Clippings

You can and sort by author / book.
  • The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion Jonathan Haidt
  • Conversations with Friends Sally Rooney
  • Echopraxia Peter Watts
  • Saturn's Children Charles Stross
  • The Silence of Animals Gray, John
  • Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind Yuval Noah Harari
  • The Culture of Narcissism Christopher Lasch
  • Shades of Grey Jasper Fforde
  • Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength Baumeister, Roy F.;Tierney, John
  • Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future Peter Thiel;Blake Masters
  • The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon Stone, Brad
  • The Ph.D. Grind: A Ph.D. Student Memoir Philip Guo
  • Behind the Myth of the Scandinavian Utopia the Almost Nearly Perfect People (Hardback) - Common Michael Booth
  • Restart: The Last Chance for the Indian Economy Mihir S. Sharma
  • Solaris Stanislaw Lem
  • Unsong Scott Alexander
  • Roadside Picnic (Rediscovered Classics) Strugatsky, Arkady
  • The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century Steven Pinker
  • Guns, germs, and steel: the fates of human societies Jared M. Diamond
  • The Handmaid's Tale Atwood, Margaret
  • Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business Postman, Neil
  • Poor Economics Abhijit Banerjee
  • The Age of Spiritual Machines: When Computers Exceed Human Intelligence Ray Kurzweil
  • Night Watch Terry Pratchett
  • The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time Mark Haddon
  • The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck Mark Manson
  • Dataclysm Christian Rudder
  • The Nurture Assumption Pinker, Steven;Harris, Judith Rich
  • Making the Modern World Vaclav Smil
  • The Myth of the Strong Leader Archie Brown
  • The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius (Wisehouse Classics Edition) Aurelius, Marcus
  • The Fortunate Fall Raphael Carter
  • Turbulence Samit Basu
  • Bossypants Tina Fey
  • The Dictator's Handbook: Why Bad Behavior is Almost Always Good Politics de Mesquita Bueno;de Mesquita Bueno
  • How to Solve It G. Polya
  • Against the Grain: A Deep History of the Earliest States Scott, James C.
  • And Then I Thought I Was a Fish Peter Hunt Welch
  • Marx Singer, Peter
  • Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies Bostrom, Nick
  • How the Mind Works Steven Pinker
  • Even a Geek Can Speak: Low-Tech Presentation Skills for High-Tech People Asher, Joey
  • The Omnivore's Dilemma Michael Pollan
  • The Creative Habit Tharp, Twyla
  • Paul Graham's Essays Paul Graham
  • Bleeding Edge Pynchon, Thomas
  • Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In Roger Fisher;William L. Ury;Bruce Patton
  • An Economist Gets Lunch: New Rules for Everyday Foodies Tyler Cowen
  • Clear and Simple as the Truth: Writing Classic Prose (Second Edition) Thomas, Francis-Noël;Turner, Mark
  • The Myth of the Rational Voter: Why Democracies Choose Bad Policies Bryan Caplan
  • Wired Love Ella Cheever Thayer
  • Invisible Cities (transl. William Weaver) Italo Calvino
  • The Subjection of Women Mill, John Stuart
  • Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed Professor James C. Scott
  • Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible: The Surreal Heart of the New Russia Peter Pomerantsev
  • The Dream Machine: J. C. R. Licklider and the Revolution That Made Computing Personal Waldrop, M. Mitchell
  • The Enigma of Reason: A New Theory of Human Understanding Dan Sperber
  • The Art of Loving Fromm, Erich
  • Economics: The User's Guide: A Pelican Introduction (Pelican Books) Ha-Joon Chang
  • On Writing Well, 30th Anniversary Edition: An Informal Guide to Writing Nonfiction Zinsser, William
  • We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves Karen Joy Fowler
  • The Fifth Head of Cerberus Gene Wolfe
  • The Atrocity Archives Charles Stross
  • The Origin of Consciousness in The Break down of The Bicameral Mind Julian Jaynes
  • Make It Stick Brown, Peter C.
  • The Vital Question: Why Is Life the Way It Is? Nick Lane
  • The Age of Em: Work, Love and Life when Robots Rule the Earth Robin Hanson
  • The Stories of Ibis Yamamoto, Hiroshi
  • Perfect Vacuum Stanislaw Lem;Michael Kandel
  • Ages of Discord: A Structural-Demographic Analysis of American History Peter Turchin
  • We Are Legion (We Are Bob) (Bobiverse Book 1) Taylor, Dennis
  • We Yevgeny Zamyatin
  • How Adam Smith Can Change Your Life: An Unexpected Guide to Human Nature and Happiness Russ Roberts
  • The Great Stagnation: How America Ate All The Low-Hanging Fruit of Modern History,Got Sick, and Will (Eventually) Feel Better Tyler Cowen
  • Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst Robert M. Sapolsky
  • The Fifth Season N. K. Jemisin
  • Operating System Concepts Gagne, Greg
  • Thinking, Fast and Slow Kahneman, Daniel
  • The Eyre Affair Jasper Fforde
  • Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives Eagleman, David
  • Dirk Gentlys Holistic Detective Agency Douglas Adams
  • Influence Science and Practice Cialdini, Robert B.
  • The Song Machine: Inside the Hit Factory John Seabrook
  • An Introduction to General Systems Thinking Weinberg, Gerald
  • The Conspiracy against the Human Race: A Contrivance of Horror Ligotti, Thomas
  • Why We Get Fat Gary Taubes
  • Burning Girls: A Tor.Com Original Schanoes, Veronica
  • Stand on Zanzibar John Brunner
  • (POPULATION EXPLOSION Unique in human experience, an event which happened yesterday but which everyone swears won’t happen until tomorrow. —The Hipcrime Vocab by Chad C. Mulligan)
  • Donald caught it before it hit the ground, turned it over in his hand as he stepped aside, and shot first the policeman and then Totilung to death. It’s the thing we know best how to do to a man. We’re marvellous at it, wonderful, unparalleled.
  • “This very distinguished philosophy professor came out on the platform in front of this gang of students and took a bit of chalk and scrawled up a proposition in symbolic logic on the board. He turned to the audience and said, ‘Well now, ladies and gentlemen, I think you’ll agree that that’s obvious?’ “Then he looked at it a bit more and started to scratch his head and after a while he said, ‘Excuse me!’ And he disappeared. “About half an hour later he came back beaming all over his face and said triumphantly, ‘Yes, I was right—it is obvious!’”
  • Did nobody ever point out to you that the only liberty implied by free will is the opportunity to be wrong?
  • (LOGIC The principle governing human intellection. Its nature may be deduced from examining the two following propositions, both of which are held by human beings to be true and often by the same people: “I can’t so you mustn’t,” and “I can but you mustn’t.”
  • Every now and again there passes through his circuits a pulse which carries the cybernetic equivalent of the phrase, “Christ, what an imagination I’ve got.”
  • we might never have needed agriculture had earlier generations of hunters not eliminated the species they depended upon.
  • Where most plants during photosynthesis create compounds that have three carbon atoms, corn (along with a small handful of other species) make compounds that have four: hence “C-4,” the botanical nickname for this gifted group of plants, which wasn’t identified until the 1970s. The C-4 trick represents an important economy for a plant, giving it an advantage, especially in areas where water is scarce and temperatures high. In order to gather carbon atoms from the air, a plant has to open its stomata, the microscopic orifices in the leaves through which plants both take in and exhaust gases. Every time a stoma opens to admit carbon dioxide precious molecules of water escape. It’s as though every time you opened your mouth to eat you lost a quantity of blood. Ideally, you would open your mouth as seldom as possible, ingesting as much food as you could with every bite. This is essentially what a C-4 plant does. By recruiting extra atoms of carbon during each instance of photosynthesis, the corn plant is able to limit its loss of water and “fix”—that is, take from the atmosphere and link in a useful molecule—significantly more carbon than
  • So that’s us: processed corn, walking.
  • “When you look at the isotope ratios,” Todd Dawson, a Berkeley biologist who’s done this sort of research, told me, “we North Americans look like corn chips with legs.” Compared to us, Mexicans today consume a far more varied carbon diet: the animals they eat still eat grass (until recently, Mexicans regarded feeding corn to livestock as a sacrilege); much of their protein comes from legumes; and they still sweeten their beverages with cane sugar. So that’s us: processed corn, walking.
  • The dual identity also made corn indispensable to the slave trade: Corn was both the currency traders used to pay for slaves in Africa and the food upon which slaves subsisted during their passage to America. Corn is the protocapitalist plant.
  • It is, for a grass, a bizarre arrangement with crucial implications: The ear’s central location halfway down the stalk allows it to capture far more nutrients than it would up top, so suddenly producing hundreds of gigantic seeds becomes metabolically feasible. Yet because those seeds are now trapped in a tough husk, the plant has lost its ability to reproduce itself—hence the catastrophe in teosinte’s sex change. A mutation this freakish and maladaptive would have swiftly brought the plant to an evolutionary dead end had one of these freaks not happened to catch the eye of a human somewhere in Central America who, looking for something to eat, peeled open the husk to free the seeds. What would have been an unheralded botanical catastrophe in a world without humans became an incalculable evolutionary boon. If you look hard enough, you can still find teosinte growing in certain Central American highlands; you can find maize, its mutant offspring, anywhere you find people.
  • Planting the old open-pollinated (nonhybrid) varieties so densely would result in stalks grown spindly as they jostled each other for sunlight; eventually the plants would topple in the wind. Hybrids have been bred for thicker stalks and stronger root systems, the better to stand upright in a crowd and withstand mechanical harvesting. Basically, modern hybrids can tolerate the corn equivalent of city life, growing amid the multitudes without succumbing to urban stress.
  • The great turning point in the modern history of corn, which in turn marks a key turning point in the industrialization of our food, can be dated with some precision to the day in 1947 when the huge munitions plant at Muscle Shoals, Alabama, switched over to making chemical fertilizer. After the war the government had found itself with a tremendous surplus of ammonium nitrate, the principal ingredient in the making of explosives. Ammonium nitrate also happens to be an excellent source of nitrogen for plants. Serious thought was given to spraying America’s forests with the surplus chemical, to help out the timber industry. But agronomists in the Department of Agriculture had a better idea: Spread the ammonium nitrate on farmland as fertilizer. The chemical fertilizer industry (along with that of pesticides, which are based on poison gases developed for the war) is the product of the government’s effort to convert its war machine to peacetime purposes. As the Indian farmer activist Vandana Shiva says in her speeches, “We’re still eating the leftovers of World War II.” Hybrid
  • oil per acre of corn. (Some estimates are much higher.) Put another way, it takes more than a calorie of fossil fuel energy to produce a calorie of food; before the advent of chemical fertilizer the Naylor farm produced more than two calories of food energy for every calorie of energy invested. From the standpoint of industrial efficiency, it’s too bad we can’t simply drink the petroleum directly.
  • Corn, a species that had been a modest beneficiary of the first two ages of food processing (having taken well to the can and the freezer), really came into its own during the third. You would never know it without reading the ingredient label (a literary genre unknown until the third age), but corn is the key constituent of all four of these processed foods. Along with the soybean, its rotational partner in the field, corn has done more than any other species to help the food industry realize the dream of freeing food from nature’s limitations and seducing the omnivore into eating more of a single plant than anyone would ever have thought possible.
  • Dawson and his colleague Stefania Mambelli prepared an analysis showing roughly how much of the carbon in the various McDonald’s menu items came from corn, and plotted them on a graph. The sodas came out at the top, not surprising since they consist of little else than corn sweetener, but virtually everything else we ate revealed a high proportion of corn, too. In order of diminishing corniness, this is how the laboratory measured our meal: soda (100 percent corn), milk shake (78 percent), salad dressing (65 percent), chicken nuggets (56 percent), cheeseburger (52 percent), and French fries (23 percent). What in the eyes of the omnivore looks like a meal of impressive variety turns out, when viewed through the eyes of the mass spectrometer, to be the meal of a far more specialized kind of eater. But then, this is what the industrial eater has become: corn’s koala.
  • The second phase of the marriage of grasses and humans is usually called the “invention of agriculture,” a self-congratulatory phrase that overlooks the role of the grasses themselves in revising the terms of the relationship. Beginning about ten thousand years ago a handful of particularly opportunistic grass species—the ancestors of wheat, rice, and corn—evolved to produce tremendous, nutritionally dense seeds that could nourish humans directly, thereby cutting out the intermediary animals. The grasses accomplished this feat by becoming annuals, throwing all their energy into making seeds rather than storing some of it underground in roots and rhizomes to get through the winter. These monster annual grasses outcompeted not only the trees, which humans obligingly cut down to expand the annuals’ habitats, but bested the perennial grasses, which in most places succumbed to the plow. Their human sponsors ripped up the great perennial-polyculture grasslands to make the earth safe for annuals, which would henceforth be grown in strict monocultures.
  • “You know what the best kind of organic certification would be? Make an unannounced visit to a farm and take a good long look at the farmer’s bookshelf. Because what you’re feeding your emotions and thoughts is what this is really all about. The way I produce a chicken is an extension of my worldview. You can learn more about that by seeing what’s sitting on my bookshelf than having me fill out a whole bunch of forms.”
  • “Me and the folks who buy my food are like the Indians—we just want to opt out. That’s all the Indians ever wanted—to keep their tepees, to give their kids herbs instead of patent medicines and leeches. They didn’t care if there was a Washington, D.C., or a Custer or a USDA; just leave us alone. But the Western mind can’t bear an opt-out option. We’re going to have to refight the Battle of the Little Bighorn to preserve the right to opt out, or your grandchildren and mine will have no choice but to eat amalgamated, irradiated, genetically prostituted, bar-coded, adulterated fecal spam from the centralized processing conglomerate.”
  • For some reason the image that stuck with me from that day was that slender blade of grass in a too-big, wind-whipped pasture, burning all those calories just to stand up straight and keep its chloroplasts aimed at the sun. I’d always thought of the trees and grasses as antagonists—another zero-sum deal in which the gain of the one entails the loss of the other. To a point, this is true: More grass means less forest; more forest less grass. But either-or is a construction more deeply woven into our culture than into nature, where even antagonists depend on one another and the liveliest places are the edges, the in-betweens or both-ands. So it is with the blade of grass and the adjacent forest as, indeed, with all the species sharing this most complicated farm. Relations are what matter most, and the health of the cultivated turns on the health of the wild. Before I came to Polyface I’d read a sentence of Joel’s that in its diction had struck me as an awkward hybrid of the economic and the spiritual. I could see now how characteristic that mixing is, and that perhaps the sentence isn’t so awkward after all: “One of the greatest assets of a farm is the sheer ecstasy of life.”
  • I wasn’t at it long enough for slaughtering chickens to become routine, but the work did begin to feel mechanical, and that feeling, perhaps more than any other, was disconcerting: how quickly you can get used to anything, especially when the people around you think nothing of it. In a way, the most morally troubling thing about killing chickens is that after a while it is no longer morally troubling.
  • began scribbling objections in the margin. But humans differ from animals in morally significant ways. Yes they do, Singer readily acknowledges, which is why we shouldn’t treat pigs and children alike. Equal consideration of interests is not the same as equal treatment, he points out; children have an interest in being educated, pigs in rooting around in the dirt. But where their interests are the same, the principle of equality demands they receive the same consideration. And the one all-important interest humans share with pigs, as with all sentient creatures, is an interest in avoiding pain.
  • A powerful and compelling strain of mysticism runs like branching mycelia through the mycological literature, where I encountered one incredible speculation after another: that the mycelia of fungi are literally neurons, together comprising an organ of terrestrial intelligence and communication (Paul Stamets); that the ingestion of hallucinogenic mushrooms by the higher primates spurred the rapid evolution of the human brain (Terence McKenna); that the hallucinogenic mushrooms ingested by early man inspired the shamanic visions that led to the birth of religion (Gordon Wasson); that the ritual ingestion of a hallucinogenic fungus—called ergot—by Greek thinkers (including Plato) at Eleusis is responsible for some of the greatest achievements of Greek culture, including Platonic philosophy (Wasson again); that wild mushrooms in the diet, by nourishing the human unconscious with lunar energy, “stimulate imagination and intuition” (Andrew Weil).
  • "and what with that and the telephone, and that dreadful phonograph that bottles up all one says and disgorges at inconvenient times, we will soon be able to do everything by electricity; who knows but some genius will invent something for the especial use of lovers? something, for instance, to carry in their pockets, so when they are far away from each other, and pine for a sound of 'that beloved voice,' they will have only to take up this electrical apparatus, put it to their ears, and be happy. Ah! blissful lovers of the future!"
  • The Electric Monk was a labour-saving device, like a dishwasher or a video recorder. Dishwashers washed tedious dishes for you, thus saving you the bother of washing them yourself, video recorders watched tedious television for you, thus saving you the bother of looking at it yourself; Electric Monks believed things for you, thus saving you what was becoming an increasingly onerous task, that of believing all the things the world expected you to believe.
  • Capital letters were always the best way of dealing with things you didn't have a good answer to.
  • This is the essence of intuitive heuristics: when faced with a difficult question, we often answer an easier one instead, usually without noticing the substitution.
  • Kernighan’s Law “Debugging is twice as hard as writing the code in the first place. Therefore, if you write the code as cleverly as possible, you are, by definition, not smart enough to debug it.”
  • Learning and skill are things to be proud of; they are the stars that light the sky of one’s lifetime.
  • Now every girl is expected to have: Caucasian blue eyes full Spanish lips a classic button nose hairless Asian skin with a California tan a Jamaican dance hall ass long Swedish legs small Japanese feet the abs of a lesbian gym owner the hips of a nine-year-old boy the arms of Michelle Obama and doll tits The person closest to actually achieving this look is Kim Kardashian, who, as we know, was made by Russian scientists to sabotage our athletes. Everyone else is struggling.
  • The first rule of improvisation is AGREE. Always agree and SAY YES. When you’re improvising, this means you are required to agree with whatever your partner has created. So if we’re improvising and I say, “Freeze, I have a gun,” and you say, “That’s not a gun. It’s your finger. You’re pointing your finger at me,” our improvised scene has ground to a halt. But if I say, “Freeze, I have a gun!” and you say, “The gun I gave you for Christmas! You bastard!” then we have started a scene because we have AGREED that my finger is in fact a Christmas gun. Now, obviously in real life you’re not always going to agree with everything everyone says. But the Rule of Agreement reminds you to “respect what your partner has created” and to at least start from an open-minded place. Start with a YES and see where that takes you.
  • The second rule of improvisation is not only to say yes, but YES, AND. You are supposed to agree and then add something of your own. If I start a scene with “I can’t believe it’s so hot in here,” and you just say, “Yeah…” we’re kind of at a standstill. But if I say, “I can’t believe it’s so hot in here,” and you say, “What did you expect? We’re in hell.” Or if I say, “I can’t believe it’s so hot in here,” and you say, “Yes, this can’t be good for the wax figures.” Or if I say, “I can’t believe it’s so hot in here,” and you say, “I told you we shouldn’t have crawled into this dog’s mouth,” now we’re getting somewhere. To me YES, AND means don’t be afraid to contribute. It’s your responsibility to contribute. Always make sure you’re adding something to the discussion. Your initiations are worthwhile.
  • The next rule is MAKE STATEMENTS. This is a positive way of saying “Don’t ask questions all the time.” If we’re in a scene and I say, “Who are you? Where are we? What are we doing here? What’s in that box?” I’m putting pressure on you to come up with all the answers. In other words: Whatever the problem, be part of the solution. Don’t just sit around raising questions and pointing out obstacles. We’ve all worked with that person. That person is a drag. It’s usually the same person around the office who says things like “There’s no calories in it if you eat it standing up!” and “I felt menaced when Terry raised her voice.” MAKE STATEMENTS also applies to us women: Speak in statements instead of apologetic questions. No one wants to go to a doctor who says, “I’m going to be your surgeon? I’m here to talk to you about your procedure? I was first in my class at Johns Hopkins, so?” Make statements, with your actions and your voice. Instead of saying “Where are we?” make a statement like “Here we are in Spain, Dracula.” Okay,
  • The more New Yorkers like something, the more disgusted they are. “The kitchen was all Sub-Zero: I want to kill myself. The building has a playroom that makes you want to break your own jaw with a golf club. I can’t take it.”
  • Only in comedy, by the way, does an obedient white girl from the suburbs count as diversity.
  • But there is not one management course in the world where they recommend Self-Righteousness as a tool.
  • Politics and prostitution have to be the only jobs where inexperience is considered a virtue. In what other profession would you brag about not knowing stuff? “I’m not one of those fancy Harvard heart surgeons. I’m just an unlicensed plumber with a dream and I’d like to cut your chest open.” The crowd cheers.
  • I can tell twenty comedy writers what to do; I can argue with a cabdriver about 10th Avenue versus the West Side Highway; I will happily tell a joke about Osama bin Laden or the Ku Klux Klan on live television; but I could not talk to the babysitter about the fingernail clipping. I’ll bet you Margaret Thatcher would say the same thing if she were alive today.* Here’s the truth: I couldn’t tell the woman who so lovingly and devotedly watches my kid every day that I didn’t like how she did this one thing. I didn’t want to hurt her feelings.
  • As the auto whines towards Versova, towards Uzma’s next conquest, Saheli looks at her former classmate, now staring out at the sea as the wind caresses her hair, and feels a burst of sadness. That sense of loss every first agent, every first small-time director, every childhood friend, every parent knows. The knowledge that your part in the story is done, that something larger than you is taking place but there’s no real room for you in it any more. The slow realisation that you were part of something once, but it’s gone now, it’s slipped out of your fingers. The star has moved on, and it’s time to take a bow and make your exit as gracefully as you can.
  • “Aman. Aman, darling? You’re rambling again,” Tia says gently. “Tell Uzma things she needs to know, not things you could blog about. Uzma?”
  • There will be unpleasant visual distortions and some protosapient wittering, but it's no more intelligent than a News of the World reporter--not really smart enough to be dangerous.
  • "Gene police! You! Out of the pool, now!"
  • "Bogons?" "Hypothetical particles of cluelessness. Idiots emit bogons, causing machinery to malfunction in their presence. System administrators absorb bogons, letting the machinery work again. Hacker folklore--"
  • "Sorry, I only smoke when you plug me into the national grid.
  • Didn't they know that the only unhackable computer is one that's running a secure operating system, welded inside a steel safe, buried under a ton of concrete at the bottom of a coal mine guarded by the SAS and a couple of armoured divisions, and switched off? What did they think they were doing?"
  • I am compelled to admit that there is a difference between the function and purpose of horror and spy fiction. Horror fiction allows us to confront and sublimate our fears of an uncontrollable universe, but the threat verges on the overwhelming and may indeed carry the protagonists away. Spy fiction in contrast allows us to believe for a while that the little people can, by obtaining secret knowledge, acquire some leverage over the overwhelming threats that permeate their universe.
  • The “Florida effect” involves two stages of priming. First, the set of words primes thoughts of old age, though the word old is never mentioned; second, these thoughts prime a behavior, walking slowly, which is associated with old age. All this happens without any awareness.
  • Anything that makes it easier for the associative machine to run smoothly will also bias beliefs. A reliable way to make people believe in falsehoods is frequent repetition, because familiarity is not easily distinguished from truth. Authoritarian institutions and marketers have always known this fact. But it was psychologists who discovered that you do not have to repeat the entire statement of a fact or idea to make it appear true.
  • What psychologists do believe is that all of us live much of our life guided by the impressions of System 1—and we often do not know the source of these impressions. How do you know that a statement is true? If it is strongly linked by logic or association to other beliefs or preferences you hold, or comes from a source you trust and like, you will feel a sense of cognitive ease. The trouble is that there may be other causes for your feeling of ease—including the quality of the font and the appealing rhythm of the prose—and you have no simple way of tracing your feelings to their source.
  • The consequences of repeated exposures benefit the organism in its relations to the immediate animate and inanimate environment. They allow the organism to distinguish objects and habitats that are safe from those that are not, and they are the most primitive basis of social attachments. Therefore, they form the basis for social organization and cohesion—the basic sources of psychological and social stability.
  • Michotte had a different idea: he argued that we see causality, just as directly as we see color. To make his point, he created episodes in which a black square drawn on paper is seen in motion; it comes into contact with another square, which immediately begins to move. The observers know that there is no real physical contact, but they nevertheless have a powerful “illusion of causality.” If the second object starts moving instantly, they describe it as having been “launched” by the first.
  • The psychologist Paul Bloom, writing in The Atlantic in 2005, presented the provocative claim that our inborn readiness to separate physical and intentional causality explains the near universality of religious beliefs. He observes that “we perceive the world of objects as essentially separate from the world of minds, making it possible for us to envision soulless bodies and bodiless souls.” The two modes of causation that we are set to perceive make it natural for us to accept the two central beliefs of many religions: an immaterial divinity is the ultimate cause of the physical world, and immortal souls temporarily control our bodies while we live and leave them behind as we die. In Bloom’s view, the two concepts of causality were shaped separately by evolutionary forces, building the origins of religion into the structure of System 1.
  • The great comedian Danny Kaye had a line that has stayed with me since my adolescence. Speaking of a woman he dislikes, he says, “Her favorite position is beside herself, and her favorite sport is jumping to conclusions.”
  • Only one interpretation came to mind, and you were never aware of the ambiguity. System 1 does not keep track of alternatives that it rejects, or even of the fact that there were alternatives. Conscious doubt is not in the repertoire of System 1; it requires maintaining incompatible interpretations in mind at the same time, which demands mental effort. Uncertainty and doubt are the domain of System 2.
  • The moral is significant: when System 2 is otherwise engaged, we will believe almost anything. System 1 is gullible and biased to believe, System 2 is in charge of doubting and unbelieving, but System 2 is sometimes busy, and often lazy. Indeed, there is evidence that people are more likely to be influenced by empty persuasive messages, such as commercials, when they are tired and depleted.
  • Twitter, Reddit, Tumblr, Instagram, all these companies are businesses first, but, as a close second, they’re demographers of unprecedented reach, thoroughness, and importance. Practically as an accident, digital data can now show us how we fight, how we love, how we age, who we are, and how we’re changing. All we have to do is look: from just a very slight remove, the data reveals how people behave when they think no one is watching.
  • We started from a fact that calls for a cause: the incidence of kidney cancer varies widely across counties and the differences are systematic. The explanation I offered is statistical: extreme outcomes (both high and low) are more likely to be found in small than in large samples. This explanation is not causal. The small population of a county neither causes nor prevents cancer; it merely allows the incidence of cancer to be much higher (or much lower) than it is in the larger population. The deeper truth is that there is nothing to explain.
  • We do not expect to see regularity produced by a random process, and when we detect what appears to be a rule, we quickly reject the idea that the process is truly random. Random processes produce many sequences that convince people that the process is not random after all. You can see why assuming causality could have had evolutionary advantages. It is part of the general vigilance that we have inherited from ancestors. We are automatically on the lookout for the possibility that the environment has changed. Lions may appear on the plain at random times, but it would be safer to notice and respond to an apparent increase in the rate of appearance of prides of lions, even if it is actually due to the fluctuations of a random process.
  • The exaggerated faith in small samples is only one example of a more general illusion—we pay more attention to the content of messages than to information about their reliability, and as a result end up with a view of the world around us that is simpler and more coherent than the data justify. Jumping to conclusions is a safer sport in the world of our imagination than it is in reality. Statistics produce many observations that appear to beg for causal explanations but do not lend themselves to such explanations. Many facts of the world are due to chance, including accidents of sampling. Causal explanations of chance events are inevitably wrong.
  • My advice to students when I taught negotiations was that if you think the other side has made an outrageous proposal, you should not come back with an equally outrageous counteroffer, creating a gap that will be difficult to bridge in further negotiations. Instead you should make a scene, storm out or threaten to do so, and make it clear—to yourself as well as to the other side—that you will not continue the negotiation with that number on the table.
  • DYLAN: I know a thousand cats who look just like you and talk just like you. GUY AT PARTY: Oh, fuck off. You’re a big noise. You know? DYLAN: I know it, man. I know I’m a big noise. GUY AT PARTY: I know you know. DYLAN: I’m a bigger noise than you, man. GUY AT PARTY: I’m a small noise. DYLAN: Right.
  • I know there are a lot of people making big claims about data, and I’m not here to say it will change the course of history—certainly not like internal combustion did, or steel—but it will, I believe, change what history is. With data, history can become deeper. It can become more. Unlike clay tablets, unlike papyrus, unlike paper, newsprint, celluloid, or photo stock, disk space is cheap and nearly inexhaustible. On a hard drive, there’s room for more than just the heroes. Not being a hero myself, in fact, being someone who would most of all just like to spend time with his friends and family and live life in small ways, this means something to me.
  • It takes a certain special motivation to, say, make a fan site, and that motivation is often intensified by feeling like you’re part of a special, embattled elect. Devotion is like vapor in a piston—pressure helps it catch.
  • Our sense of smell, which is the most connected to the brain’s emotional center, prefers discord to unison. Scientists have shown this in labs, by mixing foul odors with pleasant ones, but nature, in the wisdom of evolutionary time, realized it long before. The pleasant scent given off by many flowers, like orange blossoms and jasmine, contains a significant fraction (about 3 percent) of a protein called indole. It’s common in the large intestine, and on its own, it smells accordingly. But the flowers don’t smell as good without it. A little bit of shit brings the bees. Indole is also an ingredient in synthetic human perfumes.
  • Waters on film: “To me, bad taste is what entertainment is all about. If someone vomits while watching one of my films, it’s like getting a standing ovation.”
  • But what they, or rather we, are making offers a richness and a beauty of a different kind: a poetry not of lyrical phrases but of understanding. We are at the cusp of momentous change in the study of human communication and what it tries to foster: community and personal connection.
  • Looking through the data, instead of a wasteland of cut stumps, we find a forest of bonsai.
  • But realize this: we are living through writing’s Cambrian explosion, not its mass extinction. Language is more varied than ever before, even if some of it is directly copied from the clipboard—variety is the preservation of an art, not a threat to it. From the high-flown language of literary fiction to the simple, even misspelled, status update, through all this writing runs a common purpose. Whether friend to friend, stranger to stranger, lover to lover, or author to reader, we use words to connect. And as long as there is a person bored, excited, enraged, transported, in love, curious, or missing his home and afraid for his future, he’ll be writing about it.
  • Early on, the best predictor of a relationship doesn’t depend on the couple’s social graph at all; for the first year or so of dating, the optimal method is how often they view each other’s profile. Only over time, as the page views go down and their mutual network fills out, does assimilation come to dominate the calculus. In other words, the curiosity, discovery, and (visual) stimulation of falling for someone is eventually replaced by the graph-theory equivalent of nesting.
  • In my opinion, Muhammad Ali is one of the bravest Americans. In 1967, as heavyweight champion, he refused to serve in Vietnam and was not only stripped of his title but banned from the sport for three and a half years. He lost the prime of his career, and received a five-year prison sentence (that took the Supreme Court to overturn), because of what he believed in. It’s a stand unimaginable from today’s political leaders, let alone our athletes and celebrities. From Kanye to Glenn Beck to Rachel Maddow to Sarah Palin, you get plenty of anger, but little sacrifice. We can each have our own take on Ali’s stance against Vietnam—and as the son of a veteran, Huê´ ’69, I know at least one person who disagrees with mine—but data like this can help anyone understand why he took it. As Ali said at the time, “No Viet-Cong ever called me nigger,” and he was probably right. But imagine, had Google existed then, what would’ve been going into American search bars. And imagine the home-state disadvantage of a black man in those days.
  • I invite you to imagine when it will be a mystery no more. That will be the real transformation—to know not just that people are cruel, and in what amounts, and when, but why. Why we search for “nigger jokes” when a black man wins; why inspiration is hollow-eyed, stripped, and, above all, #thin; why people scream at each other about the true age of the earth. And why we seem to define ourselves as much by what we hate as by what we love.
  • In the United States, of all Google searches that begin “Is my husband …,” the most common word to follow is “gay.” “Gay” is 10 percent more common in such searches than the second-place word, “cheating.” It is 8 times more common than “an alcoholic” and 10 times more common than “depressed.”
  • That is, 51 percent of women and 18 percent of men have had or would like to have a same-sex experience. Those numbers are far higher than any plausible estimate of the true gay population, so not only do we find that sexuality is more fluid than the categories a website can accommodate, we see that sex with someone of the same gender is relatively common, whether people consider it part of their identity or not.
  • Communities move to find an environment that will sustain them and where they are safe, but also to find a physical place that reflects what they feel within.
  • Two months later Zook measured a convulsion of another kind: the Kentucky Wildcats won the NCAA championship and the students got wasted and burned shit like the future leaders they no doubt are. #LexingtonPoliceScanner began trending as a hashtag, based mostly on this tweet from @TKoppe22: “Uh We have a partially nude male with a propane tank #LexingtonPoliceScanner.” Zook tracked that tag to show how formerly local nonsense can now reverberate worldwide. The highbrow/lowbrow schizophrenia of Twitter never stops amazing me. It’s the Chris Farley of technologies.
  • Reduction is inescapable. Algorithms are crude. Computers are machines. Data science is trying to make digital sense of an analog world. It’s a by-product of the basic physical nature of the microchip: a chip is just a sequence of tiny gates. Not in the way that the Internet is a “series of tubes” but in actuality. The gates open and close to let electrons through, and when one of these gates wants to know what state to be in, it’s all or nothing—like any door, a circuit is open or it isn’t; there are no shades of maybe. From that microscopic reality an absolutism propagates up through the whole enterprise, until at the highest level you have the definitions, data types, and classes essential to programming languages like C and JavaScript.
  • But if simplifying is what it takes to understand large data sets, I do worry about a different kind of reductionism: people becoming not a number exactly, but a dehumanized userid fed into the grind of a marketing algorithm; grist for someone else’s brand. Data takes too much of the guesswork out of the sell. It’s a rare urban legend that turns out to be true, but Target, by analyzing a customer’s purchases, really did know she was pregnant before she’d told anyone. The hitch was that she was a teenager, and they’d started sending maternity ads to her father’s house.
  • More recently, Mountain Dew ran a “Dub the Dew” contest, trying to ride the “crowdsourcing” wave to a cool new soda name and thinking maybe, if everything went just right and the metrics showed enough traction to get buy-in from the right influencers, they’d earn some brand ambassadors in the blogosphere. Reddit and 4chan got ahold of it, and “Hitler did nothing wrong” led the voting for a while, until at the last minute “Diabeetus” swooped in and the people’s voice was heard: Dub yourself, motherfucker.
  • The Internet can be a deranged place, but it’s that potential for the unexpected, even the insane, that so often redeems it. I can’t imagine anything worse for You! The Brand! than upvoting Hitler. Plus, what a waste of time, because obviously Mountain Dew isn’t going to print a single unflattering word in the style of its precious and distinctive marks. I find comfort in the silliness, in the frivolity, even in the stupidity. Trolling a soda is something no formula would ever recommend. It’s no industry best practice. And it’s evidence that as much as corporatism might invade our newsfeeds, our photostreams, our walls, and even, as some would hope, our very souls, a small part of us is still beyond reach. That’s what I always want to remember: it’s not numbers that will deny us our humanity; it’s the calculated decision to stop being human.
  • Google, mentioned many times in these pages, leads the way in turning data to the public good. There’s Flu and the work of Stephens-Davidowitz, but also a raft of even more ambitious, if less publicized, projects, such as Constitute—a data-based approach to constitution design. The citizens of most countries are usually only concerned with one constitution—their own—but Google has assembled all nine hundred such documents drafted since 1787. Combined and quantified, they give emerging nations—five new constitutions are written every year—a better chance at a durable government because they can see what’s worked and what hasn’t in the past. Here, data unlocks a better future because, as Constitute’s website points out: in a constitution, “even a single comma can make a huge difference.”
  • Tech gods. Titans. Colossi astride the whole Earth, because, you know, Rhodes just isn’t cool anymore. This is how the industry is often cast to the public, and sadly it’s how it often thinks of itself. But though there are surely monsters, there are no gods. We would all do well to remember this. All are flawed, human, and mortal, and we all walk under the same dark sky. We brought on the flood—will it drown us or lift us up? My hope for myself, and for the others like me, is to make something good and real and human out of the data. And while we do, whenever the technology and the devices and the algorithms seem just too epic, we must all recall Tennyson’s aging Ulysses and resolve to search for our truth in a slightly different way. To strive, to seek, to find, but then, always, to yield.
  • From Nature’s discussion of the console: “It is fitted with a camera that can monitor the heart rate of people sitting in the same room. The sensor is primarily designed for exercise games, allowing players to monitor heart changes during physical activity, but, in principle, the same type of system could monitor and pass on details of physiological responses to TV advertisements, horror movies or even … political broadcasts.”
  • A web page can’t replace granite. It can’t replace friendship or love or family, either. But what it can do—as a conduit for our shared experience—is help us understand ourselves and our lives. The era of data is here; we are now recorded. That, like all change, is frightening, but between the gunmetal gray of the government and the hot pink of product offers we just can’t refuse, there is an open and ungarish way. To use data to know yet not manipulate, to explore but not to pry, to protect but not to smother, to see yet never expose, and, above all, to repay that priceless gift we bequeath to the world when we share our lives so that other lives might be better—and to fulfill for everyone that oldest of human hopes, from Gilgamesh to Ramses to today: that our names be remembered, not only in stone but as part of memory itself.
  • this as follows: 129,864,880 books have been written, at least according to Google. That number is laughably precise; however, given that they have already logged 30 million of them, and indexing things is their business, their guess should be considered a plausible estimate. See Ben Parr, “Google: There Are 129,864,880 Books in the Entire World,” Mashable, August 5, 2010, mashable.com/2010/08/05/number-of-books-in-the-world/. According to Amazon, the median length of a novel is 64,000 words. Since it’s very likely that the median and mean are close here, I’m comfortable using it as an average. I don’t think novels are necessarily longer or shorter than other books. See Gabe Habash, “The Average Book Has 64,500 Words,” PWxyz, March 6, 2012, blogs.publishersweekly.com/blogs/PWxyz/2012/03/06/the-average-book-has-64500-words. These two numbers together yield 8,311,352,320,000 words ever in print. Twitter reported 500 million tweets a day in August 2013. See blog.twitter.com/2013/new-tweets-per-second-record-and-how. I estimate that each tweet has 20 words. So at 10 billion words a day, it will take Twitter 831 days (2.3 years) to surpass all of printed literature in volume. This is obviously meant to be an approximation, and a conservative one at that. In all likelihood, Twitter will do it much faster, since the rate of tweets per day is increasing rapidly.
  • Physical money – be it a banknote, a gold coin or the huge, virtually immovable stones that were used as money in some Pacific islands – is only a symbol. Money is a symbol of what others in your society owe you, or your claim on particular amounts of the society’s resources.
  • For Gesell as for Goodenough, parents were a taken-for-granted part of the child’s environment, anonymous and interchangeable. Children of a given age were pretty much interchangeable as well. Gesell spoke of “your four-year-old” or “your seven-year-old” and gave instructions on how to take care of them,12 much as a book about cars might have told you how to take care of “your Ford” or “your Studebaker.” The home was like a garage where the children came home at night and where the anonymous attendants washed them, waxed them, and filled their tanks.
  • The relationship between a parent and a child, like any relationship between two individuals, is a two-way street—an ongoing transaction in which each party plays a role. When two people interact, what each one says or does is, in part, a reaction to what the other has just said or done, and to what was said or done in the past.
  • When differences in parents’ behavior to their different children are discussed, often the first issue that comes to mind is the birth order of the children. It is frequently assumed that parents systematically treat their firstborn child differently from laterborn children.... In an important sense such differences are not relevant. This is because individual differences in personality and psychopathology in the general population—the differences in outcome that we are trying to explain—are not clearly linked to the birth order of the individuals. Although this evidence goes against many widely held and cherished beliefs, the judgment of those who have looked carefully at a large number of studies is that birth order plays only a bit-part in the drama of sibling differences.... If there are no systematic differences in personality according to birth order, then any differences in parental behavior that are associated with birth order cannot be very significant for later developmental outcome.
  • I will let those plainspoken Swiss researchers, Ernst and Angst, have the last word. In italics (theirs). Birth order research seems very simple, since position in a sibship and sibship size are easily defined. The computer is fed some ordinal numbers, and then it is easy to find a plausible post hoc explanation for any significant difference in the related variables. If, for example, lastborn children report more anxiety than other birth ranks, it is because for many years they were the weakest in the family. If firstborns are found to be the most timid, it is because of incoherent treatment by an inexperienced mother. If, on the other hand, middle children show the greatest anxiety, it is because they have been neglected by their parents, being neither the first- nor the lastborn. With some imagination it is even possible to find explanations for greatest anxiety in a second girl of four, and so on, ad infinitum. This kind of research is a sheer waste of time and money.
  • Of course, if we look at one particular person, it’s easy to come up with a story about how the home environment (the critical, demanding mother, the ineffectual father) shaped the child’s personality and produced the messed-up grownup we see today. That kind of post hoc speculation—unprovable, undisprovable—is the stock-in-trade of biographers.
  • birth order effects do not turn up in the majority of studies of adult personality. They do, however, turn up in the majority of studies of one particular kind: the kind in which subjects’ personalities are judged by their parents or siblings. When parents are asked to describe their children, they are likely to say that their firstborn is more serious, methodical, responsible, and anxious than their laterborns. When a younger brother or sister is asked to describe the firstborn, a word that often turns up is “bossy.”20 What we’re getting is a picture of the way the subject behaves at home.
  • At home there are birth order effects, no question about it, and I believe that is why it’s so hard to shake people’s faith in them. If you see people with their parents or their siblings, you do see the differences you expect to see. The oldest does seem more serious, responsible, and bossy. The youngest does behave in a more carefree fashion. But that’s how they act when they’re together. These patterns of behavior are not like albatrosses that we have to drag along with us wherever we go, all through our lives. We don’t even drag them to nursery school.
  • The humor writer Dave Barry has captured the feeling: After canteen we’d stand outside the school, surrounded by our peers, waiting for our parents to pick us up; when my dad pulled up, wearing his poodle hat and driving his Nash Metropolitan—a comically tiny vehicle resembling those cars outside supermarkets that go up and down when you put in a quarter, except the Metropolitan looked sillier and had a smaller motor—I was mortified. I might as well have been getting picked up by a flying saucer piloted by some bizarre, multitentacled, stalk-eyed, slobber-mouthed alien being that had somehow got hold of a Russian hat. I was horrified at what my peers might think of my dad; it never occurred to me that my peers didn’t even notice my dad, because they were too busy being mortified by THEIR parents.
  • Socialization research has demonstrated one thing clearly and irrefutably: a parent’s behavior toward a child affects how the child behaves in the presence of the parent or in contexts that are associated with the parent. I have no problem with that—I agree with it. The parent’s behavior also affects the way the child feels about the parent. When a parent favors one child over another, not only does it cause hard feelings between the children—it also causes the unfavored child to harbor hard feelings against the parent. These feelings can last a lifetime.
  • Girls tend to play closer to home than boys and are more likely to have younger children to care for, because mothers in most societies—probably all societies—prefer girls as babysitters.38 But boys are pressed into service if no girls are available, and they take the job very seriously. In one of Jane Goodall’s books about chimpanzees there is a photo of an African man with a badly mutilated face, the result of an injury he suffered when he was a child. He had been taking care of his baby brother when a big male chimpanzee came out of the forest and seized the baby.* The boy was only six, but he chased after the formidable animal. The chimpanzee dropped the baby and attacked the boy. The baby survived.
  • According to Frans de Waal, a Dutch primatologist who spent several years observing the chimpanzees and their human visitors at a Netherlands zoo, “Contrary to general belief, humans imitate apes more than the reverse.”
  • As Eibl-Eibesfeldt points out, human babies in all societies start becoming afraid of strangers when they’re about six months old. By then, in a typical hunter-gatherer or small village society, they have usually had a chance to meet all the members of their community, so a stranger is valid cause for concern. What is he here for? Does he want to steal me? Make me a slave? Maybe even eat me? The baby watches its mother for clues; if she seems to think the stranger is okay, the baby is reassured. Eibl-Eibesfeldt calls the baby’s reaction to strangers “childhood xenophobia” and considers it the first sign of a built-in predisposition to see the world in terms of us versus them.
  • During Goodall’s first few years in Tanzania, she used to put out boxes of bananas to attract chimpanzees. Usually the high-ranking males would eat most of them. To enable the females and younger males to get their share, she would hide some bananas in the trees. One day a young chimpanzee named Figan spotted a banana hanging in a tree directly above a high-ranking male. If Figan had reached for it, the big male would have taken it away from him. Instead, Figan moved to a spot where he couldn’t see the banana and waited. As soon as the big male moved away, Figan retrieved the banana. By sitting in a spot where he couldn’t see the object of his desire, he made sure he wouldn’t give away the secret with his eyes.
  • The human brain is an apparatus, first and foremost, for dealing with the social environment. Dealing with the physical environment is a secondary benefit. Evolutionary psychologist Linnda Caporael points out that we have a default mode for dealing with ambiguous or troublesome things: we try to interact with them socially. We personalize them. We don’t treat humans like machines—we treat machines like humans.52 We say “Start, damn you!” to our cars. We expect our computers to be friendly. And when faced with phenomena we don’t understand or can’t control, we attribute them to entities called God and Nature, to which we impute human social motives such as vengefulness, jealousy, and compassion.
