• Books

    The Origins of Woke by Richard Hanania

    From my notion template

    The Book in 3 Sentences

    1. Hanania examines the legal underpinnings of what we now call “Wokeness” and is kind enough to define what he means by the term. Then he goes into an extreme amount of detail explaining his theories. TLDR – there is a lot of money and power in wokeness due to the the way exact way the civil rights laws are written (light on text, heavy on bureaucracy) – it is NOT postmodernism. Al;so – Hanania is book form is much less Hanania than his twitter feed, or substack.

    How I Discovered It

    Hanania’s substack.

    Who Should Read It?

    Right wingers who care about being correct about our confusing modern times

    How the Book Changed Me

    The single biggest thing I took from the book was that what we call Modern Wokeness is not the end result of post modernism, endless fashion, etc, etc, but it is the result of how civil rights laws are written and have been interpreted. It’s the Jones Act of political movements.

    Quotes and Highlights

    For so many public intellectuals and politicians to be anti-woke but indifferent to civil rights law struck me as similar to worrying about global warming but not bothering to know anything about energy policy. Of course, something changed in the mid-2010s.

    Opponents of wokeness sometimes say that “facts don’t care about your feelings.” But the federal judiciary does.

    Yet on issues related to race, gender, and sexual orientation, the country has consistently moved left, toward institutions emphasizing classification based on identity, a results-based approach to seeking out equality between groups, and the stamping out of dissent from liberal orthodoxy.

    For the purposes of this book, we can say that wokeness has three central pillars. The belief that disparities equal discrimination: Practically any disparity that appears to favor men over women, or whites over non-whites, is caused by some combination of past and present discrimination. Disparities that favor women over men or non-whites over whites are either ignored or celebrated. This includes not only material outcomes like differences in income or representation in high-status professions but “disparities in thought,” or stereotypes about different groups.

    Speech restrictions: In the interest of overcoming such problematic disparities, speech needs to be restricted, particularly speech that suggests that they are caused by factors other than discrimination or that stereotypes are true. Human resources (HR) bureaucracy: In the interest of overcoming disparities and regulating speech, a full-time bureaucracy is needed to enforce correct thought and action.

    If a person believes that discrimination is the primary cause of disparities but not that there should be speech restrictions to enforce that idea, we generally just call them a liberal instead of woke.

    Title IX, which as a matter of statutory text simply banned discrimination in government-funded educational institutions and programs, has been used to micromanage the sex lives of college students.

    Government got into the business of social engineering, while outsourcing much of the enforcement of its mandates and regulations to the private sector.

    Wokeness resembles civil rights law more than it does Protestantism or the writings of any postmodern philosopher, and we can look at the historical and legal record to understand the motivations of those who made that law.

    particular problem for the idea that wokeness came from the university is the fact that identity politics had to originally be forced upon much of higher education by Washington, with the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare originally coercing schools like Columbia and UC Berkeley to adopt quota-based faculty hiring during the early 1970s.9 The government mandates came first, and the ideology later.

    Long before wokeness was a cultural phenomenon, it was law.

    Enforcement is not carried out by the state itself, but mostly outsourced to trial lawyers and the human resources industry, at the expense of private institutions, which end up absorbing much of the cost of and backlash to political correctness.

    The members of Congress who voted for the Civil Rights Act believed that they were dismantling a caste system in the South that was sustained by intentional and conscious private and state-backed discrimination. They did not see the bill as a way to remake American society, redistribute wealth, or destroy capitalism.

    Once again, there was more intellectual honesty on both the right and the left than there was in the center.

    While “diversity” is certainly an idea, it is not one that can claim any kind of intellectual depth or historical pedigree. It was basically the creation of one judge acting out of either political timidity or intellectual laziness.

    The fact that feminist and LGBT dogma contradict each other is a problem for logicians and political philosophers but not for the law or the psychology of true believers.

    All of the contradictions noted above can be explained by understanding wokeness as the name we give to a collection of beliefs that one must hold for legal and psychosocial reasons, without any mechanism to ensure logical consistency built into the system. We do not look for logical consistency in an act of Congress that we know was the product of logrolling, compromise, and debate between various factions. The creation of a cultural phenomenon is even more complicated than a piece of federal legislation, and how it is lived and experienced is even less likely to have a close relationship with any philosophical text.

    Like an act of Congress, wokeness can similarly be seen as a “logrolled” set of cultural beliefs.

    This means that the whole project of seeking a grand philosophical explanation for wokeness relies on a conceptual mistake, likely rooted in the need of intellectuals to exaggerate their importance.

    defined wokeness in terms of three pillars—disparities equal discrimination, speech controls, and HR bureaucracy—these beliefs and practices should be seen less as a philosophical doctrine with its own impeccable inner logic than as a political program that has emerged from a combination of factors such as interest group lobbying, mass emotional sentiment, and bureaucrats seeking to increase their power.

    Why, despite a war on terror that led to the victimization of Muslims both at home and abroad, do we see so little organized political activity among Muslim Americans relative to politicians and activists who identify with artificial categories like Hispanics and AAPI? The wokeness-as-law perspective can help one understand all of this and much else.

    The entire concept of merit—whether measured through standardized tests or other forms of academic achievement—is treated with suspicion, as schools close down gifted programs and more universities drop SAT requirements, putting increasing emphasis on subjective measures like extracurriculars that have even worse class and political biases than the practices being eliminated.

    The public health profession was discredited among wide swaths of the population when much of the community recommended lockdowns during the Covid-19 pandemic but made an exception for protests against racism.

    Despite the fact that a similar rise in homicide did not occur in other nations that were also suffering from the pandemic, the media sought to place the blame on disruptions related to Covid-19 instead of the Black Lives Matter movement.

    The state is so intertwined with the rest of life that it makes little sense to treat culture and politics as separate forces in a modern society.

    We see hints of what may come in the rise of corporations, like Coinbase, Substack, and Basecamp, that are explicitly disavowing political activism, even in the absence of any changes in civil rights law.

    This is the story of civil rights law. It is likely that few, if any, members of Congress at the time would have believed that the bill signed by President Johnson would ultimately force police departments to lower their physical fitness standards to accommodate women, much less make employers subscribe to theories about the malleability and subjectivity of gender that had yet to be invented.

    but ultimately text on paper passed by two large and divided legislative bodies has proved no match for the machinations of permanently placed bureaucrats and judges.

    What changed in the mid-twentieth century? It would be surprising if the rise of television did not play a role, as it both nationalized politics and provided footage that increased sympathy for the plight of black southerners. In 1950, only 9 percent of American homes had a television. This number rose to 65 percent in 1955, and 87 percent in 1960.

    The year after the CRA was passed, President Johnson signed EO 11246, which, as amended throughout the years, has become the basis of the modern affirmative action in contracting regime.

    It created what would come to be called the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP), located within the Labor Department. In 1967, Johnson added “sex” to its prohibited categories, and Obama included “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” in 2014. While

    Today, about a quarter of the American workforce is employed by a government contractor.

    Affirmative action is required for every employer with fifty employees that does at least $50,000 worth of business a year with the federal government, and every subcontractor with at least $10,000 in business.

    Race and sex are to be determined by self-identification, with the employer prohibited from overruling an individual’s selection, although visual classification is acceptable under certain conditions.20

    From the contractor’s perspective, all they can know for certain is that they must go through the motions, and that hiring and promoting more minorities and women will be less likely to get them in trouble.

    Each business must be aware of the racial dynamics in its own community, forcing the private sector into the dishonest project of creating identity-obsessed institutions that simultaneously champion equal treatment.

    At various points throughout the debate over the Civil Rights Act, critics of the bill expressed concern that it might do x. In response, supporters of the bill would say, “no, it won’t do x,” and the two sides would agree to a compromise that involved entering a clause into the bill in effect saying that “x is prohibited.” Usually within a decade, the EEOC and the federal courts would do x anyway.

    If this sounds like a judge making up the law to fit his own political preference, that is because that is exactly what it is. At the very least, Justice Blackmun should be credited for his candor.

    which showed an acknowledgment “that constant change is the order of our day and that the seemingly reasonable practices of the present can easily become the injustices of the morrow.”

    We have therefore moved from bans on explicit discrimination to practically any behavior or speech potentially offensive to women.

    Explicit quotas are preferable to the current system in that they could potentially place limits on discrimination, leave more room for merit, and provide clarity on what is and isn’t allowed. They would also be simpler to administer, lead to less bureaucracy, and not require ideological litmus tests in the form of “diversity statements,” which increasingly are required in university hiring. What we have instead is a system where civil rights law serves as the skeleton key of the left.

    As of 2019, among those twenty-five and older, 40 percent of whites had a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared to 52 percent of Asians, 26 percent of blacks, and 19 percent of Hispanics. Clearly any employer that requires a BA or postgraduate degree could be accused of engaging in a practice that has a disparate impact on the latter two groups under the four-fifths rule. Unlike with cognitive tests, though, employers have seldom, if ever, gotten in trouble for requiring college degrees, even when the kind of credential necessary to be hired or promoted has no connection to the profession in question.

    If it seems that our culture has built an elaborate ranking system of races, genders, and “traumas,” it is because our legal system did it first.

