rarely exceeds twenty and it does not vary with age. Human vocabulary grows with age during the first few decades of a person’s life. A two-year-old child knows approximately 300 words; a five-year-old approximately 5,000; a minimally educated adult at least 15,000; and a college graduate at least 50,000 words.” Author then discusses Chomsky’s Universal Grammar, which he generally supports except for putting much more weight on words, their creation and use. Author then reviews various relevant to his research schools and experiments.

Epilogue

This is pretty much discussion of popularization of author’s Project Nim, which left him not very satisfied, especially about documentary by Marsh.   

MY TAKE ON IT:

I am pretty much in agreement with main position of this book except for some relatively small points. I do not think that debate between what came first words or grammar makes lots of sense. I think they came in parallel. I also somewhat puzzled by controversy about liner or parallel evolution of human brains because it seems obvious that it should be both: initially with human expansion with evolutionary modifications into multiple variations of hominin living in different localities with consequent pruning out less competitive sub-species by the more effective ones, and since they all rely on the same ecological niches and were capable expand globally, the most effective – we humans, eliminated everybody else some hundreds of thousands years ago and we still continue eliminating different parts of ourselves, albeit somewhat less frequently in more recent times. I, however, hope that with advance of technology, productivity, and AI, plus clear movement of changing meaning of live from multiplication to enjoyment, we’ll find equilibrium between all types of us and between us and environment that would make our lives worth living.

20200726 – Fully Grown

MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is to review various potential causes of slowdown in GDP growth over the last 20 years and evaluate which of them has more and which has less impact. Author findings are that only demographics, shift from goods to services, and decline in population mobility have significant impact. Author also divides these causes into positive and negative, concluding that positive have more impact and therefore slowdown in growth is a sign of positive development.

DETAILS:

Preface
This starts with the point that until year 2000 average growth of USA economy was 2% per years, but after in decreased, but material standards of live actually continue to increase. Author then retells how this book started and who helped him to write it.

1. Victims of Our Own Success
In this chapter author starts by providing economic statistics: “The growth rate of GDP per capita, which is what I focus on in this book, averaged 2.25% per year from 1950 to 2000. But the average growth rate of GDP per capita from 2000 to 2016 was only 1%. That difference of 1.25 percentage points of growth per year means that GDP per capita today is about 25% lower than if we had matched the twentieth-century growth rate throughout the twenty-first century. It represents a significant deceleration of economic growth, but it started well before the recession in 2009.”

Then he discusses sources of growth, especially in human capital and demonstrates that its growth slowed. He also discusses switch from goods to services and how it slows growth because increase in productivity is much more difficult to achieve in services than in manufacturing. Finally, he briefly discusses different theories of slowdown. The final point in this chapter is that slowdown could be a good thing because it demonstrates that we achieved such high levels of productivity that the growth is not important anymore.

2.  What Is the Growth Slowdown?
Here author starts with meaning and provides a nice illustration.

At the end of chapter author compares American data with other countries, demonstrating that it is not that different for developed European countries and Japan, but a lot less than China. Author also makes a point that growth slowdown does not mean that anything become worse than before, but rather that it does not getting better as fast as it could be.

3. The Inputs to Economic Growth
Here author discusses components of growth:

  • Human capital as combination of number of employees, hours worked, and level of educations
  • Physical capital as combination of structures, equipment, and intellectual property

He then explains that even if growth of all components decreased, it is not enough to explain decrease in aggregate

4 What Accounts for the Growth Slowdown?
Here author looks at data per capita and demonstrates that there is residual growth not explained by growth components and it is what slowed it down:

6. The Difference between Productivity and Technology  
In this chapter author looks at technology and productivity and difference that could be related to both machines and processes. Author also discusses diminishing returns on R&D investment, asking if “we run out of innovations?”.

At the end of chapter author discusses potential explanations to residual:

  • The first explanation involves the long-run shift in the composition of our spending away from goods and toward services.
  • The second big idea for explaining slower productivity growth was the rise in market power of firms over the past few decades. The available evidence shows that the average markup—the ratio of price to marginal cost—charged by firms in the economy has increased since 1990. That rise in markups was consistent with the rise in economic profits as a share of GDP over the same time period.
  • A last explanation for the slowdown in productivity growth is also a little puzzling. What I’ll document is that along a number of dimensions, the reallocation of human and physical capital between different uses has slowed down.

The final conclusion about market power is: Increased market power was associated with a smaller share of GDP flowing toward labor or the providers of physical capital, and a larger share to the claimants on the economic profits market power creates. In general, that meant the owners of firms. There are reasons to be wary of that, even if, relative to changes in demographics and the long-run shift into services, it did not explain why the growth rate of real GDP per capita fell.”