  • Children don’t perceive adults as people like themselves, not if there are any other children around to make the distinction clear. To a child, an adult might as well be a member of another species. Grownups know everything and can do whatever they want. Their bodies are enormously big and strong and hairy, and they bulge out in odd places. Though grownups can run, they are usually seen sitting or standing. Though they can cry, they hardly ever do. Different creatures entirely.
  • It is a sad and paradoxical fact that abuse may actually increase a child’s clinginess, because attachment is most evident when a child is frightened or in pain.
  • Children who spend their early years in an orphanage do not lack social skills; if anything, they are overly friendly. What they lack is the ability to form close relationships. They seem to be unable to care deeply about anyone.21 The department in their brain where working models are constructed either has never learned to construct them or has given up the job as futile. “Use it or lose it” is a saying most appropriately applied to the developing brain, not the aging one.
  • But a case study from Czechoslovakia provides a clue. A pair of twin boys lost their mother at birth and were placed in an orphanage. When they were about a year old their father remarried and brought the boys home—to a stepmother worse than Cinderella’s. For the next six years the boys were kept in a small unheated closet, undernourished and periodically beaten. When they were discovered at the age of seven they could barely walk and had less language than an average two-year-old. But they turned out all right. They were adopted into a normal family and by the age of fourteen they were attending public school and had caught up with their classmates. They had “no pathological symptoms or eccentricities,” according to the researcher who studied them.28 In their first seven years they hadn’t had a mother’s love—nor, it would appear, a father’s—but they had had each other.
  • The idea that babies are born with the potential to become either male or female, and that the behaviors associated with the two sexes are entirely cultural, was popularized by the anthropologist Margaret Mead. It is another example of her tendency to see things through the lens of her prior beliefs. She described a New Guinea tribe—the Tchambuli—in which the men supposedly behaved like women and the women like men. Submissive, anxious men; strong, bossy women. According to anthropologist Donald Brown, Mead got it wrong. In fact, among the Tchambuli, “polygyny was normal, wives were bought by men, men were stronger than women and could beat them, and men were considered by right to be in charge.”
  • Stereotypes are not always accurate; they are less likely to be accurate when they involve groups we don’t know as well as we know men and women. But the real danger in stereotypes is not so much their inaccuracy as their inflexibility. We may be right when we see men as more apt to take on leadership roles and less adept at reading other people’s feelings, but we are wrong if we think all men are like that. We are fairly good estimators of differences between means—the difference between the average member of group X and the average member of group Y—but we are poor estimators of the variability within groups. Categorization tends to make us see the members of social categories as more alike than they really are, and this is particularly true for the category we’re not in.
  • A bit of advice to parents who want to rear androgynous children: join a nomadic hunter-gatherer group. Or move to a part of the world where there are just enough kids to form one play group and not quite enough to form two.
  • But gendered socialization is not the only reason why people vary. The pressures from within and without to conform to the norms of one’s group, the contrast effects that make these norms different, can only do so much. Psychological differences between the sexes are statistical differences: the distance between the twin peaks of the two bell curves. During childhood the curves pull a bit farther apart but they never part company: there is always an overlap. Some men are short; some women are tall. Some boys are gentle; some girls are tough. Even when they’re in the company of their peers.
  • the diverse bunch of kids in her classroom into a united group of motivated learners—an us. An us is a social category, whether or not it has a name. I think Miss A made her kids feel that they were in a special social category: “a brave corps on a secret, impossible mission.” This self-categorization stuck with them even after they graduated from her classroom; it buffered them from anti-school attitudes and made them feel superior to the other kids in their grade. And the existence of this special social category must have been recognized even by those who hadn’t been lucky enough to have Miss A as a teacher. That is why some of the people Pedersen interviewed claimed to have been in Miss A’s class: they were, or had aspired to be, part of the group she created. Behind the barred windows of that old school, among the tenement kids who attended it, there was a group of motivated learners who thought of themselves as “Miss A’s kids,” even though some of them had never set foot in her classroom.
  • Number turns out not to be trivial. Whether a classroom of kids will split up into contrasting groups depends partly on how many kids there are in the classroom: bigger classes split up more readily than smaller ones.39 And whether the kids will form groups that differ in village of origin, or in race, ethnicity, religion, socioeconomic class, or academic ability, depends on how many there are in these social categories. You need a minimum number to form a group and I’m not sure what it is because there hasn’t been much research on this question—not with children, anyway. In some cases two might be enough to form a group, but usually it takes more than two, perhaps more than three or four.
  • The result of this reasoning was that pregnant women in many traditional cultures were hedged in with rules: what they were allowed to do and see, what they were allowed to eat. Sometimes the prohibitions extended to the father as well. If the child turned out badly, the neighbors could blame it on the parents: they must have done something wrong while the mother was pregnant. They must not have followed the rules. You see, things haven’t changed so much after all! The main difference is that in the old days the parents’ period of culpability lasted only nine months.
  • I am going to try to get you off the hook by presenting evidence that maybe it’s not your fault after all. But this is a two-way deal: I ask something from you in return. I ask you to promise not to go around telling people that I said it doesn’t matter how you treat your kids. I do not say that; nor do I imply it; nor do I believe it. It is not all right to be cruel or neglectful to your children. It is not all right for a variety of reasons, but most of all because children are thinking, feeling, sensitive human beings who are completely dependent on the older people in their lives. We may not hold their tomorrows in our hands but we surely hold their todays, and we have the power to make their todays very miserable.
  • The baby-care problem that brings the most complaints from American parents is sleep disturbances: the baby won’t sleep. The baby keeps them up at night. Most pediatricians advise the parent to get the baby accustomed to sleeping alone. But a baby in a wandering hunter-gatherer band was never left alone under normal circumstances. If he found himself alone, and if his first whimpers did not immediately fetch his mother, he was in serious trouble. Chances are that either his mother was dead or she had decided she couldn’t take care of him. The group was moving on and they weren’t taking him! He was a goner if he couldn’t quickly persuade them to change their minds. Screaming was the only persuader he had. He screamed because he was terrified and angry, and with good reason. Babies are amazingly adaptable. Most American babies adapt quite well to sleeping alone. But some do not. Many parents—my younger daughter among them—are relieved when you tell them it’s okay to let their baby sleep with them, that it’s what nature intended. They hate letting the baby cry. It is going against nature to let a baby cry, and yet many parents do it—though they suffer almost as much as the baby—because it’s what some advice-givers recommend.
  • The idea that we can make our children turn out any way we want is an illusion. Give it up. Children are not empty canvases on which parents can paint their dreams. Don’t worry about what the advice-givers tell you. Love your kids because kids are lovable, not because you think they need it. Enjoy them. Teach them what you can. Relax. How they turn out is not a reflection on the care you have given them. You can neither perfect them nor ruin them. They are not yours to perfect or ruin: they belong to tomorrow.
  • “Why don’t you just wait, Nephew. See how it goes. She starts school in September. . . . I agree with you that she’s different, you might say she is a bit strange sometimes, but you know, we’re all different though we may pretend otherwise. We’re all strange inside. We learn how to disguise our differentness as we grow up. Bunny doesn’t do that yet.”7 We learn how to disguise our differentness; socialization makes us less strange. But the disguise tends to wear thin later in life. I see socialization as a sort of hourglass: you start out with a bunch of disparate individuals and as they are squeezed together the pressure of the group makes them more alike. Then in adulthood the pressure gradually lets up and individual differences reassert themselves. People get more peculiar as they grow older because they stop bothering to disguise their differentness. The penalties for being different are not so severe.
  • The bond between parent and child lasts a lifetime. We kiss our parents goodbye not once but many times; we do not lose track of them. Each visit home gives us opportunities to take out family memories and look at them again. Meanwhile, our childhood friends have scattered to the winds and we’ve forgotten what happened on the playground. When you think about childhood you think about your parents. Blame it on the relationship department of your mind, which has usurped more than its rightful share of your thoughts and memories. As for what’s wrong with you: don’t blame it on your parents.
  • one sentence were to sum up the mechanism driving the Great Stagnation, it is this: Recent and current innovation is more geared to private goods than to public goods. That simple observation ties together the three major macroeconomic events of our time: growing income inequality, stagnant median income, and, as we will see in chapter five, the financial crisis.
  • Have you ever wondered why so many developing economies—the successful ones, I mean—rise to prosperity through exports and tradable goods? There are a few reasons for this, but one is that the external world market provides a real measure of value. If you are exporting successfully, it’s not based on privilege, connections, corruption, or fakery. Someone who has no stake in your country and no concern for your welfare is spending his or her own money to buy your product.
  • How did we make so many bad mistakes at the same time, all pointing in more or less the same direction? Here is the eight-word answer: We thought we were richer than we were.
  • I was struck when Norman Borlaug died in 2009. Borlaug, as you may know, was a leader of the “Green Revolution” and the inventor of more robust seeds and crop varieties, which were then used in India, Africa, and many other poorer parts of the world. It is no exaggeration to say that Borlaug’s work saved the lives of millions of human beings by preventing starvation. Yet when Borlaug died, most Americans still did not know who he was. The press covered his passing, but in a low-key manner, even though one of the most important people of his era had died.
  • Vilfredo Pareto (1848–1923) argued that, if we respect the rights of every sovereign individual, we should consider a social change an improvement only when it makes some people better off without making anyone worse off. There should be no more individual sacrifices in the name of the ‘greater good’. This is known as the Pareto criterion and forms the basis for all judgements on social improvements in Neoclassical economics today.6 In real life, unfortunately, there are few changes that hurt no one; thus the Pareto criterion effectively becomes a recipe to stick to the status quo and let things be – laissez faire. Its adoption thus imparted a huge conservative bias to the Neoclassical school.
  • Only when we know that there are different economic theories will we be able to tell those in power that they are wrong to tell us that ‘there is no alternative’ (TINA), as Margaret Thatcher once infamously put it in defence of her controversial policies. When we learn how much intellectual common ground there is between supposed ‘enemy factions’ in economics, we can more effectively resist those who try to polarize the debate by portraying everything in black and white. Once we learn that different economic theories say different things partly because they are based on different ethical and political values, we will have the confidence to discuss economics for what it really is – a political argument – and not a ‘science’ in which there is clear right and wrong. And only when the general public displays awareness of these issues will professional economists find it impossible to browbeat them by declaring themselves to be custodians of scientific truths. Knowing different types of economics and knowing their respective strengths and weaknesses, thus seen, is not an esoteric exercise reserved only for professional economists. It is a vital part of learning about economics and also a contribution to our collective effort to make the subject better serve humanity.
  • The first candidate is asked by the interview board, ‘What is two plus two, comrade?’ He answers: ‘Five.’ The chairman of the interview board smiles indulgently and says: ‘Comrade, we very much appreciate your revolutionary enthusiasm, but this job needs someone who can count.’ The candidate is politely shown the door. The second candidate’s answer is ‘Three.’ The youngest member of the interview board springs up and shouts: ‘Arrest that man! We cannot tolerate this kind of counter-revolutionary propaganda, under-reporting our achievements!’ The second candidate is summarily dragged out of the room by the guards. When asked the same question, the third candidate answers: ‘Of course it is four.’ The professorial-looking member of the board gives him a stern lecture on the limitations of bourgeois science, fixated on formal logic. The candidate hangs his head in shame and walks out of the room. The fourth candidate is hired. What was his answer? ‘How many do you want it to be?’
  • Economics is a political argument. It is not – and can never be – a science; there are no objective truths in economics that can be established independently of political, and frequently moral, judgements. Therefore, when faced with an economic argument, you must ask the age-old question ‘Cui bono?’ (Who benefits?), first made famous by the Roman statesman and orator Marcus Tullius Cicero.
  • Political and ethical judgements are present even in ostensibly value-free exercises, such as defining the boundaries of the market. Deciding what belongs in the domain of the market is an intensely political exercise. Once you can drag something (say, water) into the domain of the market, you can apply the ‘one-dollar-one-vote’ rule to decisions surrounding it, making it easier for the rich to influence the outcome. Conversely, if you can take something (say, child labour) out of the domain of the market, it becomes impossible to influence its use with the power of money.
  • Saying that economics is a political argument does not mean that ‘anything goes’. Some theories are better than others, depending on the situation at hand. But it does mean that you should never believe any economist who claims to offer ‘scientific’, value-free analysis.
  • Many people would assume that numbers are straightforward and objective, but each of them is constructed on the basis of a theory. I might not go as far as Benjamin Disraeli, the former British prime minister, who quipped that ‘there are lies, damned lies, and statistics’, but numbers in economics are invariably the results of attempts to measure concepts whose definitions are often extremely contentious or at least debatable.
  • The focus on the market has made most economists neglect vast areas of our economic life, with significant negative consequences for our well-being. The neglect of production at the expense of exchange has made policy-makers in some countries overly complacent about the decline of their manufacturing industries. The view of individuals as consumers, rather than producers, has led to the neglect of issues such as the quality of work (e.g., how interesting it is, how safe it is, how stressful it is and even how oppressive it is) and work–life balance. The disregard of these aspects of economic life partly explains why most people in the rich countries don’t feel more fulfilled despite consuming the greatest ever quantities of material goods and services.
  • Expert knowledge is absolutely necessary, but an expert by definition knows well only a narrow field and we cannot expect him or her to make a sound judgement on issues that involve more than one area of life (that is, most issues), balancing off different human needs, material constraints and ethical values. The possession of expert knowledge can sometimes give you a blinkered view. This dose of scepticism about expert knowledge should be applied to all areas of life, not just economics. But it is especially important in economics – a political argument often presented as a science.
  • Krugman wrote in 2009: ‘Thirty-plus years ago, when I was a graduate student in economics, only the least ambitious of my classmates sought careers in the financial world. Even then, investment banks paid more than teaching or public service – but not that much more, and anyway, everyone knew that banking was, well, boring’ (‘Making banking boring’, The New York Times, 9 April 2009).
  • professor at UCLA found an ingenious way to exploit the availability bias. He asked different groups of students to list ways to improve the course, and he varied the required number of improvements. As expected, the students who listed more ways to improve the class rated it higher!
  • “Risk” does not exist “out there,” independent of our minds and culture, waiting to be measured. Human beings have invented the concept of “risk” to help them understand and cope with the dangers and uncertainties of life. Although these dangers are real, there is no such thing as “real risk” or “objective risk.”
  • There are two ideas to keep in mind about Bayesian reasoning and how we tend to mess it up. The first is that base rates matter, even in the presence of evidence about the case at hand. This is often not intuitively obvious. The second is that intuitive impressions of the diagnosticity of evidence are often exaggerated.
  • The essential keys to disciplined Bayesian reasoning can be simply summarized: Anchor your judgment of the probability of an outcome on a plausible base rate. Question the diagnosticity of your evidence.
  • The social norm against stereotyping, including the opposition to profiling, has been highly beneficial in creating a more civilized and more equal society. It is useful to remember, however, that neglecting valid stereotypes inevitably results in suboptimal judgments. Resistance to stereotyping is a laudable moral position, but the simplistic idea that the resistance is costless is wrong. The costs are worth paying to achieve a better society, but denying that the costs exist, while satisfying to the soul and politically correct, is not scientifically defensible. Reliance on the affect heuristic is common in politically charged arguments. The positions we favor have no cost and those we oppose have no benefits. We should be able to do better.
  • Subjects’ unwillingness to deduce the particular from the general was matched only by their willingness to infer the general from the particular.
  • The test of learning psychology is whether your understanding of situations you encounter has changed, not whether you have learned a new fact. There is a deep gap between our thinking about statistics and our thinking about individual cases. Statistical results with a causal interpretation have a stronger effect on our thinking than noncausal information. But even compelling causal statistics will not change long-held beliefs or beliefs rooted in personal experience. On the other hand, surprising individual cases have a powerful impact and are a more effective tool for teaching psychology because the incongruity must be resolved and embedded in a causal story. That is why this book contains questions that are addressed personally to the reader. You are more likely to learn something by finding surprises in your own behavior than by hearing surprising facts about people in general.
  • Indeed, the statistician David Freedman used to say that if the topic of regression comes up in a criminal or civil trial, the side that must explain regression to the jury will lose the case. Why is it so hard? The main reason for the difficulty is a recurrent theme of this book: our mind is strongly biased toward causal explanations and does not deal well with “mere statistics.” When our attention is called to an event, associative memory will look for its cause—more precisely, activation will automatically spread to any cause that is already stored in memory. Causal explanations will be evoked when regression is detected, but they will be wrong because the truth is that regression to the mean has an explanation but does not have a cause. The event that attracts our attention in the golfing tournament is the frequent deterioration of the performance of the golfers who were successful on day 1. The best explanation of it is that those golfers were unusually lucky that day, but this explanation lacks the causal force that our minds prefer. Indeed, we pay people quite well to provide interesting explanations of regression effects. A business commentator who correctly announces that “the business did better this year because it had done poorly last year” is likely to have a short tenure on the air.
  • Here are the directions for how to get there in four simple steps: Start with an estimate of average GPA. Determine the GPA that matches your impression of the evidence. Estimate the correlation between your evidence and GPA. If the correlation is .30, move 30% of the distance from the average to the matching GPA. Step 1 gets you the baseline, the GPA you would have predicted if you were told nothing about Julie beyond the fact that she is a graduating senior. In the absence of information, you would have predicted the average. (This is similar to assigning the base-rate probability of business administration graduates when you are told nothing about Tom W.) Step 2 is your intuitive prediction, which matches your evaluation of the evidence. Step 3 moves you from the baseline toward your intuition, but the distance you are allowed to move depends on your estimate of the correlation. You end up, at step 4, with a prediction that is influenced by your intuition but is far more moderate.
  • The core of the illusion is that we believe we understand the past, which implies that the future also should be knowable, but in fact we understand the past less than we believe we do. Know is not the only word that fosters this illusion. In common usage, the words intuition and premonition also are reserved for past thoughts that turned out to be true. The statement “I had a premonition that the marriage would not last, but I was wrong” sounds odd, as does any sentence about an intuition that turned out to be false. To think clearly about the future, we need to clean up the language that we use in labeling the beliefs we had in the past.
  • Klein elaborated this description into a theory of decision making that he called the recognition-primed decision (RPD) model, which applies to firefighters but also describes expertise in other domains, including chess. The process involves both System 1 and System 2. In the first phase, a tentative plan comes to mind by an automatic function of associative memory—System 1. The next phase is a deliberate process in which the plan is mentally simulated to check if it will work—an operation of System 2. The model of intuitive decision making as pattern recognition develops ideas presented some time ago by Herbert Simon, perhaps the only scholar who is recognized and admired as a hero and founding figure by all the competing clans and tribes in the study of decision making. I quoted Herbert Simon’s definition of intuition in the introduction, but it will make more sense when I repeat it now: “The situation has provided a cue; this cue has given the expert access to information stored in memory, and the information provides the answer. Intuition is nothing more and nothing less than recognition.” This strong statement reduces the apparent magic of intuition to the everyday experience of memory. We marvel at the story of the firefighter who has a sudden urge to escape a burning house just before it collapses, because the firefighter knows the danger intuitively, “without knowing how he knows.” However, we also do not know how we immediately know that a person we see as we enter a room is our friend Peter. The moral of Simon’s remark is that the mystery of knowing without knowing is not a distinctive feature of intuition; it is the norm of mental life.
  • If a strong predictive cue exists, human observers will find it, given a decent opportunity to do so. Statistical algorithms greatly outdo humans in noisy environments for two reasons: they are more likely than human judges to detect weakly valid cues and much more likely to maintain a modest level of accuracy by using such cues consistently.
  • Mother used to say that it meant Christopher was a nice name because it was a story about being kind and helpful, but I do not want my name to mean a story about being kind and helpful. I want my name to mean me.
  • I think people believe in heaven because they don’t like the idea of dying, because they want to carry on living and they don’t like the idea that other people will move into their house and put their things into the rubbish.
  • Asked why so many expensive big-budget movies are released on the same days (such as Memorial Day and Independence Day), he replied: Hubris. Hubris. If you only think about your own business, you think, “I’ve got a good story department, I’ve got a good marketing department, we’re going to go out and do this.” And you don’t think that everybody else is thinking the same way. In a given weekend in a year you’ll have five movies open, and there’s certainly not enough people to go around.
  • The errors of a theory are rarely found in what it asserts explicitly; they hide in what it ignores or tacitly assumes.
  • What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy. As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny “failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distractions.” In 1984, Huxley added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us.
  • it is implausible to imagine that anyone like our twenty-seventh President, the multi-chinned, three-hundred-pound William Howard Taft, could be put forward as a presidential candidate in today’s world. The shape of a man’s body is largely irrelevant to the shape of his ideas when he is addressing a public in writing or on the radio or, for that matter, in smoke signals. But it is quite relevant on television. The grossness of a three-hundred-pound image, even a talking one, would easily overwhelm any logical or spiritual subtleties conveyed by speech. For on television, discourse is conducted largely through visual imagery, which is to say that television gives us a conversation in images, not words. The emergence of the image-manager in the political arena and the concomitant decline of the speech writer attest to the fact that television demands a different kind of content from other media. You cannot do political philosophy on television. Its form works against the content.
  • When Charles Dickens visited America in 1842, his reception equaled the adulation we offer today to television stars, quarterbacks, and Michael Jackson. “I can give you no conception of my welcome,” Dickens wrote to a friend. “There never was a King or Emperor upon earth so cheered and followed by the crowds, and entertained at splendid balls and dinners and waited upon by public bodies of all kinds.... If I go out in a carriage, the crowd surrounds it and escorts me home; if I go to the theater, the whole house ... rises as one man and the timbers ring again.”
  • For example, on October 16, 1854, in Peoria, Illinois, Douglas delivered a three-hour address to which Lincoln, by agreement, was to respond. When Lincoln’s turn came, he reminded the audience that it was already 5 p.m., that he would probably require as much time as Douglas and that Douglas was still scheduled for a rebuttal. He proposed, therefore, that the audience go home, have dinner, and return refreshed for four more hours of talk. 1 The audience amiably agreed, and matters proceeded as Lincoln had outlined. What kind of audience was this? Who were these people who could so cheerfully accommodate themselves to seven hours of oratory? It should be noted, by the way, that Lincoln and Douglas were not presidential candidates; at the time of their encounter in Peoria they were not even candidates for the United States Senate. But their audiences were not especially concerned with their official status. These were people who regarded such events as essential to their political education, who took them to be an integral part of their social lives, and who were quite accustomed to extended oratorical performances. Typically at county or state fairs, programs included many speakers, most of whom were allotted three hours for their arguments. And since it was preferred that speakers not go unanswered, their opponents were allotted an equal length of time. (One might add that the speakers were not always men. At one fair lasting several days in Springfield, “Each evening a woman [lectured] in the courtroom on ‘Woman’s Influence in the Great Progressive Movements of the Day.”’ 2)
  • A written sentence calls upon its author to say something, upon its reader to know the import of what is said. And when an author and reader are struggling with semantic meaning, they are engaged in the most serious challenge to the intellect. This is especially the case with the act of reading, for authors are not always trustworthy. They lie, they become confused, they over-generalize, they abuse logic and, sometimes, common sense. The reader must come armed, in a serious state of intellectual readiness. This is not easy because he comes to the text alone. In reading, one’s responses are isolated, one’s intellect thrown back on its own resources. To be confronted by the cold abstractions of printed sentences is to look upon language bare, without the assistance of either beauty or community. Thus, reading is by its nature a serious business. It is also, of course, an essentially rational activity.
  • Exposition is a mode of thought, a method of learning, and a means of expression. Almost all of the characteristics we associate with mature discourse were amplified by typography, which has the strongest possible bias toward exposition: a sophisticated ability to think conceptually, deductively and sequentially; a high valuation of reason and order; an abhorrence of contradiction; a large capacity for detachment and objectivity; and a tolerance for delayed response.
  • And just as “nature” and “the sea” cannot be photographed, such larger abstractions as truth, honor, love, falsehood cannot be talked about in the lexicon of pictures. For “showing of” and “talking about” are two very different kinds of processes. “Pictures,” Gavriel Salomon has written, “need to be recognized, words need to be understood.” 6 By this he means that the photograph presents the world as object; language, the world as idea. For even the simplest act of naming a thing is an act of thinking—of comparing one thing with others, selecting certain features in common, ignoring what is different, and making an imaginary category. There is no such thing in nature as “man” or “tree.” The universe offers no such categories or simplifications; only flux and infinite variety. The photograph documents and celebrates the particularities of this infinite variety. Language makes them comprehensible.
  • For the photograph gave a concrete reality to the strange-sounding datelines, and attached faces to the unknown names. Thus it provided the illusion, at least, that “the news” had a connection to something within one’s sensory experience.
  • Twenty years ago, the question, Does television shape culture or merely reflect it? held considerable interest for many scholars and social critics. The question has largely disappeared as television has gradually become our culture. This means, among other things, that we rarely talk about television, only about what is on television—that is, about its content. Its ecology, which includes not only its physical characteristics and symbolic code but the conditions in which we normally attend to it, is taken for granted, accepted as natural.
  • But what I am claiming here is not that television is entertaining but that it has made entertainment itself the natural format for the representation of all experience. Our television set keeps us in constant communion with the world, but it does so with a face whose smiling countenance is unalterable. The problem is not that television presents us with entertaining subject matter but that all subject matter is presented as entertaining, which is another issue altogether.
  • When a television show is in process, it is very nearly impermissible to say, “Let me think about that” or “I don’t know” or “What do you mean when you say ... ?” or “From what sources does your information come?” This type of discourse not only slows down the tempo of the show but creates the impression of uncertainty or lack of finish. It tends to reveal people in the act of thinking, which is as disconcerting and boring on television as it is on a Las Vegas stage. Thinking does not play well on television, a fact that television directors discovered long ago. There is not much to see in it. It is, in a phrase, not a performing art. But television demands a performing art, and so what the ABC network gave us was a picture of men of sophisticated verbal skills and political understanding being brought to heel by a medium that requires them to fashion performances rather than ideas. Which accounts for why the eighty minutes were very entertaining, in the way of a Samuel Beckett play: The intimations of gravity hung heavy, the meaning passeth all understanding. The performances, of course, were highly professional. Sagan abjured the turtle-neck sweater in which he starred when he did “Cosmos.” He even had his hair cut for the event. His part was that of the logical scientist speaking in behalf of the planet. It is to be doubted that Paul Newman could have done better in the role, although Leonard Nimoy might have.
  • In courtrooms, classrooms, operating rooms, board rooms, churches and even airplanes, Americans no longer talk to each other, they entertain each other. They do not exchange ideas; they exchange images. They do not argue with propositions; they argue with good looks, celebrities and commercials. For the message of television as metaphor is not only that all the world is a stage but that the stage is located in Las Vegas, Nevada.
  • Of course, in television’s presentation of the “news of the day,” we may see the “Now ... this” mode of discourse in its boldest and most embarrassing form. For there, we are presented not only with fragmented news but news without context, without consequences, without value, and therefore without essential seriousness; that is to say, news as pure entertainment.
  • In fact, it is quite obvious that TV news has no intention of suggesting that any story has any implications, for that would require viewers to continue to think about it when it is done and therefore obstruct their attending to the next story that waits panting in the wings. In any case, viewers are not provided with much opportunity to be distracted from the next story since in all likelihood it will consist of some film footage. Pictures have little difficulty in overwhelming words, and short-circuiting introspection. As a television producer, you would be certain to give both prominence and precedence to any event for which there is some sort of visual documentation.
  • The idea, he writes, “is to keep everything brief, not to strain the attention of anyone but instead to provide constant stimulation through variety, novelty, action, and movement. You are required ... to pay attention to no concept, no character, and no problem for more than a few seconds at a time.” 2 He goes on to say that the assumptions controlling a news show are “that bite-sized is best, that complexity must be avoided, that nuances are dispensable, that qualifications impede the simple message, that visual stimulation is a substitute for thought, and that verbal precision is an anachronism.”
  • There is no problem in someone’s remarking that he prefers oranges to apples, and also remarking that he prefers apples to oranges—not if one statement is made in the context of choosing a wallpaper design and the other in the context of selecting fruit for dessert. In such a case, we have statements that are opposites, but not contradictory. But if the statements are made in a single, continuous, and coherent context, then they are contradictions, and cannot both be true. Contradiction, in short, requires that statements and events be perceived as interrelated aspects of a continuous and coherent context. Disappear the context, or fragment it, and contradiction disappears. This point is nowhere made more clear to me than in conferences with my younger students about their writing. “Look here,” I say. “In this paragraph you have said one thing. And in that you have said the opposite. Which is it to be?” They are polite, and wish to please, but they are as baffled by the question as I am by the response. “I know,” they will say, “but that is there and this is here.” The difference between us is that I assume “there” and “here,” “now” and “then,” one paragraph and the next to be connected, to be continuous, to be part of the same coherent world of thought. That is the way of typographic discourse, and typography is the universe I’m “coming from,” as they say. But they are coming from a different universe of discourse altogether: the “Now ... this” world of television. The fundamental assumption of that world is not coherence but discontinuity. And in a world of discontinuities, contradiction is useless as a test of truth or merit, because contradiction does not exist.
  • For television—bless its heart—is not congenial to messages of naked hate. For one thing, you never know who is watching, so it is best not to be wildly offensive. For another, haters with reddened faces and demonic gestures merely look foolish on television, as Marshall McLuhan observed years ago and Senator Joseph McCarthy learned to his dismay. Television favors moods of conciliation and is at its best when substance of any kind is muted. (One must make an exception here for those instances when preachers, like Swaggart, turn to the subject of the Devil and secular humanism. Then they are quite uncompromising in the ferocity of their assaults, partly, one may assume, because neither the Devil nor secular humanists are included in the Nielsen Ratings. Neither are they inclined to watch.)
  • A book is all history. Everything about it takes one back in time—from the way it is produced to its linear mode of exposition to the fact that the past tense is its most comfortable form of address. As no other medium before or since, the book promotes a sense of a coherent and usable past. In a conversation of books, history, as Carlyle understood it, is not only a world but a living world. It is the present that is shadowy.
  • television’s principal contribution to educational philosophy is the idea that teaching and entertainment are inseparable. This entirely original conception is to be found nowhere in educational discourses, from Confucius to Plato to Cicero to Locke to John Dewey. In searching the literature of education, you will find it said by some that children will learn best when they are interested in what they are learning. You will find it said—Plato and Dewey emphasized this —that reason is best cultivated when it is rooted in robust emotional ground. You will even find some who say that learning is best facilitated by a loving and benign teacher. But no one has ever said or implied that significant learning is effectively, durably and truthfully achieved when education is entertainment
  • What is information? Or more precisely, what are information ? What are its various forms? What conceptions of intelligence, wisdom and learning does each form insist upon? What conceptions does each form neglect or mock? What are the main psychic effects of each form? What is the relation between information and reason? What is the kind of information that best facilitates thinking? Is there a moral bias to each information form? What does it mean to say that there is too much information? How would one know? What redefinitions of important cultural meanings do new sources, speeds, contexts and forms of information require? Does television, for example, give a new meaning to “piety,” to “patriotism,” to “privacy”? Does television give a new meaning to “judgment” or to “understanding”? How do different forms of information persuade? Is a newspaper’s “public” different from television’s “public”? How do different information forms dictate the type of content that is expressed?
  • Although I believe the computer to be a vastly overrated technology,
  • “YOU CAN’T SAY THAT CIVILIZATION DON’T ADVANCE, FOR IN EVERY WAR THEY KILL YOU IN A NEW WAY.”
  • To appreciate the asymmetry between the possibility effect and the certainty effect, imagine first that you have a 1% chance to win $1 million. You will know the outcome tomorrow. Now, imagine that you are almost certain to win $1 million, but there is a 1% chance that you will not. Again, you will learn the outcome tomorrow. The anxiety of the second situation appears to be more salient than the hope in the first. The certainty effect is also more striking than the possibility effect if the outcome is a surgical disaster rather than a financial gain. Compare the intensity with which you focus on the faint sliver of hope in an operation that is almost certain to be fatal, compared to the fear of a 1% risk.
  • A lottery ticket is the ultimate example of the possibility effect. Without a ticket you cannot win, with a ticket you have a chance, and whether the chance is tiny or merely small matters little. Of course, what people acquire with a ticket is more than a chance to win; it is the right to dream pleasantly of winning.
  • than they were when prospect theory was formulated. The probability of a rare event will (often, not always) be overestimated, because of the confirmatory bias of memory. Thinking about that event, you try to make it true in your mind. A rare event will be overweighted if it specifically attracts attention.
  • It works when the gambles are genuinely independent of each other; it does not apply to multiple investments in the same industry, which would all go bad together. It works only when the possible loss does not cause you to worry about your total wealth. If you would take the loss as significant bad news about your economic future, watch it! It should not be applied to long shots, where the probability of winning is very small for each bet.
  • The key is not the difference between commission and omission but the distinction between default options and actions that deviate from the default. When you deviate from the default, you can easily imagine the norm—and if the default is associated with bad consequences, the discrepancy between the two can be the source of painful emotions. The default option when you own a stock is not to sell it, but the default option when you meet your colleague in the morning is to greet him. Selling a stock and failing to greet your coworker are both departures from the default option and natural candidates for regret or blame.
  • Reframing is effortful and System 2 is normally lazy. Unless there is an obvious reason to do otherwise, most of us passively accept decision problems as they are framed and therefore rarely have an opportunity to discover the extent to which our preferences are frame-bound rather than reality-bound.
  • Your moral feelings are attached to frames, to descriptions of reality rather than to reality itself. The message about the nature of framing is stark: framing should not be viewed as an intervention that masks or distorts an underlying preference.
  • Confusing experience with the memory of it is a compelling cognitive illusion—and it is the substitution that makes us believe a past experience can be ruined. The experiencing self does not have a voice. The remembering self is sometimes wrong, but it is the one that keeps score and governs what we learn from living, and it is the one that makes decisions. What we learn from the past is to maximize the qualities of our future memories, not necessarily of our future experience. This is the tyranny of the remembering self.
  • Odd as it may seem, I am my remembering self, and the experiencing self, who does my living, is like a stranger to me.
  • Nothing in life is as important as you think it is when you are thinking about it.
  • The camera does not lie; left to its own devices, it renders outdoor scenes as milk and indoor scenes as mud. Photographers, and sometimes microchips inside the camera, coax a realistic image out of the film with tricks like adjustable shutter timing, lens apertures, film speeds, flashes, and darkroom manipulations.
  • The computational theory of mind resolves the paradox. It says that beliefs and desires are information, incarnated as configurations of symbols. The symbols are the physical states of bits of matter, like chips in a computer or neurons in the brain. They symbolize things in the world because they are triggered by those things via our sense organs, and because of what they do once they are triggered. If the bits of matter that constitute a symbol are arranged to bump into the bits of matter constituting another symbol in just the right way, the symbols corresponding to one belief can give rise to new symbols corresponding to another belief logically related to it, which can give rise to symbols corresponding to other beliefs, and so on. Eventually the bits of matter constituting a symbol bump into bits of matter connected to the muscles, and behavior happens. The computational theory of mind thus allows us to keep beliefs and desires in our explanations of behavior while planting them squarely in the physical universe. It allows meaning to cause and be caused.
  • Think about all the things you’ve believed, unquestioning, while dreaming. When you dream, you are InstaFanatic about whatever ludicrous set of rules you’re presented with. That’s not a great place to be when you’re awake, unless you’re looking to start a religion.
  • When you’re nuts, and deprived of your ability to doubt and reason against evidence, the same thing can happen. The processes running your emotions are now running your logic centers, and you’re more receptive to signals you can no longer interpret.
  • Emotion trumps reason. Always. You can stop yourself from screaming and curb the urge toward violence, but your thoughts are shaped by how you feel. You can throw some feedback into your hormones, but the impetus for even that effort is rooted in your mood. If you take someone and cut the link between the cerebral cortex and the emotional centers of the brain, that person can no longer make choices. Nothing has any more or less value than anything else, so judgments are pointless.
  • I think alleviating existential dread is bad for humanity: if we really want immortality and rocket ships and all the possible pleasures of existence, we need hubris and dread. Monks be damned.
  • I’m tempted to believe this is how human culture mutates. If you go through this whole process very slowly, you have culture and language. Go through a little faster, you have philosophy and rhetoric. Go through at a canter, you’ve got politics, and if you break into a gallop, you’re insane. The faster the process, the easier it is to get smaller, more literal symbols in the mix. Think about this sentence: “God is God but not God, God is everything, God is the water and the wave, the vision and its completion.” Sunday morning, right? Now, trying to make Friday night before prom something worth confessing on Sunday: “Love is Love but not Love, Love is everything, Love is the water and the wave, the vision and its completion.” Sweet. I’ve just demonstrated how the Bible can be used to get young atheists laid. Grab a short passage, replace God with Love, and say it to an insecure girl late at night. This can be done because Love and God are both huge, ancient symbols describing nothing in particular. Love, God, Earth, Hell, Heaven, Hope, Faith, etc., are all big words people argue about, because by the process of insane osmosis[198] these words have merged with every other concept and thought process we have, and thus mean jack all. They’re shortcuts between other, more literal concepts.
  • The idea that drugs and radically altered states express a higher potential is a bit like saying humans are the pinnacle of evolution. Evolution has no pinnacle, and an altered state of mind is just that. It’s not better or worse: it’s different. I think contrast in general is an excellent experience for broadening the mind and making it more able to be further broadened, and if that’s what you want, extreme brain alteration is part of it. But extreme and continuing contrast is also the thing that gradually instills a sense of the arbitrariness of interpretation and meaning. A popular altered state of mind that lacks contrast is fanatical guru, and their universal cry is “everybody should shuck the rest of the world and listen to the thoughts in my head.” Exploring one’s own mind excessively is not pursuing universal consciousness. It’s narcissism.
  • The difference for me is that I don’t find a purposeless, meaningless universe unsettling: the core mystical awakening is in the experience of being, and even a laymen’s exploration of modern science reveals that the universe is an extremely strange place that we don’t really understand. The quest for spiritual truth becomes a need when people project the banality and frustrations of their internal worlds and see the universe as boring and faulty. A spiritual awakening is primarily breaking the mind out of that interpretative trap, which is enough for me. Somehow fitting visions and feelings into a framework with beings and consciousnesses and unknown forces that care is superfluous. I find such attempts less revelations than they are representations of a longing to be loved. All of my altered experience, psychedelic and otherwise, has left me with the lesson that it is far more important to love than to be loved.
  • If you look at the cause of some movement in a time frame measured in milliseconds, the immediate cause will be the firing of some nerve cells that connect the brain to the muscles. There is no consciousness in that process. Nobody is aware of nerve cells firing. But the will is to be found in connecting units across time. Will involves treating the current situation as part of a general pattern. Smoking one cigarette will not jeopardize your health. Taking heroin once will not make you addicted. One piece of cake won’t make you fat, and skipping one assignment won’t ruin your career. But in order to stay healthy and employed, you must treat (almost) every episode as a reflection of the general need to resist these temptations. That’s where conscious self-control comes in, and that’s why it makes the difference between success and failure in just about every aspect of life.
  • The link between self-awareness and self-control was also demonstrated in experiments involving adults and alcohol. Researchers found that one of the chief effects of drinking was to reduce people’s ability to monitor their own behavior. As drinkers’ self-awareness declines, they lose self-control, so they get into more fights, smoke more, eat more, make more sexual blunders, and wake up the next day with many more regrets. One of the hardest parts of a hangover is the return of self-awareness, because that’s when we resume that crucial task for a social animal: comparing our behavior with the standards set by ourselves and our neighbors.
  • Public information has more impact than private information. People care more about what other people know about them than about what they know about themselves. A failure, a slipup, a lapse in self-control can be swept under the carpet pretty easily if you’re the only one who knows about it. You can rationalize it or just plain ignore it. But if other people know about it, it’s harder to dismiss. After all, the other person might not buy the excuses that you make, even though you find them quite satisfying.
  • But the act of writing it was part of a strategy to conserve willpower that he used over and over with great success: precommitment. The essence of this strategy is to lock yourself into a virtuous path. You recognize that you’ll face terrible temptations to stray from the path, and that your willpower will weaken. So you make it impossible—or somehow unthinkably disgraceful or sinful—to leave the path.
  • This broad rise in narcissism is the problem child of the self-esteem movement, and it is not likely to change anytime soon, because the movement persists despite the evidence that it’s not making children become more successful, honest, or otherwise better citizens. Too many students, parents, and educators are still seduced by the easy promises of self-esteem. Like the students in Forsyth’s class in Virginia, when the going gets tough, people with high self-esteem often decide they shouldn’t bother. If other people can’t appreciate how terrific they are, then it’s the other people’s problem.
  • “The secret of my incredible energy and efficiency in getting work done is a simple one,” Benchley wrote. “The psychological principle is this: anyone can do any amount of work, provided it isn’t the work he is supposed to be doing at that moment.”
  • We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Good writing starts strong. Not with a cliché (“Since the dawn of time”), not with a banality (“Recently, scholars have been increasingly concerned with the question of …”), but with a contentful observation that provokes curiosity.
  • I write with a thesaurus, mindful of the advice I once read in a bicycle repair manual on how to squeeze a dent out of a rim with Vise-Grip pliers: “Do not get carried away with the destructive potential of this tool.”
  • The authors of the four passages share a number of practices: an insistence on fresh wording and concrete imagery over familiar verbiage and abstract summary; an attention to the readers’ vantage point and the target of their gaze; the judicious placement of an uncommon word or idiom against a backdrop of simple nouns and verbs; the use of parallel syntax; the occasional planned surprise; the presentation of a telling detail that obviates an explicit pronouncement; the use of meter and sound that resonate with the meaning and mood. The authors also share an attitude: they do not hide the passion and relish that drive them to tell us about their subjects. They write as if they have something important to say. But no, that doesn’t capture it. They write as if they have something important to show. And that, we shall see, is a key ingredient in the sense of style.
  • The key to good style, far more than obeying any list of commandments, is to have a clear conception of the make-believe world in which you’re pretending to communicate.
  • The guiding metaphor of classic style is seeing the world. The writer can see something that the reader has not yet noticed, and he orients the reader’s gaze so that she can see it for herself. The purpose of writing is presentation, and its motive is disinterested truth. It succeeds when it aligns language with the truth, the proof of success being clarity and simplicity. The truth can be known, and is not the same as the language that reveals it; prose is a window onto the world. The writer knows the truth before putting it into words; he is not using the occasion of writing to sort out what he thinks. Nor does the writer of classic prose have to argue for the truth; he just needs to present it. That is because the reader is competent and can recognize the truth when she sees it, as long as she is given an unobstructed view. The writer and the reader are equals, and the process of directing the reader’s gaze takes the form of a conversation.
  • It takes cognitive toil and literary dexterity to pare an argument to its essentials, narrate it in an orderly sequence, and illustrate it with analogies that are both familiar and accurate. As Dolly Parton said, “You wouldn’t believe how much it costs to look this cheap.”
  • The summary should be self-contained, almost as if the material being summarized had never existed.
  • metadiscourse, signposting, hedging, apologizing, professional narcissism, clichés, mixed metaphors, metaconcepts, zombie nouns, and unnecessary passives. Writers who want to invigorate their prose could try to memorize that list of don’ts. But it’s better to keep in mind the guiding metaphor of classic style: a writer, in conversation with a reader, directs the reader’s gaze to something in the world. Each of the don’ts corresponds to a way in which a writer can stray from this scenario.
  • The reason that the task is so challenging is that the main resource that English syntax makes available to writers—left-to-right ordering on a page—has to do two things at once. It’s the code that the language uses to convey who did what to whom. But it also determines the sequence of early-to-late processing in the reader’s mind. The human mind can do only a few things at a time, and the order in which information comes in affects how that information is handled.
  • The advice to omit needless words should not be confused with the puritanical edict that all writers must pare every sentence down to the shortest, leanest, most abstemious version possible. Even writers who prize clarity don’t do this. That’s because the difficulty of a sentence depends not just on its word count but on its geometry. Good writers often use very long sentences, and they garnish them with words that are, strictly speaking, needless. But they get away with it by arranging the words so that a reader can absorb them a phrase at a time, each phrase conveying a chunk of conceptual structure.
  • Accomplished wordsmiths identify a need while writing, or spot a problem in a sentence while revising, and when all goes well the suitable word or construction pops into mind.
  • Just below the surface of these inchoate intuitions, I believe, is a tacit awareness that the writer’s goal is to encode a web of ideas into a string of words using a tree of phrases. Aspiring wordsmiths would do well to cultivate this awareness. It can help rid their writing of errors, dead ends, and confusing passages. And it can take the fear and boredom out of grammar, because it’s always more inviting to master a system when you have a clear idea of what it is designed to accomplish.
  • Paragraph breaks generally coincide with the divisions between branches in the discourse tree, that is, cohesive chunks of text. But the same little notch must be used for divisions between branches of every size, whether it’s the end of a minor digression, the end of a major summation, or anything in between. Sometimes a writer should cleave an intimidating block of print with a paragraph break just to give the reader’s eyes a place to alight and rest. Academic writers often neglect to do this and trowel out massive slabs of visually monotonous text. Newspaper journalists, mindful of their readers’ attention spans, sometimes go to the other extreme and dice their text into nanoparagraphs consisting of a sentence or two apiece. Inexperienced writers tend to be closer to academics than to journalists and use too few paragraph breaks rather than too many. It’s always good to show mercy to your readers and periodically let them rest their weary eyes. Just be sure not to derail them in the middle of a train of thought. Carve the notch above a sentence that does not elaborate or follow from the one that came before.
  • The cognitive difference between believing that a proposition is true (which requires no work beyond understanding it) and believing that it is false (which requires adding and remembering a mental tag) has enormous implications for a writer.