    When most people think about what types of people are affiliated with universities, they usually think of professors and students. That impression is dated, as higher education has been taken over by professional managers who neither teach nor do research. Yale currently has about as many administrators and managers as it does students.1 Many new employees have job titles that did not exist only a few decades before. As of 2020, Ohio State University employed 132 administrators with “diversity” or “equity” in their job titles at the cost of $13.4 million.

    None of this would matter all that much if civil rights law wasn’t also self-financing, the second reason for the existence of a robust human resources industry.

    Finally, there is the “best practices” doctrine, through which an institution can defend itself by showing that it is behaving in accordance with industry norms. Employers must pay attention not only to what judges and bureaucrats think but to the things that other corporations are doing to address discrimination. This creates an arms race, which helps explain why practices that once seemed absurd can become common.

    The results show the creation of an entire industry. In 1968, only 1 in 558 American workers were employed in human resources. By 2021, that number had risen to 1 in 102, including 1 in 184 men and 1 in 68 women. In his 1941 book The Managerial Revolution, James Burnham argued that the world was witnessing a shift from a system where capitalists comprised the ruling class to one in which they were being replaced by a managerial elite that controlled the means of production.

    But vagueness wrapped in jargon is the great trick of civil rights law.

    That would be an arbitrary standard, but adding more words has the effect of only making the rule look more exact and precise, while in effect doing no such thing.

    A traditionally “strong” state can issue mandates that are clear, do not undergo transformations over time through judicial and bureaucratic procedures, are enforced through one part of the national government, and are of uncontested legitimacy. The government of France is held up as an example of a strong state, one that has been able to create a quota for hiring handicapped employees and has laws regarding employment that are stable and enforced exclusively through the Ministry of Labor. In contrast, the American state is “weak.” It does not mandate quotas; in fact, it explicitly bans them. Instead, government contractors have “goals” and “timetables” they set themselves, and all large employers must be on the lookout for “disparate impact” in a world where everything has a disparate impact. Enforcement is also highly decentralized. In the private sector, an employer may face negative consequences through a lawsuit filed by a private party, an investigation through the EEOC, or, if they have a federal contract, via the Department of Labor or the agency that the firm is directly dealing with. Firms may also face pressures at the state or local level. Public institutions such as schools similarly can face individual lawsuits or investigations and threats that funding from Washington will be cut

    Due to Christiansburg, however, we now have an asymmetry in which plaintiffs have a right to recover attorney’s fees if they win, but defendants must swallow the costs of defending themselves even when courts have determined they have done nothing wrong.

    Under the Obama administration, it was normal practice for the Justice Department to reach settlements with corporations that required them to pay money to left-wing activist groups, therefore providing funding to the administration’s political allies without having to go through Congress.21 Civil rights law implements a relatively small tax on corporations that has a massive effect in terms of creating an entire industry of lawyers, activists, and human resources professionals.

    In 2020, there were about 1.5 million businesses in the US with at least fifteen or more employees, the threshold to be covered under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and the ADA.

    Civil rights law, through its vagueness, works in a similar way. Each corporation has an incentive to seem “less discriminatory” than others, which in effect means adopting fads out of academia or the HR industry and having to engage in ever more blatant forms of reverse discrimination.

    “Woke capital,” which often refers to corporations taking left-wing stances on identity-related issues, is a natural response to a system that rewards this kind of virtue signaling.

    Data from the Department of Education shows that while the number of K–12 teachers in the US increased by 8 percent from 2000 to 2017, the number of administrators increased by 75 percent.

    The federal relations director of the Association of American Universities once put forward what he called “administrative clone theory,” in which every new form of federal spending comes with a new federal office to administer the money, and then “clones” of the department are created at each university.

    In the 1950s, the field of human resources barely existed. Over the next decades, it would grow into a massive community, today comprising around 1 percent of the workforce.

    The government decides which categories are relevant to public life, and which are not.

    As it turned out, it was easier to create a race than it was to disestablish one.

    Americans are usually asked to choose a “race” and an “ethnicity,” with Hispanic or Latino being the only kind of “ethnicity” officially recognized.

    In the next year, the SBA would reject Iranians and Arabs for inclusion, and conclude that the category of “Asian” stopped at the Afghanistan-Pakistan border for the purposes of government classification in this area.38 Although it doesn’t appear to have been given much thought, further up north, Central Asians were and remain considered whites for the purposes of government classification, with the status of Uzbeks being the subject of a 2008 SBA hearing that was settled by the petitioner being declared disadvantaged on nonracial grounds.

    The EEOC originally denied Poles official minority designation on the grounds that there was no room left on their form, and including them might lead to demands for similar treatment of “Italians, Yugoslavs, Greeks, etc.”42 More extensive efforts were made on behalf of American Jews. Reports from the Truman administration on civil rights gave them substantially more attention than European ethnics, and the Eisenhower administration listed Jews as one group that could be voluntarily reported on by employers in the “other minorities” category.

    The idea that the Civil Rights Act would ban employment discrimination based on sex started out as an attempt by a southern segregationist to kill the bill.

    Moreover, much of the increase in LGBT identity appears to be among those who engage in only heterosexual behavior, indicating that we are arguably witnessing more of a social contagion of identity than a situation where greater tolerance has allowed more individuals to live as their authentic selves. Again, as with changes in gender relations, it is difficult to prove a causal effect of government policy, though it would be surprising if it had none. Nonetheless, with regard to gender and sexual identity issues, we see the same story of social engineering evident in the way we think about and classify individuals according to race.

    Businesses find themselves having to adopt policies that are less tolerant of flirtation and other forms of organic, healthy interactions between men and women, meaning that government has in effect legalized all sexual behavior that goes on behind closed doors, while also carving out an exception for when two individuals work together—in which case it has problematized every step in the process to get to that point.

    How could one area of law have such disastrous downstream effects in so many different areas of life? By way of analogy, this question can be answered by noting that one might be skeptical of a claim that there is a medicine that cures a large number of ailments, while being more ready to believe that there is a poison with a large number of negative health effects. Like the human body, society is an extremely complex system, which means that there are many more potentially harmful interventions than there are beneficial ones.

    The difficulty created by civil rights law is so well known that it is referred to as the “validity-diversity trade-off”: the better a metric is for predicting job performance, the larger its disparate impact.

    At the risk of oversimplification, we may divide American governance into four eras. From the Founding to the presidency of Andrew Jackson, there was the era of elite rule. Then came the spoils system, which was ended, albeit imperfectly, with the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act of 1883 and the formation of the Civil Service Commission. The era of meritocratic hiring lasted just under a century. Since 1978, when the Civil Service Commission was abolished, if not earlier, we have been living in the racial spoils era, where government maintains impersonal standards but seeks to distribute jobs across various official categories.

    Interestingly, one way to potentially get around the problem is through explicit quotas. In the first decades of the EEOC’s war on testing, employers had begun to “race-norm” exams, which simply meant giving extra points to individual blacks and Hispanics by only comparing their scores to those of the same ethnic group. With that method, instead of eliminating standards, one can at least find the most qualified people from each race. The EEOC was in favor of this practice as a means to achieve equal representation, at one point actually prosecuting a Tennessee company for not giving extra points to black applicants.

    personnel need to meet certain physical standards. Unfortunately for the left, almost any non-negligible physical fitness standard that men have to achieve is going to exclude practically all women.

    In the workplace, however, the practical impact of civil rights law can be to create an environment in which only the left-wing position is permitted, and any employer who thinks otherwise is opening himself up to legal liability.

    Human relations are complex, so much so that, according to the social brain hypothesis, the reason we have such high levels of cognitive ability in the first place is because intelligence is necessary to navigate and manage our social relations.

    Capitalism does not guarantee optimal societal outcomes—such a thing is too much to hope for. But it aggregates information in a way like no other process on earth, and produces a result that, if not perfect, continuously builds on previous improvements and makes people’s lives better.

    This is why the standardization of the American workplace that resulted from civil rights law has likely had such disastrous effects on productivity. A series of practices, such as structured interviews, the deemphasizing of tests, and HR departments managing social relations did not emerge necessarily because they reflected the best ways to run a business. Rather, they emerged as a compromise between market pressures that reward productivity and aggregate human preferences, on the one hand, and arbitrary government fiats aimed at achieving demographic parity while hiding what they are doing, on the other.

    Civil rights law is killing experimentation at work, with implications for the rest of life. As a matter of simple logic, more diversity within institutions will lead to less diversity between them.

    If individuals desire a sexless, androgynous, and sanitized workplace free of anything that might cause offense, the market will create such spaces.

    In other words, major American institutions are required to declare within the same sentence both that they do not discriminate and that they practice affirmative action.

    Some have argued that Trumpian lies play a social role in binding the right—that by expressing belief in falsehoods that are clearly absurd, followers of the former president show their loyalty to him.56 They have failed to notice that the same can be said regarding lies couched in legalese or academic jargon. Trumpian lies at least make clear the rules of the game and delineate the sides. They at the very least do not insult anyone’s intelligence through obfuscation.

    Civil rights law declares some practices related to sex and race unacceptable and others mandatory, restricting personal freedom and harming economic efficiency. It prevents creative destruction in the economic and social realms and taste-based discrimination, while making life more difficult for certain “unofficial minorities,” including the neuro-atypical, the socially inept, the highly religious, and the hypermasculine.