12 Reallocations across Firms and Jobs; 13 The Drop in Geographic Mobility
Here author analyzes if reallocation is a source of slowdown in growth. He goes through reallocation within industries, slowing in turnover of establishments, job turnover, and geographic mobility, which also decreased. The conclusion is:” The decline in geographic mobility was not trivial, but it does not explain the growth slowdown.”

14 Did the Government Cause the Slowdown?
Here author reviews consequences of changes in taxes and other government policies and concludes: ”But the evidence indicates that taxation and regulation did not have a significant effect on the ability of firms to produce real goods and services, and specifically there was no substantial shift in government policies around 2000 that could explain the growth slowdown.”

15 Did Inequality Cause the Slowdown?
Here author discusses changes in inequality and provides graph demonstrating that top 1% became less dependent on equity and more on labor income:

The conclusion: “Although the effect of Chinese trade was real in terms of replacing US manufacturing firms and employment—and that had real, negative impacts on those workers and their communities—in terms of the growth slowdown, the impact of Chinese trade was not large. The growth slowdown would have happened even if China had never become a major exporter, as the US was already in the middle of a long-run shift away from goods production toward services production. China accelerated this in a small way but was not responsible for it.”

17 The Future of Growth
In the final chapter author summarizes results of analysis concluding that causes of the growth slowdown are demographic and everything else has very small impact if any. Here is the summary:

At the end author looks in the future and expresses believe that even if the growth will not accelerate, it is actually sign of success because it is result of choices that people make and achieved wealth allows to make choices less bound by material needs than ever before.

MY TAKE ON IT:

From my point of view the accounting growth of GDP is pretty much meaningless number because it does not provide any direct information on material wellbeing of people and therefore requirement for such growth. For example. if everybody who wants to have steak dinner can do it any time, what is the point in growth of beef production? It applies to everything else: houses, cars, and so on. However, leaving aside the question who needs growth and why, the author’s conclusion that slowdown caused by mainly demographics in my view is technically correct, but missing the most important part – lots of people feel big gap between what is available to them materially and want they actually want to have and this gap is not result of inability to produce enough, but rather of ineffective organization of production and distribution processes. If this organization were modified so that its main objective become to close the gap, we would probably see initially huge growth, which then drop to near 0 when human aspirations switch away from material need to something else.

20200719 – The Rise of China vs. the Logic of Strategy

MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is to review consequences, problems, and future outcome of raise of China and its increasingly open claim for world dominance, which author estimates as strategically unsound, albeit practically inevitable. Author believes that it would be met with growing resistance with very adverse consequences for China that could be avoided if Chinese move to democratic form, drop its military ambition,and become normal member of peaceful community of nations.

DETAILS:

Preface
Here author describes his multiyear interest in China’s development and how it prompted writing this book to discuss strategic issues caused by China’s development and threat it generated for the world.

  1. The Fallacy of Unresisted Aggrandizement

In this chapter author discusses raise of China which is now moving away from peaceful development as equal member of world “community” to militant development aiming at world dominance.  After that author makes point that people often tend to project previous development into the future and strategically it always leads to mistake. The change of China objectives, its militarization, and clear plans on domination inevitably cause former supporters and enablers of China’s rise turn into opponents and disablers it this rise continuation.

2. Premature Assertiveness

In this chapter author reviews signs of China leadership’s attitude change as it was demonstrated in several diplomatic encounters in 2010-11, specifically during visit to India.

3. Great-State Autism Defined

Here author discusses more general phenomenon that he calls “Great-State Autism” when leaders of raising great power tend to ignore others. Here is how author characterizes this: “Instead, decisions on foreign affairs are almost always made on the basis of highly simplified, schematic representations of unmanageably complex realities, which are thereby distorted to fit within internally generated categories, expectations, and perspectives.”. Author then looks at historic example of such behavior by British, Russians, and especially Chinese.

4. Historical Residues in Chinese Conduct  

Here author look at Chinese approach to dealing with powerful adversaries expressed in these rules:

  • Initially, concede all that must be conceded to the superior power, to avoid damage and obtain whatever benefits or at least forbearance that can be had from it.
  • Entangle the ruler and ruling class of the superior power in webs of material dependence6 that reduce its original vitality and strength, while proffering equality in a privileged bipolarity that excludes every other power (“G-2,” at present).
  • Finally, when the formerly superior power has been weakened enough, withdraw all tokens of equality and impose subordination.

