Congo

David van Reynbrouck (2012)

I read this in the Amazon. Wild.

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Utopia for Realists

Rutger Bregman (2017)

Bregman’s thesis in ‘Utopia for Realists’ is one that I place squarely alongside the likes of Raymond Kurzweil, Yuval Harari, Steven Pinker and Matt Ridley as relying on essentially the same drastic normative fundament.  In consequence, these thinkers, though steeped in the trade of widely different disciplines, all essentially conclude that things are basically going pretty great on planet Earth.  Reams and reams of statistics fill chapter after chapter to belabor the apparently indomitable point: average income is up, many women are now voting, infant mortality is down, smallpox is gone, everyone has cellphones, … testimony to progress goes on and on.

The reign of humanism

These thinkers are so fundamentally humanist in outlook that they don’t even acknowledge their anthropocentrism.  Harari expends a chapter in ‘Home Deus’ on the plight of domesticated animals.  But nowhere is appreciation shown for the fact that such creatures – which exist in concentration-camp conditions with the sole purpose of sustaining humans, the elites atop the planetary food chain – now make up 97 odd per cent of living animal biomass.  Not so long ago, our biosphere was dominated by wild creatures whose raison d’etre wasn’t just nourishment for sapiens sapiens.  Am I the only one who feels that is highly highly relevant here?  And the shrivelled remainder are suffering, suffering terribly, under the relentless human march that the past few centuries have wrought in ever greater volume and diversity.  That these considerations hardly ever feature in the calculus of ‘progress’ is more than just unfortunate – it is symptomatic of the reigning humanist doctrine.

Short-term gain for long-term pain

It’s also worth considering that the Industrial Revolution ushered in a window of opportunity to live on borrowed time, that is, the future.  These writers make scant reference to climate change, and the epidemic of plasticization is, as far as I recall, not treated by any of them.  What if all these gains, if we accede that that is what they are, come at a great cost not just on the non-human world, but also on future humans?

The Age of Estrangement

Could it be that estrangement from Nature is the fuel at the heart of ressentiment?

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Triumph of the City

Edward Glaeser (2011)

I read many books with certain expectations, I suppose.  I read this one because I wanted to know more about cities and slums in the Global South.  This book failed to deliver the goods on this front.  Perhaps ‘Triumph and Fall of the American City’ would have made for a more honest title.

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Christianity, selected denominations

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Empire of the Summer Moon

S. C. Gwynne (2011)

“AR 70-28, dated 18 June 1976, specifies that Army aircraft should be given the names of American Indian tribes or chiefs or terms. The name should appeal to the imagination without sacrifice of dignity, and should suggest an aggressive spirit and confidence in the capabilities of the aircraft. The name also should suggest mobility, agility, flexibility, firepower and endurance.” –Aviation Digest (March 1977)

It is tempting to take the naming of the United States Army’s most technologically sophisticated helicopters after tribes of the great American Plains as a final act of usurpation.

For what it’s worth, I think the term ‘Comanche’ inspires a feeling of immense awe amongst most white men, and using it for a stealth helicopter signifies a certain aspiration, an enduring (yet nostalgic) vision of masculinity.

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Anti-Fragile

Nassim Taleb (2017)

The. Best. Book. Makes me want to have kids.

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The Heart of Everything that Is

Bub Drury & Tom Clavin (2014)

Sad sad sad.

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Homo Deus

Yuval Noah Harari (2017)

Ok so I read it, can everybody please shut up about it now! 😉

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What Darwin Got Wrong

Jerry Fodor & Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini (2010)

Brace yourself for a more extensive summary than usual.

Boisterous diatribe to the contrary, ‘science’ is far from free of taboos. Nietzsche remains right about that. Examples: questioning the potential merits of astrology, or links between ‘race’ (however ill-defined) and particular traits. First off, kudos to J&M for having the cajones to put this work out, under such a provocative title. It is hard, even for established intellectuals, to criticise the theory of Darwinian evolution and escape ostracism. And as it turned out, J&M did not escape their un/fair (?) share of ostracization.

J&M think that the Theory of Natural Selection (‘TNS’) is flawed. They come at it with a dual-barreled attack, and the two barrels can be quite cleanly divided. » Continue reading “What Darwin Got Wrong”

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Age of Anger

Pankaj Mishra (2017)

Pankaj’s new book might well have been subtitled, ‘An Anthology of Terrorism’.  And at times it’s not the most cohesive one, reading more like a smattering attempt to capture every act of politically subversive violence, and a checkered description of the perpetrators and their inter-relationships, since the Enlightenment.

But looking through this somewhat ramshackle layer of narrative exposes an uncut gem of substance.  Pankaj makes the case that the same fundamental processes that are giving rise to the likes of Brexit, Erdogan, Hofer, Le Pen, Orban, Trump and Wilders simultaneously explain ISIS.  Ressentiment, in a nutshell:

“… where individual dissatisfaction with the actually available degree of freedom constantly collides with elaborate theories and promises of individual freedom and empowerment.”

» Continue reading “Age of Anger”

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