  • When an author has to negate something that a reader doesn’t already believe, she has to set it up as a plausible belief on his mental stage before she knocks it down. Or, to put it more positively, when a writer wants to negate an unfamiliar proposition, she should unveil the negation in two stages: You might think … But no.
  • Of course, responsible writers have to deal with counterarguments and counterevidence. But if there are enough of them to merit an extended discussion, they deserve a section of their own, whose stated point is to examine the contrary position. A fair-minded examination of the counterevidence can then occupy as much space as it needs, because its bulk will reflect its importance within that section. This divide-and-conquer strategy is better than repeatedly allowing counterexamples to intrude into the main line of an argument while browbeating readers into looking away.
  • A writer, after laying out her topic, will introduce a large number of concepts which explain, enrich, or comment on that topic. These concepts will center on a number of themes which make repeated appearances in the discussion. To keep the text coherent, the writer must allow the reader to keep track of these themes by referring to each in a consistent way or by explaining their connection.
  • But the claim that there is nothing inherently wrong with ain’t (which is true) should not be confused with the claim that ain’t is one of the conventions of standard written English (which is obviously false). This distinction is lost on the purists, who worry that if we point out that people who say ain’t or He be working or ax a question are not lazy or careless, then we have no grounds for advising students and writers to avoid them in their prose. So here is an analogy. In the United Kingdom, everyone drives on the left, and there is nothing inherently wrong with that convention; it is in no way sinister, gauche, or socialist. Nonetheless, we have an excellent reason to encourage a person in the United States to drive on the right. There is a joke about a commuter who’s on his way to work when he gets a call on his mobile phone from his wife. “Be careful, honey,” she says. “They just said on the radio that there’s a maniac driving on the wrong side of the freeway.” “One maniac?” he replies; “There are thousands of them!”
  • If I were allowed to take just one book to the proverbial desert island, it might be a dictionary.
  • There are several legitimate ways to splice two sentences, depending on the coherence relation that connects them. When two sentences are conceptually pretty much independent, the first should end with a period and the next should begin with a capital, just like they teach you in third grade. When the two are conceptually linked but the writer feels no need to pinpoint the coherence relation that holds between them, they can be joined with a semicolon; the semicolon is the all-purpose way to eliminate a comma splice. When the coherence relation is elaboration or exemplification (when one is tempted to say that is, in other words, which is to say, for example, here’s what I have in mind, or Voilà!), they may be linked with a colon: like this. When the second sentence intentionally interrupts the flow of the discussion, requiring the reader to wake up, think twice, or snap out of it, a writer can use a dash—dashes can enliven writing, as long as they are used sparingly. And when the writer pinpoints the coherence relation he has in mind with an explicit connective such as a coordinator (and, or, but, yet, so, nor) or a preposition (although, except, if, before, after, because, for), a comma is fine, because the phrase is a mere supplement (like the underlined clause, which I fastened to the preceding one with a comma). Just don’t confuse these connectives with sentence adverbs, such as however, nonetheless, consequently, or therefore, which are themselves supplements of the clause they precede. The clause with the adverb is a freestanding sentence; consequently, it cannot be joined to its predecessor with a comma.
  • If you really want to improve the quality of your writing, or if you want to thunder about sins in the writing of others, the principles you should worry about the most are not the ones that govern fused participles and possessive antecedents but the ones that govern critical thinking and factual diligence.
  • First, look things up. Humans are cursed with the deadly combination of a highly fallible memory and an overconfidence in how much they know.73 Our social networks, traditional and electronic, multiply the errors, so that much of our conventional wisdom consists of friend-of-a-friend legends and factoids that are too good to be true. As Mark Twain said, “The trouble with the world is not that people know too little, but that they know so many things that aren’t so.” Actually, he didn’t say that—I looked it up.74 But whoever said it (probably Josh Billings) made an important point. We are blessed to live in an age in which no subject has gone unresearched by scholars, scientists, and journalists. The fruits of their research are available within seconds to anyone with a laptop or smartphone, and within minutes to anyone who can get to a library. Why not take advantage of these blessings and try to restrict the things you know (or at least the things you write) to things that are true?
  • Second, be sure your arguments are sound. If you are making a factual claim, it should be verifiable in an edited source—one that has been vetted by disinterested gatekeepers such as editors, fact-checkers, or peer reviewers. If you’re making an argument, it should proceed from premises that reasonable people already agree upon to your newer or more contentious assertion using valid if-then steps. If you’re making a moral argument—a claim about what people ought to do—you should show how doing it would satisfy a principle or
  • Third, don’t confuse an anecdote or a personal experience with the state of the world. Just because something happened to you, or you read about it in the paper or on the Internet this morning, it doesn’t mean it is a trend. In a world of seven billion people, just about anything will happen to someone somewhere, and it’s the highly unusual events that will be selected for the news or passed along to friends. An event is a significant phenomenon only if it happens some appreciable number of times relative to the opportunities for it to occur, and it is a trend only if that proportion has been shown to change over time.
  • Fourth, beware of false dichotomies. Though it’s fun to reduce a complex issue to a war between two slogans, two camps, or two schools of thought, it is rarely a path to understanding. Few good ideas can be insightfully captured in a single word ending with -ism, and most of our ideas are so crude that we can make more progress by analyzing and refining them than by pitting them against each other in a winner-take-all contest.
  • Finally, arguments should be based on reasons, not people. Saying that someone you disagree with is motivated by money, fame, politics, or laziness, or slinging around insults like simplistic, naïve, or vulgar, does not prove that the things the person is saying are false. Nor is the point of disagreement or criticism to show that you are smarter or nobler than your target. Psychologists have shown that in any dispute both sides are convinced that they themselves are reasonable and upright and that their opposite numbers are mulish and dishonest.75 They can’t all be right, at least not all the time. Keep in mind a bit of wisdom from the linguist Ann Farmer: “It isn’t about being right. It’s about getting it right.”
  • Optimality notions can be of theoretical interest even if they are physically unrealizable. They give us a standard by which to judge heuristic approximations, and sometimes we can reason about what an optimal agent would do in some special case.
  • Far from being the smartest possible biological species, we are probably better thought of as the stupidest possible biological species capable of starting a technological civilization—a niche we filled because we got there first, not because we are in any sense optimally adapted to it.
  • One might expect that Marx would go on to explain in some detail what communism would be like. He does not—in fact, nowhere in his writings does he give more than sketchy suggestions on this subject. He does, however, gesture at the enormous difference communism would make.
  • The view of society as a totality is no doubt illuminating when set against the view that ideas, politics, law, religion, and so on have a life and history of their own, independently of mundane economic matters. Nevertheless it does not amount to “the law of development of human history,” or to a scientific discovery comparable to Darwin’s theory of evolution. To qualify as a contribution to science, a proposed law must be precise enough to enable us to deduce from it certain consequences rather than others. That is how we test proposed scientific laws—by seeing if the consequences they predict actually occur. The conception of society as an interconnected totality is about as precise an instrument of historical analysis as a bowl of porridge. Anything at all can be deduced from it. No observation could ever refute it.
  • There is a reason for Marx’s reticence over the details of communist society. He believed that history owed its momentum to the development of the forces of production rather than the development of ideas. This did not mean that theory was unimportant. If Marx’s mission in life was to contribute to the overthrow of capitalism and the liberation of the proletariat, his theories of history and of economics were intended to do this by showing the workers their role in history and making them conscious of the manner in which capitalism exploited them. While theory could describe existing reality in this way, however, for theory to reach ahead of its time was another matter altogether. Marx derided as “Utopian” those socialists who sought to bring about communism by producing blueprints of a future communist society. His own form of socialism was, he claimed, scientific because it built on knowledge of the laws of history that would bring socialism into existence.
  • Everything Marx says about communism is premised on material abundance. Remember that it is the development of the forces of production that, according to the materialist theory of history, is the driving force behind historical change. The change from one form of society to another occurs when the existing structure of society acts as a fetter on the further development of the productive forces. But communism is the final form of society. Building on the dramatic advances so ruthlessly made by capitalism, communism allows the forces of production to develop to their fullest possible extent. Production will be cooperatively planned for the benefit of all, not wasted in socially fruitless competition between individual capitalists for their own private ends. There will be no crises of overproduction, as there are in unplanned economies. The reserve army of unemployed workers required by capitalism to keep labor cheap and available will become productive. Mechanization and automation will continue to develop as they had developed under capitalism, though without their degrading effect on the workers (unfortunately Marx does not tell us how these effects would be avoided, but presumably it would be by a drastic reduction in the hours of necessary labor). No longer will surplus-value be extracted from the workers to line the pockets of the capitalists. The working class will receive the full use-value of its labor, subject only to a deduction for future social investment. We will control our economy, instead of being controlled by it.
  • Marx saw that within its own terms this defense of capitalism is coherent; but he also saw that from a broader, historical perspective, the liberal definition of freedom is open to a fundamental objection. To explain his objection, I shall switch to a more homely example. Suppose I live in the suburbs and work in the city. I could drive my car to work, or take the bus. I prefer not to wait around for the bus, and so I take my car. Fifty thousand other people living in my suburb face the same choice and make the same decision. The road to town is choked with cars. It takes each of us an hour to travel ten miles. In this situation, according to the liberal conception of freedom, we have all chosen freely. No one deliberately interfered with our choices. Yet the outcome is something none of us wants. If we all went by bus, the roads would be empty and we could cover the distance in twenty minutes. Even with the inconvenience of waiting at the bus stop, we would all prefer that. We are, of course, free to alter our choice of transportation, but what can we do? While so many cars slow the bus down, why should any individual choose differently? The liberal conception of freedom has led to a paradox: we have each chosen in our own interests, but the result is in no one’s interest. Individual rationality, collective irrationality.
  • This strategy is exemplified by the sea squirt larva, which swims about until it finds a suitable rock, to which it then permanently affixes itself. Cemented in place, the larva has less need for complex information processing, whence it proceeds to digest part of its own brain (its cerebral ganglion). One can observe the same phenomenon in some academics when they have been granted tenure.
  • For instance, one search discovered a frequency discrimination circuit that functioned without a clock—a component normally considered necessary for this function. The researchers estimated that the evolved circuit was between one and two orders of magnitude smaller than what a human engineer would have required for the task. The circuit exploited the physical properties of its components in unorthodox ways; some active, necessary components were not even connected to the input or output pins! These components instead participated via what would normally be considered nuisance side effects, such as electromagnetic coupling or power-supply loading.
  • Nature might be a great experimentalist, but one who would never pass muster with an ethics review board—contravening the Helsinki Declaration and every norm of moral decency, left, right, and center. It is important that we not gratuitously replicate such horrors in silico.
  • (Information continence may be especially challenging for academic researchers, accustomed as they are to constantly disseminating their results on every available lamppost and tree.)
  • In the cutthroat world of academic publishing, simply being passionate about a topic is nowhere near sufficient for success; one must be well-versed in the preferences of senior colleagues in a particular subfield who are serving as paper reviewers. In short, our data sets were not as good, our techniques were not as refined, and our results and presentation style were less impressive than what the veterans in this subfield expected.
  • I learned about the importance of being endorsed by an influential person; simply doing good work isn't enough to get noticed in a hyper-competitive field.
  • I discovered that this strategy of finding and setting short-term deadlines for myself would work wonders in keeping me focused throughout the rest of my Ph.D. years. Without self-imposed deadlines, it becomes easy to fall into a rut and succumb to chronic procrastination.
  • I wish I could say that my solo brainstorming sessions were motivated by a true love for the pure essence of academic scholarship. But the truth was that I was driven by straight-up fear: I was afraid of not being able to graduate within a reasonable time frame, so I pressured myself to come up with new ideas that could potentially lead to publications. I was all too aware that it might take two to three years for a paper to get accepted for publication, so if I wanted to graduate by the end of my sixth year, I would need to submit several papers this year and pray that at least two get accepted. I felt rushed because my fellowship lasted only until the end of this year. After my funding expired, I would need to either find grant funding from a professor and face all of the requisite restrictions (e.g., working on Klee again), or else become a perpetual teaching assistant and delay my graduation even further. Time was running out.
  • Our user testing had failed to show the productivity improvement effects that we originally hoped to see, so I was afraid that our paper would be rejected for sure. But miraculously, Jeff's technical writing and argument framing skills turned that near-defeat into a surprise victory. The reviewers loved how we honestly acknowledged the failures of our evaluation and extracted valuable insights from them. Without a doubt, our paper would have never been accepted if not for Jeff's rhetorical expertise. He had a lot of practice, though. Back when he was a Ph.D. student, Jeff published 19 papers mostly in top-tier conferences, which is five to ten times more than typical computer science Ph.D. students. That's the sort of intensity required to get a faculty job at a top-tier university like Stanford.
  • Academic conferences are filled with senior Ph.D. students, postdocs, and pre-tenure professors schmoozing like crazy in attempts to impress their senior colleagues. For these junior researchers, professional networking at conferences is a serious full-time job, since their budding careers and academic reputations depend upon excelling at it. But since I was getting out of this academic game, I didn't care at all and enjoyed myself without being nervous or calculating.
  • I understood the importance of aligning with the subjective preferences of senior collaborators (and paper reviewers), even when doing research in supposedly objective technical fields.
  • The popular view of how a Ph.D. dissertation arises is that a student comes up with some inspired intellectual idea in a brilliant flash of insight and then spends a few years writing a giant treatise while sipping hundreds of lattes and cappuccinos. In many science and engineering fields, this perception is totally inaccurate: The “writing” is simply combining one's published papers together into a single document and surrounding their contents with introductory and concluding chapters. All of the years of sweaty labor has already been done by the time a student sits down to “write” their dissertation document.
  • reality, almost nobody fails their defense unless they act totally moronic: The committee will usually have read through and approved a student's dissertation before they let that student defend, so there should be no surprises.
  • Fun is often frivolous, ephemeral, and easy to obtain, but true fulfillment comes only after overcoming significant and meaningful challenges. Pursuing a Ph.D. has been one of the most fulfilling experiences of my life, and I feel extremely lucky to have been given the opportunity to be creative during this time.
  • Writing proceeds from thinking. To achieve good prose styles, writers must work through intellectual issues, not merely acquire mechanical techniques.
  • Classic style is in its own view clear and simple as the truth. It adopts the stance that its purpose is presentation; its motive, disinterested truth. Successful presentation consists of aligning language with truth, and the test of this alignment is clarity and simplicity. The idea that presentation is successful when language is aligned with truth implies that truth can be known; truth needs no argument but only accurate presentation; the reader is competent to recognize truth; the symmetry between writer and reader allows the presentation to follow the model of conversation; a natural language is sufficient to express truth; and the writer knows the truth before he puts it into language.
  • Classic style is focused and assured. Its virtues are clarity and simplicity; in a sense, so are its vices. It declines to acknowledge ambiguities, unessential qualifications, doubts, or other styles. It declines to acknowledge that it is a style. It makes its hard choices silently and out of the reader’s sight. Once made, those hard choices are not acknowledged to be choices at all; they are presented as if they were inevitable because classic style is, above all, a style of presentation with claims to transparency.
  • The role is severely limited because classic prose is pure, fearless, cool, and relentless. It asks no quarter and gives no quarter to anyone, including the writer. While the role can be necessary, true, and useful, as well as wonderfully thrilling, it can hardly be permanent. For better or worse, human beings are not pure, fearless, cool, or relentless, even if we may find it convenient for certain purposes to pretend that we are. The human condition does not, in general, allow the degree of autonomy and certainty that the classic writer pretends to have. It does not sustain the classic writer’s claim to disinterested expression of unconditional truth. It does not allow the writer indefinitely to maintain the posture required by classic style. But classic style simply does not acknowledge the human condition. The insouciance required to ignore what everyone knows and to carry the reader along in this style cannot be maintained very long, and the masters of the style always know its limits. The classic distance is a sprint.
  • “The truth is pure and simple” is plain style. “The truth is rarely pure, and never simple” is classic style. The plain version contains many elements of classic style without being classic; the classic version contains all of the plain version without being plain.
  • The concept of classic style assumes that plain style already exists. The classic version introduces a refinement, a qualification, a meditation on the plain version that makes it classic. Classic style takes the attitude that it is superior to plain style because classic style presents intelligence as it should be presented: as a sparkling display, not weighed down by grinding earnestness.
  • Before any communication, think about what will be your Message Objective. Limit yourself to no more than three points. Always support your points with solid evidence, including stories (lots of stories), personal examples, expert testimony, analogies, killer quotes, and stats and facts.
  • 1. Recaps build retention. Be sure to restate your MO and your three key points at the end of your presentation. 2. If you don’t ask, you don’t get. Either ask for the order or end with a call to action. 3. You can end with a final persuasive story. But make sure it’s tight and relevant.
  • If you start off with the view of style as a list of surface mechanical elements at any level, then you can end up with the correct list and present it as constituting style, rather than a style.
  • The domain of style is what can be chosen. A fundamental stand is a choice open to the writer. By contrast, to know a language is to know a great range of things that are not open to choice: it is not open to every writer, for example, to decide that sentences shall begin with a period and end with a capital letter, that the word “dog” shall refer to cats, that predicates shall not agree in number and person with their subjects, or that six fine brick houses shall be called “brick fine houses six.” You can, however, decide whether to call a certain dog a “dog” or a “hound,” to say “Sally devoured the roast beef” rather than “The roast beef was devoured by Sally,” to write in sentences that are short and clipped rather than baroque and periodic, or to write “24 March 1954” rather than “March 24, 1954,” but these are surface features. Books that talk about style in writing treat these moments of choice at the surface level but typically ignore the elements of style, which is to say, the fundamental choices from which surface features derive.
  • The elements come under five topical headings: truth, presentation, scene, cast, thought and language.
  • His thesis is that everybody has what is essential for identifying truth—natural reason—whether or not that person has any special educational formation. Failure to identify truth comes either from directing natural reason to the wrong objects—which can include the recondite lore of erudition—or from uncritically accepting opinion and custom.
  • Classic style treats external objects, contingent facts, and even opinions as if they too are beyond doubt or discussion. To verify them we need to acquire local conventions so widespread within the relevant culture that the style treats them as if they were natural endowments.
  • Classic style expands the domain of truth to include anything that might require not merely the knowledge of a convention but even the ability to make a judgment.
  • In classic style, opinions stated clearly and distinctly are treated as if they can be verified by simple observation. The writer does not typically attempt to persuade by argument. The writer merely puts the reader in a position to see whatever is being presented and suggests that the reader will be able to verify it because the style treats whatever conventions or even prejudices it operates from as if these were, like natural reason, shared by everyone. It is a style of disguised assertion.
  • In the classic view, what cannot be universally verified cannot be true.
  • The classic writer presents himself not as a guide to morals or behavior, but as an observer of truth.
  • The classic writer rarely writes as if he is pressing claims and presenting arguments, but rather pretends that he is presenting subjects and conducting analyses. When, on rare occasions, the classic writer adopts the stance that the reader will not believe what is being presented, he never concedes that the reader’s disposition should influence what he says. A writer who wishes to persuade is constrained from ever telling the audience something it is unwilling to believe, and this is a compromise unacceptable in the classic attitude. The classic attitude compels writers, in extreme cases, to express truth and leave the audience to its folly. In that case—as always—the writer’s explicit motive is not hope of persuasion but rather respect for truth. It is the choice Socrates makes in the Apology.
  • Classic writers speak with conviction. That conviction, they imply, comes from knowledge or experience of something that exists before the writing and is completely independent of it. Their prose is conceived of as a perfectly efficient instrument: it neither invents nor distorts.
  • But classic prose never has to be puzzled out. We never have to rework the expression in order to see what it means to present.
  • When accuracy in the sense of being exhaustively correct involves complicated qualifications of no consequence to the main issue, classic writers do not hesitate to simplify. In this frame, accuracy becomes pedantry if it is indulged for its own sake. A classic writer will phrase a subordinate point precisely but without the promise that it is technically accurate. The convention between writer and reader is that the writer is not to be challenged on these points because they are merely scaffolding.
  • Paradoxically, classic style thus requires a strong revelation of personality even as it subordinates what is merely personal. The classic writer is not interested in mirroring the personal processes of her thought; certainly she is not interested in mirroring her personal sensations or emotions. Yet, since her only motive for speaking is the felt importance of what she has to say, she reveals herself through the topics she chooses and what she says about them.
  • The elitism of classic style has nothing to do with the object of presentation, which can range from fine wines to deep sewer tunnels. It has nothing to do with the connoisseurship of the writer either. The writer may speak with a technical mastery not possessed by the reader, but his attitude is always that the reader lacks this mastery only accidentally. You could know what he knows, and you would if you were standing where he stands, which is where the classic writer is trying to place you.
  • The classic writer stands fully behind what she has to say because she has thought it out independently. It may be that in thinking something out independently she has come to a common conclusion, but in expressing it she is neither joining a chorus nor embracing a platitude. Her conclusion is the product of her own thought.
  • There is a tacit contract between writer and reader: the reader’s closely focused intelligence will be repaid with something valuable and self-contained.
  • In the classic view, writing is not thinking. This runs counter to an extremely powerful and pervasive connection between a concept of writing and a concept of mind. Records are understood as a sort of external memory, and memory as internal records. Writing is thinking on paper, and thought is writing in the mind. The author’s mind is an endless paper on which he writes, making mind internal writing; and the book he writes is external mind, the external form of that writing. The author is the self thinking. The self is the author writing in the mind. (Hamlet says, “Within the book and volume of my brain.”) Sometimes, the self is an author who records the process of his thinking on paper.
  • In classic style, thinking is seeing, or more generally, recognizing; writing is presenting what the writer has seen so the reader can see it, too. The classic writer seems to be trying to place something before your eyes or trying to put you where he is so you can see what he sees.
  • In this image schema, the end of the sentence seems to be the goal of the sentence, what it is trying to get to. In consequence, there is a phenomenon in English known as the stress position: whatever you put at the end of the sentence will be taken, absent direction to the contrary, to be the most important part of the sentence,
  • If there is something you find uncomfortable that the audience may be interested in, you should take control and air the issue before someone else airs it for you. That way you can put your own spin on the issue and you retain your credibility with the audience.
  • When people are nervous, sometimes the adrenaline can cause their vocal cords to tighten. What you need to do is learn to relax your vocal cords. When our clients have this problem, we have them talk while holding a pencil between their teeth. When you do this, you’re forced to drop your jaw, which loosens the vocal cords and lowers your voice. Try it. It works. Now you will know how your jaw should feel when you give a presentation. Of course, remember to put down the pencil before you’re introduced.
  • Plain style is communal, its model scene a congregation in which speakers reaffirm for each other common truths that are the property of all. In the theology behind plain style, truth is always simple, and it is a common human possession. Individual revisions of this communal possession distort and dilute it. The wisdom of children can be the wisdom of adults, because knowing truth requires no special experience and no critical analysis. Sophisticated thought and conceptual refinement pervert truth. Any language that reaches beyond the simplest level is suspicious as the probable symptom of such a perversion. Simple language may not always be completely adequate to the expression of truth, but at least it is pure as far as it goes.
  • Classic prose does not discuss doubts or fears about its own enterprise, not because it is naïve, but because it has chosen something incompatible with reflexive inquiry. We can question the possibility of acting or we can act, but we cannot do both at once. Classic writers make an unspoken choice: they act. Rather than discuss the possibility of action, they put that possibility to the test, and let the reader be the judge.
  • Practical style comes from deciding that what matters in style is the reader, and in particular the reader’s ease in parsing features of the text, especially the discourse features of the text. Practical style is so firm in this decision that it treats it as no decision at all, but as a necessity: of course excellence of style consists in conforming to the reader’s grammatical expectations in the act of reading. Why else would anyone presume to take up a reader’s time than to solve a problem for the reader? Why then would anyone write except to inform the reader about a solution to that problem? How else can this be done aside from ordering the text so that readers can get the point before giving up in the face of the obvious difficulty? Williams and Colomb accordingly coach their students in a style of writing assimilated to a model of reading. Classic style makes similar pretenses in adopting the rather different stand that the writer counts equally with the reader, that both are fully engaged by the subject, competent, and alert, that of course the reader will be interested in what the writer has to say, and that of course the reader will recognize truth once it has been clearly presented.
  • The first fundamental distinction between classic style and contemplative style is thus that classic style presents something but contemplative style presents an interpretation of something. This entails many different decisions concerning truth, presentation, cast, and scene. The second fundamental distinction between classic style and contemplative style has to do with thought and language. Classic language is an instrument for presenting the product of thought according to the order of reason, not according to the sequence of experience. In contemplative style, writing is itself the engine of discovery: the writing is a record of the process of the writer’s thinking, quite independent of its relation to the order of reason. In contemplative style, the touchstone of the writing is the process of the writer’s contemplation.
  • Whom to love, whom to believe in, On whom alone shall we depend? Who will fit their speech and on, To our measure, in the end?  . . . Never pursue a phantom, Or waste your efforts on the air Love yourself, your only care. . . .
  • Now, Russia does have elections, but the “opposition,” with its almost comical leaders, is designed and funded in such a way as to actually strengthen the Kremlin: when the beetroot-faced communists and the spitting nationalists row on TV political debating shows, the viewer is left with the feeling that, compared to this lot, the President is the only sane candidate. And Russia does have nongovernmental organizations, representing everyone from bikers to beekeepers, but they are often created by the Kremlin, which uses them to create a “civil society” that is ever loyal to it. And though Russia does officially have a free market, with mega-corporations floating their record-breaking IPOs on the global stock exchanges, most of the owners are friends of the President. Or else they are oligarchs who officially pledge that everything that belongs to them is also the President’s when he needs it: “All that I have belongs to the state,” says Oleg Deripaska, one of the country’s richest men. This isn’t a country in transition but some sort of postmodern dictatorship that uses the language and institutions of democratic capitalism for authoritarian ends.
  • On the tour of Skolkovo we were accompanied by a young man named Sergey Kalenik, a member of the Kremlin youth group, Nashi, created by Surkov. Sergey wore a hoodie, goatee, and skinny jeans and looked like any hipster youth you find in Brooklyn or Hackney—then he opened his mouth and began to sing paeans to the President and how the West is out to get Russia. Sergey was from a humble background in Minsk, Belarus. He first made his name by drawing a really rather good manga cartoon that showed the President as superhero doing battle against zombie protesters and evil monster anticorruption bloggers: a nice example of the Surkovian tactic of co-opting hipster language to its own ends, trying to get the “cool” people on the Kremlin’s side. The cartoon was so successful Kalenik was introduced to senior government officials, and his career as a young spin doctor was launched. “Politics is the ability to use any situation to advance your own status,” Sergey told me with a smile that seemed to mimic Surkov’s (who in turn mimics the KGB men). “How do you define your political views?” I asked him. He looked at me like I was a fool to ask, then smiled: “I’m a liberal . . . it can mean anything!”
  • “I tried to read but I keep on getting these thoughts in my head.”
  • And as I walk around this fog-asphyxiated Moscow, I see how the city’s topography articulates these splits: the bullying avenues with their baron-bureaucrats, bribes, and werewolves in uniform, where the only way to survive is to be as corrupt as they are, and just a few meters away the gentle courtyards with an almost bucolic mood and small-town ideas of decency. Before I used to think the two worlds were in conflict, but the truth is a symbiosis. It’s almost as if you are encouraged to have one identity one moment and the opposite one the next. So you’re always split into little bits and can never quite commit to changing things. And a result is the somewhat aggressive apathy you can encounter here so often. That’s the underlying mind-set that supported the USSR and supports the new Russia now even though the USSR might officially be long gone. But there is a great comfort in these splits, too: you can leave all your guilt with your “public” self. That wasn’t you stealing that budget/making that propaganda show/bending your knee to the President, just a role you were playing; you’re a good person really. It’s not so much about denial. It’s not even about suppressing dark secrets. You can see everything you do, all your sins. You just reorganize your emotional life so as not to care.
  • What cram schools are, in effect, is leaks in a seal. The use of credentials was an attempt to seal off the direct transmission of power between generations, and cram schools represent that power finding holes in the seal. Cram schools turn wealth in one generation into credentials in the next.
  • One reason we want kids to be innocent is that we're programmed to like certain kinds of helplessness. I've several times heard mothers say they deliberately refrained from correcting their young children's mispronunciations because they were so cute. And if you think about it, cuteness is helplessness. Toys and cartoon characters meant to be cute always have clueless expressions and stubby, ineffectual limbs.
  • Innocence is also open-mindedness. We want kids to be innocent so they can continue to learn. Paradoxical as it sounds, there are some kinds of knowledge that get in the way of other kinds of knowledge. If you're going to learn that the world is a brutal place full of people trying to take advantage of one another, you're better off learning it last. Otherwise you won't bother learning much more.
  • The truth is common property. You can't distinguish your group by doing things that are rational, and believing things that are true. If you want to set yourself apart from other people, you have to do things that are arbitrary, and believe things that are false. And after having spent their whole lives doing things that are arbitrary and believing things that are false, and being regarded as odd by "outsiders" on that account, the cognitive dissonance pushing children to regard themselves as Xes must be enormous. If they aren't an X, why are they attached to all these arbitrary beliefs and customs? If they aren't an X, why do all the non-Xes call them one?
  • I doubt you could teach kids recent history without teaching them lies, because practically everyone who has anything to say about it has some kind of spin to put on it. Much recent history consists of spin. It would probably be better just to teach them metafacts like that.
  • Most explicitly benevolent projects don't hold themselves sufficiently accountable. They act as if having good intentions were enough to guarantee good effects.
  • The theology behind classic style does not admit that there is anything that counts as truth that cannot be presented briefly and memorably. In practice, this simply means that classic style prefers to limit its domain while tacitly claiming universal application.
  • Classic style always assumes that it might as well be standing outside the world of actual persons because the classic writer is above mere personal interest; he has no motive but truth, or at least, his highest and governing motive is truth. The classic perception of truth is a perfect copy of truth.
  • Simply put, if the second item is fairly different from the first, we will tend to see it as more different than it actually is. So if we lift a light object first and then lift a heavy object, we will estimate the second object to be heavier than if we had lifted it without first lifting the light one.
  • I grew up in a time where college degrees seemed really important, so I'm alarmed to be saying things like this, but there's nothing magical about a degree. There's nothing that magically changes after you take that last exam. The importance of degrees is due solely to the administrative needs of large organizations. These can certainly affect your life—it's hard to get into grad school, or to get a work visa in the US, without an undergraduate degree—but tests like this will matter less and less.
  • Some introductions to philosophy now take the line that philosophy is worth studying as a process rather than for any particular truths you'll learn. The philosophers whose works they cover would be rolling in their graves at that. They hoped they were doing more than serving as examples of how to argue: they hoped they were getting results. Most were wrong, but it doesn't seem an impossible hope. This argument seems to me like someone in 1500 looking at the lack of results achieved by alchemy and saying its value was as a process. No, they were going about it wrong. It turns out it is possible to transmute lead into gold (though not economically at current energy prices), but the route to that knowledge was to backtrack and try another approach.
  • What matters is what you make of yourself. I think that's what we should tell kids. Their job isn't to get good grades so they can get into a good college, but to learn and do. And not just because that's more rewarding than worldly success. That will increasingly be the route to worldly success.
  • What I didn't understand was that the value of some new acquisition wasn't the difference between its retail price and what I paid for it. It was the value I derived from it. Stuff is an extremely illiquid asset. Unless you have some plan for selling that valuable thing you got so cheaply, what difference does it make what it's "worth?" The only way you're ever going to extract any value from it is to use it. And if you don't have any immediate use for it, you probably never will.
  • Before you buy anything, ask yourself: will this be something I use constantly? Or is it just something nice? Or worse still, a mere bargain?
  • Our early training and our self-centeredness combine to make us believe that every judgement of us is about us. In fact most aren't. This is a rare case where being less self-centered will make people more confident. Once you realize how little most people judging you care about judging you accurately—once you realize that because of the normal distribution of most applicant pools, it matters least to judge accurately in precisely the cases where judgement has the most effect—you won't take rejection so personally.
  • One test adults use is whether you still have the kid flake reflex. When you're a little kid and you're asked to do something hard, you can cry and say "I can't do it" and the adults will probably let you off. As a kid there's a magic button you can press by saying "I'm just a kid" that will get you out of most difficult situations. Whereas adults, by definition, are not allowed to flake. They still do, of course, but when they do they're ruthlessly pruned.
  • but I find her personality annoying. It’s like being molested by a sleeping bag that speaks in Comic Sans with little love-hearts over the i’s.
  • Thus, it is not the traditionally most downtrodden people—those who have come to see their deprivation as part of the natural order of things—who are especially likely to revolt. Instead, revolutionaries are more likely to be those who have been given at least some taste of a better life. When the economic and social improvements they have experienced and come to expect suddenly become less available, they desire them more than ever and often rise up violently to secure them. For instance, it is little recognized that at the time of the American Revolution, the colonists had the highest standard of living and the lowest taxes in the Western World. According to historian Thomas Fleming (1997), it wasn’t until the British sought a cut of this widespread prosperity (by levying taxes) that the Americans revolted.
  • Professors downplay the cutthroat culture of academia, but managers never tire of comparing business to war. MBA students carry around copies of Clausewitz and Sun Tzu. War metaphors invade our everyday business language: we use headhunters to build up a sales force that will enable us to take a captive market and make a killing. But really it’s competition, not business, that is like war: allegedly necessary, supposedly valiant, but ultimately destructive.
  • Originally, “disruption” was a term of art to describe how a firm can use new technology to introduce a low-end product at low prices, improve the product over time, and eventually overtake even the premium products offered by incumbent companies using older technology. This is roughly what happened when the advent of PCs disrupted the market for mainframe computers: at first PCs seemed irrelevant, then they became dominant.
  • Indefinite attitudes to the future explain what’s most dysfunctional in our world today. Process trumps substance: when people lack concrete plans to carry out, they use formal rules to assemble a portfolio of various options. This describes Americans today. In middle school, we’re encouraged to start hoarding “extracurricular activities.” In high school, ambitious students compete even harder to appear omnicompetent. By the time a student gets to college, he’s spent a decade curating a bewilderingly diverse résumé to prepare for a completely unknowable future. Come what may, he’s ready—for nothing in particular.
  • An indefinite pessimist looks out onto a bleak future, but he has no idea what to do about it. This describes Europe since the early 1970s, when the continent succumbed to undirected bureaucratic drift. Today the whole Eurozone is in slow-motion crisis, and nobody is in charge. The European Central Bank doesn’t stand for anything but improvisation: the U.S. Treasury prints “In God We Trust” on the dollar; the ECB might as well print “Kick the Can Down the Road” on the euro. Europeans just react to events as they happen and hope things don’t get worse. The indefinite pessimist can’t know whether the inevitable decline will be fast or slow, catastrophic or gradual. All he can do is wait for it to happen, so he might as well eat, drink, and be merry in the meantime: hence Europe’s famous vacation mania.
  • Instead of working for years to build a new product, indefinite optimists rearrange already-invented ones. Bankers make money by rearranging the capital structures of already existing companies. Lawyers resolve disputes over old things or help other people structure their affairs. And private equity investors and management consultants don’t start new businesses; they squeeze extra efficiency from old ones with incessant procedural optimizations. It’s no surprise that these fields all attract disproportionate numbers of high-achieving Ivy League optionality chasers; what could be a more appropriate reward for two decades of résumé-building than a seemingly elite, process-oriented career that promises to “keep options open”?
  • Malcolm Gladwell says you can’t understand Bill Gates’s success without understanding his fortunate personal context: he grew up in a good family, went to a private school equipped with a computer lab, and counted Paul Allen as a childhood friend. But perhaps you can’t understand Malcolm Gladwell without understanding his historical context as a Boomer (born in 1963). When Baby Boomers grow up and write books to explain why one or another individual is successful, they point to the power of a particular individual’s context as determined by chance. But they miss the even bigger social context for their own preferred explanations: a whole generation learned from childhood to overrate the power of chance and underrate the importance of planning. Gladwell at first appears to be making a contrarian critique of the myth of the self-made businessman, but actually his own account encapsulates the conventional view of a generation.
  • At no point does anyone in the chain know what to do with money in the real economy. But in an indefinite world, people actually prefer unlimited optionality; money is more valuable than anything you could possibly do with it. Only in a definite future is money a means to an end, not the end itself.
  • Our schools teach the opposite: institutionalized education traffics in a kind of homogenized, generic knowledge. Everybody who passes through the American school system learns not to think in power law terms. Every high school course period lasts 45 minutes whatever the subject. Every student proceeds at a similar pace. At college, model students obsessively hedge their futures by assembling a suite of exotic and minor skills. Every university believes in “excellence,” and hundred-page course catalogs arranged alphabetically according to arbitrary departments of knowledge seem designed to reassure you that “it doesn’t matter what you do, as long as you do it well.” That is completely false. It does matter what you do. You should focus relentlessly on something you’re good at doing, but before that you must think hard about whether it will be valuable in the future.
  • People are scared of secrets because they are scared of being wrong. By definition, a secret hasn’t been vetted by the mainstream. If your goal is to never make a mistake in your life, you shouldn’t look for secrets. The prospect of being lonely but right—dedicating your life to something that no one else believes in—is already hard. The prospect of being lonely and wrong can be unbearable.
  • Social elites have the most freedom and ability to explore new thinking, but they seem to believe in secrets the least. Why search for a new secret if you can comfortably collect rents on everything that has already been done? Every fall, the deans at top law schools and business schools welcome the incoming class with the same implicit message: “You got into this elite institution. Your worries are over. You’re set for life.” But that’s probably the kind of thing that’s true only if you don’t believe it.
  • There’s an optimistic way to describe the result of these trends: today, you can’t start a cult. Forty years ago, people were more open to the idea that not all knowledge was widely known. From the Communist Party to the Hare Krishnas, large numbers of people thought they could join some enlightened vanguard that would show them the Way. Very few people take unorthodox ideas seriously today, and the mainstream sees that as a sign of progress. We can be glad that there are fewer crazy cults now, yet that gain has come at great cost: we have given up our sense of wonder at secrets left to be discovered.
  • Other animals at the top of the pyramid, such as lions and sharks, evolved into that position very gradually, over millions of years. This enabled the ecosystem to develop checks and balances that prevent lions and sharks from wreaking too much havoc. As lions became deadlier, so gazelles evolved to run faster, hyenas to cooperate better, and rhinoceroses to be more bad-tempered. In contrast, humankind ascended to the top so quickly that the ecosystem was not given time to adjust. Moreover, humans themselves failed to adjust. Most top predators of the planet are majestic creatures. Millions of years of dominion have filled them with self-confidence. Sapiens by contrast is more like a banana republic dictator. Having so recently been one of the underdogs of the savannah, we are full of fears and anxieties over our position, which makes us doubly cruel and dangerous. Many historical calamities, from deadly wars to ecological catastrophes, have resulted from this over-hasty jump.
  • There is no evidence that people became more intelligent with time. Foragers knew the secrets of nature long before the Agricultural Revolution, since their survival depended on an intimate knowledge of the animals they hunted and the plants they gathered. Rather than heralding a new era of easy living, the Agricultural Revolution left farmers with lives generally more difficult and less satisfying than those of foragers
  • History is something that very few people have been doing while everyone else was ploughing fields and carrying water buckets.
  • We believe in a particular order not because it is objectively true, but because believing in it enables us to cooperate effectively and forge a better society. Imagined orders are not evil conspiracies or useless mirages. Rather, they are the only way large numbers of humans can cooperate effectively.
  • To say that a social order is maintained by military force immediately raises the question: what maintains the military order? It is impossible to organise an army solely by coercion. At least some of the commanders and soldiers must truly believe in something, be it God, honour, motherland, manhood or money.
  • How can we distinguish what is biologically determined from what people merely try to justify through biological myths? A good rule of thumb is ‘Biology enables, Culture forbids.’ Biology is willing to tolerate a very wide spectrum of possibilities. It’s culture that obliges people to realise some possibilities while forbidding others. Biology enables women to have children – some cultures oblige women to realise this possibility. Biology enables men to enjoy sex with one another – some cultures forbid them to realise this possibility.
  • If, say, a Christian really wants to understand the Muslims who attend that mosque down the street, he shouldn’t look for a pristine set of values that every Muslim holds dear. Rather, he should enquire into the catch-22s of Muslim culture, those places where rules are at war and standards scuffle. It’s at the very spot where the Muslims teeter between two imperatives that you’ll understand them best.
  • The first millennium BC witnessed the appearance of three potentially universal orders, whose devotees could for the first time imagine the entire world and the entire human race as a single unit governed by a single set of laws. Everyone was ‘us’, at least potentially. There was no longer ‘them’. The first universal order to appear was economic: the monetary order. The second universal order was political: the imperial order. The third universal order was religious: the order of universal religions such as Buddhism, Christianity and Islam.
  • Money was created many times in many places. Its development required no technological breakthroughs – it was a purely mental revolution. It involved the creation of a new inter-subjective reality that exists solely in people’s shared imagination.
  • People are willing to do such things when they trust the figments of their collective imagination. Trust is the raw material from which all types of money are minted. When a wealthy farmer sold his possessions for a sack of cowry shells and travelled with them to another province, he trusted that upon reaching his destination other people would be willing to sell him rice, houses and fields in exchange for the shells. Money is accordingly a system of mutual trust, and not just any system of mutual trust: money is the most universal and most efficient system of mutual trust ever devised.
  • Similarly, the fact that another person believes in cowry shells, or dollars, or electronic data, is enough to strengthen our own belief in them, even if that person is otherwise hated, despised or ridiculed by us. Christians and Muslims who could not agree on religious beliefs could nevertheless agree on a monetary belief, because whereas religion asks us to believe in something, money asks us to believe that other people believe in something.
  • For thousands of years, philosophers, thinkers and prophets have besmirched money and called it the root of all evil. Be that as it may, money is also the apogee of human tolerance. Money is more open-minded than language, state laws, cultural codes, religious beliefs and social habits. Money is the only trust system created by humans that can bridge almost any cultural gap, and that does not discriminate on the basis of religion, gender, race, age or sexual orientation. Thanks to money, even people who don’t know each other and don’t trust each other can nevertheless cooperate effectively.
  • Money has an even darker side. For although money builds universal trust between strangers, this trust is invested not in humans, communities or sacred values, but in money itself and in the impersonal systems that back it. We do not trust the stranger, or the next-door neighbour – we trust the coin they hold. If they run out of coins, we run out of trust. As money brings down the dams of community, religion and state, the world is in danger of becoming one big and rather heartless marketplace.
  • The victory of Rome over Numantia was so complete that the victors co-opted the very memory of the vanquished. It’s not our kind of story. We like to see underdogs win. But there is no justice in history. Most past cultures have sooner or later fallen prey to the armies of some ruthless empire, which have consigned them to oblivion. Empires, too, ultimately fall, but they tend to leave behind rich and enduring legacies. Almost all people in the twenty-first century are the offspring of one empire or another.
  • Religion can thus be defined as a system of human norms and values that is founded on a belief in a superhuman order.
  • So, monotheism explains order, but is mystified by evil. Dualism explains evil, but is puzzled by order. There is one logical way of solving the riddle: to argue that there is a single omnipotent God who created the entire universe – and He’s evil. But nobody in history has had the stomach for such a belief.
  • In fact, monotheism, as it has played out in history, is a kaleidoscope of monotheist, dualist, polytheist and animist legacies, jumbling together under a single divine umbrella. The average Christian believes in the monotheist God, but also in the dualist Devil, in polytheist saints, and in animist ghosts. Scholars of religion have a name for this simultaneous avowal of different and even contradictory ideas and the combination of rituals and practices taken from different sources. It’s called syncretism. Syncretism might, in fact, be the single great world religion.
  • So why study history? Unlike physics or economics, history is not a means for making accurate predictions. We study history not to know the future but to widen our horizons, to understand that our present situation is neither natural nor inevitable, and that we consequently have many more possibilities before us than we imagine. For example, studying how Europeans came to dominate Africans enables us to realise that there is nothing natural or inevitable about the racial hierarchy, and that the world might well be arranged differently.
  • The Scientific Revolution has not been a revolution of knowledge. It has been above all a revolution of ignorance. The great discovery that launched the Scientific Revolution was the discovery that humans do not know the answers to their most important questions. Premodern traditions of knowledge such as Islam, Christianity, Buddhism and Confucianism asserted that everything that is important to know about the world was already known. The great gods, or the one almighty God, or the wise people of the past possessed all-encompassing wisdom, which they revealed to us in scriptures and oral traditions. Ordinary mortals gained knowledge by delving into these ancient texts and traditions and understanding them properly. It was inconceivable that the Bible, the Qur’an or the Vedas were missing out on a crucial secret of the universe – a secret that might yet be discovered by flesh-and-blood creatures.
  • In fact, the relationship between science and technology is a very recent phenomenon. Prior to 1500, science and technology were totally separate fields. When Bacon connected the two in the early seventeenth century, it was a revolutionary idea. During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries this relationship tightened, but the knot was tied only in the nineteenth century. Even in 1800, most rulers who wanted a strong army, and most business magnates who wanted a successful business, did not bother to finance research in physics, biology or economics.
  • The Chinese and Persians did not lack technological inventions such as steam engines (which could be freely copied or bought). They lacked the values, myths, judicial apparatus and sociopolitical structures that took centuries to form and mature in the West and which could not be copied and internalised rapidly. France and the United States quickly followed in Britain’s footsteps because the French and Americans already shared the most important British myths and social structures. The Chinese and Persians could not catch up as quickly because they thought and organised their societies differently.