    The economist Robin Hanson asks us to imagine political debate as a tug-of-war, with each side pulling on one side of the rope. If one wants to have an unusually high level of influence, the best strategy is to pull the rope sideways—that is, take a position not clearly aligned with either side of the political spectrum.1

    For a Reaganite or libertarian, using government power to roll back the excesses of civil rights law is no more philosophically problematic than reducing environmental regulations or lowering taxes. Doing so is not only something libertarians shouldn’t feel uncomfortable about, it is something they should actively support.

    Sometimes when different factions of the elite agree on a policy approach, they can exclude alternative viewpoints that might resonate with the masses. This was easier to do before the fragmentation of the media landscape. In the 1960s, national politics was covered on television by three major news stations.

    The fact that the increase in crime was overwhelmingly concentrated precisely where Great Society legislation aimed to help—that is, in the inner cities—helped further discredit the liberal project, as did the rise of race riots in those same communities.

    Nixon in particular adopted the language of conservatives, but he was a centrist on domestic policy whose primary interest was in foreign affairs.15 As he focused most intently on geopolitical issues surrounding Vietnam, China, and the Cold War, at home Nixon gave moderate staffers a dominant policy role while letting conservatives handle speechwriting and PR.

    In the Philadelphia Plan, government construction contractors were first held to a “goals-and-timetables requirement” to hire more minorities, with Nixon having personally lobbied members of Congress on behalf of the policy in December 1969 as a way to pit civil rights organizations and labor unions against one another and split the Democratic coalition.

    And while partisan polarization now prevents Republicans from working with Democrats to expand civil rights law, education polarization ensures that they find it difficult to move policy in their preferred direction.

    Republicans after taking the House in 1994 found that abolishing affirmative action split their own caucus while uniting Democrats, tilting the playing field in favor of the latter despite there being majority support for the conservative position in the country as a whole.

    In few areas is the mainstream press less trustworthy than on issues of identity, as can be seen in recent years in various supposed hate crimes that journalists have championed being exposed as hoaxes, and the narratives about police shootings that they credulously reported on that turned out to unravel over the course of time.

    This story teaches us something important about policymaking. There can be a practice that 100 percent of people think should be banned, but it can remain legal if no one thinks about the issue or brings it to the attention of the public.

    While the left still outnumbers the right in number of committed lawyers, nonprofits, and activists on its side, conservatives have built enough of a critical mass to be effective and are now well represented in the judiciary, with Republican presidents having appointed most federal judges as of 2022.

    know that there is a practical way to fight back. Civil rights law, like other legal areas, is something of a battle of attrition between bureaucrats and lawyers. Progress depends not only on getting judges and bureaucrats to see things in the way one prefers, but also on galvanizing enough members of what is sometimes called “the managerial class” within and outside of government to build upon legal victories and blunt the impact of defeats.

    The rise of environmental, social, and governance (ESG) investing, in which Wall Street firms acting as corporate shareholders push for diversity in hiring and promotions as well as other left-wing causes, represents an acute threat to American ideals based in the private sector, and may make a purely libertarian approach to fighting wokeness unrealistic.

    Instead of more sweeping bills, a Republican-controlled Congress could nibble around the edges of civil rights law, passing legislation that attracts little public attention but may have major effects on the incentive structures faced by bureaucrats, lawyers, and potential plaintiffs and defendants in court cases. Topics like federal jurisdiction, whether a plaintiff can get attorney’s fees and how much, and the burden of proof in different kinds of actions arouse little in the way of mass sentiment; nevertheless, as seen in the rise of certain kinds of lawsuits in the aftermath of the CRA of 1991, they can have a profound impact on how the law is practiced and its societal effects.

    Moreover, if there are measures to enforce an anti-wokeness policy agenda through the courts, they should be pursued. The 2021 Florida bill creating a cause of action against schools that teach critical race theory is a good example of this.30 It even includes attorney’s fees for parents who successfully file suits, mimicking federal civil rights law.

    Unlike the federal government, a state exercises direct control over its higher education system, and there is little reason not to go to war with the diversity bureaucracy, with the ultimate aim of getting universities out of the business of social engineering or taking a side in the culture war.

    Asking what should be done to fight wokeness while in power is somewhat like asking where to get water from the ocean. Opportunities abound.

    The right hates wokeness, but its failures have resulted from seeing the phenomenon as simply a cultural trend or class marker rather than as a left-wing mode of bureaucratic governance.

    This conclusion has two purposes. First, it is to show that wokeness is not as strong as it looks. Analogies to religious faith—which carry with them the implicit argument that the phenomenon may last for thousands of years—rest on a weak foundation.

    Populations changing their national loyalties is more common than the adoption of new religious faiths; it has been noted that when Russia moved into eastern Ukraine in early 2022 it found much less support among the local population than it had only eight years before.

    Wokeness thus has no history of surviving without state support. In fact, even with state support, and with practically unlimited rhetorical backing from elite institutions, it still struggles to win hearts and minds. Wokeness remains mostly a political loser for the left, which is why it obfuscates on issues like critical race theory and the fact that civil rights law in its current form all but requires speech restrictions and racial quotas. Wokeness does not appear to be able to motivate its adherents to make the extreme kinds of sacrifices that are the hallmarks of true religious faith. It can’t even convince liberals to keep their kids in inner-city public schools.

    France provides a counterexample to the American model of the management of race and gender issues. Its laws generally ban the state from collecting data on the race, religion, and ethnicity of individuals.7 This means that, much to the chagrin of some American liberals, France cannot have disparate impact standards, state-enforced affirmative action, or even programs targeted at a group with a particular ancestry. It is perhaps not a coincidence that in a country that bans the kind of data collection necessary to enforce woke policies, we see much more resistance to wokeness as a cultural force among the political elite.

    Thus if we see homosexuality becoming more acceptable in most or all countries, is this a natural consequence of modernity, or just a sign that Hollywood and the State Department are everywhere? Nonetheless,

    Wokeness can be understood as a series of recurring moral panics backed up by state power.

    This demonstrates that there is not always a strong correlation between how much energy surrounds a public policy debate and how important it ends up being.

    As it turns out, moral panics only become a permanent part of life when they are backed up by state power and lead to the creation of new laws and bureaucracies.

    Few people think too deeply about the connection between law and popular culture—music, art, and TV shows. Yet even in the freest societies, law shapes culture, which means that it cannot help but drive popular entertainment.

    This is why many of the most critically acclaimed TV shows of recent years have been set in either the distant past, fantasy universes, or the criminal underworld, where there is less pressure for politically correct stories that obviate natural differences between men and women and insert unrealistic levels of ethnic diversity that distract from the ability to find inspiration in a work.

    In the relationship between culture and law, the arrow of causation does not flow in one direction.

    To even ask which causal arrow has greater weight is likely asking too much of social scientists. At the same time, historical research, by looking at the order of events, can make the case that many of the ideas fundamental to wokeness were part of law before they were part of American culture. In other words, there is a striking resemblance between assumptions of civil rights laws that go back to the 1970s and cultural ideas and forces that have come to ascendance much more recently.

    Among its many other goals, this book argues against our tendency to mistake salience for importance. Wokeness inspires passions on both sides. While debates over hot-button issues are often dismissed as insignificant by those who have an aesthetic or ideological commitment to the idea that politics should mostly be about economic issues, Americans, just like other people, have made clear that they care deeply about what kind of culture they live in. Yet for half a century now the culture war has been an asymmetric fight, with one side able to inspire a critical mass of bureaucrats and activists who do their work far from public attention, and the other doing little more than encouraging and reflecting mass discontent without much impact.

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  • Books,  Uncategorized

    On the Marble Cliffs by Ernst Junger

    This was a finalist in the Astral Codex Ten book review context. I’m a huge fan of Storm of Steel and have been meaning to read the rest of Junger’s work. Happily I was able to find the Hood translation on The ACX review covers all of the details of the book better than I could – I agree 100% with all of his conclusions.

    What It’s About

    Two retired soldiers meet evil and decay in the form of the Chief Ranger – someone who can weaponize decay and evil.

    How I Discovered It

    The Astral Codex Ten book review context


    It’s awesome and delivered like no other book I’ve ever read

    What I Liked About It

    The style, the delivery, the weird sense that nothing is happening, it’s just noticed by the narrator – similar to Star Maker in that sense – a point of view seeing the world rather than an actor in the world

    What I Didn’t Like About It

    I wish there some were some sort of discussion group where I can pick up what I missed. I would like more!

    Who Would Like It?

    Anyone who likes Junger

    Related Books

    Storm of Steel
    Odd John
    Star Maker

    Notes and Quotes

    Then there were brilliant duels which the weapon of laughter decided, and in which met fencers who shone by their fight, untrammelled command of thought— mastery such as comes only from a long life of leisure.
    But otherwise we lived, day in, day out, in our Rue-Garden 1 Hermitage in great seclusion. The Hermitage stood at the edge of the Marble Cliffs in the middle of one of those rock islands which here and there one sees breaking through the grape land. Its garden had been won from the rock in narrow terraces, and on the sides of its drystone walls wild herbs had settled such as thrive in the fertile vine-growing country.
    There he beat the rim with a pearwood spoon, and the gleaming red snakes came gliding from the clefts of the Marble Cliffs. As if in a waking dream I heard him laugh as he stood amongst them on the trodden clay of the courtyard before the kitchen. Half erect, the creatures played around him and swayed their heavy triangular heads to and fro above his with rapid beat. I stood on the balcony and did not dare to call to my boy, as if he were a sleep-walker wandering on the heights.
    Then the herdsmen will not let their cattle go to pasture near the Marble Cliffs, for a bite that finds its mark fells even the strongest steer with lightning speed.

