This is the second half of my book reviews for books I finished in December. It contains reviews for:
This one was long enough, and book reviews sit poorly with podcasts in any event, that I decided to split it in two. This one has my monthly short personal update along with reviews for:
Back at the beginning of 2017 I made some long term predictions, at the beginning of 2020 I made some short term predictions and the time has come to see how I'm doing on the long-term ones and how I did on the short term ones. Along with that is a reminder of my philosophy of predictions, lots of additional predictions for 2021, and then finally I announce some minor changes I'll be making going forward. Start listening to see what I got wrong, keep listening to see what I'm going to be wrong about this time next year, and then end the whole thing on a cliffhanger!
The number of teenage girls identifying as transgender has skyrocketed, by as much as 4,400% in the last decade by some accounts. What explains this staggeringly rapid and precipitous increase? Abigail Shrier thinks that these girls are falling pray to a peer contagion. A combination of the typical confusion and discomfort associated with puberty combined with a culture that celebrates transgender individuals. That in essence going through puberty is tough and being trans allows these girls to put that out of their mind while also gaining the approval of the peers and in many cases mimicking their peers who have already transitioned. In this podcast we examine the arguments and the evidence. Might she have a point?
In politics there's always a choice between extremism and moderation. In this episode I discuss all the reasons for making moderation the default, and under what circumstances it might be appropriate abandon it and pursue extremism instead. My general conclusion is that there aren't many, but that it's a very difficult problem where clear lines are hard to draw.
Most people understand that voting is a way of making decisions via consensus, what people have forgotten is that voting is also a proxy for power. A much better proxy than those which have existed historically, and positively fantastic when compared to directly matching power via bloodshed and violence.
If people have decided (as Trump supporters) evidently have, that the proxy of voting is no longer working then they can either decide that they have been outmatched in these different arenas, or they can seek other proxies of power to even things out. Up to and including a direct exercise of power, through resorting to bloodshed and violence.
I think many people expect too much out of the election. Trump supporters expect that if he manages to get reelected that he will do all the things he's been promising since 2016, while Biden supporters expect that their long nightmare of political dysfunction will finally be over. But political dysfunction has been around for a lot longer than Trump and so much of what seems wrong with the world has nothing to do with him. He does have the talent of making everything seem like it's about him, but if Biden is elected (and I think he will be) it will quickly become apparent that most of our problems had nothing to do with Trump...
Any rational assessment of the effect of your vote on the presidential election is bound to conclude that there is no effect if you're not in a swing state and that even if you are in a swing state the effect is still infinitesimal. But what other option do you have? Well that's what this episode is designed to reveal. I would argue that there's a great option which is almost entirely overlooked, voting for a third party candidate or writing someone in! I'm writing in General Mattis, and if you want to know why you'll have to listen.
In this episode we discuss China, and the various opinions about what they're up to, and what we should do in response to whatever that is. There are numerous opinions and while I don't try to cover them all, I cover a lot of them, and it's safe to say opinions are all over the place. But beyond all of the opinions of others I provide my own unique theory, which is not the theory I find most likely, but it may be the most frightening theory. What is it? You'll have to listen and find out.
In the book The End of History and the Last Man, Francis Fukuyama spends quite a bit of time talking about the idea of legitimacy, in particular how the End of History represents a time when only liberal democracy has any reserves of legitimacy. But two questions occur, first where does a nation go if liberal democracy starts failing? And second does that failure happen, does it end up just like all previous systems, if it no longer provides reserves of legitimacy? Recent events seem to indicate that the answer to those two questions maybe no where, and yes. In other words liberal democracy is suffering a crisis of legitimacy and unfortunately, at this point, there's no where left to go.
Coming up with solutions is difficult. I've read many books that present an excellent diagnosis of the problem, but then finish things off by presenting utterly ridiculous solutions. I take one of these books Civilized to Death by Christopher Ryan and go into detail on why the solutions he proposed are so inadequate and then go into some detail as to what I think good solutions should include.