  • Mohenjo-daro was one of the chief cities of the Indus Valley civilisation, which flourished in the third millennium BC and was destroyed around 1900 BC. None of India’s pre-British rulers – neither the Mauryas, nor the Guptas, nor the Delhi sultans, nor the great Mughals – had given the ruins a second glance. But a British archaeological survey took notice of the site in 1922. A British team then excavated it, and discovered the first great civilisation of India, which no Indian had been aware of.
  • truth, neither the narrative of oppression and exploitation nor that of ‘The White Man’s Burden’ completely matches the facts. The European empires did so many different things on such a large scale, that you can find plenty of examples to support whatever you want to say about them. You think that these empires were evil monstrosities that spread death, oppression and injustice around the world? You could easily fill an encyclopedia with their crimes. You want to argue that they in fact improved the conditions of their subjects with new medicines, better economic conditions and greater security? You could fill another encyclopedia with their achievements. Due to their close cooperation with science, these empires wielded so much power and changed the world to such an extent that perhaps they cannot be simply labelled as good or evil. They created the world as we know it, including the ideologies we use in order to judge them.
  • Current US banking law permits the bank to repeat this exercise seven more times. The contractor would eventually have $10 million in his account, even though the bank still has but $1 million in its vaults. Banks are allowed to loan $10 for every dollar they actually possess, which means that 90 per cent of all the money in our bank accounts is not covered by actual coins and notes.2 If all of the account holders at Barclays Bank suddenly demand their money, Barclays will promptly collapse (unless the government steps in to save it). The same is true of Lloyds, Deutsche Bank, Citibank, and all other banks in the world. It sounds like a giant Ponzi scheme, doesn’t it? But if it’s a fraud, then the entire modern economy is a fraud. The fact is, it’s not a deception, but rather a tribute to the amazing abilities of the human imagination. What enables banks – and the entire economy – to survive and flourish is our trust in the future. This trust is the sole backing for most of the money in the world.
  • Capitalism distinguishes ‘capital’ from mere ‘wealth’. Capital consists of money, goods and resources that are invested in production. Wealth, on the other hand, is buried in the ground or wasted on unproductive activities. A pharaoh who pours resources into a non-productive pyramid is not a capitalist. A pirate who loots a Spanish treasure fleet and buries a chest full of glittering coins on the beach of some Caribbean island is not a capitalist. But a hard-working factory hand who reinvests part of his income in the stock market is.
  • Over the last few years, banks and governments have been frenziedly printing money. Everybody is terrified that the current economic crisis may stop the growth of the economy. So they are creating trillions of dollars, euros and yen out of thin air, pumping cheap credit into the system, and hoping that the scientists, technicians and engineers will manage to come up with something really big, before the bubble bursts. Everything depends on the people in the labs. New discoveries in fields such as biotechnology and nanotechnology could create entire new industries, whose profits could back the trillions of make-believe money that the banks and governments have created since 2008. If the labs do not fulfil these expectations before the bubble bursts, we are heading towards very rough times.
  • In Europe, on the other hand, kings and generals gradually adopted the mercantile way of thinking, until merchants and bankers became the ruling elite. The European conquest of the world was increasingly financed through credit rather than taxes, and was increasingly directed by capitalists whose main ambition was to receive maximum returns on their investments. The empires built by bankers and merchants in frock coats and top hats defeated the empires built by kings and noblemen in gold clothes and shining armour. The mercantile empires were simply much shrewder in financing their conquests. Nobody wants to pay taxes, but everyone is happy to invest.
  • The capitalist-consumerist ethic is revolutionary in another respect. Most previous ethical systems presented people with a pretty tough deal. They were promised paradise, but only if they cultivated compassion and tolerance, overcame craving and anger, and restrained their selfish interests. This was too tough for most. The history of ethics is a sad tale of wonderful ideals that nobody can live up to. Most Christians did not imitate Christ, most Buddhists failed to follow Buddha, and most Confucians would have caused Confucius a temper tantrum. In contrast, most people today successfully live up to the capitalist-consumerist ideal. The new ethic promises paradise on condition that the rich remain greedy and spend their time making more money, and that the masses give free rein to their cravings and passions – and buy more and more. This is the first religion in history whose followers actually do what they are asked to do. How, though, do we know that we’ll really get paradise in return? We’ve seen it on television.
  • Many kingdoms and empires were in truth little more than large protection rackets. The king was the capo di tutti capi who collected protection money, and in return made sure that neighbouring crime syndicates and local small fry did not harm those under his protection. He did little else.
  • Romantic literature often presents the individual as somebody caught in a struggle against the state and the market. Nothing could be further from the truth. The state and the market are the mother and father of the individual, and the individual can survive only thanks to them. The market provides us with work, insurance and a pension. If we want to study a profession, the government’s schools are there to teach us. If we want to open a business, the bank loans us money. If we want to build a house, a construction company builds it and the bank gives us a mortgage, in some cases subsidised or insured by the state. If violence flares up, the police protect us. If we are sick for a few days, our health insurance takes care of us. If we are debilitated for months, social security steps in. If we need around-the-clock assistance, we can go to the market and hire a nurse – usually some stranger from the other side of the world who takes care of us with the kind of devotion that we no longer expect from our own children. If we have the means, we can spend our golden years at a senior citizens’ home. The tax authorities treat us as individuals, and do not expect us to pay the neighbours’ taxes. The courts, too, see us as individuals, and never punish us for the crimes of our cousins.
  • Consumerism and nationalism work extra hours to make us imagine that millions of strangers belong to the same community as ourselves, that we all have a common past, common interests and a common future. This isn’t a lie. It’s imagination. Like money, limited liability companies and human rights, nations and consumer tribes are inter-subjective realities. They exist only in our collective imagination, yet their power is immense. As long as millions of Germans believe in the existence of a German nation, get excited at the sight of German national symbols, retell German national myths, and are willing to sacrifice money, time and limbs for the German nation, Germany will remain one of the strongest powers in the world.
  • Today humankind has broken the law of the jungle. There is at last real peace, and not just absence of war. For most polities, there is no plausible scenario leading to full-scale conflict within one year. What could lead to war between Germany and France next year? Or between China and Japan? Or between Brazil and Argentina? Some minor border clash might occur, but only a truly apocalyptic scenario could result in an old-fashioned full-scale war between Brazil and Argentina in 2014, with Argentinian armoured divisions sweeping to the gates of Rio, and Brazilian carpet-bombers pulverising the neighbourhoods of Buenos Aires. Such wars might still erupt between several pairs of states, e.g. between Israel and Syria, Ethiopia and Eritrea, or the USA and Iran, but these are only the exceptions that prove the rule.
  • This situation might of course change in the future and, with hindsight, the world of today might seem incredibly naïve. Yet from a historical perspective, our very naïvety is fascinating. Never before has peace been so prevalent that people could not even imagine war.
  • First and foremost, the price of war has gone up dramatically. The Nobel Peace Prize to end all peace prizes should have been given to Robert Oppenheimer and his fellow architects of the atomic bomb. Nuclear weapons have turned war between superpowers into collective suicide, and made it impossible to seek world domination by force of arms.
  • There is a positive feedback loop between all these four factors. The threat of nuclear holocaust fosters pacifism; when pacifism spreads, war recedes and trade flourishes; and trade increases both the profits of peace and the costs of war. Over time, this feedback loop creates another obstacle to war, which may ultimately prove the most important of all. The tightening web of international connections erodes the independence of most countries, lessening the chance that any one of them might single-handedly let slip the dogs of war. Most countries no longer engage in full-scale war for the simple reason that they are no longer independent. Though citizens in Israel, Italy, Mexico or Thailand may harbour illusions of independence, the fact is that their governments cannot conduct independent economic or foreign policies, and they are certainly incapable of initiating and conducting full-scale war on their own.
  • A speaker of some personal charm can give a pastiche of clichés the illusion of meaning, but in writing, a pastiche of clichés will always look like a pastiche of clichés.
  • If we succeed in explaining how some people came to dominate other people, may this not seem to justify the domination? Doesn't it seem to say that the outcome was inevitable, and that it would therefore be futile to try to change the outcome today? This objection rests on a common tendency to confuse an explanation of causes with a justification or acceptance of results. What use one makes of a his- torical explanation is a question separate from the explanation itself. Understanding is more often used to try to alter an outcome than to repeat or perpetuate it. That's why psychologists try to understand the minds of murderers and rapists, why social historians try to understand genocide, and why physicians try to understand the causes of human disease. Those investigators do not seek to justify murder, rape, genocide, and illness. instead, they seek to use their understanding of a chain of causes to inter- rupt the chain.
  • Reasoning and logic are to each other as health is to
  • Reasoning and logic are to each other as health is to medicine, or—better—as conduct is to morality.
  • in other areas of science, we say we understand an aspect of nature when we can say it is similar to some familiar theoretical model. The terms theory and model, incidentally, are sometimes used interchangeably. But really they should not be. A theory is a relationship of the model to the things the model is supposed to represent. The Bohr model of the atom is that of a proton surrounded by orbiting electrons. It is something like the pattern of the solar system, and that is indeed one of its metaphoric sources. Bohr's theory was that all atoms were similar to his model. The theory, with the more recent discovery of new particles and complicated interatomic relationships, has turned out not to be true. But the model remains. A model is neither true nor false; only the theory of its similarity to what it represents. A theory is thus a metaphor between a model and data. And understanding in science is the feeling of similarity between complicated data and a familiar model.
  • my statements, recommendations, and conclusions. Although they are dramatized and corroborated through such devices as interviews, quotes, and systematic personal observations,
  • last published. In the interim, some things have happened that deserve a place in this new edition. First, we now know more about the influence process than before. The study of persuasion, compliance, and change has advanced, and the pages that follow have been adapted to reflect that progress. In addition to an overall update of the material, I have devoted special attention to updated coverage of popular culture and new technology, as well as to research on cross-cultural social influence—how the influence process works similarly or differently in various human cultures. I have also expanded a feature that
  • Even when using liberal rates for average energy intensities of all biomaterials other than paper, construction materials other than cement, and metals other than steel and aluminum we end up with a grand total of no more than 120 EJ, or less than 25% of the world's TPES: we create the modern world's material wealth with no more than a quarter of all energy we use.
  • Resources denote the total mass of material (element, compound, mineral, ore) in the Earth's crust, and a distinction can be made between resources on land and under sea. Obviously, these aggregates are not known with a high degree of certainty, and their estimates tend to increase with more drilling and more extensive targeted exploration. Even if we were to know the exact amount of a particular resource, that information would not allow us to calculate the time of its ultimate exhaustion because no mineral could ever be completely exploited: long before reaching such a point the costs of removing it from excessive depths or isolating it from deposits where it is present in minuscule concentrations would make its recovery quite uneconomical.
  • People on the side of The People always ended up disappointed, in any case. They found that The People tended not to be grateful or appreciative or forward-thinking or obedient. The People tended to be small-minded and conservative and not very clever and were even distrustful of cleverness. And so, the children of the revolution were faced with the age-old problem: it wasn’t that you had the wrong kind of government, which was obvious, but that you had the wrong kind of people.
  • "The kings of the ocean are gone, and what is our argument for their return? We need them? We? Their murderers? The ones that made the water bitter in their mouths, and killed the food they ate? The ones that made the ocean boil red with their blood for miles around? Men need them? Those vermin? Those stinging insects? Struggling pustulent humanity—needs them? Do you think a whale cares? You might as well need the sun to rise at midnight because you're feeling a bit chilly. Yes, of course, certainly we need them. But the question is, do we deserve them?"
  • Killing is killing; it's sordid, bloody, stupid, and wasteful. There's nothing noble about it. People will do what they'll do, but we can at least call it what it is."
  • Killing is killing; it's sordid, bloody, stupid, and wasteful. There's nothing noble about it. People will do what they'll do, but we can at least call it what it is."
  • "There are so many reasons I hardly know where to start, but here's one. You're always talking about getting past people's surfaces to what's inside, and that's what you call real. But you can't just break through a person's defenses like that; the defenses are part of the person, they are the person. It's our nature to have hidden depths. It's like—" my eyes searched the room for a metaphor "—like skinning a frog and saying, 'Now I understand this frog, because I've seen what's inside it.' But when you skin it, it dies. You haven't understood a frog, you've understood a corpse."
  • "We are a machine made by God to write poetry to glorify his creatures. But we're a bad machine, built on an off day. While we were grinding out a few pathetic verses, we killed the creatures we were writing about; for every person writing poems, there were a hundred, a thousand, out blowing away God's creation left, right, and center. Well, Maya Tatyanichna? You know what we have wrought. What is your judgment? Which is better? A tiger, or a poem about a tiger?"
  • "Do you suppose that Judas walks about in Heaven? Do you suppose Satan is any the less damned because he loved God? No, no, it is his love that damns him; loving God while being estranged from him is what Hell is. Even Kamatha gets his, although, since this is India, where eternity is so vast that not even human hate can fill it up, he will eventually escape from Hell into another incarnation." His eyes grew distant. "I find that messy, truthfully. For a stain so great, the punishment should surely be eternal. No, the crime is not the less just because it is for a good end. On the contrary, Judas' crime is all the worse, because he has no hope of pleading that he knew not what he did. He knew just what he was doing, and he knew its price—as I do."
  • "Pandora opens up a box of demons, unleashing them all on the world. But at the bottom of the box, there's one thing that's either the worst demon of all, or the saving grace, depending who you listen to: hope."
  • You've forgotten what human emotions are like— you either forget them completely, or you blow them up into something they can never be. Damn it, Mirabara, it's only love. It doesn't mean you want to fuse souls with someone. And it doesn't save the world, or even the people in it. It's not something you put on display for some political purpose. It's not a statement or a demonstration; it just is."
  • One of the best habits a learner can instill in herself is regular self-quizzing to recalibrate her understanding of what she does and does not know.
  • “In the first place, they can’t have been very good tools, so why would the abos have relied on them? You might say they needed those obsidian arrowheads and bone fishhooks for getting food, but that’s not true. They could poison the water with the juices of certain plants, and for primitive people the most effective way to fish is probably with weirs, or with nets of rawhide or vegetable fiber. Just the same way, trapping or driving animals with fire would be more effective than hunting; and anyway stone tools wouldn’t be needed at all for gathering berries and the shoots of edible plants and things like that, which were probably their most important foods—those stone things got in the glass case here because the snares and nets rotted away and they’re all that’s left, so the people that make their living that way pretend they were important.”
  • These stories of the horrible things politicians or business executives do are appealing in their own perverse way because they free us to believe we would behave differently if given the opportunity. They liberate us to cast blame on the flawed person who somehow, inexplicably, had the authority to make monumental—and monumentally bad—decisions.
  • First, politics is about getting and keeping political power. It is not about the general welfare of “We, the people.” Second, political survival is best assured by depending on few people to attain and retain office. That means dictators, dependent on a few cronies, are in a far better position to stay in office for decades, often dying in their sleep, than are democrats. Third, when the small group of cronies knows that there is a large pool of people waiting on the sidelines, hoping to replace them in the queue for gorging at the public trough, then the top leadership has great discretion over how revenue is spent and how much to tax. All that tax revenue and discretion opens the door to kleptocracy from many leaders, and public-spirited programs from a very few. And it means enhanced tenure in power. Fourth, dependence on a small coalition liberates leaders to tax at high rates,
  • To understand politics properly, we must modify one assumption in particular: we must stop thinking that leaders can lead unilaterally. No leader is monolithic. If we are to make any sense of how power works, we must stop thinking that North Korea’s Kim Jong Il can do whatever he wants. We must stop believing that Adolf Hitler or Joseph Stalin or Genghis Khan or anyone else is in sole control of their respective nation.
  • Che may have been second in power only to Fidel himself. Indeed, that was likely his greatest fault. Castro forced Che out of Cuba in 1965 partly because of Che’s popularity, which made him a potential rival for authority. Castro sent Che on a mission to Bolivia, but towards the end of March 1967 Castro simply cut off Guevara’s support, leaving him stranded. Captain Gary Prado Salmon, the Bolivian officer who captured Che, confirmed that Guevara told him that the decision to come to Bolivia was not his own, it was Castro’s. One of Fidel’s biographers remarked, In a very real sense Che followed in the shadows of Frank Pais, Camilo Cienfuegos, Huber Matos, and Humberto Sori Marin [all close backers of Castro during the revolution]. Like them, he was viewed by Castro as a ‘competitor’ for power and like them, he had to be moved aside ‘in one manner or another.’ Che Guevara was killed in Bolivia but at least he escaped the ignominy of execution by his revolutionary ally, Fidel Castro. Humberto Sori Marin was not so ‘fortunate.’ Marin, the commander of Castro’s rebel army, was accused of conspiring against the revolution. In April 1961, like so many other erstwhile backers of Fidel Castro, he too was executed.
  • Rule 1: Keep your winning coalition as small as possible. A small coalition allows a leader to rely on very few people to stay in power. Fewer essentials equals more control and contributes to more discretion over expenditures. Bravo for Kim Jong Il of North Korea. He is a contemporary master at ensuring dependence on a small coalition.
  • Rule 2: Keep your nominal selectorate as large as possible. Maintain a large selectorate of interchangeables and you can easily replace any troublemakers in your coalition, influentials and essentials alike. After all, a large selectorate permits a big supply of substitute supporters to put the essentials on notice that they should be loyal and well behaved or else face being replaced. Bravo to Vladimir Ilyich Lenin for introducing universal adult suffrage in Russia’s old rigged election system. Lenin mastered the art of creating a vast supply of interchangeables.
  • Rule 3: Control the flow of revenue. It’s always better for a ruler to determine who eats than it is to have a larger pie from which the people can feed themselves. The most effective cash flow for leaders is one that makes lots of people poor and redistributes money to keep select people—their supporters—wealthy. Bravo to Pakistan’s president Asif Ali Zardari, estimated to be worth up to $4 billion even as he governs a country near the world’s bottom in per capita income.
  • Rule 4: Pay your key supporters just enough to keep them loyal. Remember, your backers would rather be you than be dependent on you. Your big advantage over them is that you know where the money is and they don’t. Give your coalition just enough so that they don’t shop around for someone to replace you and not a penny more. Bravo to Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe who, whenever facing a threat of a military coup, manages finally to pay his army, keeping their loyalty against all odds.
  • Rule 5: Don’t take money out of your supporter’s pockets to make the people’s lives better. The flip side of rule 4 is not to be too cheap toward your coalition of supporters. If you’re good to the people at the expense of your coalition, it won’t be long until your “friends” will be gunning for you. Effective policy for the masses doesn’t necessarily produce loyalty among essentials, and it’s darn expensive to boot. Hungry people are not likely to have the energy to overthrow you, so don’t worry about them. Disappointed coalition members, in contrast, can defect, leaving you in deep trouble. Bravo to Senior General Than Shwe of Myanmar, who made sure following the 2008 Nargis cyclone that food relief was controlled and sold on the black market by his military supporters rather than letting aid go to the people—at least 138,000 and maybe as many as 500,000 of whom died in the disaster.
  • While rebellion requires skill and coordination, its success ultimately depends heavily upon coalition loyalty, or more precisely, the absence of loyalty to the old regime. Hosni Mubarak’s defeat by a mass uprising in Egypt is a case in point. The most critical factor behind Mubarak’s defeat in February 2011 was the decision by Egypt’s top generals to allow demonstrators to take to the streets without fear of military suppression. And why was that the case? As explained in a talk given on May 5, 2010, based on the logic set out here, cuts in US foreign aid to Egypt combined with serious economic constraints that produced high unemployment, meant that Mubarak’s coalition was likely to be underpaid and the people were likely to believe the risks and costs of rebellion were smaller than normal.2 That is, the general rule of thumb for rebellion is that revolutions occur when those who preserve the current system are sufficiently dissatisfied with their rewards that they are willing to look for someone new to take care of them. On the other hand, revolts are defeated through suppression of the people—always an unpleasant task—so coalition members need to receive enough benefits from their leader that they are willing to do horribly distasteful things to ensure that the existing system is maintained. If they do not get enough goodies under the current system, then they will not stop the people from rising up against the regime.
  • Ottoman succession could be bloody. Unsuccessful brothers were typically killed. Mehmet II (1429–1481) institutionalized this practice with the fratricide law, under which all unsuccessful male heirs were strangled with a silk cord. A century later, Mehmet III allegedly killed nineteen brothers, two sons, and fifteen slaves who were pregnant by his own father, thereby eliminating all present and future potential rivals. By the middle of the seventeenth century this practice was replaced by the kinder, gentler practice of locking all male relatives in the Fourth Court of the Topkapi Palace—quite literally the original Golden Cage. With relatives like this, it is perhaps no wonder why Shakespeare’s Hamlet or Robert Graves’s Claudius chose to feign madness.
  • For Christianity’s first several hundred years, the Bishop of Rome—the pope—was a relatively minor figure even within the Christian community. Bishops were the arbiters of Christian practice and belief, but not until Damasus I, pope from 366 to 384, was the Bishop of Rome truly elevated above all other Roman Catholic bishops, becoming the head of the western Roman Catholic Church.6 Eventually sainted for his extraordinary accomplishments, Damasus’s actions were a case study in the manipulation of essentials, influentials, and interchangeables.
  • As it turns out, one thing that is always expedient is remaining solvent. If a ruler has run out of money with which to pay his supporters, it becomes far easier for someone else to make coalition members an attractive offer. Financial crises are an opportune time to strike. The Russian Revolution is often portrayed through the prism of Marxist ideology and class warfare. The reality might be much simpler. Kerensky’s revolutionaries were able to storm the Winter Palace in February 1917 because the army did not stop them. And the army did not bother to stop them because the czar did not pay them enough. The czar could not pay them enough because he foolishly cut the income from one of his major sources of revenue, the vodka tax, at the same time that he fought World War I. Czar Nicholas confused what might seem like good public policy with bad political decision making. He had the silly idea that a sober army would prove more effective than an army that was falling-over drunk. Nicholas, it seems, thought that a ban on vodka would improve the performance of Russia’s troops in World War I. He missed the obvious downsides, however. Vodka was vastly popular with the general populace and, most assuredly, with the troops. So popular and widely consumed was vodka that its sale provided about a third of the government’s revenue. With vodka banned, his revenue diminished sharply. His expenses, in contrast, kept on rising due to the costs of the war. Soon Nicholas was no longer able to buy loyalty. As a result, his army refused to stop strikers and protesters. Alexander Kerensky formed Russia’s short-lived democratic government after toppling the czar’s regime. But he couldn’t hang on to power for long. His mistake was operating a democratic government, which necessitated a large coalition, and implementing an unpopular policy—continuing the czar’s war—thereby alienating his coalition right from the start. Lenin and the Bolsheviks made no such mistakes.
  • Successful leaders must learn the lesson of these examples and put raising revenue and paying supporters above all else. Consider Robert Mugabe’s success in staying on as Zimbabwe’s president. The economy has collapsed in Zimbabwe thanks to Mugabe’s terrible policies. Starvation is common and epidemics of cholera regularly sweep the country. Mugabe “succeeds” because he understands that it does not matter what happens to the people provided that he makes sure to pay the army. And despite regular media speculation, so far he has always managed to do so and to keep himself in office well into his eighties. He has reduced a once thriving agricultural exporting nation into one that depends on foreign aid. Mugabe is certainly horrible for what he’s done to the people he rules, but he is a master of the rules to rule by. Where policy matters most, when it comes to paying off cronies, he has delivered. That is why no one has deposed him.
  • In democracies, politics is an arms race of ideas. Just as the democrat has to be responsive to the people when governing, when seeking office it helps to propose policies that the voters like and it pays to want to do more (as opposed to less)—even if the economic consequences are damaging down the road (when you’re no longer in office). Satisfy the coalition in the short run. When democratic politicians lament “mortgaging our children’s future,” they’re really regretting that it was not them who came up with the popular policy that voters actually want. Sure, voters might feel guilty about the latest $1 trillion program, but see if they actually vote to reject it. With parents like that, what children need enemies?
  • Both leaders knew that it is better to have loyal incompetents than competent rivals. Sometimes, of course, having competent advisers is unavoidable. Byzantine, Mughal, Chinese, Caliphate, and other emperors devised a creative solution that guaranteed that these advisers didn’t become rivals: They all relied on eunuchs at various times. In the Byzantine Empire in the ninth and tenth centuries, the three most senior posts below emperor were held almost exclusively by eunuchs. The most senior position of Grand Administrator had evolved from the position of Prefect of the Sacred Bedchamber and included the duties of posting eunuch guards and watching over the sleeping emperor. Michael III made an exception and gave this position to his favorite, Basil, rather than a eunuch. This decision cost him his life. When Basil perceived that Michael was starting to favor another courtier, he murdered the emperor and seized the throne.
  • What we can begin to appreciate is that no matter how well a tyrant builds his coalitions, it is important to keep the coalition itself off-balance. Familiarity breeds contempt. As noted, the best way to stay in power is to keep the coalition small and, crucially, to make sure that everyone in it knows that there are plenty of replacements for them. This is why you will often read about regular elections in tyrannical states. Everyone knows that these elections don’t count, and yet people go along with them. Rigged elections are not about picking leaders. They are not about gaining legitimacy. How can an election be legitimate when its outcome is known before the vote even occurs? Rigged elections are a warning to powerful politicians that they are expendable if they deviate from the leader’s desired path.
  • Designated seats for underrepresented minorities is another means by which leaders reduce the number of people upon whom they are dependent. Such policies are advertised as empowering minorities, whether they are women, or members of a particular caste or religion. In reality they empower leaders. That a candidate is elected by a small subset of the population reduces the number of essentials required to retain power. At a very basic level, electoral victory in a two-party parliamentary system requires the support of half the people in half the districts; that is, in principle, 25 percent of the voters. Suppose 10 percent of the seats were reserved for election by one specific group that happens to be geographically concentrated (such as gay voters in the Castro in our earlier account of Harvey Milk’s election in San Francisco). To retain half the seats in parliament, the incumbent party need only retain 40 percent of the regular single member district seats, which is readily done with just over 22 percent of the vote. So by focusing on districts in which the privileged minority is prevalent, a party can reduce the number of votes it requires by 12 percent.
  • During Bueno de Mesquita’s time doing field work in India in 1969–1970 he observed firsthand how the quest for power coupled with the influence of power blocs undermined any notion of the pursuit of political principles other than the principles, win, and get paid off. Senior people in villages and towns, and indeed, up and down the levels of governance in India’s states, would pledge to a particular party the support of those they led. In return, they would receive benefits and privileges. By and large, all the “clients” of these “patrons” followed their patron’s lead and voted for the designated party. What is most fascinating is that the affiliations between voters and parties need not have had any ideological rhyme or reason. In Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populace state, for instance, the free-market, anticommunist Swatantra Party, the socially conservative and anticommunist Jana Sangh Party, and the Communist Party of India formed a coalition government with each other following India’s 1967 election. This was true despite the Swatantra Party’s leadership’s description of the Communist Party of India as “public enemy number 1.” What did these parties have in common? Only their desire to band together and beat the Congress Party so as to enjoy the benefits of power. This sort of odd bedfellows coalition-building strategy was long rampant throughout India.
  • Perhaps the most egregious case of bald opportunism occurred in the state of Bihar. There ideologically disparate parties formed a government, relying heavily on currying favor with the Raja of Ramgarh. The raja, owner of much of the mining interests in Bihar, switched parties every few months, bringing coalition governments down—and up—with him. Each time he switched, he garnered greater private goods for himself and his backers, including the dismissal of criminal charges against him. As the newspaper, The Patriot, reported on June 26, 1968, following one of the raja’s frequent defections to an alternative coalition, leading to the formation of a new government, “The Raja who had been able to get his terms from Mr. Mahamaya Prasad [the former head of the Bihar government] assumed that he could demand from Mr. Paswan [the new head of the Bihar government] a higher price. This amounted to Deputy Chief Ministership and the Mines portfolio for himself and withdrawal of the innumerable cases filed against him and members of his family by the Bihar government.” 16 The raja understood that he could manipulate his bloc of backers to make and break governments and, in doing so, he could enrich himself a lot and help his followers a little bit in turn. That, indeed, is the lesson of bloc voting whether based on personal ties in Bihar, trade union membership among American teachers, tribal clans in Iraq, linguistic divisions in Belgium, or religion in Northern Ireland. Bloc leaders gain a lot, their members gain less, and the rest of society pays the price.
  • The traditional approach has been to treat emerging democracies as patronage systems in which politicians deliver small bribes to individual voters. The New York Times, for instance, reported on September 17, 2010, in an article with the headline “Afghan Votes Come Cheap, and Often in Bulk,” that the typical price paid for an Afghan voter’s support was about $5 or $6. But the article also noted that widespread vote fraud probably made vote buying unnecessary in any event.
  • Bribing voters works far better at the bloc level. Suppose there are just three villages, and suppose a party, call it party A, negotiates with senior community figures in the villages and makes the following offer: if party A wins it will build a new hospital (or road, or pick up the trash, send police patrols, plow the snow, and so on) in the most supportive of the three villages. Once a village elder declares for party A, voters in that village can do little better than support party A, even if they don’t like it. The reality is that there are so many voters that the chance that any individual’s vote matters is inconsequential. Yet, voters are much more influential about where the hospital gets built or whose streets get swept than they are about who wins the election. To see why, consider the case where two or three of the village elders declare in favor of party A and most voters in these villages go along with them. Consider the incentives of an individual voter. Since at least two of three villages have declared for party A, an alternative party is unlikely to win so an individual’s vote has little influence on the electoral outcome. Voting for party B is a waste of time. Yet the voter could influence where the hospital is built by turning out to vote for A. If everyone else supports A, but she does not, then her village gives one less vote for A than another village and so loses out on the hospital. If she votes for A, then her village has a shot at getting the hospital. In the extreme case, where absolutely everyone votes for party A, our voter would give up a one third chance of getting the hospital in her village if she did not vote for party A. Voters have little incentive but to go along with their village elders.
  • We all hate taxes and are impressively inventive in looking for ways to avoid them. Leaders, however, are rather fond of taxes—as long as they don’t have to pay them. Being a dictator can be a terrific job, but it also can be terribly stressful, especially if money is in short supply. Taxes are one of the great antidotes to stress for heads of governments. Taxes, after all, generate much-needed revenue, which can then reward supporters. As a general principle leaders always want to increase taxes. That gives them more resources with which to reward their backers and, not to be forgotten, themselves. Nevertheless, they will find it difficult to raise taxes with impunity.
  • Leaders face three constraints on how much money they can skim from their subjects. First, taxes diminish how hard people work. Second, some of the tax burden inevitably will fall upon the essential backers of the leader. (In general, the first constraint limits taxes in autocracies and the second constraint sets the boundary on taxes in democracies.) The third consideration is that tax collection requires both expertise and resources. The costs associated with collecting taxes limit what leaders can extract and shapes the choice of taxation methods.
  • The lesson from the Tea Party movement’s electoral success in 2010 is that people don’t like paying taxes. Politician who raise or even maintain current taxes are politically vulnerable, but then so too are politicians who fail to deliver the policies their coalition wants. Herein lies the rub. It may well be that cutting taxes, while increasing the size of the economic pie, fails to make it big enough to generate both more wealth and more effective government policies. The question is and always must be the degree to which the private sector’s efficient but unequal distribution of wealth trumps government’s more equitable, less efficient, but popular economic programs.
  • Taxing the poor to pay the rich has plenty of bad economic consequences, but these tend to be “in the long run”—that is, on another leader’s watch. For instance, in Ghana, heavily taxing famers had the longer term consequence of reducing crops. Ghanaian farmers simply stopped planting and caring for cocoa trees. By the 1980s cocoa production had collapsed and farmers tried to smuggle what little they did grow to neighboring Côte d’Ivoire. Case after case proves the point: when taxes are too high, then people either stop working or they find ways to avoid the formal economy.
  • Initially some of the tax collected by the tax farmers was only applicable to non-Muslims. This proved to be a very successful, if not wholly intended, means of encouraging religious conversion. It seems that many non-Muslims, realizing that they could reduce the tax collectors’ reach by becoming Muslim, put their religious beliefs aside and converted. As long as these conversions did not assume massive proportions, the tax farmers made themselves incredibly rich at the expense of the average citizen. When conversion became commonplace, tax farmers adjusted, no longer excluding Muslims from some of the taxes they levied. And from the perspective of the Caliph, they ensured reliable revenue. That they terrorized the people was of no political importance: impoverished and persecuted farmers were not part of the winning coalition.
  • As many leaders have learned, the problem with raising revenue through taxation is that it requires people to work. Tax too aggressively or fail to provide an environment conducive to economic activity and people simply don’t produce. Actually extracting revenue from the land itself provides a convenient alternative, cutting the people out of the equation altogether.
  • Nevertheless, natural resources are wonderful for leaders. Unlike getting their subjects to work, leaders don’t have to encourage natural resources to work. Admittedly the minerals need to be extracted, but by and large autocrats can achieve this without the participation of the local population. In Nigeria, for instance, the oil is concentrated in the Niger Delta region. Foreign firms with foreign workers do most of the extraction. Few Nigerians participate. The oil companies run security firms, effectively small private armies, to keep the locals from obstructing the business or complaining about the environmental degradation that results. BP and other foreign firms are free to act with impunity, provided they deliver royalty checks to the government. This is not so much a failing of these companies as the way business must be conducted in countries whose leaders rely on a few cronies to back them up. A company that acts responsibly will necessarily have less money to deliver to the government and that will be enough for them to be replaced by another company that is willing to be more “cooperative.”
  • Julius Caesar’s death at the hands of some of his closest supporters is often portrayed as the slaying of a despot. But the facts don’t support this interpretation. Julius Caesar was a reformer. He undertook important public works, from redoing the calendar and relieving traffic congestion, to stabilizing food availability. He also took steps specifically designed to help the poor. For instance, he provided land grants to former soldiers and got rid of the system of tax farming, replacing it with a more orderly and predictable tax system. Not only that, he relieved the people’s debt burden by about 25 percent. Not surprisingly, though these policies were popular with the people, many came at the expense of Rome’s prominent citizens. Tax farming was, of course, lucrative for those lucky few who got to extract money from the people. High indebtedness was also lucrative for those who were owed money. These groups found Caesar’s reforms hitting them straight in their anachronistic pocketbooks and, therefore, not at all to their liking. Popular though many of his reforms might have been with the man on the street, they harmed the welfare of the powerful influentials and essentials, and it was of course these people who cut him down.
  • Legal approaches to eliminating corruption won’t ever work, and can often make the situation worse. The best way to deal with corruption is to change the underlying incentives. As coalition size increases, corruption becomes a thing of the past. As we proposed for the IOC and FIFA, increasing the number of members responsible for choosing the site of the games could end graft. The same logic prevails in all organizations. If politicians want to end massive bonuses for bankers then they need to pass legislation that fosters the restructuring of corporate government, so that chief executive officers and board chairs really depend on the will of their millions of shareholders (and not on a handful of government regulators). As long as corporate bosses are beholden to relatively few people they will provide those few key supporters with fat bonuses. Big bonuses might not be popular with the public or even with their many shareholders, but the public and unorganized shareholders can’t simply depose them. Insiders at the bank can. Legislating limits on compensation will simply force CEOs to resort to convoluted and quasi legal means. Such measures cannot improve corporate transparency or make balance sheets easier to understand.
  • It is thus not because India is poor, or has a large number of people, that it suffers a crippling shortage of infrastructure. The people of Bombay are not so poor that they would not pay for slightly better local trains, with a smaller chance of spending one’s commute in unwilling communion with their neighbour’s armpit. The reasons for India’s infrastructure deficit are deeper than that—born of an enduring belief that anything beyond the basic, any hint of comfort, is sinful and unacceptably expensive. This is a belief with many antecedents: Mahatma Gandhi’s tendency to insist on taking third-class train carriages, for one; our deep-rooted socialist ethos, for another.
  • Indeed, the Financial Times reported in November 2014 that one French company finds that the cheapest and easiest way to send parts from Bangalore to Hyderabad, a few hundred kilometres apart, is to send them first from Bangalore to Europe, and then back from Europe to Hyderabad. It isn’t as if there isn’t a decent highway between the two cities; but the moment that a truck hit a state border, it has to stop and wait. According to the World Bank, Indian truck drivers spend a fourth of their time on the road waiting at the tax checkpoints that mark state borders. Factor in the time they spend in queues to pay highway tolls, and they spend less than 40 per cent of their time on the road actually driving. And that’s when the roads are good. Moving stuff around India costs this country’s manufacturers more than they spend paying their workers, the FT reports. Even India’s lower-than-low wages can’t make up for the dent logistics costs make in our competitiveness.
  • The belief that we are so poor a country that we should never, ever, have slack capacity is very deeply ingrained indeed.
  • Go, today, to a small Indian town. There are only three places where you see vibrant activity—queues, discussion, energy. One is the alcohol shop. The second is the newsagent, who will also sell application forms for public-sector jobs. And the third is the guy who sells lottery tickets.
  • India’s greatest success in agriculture came from an advance of the second kind. In the Green Revolution of the 1960s and 1970s, high-yielding varieties of grain developed mainly in the United States were introduced across India. The effects were somewhat miraculous. India had long been considered unable to feed itself. It had too many mouths, and didn’t grow enough to put in them. It relied on food aid from the West; it was, according to the more sardonic of commentators, ‘a ship-to-mouth existence’. But, in barely a decade or so, India was self-sufficient in food. Indeed, in the decades since, India has built up so vast a stockpile of rice and wheat that it is now running out of place to keep it—the paranoid hoarding one associates with a childhood of deprivation. But the right lessons from this success have never been learned. India’s town-dwellers have instead focused on the first kind of intervention—making sure that whatever farmers choose to grow, they can also sell at a high price. (This is the exact opposite of what both Marxist and classical liberal economists have always assumed and recommended. Both those sets of people expected that farmers would have to provide cheap food to a burgeoning urban working class. India’s democratic politicians had different ideas.)
  • There are too many types of Indian farmers to count, not one, and they have as many different interests and demands; and most of them are contradictory. How can you ‘protect’ them all? The big farmer in Punjab wants nothing more than his free power and water to continue forever. His daughter is in Jalandhar and his son is in Canada; and what he wants is an end to the rural employment guarantee scheme. There’s no controlling these damned Biharis who work on his land now, they are not as desperate as they were earlier. The smallholder in Telangana wants to know where the canals he was promised are. He knows his counterpart in coastal Andhra has canals; but he, here in the arid upcountry, has to rely on wells he’s dug. He paid for them himself, too, where the canals are paid for by the government. And the worst thing is that his wells run dry just when he needs them the most. Where are those canals? The marginal farmer in Madhya Pradesh is confident. He’s confident because he believes he can get his hands on a new variety of vegetable seeds, and the man willing to sell it to him says it will triple his profits. Ah, if only he had a little more cash to invest in it! What a pity he can’t mortgage his farm properly. For that kind of returns, he’d be willing to go deeper into debt. One good throw pays for all . . . The man with 2 hectares near a highway in Gujarat wants to know if you can introduce him to PepsiCo. He thought about it, and he knows it’s risky, but he’s willing to chance it—he’ll turn the entire 2 hectares over to potatoes if PepsiCo agrees to handle the purchasing of fertilizer and comes up with a preferred planting schedule. Apparently someone two villages over got a contract like this, and he wants one too. He’s sick and tired of finding a different buyer every year. They fleece you, these traders. The young man who has inherited land in western Uttar Pradesh has heard a rumour. Is it true that there will be a new road nearby, a six-lane expressway from Delhi to Dehradun? If so, and this is crucial, how close is it to his land? Is it so close that they will acquire it forcibly? That’s bad. True, it would be worse if it was so far away that he couldn’t sell it for a good price. It’s an asset, and surely it is worth more to someone else than it is to him? In any case, he knows a mobile-phone shop in Meerut he could get a share in if he came up with a few lakhs in the next couple of months . . . The tired-looking man at the Mumbai train station is a farmer. He owns no land and spends most of his time away from his village in Jharkhand, but he insists he is still a farmer. He is going back, isn’t he? Twice a year he goes, like clockwork, when his hands are needed on the family’s fields. He likes Mumbai, sure. But he only gets really excited when he starts talking about the price of fertilizer, and whether you should grow only rice, or rice and pulses. Of course he’s a farmer! He just doesn’t live near a farm. The stocky Bengali from a border district is furious. His paddy crop is struggling; the long-grain varietal he has planted all his life is simply not doing as well as it used to. The sea is rising, he says, and water that once was sweet is now brackish. The rice his grandfather planted in this rich delta could have handled salt, he believes; but 5000 varieties have vanished now. Perhaps one of them would have been perfect. But that’s not why he’s furious. He’s furious because his brother-in-law in the next district, who always had even more saline land, has just built another floor for his house. Because he’s stopped planting rice, and turned his field into a big pond, filled it up with saline water, and become a prawn farmer. From the moment the wife heard about the prawns, his own life has become unbearable. The fellow even bought himself a flat-screen TV! The old couple in Bihar is slightly confused, but pleased. The man at the fertilizer shop always told them that more is better. And that made sense to them, too. But now they’re being told by the government to farm their tiny plot more intensively. Look after a small number of seeds and saplings as if they were children; transplant them, one at a time, into your field. Leave space between them, don’t crowd them: like a first-class compartment, not general class, the man from the government had said, laughing. Carefully moderate the water. It’s a lot of work, sure: but their yield has gone up a lot. And profit has doubled. This is really confusing, but they’re not complaining. For the first time in decades, they are enjoying their work. Does anyone think all these people can be ‘protected’ by the same policy? The law that prevents the MP farmer from gambling with his land also prevents the young man near Meerut from selling out; mandating intensive farming, as with the Bihar couple, may not help the man in Telangana who really needs a bit more water. And, in the middle of this, it is wise to remember these two things: that most people in rural areas don’t own land; and even those who do survive thanks to money they earn away from it.
  • First, genetically modified food. Get over it, people. The Europeans are the richest and most pampered human society in history. India is, to be blunt, not. We cannot exactly adopt their snooty attitude to tomatoes. Is GM food killing us from inside? Probably not. Soyabean has been genetically modified since 1996, corn since about then, and every time we have something from the US that’s processed, it’s definitely got one or the other. Billions of people have had GM high-fructose corn syrup in their Cokes and their 7Ups and their Dr Peppers, and it’s done nothing to them. (Other than ruined their teeth, made them obese, and given them diabetes, but that has nothing to do with GM.) The anti-GM lobby is so powerful and so noisy, however, that they can even pressure the Chinese government into ending its support of GM rice. What chance do India’s farmers have? None. Second, farmer suicides. Yes, people often kill themselves when they are indebted and they see no way out. But, people, stop lying to us with numbers to try and make us feel bad. It is disrespectful to farmers, it is disrespectful to us and it is, worst of all, disrespectful to mathematics and common sense. All you need to know about suicides on the farm is this: that whether or not farmers are killing themselves at a greater rate than other Indians do depends, crucially, on how every state’s police and the Census and various household surveys define and categorize ‘farmers’. If your emotional pitch for rural distress comes down to this kind of definitional quibbling, find a new pitch. And, ideally, let your new pitch not essentialize and flatten Indian farmers’ personalities and motivations, please. After all, it should not run into problems of comparison—in having to explain why 14 of every 1,00,000 middle-class people in Bangalore kill themselves, for example, a number comparable or higher than farmer suicides in most Indian states. Are they in distress? Why do 17 of every 1,00,000 people in famously happy Bhutan kill themselves, a rate higher than Indian farmers in most states? Is there an explanation for the widely different suicide rates among farmers in different states—an explanation more powerful than my Reason for All Seasons, carelessness with the data? Above all, if 20 of every 1,00,000 Japanese kill themselves for an entire complicated set of reasons, many of them to do with cultural views of suicide, why would you imagine they have that three-dimensional inner life—and not the farmers you wish to ‘protect’? Basically, what I’m saying is: don’t play number games—incompetently!—with suicide. No decision a human being could make is more complex.
  • Gandhi did not really approve of poverty—although he chose to appear to approve, usually in order to discomfit some well-dressed Briton. But he did, thoroughly and comprehensively, disapprove of increasing a poor person’s productivity. He firmly believed that machinery, like tractors, that made it easier to work on a farm would hurt and not help the poor. ‘Machinery has its place; it has come to stay. But it must not be allowed to displace necessary human labour.’
  • It turns out that, once upon a time, we thought we would be a manufacturing economy; and, sometime over the past few decades, we gave up. Oh, we made a ton of excuses—about infrastructure, and globalization, and skills, and so on and so forth. We even tried to sell the absence of a manufacturing sector as a brilliant innovation. Look at us! Everybody else used an industrial sector to get rich, but we are so brilliant and ancient and everything that we have jumped an entire stage, and gone straight to a services-dominated economy, like the US is today! Double Promotion! Service–Led Growth! It’s because we are a nation of thinkers, you see. Not like all those others, none of whom has a 5000-year-old intellectual tradition.
  • Do pause to consider the magnificence of India’s socialist aspirations, and the genius of its policymakers. Attempting to protect workers, they have instead ensured that none exist. Trade unions, in the process of making their own jobs among the most secure in the world, have also made themselves irrelevant. If there was a Darwin Award for public policy, handed out to the ideology most likely to select itself out of the future, then Indira Gandhi-era Indian socialism would sweep the awards.
  • Consider textile factories—the cloth and clothing sector is the quickest and best way to expand factory employment, and it always has been. Once, India had textile mills that seemed poised for global success. If you grew up in India long enough ago, you remember when advertisements for cloth brands used to dominate television and magazines—Bombay Dyeing, DCM, Lalimli Dhariwal and Vimal, Only Vimal. Each one of those was a storied mill, and in the vanguard of Indian industry. Vimal itself was, after all, the seed from which grew noble Reliance, the puissant and the mighty. But all that changed. At a lecture in New Delhi in 2014, my boss, the economic journalist T.N. Ninan pointed out the following disturbing numbers: before the expansion of trade thanks to new international rules in the twenty-first century, India made $10 billion from textile exports, and Bangladesh $8 billion. Today India makes $12 billion—and Bangladesh $21 billion. That’s because the performance of a textile industry is particularly sensitive to how big factories are—a factory needs to be able to fulfil big orders quickly and efficiently. Plus, really long assembly lines still matter in textiles: in some cases, 100 people can sequentially work to make a pair of trousers in the least time. In Bangladesh, the average number of people in a factory is between 300 and 400; in the south Indian textiles hub of Tirupur, it’s around 50. The differences in scale are even more stark when you look at the number of machines per factory—in Bangladesh, it’s around 450; in Tirupur, 25 to 30. Bangladesh, in so many ways, does far better than India. Most painful, though, is its performance in textiles and industrial growth. After all, it can hardly be explained by culture—nobody has ever claimed that Bengalis are the most energetic of people. Nor is governance very different the moment the Jessore Road crosses the border. No, the only difference is that they never had our moment of Socialist Glory. And so they don’t have the laws that bind us. Or, to be precise, the laws that bind our poorest to poverty. In a country crying out for jobs, I want you to pause and consider this: Bangladesh, which has not got our oh-so-clever worker protections, employs (proportionally) five times as many people in the textile industry as we do.
  • What Prakash really hoped for was one big deal that he could be a little part of. If he helped Imtiaz with some shady real-estate manoeuvre, for example, and got a tiny sliver of the profit, that might be enough for him to set up as part of the rent-seeking economy himself. A little space with a chair and a TV, people to call on the phone, a second deal on the horizon perhaps, and the prospect one day of air-conditioning and a retinue of his own. That’s the Indian Dream. We have created a country where there is no clear path to advancement other than becoming a rentier. Should it surprise us that this is the highest hope of our hopeful? Failing this dream, at the very least he would want a ‘sitting-down job’. His counterparts in the countries that trod this path before India might well have been looking for a shop-floor job that provided them with a bit of security and a bit of camaraderie. But, for a complex set of reasons, Indians are going to be harder to please. Here, in my opinion, is the biggest reason: there may be a social stigma in India attached to working with your hands that’s higher than most anywhere else in the world. And there’s social prestige attached to sitting behind a desk that’s correspondingly high, too. Not one IIT engineer in the past ten years has taken a shop-floor job. And when I say ‘social’, I am of course tiptoeing, like we all do these days, around the unpalatable truth. These young urban Indians may not mention caste in the context of their career choices. But they are shaped by it, anyway, whether they will it consciously or not.
  • There is an entertaining story that is told about western Uttar Pradesh. Once the upper castes owned the land, and the landless Dalits tilled it, rented by the day. Some upper castes have now sold their land, and some of it has been bought by Dalits. Meanwhile, the elite can also afford to buy farm machinery—tractors, harvesters, and so on. And, to make a bit of money, they might rent out its services, along with their own as operator, to local farms. So, now, one might see an odd role reversal in UP’s countryside: of an upper-caste man sweating in the sun, hired to plough a Dalit’s fields. But the attitudinal change that such reversals could engender is not here yet. What remains is an ancient heritage of looking down on manual labour. For what it’s worth, the word that north Indians speaking Hindustani use for ‘sweat’ is from an Urdu root; the word for ‘knowledge’, from Sanskrit. Make of that what you will.
  • By the logic of the market, an untrained receptionist or salesperson and an untrained factory worker should be paid approximately the same amount; if most untrained people would far rather be receptionists, then they should be paid correspondingly less than if they became factory workers. Yet the average monthly gross salary of a machine operator in a major automobile manufacturer in Delhi is Rs 7700—while a receptionist is paid Rs 11,700, half as much again. This means that the invisible hand isn’t working properly. What we’ve missed, in thinking this through so far, is that the stigma against manual labour can go deep enough to affect salary offers; and, in addition, that there are unspoken barriers of caste and class and upbringing that can prevent job-seekers from leaping straight into the sort of service jobs that they’d find ideal.
  • Since independence, the government has focused on the kind of higher education that the ruling elite loves—highly subsidized engineering colleges, for example—while ignoring what the vast majority of Indians need. Education in India today, particularly high school, vocational and college education, performs a totally different function from what we need it to perform: it’s a form of social and intellectual screening, not a way to pass on useful skills. We need to know someone has gone to college to know they’re from the right sort of background, and have the right level of potential. It’s never what you learn in a school or college that matters; it’s that you got in.
  • But what we haven’t really had is the road to wealth. In Indian movies, you inherit wealth, or you marry wealth, or you spurn wealth. You don’t earn it. If you believe that our movies reflect our national psychoses, then this has to be one of the fundamental facts about how we view our futures: you can’t get rich through trying.
  • ourselves, our government, our cities, and our economy. In the 1950s, with the hot breath of freedom on our necks, we barrelled forward optimistically on the road to good fortune, singing along with Raj Kapoor. By the 1970s, we had lost enthusiasm. We had turned angry and distrustful, and the hero wasn’t a lovable wanderer, but a lone young warrior against the injustice of the powerful. And, in what should have been an early warning of dissatisfaction about the overpowering statism of the Indira Gandhi years, the villains were cronyist businessmen, smugglers, and corrupt government officials. But then, things turned. Liberalization made us optimistic again; our heroes got younger, wore clothes with prominent, if misspelled, labels; and pretended to be as comfortable in Piccadilly as in Patiala. My old boss, Shekhar Gupta, always said that a watershed for Indian society was the success of 2001’s Dil Chahta Hai—a story about three rich young slackers trying very hard not to grow up, and eventually failing. That was the first movie, he insisted, in which the heroes were rich—and untroubled by their wealth. But there’s one thing that’s been missing throughout. There’s been distrust of wealth, as in Raj Kapoor’s Shree 420, where a migrant to 1950s Mumbai is seduced into dishonesty. There’s been rejection of wealth, as when Shashi Kapoor faces down Amitabh Bachchan in Deewar, and reminds him with infuriating sanctimony that a house, a car, and a bank balance are nothing when weighed against a mother’s love. And there’s been embrace of wealth, as in 2010’s Aisha, starring a series of brand names worn by Sonam Kapoor. But what we haven’t really had is the road to wealth. In Indian movies, you inherit wealth, or you marry wealth, or you spurn wealth. You don’t earn it. If you believe that our movies reflect our national psychoses, then this has to be one of the fundamental facts about how we view our futures: you can’t get rich through trying.
  • Nandan Nilekani, the billionaire-turned-technocrat-turned-politician, has often quoted something that Raghuram Rajan—now the governor of India’s central bank—told him over a decade ago. Rajan worried that ‘the Horatio Alger story is not yet part of India’s popular imagination’. In the Victorian era, Alger’s novels were everywhere—cheap, accessible, and as addictive as candy, they told and retold the same story. Of a young man who dealt bravely with poverty and difficult circumstances, ‘improved himself’, worked hard and honestly, and who ended the story successful, respected, and middle class. They didn’t wind up extravagantly wealthy; just secure and comfortably-off. For the red-hot socialists of the Depression, a half-century on, the Alger stories were the founding myths of predatory capitalism and of an oppressive American Dream. But they’re not just moral examples. Societies where such stories are popular are societies where such stories become possible. The Indian Dream, of one big deal and then joining the rentier class, is a danger to those who believe it, and to everyone else. A Dream—American, or capitalist, or what you will—that can be shared by even the poorest, in which there exists an ethical and accessible stairway to security, is not a danger but a blessing. The presence of Horatio Alger stories—like Rocket Singh—would be, as Raghuram Rajan said, ‘a sign that the sentiment around India has truly transformed’. Somehow, India needs to make Indians think Rocket Singh is more likely than Guru.
  • The truth is, foreign aid deals have a logic of their own. Aid is decidedly not given primarily to alleviate poverty or misery; it is given to make the constituents in donor states better off. Aid’s failure to eliminate poverty has not been a result of donors giving too little money to help the world’s poor. Rather, the right amount of aid is given to achieve its purpose—improving the welfare of the donor’s constituents so that they want to reelect their incumbent leadership. Likewise, aid is not given to the wrong people, that is, to governments that steal it rather than to local entrepreneurs or charities that will use it wisely. Yes, it is true that a lot of aid is given to corrupt governments but that is by design, not by accident or out of ignorance. Rather, aid is given to thieving governments exactly because they will sell out their people for their own political security. Donors will give them that security in exchange for policies that make donors more secure too by improving the welfare of their own constituents.
  • Buying policy from a democracy is expensive because many people need to be compensated for their dislike of the policy. Buying policies from autocracies is quite a bit easier.
  • Well, painting classrooms, while fun, deprived a local worker of a much-needed job. If educated westerners displace locals from manual labor jobs, then where can those workers possibly compete given the current distribution of skills and capital? How can they earn enough money to make a living, and perhaps send their children to school to acquire greater skills that will make them more competitive when they grow up? Rather than helping out, the wealthy tourists who took up paintbrushes made some worker worse off. Repeat that exercise thousands of times and in thousands of different ways and you can see how feel-good charitable acts can benefit the donor vastly more than it actually benefits the needy.
  • Indians, when life gives them lemons, will not make lemonade. No. They will instead put up a large sign over the lemons, saying ‘DEHYDRATED SUGARLESS LEMONADE. GOOD FOR DIABETICS.’ They will then write several books praising dehydrated sugarless lemonade as a unique Indian development, well suited to our climate and traditions. US–based management professors will declare this an example of frugal innovation. Indian entrepreneurs, they will say, have found a way around the constraints of their environment.
  • Naturally the common people don’t want war. . . . But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament or a communist dictatorship.... All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.
  • Consider just two things that keep houses scarce. One is rent control. Drive down Marine Drive, and look up at the glorious Art Deco facades of one of the world’s great sea-faces, built in that first reckless rush of reclamation before Independence. Then look closer, at the rain stains and the crumbling arches. Marine Drive is collapsing before our eyes; largely because the law requires rents to remain at the levels they were in 1940. When Suraiya, a singer and actress who personified Bollywood’s most refined era, died in 2004, there was a ruckus at her Marine Drive apartment. She’d lived there for seventy-one years, paying Rs 400 a month for a 2000-square-foot apartment worth tens of crores. Suraiya died alone; but the moment she did, a dozen heirs to her rent-controlled apartment popped wailing out of the woodwork. Thanks to rent control, there are 19,000 buildings in Mumbai that should be condemned, but people are living in. Every year, people are killed when their roof falls on them. Landlords don’t bother to fix the ceilings or the short-circuiting wiring—why should they, for the pittance they’re receiving? Nor can they redevelop the buildings so that more apartments go on the market. And the second way in which real estate has been choked off is through floor-space regulations. Mumbai may look like the only Indian city with skyscrapers—but the truth is it isn’t supposed to. It isn’t supposed to because the government for years imposed a ‘floor-space index’, or FSI, of 1 on most of the island.28 That meant that, if you were building on a plot of 100 square metres, your new building couldn’t have a built-up area of more than 100 square metres. Building more—going higher, in other words—was illegal. Yes, I know. For a city chronically short of housing, this is nothing short of insane. Every major island city—Manhattan, Singapore, Hong Kong—has skyscrapers. Just to compare: the permissible FSI in Shanghai, or in New York, or in Hong Kong, is between 10 and 15. It is only plains cities that are flat. Thanks to this insanity—born of an attempt to appear green, and keep building to a minimum—Mumbai actually has only 1.1 square metres of open space per person. Just to be clear, that is less than New York. That is less than Hong Kong. It is even less than Tokyo, the gold standard for urban density. Here’s the best part: when the FSI regulation was introduced, in the mid-1960s, the permitted FSI was 4. Yes, it’s actually gone down since then, although the space crunch has increased manifold. That’s because, in the interim, everyone figured out exactly how much money there was to be made by only allowing skyscrapers one by one, with each having to ask for permission and an exemption from the rule. There’s a solid lobby of builders in Mumbai who want FSI to stay low. And politicians.
  • Delhi’s politicians talk about Reliance like Pakistani politicians talk about the Pakistani army. They don’t like it; they are a little scared of it; but, dammit, they say, it is the only efficient organization in the country, and if you want something done you have to go through it. That comes into play in this natural gas problem. You see, there’s natural gas under the Bay of Bengal. This natural gas belongs to us, not to Mukesh Ambani. This point was argued and won by Mukesh Ambani, oddly enough. He was arguing this point to ensure that the government got to set the price at which Mukesh’s Reliance sold natural gas from these fields. In one of those coincidences that make life in India so worth living, one of the primary customers for the gas being sold by Mukesh’s Reliance was the Reliance owned by his estranged brother, Anil. And, some years earlier, Mukesh and Anil had promised their mother—again, I am not making this up, I wish I had this much imagination—that they would play nicely, acceding to a ‘non-compete’ agreement that included a particular price for gas. But now, Mukesh’s lawyers basically argued that the agreement didn’t apply—because the gas wasn’t his, and so it was the government that got to price the gas and not Mukesh himself.
  • Perhaps there is indeed a cultural oneness to India, something that instinctively unites all Indians, no matter their creed or ethnicity. I suspect it is this: we are all petty clerks at heart. Where other countries have a shared ethnicity or national language or a common fondness for apple schnapps, we have instead adopted and internalized the instincts and priorities and processes of our colonial-era bureaucracy. It’s seeped into our souls, every one of us. Cut us, and we bleed in triplicate. This doesn’t mean that we respect processes, mind you: it means we seek them out in order to manipulate them. It doesn’t mean we have a respect for queues, as another example; it means we seek the tiny extra status that comes from cutting queues. It doesn’t mean that we seek to solve problems from a national perspective or whatever the Indian Administrative Service imagines its mission is; it means that we seek to create barriers between other people and their goals, and to sit atop these barriers while lesser people beg us to remove them. This is fine if you are actually a bureaucrat. Well, it isn’t fine, really, but at least it’s expected. No country in the world prides itself on the efficiency and friendliness of its bureaucrats. It’s like complaining your pit bull isn’t excessively friendly to strangers—that wasn’t what it was bred for, man, get a cocker spaniel.
  • There’s a company that rejoices in the noble name of ‘JSW Steel’; it’s part of the JSW group, owned by a man named Sajjan Jindal. The JSW stands for Jindal South West; the geographical qualification is necessary, presumably because Sajjan Jindal is one of a large number of brothers, all of whom inherited various resource-linked businesses from their father.39 (Remember that point I was making about how everyone asks: If Tata Steel can get nice mines, why can’t I? Sajjan Jindal, shortly after being formally charged by the police in the payment of a bribe to Karnataka’s chief minister for a mine, told his investors in an aggrieved tone: ‘Even after a presence of more than two decades in Karnataka, investing more than Rs 35,000 crore and creating thousands of jobs, JSW Steel remains the only major Indian steel company with no captive mines.’ This is how a resource economy works: competitive begging.) The name ‘JSW’, you will note, is not particularly imaginative. Nor is it the kind of thing you would imagine is incredible intellectual property. Yet, in 2014, JSW Steel told shareholders that it would pay Rs 125 crore a year to a firm entirely owned by Sajjan Jindal’s wife, Sangita. In return, Sangita Jindal would graciously permit her husband to use the ‘JSW’ acronym, which JSW Steel insists her company, JSW Investments, owns. Here’s the facepalm moment: JSW’s sheep-like shareholders meekly agreed.
  • In 2005, the UPA passed the Special Economic Zone Act, which is the gold standard for piecemeal thinking, for picking winners—and similarly deserves a Golden Globe for failing, and an Oscar for doing so repeatedly and yet somehow surviving. (Really long death scene.) Here’s how things started. Before 1991, someone decided to set up little ‘export promotion zones’ or EPZs in relatively underdeveloped areas, where Indian companies would set up shop and produce cheap clothing, say, for the Western market. These zones would be exempt from some of the more onerous regulations the rest of India was subject to, all the ones that people generally complained about. Naturally, not just anyone could set up shop there. You had to prove your worth, your honour, your good intentions—several times over, in triplicate, and ideally in a small envelope as well. For some reason, these failed to take off. Death #1. Then, in 2000, a man named Murasoli Maran—India’s commerce minister, and named for the newspaper he used to edit, which is confusing, but also the kind of thing that happens with hardcore intellectual-politicians, of which he definitely was one—took a trip to China. There he saw the wonders of Shenzhen, the Special Economic Zone at the mouth of the Pearl river, just upriver from Hong Kong and downriver from a vast hinterland. Shenzhen was not quite what it is today, with 15 million people, a super-busy container port, and an appropriately tasteless amusement park which has one-third scale replicas of the Eiffel Tower, the Taj Mahal and the Pyramids all next to each other. But it certainly wasn’t the sleepy fishing village it was in 1979, when Deng, seemingly offhandedly, suggested that the local government—if it was so determined to reform and export and all that jazz—‘set aside an area and call it a special zone’. (After all, Deng pointed out—precedent being all-important in those days, and an idea was only truly sanctified if Mao had done it—there had been a special zone back in 1940, on the border with the Japanese and the Nationalist Chinese. The Party had earned money for its weapons by growing and selling opium in that Special Economic Zone, one of those fun bits of Chinese history the People’s Republic generally forgets to mention.) Deng’s suggestion had taken root and blossomed; Shenzhen had links to the outside world via Hong Kong, and to the people and resources of interior China via the Pearl river, and its vast scale—400 square kilometres—had allowed an entire ecosystem to develop free of the restraints of the rest of China. Anyway, Maran was duly impressed, though presumably not as impressed as he would have been today by the one-third scale Eiffel Tower, and when he returned to India, he decided that EPZs would henceforth be our own Special Economic Zones, or SEZs. Changes would be made to the regulations, those exact changes that had been holding the EPZs back from success. SEZs would be three times as large as EPZs! And private developers would be allowed! No other major changes were, of course, necessary. Lots of tinkering with the regulations was enough. For some reason, these also failed to take off. Death #2. Then, in 2004, the UPA came into office, all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and energetic and determined to make a difference. (How sweet it is to be young, how bitter the draught of age.) It examined the SEZ problem and at once saw the flaw. There was no Law. The UPA firmly believed the Law was the Thing, and the Thing was the Law, and they were one and the same. Legislate employment, and people would have it; legislate food, and they would have it; legislate small tins of sardines falling from the sky, and people would not leave home without an umbrella and a can-opener. How, then, could you have SEZs without an SEZ Act? And all the problems would be fixed this time. The new SEZs would be twice as large as the old SEZs! And private developers would take the lead! No other major changes were, of course, necessary. Lots of tinkering, etc., etc. For some reason, these too failed to take off. Death #3. Wait, you say, that isn’t what the numbers say. The numbers say that, within eighteen months, 237 new SEZs were set up, when the UPA had inherited only seven. By 2012, there were almost 600, with a total area of over 700 square kilometres—bigger than Mumbai. Well, yes. A lot of people did sign up. But it wasn’t exactly the kind of crowd that we were hoping for. You see, the government was offering to help you acquire the SEZ land, right? So, thought India’s clever and public-spirited businessmen, why not sign up for an SEZ, and get our hands on large amounts of increasingly valuable land? Of those 600-odd SEZs, less than a third actually operate. The rest are simply land banks for private developers. Oh, and the main tenant of most of those that operate? The information technology sector—not textiles or manufacturing, as planned. The IT companies simply wanted to ensure that the tax breaks that they had been promised under a previous legislation wouldn’t be taken away, and so they relocated to low-tax SEZs. A large part of SEZs’ not-very-impressive export earnings are thus from IT companies which would have been bringing home that money anyway.
  • In so many ways, the Indian state could nudge its people towards becoming, well, better. We may not be terrible individuals, as individuals. But we so rarely are individuals! Most of the time, we are one group or another, most of which are at each other’s throats. Constructing solidarity, creating citizenship, from this is not straightforward. But neither can it be completely ducked, the way the Indian state has chosen to do it. This is, in fact, the biggest way in which we have rejected Gandhi. The Indian Republic is the heir of the British Raj and not Gandhi’s nationalist movement because the Raj never sought to change India. It sought only to rule. After all, 1857’s horrific violence had been caused, the British thought, by their unthinking imposition of their own cultural mores on Indians. Best to stop that. Instead of the intermingling that had become common among the East India’s Company’s nabobs, the sahibs of the Raj never thought that an Indian could be improved. At best, he could become a babu, an amusing caricature of modern man. (For them, as for today’s crazy anti-globalization anarchists, modern=Western.) The amazing thing is that when the babus took over the country, they chose to inherit this attitude. ‘There is no point working to improve our subjects’ problematic cultural practices; we have enough to do to keep them from each other’s throats, and ours.’ This is the thinking of the Raj in a nutshell, and it has also been the guiding philosophy of the Republic since 1950. Gandhi would have wanted us to make ourselves better, too; for him, that sort of self-government was as important as political swaraj, if not more. Not that Gandhi’s ideas of better were necessarily the right ones. In fact, they weren’t the right ones. But still. At some point, this attitude has to change; for we are fast approaching the limits of our growth as a premodern society attempting postmodern economics.
  • But in the Delhi Metro, where the air is conditioned and the rides are smooth, we do not do that. In the Delhi Metro, everyone mostly is given a bit of personal space. In the Delhi Metro, we stand next to a daily-wage labourer, a Nepalese domestic worker, a Kannadiga engineer, and we don’t care. In the Delhi Metro, we even try to queue.
  • Get women working.
  • India is a big whisky-drinking country. As a sting operation in the early 2000s confirmed, when you want to pay a bribe to get a major defence deal, you take along a bottle of Blue Label just to make the point. It used to be said, in the fine old days of import controls and bell-bottoms and villains who drank Vat 69, that more Scotch was drunk in India than produced in Scotland. Of course, the most important thing to know about Indian whisky is that it is not, in fact, whisky. It is rum. This tells you more about India than any single fact should. You see, whisky is made from malt—from fermented, mashed-up grain. Most Indian whisky is made from molasses. So it isn’t whisky; it is rum, bleached, coloured and flavoured to taste like whisky. At some point in the 1980s, the Scots decided enough was enough and Indian whiskies couldn’t go around claiming to be whiskies. Indian whisky makers, such as Mallya, were shocked—shocked!—that anyone would imagine that their product could in any way be mistaken for Scotch whisky. The fact that Indian whisky-flavoured rums were named things like McDowell’s and Bagpiper was, of course, strictly a coincidence. The Scotch whisky guys were, however, particularly incensed by the only brand of Indian whisky that is, in fact, whisky: Peter Scot, made by Bangalore’s venerable Khoday distillers. Peter Scot is indeed a malt whisky. And Scot is right there in the name. Back in 1986, the Scotch-wallahs demanded Peter Scot change its name, and took to the legal system to ensure it did. In 2008—yes, twenty-two years later, amazingly quick work by Indian standards—the Supreme Court said Peter Scot didn’t need to have its name changed. They came to the conclusion that it should be plainly obvious to absolutely anyone who tasted Peter Scot that it wasn’t, in fact, Scottish. Seriously. Here’s the lawyer Soli Sorabjee, writing on the verdict in the Indian Express: ‘The Court concluded that it was concerned with the class of buyers who are supposed to know the value of money, the quality and content of Scotch whisky and the difference in the process of manufacture, the place of manufacture and their origin . . . One wonders whether ordinary consumers of Scotch whisky, including judges who are not teetotallers, are really aware of these factors.’
  • ‘If you had to be reborn anywhere in the world as a person with average talents and income, you would want to be a Viking,’ proclaimed The Economist, ever so slightly backhandedly, in a special Nordic-themed edition. But where were the discussions about Nordic totalitarianism and how uptight the Swedes are; about how the Norwegians have been corrupted by their oil wealth to the point where they can’t even be bothered to peel their own bananas; how the Finns are self-medicating themselves into oblivion; how the Danes are in denial about their debt, their vanishing work ethic, and their place in the world; and how the Icelanders are, essentially, feral?
  • Generally, not a lot happens in Denmark, but this doesn’t stop the news editors putting whatever has happened in Denmark at the top of the agenda, regardless of events elsewhere in the world. I was once so infuriated that the national radio news, in the aftermath of the Japanese tsunami and at the commencement of the Libyan Civil War, was running as their lead item a story about how some tenants of rented properties might not be aware that their home contents insurance could assist them in claims against high rents, that I rang the news editor to ask what they were thinking. ‘Well, we didn’t think there was much new to say about Libya,’ he told me, a little embarrassed.
  • why locavores have such a misguided philosophy. It overlooks that some parts of the world are running out of water and that trade of food—often long-distance trade—is the best or indeed the only real answer to that problem. Very often, trading across a distance solves more environmental problems than it creates.
  • If protestors are boycotting a very profitable corporation, there’s a good chance they’re making themselves feel better, by ceasing to affiliate with the said corporation. There’s a lower chance they’re being effective or making the world a better place.
  • When the Democrats held the House of Representatives, prior to the election of 2010 and over the course of 2007– 2008, they made a big change: they introduced into the dining halls new cutlery made from corn, in part because the forks and knives could be easily turned into compost. Yet the idea was not well thought through. The new utensils cost more, estimated at $475,000 a year, and they didn’t stand up well when exposed to hot foods such as soup. It wasn’t clear that anyone was reaping a big environmental gain and in fact a House internal report suggested that, due to the need to truck away the disposable waste, there was probably a net environmental cost. Still, maybe it felt better to have the compostable cutlery. When the Republicans took over, they too made a change. The most cost-effective option for the new utensils turned out to be polystyrene, which is a plastic made from petroleum and natural gas. Styrofoam is back, but in the cafeterias for the Democratic Senate the forks are still compostable. Why not use metal knives and forks you might be wondering? The sorry truth is that this option was studied, but rejected on the grounds that too many Congressional staff—the people working so hard to improve America—would take these utensils away and, quite simply, never bring them back.
  • The cookbooks by Fuchsia Dunlop on Hunan and Sichuan, by Diana Kennedy, Patricia Quintana, Mark Miller, and Rick Bayless on Mexican, and by Julie Sahni on Indian food have long informed my thinking. For simpler, standard dishes I look to Mark Bittman, and for general knowledge on the chemistry of cooking I have learned a lot from Harold McGee
  • Each point deals with a basic element of negotiation, and suggests what you should do about it. People: Separate the people from the problem. Interests: Focus on interests, not positions. Options: Invent multiple options looking for mutual gains before deciding what to do. Criteria: Insist that the result be based on some objective standard.
  • The film Amadeus (and the play by Peter Shaffer on which it’s based) dramatizes and romanticizes the divine origins of creative genius. Antonio Salieri, representing the talented hack, is cursed to live in the time of Mozart, the gifted and undisciplined genius who writes as though touched by the hand of God. Salieri recognizes the depth of Mozart’s genius, and is tortured that God has chosen someone so unworthy to be His divine creative vessel. Of course, this is hogwash. There are no “natural” geniuses. Mozart was his father’s son. Leopold Mozart had gone through an arduous education, not just in music, but also in philosophy and religion; he was a sophisticated, broad-thinking man, famous throughout Europe as a composer and pedagogue. This is not news to music lovers. Leopold had a massive influence on his young son. I question how much of a “natural” this young boy was. Genetically, of course, he was probably more inclined to write music than, say, play basketball, since he was only three feet tall when he captured the public’s attention. But his first good fortune was to have a father who was a composer and a virtuoso on the violin, who could approach keyboard instruments with skill, and who upon recognizing some ability in his son, said to himself, “This is interesting. He likes music. Let’s see how far we can take this.” Leopold taught the young Wolfgang everything about music, including counterpoint and harmony. He saw to it that the boy was exposed to everyone in Europe who was writing good music or could be of use in Wolfgang’s musical development. Destiny, quite often, is a determined parent. Mozart was hardly some naive prodigy who sat down at the keyboard and, with God whispering in his ears, let the music flow from his fingertips.
  • But the secret of good writing is to strip every sentence to its cleanest components. Every word that serves no function, every long word that could be a short word, every adverb that carries the same meaning that’s already in the verb, every passive construction that leaves the reader unsure of who is doing what—these are the thousand and one adulterants that weaken the strength of a sentence.
  • How can the rest of us achieve such enviable freedom from clutter? The answer is to clear our heads of clutter. Clear thinking becomes clear writing; one can’t exist without the other. It’s impossible for a muddy thinker to write good English. He may get away with it for a paragraph or two, but soon the reader will be lost, and there’s no sin so grave, for the reader will not easily be lured back.
  • Notice the decisions that other writers make in their choice of words and be finicky about the ones you select from the vast supply. The race in writing is not to the swift but to the original.
  • MUSICALLY, THE SONG MACHINE makes two types of hits. One branch is descended from Europop, and the other from R&B. The former has longer, more progressive melodies and a sharper verse-chorus differentiation, and they seem more meticulously crafted. The latter have a rhythmic groove with a melodic hook on top that repeats throughout the song. But these templates are endlessly recombined. And the line between pop and urban is as blurry as it was in the ’50s when the record business was in its infancy, and the distinctions between R&B and pop were still fluid.
  • Some instrumental sounds are based on samples of actual instruments, but they are no longer recognizable as such. And the electronic atmosphere and the dynamic changes in the density of the sound are more captivating than the virtuosity of the musicians. The computer is felt in the instrumentation, the cut-and-paste architecture, and in the rigorous perfection of timing and pitch—call it robopop. Melodies are fragmentary, and appear in strong short bursts, like espresso shots served throughout the song by a producer-barista. Then, slicing through the thunderous algorithms, like Tennyson’s eagle—And like a thunderbolt he falls—comes the “hook”: a short, sung line that grips the rhythm with melodic talons and soars skyward. The songs bristle with hooks, painstakingly crafted to tweak the brain’s delight in melody, rhythm, and repetition.
  • “I think it was to our advantage that English was not our mother language,” Ekberg says, “because we are able to treat English very respectless, and just look for the word that sounded good with the melody.” Freed from making sense, the lyricists’ horizons are boundless.
  • It’s striking how little the basic form of the popular song has changed. The delivery mechanism is in constant flux—from sheets to player piano rolls, to radio, vinyl, cassettes, CDs, MP3s, and now streams. But the emotional mechanics of songs have largely remained the same, whether they’re embodied by Al Jolson’s ivories or Slash’s lead guitar. The verses build up the tension, and the choruses release it, letting the joy in. After two choruses, there’s usually a bridge, also known as “the middle eight,” which is a variation on the verse melody, followed by the final chorus and coda. The fact that my ancestral hit parade concludes so abruptly tells of the massive changes that rock and R&B brought to popular song—changes my mother was not willing or able to absorb. But I did, gleefully; on the piano and, later, on the guitar, I picked up where my mother left off. Strange that these three-to-four-minute ditties should be the glue that connects us, even after she’s gone. The music changes, but the song (as the song goes) remains the same.
  • Should they offer the track for sale or let it spread virally for free? Should they upload “American Girl” to Vevo, the industry’s music-video channel, even though that would cannibalize views from YouTube? It probably didn’t matter, but this kind of stuff obsessed Dr. Luke. If they did a soft launch on iTunes and the song didn’t sell, might that hurt them with program directors, when they took it to radio? So many uncertainties for Dr. Luke to obsess over, and not one really mattered, because it was already clear, twenty-four hours in, that “American Girl” was not going to make Bonnie McKee a pop star. It would get to number sixty-seven on the charts, then quickly fall back. The lyricist wouldn’t be quitting her day job anytime soon. It was a reminder that for all their talent and experience, even Dr. Luke and Max Martin couldn’t guarantee a hit. Neither are they sure they have one until the public hears the song. Hit making remains a tricky, unpredictable endeavor. Dr. Luke often falls back on the hoary truism that it’s all a matter of “the right artist with the right song at the right time.” Take “Wrecking Ball,” a ballad Dr. Luke and Cirkut created sans Max Martin for Miley Cyrus. It seemed like a certain hit; Doug Morris predicted it would be one of the biggest songs of the year. But Luke wasn’t sure, and he bet against the song, telling Cyrus he would buy her a Numi toilet like his, the state of the art in potty technology (it has a Bluetooth receiver that can stream music from a smart phone), if it went to number one. When “Wrecking Ball” did hit number one, I asked Cyrus for a comment. “Contrary to what he thinks,” she says, “Dr. Luke isn’t always right. Now he has to buy me a ten-thousand-dollar toilet. I’ll be thinking of him every time I go.”
  • The original idea for the song came from Aaron Bay-Schuck, an up-and-coming A&R man at Atlantic Records. He wanted his artist Flo Rida to do a rap that sampled “You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)” by Dead Or Alive, the mid-’80s hit created by the SAW hit factory. “It’s gotta happen. It could be huge,” Bay-Schuck kept saying. But his attempts to realize the song had so far fallen short. Bruno Mars and his writing partner, Phil Smeeze, had taken a crack at it, but the song still wasn’t working. So Bay-Schuck gave it to Dr. Luke, and Luke brought in another key early collaborator, Kool Kojak. “Dr. Luke and I both had success with the shuffle beat,” Kojak recalls, “starting back in 1999 when I composed the song ‘Sao Paulo’ for my band Supla Zoo.” The song’s swung eighth-note triplet later featured in “I Kissed a Girl.” Kojak: “We rode that bitch hard and we were about to put her to pasture with her greatest incarnation ever,” which was “Right Round.”
  • But justice demands that we concentrate on the differences between these two works. Our task is made easier in that Hannahan—unlike Joyce!—provided his book with a commentary, which is twice the size of the novel itself (to be exact, Gigamesh runs 395 pages, the Commentary 847). We learn at once how Hannahan’s method works: the first, seventy-page chapter of the Commentary explains to us all the divergent allusions that emanate from a single, solitary word—namely, the title. Gigamesh derives first, obviously, from Gilgamesh: with this is revealed the mythic prototype, just as in Joyce, for his Ulysses also supplies the classical referent before the reader comes to the first word of the text. The omission of the letter L in the name Gigamesh is no accident; L is Lucifer, Lucipherus, the Prince of Darkness, present in the work although he puts in no personal appearance. Thus the letter (L) is to the name (Gigamesh) as Lucifer is to the events of the novel: he is there, but invisibly. Through “Logos” L indicates the Beginning (the Causative Word of Genesis); through Laocoon, the End (for Laocoon’s end is brought about by serpents: he was strangled, as will be strangled—by the rope—the hero of Gigamesh). L has ninety-seven further connections, but we cannot expound them here. To continue, Gigamesh is a GIGAntic MESS; the hero is in a mess indeed, one hell of a mess, with a death sentence hanging over his head. The word also contains: GIG, a kind of rowboat (Maesch would drown his victims in a gig, after pouring cement on them); GIGgle (Maesch’s diabolical giggle is a reference—reference No. 1—to the musical leitmotif of the descent to hell in Klage Dr. Fausti [more on this later]); GIGA, which is (a) in Italian, “fiddle,” again tying in with the musical substrates of the novel, and (b) a prefix signifying the magnitude of a billion (as in the word GIGAwatts), but here the magnitude of evil in a technological civilization. Geegh is Old Celtic for “avaunt” or “scram.” From the Italian giga through the French gigue we arrive at geigen, a slang expression in German for copulation. For lack of space we must forgo any further etymological exposition. A different partitioning of the name, in the form of Gi-GAME-sh, foreshadows other aspects of the work: GAME is a game played, but also the quarry of a hunt (in Maesch’s case, we have a manhunt). This is not all. In his youth Maesch was a GIGolo; AME suggests the Old German Amme, a wet nurse; and MESH, in turn, is a net—for instance, the one in which Mars caught his goddess wife with her lover—and therefore a gin, a snare, a trap (under the scaffold), and, moreover, the engagement of gear teeth (e.g., “synchroMESH”).
  • The first chapter of Gigamesh consists of eight pages, wherein the condemned man relieves himself in the latrine of the military prison, reading—over the urinal—the countless graffiti with which other soldiers, before him, have ornamented the walls of that sanctuary. His attention rests on the inscriptions only in passing. Their extreme obscenity turns out to be, precisely through his intermittent awareness of them, a false bottom, since we pass through them straight into the sordid, hot, enormous bowels of the human race, into the inferno of its coprolalia and physiological symbolism, which goes back, through the Kamasutra and the Chinese “war of flowers,” to the dark caves, with the steatopygous Aphrodites of primitive peoples, for it is their naked parts that look out from underneath the filthy acts scrawled awkwardly across the wall. At the same time, the phallic explicitness of some of the drawings points to the East, with its ritual sanctification of Phallos-Lingam, while the East denotes the place of the primeval Paradise, revealed to be a thin lie incapable of hiding the truth—that in the beginning there was poor information. Yes, exactly: for sex and “sin” arose when the protoamoebas lost their virgin unisexuality; because the equipollence and bipolarity of sex must be derived directly from the Information Theory of Shannon; and now the purpose of the last two letters (SH) in the name of the epic becomes apparent! And thus the path leads from the walls of the latrine to the depths of natural evolution ... for which countless cultures have served as a fig leaf.
  • The Pythagorean quantity pi, symbolizing the feminine principle (3.14159265359787...), is expressed by the number of letters to be found in the thousand words of the chapter.
  • Joachim F ersengeld, a German, wrote his Pericalypse in Dutch (he hardly knows the language, which he himself admits in the Introduction) and published it in France, a country notorious for its dreadful proofreading. The writer of these words also does not, strictly speaking, know Dutch, but going by the title of the book, the English Introduction, and a few understandable expressions here and there in the text, he has concluded that he can pass muster as a reviewer after all.
  • It is known, surely, that the circle of those who dote upon a small child emerging from the infant state makes as much as it can of the child’s responses and words. To its mindless echolalia are attributed meanings; in its incoherent babbling is discovered intelligence, even wit; the inaccessibility of the child’s psyche allows the observer enormous freedom, especially the doting observer. It must have been in this way that the rationalization of the idiot’s actions first began. No doubt the father and mother vied with each other in finding signs to indicate that their child was speaking better and better, more and more clearly, that he was doing better all the time, positively radiating good nature and affection. I have been saying “child,” but when the scene opens he is already a fourteen-year-old boy. What sort of system of misinterpretation must it be, what subterfuges, what explanations—frantic to the point of being outright comical—must be called into play to save the fiction, when the reality so unremittingly contradicts it? Well, all this can be done, and of such acts consists the parental sacrifice in behalf of the idiot.
  • Antitrust legislation in the U.S.A. forbids monopolies; consequently Being Inc. is not the only life arranger. There are its great competitors, Hedonica and the Truelife Corporation. And it is precisely this circumstance that leads to events unprecedented in history. For when persons who are clients of different companies come into contact with one another, the implementation of the orders of each may encounter unforeseen difficulties. Those difficulties take the form of what is called “covert parasitizing,” which leads to cloak-and-dagger escalation.
  • This book—only a German could have written it! A fondness for classification, for that scrupulous t-crossing and i-dotting that has begotten innumerable Handbücher, makes the German mind resemble a pigeonhole desk. When one beholds the consummate order displayed by the table of contents of this book, one cannot help thinking that if the Lord God had been of German blood our world would perhaps not necessarily have turned out better existentially, but would have for sure embodied a higher notion of discipline and method.
  • Culture is an instrument of adaptation of a new type, for it does not so much itself arise from accident as it serves this purpose, to wit, that everything which in our condition is de facto accidental stand bathed in the light of a higher, ultimate necessity. And therefore: culture acts through established religion, through custom, law, interdiction and injunction, in order to convert insufficiencies into idealities, minuses into pluses, shortcomings into acmes of perfection, defects into virtues. Suffering is distressful? Yes, but it ennobles and even redeems. Life is short? Yes, but the life beyond is everlasting. Childhood is toilsome and inane? Yes, but for all that—halcyon, idyllic, positively sacred. Old age is horrid? Yes, but this is the preparation for eternity, and besides, old people are to be respected, by virtue of the fact that they are old. Man is a monster? Yes, but he is not to blame; it was his primogenitors who brought on the evil—or else a demon interfered in the Divine Act. Man does not know what to want, he seeks the meaning of life, he is unhappy? Yes, but this is the consequence of freedom, which is the highest value; that one must pay through the nose for its possession is therefore of no great significance: a man deprived of freedom would be more unhappy than if he were not! Animals, Klopper observes, make no distinction between feces and carrion: they steer clear of both the one and the other as the evacuations of life. For a consistent materialist the equating of a corpse with excrement ought to be just as valid; but the latter we dispose of furtively, and the former with pomp, loftily, equipping the remains with a number of costly and complicated wrappings. This is required by culture, as a system of appearances that help us reconcile ourselves to the despicable facts. The solemn ceremony of burial serves as a sedative for the natural outrage and revolt roused in us by the infamy of mortality.
  • Genomes are the gateway to an enchanted land. The reams of code, 3 billion letters in our own case, read like an experimental novel, an occasionally coherent story in short chapters broken up by blocks of repetitive text, verses, blank pages, streams of consciousness: and peculiar punctuation. A tiny proportion of our own genome, less than 2%, codes for proteins; a larger portion is regulatory; and the function of the rest is liable to cause intemperate rows among otherwise polite scientists.
  • Genomes do not predict the future but recall the past: they reflect the exigencies of history.
  • If complex cells arose via ‘standard’ natural selection, in which genetic mutations give rise to variations acted upon by natural selection, then we would expect to see a mixed bag of internal structures, as varied as the external appearance of cells. Eukaryotic cells are wonderfully varied in their size and shape, from giant leaf-like algal cells to spindly neurons, to outstretched amoebae. If eukaryotes had evolved most of their complexity in the course of adapting to distinct ways of life in divergent populations, then this long history should be reflected in their distinctive internal structures too. But look inside (as we’ll soon do) and you’ll see that all eukaryotes are made of basically the same components. Most of us couldn’t distinguish between a plant cell, a kidney cell and a protist from the local pond down the electron microscope: they all look remarkably similar. Just try it (Figure 3). If rising oxygen levels removed
  • The early earth was not drastically different from our own world: it was a water world, with a moderate climate, dominated by volcanic gases such as carbon dioxide and nitrogen. While our early planet lacked oxygen, it was not rich in gases conducive to organic chemistry – hydrogen, methane and ammonia. That rules out tired old ideas of primordial soup; yet life started as early as could be, perhaps 4 billion years ago. At face value, something else was driving the emergence of life; we will come to that. Bacteria soon took over, colonising every inch, every metabolic niche, remodelling the globe over 2 billion years, depositing rocks and minerals on a colossal scale, transforming oceans, atmosphere and continents. They crashed the climate in global snowball earths; they oxidised the world, filling the oceans and air with reactive oxygen. Yet in all this immense duration, neither the bacteria nor the archaea became anything else: they remained stubbornly simple in their structure and way of life. For an eternal 4 billion years, through extremes of environmental and ecological change, bacteria changed their genes and biochemistry, but never changed their form. They never gave rise to more complex life forms, of the kind we might hope to detect on another planet, intelligent aliens – except just once.
  • We use about 2 milliwatts of energy per gram – or some 130 watts for an average person weighing 65 kg, a bit more than a standard 100 watt light bulb. That may not sound like a lot, but per gram it is a factor of 10,000 more than the sun (only a tiny fraction of which, at any one moment, is undergoing nuclear fusion). Life is not much like a candle; more of a rocket launcher.
  • Why were Mitchell’s ideas so hard to accept? In part because they were so genuinely unexpected. The structure of DNA makes perfect sense – the two strands each act as a template for the other, and the sequence of letters encodes the sequence of amino acids in a protein. The chemiosmotic hypothesis, in comparison, seemed quirky in the extreme, and Mitchell himself might as well have been talking Martian. Life is about chemistry, we all know that. ATP is formed from the reaction of ADP and phosphate, so all that was needed was the transfer of one phosphate from some reactive intermediate on to ADP. Cells are filled with reactive intermediates, so it was just a case of finding the right one. Or so it seemed for several decades. Then along came Mitchell with a mad glint in his eye, plainly an obsessive, writing out equations that nobody could understand, and declaring that respiration was not about chemistry at all, that the reactive intermediate which everyone had been searching for did not even exist, and that the mechanism coupling electron flow to ATP synthesis was actually a gradient of protons across an impermeable membrane, the proton-motive force. No wonder he made people cross!
  • I cannot consider the organism without its environment… From a formal point of view the two may be regarded as equivalent phases between which dynamic contact is maintained by the membranes that separate and link them.
  • acceptor releases energy that is stored in the bonds of ATP. An inventory of all known electron donors and electron acceptors used by bacteria and archaea – so-called ‘redox couples’ – would extend over several pages. Not only do bacteria ‘eat’ rocks, but they can ‘breathe’ them too. Eukaryotic cells are pathetic in comparison. There is about the same metabolic
  • An inventory of all known electron donors and electron acceptors used by bacteria and archaea – so-called ‘redox couples’ – would extend over several pages. Not only do bacteria ‘eat’ rocks, but they can ‘breathe’ them too. Eukaryotic cells are pathetic in comparison. There is about the same metabolic versatility in the entire eukaryotic domain – all plants, animals, algae, fungi and protists – as there is in a single bacterial cell.
  • The problem is that chemiosmotic coupling looks to be useless until a number of sophisticated proteins have been embedded in a proton-tight membrane; and then, but only then, does it serve a purpose. So how on earth did all the parts evolve in advance?