    NOTE: The cliffs are infested with venomous snakes?
    Then we would see little Erio frolicking with her, while, like a kitten, she rubbed her pointed head against his dress.

    NOTE: They intentionally feed snakes and let tbeir kid play with venomous snakes…
    We amused ourselves with the curiosities of erudition and with quotations chosen for rarity or a touch of the absurd. Then ON THE MARBLE CLIFFS 17 we were well served by the legion of leather- or parchmentbound slaves.

    NOTE: Books?
    So a work grew, and in its very growing we rejoiced.

    NOTE: To Junger everything is some sort of natural phenomenon

    When we are happy our senses are contented with however little this world cares to offer. I had long done reverence to the kingdom of plants, and during years of travel had tracked down its wonders.
    It was seldom that I entered this part of the Hermitage, for the presence of Lampusa awoke in me a feeling of constraint that I preferred to avoid.
    Brother Otho, too, I would often see standing with the old woman by the fire. To him I owed the happiness that had been my lot with Erio, the love-child of Silvia, Lampusa’s daughter.

    NOTE: Are they brothers or monks?
    But I was more nettled by the laughter of Lampusa, who scanned me with a glance in which I saw the shamelessness of a bawd. And yet it was not long before I frequented her hut.
    It was a basic principle with him to treat each single person with whom we came into contact as a rare find discovered on one’s travels. Then, too, his favourite name for men was “ the optimates,” to signify that everyone must be numbered among the true-born nobility of this world, and that from any one of them we may receive supreme gifts. To him they were vessels stored with wonders, and to figures of such nobility he accorded the rights of princes. And in truth I saw how each one who approached him unfolded like a plant awaking from its winter sleep; it was not that they became better, but that they became more themselves.
    Strange, too, was the fact that the vipers, when called by Lampusa, surrounded the quaich in mixed and glowing braids, whereas with Erio they formed a rayed wheel. This Brother Otho was the first to notice.
    Like all things of this earth, plants too attempt to speak to us, but one requires sharp senses to understand their speech.

    NOTE: Junger lives an entirely internal life. his inner dialog must have been awesome and massive
    So even after the first few weeks it seemed to me as if external things were being transformed; and the transformation first manifested itself to me as an inability to express myself in words.

    NOTE: Overwhelmed with just noticing things

    Often when I had fathomed the mystery of a word I would hasten down to him, pen in hand, and often he mounted to the herbarium on the same errand.

    NOTE: Labeling he is a protorationalist
    Thus we described objects and their metamorphoses, from the grain of sand to the cliff of marble, and from the fleeting second to the changing year. In the evening we would collect our scraps, and when we had read them would burn them on the hearth.

    NOTE: Ephemeral link nature regarding insight
    The word is both king and magician. Our high example we found in Linnaeus, who went out into the unruly world of plants and animals with the word as his sceptre of state. And more wonderful than any swordwon empire, his power extends over the flowering fields and nameless insect hosts.
    Thus it came about that our work was not abandoned when the Chief Ranger seized power in our territory and terror spread throughout the land.

    NOTE: Finally the chief ranger appears
    He was one of those figures whom the Mauretanians respect as great lords and yet find somewhat ridiculous—rather as an old colonel of the mounted yeomanry is received in the regiment on his occasional visits from his estates.

    At this period I was scarcely disturbed by the inflexibility of his nature, for all Mauretanians acquire with time something of the nature of an automaton.

    Later I was to hear Brother Otho say of our Mauretanian period that mistakes become errors only when persisted in. It was a saying that gained in truth for me when I thought back to our position when this Order attracted us. There

    periods of decline when the pattern fades to which our inmost life must conform. When we enter upon them we sway and lose our balance. From hollow joy we sink to leaden sorrow, and past and future acquire a new charm from our sense of loss. So we wander aimlessly in the irretrievable past or in distant Utopias; but the fleeting moment we cannot grasp. As soon as we had become aware of this failure we strove to free ourselves. We felt a longing for actuality, for reality, and would have plunged into ice or fire or ether only to rid ourselves of weariness. As always when despair and

    periods of decline when the pattern fades to which our inmost life must conform. When we enter upon them we sway and lose our balance. From hollow joy we sink to leaden sorrow, and past and future acquire a new charm from our sense of loss. So we wander aimlessly in the irretrievable past or in distant Utopias; but the fleeting moment we cannot grasp. As soon as we had become aware of this failure we strove to free ourselves. We felt a longing for actuality, for reality, and would have plunged into ice or fire or ether only to rid ourselves of weariness.

    we turned to power—for is that not the eternal pendulum that drives on the hand of time by day or night ?

    To the newcomer it was particularly strange to see in their meeting-places members of deadly hostile groups in friendly conversation. Among the aims of the Mauretanians was artistry in the dealings of this world. They demanded that power should be exercised dispassionately as by a god, and correspondingly its schools produced a race of spirits who were bright, untrammelled, but always terrible.

    Yet wherever free spirits establish their sway these primeval powers will always join their company like a snake creeping to the open fire.

    who see a new day dawning in which to re-establish the tyranny that has lived in their hearts since the beginning of time. Thus there develop in the great Orders secret and subterranean channels in which the historian is lost. Subtle conflicts break out and smoulder in the innermost seats of power, conflicts between symbols and theories, conflicts between idols and spirits.

    NOTE: CS lewis inner ring or circle
    Such is the effect of beauty on power.
    to store his food or to contain his gods, the centuries fused before our eyes into a single span.
    And we saw its frontiers too: the mountains where lofty freedom but not plenty found its home among the barbarian peoples, and towards the north the swamps and dark recesses where bloody tyranny lurked.
    Contact with this rough race revealed their good qualities; among these was conspicuous the hospitality which surrounded everyone who sat by their fires. So it came about that one might see in their circles the faces of town-dwellers, for the Campagna offered immediate shelter to all who had to quit the Marina under a cloud. Here one met debtors threatened with arrest and scholars who had planted too shrewd a blow at a drinking party, all in company with renegade monks and a crew of vagabonds. Young people, too, who longed for freedom and pairs of lovers willingly betook themselves to the Campagna

    NOTE: Like the cossacks
    It even came to such a pass that nobody dared any longer speak of them openly, and it became clear how weak the law was in comparison to anarchy.
    There whoever among the people from either side of the Marble Cliffs were malcontent or greedy for change caroused and thronged the doors as if in the dark interiors lay their headquarters. It could not but add to the confusion that even sons of notables and youths who believed that the hour of a new freedom had dawned took part in this traffic. So, too, there were men of letters who began to imitate the herdsmen’s songs, which up to now only the nurses from the Campagna had been known to croon over the cradles.

    Then, too, there was not far from the Flayer’s Wood a copse of weeping willows, in which stood the figure of a steer with red nostrils, red tongue and red sexual organ. It was a spot of ill-fame, one to which there clung rumours of grisly rites. But who could have believed that the butter- and fat-fed gods who filled the udders of the cows would now begin to be worshipped on the Marina ?

    NOTE: Reference To nazi occultism

    Men who had deemed themselves strongminded enough to cut the links with the faith of their fathers fell under the yoke and spell of barbarian idols. The sight they offered in their blindness was more loathsome than drunkenness at noon. Thinking to fly and boasting of their powers, they grovelled in the dust.

    There lived no one so poor that the first and best fruits of his garden did not go to the cabin of the thinker and the hermitage of the poet. Thus whoever felt called upon to serve the world in things spiritual could live at leisure—in poverty, perhaps, but not in need. In the to-and-fro of life the tillers of soil and the shapers of words found their precept in the old saying: The best gifts of the gods are unpaid for.

    But reason is nothing when passion blinds us.

    At the sound sorrow gripped us, and many another too, for we felt that the wholesome spirit of our ancestors had abandoned the Marina.

    Thus the Chief Ranger was like an evil doctor who first encourages the disease so that he may practise on the sufferer the surgery he has in mind.

    In base hearts there lies deep-seated a burning hatred of beauty.

    From such signs one could guess what was to be awaited from the Ranger lurking in his forests. He who hated the plough, the corn, the vine and the animals tamed by man, who looked with distaste on spacious dwellings and a free and open life, set little store by lordship over such plenty. Only then did his heart stir when moss and ivy grew green on the ruins of the towns, and under the broken tracery of vaulted cathedrals the bats fluttered in the moon.

    Into these forest lands had taken flight all who in peace or war had escaped extinction—Huns, Tartars, gipsies, Albigensians and heretical sects of all sorts. With them had 4 joined company fugitives from the provost-marshal and the hangman, scattered remnants of the great robber bands from Poland and from the Lower Rhine, and women-folk whose only trade was with their tail, trulls the beadles had driven from the doors.

