Control the conversation, control the country

Canadian author Donald Gutstein is a friend of one of the members of our regular Monday morning ideas group, and recently we met with Donald to discuss his important book, Harperism: How Stephen Harper and his think tank colleagues have transformed Canada.

Unlike other books on Canada’s most conservative government, Harperism focuses on the political philosophy at the foundation of what to many is an alarming reversal of our country’s traditional role as an advocate of social justice and environmental responsibility.

It’s not that Harperism ignores these changes. On the contrary, Gutstein explains them in terms of the “neoliberalism” at their heart. This focus makes Harperism important far beyond Canada’s borders, for neoliberalism underpins the successful imposition of “free market” ideology into the policies of most of the world’s titular democracies.
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Not to be Piketty, but these are the income inequality books to read

 

I’d slogged my way through the first third of Capital in the 21st Century when I gave in and googled the reviews. That shows a disappointing lack of dedication, I admit, but there’s only so much time in a life.

On the not unreasonable assumption that many of you aren’t academic economists, either, and that you have other things to do with the time in your lives, I have a few other book recommendations in the general area of income inequality and, more important, its impacts on society.

The three books that I’m recommending are quite different from each other, but nonetheless their shared conclusion — that too much of how, how well, even how long we live depends on the size of our slice of the wealth pie — justifies grouping them together.

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Accommodating religion doesn’t require adopting its trappings

I tried very hard to read A. C. Grayling’s The Good Book: A Secular Bible. I really did. I started the book three times, and the last two times I skipped the soporific beginning and started to read from a random point somewhere in the middle of the book. I couldn’t do it. The Good Book is just not a very good book.

It’s not that Grayling’s prose is particular bad, although it’s not particularly good. It’s not that many of the things he writes are little more than self-help nostrums, although many of them are certainly that.

The problem is that Grayling’s imitation of the style of the old English bible makes his “new bible” seem more a parody than a transformation. He hasn’t so much updated the old bible as he has backdated his new ideas.

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Can biology explain art?

OK, so you buy into all of that evolutionary psychology stuff and look for the adaptational drivers behind everything humans think and do and are.

You will be on the solidest of ground when you’re describing the physical mechanisms of bodily states and functions. And you’ll do pretty well, most of the time, with speculations about the evolutionary advantage of this or that adaptation. You’ll convince a growing number of people of the interaction of both individual and group selection.

But once you’ve done that, what do you do with the hard stuff?

Consciousness is notoriously hard to explain, and even after many articles on the subject here I’m not at all confident that I, or anyone else, really has a handle on it. For now, I’m leaving that topic alone.

The other really tough topic is art, the creative and imaginative output of the free-flowing human mind. What advantage does art add to the evolutionary mix?
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The one percent’s solution

A growing chorus of economists has lately been trumpeting the undeniable truth that, badly expressed, got President Obama into trouble with the right-wing media last week.

What Obama said was that no one builds a successful business alone. There’s a necessary infrastructure of roads and bridges and schools and hospitals, of banking and trade and tax regulations, and much more.

While Obama’s “No, you didn’t” was willfully transferred from building the roads and bridges that he was talking about into a cynically inaccurate claim that the President doesn’t give any credit to individual initiative, at least some of the media spent a little of their time discussing what he’d actually meant.

I’ve dealt in this space with both The Self-Made Myth (reviewed and Robert Reich’s Aftershock.

Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz appeared recently on The Daily Show, promoting his latest book, The Price of Inequality. Stiglitz outlined the main ideas of the book in “The 1 Percent’s Problem,” published by Vanity Fair in May.

Stiglitz’s article caused quite a stir for arguing that it’s in the selfish interest of the super-rich to make sure that the not-rich get a bigger piece of the pie.
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Doing the math on mythic literature

Some people in the softer sciences, including much of psychology, are very wary of “reductionism,” the practice of understanding via an analysis of the interaction of the parts of complex systems.

Yet there are scientists, especially statistical mathematicians, who love to tear apart complex systems as a way of classifying or codifying them.

So it’s not entirely surprising that a group of mathematicians has applied statistical analysis to mythic literature. In an article titled “Universal Properties of Mythological Networks,” a team from Coventry University has analysed three classical myths to see how much their historicity can be established statistically.

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