  • Why did life arise so early? Why did it stagnate in morphological complexity for several billion years? Why did complex, eukaryotic, cells arise just once in 4 billion years? Why do all eukaryotes share a number of perplexing traits that are never found in bacteria or archaea, from sex and two sexes to ageing? Here I am adding two more questions of an equally unsettling magnitude: why does all life conserve energy in the form of proton gradients across membranes? And how (and when) did this peculiar but fundamental process evolve?
  • Because respiration is universal across all life, but photosynthesis is restricted to just a few groups of bacteria. If the last universal common ancestor were photosynthetic, then most groups of bacteria and all archaea must have lost this valuable trait. That’s not parsimonious, to say the least.
  • So what does all this stuff about reduction potentials really mean? It at once constrains and opens wide the conditions under which life should evolve in the universe. This is one of the reasons that scientists often look as if they are in their own little world, lost in abstract thought about the most arcane details. Can there possibly be any mighty import about the fact that the reduction potential of hydrogen falls with pH? Yes! Yes! Yes! Under alkaline hydrothermal conditions, H2 should react with CO2 to form organic molecules. Under almost any other conditions, it will not.
  • We have established on thermodynamic grounds that to make a cell from scratch requires a continuous flow of reactive carbon and chemical energy across rudimentary catalysts in a constrained through-flow system. Only hydrothermal vents provide the requisite conditions, and only a subset of vents – alkaline hydrothermal vents – match all the conditions needed. But alkaline vents come with both a serious problem and a beautiful answer to the problem. The serious problem is that these vents are rich in hydrogen gas, but hydrogen will not react with CO2 to form organics. The beautiful answer is that the physical structure of alkaline vents – natural proton gradients across thin semiconducting walls – will (theoretically) drive the formation of organics. And then concentrate them. To my mind, at least, all this makes a great deal of sense. Add to this the fact that all life on earth uses (still uses!) proton gradients across membranes to drive both carbon and energy metabolism, and I’m tempted to cry, with the physicist John Archibald Wheeler, ‘Oh, how could it have been otherwise! How could we all have been so blind for so long!’
  • What’s different? An astonishing parade. Most of the enzymes used for DNA replication are distinct in bacteria and archaea. What could be more fundamental than that! Possibly only the membrane – yet it, too, is distinct in bacteria and archaea. So is the cell wall. That means both of the barriers that separate living cells from their environment are utterly different in bacteria and archaea. It is almost impossible to guess exactly what their common ancestor might have possessed instead. The list goes on, but that will do. Of the six fundamental processes of living cells discussed in the previous chapter – carbon flux, energy flux, catalysis, DNA replication, compartmentalisation and excretion – only the first three share any deep similarity, and even then only in certain respects, as we shall see.
  • LUCA could have possessed two copies of everything, and lost one copy in bacteria, and the other copy in archaea. That sounds inherently daft, but it can’t be ruled out easily. For example, we know that mixtures of bacterial and archaeal lipids do make stable membranes; perhaps LUCA had both types of lipid, and her descendants later specialised by losing one or the other. That might conceivably be true for some traits, but is not generalisable to all, as it runs into a problem known as ‘the genome of Eden’. If LUCA had everything, and her descendants streamlined later on, then she must have started out with an enormous genome, much larger than any modern prokaryote. That seems to me to put the cart before the horses – we have complexity before simplicity, and two solutions to every problem. And why did all the descendants lose one of everything? I don’t buy it; roll on the second option.
  • The next possibility is that LUCA was a perfectly normal bacterium, with a bacterial membrane, cell wall and DNA replication. At some later point, one group of descendants, the first archaea, replaced all these traits as they adapted to extreme conditions such as high temperatures in hot vents. This is probably the most widely accepted explanation, but it too is hardly persuasive. If it is true, why are the processes of DNA transcription and translation into proteins so similar in bacteria and archaea, yet DNA replication so different? Why, if archaeal cell membranes and cell walls help archaea adapt to hydrothermal environments, did extremophile bacteria living in the same vents not replace their own membranes and walls with the archaeal versions, or something similar? Why do archaea living in the soil or open oceans not replace their membranes and walls with bacterial versions? Bacteria and archaea share the same environments across the world, yet remain fundamentally different in their genetics and biochemistry in all these environments, despite lateral gene transfer between the two domains. It’s just not credible that all these profound differences could reflect adaptation to one extreme environment, and yet then remain fixed in archaea, without exception, regardless of how inappropriate they were for all other environments.
  • The apparent paradox is not a paradox at all: LUCA really was chemiosmotic, with an ATP synthase, but really did not have a modern membrane, or any of the large respiratory complexes that modern cells use to pump protons. She really did have DNA, and the universal genetic code, transcription, translation and ribosomes, but really had not evolved a modern method of DNA replication. This strange phantom cell makes no sense in an open ocean, but begins to add up when considered in the environment of alkaline hydrothermal vents discussed in the previous chapter. The clue lies in how bacteria and archaea live in these vents – some of them, at least, by an apparently primordial process called the acetyl CoA pathway, which bears an uncanny resemblance to the geochemistry of vents.
  • Block the pumps and everything grinds to a halt. That’s what happens if we take a cyanide pill: it jams up the final proton pump of the respiratory chain in our mitochondria. If the respiratory pumps are impeded in this way, protons can continue to flow in through the ATP synthase for a few seconds before the proton concentration equilibrates across the membrane, and net flow ceases. It is almost as hard to define death as life, but the irrevocable collapse of membrane potential comes pretty close.
  • By tracking the steady-state difference in proton concentration, we could calculate the free energy (G) available from a pH gradient alone. The results are just beautiful. The driving force available depends on the leakiness of the membrane to protons. If the membrane is extremely leaky, protons come rushing in like fools, but they also disappear again quickly, eliminated by a rapid influx of OH– ions. Even with very leaky membranes, we found that protons will still enter faster through membrane proteins (like the ATP synthase) than through the lipids themselves. This means that proton flux can drive ATP synthesis or carbon reduction via the membrane protein Ech. Taking concentration differences and charge into consideration, as well as the operation of proteins like the ATP synthase, we showed that only cells with very leaky membranes can use natural proton gradients to power carbon and energy metabolism. Remarkably, these leaky cells theoretically glean as much energy from a natural proton gradient of 3 pH units as modern cells gain from respiration.
  • A leaky cell in a proton gradient has plenty of energy, enough to drive carbon and energy metabolism. If by some evolutionary sleight of hand, a fully functional pump is placed in the membrane, it offers no benefit whatsoever in terms of energy availability: the power available remains exactly the same as in its absence. That’s because pumping protons over a leaky membrane is pointless – they come straight back through. Decrease membrane permeability by a factor of 10, and try again; still zero benefit. Decrease permeability by a factor of 100; still no benefit. Decrease permeability by a factor of 1,000; still no benefit. Why not? There is a balance of forces. Decreasing membrane permeability helps pumping, but also collapses the natural proton gradient, undermining the cell’s power supply. Only if large amounts of pump are plastered across a nearly impermeable membrane (equivalent to that in our own cells) is there any benefit to pumping. That is a serious problem. There is no selective driving force for the evolution of either modern lipid membranes or modern proton pumps. Without a driving force they should not evolve; but they do exist, nonetheless. So what are we missing?
  • Bill Martin and I were pondering over exactly that question, and we mused that methanogens use a protein called an antiporter. The methanogens in question actually pump out sodium ions (Na+), not protons (H+), but they still have a few problems with protons accumulating inside. The antiporter swaps an Na+ for an H+, as if it were a strict two-way turnstile, or revolving door. For each Na+ passing into the cell down a concentration gradient, one H+ is forced out. It is a proton pump powered by a sodium gradient. But antiporters are pretty undiscriminating. They don’t care which way round they work. If a cell pumped H+ rather than Na+, then the antiporter would simply go into reverse. For every H+ that entered, one Na+ would then be forced out. Ha! Suddenly we had it! If our leaky cell sitting in the alkaline hydrothermal vent evolved an Na+/H+ antiporter, it would act as a proton-powered Na+ pump! For each H+ that entered the cell through the antiporter, one Na+ would be forced to leave! In theory, the antiporter could convert a natural proton gradient into a biochemical sodium gradient.
  • There are several surprising ramifications of this simple invention. One is almost incidental: pumping sodium out of the cell lowers the concentration of sodium within the cell. We know that many core enzymes found in both bacteria and archaea (those responsible for transcription and translation, for example) have been optimised by selection to work at low Na+ concentration, despite most probably evolving in the oceans, where the Na+ concentration seems to have been high even 4 billion years ago. The early operation of an antiporter could potentially explain why all cells are optimised to low sodium, despite evolving in a high-sodium environment.
  • In the broadest of terms, prokaryotes explored the possibilities of metabolism, finding ingenious solutions to the most arcane chemical challenges, while eukaryotes turned their back on this chemical cleverness, and explored instead the untapped potential of larger size and greater structural complexity.
  • On the face of it, there could have been scores of endosymbioses, as indeed predicted by the serial endosymbiosis theory. Yet it is barely credible that there could have been 25 different bacteria and 7 or 8 archaea all contributing to an early orgy of endosymbioses, a cellular love-fest; and then nothing for the rest of eukaryotic history.
  • There is an instructive bacterial precedent for burning ATP, known as ATP or energy ‘spilling’. The term is accurate: some bacteria can splash away up to two-thirds of their overall ATP budget on futile cycling of ions across the cell membrane and other equally pointless feats. Why? One possible answer is that it keeps a healthy balance of ATP to ADP, which keeps the membrane potential and free-radical leak under control. Again, it goes to show that bacteria have plenty of ATP to spare – they are not in any way energetically challenged; only scaling up to eukaryotic sizes reveals the energy-per-gene problem.
  • Even though it is clear from the genes that the host cell was a bona fide archaeon, which must have had characteristic archaeal lipids in its membranes, eukaryotes have bacterial lipids in their membranes. That’s a fact to conjure with. For some reason, the archaeal membranes must have been replaced with bacterial membranes early on in eukaryotic evolution.
  • Mittwoch points out a parallel problem relating to true hermaphrodites – people who are born with both types of sex organ, for example a testis on the right-hand side and an ovary on the left. It’s far more likely to be that way round. Barely a third of people with true hermaphroditism have the testis on the left-hand side and the ovary on the right. The difference can hardly be genetic. Mittwoch shows that at critical periods, the right-hand side grows slightly faster than the left, and so is more likely to develop maleness. Curiously, in mice it is exactly the other way around – the left-hand side grows slightly faster and is more likely to develop testes.
  • If life is nothing but an electron looking for a place to rest, death is nothing but that electron come to rest.
  • “It goes so much deeper than that. It’s perceptual. We’re so—impoverished, you know? We don’t look out at reality at all, we look in at this model, this caricature our brains cobble together out of wavelengths and pressure points. We squint down over handwritten notes that say two blocks east, turn left at the bridge and we think that reading those stupid scribbles is the same as seeing the universe passing by on the other side of the windshield.”
  • “Life is like a black hole. You don’t know what lies ahead. You can’t ever turn back. All you can do is move forward.”
  • “That’s right. I’m able to empathize more easily with a female protagonist than a male one. It’s why I prefer such stories. As I’ve said before, the act of reading a story is a kind of role-play. For as long as I read the story, I become Nanami Shiihara, and Nanami becomes Ginny. I become Mizumi Onouchi, and Mizumi becomes Pansa…”
  • a story is nothing more than a lifeless jumble of words. But once it is in the hands of the reader, the soul of the reader and the soul of the protagonist achieve a kind of synergy that transcends the world, breathing life into the story.
  • Even if most ems work hard most of the time, and will end or retire soon, most remember much recent leisure and long histories of succeeding against the odds. To most ems, it seems good to be an em.
  • Farmer advantages in war, coming in part from their higher density, helped to ensure that farming replaced foraging.
  • Farmers also seem to have introduced romantic kisses.
  • The industrial era feature that appeared earliest in Europe was fast changing clothes fashions, starting soon after the Black Death.
  • While farming era stories, jokes, and songs worked when performed by many people in many contexts, during the industrial era artistic performances became more closely matched to the features of particular artists. Intellectuals became more direct and literal (Melzer 2007), and political coalitions became stronger and more often defined by ideologies, instead of by locations, families, or ethnicities.
  • Many of these industrial-era trends can be usefully seen as a reversion to forager values as wealth weakened farming-era social pressures.
  • Inheriting these habits, today we show off in most of the same ways that foragers did, and we do even more because we are rich. Yet as we deny that we show off, we are mostly blind and indifferent to how forager-style ways to show off are often far less functional today. We continue to show off via art, chat, politics, stories, etc., without responding to many changes in their functions and effects.
  • Fictional characters have more extreme features, have attitudes more predictable from their history, better understand the reasons for their actions, are more willing to risk conflict to achieve their goals, and have actions more predictable from their context. Fiction set in the future often tells indirect morality tales about today’s world, by having familiar issues and divisions remain important in the future, so that we can celebrate or criticize today’s groups indirectly, via crediting or blaming fictional groups for future outcomes (Bickham 1997).
  • In general, we tend to more abstractly evaluate the actions of others, or of ourselves at other times, relative to how we evaluate our own immediate actions. This seems to help us to be unknowingly hypocritical, upholding high social ideals even as we usually act on less ideal priorities.
  • While the speed of light sets minimum delays, very long cheap delays are possible, such as via sending hard disks via plane or boat.
  • Computer logic gates erase bits (i.e., increase entropy) in two different ways. Ordinarily each simple gate erases one bit logically, because it converts two input bits into one output bit. In addition, each gate erases other bits non-logically, because the gate performs its logical operation quickly and away from thermodynamic equilibrium. Today, the vast majority of bits erased in computers are done non-logically. Thus there is today little point in structuring computer gates to avoid logical erasure. Around 2035, however, the rate of non-logical bit erasure should fall to the rate of logical erasure. After that point, if energy cost per computation is to fall much further, then computers must switch to using “reversible” designs that only rarely erase bits logically.
  • It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self–love, and never talk to them of our own necessities but of their advantages.
  • How selfish soever man may be supposed, there are evidently some principles in his nature, which interest him in the fortune of others, and render their happiness necessary to him, though he derives nothing from it except the pleasure of seeing it.
  • It is not the soft power of humanity, it is not that feeble spark of benevolence which Nature has lighted up in the human heart, that is thus capable of counteracting the strongest impulses of self-love.
  • It is reason, principle, conscience, the inhabitant of the breast, the man within, the great judge and arbiter of our conduct. It is he who, whenever we are about to act so as to affect the happiness of others, calls to us, with a voice capable of astonishing the most presumptuous of our passions, that we are but one of the multitude, in no respect better than any other in it; and that when we prefer ourselves so shamefully and so blindly to others, we become the proper objects of resentment, abhorrence, and execration.
  • Even if you’re alone with no chance of being caught, even if no one knows you’re stealing, you know. And as you contemplate committing the act, you imagine how an outsider, an impartial spectator of your crime, would react to your moral failure. You step outside yourself and view your actions through the eyes of another.
  • Adam Smith was not a big fan of the pursuit of fame and fortune. His view of what we truly want, of what really makes us happy, cuts to the core of things. It takes him only twelve words to get to the heart of the matter: Man naturally desires, not only to be loved, but to be lovely. The simplicity of this sentence is deceptive for two reasons. First, Smith uses words somewhat differently than we do, so understanding the phrase takes a little bit of work. Second, Smith packs a lot of richness into those twelve words. The first part of Smith’s summary of human desire—that people want to be loved—seems pretty straightforward, although Smith doesn’t mean loved the way we mean it today, as connected to romance and family. He means it in a fuller sense. He means that we want people to like us, respect us, and care about us. We want to be appreciated, desired, praised, and cherished. We want people to pay attention to us and take us seriously. We want them to want our presence, to enjoy our company. People do exist who claim not to care about what others think of them, but often it’s a show, a form of protection from the possibility that they are not loved, not respected, and not appreciated. Often the people who appear not to care what others think about them are the ones who desperately crave approval. Most people want to be loved. And it comes to us naturally, Smith says; it’s part of our essence. More than that, he says, “the chief part of human happiness arises from the consciousness of being beloved.”
  • Man naturally desires, not only to be loved, but to be lovely; or to be that thing which is the natural and proper object of love. He naturally dreads, not only to be hated, but to be hateful; or to be that thing which is the natural and proper object of hatred. He desires, not only praise, but praiseworthiness; or to be that thing which, though it should be praised by nobody, is, however, the natural and proper object of praise. He dreads, not only blame, but blameworthiness; or to be that thing which, though it should be blamed by nobody, is, however, the natural and proper object of blame.
  • Other actions, on the contrary, call forth our approbation, and we hear every body around us express the same favourable opinion concerning them. Every body is eager to honour and reward them. They excite all those sentiments for which we have by nature the strongest desire; the love, the gratitude, the admiration of mankind. We become ambitious of performing the like; and thus naturally lay down to ourselves a rule of another kind, that every opportunity of acting in this manner is carefully to be sought after.
  • The Universe is full of dots. Connect the right ones and you can draw anything. The important question is not whether the dots you picked are really there, but why you chose to ignore all the others.
  • ...upon coming into the world, we soon find that wisdom and virtue are by no means the sole objects of respect; nor vice and folly, of contempt. We frequently see the respectful attentions of the world more strongly directed towards the rich and the great, than towards the wise and the virtuous.
  • Something inside us reveres those who are revered. We idolize those who are idolized. We love those who are loved. Part of it is an awe for excellence. We will watch astounding feats on the Internet simply because they’re astounding and we can’t imagine how they can be done, even when they are no more practical than solving a Rubik’s Cube. We will watch and admire expertise that has no practical purpose. After all, the ability to hit a baseball moving unpredictably at one hundred miles an hour with a wooden stick is really not practical at all. A great heart surgeon would seem to be more admirable. But no one wants to sit in the car of a great heart surgeon unless that heart surgeon is world renowned, and maybe even that isn’t enough. No heart surgeon reaches the reach of LeBron James. There is something ineffable about fame that draws us to it. Maybe Smith’s insight into our desire to be loved is part of the answer. Somehow, being near people who are loved is exhilarating.
  • Scarce a word, scarce a gesture, can fall from him that is altogether neglected. In a great assembly he is the person upon whom all direct their eyes; it is upon him that their passions seem all to wait with expectation, in order to receive that movement and direction which he shall impress upon them; and if his behaviour is not altogether absurd, he has, every moment, an opportunity of interesting mankind, and of rendering himself the object of the observation and fellow-feeling of every body about him.
  • some cultures, it’s as if a memo went out saying “There’s a sucker born every minute; all you have to do is find such people and exploit them.” In other cultures, a memo seems to have gone out that says, “Be a decent human being. It’s OK to make money, but keep your word, and don’t exploit people in distress.” It’s a fabulous advantage to live in a society where people resist the urge to exploit others, keeping their word and honoring commitments and contracts even when that means foregoing a short-run benefit.
  • There’s a similar lesson to be learned for parenting. Parents struggle to leave their kids alone. We hover and urge and nudge our kids in directions we think will benefit them later in life. And sometimes we’re thinking of ourselves; we try to keep our kids from making mistakes we made even when those mistakes helped us become who we are. Or we push our kids to take paths we regret missing.
  • Readers tempted to see pipes as a primitive technology should know that pipes rank high on “product complexity,” meaning that nations must master an unusually wide range of abilities to make pipes well. Specifically, in 2013 pipes had an average complexity rank of 350 out of the 1239 product types ranked (Hausmann et al. 2014).
  • Cluttered spaces tend to cause and result from creativity, and cluttered offices often help workers to manage great detail (Vohs et al. 2013). Workers with cluttered offices often know where to find most everything in them, even if outsiders can make little sense of the apparent disorder. Yes, clutter often results from and leads to stress and disorganization, and so may usually be avoided. Even so, some em workers likely gain from and accept clutter, and clutter may also be used to signal membership in creative communities.
  • We’re not searching for anything except people. We don’t need other worlds. We need mirrors. We don’t know what to do with other worlds. One world is enough, even there we feel stifled. We desire to find our own idealized image; they’re supposed to be globes, civilizations more perfect than ours; in other worlds we expect to find the image of our own primitive past.
  • Solaristics, wrote Muntius, is a substitute for religion in the space age. It is faith wrapped in the cloak of science; contact, the goal for which we are striving, is as vague and obscure as communion with the saints or the coming of the Messiah. Exploration is a liturgy couched in methodological formulas; the humble work of researchers is the expectation of consummation, of Annunciation, for there are not nor can there be any bridges between Solaris and Earth. This obvious fact, like many others—the absence of shared experiences, the absence of conveyable concepts—was rejected by solaricists, the same way the faithful reject arguments that would subvert the underpinnings of their faith.
  • Solaristics, then, is the posthumous child of long-dead myths, the final flower of mystical yearnings that people no longer have the courage to utter aloud; while the cornerstone hidden deep in the foundations of this edifice is the hope of Redemption.
  • Do you believe that you will die? Yes, man is mortal, I am a man, ergo ... No, that isn’t what I mean. I know that you know that. What I’m asking is: Have you ever actually believed it, believed it completely, believed not with your mind but with your body, actually felt that one day the fingers now holding this very piece of paper will be yellow and icy ... ? No, of course you don’t believe it—which is the reason why, up to now, you haven’t jumped from the tenth floor to the pavement, why you’ve gone on eating, turning pages, shaving, smiling, writing....
  • As we analyze a thing into its parts or into its properties, we tend to magnify these, to exaggerate their apparent independence, and to hide from ourselves (at least for a time) the essential integrity and individuality of the composite whole. We divided the body into its organs, the skeleton into its bones, as in very much the same fashion we make a subjective analysis of the mind, according to the teaching of psychology, into component factors: but we know very well that judgement and knowledge, courage or gentleness, love or fear, have no separate existence, but are somehow mere manifestations, or imaginary coefficients, of a most complex integral.10
  • The misnaming of fields of study is so common as to lead to what might be general systems laws. For example, the mathematician, Frank Harary, once suggested this "law" to me: Any field with the word "science" in its name is guaranteed not to be a science.
  • Actually, sometimes we can gain from modeling on a poorly known system A fresh point of view can be helpful if something is known about the analog. At the very least, an analog jiggles the mind-and heaven knows our minds need a little jiggling.
  • We do not create the world. We make a model. Making models is what organismists do; making models is what painters do; and making models is also what scientists do, despite any protestations to the contrary.
  • It should be noted, however, that the reductionists have not yet succeeded in reducing all phenomena to physical and chemical primitives. Whether they can or not is a neat philosophical question, not a scientific one. The fact remains that there are lots and lots of medium number systems—not all of them "living systems" by any means—that have not been "explained" in terms of physical and chemical primitives.
  • My advice to any young man at the beginning of his career is to try to look for the mere outlines of big things with his fresh, untrained, and unprejudiced mind.9 - H. Selye
  • To be a successful generalist, one must study the art of ignoring data and of seeing only the "mere outlines" of things.
  • Mathematicians may flatter themselves that they possess new ideas which mere human language is as yet unable to express. Let them make the effort to express these ideas in appropriate words without the aid of symbols, and if they succeed they will not only lay us laymen under a lasting obligation, but, we venture to say, they will find themselves very much enlightened during the process, and will even be doubtful whether the ideas as expressed in symbols had ever quite found their way out of the equations into their minds.
  • If we have limited memories, decomposing a system into noninteracting parts may enable us to predict behavior better than we could without the decomposition. This is the method of science, which would be unnecessary were it not for our limited brains. The very existence of science is thus the best proof that human mental capacities are, in fact, limited.
  • Trying to cope with unfamiliar, complex phenomena, we try to 1. get a "complete" view—one broad enough to encompass all phenomena of interest—so we are not surprised; 2. get a "minimal" view—one that lumps together states that are unnecessarily discriminated—so we do not overtax our observational powers; 3. get an "independent" view—one that decomposes observed states into noninteracting qualities—so as to reduce the mental effort required.
  • Count-to-Three Principle: If you cannot think of three ways of abusing a tool, you do not understand how to use it.
  • Science may be thought of as the process of learning which ways of looking at things yield invariant laws. The laws of science may thus be descriptions of how the world looks ("Eureka"—I have found), or prescriptions for how to look at the world ("heuristic"—how to find). We really have no way of knowing which.
  • Principle of Indeterminability: We cannot with certainty attribute observed constraint either to system or environment.
  • “As a young man, when I heard about ingenious inventions, I tried to invent them by myself, even without reading the author. In doing so, I perceived, by degrees, that I was making use of certain rules.”
  • “You can undertake without hope and persevere without success.” Thus may speak an inflexible will, or honor and duty, or a nobleman with a noble cause. This sort of determination, however, would not do for the scientist, who should have some hope to start with, and some success to go on. In scientific work, it is necessary to apportion wisely determination to outlook. You do not take up a problem, unless it has some interest; you settle down to work seriously if the problem seems instructive; you throw in your whole personality if there is a great promise. If your purpose is set, you stick to it, but you do not make it unnecessarily difficult for yourself. You do not despise little successes, on the contrary, you seek them: If you cannot solve the proposed problem try to solve first some related problem.
  • “Home is people,” she says to Asael, softly. Asael blinks. “Home is what you take with you, not what you leave behind.”
  • Makeup, while the world is ending. You don’t know whether to be awed or affronted by that.
  • He’s always good at guessing her thoughts. “You can’t make anything better,” he says, heavily. “The world is what it is. Unless you destroy it and start all over again, there’s no changing it.” He sighs, rubs his face against her breast. “Take what you can get out of it, Syen. Love your son. Even live the pirate life if that makes you happy. But stop looking for anything better than this.”
  • “Someday, you must tell me what it’s like there. Why all who come out of that place seem so very competent… and so very afraid.”
  • “This was where The Little Engine That Could once sat.” She lapsed into silence and we all stood there respectfully, staring at an empty space in the air.
  • “You see? I know where every single book used to be in the library.” She pointed to the shelf opposite. “Over there was Catch-22, which was a hugely popular fishing book and one of a series, I believe.”
  • People appear to achieve grit by gaining a deep purpose and personal meaning from their activities, by giving and getting help via strong bonds with friends and teammates, by making a game out of difficult situations, by being confident but realistic, by preparing well and often, by facing and thinking through their fears, by having a “growth mindset” that focuses on learning and improving, by debriefing often and noting what they could have done better, by celebrating small wins, and by regularly finding things to laugh at (Barker 2015b
  • “You pseudo-rationalists always drag up the spoon issue, don’t you? Our Munsell works in mysterious ways. Top Chromatologians have thought long and hard over the spoon question, and have come to the conclusion that, since the Word of Munsell is infallible, there must be some greater plan to which we are not yet privy.”
  • This was true, and since one’s career path was never decided by ability or intellect, it didn’t much matter anyway. Lessons were generally restricted to reading, writing, French, music, geography, sums, cooking and Rule-followment, which meant sitting in a circle and agreeing on how important the Rules were. Most pupils referred to the subject as “nodding.”
  • We’d heard about them but hadn’t considered that we would ever be able to observe them in any meaningful way. Like the Pyramids, the Great Sweat, Chuck Naurice, Tariq Al-Simpson, M’Donna and the Rainbowsians, we all knew they had once existed, but there was no record, or proof—they were now just labels on lost memories, cascading down the years from resident to resident, echoes of lost knowledge.
  • People tend to be more passionate and sensitive about their opinions on politics and law. This is in part because such topics are related to morality and social norms, and in part because data and theory in such areas tend to be weaker, often allowing a wider range of opinions to be consistent with our best data and theories. Because of this sensitivity, many readers are especially likely to be offended by, or lose respect for, authors who discuss politics or law.
  • Ems are likely to move back toward farmer-like explicit and distinct social classes, and more frequent overt rituals wherein ems with different roles take on different ritualized behaviors. Compared with us, ems are likely to be more stratified into explicit classes, and to play out more frequent explicit and stylized synchronized behaviors.
  • “I understand the theory about traveling—that it involves moving between two points, usually different ones.” “But not always,” said Yewberry, eager not to give me the intellectual upper hand. “True,” I conceded.
  • “Because there’s someone else here in East Carmine. Someone hopelessly unsuitable. It’s all a really bad idea and will lead to trouble of the worst sort. But no matter what, every minute in her presence makes my life a minute more complete.”
  • I realized that this world, blighted and imperfect as it is, would be better with you in it.”
  • “The best lies to tell,” said Jane, “are the ones people want to believe.”
  • “Continuous sustainability. A community where everyone has their place, everyone knows their place and works ceaselessly to maintain continuance. If you were to dispassionately consider the principal aim of the society to be longevity rather than fairness, then everything is downgraded to simply a means of attaining that goal. Rather than waiting for a resident to prove themselves disharmonious, the system simply flags them early and sends them off to Reboot as a precaution. If you think about it, the whole notion is quite ingenious.”
  • Or you’re so worried about doing the right thing all the time that you become worried about how much you’re worrying. Or you feel so guilty for every mistake you make that you begin to feel guilty about how guilty you’re feeling. Or you get sad and alone so often that it makes you feel even more sad and alone just thinking about it. Welcome to the Feedback Loop from Hell. Chances are you’ve engaged in it more than a few times. Maybe you’re engaging in it right now: “God, I do the Feedback Loop all the time—I’m such a loser for doing it. I should stop. Oh my God, I feel like such a loser for calling myself a loser. I should stop calling myself a loser. Ah, fuck! I’m doing it again! See? I’m a loser! Argh!”
  • If you find yourself consistently giving too many fucks about trivial shit that bothers you—your ex-boyfriend’s new Facebook picture, how quickly the batteries die in the TV remote, missing out on yet another two-for-one sale on hand sanitizer—chances are you don’t have much going on in your life to give a legitimate fuck about. And that’s your real problem. Not the hand sanitizer. Not the TV remote. I once heard an artist say that when a person has no problems, the mind automatically finds a way to invent some. I think what most people—especially educated, pampered middle-class white people—consider “life problems” are really just side effects of not having anything more important to worry about.
  • “Don’t hope for a life without problems,” the panda said. “There’s no such thing. Instead, hope for a life full of good problems.”
  • Emotions are part of the equation of our lives, but not the entire equation. Just because something feels good doesn’t mean it is good. Just because something feels bad doesn’t mean it is bad. Emotions are merely signposts, suggestions that our neurobiology gives us, not commandments. Therefore, we shouldn’t always trust our own emotions. In fact, I believe we should make a habit of questioning them.
  • Everybody enjoys what feels good. Everyone wants to live a carefree, happy, and easy life, to fall in love and have amazing sex and relationships, to look perfect and make money and be popular and well-respected and admired and a total baller to the point that people part like the Red Sea when they walk into the room. Everybody wants that. It’s easy to want that. A more interesting question, a question that most people never consider, is, “What pain do you want in your life? What are you willing to struggle for?” Because that seems to be a greater determinant of how our lives turn out.
  • What determines your success isn’t, “What do you want to enjoy?” The relevant question is, “What pain do you want to sustain?” The path to happiness is a path full of shitheaps and shame. You have to choose something. You can’t have a pain-free life. It can’t all be roses and unicorns all the time. Pleasure is the easy question. And pretty much all of us have a similar answer. The more interesting question is the pain. What is the pain that you want to sustain? That’s the hard question that matters, the question that will actually get you somewhere. It’s the question that can change a perspective, a life. It’s what makes me, me, and you, you. It’s what defines us and separates us and ultimately brings us together. For most of my adolescence and young adulthood, I fantasized about being a musician—a rock star, in particular. Any badass guitar song I heard, I would always close my eyes and envision myself up on stage, playing it to the screams of the crowd, people absolutely losing their minds to my sweet finger-noodling glory. This fantasy could keep me occupied for hours on end. For me, it was never a question of if I’d ever be up playing in front of screaming crowds, but when. I had it all planned out. I was simply biding my time before I could invest the proper amount of energy and effort into getting out there and making my mark. First I needed to finish school. Then I needed to make some extra money to buy gear. Then I needed to find enough free time to practice. Then I had to network and plan my first project. Then . . . and then nothing. Despite my fantasizing about this for over half my lifetime, the reality never came to fruition. And it took me a long time and a lot of struggle to finally figure out why: I didn’t actually want it. I was in love with the result—the image of me on stage, people cheering, me rocking out, pouring my heart into what I was playing—but I wasn’t in love with the process. And because of that, I failed at it. Repeatedly. Hell, I didn’t even try hard enough to fail at it. I hardly tried at all. The daily drudgery of practicing, the logistics of finding a group and rehearsing, the pain of finding gigs and actually getting people to show up and give a shit, the broken strings, the blown tube amp, hauling forty pounds of gear to and from rehearsals with no car. It’s a mountain of a dream and a mile-high climb to the top. And what it took me a long time to discover is that I didn’t like to climb much. I just liked to imagine the summit.
  • The common cultural narratives would tell me that I somehow failed myself, that I’m a quitter or a loser, that I just didn’t “have it,” that I gave up on my dream and that maybe I let myself succumb to the pressures of society. But the truth is far less interesting than any of these explanations. The truth is, I thought I wanted something, but it turns out I didn’t. End of story. I wanted the reward and not the struggle. I wanted the result and not the process. I was in love with not the fight but only the victory. And life doesn’t work that way. Who you are is defined by what you’re willing to struggle for. People who enjoy the struggles of a gym are the ones who run triathlons and have chiseled abs and can bench-press a small house. People who enjoy long workweeks and the politics of the corporate ladder are the ones who fly to the top of it. People who enjoy the stresses and uncertainties of the starving artist lifestyle are ultimately the ones who live it and make it. This is not about willpower or grit. This is not another admonishment of “no pain, no gain.” This is the most simple and basic component of life: our struggles determine our successes. Our problems birth our happiness, along with slightly better, slightly upgraded problems. See: it’s a never-ending upward spiral. And if you think at any point you’re allowed to stop climbing, I’m afraid you’re missing the point. Because the joy is in the climb itself.
  • Thank God for family. And thank God for a couple thousand miles of distance. When everyone was home at the same time, I could generally take it for about half an hour before I retreated into the basement. Usually, Dad followed about ten minutes later. There’d be the mutual eye-rolling, and we’d settle down without a word, to read or watch TV. My father and I were both loners by disposition. We could sit in the same room for hours, not say five words to each other, and both be completely comfortable. It drove my mother crazy.
  • Seeing myself and seeing me seeing myself made me feel existentially dizzy,
  • theory. I’d let myself be switched off before I’d save myself by climbing on someone else’s back.
  • Who was I? Was I Bob? Or was Bob dead? In engineering terms, what was the metric used to ascribe Bob-hood? Bob was more than a hunk of meat. Bob was a person, and a person was a history, a set of desires, thoughts, goals, and opinions. Bob was the accumulation of all that Bob had been for thirty-one years. The meat was dead, but the things that made Bob different from a chipmunk were alive. In me. I am Bob. Or at least, I am the important parts that made Bob.
  • The problem with the self-esteem movement is that it measured self-esteem by how positively people felt about themselves. But a true and accurate measurement of one’s self-worth is how people feel about the negative aspects of themselves.
  • My parents are good people. I don’t blame them for any of this (not anymore, at least). And I love them very much. They have their own stories and their own journeys and their own problems, just as all parents do. And just as all of their parents do, and so on. And like all parents, my parents, with the best of intentions, imparted some of their problems to me, as I probably will to my kids.
  • It wasn’t so much the sex I craved, although the sex was fun. It was the validation. I was wanted; I was loved; for the first time since I could remember, I was worthy.
  • Because construing everything in life so as to make yourself out to be constantly victimized requires just as much selfishness as the opposite. It takes just as much energy and delusional self-aggrandizement to maintain the belief that one has insurmountable problems as that one has no problems at all.
  • The truth is that there’s no such thing as a personal problem. If you’ve got a problem, chances are millions of other people have had it in the past, have it now, and are going to have it in the future. Likely people you know too. That doesn’t minimize the problem or mean that it shouldn’t hurt. It doesn’t mean you aren’t legitimately a victim in some circumstances. It just means that you’re not special. Often, it’s this realization—that you and your problems are actually not privileged in their severity or pain—that is the first and most important step toward solving them.
  • A lot of people are afraid to accept mediocrity because they believe that if they accept it, they’ll never achieve anything, never improve, and that their life won’t matter. This sort of thinking is dangerous. Once you accept the premise that a life is worthwhile only if it is truly notable and great, then you basically accept the fact that most of the human population (including yourself) sucks and is worthless. And this mindset can quickly turn dangerous, to both yourself and others. The rare people who do become truly exceptional at something do so not because they believe they’re exceptional. On the contrary, they become amazing because they’re obsessed with improvement. And that obsession with improvement stems from an unerring belief that they are, in fact, not that great at all. It’s anti-entitlement. People who become great at something become great because they understand that they’re not already great—they are mediocre, they are average—and that they could be so much better.
  • All of this “every person can be extraordinary and achieve greatness” stuff is basically just jerking off your ego. It’s a message that tastes good going down, but in reality is nothing more than empty calories that make you emotionally fat and bloated, the proverbial Big Mac for your heart and your brain. The ticket to emotional health, like that to physical health, comes from eating your veggies—that is, accepting the bland and mundane truths of life: truths such as “Your actions actually don’t matter that much in the grand scheme of things” and “The vast majority of your life will be boring and not noteworthy, and that’s okay.” This vegetable course will taste bad at first. Very bad. You will avoid accepting it. But once ingested, your body will wake up feeling more potent and more alive. After all, that constant pressure to be something amazing, to be the next big thing, will be lifted off your back. The stress and anxiety of always feeling inadequate and constantly needing to prove yourself will dissipate. And the knowledge and acceptance of your own mundane existence will actually free you to accomplish what you truly wish to accomplish, without judgment or lofty expectations. You will have a growing appreciation for life’s basic experiences: the pleasures of simple friendship, creating something, helping a person in need, reading a good book, laughing with someone you care about.
  • Self-awareness is like an onion. There are multiple layers to it, and the more you peel them back, the more likely you’re going to start crying at inappropriate times. Let’s say the first layer of the self-awareness onion is a simple understanding of one’s emotions. “This is when I feel happy.” “This makes me feel sad.” “This gives me hope.” Unfortunately, there are many people who suck at even this most basic level of self-awareness. I know because I’m one of them. My wife and I sometimes have a fun back-and-forth that goes something like this: HER. What’s wrong? ME. Nothing’s wrong. Nothing at all. HER. No, something’s wrong. Tell me. ME. I’m fine. Really. HER. Are you sure? You look upset. ME, with nervous laughter. Really? No, I’m okay, seriously. [Thirty minutes later . . . ] ME. . . . And that’s why I’m so fucking pissed off! He just acts as if I don’t exist half the time.
  • But there’s another, even deeper level of the self-awareness onion. And that one is full of fucking tears. The third level is our personal values: Why do I consider this to be success/failure? How am I choosing to measure myself? By what standard am I judging myself and everyone around me?
  • Always Being Right.Our brains are inefficient machines. We consistently make poor assumptions, misjudge probabilities, misremember facts, give in to cognitive biases, and make decisions based on our emotional whims. As humans, we’re wrong pretty much constantly, so if your metric for life success is to be right—well, you’re going to have a difficult time rationalizing all of the bullshit to yourself. The fact is, people who base their self-worth on being right about everything prevent themselves from learning from their mistakes. They lack the ability to take on new perspectives and empathize with others. They close themselves off to new and important information. It’s far more helpful to assume that you’re ignorant and don’t know a whole lot. This keeps you unattached to superstitious or poorly informed beliefs and promotes a constant state of learning and growth.
  • Values are about prioritization. Everybody would love a good cannoli or a house in the Bahamas. The question is your priorities. What are the values that you prioritize above everything else, and that therefore influence your decision-making more than anything else?
  • it was considerably better than my current defensive armament, which consisted of harsh words and heavy disapproval. Probably not effective against Klingons.
  • A lot of people hesitate to take responsibility for their problems because they believe that to be responsible for your problems is to also be at fault for your problems. Responsibility and fault often appear together in our culture. But they’re not the same thing. If I hit you with my car, I am both at fault and likely legally responsible to compensate you in some way. Even if hitting you with my car was an accident, I am still responsible. This is the way fault works in our society: if you fuck up, you’re on the hook for making it right. And it should be that way. But there are also problems that we aren’t at fault for, yet we are still responsible for them. For example, if you woke up one day and there was a newborn baby on your doorstep, it would not be your fault that the baby had been put there, but the baby would now be your responsibility. You would have to choose what to do. And whatever you ended up choosing (keeping it, getting rid of it, ignoring it, feeding it to a pit bull), there would be problems associated with your choice—and you would be responsible for those as well. Judges don’t get to choose their cases. When a case goes to court, the judge assigned to it did not commit the crime, was not a witness to the crime, and was not affected by the crime, but he or she is still responsible for the crime. The judge must then choose the consequences; he or she must identify the metric against which the crime will be measured and make sure that the chosen metric is carried out. We are responsible for experiences that aren’t our fault all the time. This is part of life. Here’s one way to think about the distinction between the two concepts. Fault is past tense. Responsibility is present tense. Fault results from choices that have already been made. Responsibility results from the choices you’re currently making, every second of every day. You are choosing to read this. You are choosing to think about the concepts. You are choosing to accept or reject the concepts. It may be my fault that you think my ideas are lame, but you are responsible for coming to your own conclusions. It’s not your fault that I chose to write this sentence, but you are still responsible for choosing to read it (or not). There’s a difference between blaming someone else for your situation and that person’s actually being responsible for your situation. Nobody else is ever responsible for your situation but you. Many people may be to blame for your unhappiness, but nobody is ever responsible for your unhappiness but you. This is because you always get to choose how you see things, how you react to things, how you value things. You always get to choose the metric by which to measure your experiences.
  • As I looked back on our relationship, I started to notice problems I had never noticed before, problems that I was to blame for and that I could have done something to solve. I realized that it was likely that I hadn’t been a great boyfriend, and that people don’t just magically cheat on somebody they’ve been with unless they are unhappy for some reason. I’m not saying that this excused what my ex did—not at all. But recognizing my mistakes helped me to realize that I perhaps hadn’t been the innocent victim I’d believed myself to be. That I had a role to play in enabling the shitty relationship to continue for as long as it did. After all, people who date each other tend to have similar values. And if I dated someone with shitty values for that long, what did that say about me and my values? I learned the hard way that if the people in your relationships are selfish and doing hurtful things, it’s likely you are too, you just don’t realize it.
  • Beliefs of this sort—that I’m not attractive enough, so why bother; or that my boss is an asshole, so why bother—are designed to give us moderate comfort now by mortgaging greater happiness and success later on. They’re terrible long-term strategies, yet we cling to them because we assume we’re right, because we assume we already know what’s supposed to happen. In other words, we assume we know how the story ends.
  • Just as we look back in horror at the lives of people five hundred years ago, I imagine people five hundred years from now will laugh at us and our certainties today. They will laugh at how we let our money and our jobs define our lives. They will laugh at how we were afraid to show appreciation for those who matter to us most, yet heaped praise on public figures who didn’t deserve anything. They will laugh at our rituals and superstitions, our worries and our wars; they will gawk at our cruelty. They will study our art and argue over our history. They will understand truths about us of which none of us are yet aware.
  • But perhaps the answer is to trust yourself less. After all, if our hearts and minds are so unreliable, maybe we should be questioning our own intentions and motivations more. If we’re all wrong, all the time, then isn’t self-skepticism and the rigorous challenging of our own beliefs and assumptions the only logical route to progress? This may sound scary and self-destructive. But it’s actually quite the opposite. It’s not only the safer option, but it’s liberating as well.
  • Well, next time you’re at a swanky cocktail party and you want to impress somebody, try dropping Manson’s law of avoidance on them: The more something threatens your identity, the more you will avoid it. That means the more something threatens to change how you view yourself, how successful/unsuccessful you believe yourself to be, how well you see yourself living up to your values, the more you will avoid ever getting around to doing it. There’s a certain comfort that comes with knowing how you fit in the world. Anything that shakes up that comfort—even if it could potentially make your life better—is inherently scary.
  • I try to live with few rules, but one that I’ve adopted over the years is this: if it’s down to me being screwed up, or everybody else being screwed up, it is far, far, far more likely that I’m the one who’s screwed up. I have learned this from experience. I have been the asshole acting out based on my own insecurities and flawed certainties more times than I can count. It’s not pretty.
  • is the case for many millennial children, my parents looked on as if I were some sort of prodigy. To them, the fact that I could program the VCR without looking at the instruction manual made me the Second Coming of Tesla. It’s easy to look back at my parents’ generation and chuckle at their technophobia. But the further I get into adulthood, the more I realize that we all have areas of our lives where we’re like my parents with the new VCR: we sit and stare and shake our heads and say, “But how?” When really, it’s as simple as just doing it.
  • When I was young, any time my family got a new VCR or stereo, I would press every button, plug and unplug every cord and cable, just to see what everything did. With time, I learned how the whole system worked. And because I knew how it all worked, I was often the only person in the house who used the stuff. As is the case for many millennial children, my parents looked on as if I were some sort of prodigy. To them, the fact that I could program the VCR without looking at the instruction manual made me the Second Coming of Tesla. It’s easy to look back at my parents’ generation and chuckle at their technophobia. But the further I get into adulthood, the more I realize that we all have areas of our lives where we’re like my parents with the new VCR: we sit and stare and shake our heads and say, “But how?” When really, it’s as simple as just doing it.