    In Fortunio’s hands I had seen a manuscript from the pen of Rabbi Nilufer—the same who, driven from Smyrna, had on his wanderings been a guest among the woods. In his writings one saw world history mirrored as in muddy pools on the banks of which water-rats nest. Here was to be found the key to many a murky intrigue: thus rumour ran that after his banishment from Perouard Master Villon had found shelter in one of these pinewood warrens, in which along with many another shady crew the Coquillards had made their base. Later they flitted over into Burgundy, but here they had always a haven of refuge.

    NOTE: Positive Mention of a jewish person

    This was the breeding-place of the mean huntsmen who offered themselves in house and field as destroyers of vermin—according to Nilufer, the Pied Piper of Hamelin had disappeared here with the children. But from the woods came too the dainty deceivers who appear with coach and lackeys and are to be found even at the courts of noble counts. Thus from the forest a strain of evil blood flowed into the veins of the world. Where there were killings or thuggery one of the shady crew was always by, nor were they missing from the minuets that poor devils dance on the gallows hill with the wind for partner.

    If he came to speak of the blood feuds his eyes would light up, and we saw that so long as it beat the heart of the foe drew him like a mighty magnet.

    Thus to him friendship was no mere sentiment, but something which blazed as spontaneously and as fiercely as hate.

    NOTE: Like the redneck jury people in to kill a mockingbird
    In him we discovered the power we enjoy when a man gives himself to us body and soul, a power which dies out with the coming of an ordered way of life.

    But we knew that no ill threatened our Hermitage so long as the old herdsman and his wild tribe camped on the steppe.

    In these two men, herdsman and monk, there came to light that diversity which native soil produces in men no less than in plants. In the old avenger of blood feuds there lived the spirit of the pasture-lands, which have never been cut by the iron of a ploughshare; in the priest, that of the vineyard loam, which in the course of centuries and through the labour of man’s hands has become as fine as the sand of an hourglass.
    Since at the same time he had the upper hand intellectually, he contrived to accept the speaker’s words and return them to him with an expression of agreement which raised them to a higher plane.

    Brother Otho held that dogma accompanies spirituality in its successive stages of refinement: it is like a robe which during the ascent of the first steps is shot with gold and purples, but with each step acquires a quality which renders it invisible to our eyes, until gradually the pattern dissolves in light.

    NOTE: Refinement is an interesting concept similar to stapledons odd john

    pressed us to whet the hunting spears and starve the hounds until their red tongues lolled to the ground at the scent of blood. Then we too felt the power of the instinct run through our limbs like a flash.

    Brother Otho would say that this was the true meaning of life—to recapitulate creation in what is ephemeral, like the child imitating in play his father’s work. This, he held, gave meaning to seed and begetting, to building and ordered life, to image and poetry—that in them the master work reveals itself as if in a mirror of many-coloured glass which soon must break.

    It was with this lamp and not with torches that the pyre was set alight beside Olympus when Peregrinus Proteus, later called Phoenix, sprang into the blaze before a mighty throng of people in order to make himself one with the ether. The world knows of this man and of his lofty deed only through the lying and distorted account of Lucian.

    Infectious airs had risen from the corpses rotting on the pastures and caused the herds to die off in large numbers. Thus the decline of order brings good fortune to none.
    Then I felt as if cruel talons had laid hold upon my heart, for before me lay the abode of tyranny in all its shame.
    Now we knew the hell kitchen from which the mist drifted over the Marina—since we were determined not to give way, the old man of the forest had shown us it a little more clearly. Such are the dungeons above which rise the proud castles of the tyrants, and from them is to be seen rising the curling savoury smoke of their banquets. They are terrible noisome pits in which a God-forsaken crew revels to all eternity in the degradation of human dignity and human freedom.
    There is great strength in the sight of the eyes when in full consciousness and unshaded by obscurities it is turned upon the things around us. In particular it draws nourishment from created things, and herein alone lies the power of science. Therefore we felt that even the tender flower in its imperishable pattern and living form strengthened us to withstand the breath of corruption.
    He had that kind of stout heart which does not quail at obstacles, but unfortunately this virtue was coupled with contempt. Like all who hunger after power and mastery, he was led astray by his wild dreams into the realm of Utopias.
    Then, too, like every crude theoretician, he lived on the science of the moment and occupied himself with archaeology in particular.
    He belonged to the race of men who dream concretely—a very dangerous breed.
    Although tall in stature, he bore himself with curved shoulders as if his height incommoded him. Nor did he seem to follow the drift of our talk. I had the impression that great age and extreme youth had met in his person—the age of his race and the youth of his body. Thus his whole being bore the deep stamp of decadence; one could see two forces at work in him—that of hereditary greatness and the contrary influence which the soil exerts upon all heredity. For heredity is dead men’s riches.


    It may seem noteworthy that in this affair Braquemart wished to confront the Ranger, although there was much in common in their ways of thought and action. But it is an error which often runs through our thoughts that we deduce identity of goals from identity of methods, and conclude that the aims are the same. Yet there was a difference to this degree, that the Ranger had in mind to people the Marina with wild beasts, while Braquemart looked on it as land to be settled with slaves and their overlords.

    NOTE: Stalin vs hitler maybe not sure which is which

    It is sufficient to indicate that between full-blown nihilism and unbridled anarchy there is a profound difference. Whether the abodes of men shall become desert or primeval forest depends upon the outcome of this struggle.


    As far as Braquemart is concerned, he bore the unmistakable stamp of nihilism in its later stages. His was a cold, rootless intelligence, and with it went a leaning to Utopias. Then, too, like all his kind, he conceived of life as the mechanism of a clock, and therefore in force and terror he saw the gears which drive the timepiece of life. At the same time he indulged in the idea of a second artificial natural order, intoxicated himself with the perfume of synthetic flowers and the pleasures of mimed sensuality. Creation had died in his heart, and he had reconstructed it like a mechanical toy

    The reason was that with him power was too much a matter of the intellect, and found too little expression in grandezza , in native desinvolture . In this respect the Chief Ranger had the better of him, for he wore his power like a good old hunting jacket that fitted him the better the oftener it was steeped in mire and blood

    For this reason I had the impression that Braquemart was about to embark upon an ill-fated venture; in such encounters the theorist has always been worsted by the man of action.

    He had lost his own self-respect; from that loss springs all human misery.

    And since a high example leads us in its train, I took an oath before this head that from that day forth I would rather fall with the free men than go in triumph among the slaves.

    Then I knew that from her no pity could be expected. So long as I got her daughters with child and struck down my foe with the sword I was welcome; but to her any conqueror was a son-in-law just as a man in straits was an object of contempt.

    But on this earth we may not count on seeing our work brought to completion, and he must be held fortunate whose resolve survives the struggle without inflicting on him too much pain. No house is built, no plan laid, of which decay is not the corner-stone, and what lives eternally in us does not lie in our works.

    In accordance with military tradition, he had stayed well entrenched during the disorders; now that the whole town lay in ruins he emerged to play the man of destiny.

    So he was a man of hard blows and hard drinking, and believed unshakably that any scruple on this earth can be overcome by a good pommelling. In this respect he had something in common with Braquemart, but he was sounder to this extent, that he despised theory. We had a regard for him because of his good nature and good appetite, for, if he were unsuited for his post on the Marina, who can blame the wolf set to guard sheep

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  • Books

    The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli and Tim Parks

    The Book in 3 Sentences

    1. The Prince is a wonderful improvisation on the use of power across time and space (at the time anyway). The translation is very conversational and modern, which I liked quite a bit. Some parts were rather dated, but by no means all.


    The book was much less cynical and much more descriptive than I would have thought.

    How I Discovered It

    Book club

    Who Should Read It?

    People interested in the classics, or anyone who really appreciates a good translation.

    Summary + Notes

    The Prince was written by a forty-four-year-old diplomat facing ruin.

    For most of the fifteenth century there had been five major players in the peninsula: the Kingdom of Naples, the Papal States, Florence, Venice and Milan.

    However, if the situation was rarely static, it is also true that there were few major changes. As soon as one power achieved some significant military victory, the others immediately formed an alliance against it to halt its progress. Florence, in particular, owed its continuing independence largely to the fact that if Venice, Milan or Rome tried to take it, the other two would at once intervene to prevent this happening.

    Girolamo Savonarola ruled Florence from 1494 to 1498, during which time the city passed from being one of the centres of Renaissance Humanism to a book-burning, fundamentalist theocracy.

    Had Machiavelli insisted on deploring this unhappy state of affairs, had he dwelt on other criteria for judging a leader, aside from his mere ability to stay in power and build a strong state, had he told us with appropriate piety that power was hardly worth having if you had to sell your soul to get it, he could have headed off a great deal of criticism while still delivering the same information. But aside from one or two token regrets that the world is not a nicer place, Machiavelli does not do this. It wasn’t his project. Rather he takes it for granted that we already know that life, particularly political life, is routinely, and sometimes unspeakably, cruel, and that once established in a position of power a ruler may have no choice but to kill or be killed.

    In short, Machiavelli’s attention has shifted from a methodical analysis of different political systems to a gripping and personally engaged account of the psychology of the leader who has placed himself beyond the constrictions of Christian ethics and lives in a delirium of pure power.