The final result is imposing on former adversary “the tributary system, the Tianxia hierarchy”. Author also stresses that China is seeking bilateral relations of benevolent Emperor vs tamed barbarians, rather than participation in multilateral organization of equals. Author also presents Chinese understanding of the future world order based on their vision:” The practical value of the traditional Chinese vision of world order, or tianxia … [is that] … this vision anchors a universal authority in the moral, ritualistic, and aesthetic framework of a secular high culture, while providing social and moral criteria for assessing fair, humanitarian governance and proper social relations. Varied discourses indebted to tianxia have resurfaced in modern China in quest of moral and cultural ways of relating to and articulating an international society. We believe that the Chinese vision may prove productive … in the tension-ridden yet interconnected world.”

5. The Coming Geo-Economic Resistance to the Rise of China

In this chapter author moves to present his vision of the future when Chinese approach and strive to dominate will force other countries to resist its economic advance and impose different rules than once that until now supported China’s economic development. Author believes that these rules could go through continuously increasing economic pressure, all the way until complete embargo similar to USA – Cuba situation. Author then reviewing specific measures that USA and other countries applied to counter Chinese advancement economically.

6. China’s Aggrandizement and Global Reactions

Here author reviews how changes in China behavior impacted attitude to China and different countries, which become increasingly negative. Especially strong negative attitude is expressed everywhere to Chinese rapid military development, perceived as a serious threat.

7. The Inevitable Analogy

In this chapter author first notes that historical analogies are usual invalid because all events are unique, then proceed analyze history of raise of Germany at the end of XIX century and its competition with Britain that ended in WWI and WWII. Author pays special attention to British strategy which achieved formation of united front of British, French, and Russian empires against Germany, even if it had to pay price for this by settling all disputes even if at high cost.

8. Could China Adopt a Successful Grand Strategy?

Author clearly believes that the best strategy for China would be restrict its military development and diplomatic assertiveness and continue economic development, but he also understands that it is not going to happen:

“China’s failure at the level of grand strategy, absent political leadership of superhuman perspicacity and courage, is therefore overdetermined:

• It would be abnormal to adopt a humble foreign policy because China’s all-round power is increasing rapidly;

• it would be abnormal to reduce military expenditures because China’s rapid economic growth allows their rapid increase;

• it would be abnormal for the PLA to overcome universal bureaucratic proclivities to accept its own diminution; and

• it would be abnormal for Chinese public opinion, insofar as it counts, to support the unilateral renunciation of military strength, especially given the humiliating past of military impotence. Indeed, there is strong evidence of public support for more military expenditure, and more ambitious expenditure, notably the acquisition of one or more aircraft carriers.

9. The Strategic Unwisdom of the Ancients

Here author looks at Chinese attitudes and glorification of ancient Chinese strategic literature such as Sun Tzu’s “The Art of war”, which is widely accepted as superbly wise peace of work, which still highly influences Chinese strategic thinking. Here is how author characterizes comparing with Western strategic thought: “The undoubted merit of The Art of War is its presentation of the universal and unchanging paradoxical logic of strategy in a form less cryptic than that of the coeval epigrams of Heraclitus (the unity of opposites, and so forth), and altogether more succinct than the On War of Carl von Clausewitz. To be sure, the latter is altogether superior intellectually because Clausewitz explains his reasoning step by step, starting from first principles in a manner at once systematically philosophical and exhilarating, while The Art of War baldly presents its prescriptions in an oracular manner. On War therefore offers a systematic methodology lacking in The Art of War, but there is no doubt that it too conveys the same (paradoxical) truths, and far more expeditiously.” Author provides quite detailed review of this work and concludes that it is way two much based on Chinese intracultural norms to be universally good guide and demonstrates how it impacts current situation.

10. Strategic Competence: The Historical Record

Here author looks at record and notes that real history demonstrates that all this sophisticated thinking is hardly effective in practice, as it beautifully confirmed by history of Han Chinese, who were conquered by much smaller people on pretty regular bases so much so that they ruled themselves only 1/3 of time over the last millennium.  

11. The Inevitability of Mounting Resistance

In this chapter author reviews reaction to of other countries to Chinese claim for domination and stresses not only inevitability of resistance and its actual rapid development, but also notes that balance of combined powers against China is not beneficial for China’s ability to achieve its goal of dominance.

12. Why Current Policies Will Persist

In this chapter author combines many of ideas to conclude that most probable way of development is that China will persists because of:

Great-state autism, which diminishes situational awareness

Historical residues in China’s external conduct, deriving from the tributary system and the presumption of centrality within the concentric circles of the Tianxia.