  • “How? How do you just walk up and talk to a person? How can somebody do that?” I had all sorts of screwed-up beliefs about this, like that you weren’t allowed to speak to someone unless you had some practical reason to, or that women would think I was a creepy rapist if I so much as said, “Hello.” The problem was that my emotions defined my reality. Because it felt like people didn’t want to talk to me, I came to believe that people didn’t want to talk to me. And thus, my VCR question: “How do you just walk up and talk to a person?” Because I failed to separate what I felt from what was, I was incapable of stepping outside myself and seeing the world for what it was: a simple place where two people can walk up to each other at any time and speak. Many people, when they feel some form of pain or anger or sadness, drop everything and attend to numbing out whatever they’re feeling. Their goal is to get back to “feeling good” again as quickly as possible, even if that means substances or deluding themselves or returning to their shitty values.
  • The point is this: we all must give a fuck about something, in order to value something. And to value something, we must reject what is not that something. To value X, we must reject non-X. That rejection is an inherent and necessary part of maintaining our values, and therefore our identity. We are defined by what we choose to reject. And if we reject nothing (perhaps in fear of being rejected by something ourselves), we essentially have no identity at all. The desire to avoid rejection at all costs, to avoid confrontation and conflict, the desire to attempt to accept everything equally and to make everything cohere and harmonize, is a deep and subtle form of entitlement. Entitled people, because they feel as though they deserve to feel great all the time, avoid rejecting anything because doing so might make them or someone else feel bad. And because they refuse to reject anything, they live a valueless, pleasure-driven, and self-absorbed life. All they give a fuck about is sustaining the high a little bit longer, to avoid the inevitable failures of their life, to pretend the suffering away.
  • When you have murky areas of responsibility for your emotions and actions—areas where it’s unclear who is responsible for what, whose fault is what, why you’re doing what you’re doing—you never develop strong values for yourself. Your only value becomes making your partner happy. Or your only value becomes your partner making you happy. This is self-defeating, of course. And relationships characterized by such murkiness usually go down like the Hindenburg, with all the drama and fireworks. People can’t solve your problems for you. And they shouldn’t try, because that won’t make you happy. You can’t solve other people’s problems for them either, because that likewise won’t make them happy. The mark of an unhealthy relationship is two people who try to solve each other’s problems in order to feel good about themselves. Rather, a healthy relationship is when two people solve their own problems in order to feel good about each other.
  • Instead, victims and savers both use each other to achieve emotional highs. It’s like an addiction they fulfill in one another. Ironically, when presented with emotionally healthy people to date, they usually feel bored or lack “chemistry” with them. They pass on emotionally healthy, secure individuals because the secure partner’s solid boundaries don’t feel “exciting” enough to stimulate the constant highs necessary in the entitled person.
  • If you make a sacrifice for someone you care about, it needs to be because you want to, not because you feel obligated or because you fear the consequences of not doing so. If your partner is going to make a sacrifice for you, it needs to because he or she genuinely wants to, not because you’ve manipulated the sacrifice through anger or guilt. Acts of love are valid only if they’re performed without conditions or expectations. It can be difficult for people to recognize the difference between doing something out of obligation and doing it voluntarily. So here’s a litmus test: ask yourself, “If I refused, how would the relationship change?” Similarly, ask, “If my partner refused something I wanted, how would the relationship change?”
  • For a relationship to be healthy, both people must be willing and able to both say no and hear no. Without that negation, without that occasional rejection, boundaries break down and one person’s problems and values come to dominate the other’s. Conflict is not only normal, then; it’s absolutely necessary for the maintenance of a healthy relationship. If two people who are close are not able to hash out their differences openly and vocally, then the relationship is based on manipulation and misrepresentation, and it will slowly become toxic. Trust is the most important ingredient in any relationship, for the simple reason that without trust, the relationship doesn’t actually mean anything. A person could tell you that she loves you, wants to be with you, would give up everything for you, but if you don’t trust her, you get no benefit from those statements. You don’t feel loved until you trust that the love being expressed toward you comes without any special conditions or baggage attached to it.
  • If you haven’t figured it out yet, our immortality projects are our values. They are the barometers of meaning and worth in our life. And when our values fail, so do we, psychologically speaking. What Becker is saying, in essence, is that we’re all driven by fear to give way too many fucks about something, because giving a fuck about something is the only thing that distracts us from the reality and inevitability of our own death. And to truly not give a single fuck is to achieve a quasi-spiritual state of embracing the impermanence of one’s own existence. In that state, one is far less likely to get caught up in various forms of entitlement.
  • 'The name's Schitt,' he replied, 'Jack Schitt.'
  • I agreed, and she went to find a chicken that she could boil all the taste out of, her anger at Dad for the moment forgotten. Mycroft
  • It is, nevertheless, an illusion – and one as dangerous as it is widespread – that in contemporary democracies the more a leader dominates his or her political party and Cabinet, the greater the leader. A more collegial style of leadership is too often characterized as a weakness, the advantages of a more collective political leadership too commonly overlooked.
  • 'No,' replied Bowden. 'I haven't really had time to find myself a wife, although I am not against the idea in principle. It's just that SpecOps is not really a great place for meeting people and I'm not, I confess, a great socialiser. I've been short— listed for a post opening the equivalent of a LiteraTec office in Ohio; it seems to me the perfect opportunity to take a wife.' 'The money's good over there and the facilities are excellent. I'd consider it myself given the opportunity,' I replied. I meant it, too. 'Would you? Would you really?' asked Bowden with a flush of excitement that was curiously at odds with his slightly cold demeanour. 'Sure. Change of scenery,' I stammered, wanting to change the subject in case Bowden got the wrong idea. 'Have you - ah — been a LiteraTec long?'
  • 'Love is like oxygen, Bowden. When's the happy day?' 'Oh, she doesn't know yet,' replied Bowden, sighing. 'She is everything a woman should be. Strong and resourceful, loyal and intelligent.'
  • When I was out there I wanted us to win, to kill the foe. I revelled in the glory of battle and the camaraderie that only conflict can create. No bond is stronger than that welded in conflict; no greater friend is there than the one who stood next to you as you fought.'
  • 'I get the point. I don't know. Maybe those sorts of yes or no life-and-death decisions are easier to make because they are so black and white. I can cope with them because it's easier. Human emotions, well . . . they're just a fathomless collection of greys and I don't do so well on the mid-tones.'
  • The first: Doubts about the rationality of voters are empirically justified. The second: Voter irrationality is precisely what economic theory implies once we adopt introspectively plausible assumptions about human motivation. The third: Voter irrationality is the key to a realistic picture of democracy.
  • As we never cease to point out, each man is in practice an excellent economist, producing or exchanging according as he finds it more advantageous to do the one or the other. —Frédéric Bastiat, Economic Sophisms
  • In real-world political settings, the price of ideological loyalty is close to zero.59 So we should expect people to “satiate” their demand for political delusion, to believe whatever makes them feel best. After all, it’s free. The fanatical protectionist who votes to close the borders risks virtually nothing, because the same policy wins no matter how he votes. Either the borders remain open, and the protectionist has the satisfaction of saying, “I told you so”; or the borders close, and the protectionist has the satisfaction of saying, “Imagine how bad things would have been if we hadn’t closed the borders!”
  • It is a not improbable conjecture that the feeling that humanity was becoming over-civilized, that life was getting too complicated and over-refined, dates from the time when the cave-men first became such. It can hardly be supposed—if the cave-men were at all like their descendants—that none among them discoursed with contempt on the cowardly effeminacy of living under shelter or upon the exasperating inconvenience of constantly returning for food and sleep to the same place instead of being free to roam at large in wide-open spaces.
  • Yet while elevation, mental and physical, of the masses is going on far more rapidly than ever before—while the lowering of the death-rate proves that the average life is less trying, there swells louder and louder the cry that the evils are so great that nothing short of a social revolution can cure them. In presence of obvious improvements . . . it is proclaimed, with increasing vehemence, that things are so bad that society must be pulled to pieces and re-organised on another plan.
  • The civics textbook motto, “If everybody thought that way, democracy would produce horrible results,” could well be true. But as an appeal to citizen self-interest, the motto is a bald fallacy of composition. If everyone knows nothing about politics, we are worse off; but it does not follow that if I know nothing about politics, I am worse off. If one person stands up at a concert, that person sees better, but if everyone stands up, no one sees better.
  • Two forces lie at the heart of economic models of choice: preferences and prices. A consumer’s preferences determine the shape of his demand curve for oranges; the market price he faces determines where along that demand curve he resides. What makes this insight deep is its generality. Economists use it to analyze everything from having babies to robbing banks.
  • Nearly all economists assume that people vote instrumentally; that is, they vote to get the policies they prefer. What else would they do? Brennan and Lomasky point to the expressive function of voting. Fans at a football game cheer not to help the home team win, but to express their loyalty. Similarly, citizens might vote not to help policies win, but to express their patriotism, their compassion, or their devotion to the environment. This is not hair-splitting. One implication is that inefficient policies like tariffs or the minimum wage might win because expressing support for them makes people feel good about themselves.
  • If your vote does not change the outcome, you can safely vote for “feel good” policies even if you know they will be disastrous in practice.
  • Support for counterproductive policies and mistaken beliefs about how the world works normally come as a package. Rational irrationality emphasizes this link; expressive voting theory—despite its strengths—neglects it.
  • For example, suppose income growth and job security cause higher economic literacy. Then given a negative economic shock, income growth and job security would decline, reducing the median voter’s economic literacy, increasing the demand for foolish economic policies, which in turn hurts economic performance further. I refer to this downward spiral as “the idea trap.”65 Perhaps it can help solve the central puzzle of development economics: Why poor countries stay poor.
  • If voters are systematically mistaken about what policies work, there is a striking implication: They will not be satisfied by the politicians they elect. A politician who ignores the public’s policy preferences looks like a corrupt tool of special interests. A politician who implements the public’s policy preferences looks incompetent because of the bad consequences. Empirically, the shoe fits: In the GSS, only 25% agree that “people we elect to Congress try to keep the promises they have made during the election,” and only 20% agree that “most government administrators can be trusted to do what is best for the country.”71 Why does democratic competition yield so few satisfied customers? Because politicians are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. The public calls them venal for failing to deliver the impossible.
  • To get ahead in politics, leaders need a blend of naive populism and realistic cynicism. No wonder the modal politician has a law degree.
  • Faith helps explain politicians’ tendency to dodge pointed questions with vague answers.23 How can refusing to take a position (or changing the subject) be strategically better than candidly endorsing a moderate position?24 Put yourself in the shoes of a voter who opposes the moderate view but has a degree of faith in a candidate’s good intentions. If the candidate announces his allegiance to the moderate view, faith in him dissolves. But as long as the candidate is silent or vague, it does not tax your faith to maintain, “He’s a decent man, he must agree with me.” From politicians’ point of view, the critical fact is that voters on both sides of the issue can “reason” in the same fashion.
  • The ability to wash his hands of his underlings’ actions gives a leader extra slack. If he wants something unpopular to happen, he does not have to become unpopular himself. Instead, he publicly stands with the majority, but privately leads his subordinates to undercut him. In its crassest form, he could tell his subordinates, off the record, that his public statements are the opposite of his true wishes. But it is easier to appoint people who want to do the unpopular thing, then look the other way.
  • If people are more susceptible to some messages than others, exposure to balanced media can bring out people’s “inner protectionist” or “inner pessimist.” Coverage consistent with our prejudices resonates, so even a neutral stream of messages propels us deeper into error. Left to their own devices, viewers overreact only to evidence that they personally stumble upon. If the media magically vanished, their former audience would have to search harder for reasons to fear foreigners, and might grow less antiforeign out of laziness. The news industry, no matter how balanced, stops this from happening. It ensures that the public gets a steady stream of antiforeign coverage to which it can overreact.
  • There is at the core of the celebration of markets a relentless tautology. If we begin, by assumption, with the premise that nearly everything can be understood as a market and that markets optimize outcomes, then everything comes back to the same conclusion—marketize! If, in the event, a particular market doesn’t optimize, there is only one possible inference: it must be insufficiently marketlike.
  • Twisting a marginal trade-off into a binary choice is fundamentalism trying to sound reasonable.
  • Bastiat, similarly, makes logic and common sense appealing by ridiculing those who lack them. Take his famous Candlemakers’ Petition: We are suffering from the ruinous competition of a foreign rival who apparently works under conditions so far superior to our own for the production of light that he is flooding the domestic market with it at an incredibly low price; for the moment he appears, our sales cease, all the consumers turn to him. . . . This rival . . . is none other than the sun. [I]f you shut off as much as possible all access to natural light, and thereby create a need for artificial light, what industry in France will not ultimately be encouraged?72 The petition does more than teach economics. It turns protectionism into a joke. In the process, Bastiat depicts economists not as pedants, but as the life of the intellectual party. Without compromising his intellectual integrity, Bastiat makes readers’ desire to think well of themselves work in his favor.
  • The analogy between voting and shopping is false: Democracy is a commons, not a market. Individual voters do not “buy” policies with votes. Rather they toss their vote into a big common pool. The social outcome depends on the pool’s average content.
  • Shameful, immodest. I avoid looking down at my body, not so much because it's shameful or immodest but because I don't want to see it. I don't want to look at something that determines me so completely.
  • This washroom used to be for boys. The mirrors have been replaced here too by oblongs of dull gray metal, but the urinals are still there, on one wall, white enamel with yellow stains. They look oddly like babies' coffins. I marvel again at the nakedness of men's lives: the showers right out in the open, the body exposed for inspection and comparison, the public display of privates. What is it for? What purposes of reassurance does it serve? The flashing of a badge, look, everyone, all is in order, I belong here. Why don't women have to prove to one another that they are women? Some form of unbuttoning, some split-crotch routine, just as casual. A doglike sniffing.
  • Is, I say. Is, is, only two letters, you stupid shit, can't you manage to remember it, even a short word like that?
  • I can see now what it's for, what it was always for: to keep the core of your self out of reach enclosed, protected.
  • I’d no particular ambitions beyond being either widely admired or stealthily influential—I was torn between the two. It hardly mattered, as no major seemed to lead reliably to either.
  • My parents persisted in pretending we were a close-knit family, a family who enjoyed a good heart-to-heart, a family who turned to each other in times of trial. In light of my two missing siblings, this was an astonishing triumph of wishful thinking; I could almost admire it. At the same time, I am very clear in my own mind. We were never that family.
  • Antagonism in my family comes wrapped in layers of code, sideways feints, full deniability. I believe the same can be said of many families.
  • The sound of my mother at the door made my pencil hop to. Mercantilism. Guild monopolies. Thomas More’s Utopia. “Did you know,” I asked her, “that there’s still war in Utopia? And slaves?”
  • in retrospect, the lesson seemed to be that what you accomplish will never matter so much as where you fail.
  • Sometimes you best avoid talking by being quiet, but sometimes you best avoid talking by talking. I can still talk when I need to. I haven’t forgotten how to talk.
  • Language does this to our memories—simplifies, solidifies, codifies, mummifies. An oft-told story is like a photograph in a family album; eventually, it replaces the moment it was meant to capture.
  • Our parents, on the other hand, had shut their mouths and the rest of my childhood took place in that odd silence. They never reminisced about the time they had to drive halfway back to Indianapolis because I’d left Dexter Poindexter, my terry-cloth penguin (threadbare, ravaged by love—as who amongst us is not) in a gas station restroom, although they often talk about the time our friend Marjorie Weaver left her mother-in-law in the exact same place. Better story, I grant you.
  • I know from Grandma Donna, and not our parents, that I once buried a dime in some cake batter as a surprise, and one of the graduate students chipped her tooth on it, and everybody thought Fern had done it, until I spoke up, so brave and honest. Not to mention generous, since the dime had been my own.
  • Sometimes I had to wrap myself around their legs and refuse to let loose, just to get their attention.
  • Maybe later, after Fern left, I saw how I should have felt and revised my memory accordingly. People do that. People do that all the time.
  • My mother wasn’t strong enough to hear it; she would never come out of her room again if I told. The only thing I could do for her now was to be okay. I worked at that as if it were my job. No complaints to management about worker conditions.
  • The spoken word converts individual knowledge into mutual knowledge, and there is no way back once you’ve gone over that cliff. Saying nothing was more amendable, and over time I’d come to see that it was usually your best course of action. I’d come to silence hard, but at fifteen I was a true believer.
  • Scully was appallingly gregarious—so outgoing she was practically incoming. Everything seemed to happen in our room. I’d come back from class or dinner, or I’d wake up in the middle of the night, and there’d be a half-dozen freshmen, sitting with their backs against the walls, carrying on about the Whac-A-Mole dynamics of the homes they’d just left. Their parents were so weird! Like Scully, they’d just figured that out. Every single one of them had weird parents.
  • Awkward laugh, eyes darting about like pinballs, cheeks aflame. She was so embarrassed I felt bad for her.
  • When there is an invisible elephant in the room, one is from time to time bound to trip over a trunk. I took my old escape route and I still knew the way. I fell asleep just as fast as I could.
  • I didn’t want a world in which I had to choose between blind human babies and tortured monkey ones. To be frank, that’s the sort of choice I expect science to protect me from, not give me. I handled the situation by not reading more.
  • My mother always said that it’s very rude when people who can’t sleep wake up people who can. My father had a different perspective. “You can’t imagine,” he’d told her once over a bleary breakfast, when he’d poured his orange juice into his coffee and then salted it as well. “You can’t imagine the white-hot fury someone who can’t sleep feels toward the beautiful dreamer beside him.”
  • Suddenly, weirdly, I felt a pang at the thought of losing her. Life is all arrivals and departures. “I hardly knew you,” I said. “And now you’re leaving me.” Her uncanny valley eyes stared up. She snapped her reptilian jaw. I made her wrap her arms around my neck as if she were also sorry. Her knitting needles poked my ear sharply until I shifted her. “Please don’t go,” she said. Or maybe I said that. It was definitely one of us.
  • I’d been seeing Ezra’s habit of starring in his own life as a vanity; I’d been amused by it. Now I saw the utility. If I were playing a part, I could establish a distance, pretend to only pretend to be feeling the things I was feeling. The scene was cinematic, despite the sound track of my snuffling. To my right and my left, the tracks vanished into the fog. The train whistle approached. I could have been seeing my brother off to war. To the big city to make his fortune. To search the goldfields for our missing father.
  • It became a personal catchphrase for him—whenever things were not to his liking, he’d say that—I’m seeing so much of America today.
  • “The world runs,” Lowell said, “on the fuel of this endless, fathomless misery. People know it, but they don’t mind what they don’t see. Make them look and they mind, but you’re the one they hate, because you’re the one that made them look.”
  • I wonder sometimes if I’m the only one spending my life making the same mistake over and over again or if that’s simply human. Do we all tend toward a single besetting sin?
  • “You caught that that was bullshit, right?” Todd asked me later, and for just an instant I thought the bullshit part was that we were friends. But no, he just meant that his mother liked to throw her tiny weight around and didn’t really care in whose service. I could see how that might not always be a good quality in a mother, but this didn’t seem to be one of those times. I thought there were moments to complain about your parents and moments to be grateful, and it was a shame to mix those moments up. I made a mental note to remember this in my own life, but it got lost the way mental notes do.
  • That I didn’t know her in the way I’d always thought I did.
  • When I run the world, librarians will be exempt from tragedy. Even their smaller sorrows will last only for as long as you can take out a book.
  • But no one is easier to delude than a parent; they see only what they wish to see.
  • Maybe you think you can, but you really can’t. Maybe anosognosia, the inability to see your own disability, is the human condition and I’m the only one who doesn’t suffer from it.
  • So I’ve always been grateful for that one final request. It was a great gift to let me take a burden, however imaginary, from him.
  • I did not say that I’d read about Ilya Ivanovich Ivanov, who in the 1920s made several attempts to create a human-chimp hybrid, the elusive humanzee. He’d inseminated chimps with human sperm, though his first thought had been to go the other way—human mothers, chimp sperm. These are the dreams that make us human, Mother. Pass that hemlock over to me when you’re done with it.
  • Mom took another sip and turned her softly sagging face away from mine. “I wanted you to have an extraordinary life,” she said.
  • The first element is the administrative ordering of nature and society-the transformative state simplifications described above. By themselves, they are the unremarkable tools of modern statecraft; they are as vital to the maintenance of our welfare and freedom as they are to the designs of a would-be modern despot. They undergird the concept of citizenship and the provision of social welfare just as they might undergird a policy of rounding up undesirable minorities.
  • The second element is what I call a high-modernist ideology. It is best conceived as a strong, one might even say muscle-bound, version of the self-confidence about scientific and technical progress, the expansion of production, the growing satisfaction of human needs, the mastery of nature (including human nature), and, above all, the rational design of social order commensurate with the scientific understanding of natural laws. It originated, of course, in the West, as a by-product of unprecedented progress in science and industry.
  • The third element is an authoritarian state that is willing and able to use the full weight of its coercive power to bring these high-modernist designs into being. The most fertile soil for this element has typically been times of war, revolution, depression, and struggle for national liberation. In such situations, emergency conditions foster the seizure of emergency powers and frequently delegitimize the previous regime. They also tend to give rise to elites who repudiate the past and who have revolutionary designs for their people.
  • A fourth element is closely linked to the third: a prostrate civil society that lacks the capacity to resist these plans. War, revolution, and economic collapse often radically weaken civil society as well as make the populace more receptive to a new dispensation. Late colonial rule, with its social engineering aspirations and ability to run roughshod over popular opposition, occasionally met this last condition.
  • The achievement of German forestry science in standardizing techniques for calculating the sustainable yield of commercial timber and hence revenue was impressive enough. What is decisive for our purposes, however, was the next logical step in forest management. That step was to attempt to create, through careful seeding, planting, and cutting, a forest that was easier for state foresters to count, manipulate, measure, and assess. The fact is that forest science and geometry, backed by state power, had the capacity to transform the real, diverse, and chaotic old-growth forest into a new, more uniform forest that closely resembled the administrative grid of its techniques. To this end, the underbrush was cleared, the number of species was reduced (often to monoculture), and plantings were done simultaneously and in straight rows on large tracts. These management practices, as Henry Lowood observes, "produced the monocultural, even-age forests that eventually transformed the Normalbaum from abstraction to reality.
  • A condition of its rigor was that it severely bracketed, or assumed to be constant, all variables except those bearing directly on the yield of the selected species and on the cost of growing and extracting them. As we shall see with urban planning, revolutionary theory, collectivization, and rural resettlement, a whole world lying "outside the brackets" returned to haunt this technical vision.
  • In place of hollow trees that had been home to woodpeckers, owls, and other tree-nesting birds, the foresters provided specially designed boxes. Ant colonies were artificially raised and implanted in the forest, their nests tended by local schoolchildren. Several species of spiders, which had disappeared from the monocropped forest, were reintroduced.26 What is striking about these endeavors is that they are attempts to work around an impoverished habitat still planted with a single species of conifers for production pur- poses.27 In this case, "restoration forestry" attempted with mixed results to create a virtual ecology, while denying its chief sustaining condition: diversity.
  • The missing crowds make you lonely. You begin to complain about all the people you could be meeting. But no one listens or sympathizes with you, because this is precisely what you chose when you were alive.
  • truth, God lives a life very much like ours—we were created not only in His image but in His social situation as well. God spends most of His time in pursuit of happiness. He reads books, strives for self-improvement, seeks activities to stave off boredom, tries to keep in touch with fading friendships, wonders if there's something else He should be doing with His time. Over the millennia, God has grown bitter. Nothing continues to satisfy. Time drowns Him. He envies man his brief twinkling of a life, and those He dislikes are condemned to suffer immortality with Him.
  • These reunions reveal a group of individuals touchingly searching for a common theme. They appeal to your name as a unifying structure, but they come to realize that the name that existed on Earth, the you that moved serially through these different identities, was like a bundle of sticks from different trees. They come to understand, with awe, the complexity of the compound identity that existed on the Earth. They conclude with a shudder that the Earthly you is utterly lost, unpreserved in the afterlife. You were all these ages, they concede, and you were none.
  • And then you are here. You are simultaneously engaged in her conversation and thinking about something else; she both gives herself to you and does not give herself to you; you find her objectionable and you deeply love her; she worships you and wonders what she might have missed with someone else.
  • Such a scene is typical of the afterlife, and illustrates how much both parties have overestimated us. This game always ends in disappointment for both sides, who are freshly distraught to learn that being let into the secrets behind the scenes has little effect on our experience. The secret codes of life—whether presented as a gift or a burden—go totally unappreciated. And once again the Rewarder and the Punisher skulk off, struggling to understand why knowing the code behind the wine does not diminish its pleasure on your tongue, why knowing the inescapability of heartache does not reduce its sting, why glimpsing the mechanics of love does not alter its intoxicating appeal.
  • Every act of measurement was an act marked by the play of power relations
  • They are all like that, the eggheads. The most important thing for them is to come up with a name. Until he comes up with one, you feel really sorry for him, he looks so lost. But when he finds a label like “graviconcentrate,” he thinks he’s figured it all out and perks right up.
  • Customs are better understood as a living, negotiated tissue of practices which are continually being adapted to new ecological and social circumstances-including, of course, power relations. Customary systems of tenure should not be romanticized; they are usually riven with inequalities based on gender, status, and lineage. But because they are strongly local, particular, and adaptable, their plas ticity can be the source of microadjustments that lead to shifts in prevailing practice.
  • Figure out yourself what I want—because I know it can’t be bad! The hell with it all, I just can’t think of a thing other than those words of his—HAPPINESS, FREE, FOR EVERYONE, AND LET NO ONE BE FORGOTTEN!”
  • “Nah. Could be anybody.” “Horst never got . . . abusive with you, or anything . . . ?” “Horst? a dove. Well, maybe except for that one time he started choking me . . .” “He what?” “Oh? He never told you about that.” “Horst actually—” “Put it this way, Heidi—he had his hands around my neck, and he was squeezing? What would you call that?” “What happened?” “Oh, there was a game on, he got distracted, Brett Favre or somebody did something, I don’t know, anyway he relaxed his grip, went off to the fridge, got a beer. Can of Bud Light, I believe. We kept arguing, of course.” “Wow, close call.” “Not really. I have always depended on the kindness of stranglers.” A quick paradiddle with her chopsticks on Heidi’s head.
  • The shorthand formulas through which tax officials must apprehend reality are not mere tools of observation. By a kind of fiscal Heisenberg principle, they frequently have the power to transform the facts they take note of.
  • Where the new tenure system was a colonial imposition-that is, where it was totally unfamiliar, where it was imposed by alien conquerors using an unintelligible language and institutional context, and where local practices bore no resemblance to freehold tenure-the consequences were far-reaching. The permanent settlement in India, for example, created a new class who, because they paid the taxes on the land, became full owners with rights of inheritance and sale where none had existed earlier.92 At the same time, literally millions of cultivators, tenants, and laborers lost their customary rights of access to the land and its products.
  • second point about an urban order easily legible from outside is that the grand plan of the ensemble has no necessary relationship to the order of life as it is experienced by its residents. Although certain state services may be more easily provided and distant addresses more easily located, these apparent advantages may be negated by such perceived disadvantages as the absence of a dense street life, the intrusion of hostile authorities, the loss of the spatial irregularities that foster coziness, gathering places for informal recreation, and neighborhood feeling. The formal order of a geometrically regular urban space is just that: formal order. Its visual regimentation has a ceremonial or ideological quality, much like the order of a parade or a barracks. The fact that such order works for municipal and state authorities in administering the city is no guarantee that it works for citizens. Provisionally, then, we must remain agnostic about the relation between formal spatial order and social experience.
  • first, that, as in the Chinese case, state initiative created new surnames rather than simply recording existing surnames. It is thus often impossible to know whether a state-recorded surname has any social existence outside the role of the text in which it is inscribed. Second, the variable imposition of permanent surnames within a territory-in this case Tuscanyserves as a rough-and-ready gauge of state capacity.
  • The increasing intensity of interaction with the state and statelike structures (large manors, the church) exactly parallels the development of permanent, heritable patronyms. Thus, when Edward I clarified the system of landholding, establishing primogeniture and hereditary copyhold tenure for manorial land, he provided a powerful incentive for the adoption of permanent patronyms. Taking one's father's surname became, for the eldest son at least, part of a claim to the property on the father's death.50 Now that property claims were subject to state validation, surnames that had once been mere bureaucratic fantasies took on a social reality of their own. One imagines that for a long time English subjects had in effect two names-their local name and an "official," fixed patronym. As the frequency of interaction with impersonal administrative structures increased, the official name came to prevail in all but a man's intimate circle. Those subjects living at a greater distance, both socially and geographically, from the organs of state power, as did the Tuscans, acquired permanent patronyms much later. The upper classes and those living in the south of England thus acquired permanent surnames before the lower classes and those living in the north did. The Scottish and Welsh acquired them even later.
  • Universal last names are a fairly recent historical phenomenon. Tracking property ownership and inheritance, collecting taxes, maintaining court records, performing police work, conscripting soldiers, and controlling epidemics were all made immeasurably easier by the clarity of full names and, increasingly, fixed addresses. While the utilitarian state was committed to a complete inventory of its population, liberal ideas of citizenship, which implied voting rights and conscription, also contributed greatly to the standardization of naming practices. The legislative imposition of permanent surnames is particularly clear in the case of Western European Jews who had no tradition of last names. A Napoleonic decree "concernant les Juifs qui n'ont pas de nom de famille et de prenoms fixes," in 1808, mandated last names." Austrian legislation of 1787, as part of the emancipation process, required Jews to choose last names or, if they refused, to have fixed last names chosen for them. In Prussia the emancipation of the Jews was contingent upon the adoption of surnames.60 Many of the immigrants to the United States, Jews and non-Jews alike, had no permanent surnames when they set sail. Very few, however, made it through the initial paperwork without an official last name that their descendants carry still.
  • An illegible society, then, is a hindrance to any effective intervention by the state, whether the purpose of that intervention is plunder or public welfare. As long as the state's interest is largely confined to grabbing a few tons of grain and rounding up a few conscripts, the state's ignorance may not be fatal. When, however, the state's objective requires changing the daily habits (hygiene or health practices) or work performance (quality labor or machine maintenance) of its citizens, such ignorance can well be disabling. A thoroughly legible society eliminates local monopolies of information and creates a kind of national transparency through the uniformity of codes, identities, statistics, regulations, and measures. At the same time it is likely to create new positional advantages for those at the apex who have the knowledge and access to easily decipher the new state-created format.
  • This caricature of society as a military parade ground is overdrawn, but the grain of truth that it embodies may help us understand the grandiose plans we will examine later.86 The aspiration to such uniformity and order alerts us to the fact that modern statecraft is largely a project of internal colonization, often glossed, as it is in imperial rhetoric, as a "civilizing mission." The builders of the modern nation-state do not merely describe, observe, and map; they strive to shape a people and landscape that will fit their techniques of observation.R7
  • All the state simplifications that we have examined have the character of maps. That is, they are designed to summarize precisely those aspects of a complex world that are of immediate interest to the mapmaker and to ignore the rest. To complain that a map lacks nuance and detail makes no sense unless it omits information necessary to its function. A city map that aspired to represent every traffic light, every pothole, every building, and every bush and tree in every park would threaten to become as large and as complex as the city that it depicted.' And it certainly would defeat the purpose of mapping, which is to abstract and summarize. A map is an instrument designed for a purpose. We may judge that purpose noble or morally offensive, but the map itself either serves or fails to serve its intended use.
  • The answer, I believe, lies in the fact that it is typically progressives who have come to power with a comprehensive critique of existing society and a popular mandate (at least initially) to transform it. These progressives have wanted to use that power to bring about enormous changes in people's habits, work, living patterns, moral conduct, and worldview.' They have deployed what Vaclav Havel has called "the armory of holistic social engineering."' Utopian aspirations per se are not dangerous. As Oscar Wilde remarked, "A map of the world which does not include Utopia is not worth even glancing at, for it leaves out the one country at which Humanity is always landing."° Where the utopian vision goes wrong is when it is held by ruling elites with no commitment to democracy or civil rights and who are therefore likely to use unbridled state power for its achievement. Where it goes brutally wrong is when the society subjected to such utopian experiments lacks the capacity to mount a determined resistance.
  • Aided by hindsight as it is, this unsympathetic account of highmodernist audacity is, in one important respect, grossly unfair. If we put the development of high-modernist beliefs in their historical context, if we ask who the enemies of high modernism actually were, a far more sympathetic picture emerges. Doctors and public-health engineers who did possess new knowledge that could save millions of lives were often thwarted by popular prejudices and entrenched political interests. Urban planners who could in fact redesign urban housing to be cheaper, more healthful, and more convenient were blocked by realestate interests and existing tastes. Inventors and engineers who had devised revolutionary new modes of power and transportation faced opposition from industrialists and laborers whose profits and jobs the new technology would almost certainly displace.
  • Before we turn to later versions of high modernism, we should recall two important facts about their nineteenth-century forebears: first, that virtually every high-modernist intervention was undertaken in the name of and with the support of citizens seeking help and protection, and, second, that we are all beneficiaries, in countless ways, of these various high-modernist schemes.
  • The third and by far most important barrier to thoroughgoing highmodernist schemes has been the existence of working, representative institutions through which a resistant society could make its influence felt. Such institutions have thwarted the most draconian features of high-modernist schemes in roughly the same way that publicity and mobilized opposition in open societies, as Amartya Sen has argued, have prevented famines. Rulers, he notes, do not go hungry, and they are unlikely to learn about and respond readily to curb famine unless their institutional position provides strong incentives. The freedoms of speech, of assembly, and of the press ensure that widespread hunger will be publicized, while the freedoms of assembly and elections in representative institutions ensure that it is in the interest of elected officials' self-preservation to prevent famine when they can. In the same fashion, high-modernist schemes in liberal democratic settings must accommodate themselves sufficiently to local opinion in order to avoid being undone at the polls.
  • It is impossible to read much of Le Corbusier or to see many of his architectural drawings without noticing his love (mania?) for simple, repetitive lines and his horror of complexity. He makes a personal commitment to austere lines and represents that commitment as an essential characteristic of human nature. In his own words, "an infinity of combinations is possible when innumerable and diverse elements are brought together. But the human mind loses itself and becomes fatigued by such a labyrinth of possibilities. Control becomes impossible. The spiritual failure that must result is disheartening.... Reason ... is an unbroken straight line. Thus, in order to save himself from this chaos, in order to provide himself with a bearable, acceptable framework for his existence, one productive of human well-being and control, man has projected the laws of nature into a system that is a manifestation of the human spirit itself: geometry.""
  • Le Corbusier would have liked to endow his love of straight lines and right angles with the authority of the machine, of science, and of nature. Neither the brilliance of his designs nor the heat of his polemic, however, could succeed in justifying this move. The machines to which he most adoringly referred-the locomotive, the airplane, and the automobile-embody rounder or more elliptical shapes than right angles (the teardrop being the most streamlined of shapes). As for science, any shape is geometrical: the trapezoid, the triangle, the circle. If sheer simplicity or efficiency was the criterion, why not prefer the circle or sphere-as the minimum surface enclosing the maximum space-to the square or the rectangle? Nature, as Le Corbusier claimed, might be mathematical, but the complex, intricate, "chaotic" logic of living forms has only recently been understood with the aid of computers.15 No, the great architect was expressing no more, and no less, than an aesthetic ideology-a strong taste for classic lines, which he also considered to be "Gallic" lines: "sublime straight lines, and oh, sublime French rigor." 16 It was one powerful way of mastering space. What's more, it provided a legible grid that could be easily grasped at a glance and that could be repeated in every direction, ad infinitum. As a practical matter, of course, a straight line was often impractical and ruinously expensive. Where the topography was irregular, building a straight, flat avenue without daunting climbs and descents would require great feats of digging and leveling. Le Corbusier's kind of geometry was rarely cost effective.
  • The despot is not a man. It is the Plan. The correct, realistic, exact plan, the one that will provide your solution once the problem has been posited clearly, in its entirety, in its indispensable harmony. This plan has been drawn up well away from the frenzy in the mayor's office or the town hall, from the cries of the electorate or the laments of society's victims. It has been drawn up by serene and lucid minds. It has taken account of nothing but human truths. It has ignored all current regulations, all existing usages, and channels. It has not considered whether or not it could be carried out with the constitution now in force. It is a biological creation destined for human beings and capable of realization by modern techniques.
  • The wisdom of the plan sweeps away all social obstacles: the elected authorities, the voting public, the constitution, and the legal structure. At the very least, we are in the presence of a dictatorship of the planner; at most, we approach a cult of power and remorselessness that is reminiscent of fascist imagery" Despite the imagery, Le Corbusier sees himself as a technical genius and demands power in the name of his truths. Technocracy, in this instance, is the belief that the human problem of urban design has a unique solution, which an expert can discover and execute. Deciding such technical matters by politics and bargaining would lead to the wrong solution. As there is a single, true answer to the problem of planning the modern city, no compromises are possible.
  • Stalin's commissars found his plans for Moscow as well as his project for the Palace of Soviets too radical.38 The Soviet modernist El Lis- sitzky attacked Le Corbusier's Moscow as a "city of nowhere, ... [a city] that is neither capitalist, nor proletarian, nor socialist, ... a city on paper, extraneous to living nature, located in a desert through which not even a river must be allowed to pass (since a curve would contradict the style)."39 As if to confirm El Lissitzky's charge that he had designed a "city of nowhere," Le Corbusier recycled his design virtually intact-aside from removing all references to Moscow-and presented it as La ville radieuse, suitable for central Paris.
  • His objection to the slums was twofold. First, they failed aesthetically to meet his standards of discipline, purpose, and order. "Is there anything," he asked rhetorically, "more pitiful than an undisciplined crowd?" Nature, he added, is "all discipline" and will "sweep them away" even if nature operates by a logic "contrary to the interests of mankind."46 Here he signals that the founders of the modern city must be prepared to act ruthlessly. The second danger of the slums was that, besides being noisy, dangerous, dusty, dark, and disease-ridden, they harbored a potential revolutionary menace to the authorities. He understood, as Haussmann had, that crowded slums were and had always been an obstacle to efficient police work. Switching back and forth between Louis XIV's Paris and imperial Rome, Le Corbusier wrote: "From the huddle of hovels, from the depths of grimy lairs (in Rome-the Rome of the Caesars-the plebes lived in an inextricable chaos of abutting and warren-like skyscrapers), there sometimes came the hot gust of rebellion; the plot would be hatched in the dark recesses of an accumulated chaos in which any kind of police activity was extremely difficult.... St. Paul of Tarsus was impossible to arrest while he stayed in the slums, and the words of his Sermons were passed like wildfire from mouth to mouth"
  • Most of those who have moved to Brasilia from other cities are amazed to discover "that it is a city without crowds." People complain that Brasilia lacks the bustle of street life, that it has none of the busy street corners and long stretches of storefront facades that animate a sidewalk for pedestrians. For them, it is almost as if the founders of Brasilia, rather than having planned a city, have actually planned to prevent a city. The most common way they put it is to say that Brasilia "lacks street corners," by which they mean that it lacks the complex intersections of dense neighborhoods comprising residences and public cafes and restaurants with places for leisure, work, and shopping. While Brasilia provides well for some human needs, the functional separation of work from residence and of both from commerce and entertainment, the great voids between superquadra, and a road system devoted exclusively to motorized traffic make the disappearance of the street corner a foregone conclusion. The plan did eliminate traffic jams; it also eliminated the welcome and familiar pedestrian jams that one of Holston's informants called "the point of social conviviality."
  • A fundamental mistake that urban planners made, Jacobs claims, was to infer functional order from the duplication and regimentation of building forms: that is, from purely visual order. Most complex systems, on the contrary, do not display a surface regularity; their order must be sought at a deeper level. "To see complex systems of functional order as order, and not as chaos, takes understanding. The leaves dropping from the trees in the autumn, the interior of an airplane engine, the entrails of a rabbit, the city desk of a newspaper, all appear to be chaos if they are seen without comprehension. Once they are seen as systems of order, they actually look different." At this level one could say that Jacobs was a "functionalist," a word whose use was banned in Le Corbusier's studio. She asked, What function does this structure serve, and how well does it serve it? The "order" of a thing is determined by the purpose it serves, not by a purely aesthetic view of its surface order.R1 Le Corbusier, by contrast, seemed to have firmly believed that the most efficient forms would always have a classical clarity and order. The physical environments Le Corbusier designed and built had, as did Brasilia, an overall harmony and simplicity of form. For the most part, however, they failed in important ways as places where people would want to live and work.
  • He decided, at the end of a devastating civil war and a grain-procurement crisis, to shelve collectivization and encourage small-scale production and petty trade. Some have suggested that in his last writings he was more favorably disposed to peasant farming and, it is speculated, would not have forced through the brutal collectivization that Stalin ordered in 1929.
  • Once Luxemburg began thinking of the revolution as analogous to a complex natural process, she concluded that the role of a vanguard party was inevitably limited. Such processes are far too complicated to be well understood, let alone directed or planned in advance. She was deeply impressed by the autonomous popular initiatives taken all over Russia after the shooting of the crowd before the Winter Palace in 1905. Her description, which I quote at length, invokes metaphors from nature to convey her conviction that centralized control is an illusion.
  • But the major, recurrent theme of Luxemburg's criticism of Lenin and the Bolsheviks generally was that their dictatorial methods and their mistrust of the proletariat made for bad educational policy. It thwarted the development of the mature, independent working class that was necessary to the revolution and to the creation of socialism. Thus she attacked both the German and Russian revolutionists for substituting the ego of the vanguard party for the ego of the proletariat-a substitution that ignored the fact that the objective was to create a self-conscious workers' movement, not just to use the proletariat as instruments. Like a confident and sympathetic guardian, she anticipated false steps as part of the learning process. "However, the nimble acrobat," she charged, referring to the Social Democratic Party, "fails to see that the true subject to whom this role of director falls is the collective ego of the working class which insists on its right to make its own mistakes and learn the historical dialectic by itself. Finally, we must frankly admit to ourselves that the errors made by a truly revolutionary labor movement are historically infinitely more fruitful and valuable than the infallibility of the best of all possible 'central committees.'
  • As we shall see later, the industrial model was applicable to some, but not all, of agriculture. It was nonetheless applied indiscriminately as a creed rather than a scientific hypothesis to be examined skeptically. The modernist confidence in huge scale, centralization of production, standardized mass commodities, and mechanization was so hegemonic in the leading sector of industry that it became an article of faith that the same principles would work, pari passu, in agriculture.
  • The advantages industrial farms did have over smaller producers were of another kind. Their very size gave them an edge in access to credit, political influence (relevant to taxes, support payments, and the avoidance of foreclosure), and marketing muscle. What they gave away in agility and quality labor they often made up for in their considerable political and economic clout.
  • At another level, collectivization was, in a curious state-centric way, a qualified success. Collectivization proved a rough-and-ready instrument for the twin goals of traditional statecraft: appropriation and political control. Though the Soviet kolkhoz may have failed badly at generating huge surpluses of foodstuffs, it served well enough as a means whereby the state could determine cropping patterns, fix real rural wages, appropriate a large share of whatever grain was produced, and politically emasculate the countryside.
  • The great achievement, if one can call it that, of the Soviet state in the agricultural sector was to take a social and economic terrain singularly unfavorable to appropriation and control and to create institutional forms and production units far better adapted to monitoring, managing, appropriating, and controlling from above. The rural society that the Soviet state inherited (and for a time encouraged) was one in which the allies of the czarist state, the great landlords and the aristocratic officeholders, had been swept away and been replaced by smallholding and middle peasants, artisans, private traders, and all sorts of mobile laborers and lumpen elements.37 Confronting a tumultuous, footloose, and "headless" (acephalous) rural society which was hard to control and which had few political assets, the Bolsheviks, like the scientific foresters, set about redesigning their environment with a few simple goals in mind. They created, in place of what they had inherited, a new landscape of large, hierarchical, state-managed farms whose cropping patterns and procurement quotas were centrally mandated and whose population was, by law, immobile. The system thus devised served for nearly sixty years as a mechanism for procurement and control at a massive cost in stagnation, waste, demoralization, and ecological failure. That collectivized agriculture persisted for sixty years was a tribute less to the plan of the state than to the improvisations, gray markets, bartering, and ingenuity that partly compensated for its failures. Just as an "informal Brasilia," which had no legitimate place in official plans, arose to make the city viable, so did a set of informal practices lying outside the formal command economy-and often outside Soviet law as well-arise to circumvent some of the colossal waste and inefficiencies built into the system. Collectivized agriculture, in other words, never quite operated according to the hierarchical grid of its production plans and procurements.
  • Scholars who agree on little else are in accord on this point: the overriding purpose of collectivization was to ensure the seizure of grain. Fitzpatrick begins her study of the collectives with this assertion: "The main purpose of collectivization was to increase state grain procurements and reduce the peasants' ability to withhold grain from the market. This purpose was obvious to peasants from the start, since the collectivization drive of the winter of 1929-30 was the culmination of more than two years of bitter struggle between the peasants and the state over grain procurements."54 Robert Conquest concurs: "The collective farms were essentially a chosen mechanism for extracting grain and other products."
  • First, having taken from the peasants both their (relative) independence and autonomy as well as their land and grain, the state created a class of essentially unfree laborers who responded with all the forms of foot-dragging and resistance practiced by unfree laborers everywhere. Second, the unitary administrative structure and imperatives of central planning created a clumsy machine that was utterly unresponsive to local knowledge or to local conditions. Finally, the Leninist political structure of the Soviet Union gave agriculture officials little or no incentive to adapt to, or negotiate with, its rural subjects. The very capacity of the state to essentially reenserf rural producers, dismantle their institutions, and impose its will, in the crude sense of appropriation, goes a long way toward explaining the state's failure to realize anything but a simulacrum of the highmodernist agriculture that Lenin so prized.
  • "But the local recruits learned their jobs well, for the villages and their 1,000 [square] meter compounds, carefully marked by pegs and sod cuts, have followed the geometric grid pattern required by the guidelines. In fact, some villages have been too rigidly laid out; for example, one farmer had to move his large, wellconstructed tukul [traditional thatched house] some 20 feet so that it would be
  • The plan was carefully replicated in each location, inasmuch as this was not a regime inclined to tolerate local improvisation. "But the local recruits learned their jobs well, for the villages and their 1,000 [square] meter compounds, carefully marked by pegs and sod cuts, have followed the geometric grid pattern required by the guidelines. In fact, some villages have been too rigidly laid out; for example, one farmer had to move his large, wellconstructed tukul [traditional thatched house] some 20 feet so that it would be 'in line' with all the other buildings in its row."
  • If the plans for villagization were so rational and scientific, why did they bring about such general ruin? The answer, I believe, is that such plans were not scientific or rational in any meaningful sense of those terms. What these planners carried in their mind's eye was a certain aesthetic, what one might call a visual codification of modern rural production and community life. Like a religious faith, this visual codification was almost impervious to criticism or disconfirming evidence. The belief in large farms, monocropping, "proper" villages, tractorplowed fields, and collective or communal farming was an aesthetic conviction undergirded by a conviction that this was the way in which the world was headed-a teleology.
  • The image of coordination and authority aspired to here recalls that of mass exercises-thousands of bodies moving in perfect unison according to a meticulously rehearsed script. When such coordination is achieved, the spectacle may have several effects. The demonstration of mass coordination, its designers hope, will awe spectators and participants with its display of powerful cohesion. The awe is enhanced by the fact that, as in the Taylorist factory, only someone outside and above the display can fully appreciate it as a totality; the individual participants at ground level are small molecules within an organism whose brain is elsewhere. The image of a nation that might operate along these lines is enormously flattering to elites at the apex-and, of course, demeaning to a population whose role they thus reduce to that of ciphers. Beyond impressing observers, such displays may, in the short run at least, constitute a reassuring self-hypnosis which serves to reinforce the moral purpose and self-confidence of the elites.
  • Communities planned at a single stroke-Brasilia or the planned village in Tanzania or Ethiopia-are to older, unplanned communities as Esperanto is to, say, English or Burmese. One can in fact design a new language that in many respects is more logical, simpler, more universal, and less irreg ular and that would technically lend itself to more clarity and precision. This was, of course, precisely the objective of Esperanto's inventor, Lazar Zamenhof, who also imagined that Esperanto, which was also known as international language, would eliminate the parochial nationalisms of Europe.' 14 Yet it is also perfectly obvious why Esperanto, which lacked a powerful state to enforce its adoption, failed to replace the existing vernaculars or dialects of Europe. (As social linguists are fond of saying, "A national language is a dialect with an army.") It was an exceptionally thin language, without any of the resonances, connotations, ready metaphors, literature, oral history, idioms, and traditions of practical use that any socially embedded language already had
  • Lest there be any misunderstanding about my purpose here, I want to emphasize that this is not a general offensive against modern agronomic science, let alone an attack on the culture of scientific research. Modern agronomic science, with its sophisticated plant breeding, plant pathology, analysis of plant nutrition, soil analysis, and technical virtuosity, is responsible for creating a fund of technical knowledge that is by now being used in some form by even the most traditional cultivators. My purpose, rather, is to show how the imperial pretensions of agronomic science-its inability to recognize or incorporate knowledge created outside its paradigm-sharply limited its utility to many cultivators. Whereas farmers, as we shall see, seem pragmatically alert to knowledge coming from any quarter should it serve their purposes, modern agricultural planners are far less receptive to other ways of knowing.
  • The record shows, it seems to me, that a substantial part of the problem lies in the systematic and necessary limitations of scientific work whenever the ultimate purpose of that work is practical adoption by a diverse set of practitioners working in a large variety of conditions. That is, some of the problems lie deeper than the institutional temptations to central control, the pathologies of administration, or the penchant for aesthetically satisfying but uneconomic show projects. Even under the best of circumstances, the laboratory results and the data from the experimental plots of research stations are a long country mile from the human and natural environments where they must ultimately find a home.
  • Only in the past decade has serious attention been given to the fact that the large agricultural firm is ... able to achieve benefits by externalizing certain costs. The disadvantages of large scale operation fall largely outside the decision-making framework of the large farm firm. Problems of waste disposal, pollution control, added burdens on public service, deterioration of rural social structures, impairment of the tax base, and the political consequences of a concentration of economic power have typically not been considered as costs of large scale, by the firm. They are unquestionably costs to the larger community. In theory, large scale operation should enable the firm to bring a wide range of both costs and benefits within its internal decision-making framework. In practice the economic and political power that accompanies large scale provides constant temptation to the large firm to take the benefits and pass on the costs."
  • Take small steps. In an experimental approach to social change, presume that we cannot know the consequences of our interventions in advance. Given this postulate of ignorance, prefer wherever possible to take a small step, stand back, observe, and then plan the next small move. As the biologist J. B. S. Haldane metaphorically described the advantages of smallness: "You can drop a mouse down a thousandyard mineshaft; and on arriving at the bottom, it gets a slight shock and walks away. A rat is killed, a man broken, a horse splashes."
  • Favor reversibility. Prefer interventions that can easily be undone if they turn out to be mistakes.4 Irreversible interventions have irreversible consequences.5 Interventions into ecosystems require particular care in this respect, given our great ignorance about how they interact. Aldo Leopold captured the spirit of caution required: "The first rule of intelligent tinkering is to keep all the parts"
  • Plan on surprises. Choose plans that allow the largest accommodation to the unforeseen. In agricultural schemes this may mean choosing and preparing land so that it can grow any of several crops. In planning housing, it would mean "designing in" flexibility for accommodating changes in family structures or living styles. In a factory it may mean selecting a location, layout, or piece of machinery that allows for new processes, materials, or product lines down the road.
  • Plan on human inventiveness. Always plan under the assumption that those who become involved in the project later will have or will develop the experience and insight to improve on the design.
  • Marco Polo imagined answering (or Kubiai Khan imagined his answer) that the more one was lost in unfamiliar quarters of distant cities, the more one understood the other cities he had crossed to arrive there; and he retraced the stages of his journeys, and he came to know the port from which he had set sail, and the familiar places of his youth, and the surroundings of home, and a little, square of Venice where he gambolled as a child.
  • Futures not achieved are only branches of the past: dead branches.
  • Beware of saying to them that sometimes different cities follow one another on the same site and under the same name, born and dying without knowing one another, without communication among themselves. At times even the name of the inhabitants remain the same, and their voices’ accent, and also the features of the faces; but the gods who live beneath names and above places have gone off without a word and outsiders have settled in their place. It is pointless to ask whether the new ones are better or worse than the old, since there is no connection between them, just as the old postcards do not depict Maurilia as it was, but a different city which, by chance, was called Maurilia, like this one.
  • Cities, like dreams, are made of desires and fears, even if the thread of their discourse is secret, their rules are absurd, their perspectives deceitful, and everything conceals something else.’
  • ‘Cities also believe they are the work of the mind or of chance, but neither the one nor the other suffices to hold up their walls. You take delight not in a city’s seven or seventy wonders, but in the answer it gives to a question of yours.’ ‘Or the question it asks you, forcing you to answer, like Thebes through the mouth of the Sphinx.’_
  • ‘You reach a moment in life when, among the people you have known, the dead outnumber the living. And the mind refuses to accept more faces, more expressions: on every new face you encounter, it prints the old forms, for each one it finds the most suitable mask.’
  • ‘The inferno of the living is not something that will be; if there is one, it is what is already here, the inferno where we live every day, that we form by being together. There are two ways to escape suffering it. The first is easy for many: accept the inferno and become such a part of it that you can no longer see it. The second is risky and demands constant vigilance and apprehension: seek and learn to recognize who and what, in the midst of the inferno, are not inferno, then make them endure, give them space.’_
  • If we believe in calories-in/calories-out, and that in turn leads us to conclude that we have to run half-marathons five days a week (in our forties, and more in our fifties, and more in our sixties …) to maintain our weight, it may, once again, be time to question our underlying beliefs. Maybe it’s something other than the calories we consume and expend that determines whether we get fat.
  • “Obesity, too many people believe, is explained by overeating; actually it should be recognized that this is simply restating the problem in a different way, and reaffirming (somewhat unnecessarily …) one’s faith in the First Law of Thermodynamics. To ‘explain’ obesity by overeating is as illuminating a statement as an ‘explanation’ of alcoholism by chronic overdrinking.”
  • That growth is the cause and overeating the effect is almost assuredly true for our fat tissue as well. To paraphrase what the German internist Gustav von Bergmann said about this idea more than eighty years ago, we would never even consider the possibility that children grow taller because they eat too much and exercise too little (or that they stunt their growth by exercising too much). So why assume that these are valid explanations for growing fat (or remaining lean)? “That which the body needs to grow it always finds,” von Bergmann wrote, “and that which it needs to become fat, even if it’s ten times as much, the body will save for itself from the annual balance.”
  • The girl who picketed in front of the World’s Fair back in 2012, waving a sign saying “NO IT ISN’T?”
  • “MOST OF IT RUNS ON SAPPHIRES ON PATHS, BUT I USE RUBY ON RAILS FOR THE DATABASES.”
  • Lick was unique in bringing to the field a deep appreciation for human beings: our capacity to perceive, to adapt, to make choices, and to devise completely new ways of tackling apparently intractable problems. As an experimental psychologist, he found these abilities every bit as subtle and as worthy of respect as a computer's ability to execute an algorithm. And that was why to him, the real challenge would always lie in adapting computers to the humans who used them, thereby exploiting the strengths of each.
  • But in fact, his grounding in psychology would prove central to his very conception of computers. Virtually all the other computer pioneers of his generation would come to the field in the 1940s and 1950s with backgrounds in mathematics, physics, or electrical engineering, technological orientations that led them to focus on gadgetry—on making the machines bigger, faster, and more reliable.
  • But in fact, his grounding in psychology would prove central to his very conception of computers. Virtually all the other computer pioneers of his generation would come to the field in the 1940s and 1950s with backgrounds in mathematics, physics, or electrical engineering, technological orientations that led them to focus on gadgetry—on making the machines bigger, faster, and more reliable. Lick was unique in bringing to the field a deep appreciation for human beings: our capacity to perceive, to adapt, to make choices, and to devise completely new ways of tackling apparently intractable problems. As an experimental psychologist, he found these abilities every bit as subtle and as worthy of respect as a computer's ability to execute an algorithm. And that was why to him, the real challenge would always lie in adapting computers to the humans who used them, thereby exploiting the strengths of each.
  • “I like ziggurats! You know, humans are different from angels, in that they have this weird long thing here” – Samyazaz pointed at his crotch – “and I felt bad about not having one of those. But if I build big enough ziggurats, then I feel better about myself!”
  • The resemblances between San Francisco and the Biblical Jerusalem are uncanny. The highest point in Jerusalem was King Solomon’s Temple Mount; the highest point in San Francisco is the suspiciously-named Mount Davidson. To the north of the Temple was the Golden Gate, leading to the city of Tiberias; to the north of Mount Davidson is the Golden Gate Bridge, leading to the city of Tiburon. Southwest of Jerusalem city center was the Roman legions’ camp (Latin: “castrum”); southwest of San Francisco city center is the Castro District. To the south of Jerusalem lay Gehennam, the Valley of Sulfur; to the south of San Francisco lies Silicon Valley. To the east of Jerusalem was the giant dungheap where the Israelites would throw their refuse; to the east of San Francisco is Oakland. Like I said, uncanny.
  • As a rule, anyone desirous of an audience, or even a place in society, might profit from the following motto: “If you can’t say something positive about humanity, then say something equivocal.”
  • “The Universe sucks,” I said. “Deal with it.” “The whole problem is that we can’t deal with it! If the universe just sucked a little, we could deal with it. But nobody can deal with the full extent of the universe’s suckiness. Not when it happens to them personally. Not even when they witness it first hand. The only reason anyone can deal with it at all is because they never really think about it, they keep it off in their peripheral vision where it never really shows up clearly.
  • Ontologically, Mainländer’s thought is delirious; metaphorically, it explains a good deal about human experience; practically, it may in time prove to be consistent with the idea of creation as a structure of creaking bones being eaten from within by a pestilent marrow.
  • “My friend is going to die!” “People die all the time!” “Not Ana! She’s never died at
  • “My friend is going to die!” “People die all the time!” “Not Ana! She’s never died at all!”
  • It is possible that those who paid for their nets will be richer and better educated, and have a better understanding of why they need a bed net; those who got them for free might have been chosen by an NGO precisely because they were poor. But there could also be the opposite pattern: Those who got them for free are the well connected, whereas the poor and isolated had to pay full price. Either way, we cannot draw any conclusion from the way they used their net. For this reason, the cleanest way to answer such questions is to mimic the randomized trials that are used in medicine to evaluate the effectiveness of new drugs.
  • The message of this book, however, goes well beyond poverty traps. As we will see, ideology, ignorance, and inertia—the three Is—on the part of the expert, the aid worker, or the local policy maker, often explain why policies fail and why aid does not have the effect it should. It is possible to make the world a better place—probably not tomorrow, but in some future that is within our reach—but we cannot get there with lazy thinking.
  • At least in terms of food availability, today we live in a world that is capable of feeding every person that lives on the planet. On the occasion of the World Food Summit in 1996, the FAO estimated that world food production in that year was enough to provide at least 2,700 calories per person per day.10 This is the result of centuries of innovation in food supply, thanks no doubt to great innovations in agricultural science, but attributable also to more mundane factors such as the adoption of the potato into the diet after the Spanish discovered it in Peru in the sixteenth century and imported it to Europe. One study finds that potatoes may have been responsible for 12 percent of the global increase in population between 1700 and 1900.11
  • on the path to prosperity was almost surely very important at some point in history, and it may still be important in some circumstances today. The Nobel Prize Laureate and economic historian Robert Fogel calculated that in Europe during the Renaissance and the Middle Ages, food production did not provide enough calories to sustain a full working population.
  • The idea that better nutrition would propel someone on the path to prosperity was almost surely very important at some point in history, and it may still be important in some circumstances today. The Nobel Prize Laureate and economic historian Robert Fogel calculated that in Europe during the Renaissance and the Middle Ages, food production did not provide enough calories to sustain a full working population. This could explain why there were large numbers of beggars—they were literally incapable of any work.14 The pressure of just getting enough food to survive seems to have driven some people to take rather extreme steps: There was an epidemic of “witch” killing in Europe during the “little ice age” (from the mid-sixteenth century to 1800), when crop failures were common and fish was less abundant. Witches were most likely to be single women, particularly widows. The logic of the S—shape suggests that when resources are tight, it makes “economic sense” to sacrifice some people, so that the rest have enough food to be able to work and earn enough to survive.
  • Antoine Parmentier, an eighteenth-century French pharmacist who was an early fan of the potato, clearly anticipating resistance, offered the public a set of recipes he had invented using potatoes, including the classic dish Hachis Parmentier (essentially what the British call shepherd’s pie, a layered casserole composed of ground meat with a covering of mashed potatoes). He thereby set off a trajectory that ultimately led, through many twists and turns, to the invention of “freedom fries.”
  • We are often inclined to see the world of the poor as a land of missed opportunities and to wonder why they don’t put these purchases on hold and invest in what would really make their lives better. The poor, on the other hand, may well be more skeptical about supposed opportunities and the possibility of any radical change in their lives. They often behave as if they think that any change that is significant enough to be worth sacrificing for will simply take too long. This could explain why they focus on the here and now, on living their lives as pleasantly as possible, celebrating when occasion demands it.
  • If patients are somehow convinced that they need shots to get better, there is little chance that they could ever learn they are wrong. Because most diseases that prompt visits to the doctor are self-limiting (i.e., they will disappear no matter what), there is a good chance that patients will feel better after a single shot of antibiotics. This naturally encourages spurious causal associations: Even if the antibiotics did nothing to cure the ailment, it is normal to attribute any improvement to them. By contrast, it is not natural to attribute causal force to inaction: If a person with the flu goes to the doctor, and the doctor does nothing, and the patient then feels better, the patient will correctly infer that it was not the doctor who was responsible for the cure. And rather than thanking the doctor for his forbearance, the patient will be tempted to think that it was lucky that everything worked out this time but that a different doctor should be seen for future problems. This creates a natural tendency to overmedicate in a private, unregulated market. This is compounded by the fact that, in many cases, the prescriber and the provider are the same person, either because people turn to their pharmacists for medical advice, or because private doctors also stock and sell medicine.
  • In fact, the poor are much less likely to go to the doctor for potentially life-threatening conditions like chest pains and blood in their urine than with fevers and diarrhea. The poor in Delhi spend as much on short-duration ailments as the rich, but the rich spend much more on chronic diseases.34 So it may well be that the reason chest pains are a natural candidate for being a bhopa disease (an older woman once explained to us the dual concepts of bhopa diseases and doctor diseases—bhopa diseases are caused by ghosts, she insisted, and need to be treated by traditional healers), as are strokes, is precisely that most people cannot afford to get them treated by doctors. It is probably for the same reason that in Kenya, traditional healers and preachers have been particularly in demand to cure HIV/AIDS (their services are proudly advertised on hand-painted billboards in every town). There was not much that allopathic doctors could really do (at least until anti-retrovirals became more affordable), so why not try the traditional healer’s herbs and spells? They were cheap and at the very least gave the patient a sense of doing something. And since symptoms and opportunistic infections come and go, it is possible to believe,
  • In fact, the poor are much less likely to go to the doctor for potentially life-threatening conditions like chest pains and blood in their urine than with fevers and diarrhea. The poor in Delhi spend as much on short-duration ailments as the rich, but the rich spend much more on chronic diseases.34 So it may well be that the reason chest pains are a natural candidate for being a bhopa disease (an older woman once explained to us the dual concepts of bhopa diseases and doctor diseases—bhopa diseases are caused by ghosts, she insisted, and need to be treated by traditional healers), as are strokes, is precisely that most people cannot afford to get them treated by doctors. It is probably for the same reason that in Kenya, traditional healers and preachers have been particularly in demand to cure HIV/AIDS (their services are proudly advertised on hand-painted billboards in every town). There was not much that allopathic doctors could really do (at least until anti-retrovirals became more affordable), so why not try the traditional healer’s herbs and spells? They were cheap and at the very least gave the patient a sense of doing something. And since symptoms and opportunistic infections come and go, it is possible to believe,
  • In fact, the poor are much less likely to go to the doctor for potentially life-threatening conditions like chest pains and blood in their urine than with fevers and diarrhea. The poor in Delhi spend as much on short-duration ailments as the rich, but the rich spend much more on chronic diseases.34 So it may well be that the reason chest pains are a natural candidate for being a bhopa disease (an older woman once explained to us the dual concepts of bhopa diseases and doctor diseases—bhopa diseases are caused by ghosts, she insisted, and need to be treated by traditional healers), as are strokes, is precisely that most people cannot afford to get them treated by doctors. It is probably for the same reason that in Kenya, traditional healers and preachers have been particularly in demand to cure HIV/AIDS (their services are proudly advertised on hand-painted billboards in every town). There was not much that allopathic doctors could really do (at least until anti-retrovirals became more affordable), so why not try the traditional healer’s herbs and spells? They were cheap and at the very least gave the patient a sense of doing something. And since symptoms and opportunistic infections come and go, it is possible to believe,
  • In fact, the poor are much less likely to go to the doctor for potentially life-threatening conditions like chest pains and blood in their urine than with fevers and diarrhea. The poor in Delhi spend as much on short-duration ailments as the rich, but the rich spend much more on chronic diseases.34 So it may well be that the reason chest pains are a natural candidate for being a bhopa disease (an older woman once explained to us the dual concepts of bhopa diseases and doctor diseases—bhopa diseases are caused by ghosts, she insisted, and need to be treated by traditional healers), as are strokes, is precisely that most people cannot afford to get them treated by doctors. It is probably for the same reason that in Kenya, traditional healers and preachers have been particularly in demand to cure HIV/AIDS (their services are proudly advertised on hand-painted billboards in every town). There was not much that allopathic doctors could really do (at least until anti-retrovirals became more affordable), so why not try the traditional healer’s herbs and spells? They were cheap and at the very least gave the patient a sense of doing something. And since symptoms and opportunistic infections come and go, it is possible to believe, at least for a little while, that they have an effect. This
  • In fact, the poor are much less likely to go to the doctor for potentially life-threatening conditions like chest pains and blood in their urine than with fevers and diarrhea. The poor in Delhi spend as much on short-duration ailments as the rich, but the rich spend much more on chronic diseases.34 So it may well be that the reason chest pains are a natural candidate for being a bhopa disease (an older woman once explained to us the dual concepts of bhopa diseases and doctor diseases—bhopa diseases are caused by ghosts, she insisted, and need to be treated by traditional healers), as are strokes, is precisely that most people cannot afford to get them treated by doctors. It is probably for the same reason that in Kenya, traditional healers and preachers have been particularly in demand to cure HIV/AIDS (their services are proudly advertised on hand-painted billboards in every town). There was not much that allopathic doctors could really do (at least until anti-retrovirals became more affordable), so why not try the traditional healer’s herbs and spells? They were cheap and at the very least gave the patient a sense of doing something. And since symptoms and opportunistic infections come and go, it is possible to believe,
  • In fact, the poor are much less likely to go to the doctor for potentially life-threatening conditions like chest pains and blood in their urine than with fevers and diarrhea. The poor in Delhi spend as much on short-duration ailments as the rich, but the rich spend much more on chronic diseases.34 So it may well be that the reason chest pains are a natural candidate for being a bhopa disease (an older woman once explained to us the dual concepts of bhopa diseases and doctor diseases—bhopa diseases are caused by ghosts, she insisted, and need to be treated by traditional healers), as are strokes, is precisely that most people cannot afford to get them treated by doctors. It is probably for the same reason that in Kenya, traditional healers and preachers have been particularly in demand to cure HIV/AIDS (their services are proudly advertised on hand-painted billboards in every town). There was not much that allopathic doctors could really do (at least until anti-retrovirals became more affordable), so why not try the traditional healer’s herbs and spells? They were cheap and at the very least gave the patient a sense of doing something. And since symptoms and opportunistic infections come and go, it is possible to believe, at least for a little while, that they have an effect.
  • In fact, the poor are much less likely to go to the doctor for potentially life-threatening conditions like chest pains and blood in their urine than with fevers and diarrhea. The poor in Delhi spend as much on short-duration ailments as the rich, but the rich spend much more on chronic diseases.34 So it may well be that the reason chest pains are a natural candidate for being a bhopa disease (an older woman once explained to us the dual concepts of bhopa diseases and doctor diseases—bhopa diseases are caused by ghosts, she insisted, and need to be treated by traditional healers), as are strokes, is precisely that most people cannot afford to get them treated by doctors. It is probably for the same reason that in Kenya, traditional healers and preachers have been particularly in demand to cure HIV/AIDS (their services are proudly advertised on hand-painted billboards in every town). There was not much that allopathic doctors could really do (at least until anti-retrovirals became more affordable), so why not try the traditional healer’s herbs and spells? They were cheap and at the very least gave the patient a sense of doing something. And since symptoms and opportunistic infections come and go, it is possible to believe, at least for a little while, that they have an effect.
  • In the end, the mistrust of incentives for immunization comes down to an article of faith for both those on the right and the left of the mainstream political spectrum: Don’t try to bribe people to do things that you think they ought to do. For the right, this is because it will be wasted; for the conventional left, which includes much of the public health community and the good doctor from Seva Mandir, this is because it degrades both what is given and the person who gets it. Instead, we should focus on trying to convince the poor of the benefits of immunization. We think that both of these views are somewhat wrongheaded ways to think about this and other similar problems, for two reasons. First, what the 2-pounds-of-dal experiments demonstrate is that in Udaipur at least, the poor might appear to believe in all kinds of things, but there is not much conviction behind many of those beliefs. They do not fear the evil eye so much that they would pass up the dal. This must mean that they actually know they are in no position to have a strong basis to evaluate the costs and benefits of vaccines. When they actually know what they want—marrying their daughter to someone from the right caste or religion, to take an unfortunate but important example—they are not at all easy to bribe. So, although some beliefs the poor have are undoubtedly strongly held, it is a mistake to consider that it is always the case. There is a second reason this is wrong. Both the right wing and the left wing seem to assume that action follows intention: that if people were convinced of the value of immunization, children would be immunized. This is not always true, and the implications are far-reaching.
  • In 2002, Robert Jensen of the University of California at Los Angeles teamed up with some of these centers to organize recruiting sessions for young women in randomly selected villages in rural areas where recruiters would typically not go, in three states in northern India. Not surprisingly, compared to other randomly chosen villages that did not see any such recruiting efforts, there was an increase in the employment of young women in business process outsourcing centers (BPOs) in these villages. Much more remarkably, given that this is the part of India probably most notorious for discrimination against women, three years after the recruiting started, girls age five to eleven were about 5 percentage points more likely to be enrolled in school in the villages where there was recruiting. They also weighed more, suggesting that parents were taking better care of them: They had discovered that educating girls had economic value, and were happy to invest.
  • Some years ago we had organized a parent-child collage session in an informal school run by Seva Mandir in rural Udaipur. We had brought a stack of colorful magazines and asked parents to cut some pictures out from them to represent what they thought education would bring to their children. The idea was for them to build a collage with the help of their children. The collages all ended up looking rather similar: The pictures were studded with gold and diamond jewelry and various recent models of cars. There were other images available in the magazines—peaceful rural vistas, fishing boats, coconut trees—but if the evidence of the collages is to be believed, this is not what education is all about. Parents seem to see education primarily as a way for their children to acquire (considerable) wealth. The anticipated route to those riches is, for most parents, a government job (as a teacher, for example), or failing that, some kind of office job. In Madagascar, parents of children from 640 schools were asked what they thought a child who had completed primary education would do for a living, and what a child who had completed secondary education would do. Seventy percent thought that a secondary-school graduate would get a government job, when in fact 33 percent of them actually get those jobs.
  • Misperception can be critical. In reality, there should not be an education-based poverty trap: Education is valuable at every level. But the fact that parents believe that the benefits of education are S—shaped leads them to behave as if there were a poverty trap, and thereby inadvertently to create one.
  • A combination of unrealistic goals, unnecessarily pessimistic expectations, and the wrong incentives for teachers contributes to ensure that education systems in developing countries fail their two basic tasks: giving everyone a sound basic set of skills, and identifying talent. Moreover, in some ways the job of delivering quality education is getting harder. The world over, education systems are under stress. Enrollment has gone up faster than resources, and with the growth in the high-tech sectors, there is a worldwide increase in the demand for the kind of peoples who used to become teachers. Now they are becoming programmers, computer systems managers, and bankers instead. This is going to be a particularly serious issue for finding good teachers at the secondary level and beyond.
  • Recognizing that schools have to serve the students they do have, rather than the ones they perhaps would like to have, may be the first step to having a school system that gives a chance to every child.
  • One thing is relatively clear: For the most part, poor people, even adolescent girls, make conscious choices about their own fertility and sexuality and find ways—though perhaps not pleasant ways—to control it. If young women get pregnant even though it is extremely costly for them, it must reflect someone’s active decision.
  • What all of this underscores is the violence, active and passive, subsumed within the functioning of the traditional family. This was, until fairly recently, ignored by most (though not all) economists, who preferred to leave that black box closed. Yet most societies rely on the goodwill of the parents to make sure that children get fed, schooled, socialized, and taken care of more generally. Given that these are the same parents who contrive to let their little girls die, how much faith should we place in their ability to get this done effectively?
  • A friend of ours from the world of high finance always says that the poor are like hedge-fund managers—they live with huge amounts of risk. The only difference is in their levels of income. In fact, he grossly understates the case: No hedge-fund manager is liable for 100 percent of his losses, unlike almost every small business owner and small farmer. Moreover, the poor often have to raise all of the capital for their businesses, either out of the accumulated “wealth” of their families or by borrowing from somewhere, a circumstance most hedge-fund managers never have to face.
  • For the most part, it seems that, once again, things were not a lot worse for the poor than in any other year, precisely because their situation is always rather bad. They were dealing with problems that were all too familiar. For the poor, every year feels like being in the middle of a colossal financial crisis. Not only do the poor lead riskier lives than the less poor, but a bad break of the same magnitude is likely to hurt them more. First, a cut in consumption is more painful for someone who consumes very little to start with. When a not-so-poor household needs to cut back on consumption, members may sacrifice some cell phone minutes, buy meat less often, or send the children to a less expensive boarding school. This is clearly painful. But for the poor, a large cut in income might mean cutting into essential expenditures: Over the previous year, adults in 45 percent of the extremely poor households we surveyed in rural Udaipur District had to cut the size of their meals at some point. And cutting meals is something the poor hate: Respondents who had to cut the size of their meals reported themselves to be
  • For the most part, it seems that, once again, things were not a lot worse for the poor than in any other year, precisely because their situation is always rather bad. They were dealing with problems that were all too familiar. For the poor, every year feels like being in the middle of a colossal financial crisis. Not only do the poor lead riskier lives than the less poor, but a bad break of the same magnitude is likely to hurt them more. First, a cut in consumption is more painful for someone who consumes very little to start with. When a not-so-poor household needs to cut back on consumption, members may sacrifice some cell phone minutes, buy meat less often, or send the children to a less expensive boarding school. This is clearly painful. But for the poor, a large cut in income might mean cutting into essential expenditures: Over the previous year, adults in 45 percent of the extremely poor households we surveyed in rural Udaipur District had to cut the size of their meals at some point. And cutting meals is something the poor hate: Respondents who had to cut the size of their meals reported themselves to be much unhappier than those who did not need to do it. Figure 1: The Effect of a Shock on Ibu Tina’s Fortunes   Second, when the relationship between income today and future income is S—shaped, the effect on the poor of a bad break may actually be much worse than temporary unhappiness.
  • For the most part, it seems that, once again, things were not a lot worse for the poor than in any other year, precisely because their situation is always rather bad. They were dealing with problems that were all too familiar. For the poor, every year feels like being in the middle of a colossal financial crisis. Not only do the poor lead riskier lives than the less poor, but a bad break of the same magnitude is likely to hurt them more. First, a cut in consumption is more painful for someone who consumes very little to start with. When a not-so-poor household needs to cut back on consumption, members may sacrifice some cell phone minutes, buy meat less often, or send the children to a less expensive boarding school. This is clearly painful. But for the poor, a large cut in income might mean cutting into essential expenditures: Over the previous year, adults in 45 percent of the extremely poor households we surveyed in rural Udaipur District had to cut the size of their meals at some point. And cutting meals is something the poor hate: Respondents who had to cut the size of their meals reported themselves to be much unhappier than those who did not need to do it. Figure 1: The Effect of a Shock on Ibu Tina’s Fortunes   Second, when the relationship between income today
  • For the most part, it seems that, once again, things were not a lot worse for the poor than in any other year, precisely because their situation is always rather bad. They were dealing with problems that were all too familiar. For the poor, every year feels like being in the middle of a colossal financial crisis. Not only do the poor lead riskier lives than the less poor, but a bad break of the same magnitude is likely to hurt them more. First, a cut in consumption is more painful for someone who consumes very little to start with. When a not-so-poor household needs to cut back on consumption, members may sacrifice some cell phone minutes, buy meat less often, or send the children to a less expensive boarding school. This is clearly painful. But for the poor, a large cut in income might mean cutting into essential expenditures: Over the previous year, adults in 45 percent of the extremely poor households we surveyed in rural Udaipur District had to cut the size of their meals at some point. And cutting meals is something the poor hate: Respondents who had to cut the size of their meals reported themselves to be much unhappier than those who did not need to do it. Figure 1: The Effect of a Shock on Ibu Tina’s Fortunes
  • Betsey Hartman and Jim Boyce’s book about life in rural Bangladesh in the mid—1970s17 describes two neighboring families, one Hindu and one Muslim, that were not particularly close to each other. The Hindu family lost its main earner and was starving; in desperation, the woman of that family would creep across the fence into the other family’s yard and steal some edible leaves from time to time. Hartman discovered that the Muslim family knew what was going on but decided to turn a blind eye. “I know her character isn’t bad,” the man said. “If I were in her position, I would probably steal, too. When little things disappear, I try not to get angry. I think
  • Betsey Hartman and Jim Boyce’s book about life in rural Bangladesh in the mid—1970s17 describes two neighboring families, one Hindu and one Muslim, that were not particularly close to each other. The Hindu family lost its main earner and was starving; in desperation, the woman of that family would creep across the fence into the other family’s yard and steal some edible leaves from time to time. Hartman discovered that the Muslim family knew what was going on but decided to turn a blind eye. “I know her character isn’t bad,” the man said. “If I were in her position, I would probably steal, too. When little things disappear, I try not to get angry. I think ‘The person who took this is hungrier than me.’”
  • This view of insurance as mainly a moral duty to help someone in need explains why, in the Nigerian villages, villagers helped each other out on an individual basis, instead of all contributing to a common pot, despite the fact that sharing risk in this other way would be more efficient. It might also explain why Ibu Emptat’s daughter gave her mother a TV but did not cover her health costs. She did not want to be the one child who was responsible for her parents’ health care (and didn’t want to presume the generosity of her siblings). So she chose to do something nice for them without biting off more than she could chew.
  • It is true that insurance is unlike most transactions that the poor are used to. It is something that you pay for, hoping that you will never need to make use of it. When talking to SKS clients, we met many people who were upset when their health insurance premiums were not reimbursed even though they hadn’t made any claims over the past year. It is certainly possible to explain the concept of insurance better, but it is hard to imagine that a population that ingeniously found a loophole in the SKS system couldn’t figure out the basic principle of insurance. Townsend, as a part of his effort to sell weather insurance, carried out an exercise to figure out whether people understand how the insurance works. While visiting each farmer, the salesman read aloud a brief description of a hypothetical insurance product (temperature insurance) and then asked the potential client several simple hypothetical questions about when the policy would pay out. The respondents had the correct answers three-fourths of the time. It is not clear that the average American or French person would do much better. It is therefore no surprise that the attempts to explain the rainfall insurance product better had no impact on farmers’ willingness to purchase.
  • Yet even this simple story raises questions. There are many fruit wholesalers in Chennai. Why didn’t one of them, or an enterprising moneylender, decide to slightly drop the interest rate charged to the women? That individual should have been able to capture the entire market, still keeping a reasonable margin. Why did the fruit sellers have to wait for people like Muhammad Yunus or Padmaja Reddy? In this sense, the advocates of microfinance are being too modest: They must be doing something more than introducing competition where there was a monopoly. On the other hand, they may also be too sanguine about the potential of small loans to lift people out of poverty. For all the individual anecdotes of fruit sellers turning into fruit magnates that can be found on the various Web sites of microfinance institutions, there are still many poor fruit sellers in Chennai. Many of them do not borrow from microfinance institutions, even though there are several in their town. Are they forgoing their tickets out of poverty, or is microfinance less of a miracle than we have been told?
  • Because the main constraint on lending to the poor is the cost of gathering information about them, it makes sense that they would mostly borrow from people who already know them, such as their neighbors, their employers, the people they trade with, or one of the local moneylenders, and that is exactly what happens. Strange as it might seem, this emphasis on contract enforcement could also drive the poor to borrow from those who have the power to really hurt them if they were to default, since such lenders would not need to spend as much time monitoring (their borrowers wouldn’t dare to stray) and the loans would be cheaper.
  • The innovation of people like Muhammad Yunus and Padmaja Reddy, then, was not just the idea of lending to the poor at more reasonable rates. It was figuring out how to do it.
  • The rigidity and specificity of the standard microcredit model mean, for one thing, that since group members are responsible for each other, women who don’t enjoy poking into other people’s business don’t want to join. Group members may be reluctant to include those they don’t know well in their groups, which must discriminate against newcomers. Joint liability works against those who want to take risks: As a group member you always want all other group members to play it as safe as possible.
  • The microfinance movement has demonstrated that, despite the difficulties, it is possible to lend to the poor. Although one may debate the extent to which MFI loans transform the lives of the poor, the simple fact that MFI lending has reached its current scale is a remarkable achievement. There are very few other programs targeted at the poor that have managed to reach so many people. However, the structure of the program, which is the source of its success in lending to the poor, is such that we cannot count on it to be a stepping-stone for larger businesses to be created and financed. Finding ways to finance medium-scale enterprises is the next big challenge for finance in developing countries. 8 Saving Brick by Brick Driving from the city center toward the less affluent suburbs in almost any developing country, one is struck by the number of unfinished houses.
  • The microfinance movement has demonstrated that, despite the difficulties, it is possible to lend to the poor. Although one may debate the extent to which MFI loans transform the lives of the poor, the simple fact that MFI lending has reached its current scale is a remarkable achievement. There are very few other programs targeted at the poor that have managed to reach so many people. However, the structure of the program, which is the source of its success in lending to the poor, is such that we cannot count on it to be a stepping-stone for larger businesses to be created and financed. Finding ways to finance medium-scale enterprises is the next big challenge for finance in developing countries.
  • Taken together, this evidence makes us seriously doubt the idea that the average small business owner is a natural “entrepreneur,” in the way we generally understand the term, meaning someone whose business has the potential to grow and who is able to take risks, work hard, and keep trying to make it happen even in the face of multiple hardships. We are, of course, not saying that there are no genuine entrepreneurs among the poor—we have met many such people. But there are also many of them who run a business that is doomed to remain small and unprofitable.
  • The enterprises of the poor often seem more a way to buy a job when a more conventional employment opportunity is not available than a reflection of a particular entrepreneurial urge. Many of the businesses are run because someone in the family has (or is believed to have) some time on hand and every little bit helps. This person is often a woman, and she typically does it in addition to her housework; indeed it is not clear that she always has much of a choice when the opportunity to start a business comes up. It is only recently that men in the West have learned to at least pay lip service to the many things that their wife who “does not work” does for them; it would not be astonishing if their developing-country counterparts ascribed more leisure to their spouses than they actually enjoy. It is entirely possible, therefore, that many business owners, and especially female business owners, do not particularly enjoy running a business, and indeed, dread the thought of expanding it. This may be why, when women business owners in Sri Lanka were offered $250 nominally for investing in their business, many of them did something else with it, unlike the male business owners we encountered above who invested the money and got high returns from it.
  • A steady and predictable income makes it possible to commit to future expenditure and also makes it much easier and cheaper to borrow now. So, if a member of a family has a steady job, schools will accept their children more readily; hospitals will give more expensive treatments, knowing they will be paid; and other members of the family may be able to make the investments in their own businesses that are necessary to allow them to grow. This is why a “good job” is important. A good job is a steady, well-paid job, a job that allows a person the mental space needed to do all those things the middle class does well. This is an idea that economists have often resisted, on the reasonable grounds that good jobs may be expensive jobs, and expensive jobs might mean fewer jobs. But if good jobs mean that children grow up in an environment where they are able to make the most of their talents, it may well be worth the sacrifice of creating somewhat fewer of them.
  • This statement was a good reflection of an institutionalist view that has strong currency in development economics today. The real problem of development, in this view, is not one of figuring out good policies: It is to sort out the political process. If the politics are right, good policies will eventually emerge. And conversely, without good politics, it is impossible
  • We are often asked why we do what we do: “Why bother?” These are the “small” questions. William Easterly, for one, criticized randomized control trials (RCTs) on his blog in these terms: “RCTs are infeasible for many of the big questions in development, like the economy-wide effects of good institutions or good macroeconomic policies.” Then, he concluded that “embracing RCTs has led development researchers to lower their ambitions.”3 This statement was a good reflection of an institutionalist view that has strong currency in development economics today. The real problem of development, in this view, is not one of figuring out good policies: It is to sort out the political process. If the politics are right, good policies will eventually emerge. And conversely, without good politics, it is impossible to design or implement good policies, at least not on any scale. There is no point to figuring out the best way to spend a dollar on schools, if 87 cents will never reach the school anyway. It follows (or so it is assumed) that “big questions” require “big answers”—social revolutions, such as a transition to effective democracy.
  • If rural school headmasters could fight corruption, perhaps it is not necessary to wait for the overthrow of the government or the profound transformation of society before better policies can be implemented. Careful thinking and rigorous evaluations can help us design systems to keep corruption and inefficiency in check. We are not “lowering our ambitions”: Incremental progress and the accumulation of these small changes, we believe, can sometimes end in a quiet revolution.
  • The risk of corruption and neglect is thus endemic in any government, but it is likely to be more severe in three circumstances: First, in cases when the government is trying to get people to do things whose value they don’t appreciate, such as wearing a helmet on a motorcycle, or immunizing a child. Second, when what people are getting is worth a lot more than they are paying for it; for example, a hospital bed provided free to those who need it, regardless of income, invites a bribe from richer people who want to jump the queue. Third, when bureaucrats are underpaid, overworked, and not well monitored, and have little to lose by getting fired anyway.
  • The nurses’ workload was based on an ideology that wants to see nurses as dedicated social workers, designed in ignorance of the conditions on the ground, that lives on, mostly just on paper, because of inertia. Altering the rules to make the jobs doable might not be sufficient to get the nurses to come to work regularly, but it has to be a necessary first step.
  • We agree with both of them: The focus on the broad INSTITUTIONS as a necessary and sufficient condition for anything good to happen is somewhat misplaced. The political constraints are real, and they make it difficult to find big solutions to big problems. But there is considerable slack to improve institutions and policy at the margin. Careful understanding of the motivations and the constraints of everyone (poor people, civil servants, taxpayers, elected politicians, and so on) can lead to policies and institutions that are better designed, and less likely to be perverted by corruption or dereliction of duty. These changes will be incremental, but they will sustain and build on themselves. They can be the start of a quiet revolution.
  • First, the poor often lack critical pieces of information and believe things that are not true. They are unsure about the benefits of immunizing children; they think there is little value in what is learned during the first few years of education; they don’t know how much fertilizer they need to use; they don’t know which is the easiest way to get infected with HIV; they don’t know what their politicians do when in office. When their firmly held beliefs turn out to be incorrect, they end up making the wrong decision, sometimes with drastic consequences—think of the girls who have unprotected sex with older men or the farmers who use twice as much fertilizer as they should. Even when they know that they don’t know, the resulting uncertainty can be damaging. For example, the uncertainty about the benefits of immunization combines with the universal tendency to procrastinate, with the result that a lot of children don’t get immunized. Citizens who vote in the dark are more likely to vote for someone of their ethnic group, at the cost of increasing bigotry and corruption.
  • We saw many instances in which a simple piece of information makes a big difference. However, not every information campaign is effective. It seems that in order to work, an information campaign must have several features: It must say something that people don’t already know (general exhortations like “No sex before marriage” seem to be less effective); it must do so in an attractive and simple way (a film, a play, a TV show, a well-designed report card); and it must come from a credible source (interestingly, the press seems to be viewed as credible). One of the corollaries of this view is that governments pay a huge cost in terms of lost credibility when they say things that are misleading, confusing, or false.
  • Second, the poor bear responsibility for too many aspects of their lives. The richer you are, the more the “right” decisions are made for you. The poor have no piped water, and therefore do not benefit from the chlorine that the city government puts into the water supply. If they want clean drinking water, they have to purify it themselves. They cannot afford ready-made fortified breakfast cereals and therefore have to make sure that they and their children get enough nutrients. They have no automatic way to save, such as a retirement plan or a contribution to Social Security, so they have to find a way to make sure that they save. These decisions are difficult for everyone because they require some thinking now or some other small cost today, and the benefits are usually reaped in the distant future. As such, procrastination very easily gets in the way. For the poor, this is compounded by the fact that their lives are already much more demanding than ours: Many of them run small businesses in highly competitive industries; most of the rest work as casual laborers and need to constantly worry about where their next job will come from. This means that their lives could be significantly improved by making it as easy as possible to do the right thing—based on everything else we know—using the power of default options and small nudges: Salt fortified with iron and iodine could be made cheap enough that everyone buys it. Savings accounts, the kind that make it easy to put in money and somewhat costlier to take it out, can be made easily available to everyone, if need be, by subsidizing the cost for the bank that offers them. Chlorine could be made available next to every source where piping water is too expensive.
  • Second, the poor bear responsibility for too many aspects of their lives. The richer you are, the more the “right” decisions are made for you. The poor have no piped water, and therefore do not benefit from the chlorine that the city government puts into the water supply. If they want clean drinking water, they have to purify it themselves. They cannot afford ready-made fortified breakfast cereals and therefore have to make sure that they and their children get enough nutrients. They have no automatic way to save, such as a retirement plan or a contribution to Social Security, so they have to find a way to make sure that they save. These decisions are difficult for everyone because they require some thinking now or some other small cost today, and the benefits are usually reaped in the distant future. As such, procrastination very easily gets in the way. For the poor, this is compounded by the fact that their lives are already much more demanding than ours: Many of them run small businesses in highly competitive industries; most of the rest work as casual laborers and need to constantly worry about where their next job will come from. This means that their lives could be significantly improved by making it as easy as possible to do the right thing—based on everything else we know—using the power of default options and small nudges: Salt fortified with iron and iodine could be made cheap enough that everyone buys it. Savings accounts, the kind that make it easy to put in money and somewhat costlier to take it out, can be made easily available to everyone, if need be, by subsidizing the cost for the bank that offers them. Chlorine could be made available next to every source where piping water is too expensive.
  • Third, there are good reasons that some markets are missing for the poor, or that the poor face unfavorable prices in them. The poor get