    For a diplomat like Machiavelli, who had spent his life among the powerful but never really held the knife by the handle, a state employee so scrupulously honest that when investigated for embezzlement he ended up being reimbursed monies that were due to him, it was all too easy to fall into a state of envy and almost longing when contemplating the awesome Borgia who had no qualms about taking anything that came his way and never dreamed of being honest to anyone.

    The Prince was largely responsible for Henry VIII’s decision to take the English Church away from Rome.

    It was in so far as Machiavelli allowed these dangerous implications to surface in his writing that he both unmasked, and himself became identified with, what we might call the unacceptable face of Renaissance Humanism.

    there is also an undercurrent of excitement at the thought that it might be possible to take life entirely into one’s hands, manipulate people and circumstances at will and generally pursue one’s selfish goals without a thought for moral codes or eternal damnation: in this sense the Machiavellian villain looks ahead to the worst of modern individualism.

    Cromwell frequently governed without parliament or elections for fear the people might not see things God’s way.

    Members of court, Napoleon ordered, shortly after usurping power, must attend soirées with their wives, to appear respectable and avoid gossip. ‘The death of conversation’, Talleyrand opined. Certainly, when a leader has to rely on appearing respectable to claim legitimacy, he is on thin ice indeed.

    As Rousseau saw it, the whole of The Prince was itself a Machiavellian ruse: the author had only pretended to give lessons to kings whereas in fact his real aim was to teach people to be free by showing them that royal power was no more than subterfuge.

    Machiavelli after all declared himself a republican and a libertarian.

    Others took a more traditional view: Bertrand Russell described The Prince as ‘a handbook for gangsters’,

    one reaction that Machiavelli never seems to provoke is indifference.

    The English have Prince Charles. And the thing about Prince Charles is that he is not King Charles and probably never will be.

    Machiavelli’s word ‘prince’ does not mean ‘the son of the king’, and even less ‘an attractive young suitor’. Machiavelli’s ‘principe’ refers generically to men of power, men who rule a state. The prince is the first, or principal, man.

    For Machiavelli ‘virtù’ was any quality of character that enabled you to take political power or to hold on to it; in short, a winning trait. It could be courage in battle, or strength of personality, or political cunning, or it might even be the kind of ruthless cruelty that lets your subjects know you mean business.

    A ruler who inherits power has less reason or need to upset his subjects than a new one and as a result is better loved.

    this for the simple reason that you can’t give them as much as they expected. And you can’t get tough with them either, since you still need them; because however strong your armies, you’ll always need local support to occupy a new territory.

    Even where there is some difference in language, the customs of these territories are similar and people can get along with each other. So a ruler who has taken territories in these circumstances must have two priorities: first, to eliminate the family of the previous rulers; second, to leave all laws and taxes as they were. In this way the acquired territory and the king’s original possessions will soon form a single entity.

    So, if you go and live in the new territory you’ve taken, you’re very unlikely to lose it.

    In this regard it’s worth noting that in general you must either pamper people or destroy them; harm them just a little and they’ll hit back; harm them seriously and they won’t be able to. So if you’re going to do people harm, make sure you needn’t worry about their reaction.

    Seen in advance, trouble is easily dealt with; wait until it’s on top of you and your reaction will come too late, the malaise is already irreversible.

    Remember what the doctors tell us about tuberculosis: in its early stages it’s easy to cure and hard to diagnose, but if you don’t spot it and treat it, as time goes by it gets easy to diagnose and hard to cure. So it is with affairs of state. See trouble in advance (but you have to be shrewd) and you can clear it up quickly. Miss it, and by the time it’s big enough for everyone to see it will be too late to do anything about it.

    Time hurries everything on and can just as easily make things worse as better.

    The desire to conquer more territory really is a very natural, ordinary thing and whenever men have the resources to do so they’ll always be praised, or at least not blamed. But when they don’t have the resources, yet carry on regardless, then they’re at fault and deserve what blame they get.

    So Louis made five mistakes: he eliminated the weaker states; he enhanced the power of one of Italy’s stronger states; he brought in an extremely powerful foreign king; he didn’t go to live in the territory he’d acquired and he didn’t establish colonies there.

    you must never fail to respond to trouble just to avoid war, because in the end you won’t avoid it, you’ll just be putting it off to your enemy’s advantage.

    and when the cardinal told me that the Italians knew nothing about war, I told him that the French knew nothing about politics, because if they did they wouldn’t be letting the pope grow so powerful.

    From which we can infer a general rule that always holds, or almost always: that to help another ruler to grow powerful is to prepare your own ruin; because it takes flair or military strength to build up a new power, and both will seem threatening to the person who has benefited from them.

    To explain this situation let’s start by remembering that all monarchies on record have been governed in one of two ways: either by a king and the servants he appoints as ministers to run his kingdom; or by a king and a number of barons, who are not appointed by the king but hold their positions thanks to hereditary privilege. These barons have their own lands and their own subjects who recognize the barons as their masters and are naturally loyal to them. Where a state is governed by a king and his ministers the king is more powerful since he is the only person in the state whom people recognize as superior. When they obey someone else it is only because he is a minister or official and they have no special loyalty to him.

    Looking at these two kinds of states, it’s clear that Turkey is hard to conquer but once conquered very easy to hold. France on the other hand will be somewhat easier to conquer but very hard to hold.

    you’ll lose the territory you took as soon as your enemies get an opportunity to rebel.

    Note:Similar to Afghanistan

    It wasn’t a question of the abilities of each particular conqueror, but of the different kinds of state they had invaded.

    When the states you invade have been accustomed to governing themselves without a monarch and living in freedom under their own laws, then there are three ways of holding on to them: the first is to reduce them to rubble; the second is to go and live there yourself; the third is to let them go on living under their own laws, make them pay you a tax and install a government of just a few local people to keep the state as a whole friendly. Since this government has been set up by the invading ruler, its members know they can’t survive without his support and will do everything they can to defend his authority.

    If you conquer a city accustomed to self-government and opt not to destroy it you can expect it to destroy you.

    And though we can hardly say much about Moses, since he merely carried out God’s orders, all the same we have to admire him for the grace that made him worthy of God’s attention.

    Analysing their lives and achievements, we notice that the only part luck played was in giving them an initial opportunity: they were granted the raw material and had the chance to mould it into whatever shape they wanted. Without this opportunity their talent would have gone unused, and without their talent the opportunity would have gone begging.

    Here we have to bear in mind that nothing is harder to organize, more likely to fail, or more dangerous to see through, than the introduction of a new system of government. The

    no one really believes in change until they’ve had solid experience of it.

    It’s easy to convince people of something, but hard to keep them convinced. So when they stop believing in you, you must be in a position to force them to believe.

    Anyone who thinks that an important man will forget past grievances just because he’s received some new promotion must think again. Borgia miscalculated in this election, and the mistake was fatal.

    Looking at Agathocles’ life and achievements, you won’t find much that can be attributed to luck.

    On the other hand, we can hardly describe killing fellow citizens, betraying friends and living without loyalty, mercy or creed as signs of talent. Methods like that may bring you power, but not glory.

    Cruelty well used (if we can ever speak well of something bad) is short-lived and decisive, no more than is necessary to secure your position and then stop; you don’t go on being cruel but use the power it has given you to deliver maximum benefits to your subjects. Cruelty is badly used when you’re not drastic enough at the beginning but grow increasingly cruel later on, rather than easing off. A leader who takes the first approach has a chance, like Agathocles, of improving his position with his subjects and with God too; go the other way and you have no chance at all.

    So get the violence over with as soon as possible; that way there’ll be less time for people to taste its bitterness and they’ll be less hostile. Favours, on the other hand, should be given out slowly, one by one, so that they can be properly savoured.

    In every city one finds these two conflicting political positions: there are the common people who are eager not to be ordered around and oppressed by the noble families, and there are the nobles who are eager to oppress the common people and order them around. These opposing impulses will lead to one of three different situations: a monarchy, a republic, or anarchy. A

    A king who comes to power with the help of the rich nobles will have more trouble keeping it than the king who gets there with the support of the people, because he will be surrounded by men who consider themselves his equals, and that will make it hard for him to give them orders or to manage affairs as he wants. But a man coming to power with the support of the common people holds it alone and has no one, or hardly anyone, around him who’s unwilling to obey. What’s more, you can’t in good faith give the nobles what they want without doing harm to others; but you can with the people. Because the people’s aspirations are more honourable than those of the nobles: the nobles want to oppress the people, while the people want to be free from oppression. What’s more, a king can never be safe if the common people are hostile to him, because there are so many of them; but he can protect himself against the nobles, since there are not so many.

    A man who becomes king with the support of the people, then, must keep those people on his side. This is easy enough since all they want is to be free from oppression. But the man who becomes king against the will of the majority and with the support of the wealthy nobles must make it an absolute priority to win over the affection of the common people.

    what’s more, to keep people well fed without draining the public purse, they stock materials for a year’s worth of work in whatever trades are the lifeblood of the city and whatever jobs the common folk earn their keep with.

    Mercenaries and auxiliaries are useless and dangerous. If you are counting on mercenaries to defend your state you will never be stable or secure, because mercenaries are ambitious, undisciplined, disloyal and they quarrel among themselves. Courageous with friends and cowardly with enemies, they have no fear of God and keep no promises. With mercenaries the only way to delay disaster is to delay the battle; in peacetime they plunder you and in wartime they let the enemy plunder you.

    they’re happy to be your soldiers while you’re not at war, but when war comes, they run for it, or just disappear.

    And a republic with a citizen army is less likely to fall victim to a coup than a republic paying for mercenary armies.

    Rome and Sparta stood for many centuries armed and free. The Swiss are extremely well armed and completely free.

    fight his neighbours, the emperor of Constantinople brought 10,000 Turks into Greece and when the war was over they wouldn’t leave, which was how the infidels began to get control of Greece.

    To summarize, the big danger with mercenaries is their indecision, with auxiliaries their determination.

    having your own army means having a force made up of subjects, or citizens, or men dependent on you. All other forces are mercenaries or auxiliaries.

    A ruler, then, must have no other aim or consideration, nor seek to develop any other vocation outside war, the organization of the army and military discipline.

    if you always want to play the good man in a world where most people are not good, you’ll end up badly. Hence, if a ruler wants to survive, he’ll have to learn to stop being good, at least when the occasion demands.

    With time, when people see that his penny-pinching means he doesn’t need to raise taxes and can defend the country against attack and embark on campaigns without putting a burden on his people, he’ll increasingly be seen as generous – generous to those he takes nothing from, which is to say almost everybody, and mean to those who get nothing from him, which is to say very few. In our own times the only leaders we’ve seen doing great things were all reckoned mean. The others were failures.


    A ruler in power and a man seeking power are two different things. For the ruler already in power generosity is dangerous; for the man seeking power it is essential. Caesar

    Spending other people’s money doesn’t lower your standing – it raises it. It’s only spending your own money that puts you at risk.

    if you have to choose, it’s much safer to be feared than loved.

    Men are less worried about letting down someone who has made himself loved than someone who makes himself feared. Love binds when someone recognizes he should be grateful to you, but, since men are a sad lot, gratitude is forgotten the moment it’s inconvenient. Fear means fear of punishment, and that’s something people never forget.

    And a ruler won’t be hated if he keeps his hands off his subjects’ property and their women.

    Above all, he mustn’t seize other people’s property. A man will sooner forget the death of his father than the loss of his inheritance.

    The positive qualities without the cruelty wouldn’t have produced the same effect. Historians are just not thinking when they praise him for this achievement and then condemn him for the cruelty that made it possible.

    Since a ruler has to be able to act the beast, he should take on the traits of the fox and the lion; the lion can’t defend itself against snares and the fox can’t defend itself from wolves. So you have to play the fox to see the snares and the lion to scare off the wolves. A ruler who just plays the lion and forgets the fox doesn’t know what he’s doing. Hence a sensible leader cannot and must not keep his word if by doing so he puts himself at risk, and if the reasons that made him give his word in the first place are no longer valid.

    There is nothing more important than appearing to be religious. In general people judge more by appearances than first-hand experience, because everyone gets to see you but hardly anyone deals with you directly. Everyone sees what you seem to be, few have experience of who you really are, and those few won’t have the courage to stand up to majority opinion underwritten by the authority of state.

    You’ll be held in contempt, on the other hand, if you’re seen as changeable, superficial, effeminate, fearful or indecisive. So a ruler must avoid those qualities like so many stumbling blocks and act in such a way that everything he does gives an impression of greatness, spirit, seriousness and strength; when presiding over disputes between citizens he should insist that his decision is final and make sure no one imagines they can trick or outwit him.

    In fact, one of the most powerful preventive measures against conspiracies is simply not being hated by a majority of the people. People planning a conspiracy must believe that killing the ruler will be popular; when they realize that, on the contrary, it would be unpopular they lose heart, because conspiracies are always beset with endless difficulties. Experience

    My conclusion, then, is that so long as he has the people on his side a ruler needn’t worry about conspiracies, but when they are against him and hate him he’ll have to watch everyone’s every move.

    This prompts the following reflection: that a ruler must get others to carry out policies that will provoke protest, keeping those that inspire gratitude to himself. In conclusion, let me repeat that a ruler should respect the nobles but must make sure he is not hated by the people.

    No one new to power has ever disarmed his subjects; on the contrary, finding them disarmed new rulers have always armed them. When you’re the one giving people arms, those arms become yours; men who were potentially hostile become loyal, while those already loyal become your supporters rather than just your subjects. It’s true you can’t arm everyone, but in favouring some you can feel safer about the others too.

    Looking carefully at the reasons for this and drawing on the examples available from ancient and modern history, we find that it is much easier to win over those who were content with the previous government, and hence your enemies, than the men who were not content and so made an alliance with you and helped you take the country.

    A ruler will also be respected when he is a genuine friend and a genuine enemy, that is, when he declares himself unambiguously for one side and against the other. This policy will always bring better results than neutrality.

    For example, if you have two powerful neighbours who go to war, you may or may not have reason to fear the winner afterwards. Either way it will always be better to take sides and fight hard. If you do have cause to fear but stay neutral, you’ll still be gobbled up by the winner to the amusement and satisfaction of the loser; you’ll have no excuses, no defence and nowhere to hide. Because a winner doesn’t want half-hearted friends who don’t help him in a crisis; and the loser will have nothing to do with you since you didn’t choose to fight alongside him and share his fate.

    A ruler must also show that he admires achievement in others, giving work to men of ability and rewarding people who excel in this or that craft. What’s more, he should reassure his subjects that they can go calmly about their business as merchants or farmers, or whatever other trade they practise, without worrying that if they increase their wealth they’ll be in danger of having it taken away from them, or that if they start up a business they’ll be punitively taxed.

    Note:Supply side Machiavelli

    In responding to these advisers, as a group or separately, he should make it clear that the more openly they speak, the more welcome their advice will be. After which, he shouldn’t take advice from anyone else, but get on with whatever has been decided and be firm in his decisions.

    So a ruler must always take advice, but only when he wants it, not when others want to give it to him. In fact he should discourage people from giving him advice unasked.

    I realize that many people have believed and still do believe that the world is run by God and by fortune and that however shrewd men may be they can’t do anything about it and have no way of protecting themselves.

    My opinion on the matter is this: it’s better to be impulsive than cautious; fortune is female and if you want to stay on top of her you have to slap and thrust. You’ll see she’s more likely to yield that way than to men who go about her coldly. And being a woman she likes her men young, because they’re not so cagey, they’re wilder and more daring when they master her.

    Justice is definitely on our side because ‘war is just when there’s no alternative and arms are sacred when they are your only hope.’ The

    God doesn’t like doing everything himself, he doesn’t want to deprive us of our free will and our share of glory.

    It’s true that the Swiss and Spanish infantries are thought to be formidable, but both have weak points that would allow a third force not only to face them but to feel confident of beating them. The Spanish can’t stand up to cavalry and the Swiss are in trouble when they run into infantry as determined as themselves.

    ACUTO, GIOVANNI Italianization of John Hawkwood (1320-94). Having served in the English army in France, in 1360 Hawkwood joined mercenary soldiers in Burgundy and later commanded the so-called White Company fighting for different states and factions in Italy. Constantly playing off his employers against their enemies, he built up considerable wealth. From 1390 on he commanded Florentine armies in their war against the Viscontis of Milan.

    Illegitimate son of Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia, later Pope Alexander VI, Cesare Borgia was made Bishop of Pamplona at fifteen and a cardinal at eighteen.

    Cesare then became the first person in history to resign his position as cardinal, upon which Louis made him Duke of Valentinois, hence the nickname, Duke Valentino.

    COMMODUS Lucius Aurelius Commodus Antoninus (161–193), Roman emperor (180–93). The son of Marcus Aurelius, Commodus rejected his father’s stoic asceticism, giving himself over to pleasure and amusement while allowing a series of favourites to run the empire. Boastful about his physique, he regularly took part in naked gladiatorial combat. Eventually a conspiracy against him led to his being strangled by the wrestler Narcissus.

    FORLÌ, COUNTESS OF Caterina Sforza (1463–1509), an illegitimate daughter of Galeazzo Sforza, Duke of Milan. She married Girolamo Riario, officially the nephew but possibly the son of Pope Sixtus IV. Riario was Count of Forlì and after his murder in 1488 Caterina took control of the town until it was captured by Cesare Borgia in 1500. She is famous for having refused to hand over the citadel of Forlì to rebels despite their threatening to kill her children, whom they held hostage. Exposing her genitals from the castle walls, she told them she was perfectly capable of producing more children.

    Despite impressive victories he was forced to return home when the Romans attacked Carthage, and was defeated at the Battle of Zama (201 BC) by Scipio Africanus.

    Eventually, to avoid falling into Roman hands, he killed himself by poisoning.

    He died of natural causes and was immediately deified.

    Note:Worth noting cause of death

    While his domestic reforms enjoyed a certain amount of success, his foreign policies were confused and ineffective and led to the loss of Switzerland, which became an independent confederation in 1499.

    his preaching appeared to be vindicated and he became head of the Florentine government, leading the city as a theocracy from 1494 to 1498 and encouraging people to burn anything profane (books, paintings) on his so-called Bonfire of the Vanities.