Resentment, both popular and CCP elite hostility directed at outside powers, often well concealed but strongly felt and sometimes abruptly expressed

The influence of the PLA and the military-industrial establishment on Chinese policies and conduct.

The multiplicity of other expressions of Chinese power—organizations able and willing to pursue expansionism perhaps for their own purely internal motives, which include state-owned enterprises, as well as integral parts of the state apparatus.

13. Australia: Weaving a Coalition; 14. Japan: Disengaging from Disengagement; 15. Defiant Vietnam: The Newest American Ally? 16. South Korea: A Model Tianxia Subordinate? 17. Mongolia: Northern Outpost of the Coalition? 18. Indonesia: From Ostracism to Coalition; 19. The Philippines: How to Make Enemies. 20. Norway: Norway? Norway!

Here author reviews development in surrounding China countries and demonstrates that they far away from accepting China’s dominance.

21. The Three China Policies of the United States

Here author looks at China’s relation with USA and how it developed from situation hugely beneficial for China to constantly deteriorating one. It was expressed by USA’s three policies:

The First U.S. China Policy: Vigorous Promotion of China’s Economic Growth.

The Second U.S. China Policy: The State Department Confronts China.

The Third U.S. China Policy: The Department of Defense.

22. Conclusions and Predictions

This book was published in 2015 and predictions that author made today in 2020 look pretty valid: “At this time, the rising threat emanates from an authoritarian, increasingly assertive China empowered by very rapid economic growth. The logic of strategy evokes corresponding reactions, which are diplomatic in the main but may still be warlike even in our nuclear era, though they can no longer achieve purposeful aims by actual warfare, except on the small scale allowed by escalation risks at each remove. Hence, if the economic disparity between China and the anti-China coalition were one day to reach proportions that no longer allow a tolerable military balance to be maintained, the reaction must assume economic forms, even if it is wholly strategic in content. Only a fully democratic China could advance unimpeded to global hegemony, but then the governments of a fully democratic China would undoubtedly seek to pursue quite other aims, to maximize the happiness of the population rather than their own power. In the meantime, the strategic aim of the United States and other like-minded powers cannot be to outmaneuver and defeat China, but rather to dissuade its own self-defeating pursuit of military aggrandizement in the best interests of the peoples of the world, and China’s first of all”.

MY TAKE ON IT:

Author’s analysis is pretty much in line in what I believe after reading quite a few books about China and its raise. I absolutely agree that the only way to avoid confrontation hopefully economic and political without it turning into war, is for China implement democratic reform and allow removal of Communist party from power. However, I do not believe that it would be easy. It would require complete change of Western attitude to China, which is not possible without internal transformation of Western states, especially USA, that would suppress power of internal pro-China forces such as ideologically pro-communism intelligentsia and big business that benefits highly from access to Chinese lower paid and nearly regulation free environment. I am sure it would cause quite serious struggle, but I believe that America can handle it successfully and Chinese communism will be put to rest in the dust been of history next to the Soviet developed socialism and German National-socialism.

20200712 – The Power of Bad

MAIN IDEA:

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

DETAILS:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MY TAKE ON IT:

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

20200705 – The Litigation Nation

MAIN IDEA:

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

DETAILS:

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

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

  1. Defamation

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

  • Land-Grabbing and Money-Grubbing

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

  • Slavery and Honor

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

  • Free Labor?

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

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

  • Stock Swindles and Swindlers

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

  • Divorce

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

  • Civil Rights and Wrongs

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

  • Product Liability and Mass Tort Litigation

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

Conclusion: The Value of Litigation in America

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

MY TAKE ON IT:

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

20200628 – Physical Intelligence

MAIN IDEA:

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

DETAILS:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

10: Of One Mind

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

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

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

MY TAKE ON IT:

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

20200621 – Human Diversity

MAIN IDEA:

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

DETAILS:

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

The 10 propositions that author supports are:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6. A Framework for Thinking About Race Differences

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Author summarizes this in quite interesting graphic form:

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

1. If differences in mental abilities are inherited, and

2. If success requires those abilities, and

3. If earnings and prestige depend upon success,

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

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

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

Author uses here another syllogism:

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

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

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

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

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

Author also looks at various attempts to achieve improvements:

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

The result of analysis is conclusion that effects are minimal.

The final part of chapter is discussion of epigenetics.

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

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

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

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

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

MY TAKE ON IT:

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

20200614 – Bullshit Jobs

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: