Samhälle, evolution, kultur, politik

Per Kraulis

Twitter @PerKraulis

Lionel Page: Optimally Irrational Review 2023-12-18

The idea of the rational actor in economics has often been ridiculed and criticized as a derogatory view of what humans are like: selfish, cold-hearted calculators, basically psychopaths. And the critics have often insinuated that this analysis has been normatively loaded; humans as perfect cogs in the machinery of capitalism. The accusation is that this is how economics wants people to behave. Lionel Page does not use this line of attack in his book. Rather, given the various empirically determined biases, he asks: if the actual behavior of humans is often significantly different from that predicted by the rational-actor model, then why is it so? Instead of scrapping the idea of the rational actor, he uses it as a starting point to figure out what the mechanisms are that cause these departures.

Kent V Flannery: The Creation of Inequality: How Our Prehistoric Ancestors Set the Stage for Monarchy, Slavery, and Empire Review 2023-11-04

How did inequality arise? The question was famously raised by Jean-Jacques Rousseau. His answer was controversial, to say the least. He did not have much information to base his analysis on, given that the discovery of humanity being a product of Darwinian evolution was yet to be made. Although there was some information about how hunter-gatherers lived in parts of the world that were being colonized by European traders and settlers, it was fragmentary at best. The book "The Creation of Inequality" by Kent Flannery and Joyce Marcus does the hard work of summarizing the anthropological and archaeological record to identify the stages and processes that transformed human society from the large degree of equality that characterized nomadic hunter-gatherers (ignoring gender inequality) before about 12,000 years ago. It is a monumental effort, and the results give them the basis to provide some more facts-based answers to Rousseau's question.

Susan Neiman: Left Is Not Woke Review 2023-11-01

Is it necessary for someone on the political left to also be woke? And is it self-evident that being anti-woke is the same as being on the political right? Judging by the way many activists and intellectuals are positioning themselves, it seems that there are only two possible positions: Either one is woke and left, or anti-woke and right. The moral philosopher Susan Neiman does not accept this. Her book "Left is Not Woke" is an impassioned defense of Enlightenment ideals over the ideas that, in her analysis, powers the woke agenda. And those Enlightenment ideals are not the ideals of the right.

Yascha Mounk: The Identity Trap: A Story of Ideas and Power in Our Time Review 2023-10-15

A clear and illuminating analysis of what the author Yascha Mounk calls the "identity synthesis", which the author describes as a set of ideas encompassing several themes: A radical skepticism concerning the possibility of rational discourse and the search for objective truth, the impossibility of the universalist stance against racism and oppression, and radical politics strangely combined with a pessimism about the possibility of political reform. Mounk thinks the terms "identity politics", "critical race theory" and "woke" have been so thoroughly laden with rhetorical baggage that he wants to stay away from them, and therefore uses "identity synthesis" instead.

Andreas Johansson Heinö: Anteckningar från kulturkriget Recension 2023-10-06

En splittrad text. Det är ganska mycket å ena sida, å andra sidan. Man skulle kunna kalla den folkpartistisk i sin kluvenhet, men det vore kanske för elakt. Den argumenterar för en konstitutionell stat som kan inrymma stor kulturmångfald och som bygger på majoritetsstyre, rättsstat och fri- och rättigheter till skydd för minoriteter. Trots fokuset på konflikterna kring och om kultur så missar Johansson Heinö en viktig fråga här; mer om det senare i den här kommentaren.

Michael Tomasello: Origins of Human Communication Review 2023-10-01

Based on empirical research involving humans and great apes, Michael Tomasello proposes that human language emerged from the need for communication as part of collaboration. Collaboration and shared intentionality that it came to entail, was the basis. He does not think that language began as vocalizations, since the ability to refer to specific things is required, and how does one indicate that using just sound without a prior basis of meaning? Instead, gestures, and in particular pointing, is more likely as the precursor of language, in Tomasello's view.

Elizabeth Hannon: Why We Disagree about Human Nature Review 2023-09-26

This is an anthology. It is, unsurprisingly, a mixed bag. That said, the various contributions do make up a fairly diverse and well-presented set of viewpoints. What does the idea of human nature mean? What is it supposed to do? Is it meaningful in light of the combined influence of nature and culture on human existence?

Sverker Johansson: På vandring i språkens fotspår Recension 2023-09-10

En mycket god redogörelse för människans globala historia under de senaste 10-15 000 åren utifrån språkvetenskaplig och genetisk information. Just den här kombinationen gör boken extra intressant, eftersom man får två helt olika fönster in mot historiens skeenden. Frågan om hur olika kulturer har uppstått, förändrats och försvunnit beroende på folkvandringar eller kulturella skeenden har varit central, och numera finns data som kan hjälpa till att reda ut många frågor.

David Schmidtz: Living Together: Inventing Moral Science Review 2023-08-28

It is widely assumed that political philosophy is dependent on moral philosophy. That is, in order to argue about political issues, one has to first sort out morality. The philosopher David Schmidtz argues in his book "Living together. Inventing moral science" that it is the other way around. The problem of how to live together, that is, politics, is primary. Morality then becomes part of the solution. The question "how to live together?" is more fundamental than "how to live?".

Richard Rhodes: The Making of the Atomic Bomb Review 2023-07-17

This is almost certainly the definite description of the background and history of the atomic bomb, from the beginning of the discovery of the atom starting around 1900 to the detonations of the two bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. Richard Rhodes gives very good descriptions of the basic facts of the physics and engineering, and also provides an overall comprehensible explanation of the politics of the process. Having some previous knowledge of the basic theory and history of nuclear physics, I cannot find any mistakes or misleading statements of any consequence. As a Swede, I notice that the southern port of Limhamn is misspelled Linhamm.