With the stock market prices seemingly bearing little relationship to the actual economy, investment strategies are on the mind of many. Here I briefly describe my own investment strategy which unfortunately has very little to say about the current craziness, but hopefully contains some wisdom about longer term investing. In particular the idea that you should view investing as purchasing pieces in potential futures. This may not sound particularly radical, but I argue that this change in focus from what constitutes wealth now to what constitutes wealth in the future can be profoundly illuminating.
Grandstanding: The Use and Abuse of Moral Talk by: Justin Tosi, Brandon Warmke
The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World by: Iain McGilchrist
Peace Talks (The Dresden Files, #16) by: Jim Butcher
Cutting for Stone by: Abraham Verghese
How Should We Then Live? The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture by: Francis A. Shaeffer
We're told that in order to combat fake news, conspiracy theories, and misinformation of all kinds that we need to do a better job of examining the evidence, of looking at the data, but what if this is entirely backwards? What if we're too focused on the data, on the little bits of evidence that make up our world view, and that the problem is we're bad at organizing these bits of data into a coherent and common-sensical world view? What if we're so focused on justice, punishing people for the separate misdeeds that occur every day, that we neglect mercy, the art of seeing how interconnected everything and everyone really is.
After having a conversation with a friend I decide to dig into the numbers on police officer killings since 1965 as compiled by the Anti-Defamation League. In the process I discover that there's a lot of fairly obvious subjectivity to who those numbers can be interpreted, and the general impression that right-wing extremism is more dangerous is muddier than people think.
It's a long one, but it's got lots of numbers so that makes up for it. Right?
How is it, that the French and American Revolutions, so close in time and goals, had such different outcomes? One answer is that the American Revolution built on the foundation of English legislative traditions whereas the French had no such traditions (at the time of the revolution it had been 175 years since the last time the Estates General had been called). Which is to say the American Revolution modified the existing system, while the French Revolution was an attempt to completely replace the old system. This gave the American Revolution an obvious end point, which the French Revolution lacked.
Increasingly liberalism and the values associated with it have been judged inadequate to the task of rectifying racial inequalities. But the question is, what are the alternatives? One that has been mentioned is Critical Race Theory (CRT). In an article from The Economist these two approaches are pitted against one another. And despite the article's attempt to be balanced it seems clear that most people who advocate for CRT as some kind of alternative have never really grappled with the practical considerations of abandoning liberalism, an ideology that despite its failings has provided the underpinning for centuries of progress.
In which I present the parable of the traffic light, and a deep discussion of the various epistemologies at play in the world today including conflict vs. mistake theory, on which I spend quite a bit of time. Each of these frameworks has different consequences and benefits, but I contend that right now, no framework is dominant, and it's possible that having numerous frameworks is even worse than having a bad one.
The Accidental Superpower: The Next Generation of American Preeminence and the Coming Global Disorder By: Peter Zeihan
The Good Soldier Švejk By: Jaroslav Hasek
The Diaries of Adam and Eve By: Mark Twain
White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism By: Robin DiAngelo
Guns of August By: Barbara W. Tuchman
Euripides III: Heracles, The Trojan Women, Iphigenia among the Taurians, Ion (The Complete Greek Tragedies) By: Euripides
Acid Test: LSD vs. LDS By: Christopher Kimball Bigelow
The Lost 116 Pages: Reconstructing the Book of Mormon’s Missing Stories By: Don Bradley
I decide to offer an opinion on the current Black Lives Matter protests. I understand that there are a lot of opinions being offered on the subject, and it's entirely reasonable to assume that mine is not necessary nor welcome, but I hope despite that to add something to the conversation. In particular I think trying to combine combatting police brutality with eliminating all racism might make the first and arguably more important task, harder to accomplish.
Elon Musk really wants to establish a colony on Mars. One reason he keeps coming back to this the idea is that he claims it is the only way to prevent our eventual extinction. But is this really the best way to avoid the problems he fears? If we're really interested in increasing localism (which as strange as it might sound is what a Mars Colony is) are there better ways of achieving it if we focus on a better identification of what we're trying to prevent? And does this insight apply at scales much lower than preventing x-risk?