My book reviews for November:
In 1985 Neil Postman published the book "Amusing Ourselves to Death". The central claim of the book was that TV had replaced the superior epistemology of the printed word with an inferior version focused entirely on entertainment. Now TV itself has been replaced as the dominant medium by the internet and social media. What epistemology has it brought with it, and is it better than TV or far, far worse?
After getting significant pushback I revisit my evaluation of Bryan Caplan's argument for open borders. I continue to maintain that if the average GDP of the US drops by half that some low-skilled workers will be caught in that. Even if many people end up benefiting. I bring in Garett Jones' argument against Caplan along with Caplan's response.
In the book War! What is it Good For? by Ian Morris, he speculates that the world has been built on the back of productive war. But what happens when empire building is out of fashion and nukes make war impossible even if it wasn't. Is it possible that after using war to achieve unity over the course of thousands of years, that it will stop working just at the moment it seemed possible we might unify the whole world?
A collection of ways in which atheists misunderstand the strength of their position (or rather the lack their of).
Nietzsche said that God is Dead, and that people had not reckoned with with the consequences of that. Additionally he and other's predicted that people could not be good in the absence of religion. This has proved to be incorrect, there are plenty of atheists who are good people. But how has civilization fared. Is it possible that Nietzsche and the rest were just premature in their pessimism? That the current culture war is so fierce because we don't have a common set of values to negotiate around?
Moderation is an underrated value. To achieve it we need to not merely push for moderation, we need to push back against whichever side which has become too extreme. This is the pendulum, and it swings back and forth. If we value moderation we seek to keep it as close to the center as possible, while also avoiding violent swings from side to side. Doing so requires arguing for both sides of an issue depending on which is ascendant.
It's my monthly review of the books I read. In this episode I cover:
I have heard some people, even in the comments of my this podcast, claim that we shouldn't worry about the current level of political unrest because there's nowhere for the violence to start. That we don't see the sort of large scale violence we once saw in the past. I think they're wrong I think there will be bloodshed, and the question this episode looks to answer is where does it start?
I recently read American Carnage, the story of the development of the Republican Civil War and the events which led to the current political crisis. While reading it I was struck by a question, not why is this happening now, but rather why isn't it always this way?
I think I have the answer to that question and it involves nationalism, wars, immigration and most of all the sayings of the Pashtun.
From the perspective of our system of government there are a lot of deviations currently going on. Many of them are being normalized. In the based we could correct deviations by means of amending the Constitution, but that no longer seems possible. Meaning we have largely decided to normalize them and hope that they're improvements, or at least not the kind of thing that is going to make the entire structure crash. As you might imagine I have my doubts that this is even possible.
This is the monthly episode where I review all the books I read over the past month. This time I'm mixing it up by doing very short reviews of some while doing longer reviews of the others. Here's a list of the books I mention:
All more enlightened forms of government require certain institutions and customs in order to function. Democratic capitalism doesn't work without strong contract enforcement and low corruption for example. Is it possible that there are institutions and customs yet (or about) to be discovered and implemented which would make communism work. If so would that be enough to "save" humanity? Perhaps, but there's a lot of things working against that idea as well.
I recently read an article titled How I Almost Destroyed a £50 million War Plane and The Normalisation of Deviance. In this post I examine the idea of deviance and what it means to normalize it. The article most examined it from the perspective of smaller systems, but I'm interested in what it looks like if we take the concept and apply it to society as a whole.
Following up on a previous post I discuss the possible rise of a new civic religion, starting with some stories about how what people feel comfortable signaling support for has changed.
Historically replacing one religion with another civic or otherwise has been accompanied by bloodshed and no small amount of violence. Will this time be similar?
My book reviews for the month of July (along with one podcast).
Like many people the 50th anniversary of the first man on the moon is an opportunity for retrospection, and the thing that jumps out to me and to everyone is the fact that after Apollo was over we haven't been back. What does that mean for the future of space exploration, and particularly colonization, given that if colonization isn't in our future then we're going to go extinct sooner or later and probably sooner. If we assume that something resembling Moore's Law, also affects space exploration what does that tell us about when we might reach certain celestial bodies?
In a continued attempt to drill down into cultural evolution, I examine whether, in addition to cultural evolution, if there's a separate phenomenon which deserves the label memetic evolution. I conclude there is a phenomenon, but that a better label for it is "memetic accumulation" and that there are some worrying things happening with the speed and diversity of this accumulation.
I recently read the book Alone, by Michael Korda. It was about the opening months of World War II, and he said that at the time the French had the reputation as the world's preeminent military power. This obviously turned out to not be the case, but in the past they had been. Is there anything where we're overemphasizing our view of the past, and overlooking that what might happen in the future will almost certainly be completely different. I think there is...
We've discussed cultural evolution, and everyone knows about evolution by natural selection, but is something different happening now? Some people have said that we have transitioned to a different a third type of evolution, memetic evolution. Is this just an improvement to cultural evolution in the same way that cultural evolution was an improvement on genetic evolution? Or is it an entirely different beast? Does it allow us to adapt faster? Or does it make all adaptation more difficult?
It seems obvious that there are certain traditions which work to improve the survival of the culture in which they exist. It seems equally obvious that some traditions are pointless. How do we tell the difference? As it turns out it may be harder and take longer than you think. Also reason might help you less than you think. In this episode I consider four factors which might be helpful:
A review of Upheaval: Turning Points for Nations in Crisis by Jared Diamond.
It's not Guns, Germs and Steel, but he does put forth an interesting list of factors for how nations successful navigate crisis. My assessment of these factors is that they're useful, but that they also serve to illustrate the depths of the current crises faced by the US and the world.
Lots of trends associated with the modern world seem to be increasing at an exponential rate. This includes things like energy use, CPU speed, and even scientific publications. But what if rather than being a exponential curve, all of these trends are really the bottoms of S-curves? Curves that start out looking like exponential curve, but which taper off at the top and plateau as constraints kick in. What would that mean for the ongoing progress people have come to count on, and what might be some potential examples of this?