    THESEUS Legendary Greek hero, son of Aegeus, King of Athens. He slew the Minotaur in the Cretan labyrinth and was the first lover of the adolescent Helen of Troy. He united the region of Attica under the administration of Athens.

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  • Books

    Building a Second Brain by Tiago Forte

    The Book in 3 Sentences

    1. A somewhat padded but useful book about what to record and how to record any bit of information you come across in your life. It started out as a course but was distilled down into several guiding principles and put into book form. I found it worth reading if you plan to actually put the lessons of the book into action. It could have been shorter without missing anything of value but such is the nature of the beast.

    How I Discovered It

    From the Thomas Frank Youtube/Nebula Channels

    Who Should Read It?

    People who intend to be more organized

    How the Book Changed Me

    How my life / behaviour / thoughts / ideas have changed as a result of reading the book.

    • A better notion setup
    • More focused note taking
    • Better overall information organization.
    • A focus on the reusable “intermediate packets” – which is a valuable concept

    Summary + Notes

    We spend countless hours reading, listening to, and watching other people’s opinions about what we should do, how we should think, and how we should live, but make comparatively little effort applying that knowledge and making it our own. So much of the time we are “information hoarders,” stockpiling endless amounts of well-intentioned content that only ends up increasing our anxiety.

    To be able to make use of information we value, we need a way to package it up and send it through time to our future self.

    The Building a Second Brain system will teach you how to: Find anything you’ve learned, touched, or thought about in the past within seconds. Organize your knowledge and use it to move your projects and goals forward more consistently. Save your best thinking so you don’t have to do it again. Connect ideas and notice patterns across different areas of your life so you know how to live better. Adopt a reliable system that helps you share your work more confidently and with more ease. Turn work “off” and relax, knowing you have a trusted system keeping track of all the details. Spend less time looking for things, and more time doing the best, most creative work you are capable of. When

    I became the project manager of my own condition, taking detailed notes on everything my doctors told me, trying out every suggestion they made, and generating questions to review during my next appointment. With

    Research from Microsoft shows that the average US employee spends 76 hours per year looking for misplaced notes, items, or files.

    This digital commonplace book is what I call a Second Brain. Think of it as the combination of a study notebook, a personal journal, and a sketchbook for new ideas. It is a multipurpose tool that can adapt to your changing needs over time.

    You’re allowed to reference your notes at any time, provided you took them in the first place.

    For modern, professional notetaking, a note is a “knowledge building block”—a discrete unit of information interpreted through your unique perspective and stored outside your head.

    Their stories convey a pervasive feeling of discontent and dissatisfaction—the experience of facing an endless onslaught of demands on their time, their innate curiosity and imagination withering away under the suffocating weight of obligation.

    There are four essential capabilities that we can rely on a Second Brain to perform for us: Making our ideas concrete. Revealing new associations between ideas. Incubating our ideas over time. Sharpening our unique perspectives.

    Before we do anything with our ideas, we have to “off-load” them from our minds and put them into concrete form. Only when we declutter our brain of complex ideas can we think clearly and start to work with those ideas effectively.

    In its most practical form, creativity is about connecting ideas together, especially ideas that don’t seem to be connected.

    Having a Second Brain where lots of ideas can be permanently saved for the long term turns the passage of time into your friend, instead of your enemy.

    American journalist, author, and filmmaker Sebastian Junger once wrote on the subject of “writer’s block”: “It’s not that I’m blocked. It’s that I don’t have enough research to write with power and knowledge about that topic. It always means, not that I can’t find the right words, [but rather] that I don’t have the ammunition.”

    The second way that people use their Second Brain is to connect ideas together. Their Second Brain evolves from being primarily a memory tool to becoming a thinking tool. A piece of advice from a mentor comes in handy as they encounter a similar situation on a different team.

    To guide you in the process of creating your own Second Brain, I’ve developed a simple, intuitive four-part method called “CODE”—Capture; Organize; Distill; Express. These are the steps not only to build your Second Brain in the first place, but also to work with it going forward.

    The solution is to keep only what resonates in a trusted place that you control, and to leave the rest aside.

    The best way to organize your notes is to organize for action, according to the active projects you are working on right now. Consider new information in terms of its utility, asking, “How is this going to help me move forward one of my current projects?”

    Every time you take a note, ask yourself, “How can I make this as useful as possible for my future self?” That question will lead you to annotate the words and phrases that explain why you saved a note, what you were thinking, and what exactly caught your attention. Your notes will be useless if you can’t decipher them in the future, or if they’re so long that you don’t even try. Think of yourself not just as a taker of notes, but as a giver of notes—you are giving your future self the gift of knowledge that is easy to find and understand.

    Information is always in flux, and it is always a work in progress. Since nothing is ever truly final, there is no need to wait to get started.

    Information is food for the brain. It’s no accident that we call new ideas “food for thought.”

    A knowledge asset is anything that can be used in the future to solve a problem, save time, illuminate a concept, or learn from past experience.

    Knowledge assets can come from either the external world or your inner thoughts. External knowledge could include: Highlights: Insightful passages from books or articles you read. Quotes: Memorable passages from podcasts or audiobooks you listen to. Bookmarks and favorites: Links to interesting content you find on the web or favorited social media posts. Voice memos: Clips recorded on your mobile device as “notes to self.” Meeting notes: Notes you take about what was discussed during meetings or phone calls. Images: Photos or other images that you find inspiring or interesting. Takeaways: Lessons from courses, conferences, or presentations you’ve attended.

    If you try to save every piece of material you come across, you run the risk of inundating your future self with tons of irrelevant information. At that point, your Second Brain will be no better than scrolling through social media.

    The renowned information theorist Claude Shannon, whose discoveries paved the way for modern technology, had a simple definition for “information”: that which surprises you.7 If you’re not surprised, then you already knew it at some level, so why take note of it? Surprise is an excellent barometer for information that doesn’t fit neatly into our existing understanding, which means it has the potential to change how we think.

    If what you’re capturing doesn’t change your mind, then what’s the point?

    but if you take away one thing from this chapter, it should be to keep what resonates.

    First, you are much more likely to remember information you’ve written down in your own words. Known as the “Generation Effect,”10 researchers have found that when people actively generate a series of words, such as by speaking or writing, more parts of their brain are activated when compared to simply reading the same words. Writing things down is a way of “rehearsing” those ideas, like practicing a dance routine or shooting hoops, which makes them far more likely to stick.

    I eventually named this organizing system PARA,I which stands for the four main categories of information in our lives: Projects, Areas, Resources, and Archives. These four categories are universal, encompassing any kind of information, from any source, in any format, for any purpose.

    PARA can handle it all, regardless of your profession or field, for one reason: it organizes information based on how actionable it is, not what kind of information it is. The project becomes the main unit of organization for your digital files.

    There’s another way. I will show you how to take the notes you’ve captured and save them according to a practical use case. By taking that small extra step of putting a note into a folder (or tagging itIII) for a specific project, such as a psychology paper you’re writing or a presentation you’re preparing, you’ll encounter that idea right at the moment it’s most relevant. Not a moment before, and not a moment after.

    With the PARA system, every piece of information you want to save can be placed into one of just four categories: Projects: Short-term efforts in your work or life that you’re working on now. Areas: Long-term responsibilities you want to manage over time. Resources: Topics or interests that may be useful in the future. Archives: Inactive items from the other three categories.

    Projects have a couple of features that make them an ideal way to organize modern work. First, they have a beginning and an end; they take place during a specific period of time and then they finish. Second, they have a specific, clear outcome that needs to happen in order for them to be checked off as complete, such as “finalize,” “green-light,” “launch,” or “publish.”

    Each of these is an example of an area of responsibility, and together they make up the second main category of PARA. All these areas, both personal and professional, require certain information to be handled effectively, but they’re not the same as projects.

    The third category of information that we want to keep is resources. This is basically a catchall for anything that doesn’t belong to a project or an area and could include any topic you’re interested in gathering information about.

    Any note or file that isn’t relevant or actionable for a current project or area can be placed into resources for future reference.

    Finally, we have our archives. This includes any item from the previous three categories that is no longer active.

    The archives are an important part of PARA because they allow you to place a folder in “cold storage” so that it doesn’t clutter your workspace, while safekeeping it forever just in case you need it.

    Projects are most actionable because you’re working on them right now and with a concrete deadline in mind. Areas have a longer time horizon and are less immediately actionable. Resources may become actionable depending on the situation. Archives remain inactive unless they are needed.

    This order gives us a convenient checklist for deciding where to put a note, starting at the top of the list and moving down: In which project will this be most useful? If none: In which area will this be most useful? If none: Which resource does this belong to? If none: Place in archives. In other words, you are always trying to place a note or file not only where it will be useful, but where it will be useful the soonest. By placing a note in a project folder, you ensure you’ll see it next time you work on that project. By placing it in an area folder, you’ll come across it next time you’re thinking about that area of your work or life. By placing it in a resource folder, you’ll notice it only if and when you decide to dive into that topic and do some reading or research. By placing it in archives, you never need to see it again unless you want

    started. The goal of organizing our knowledge is to move our goals forward, not get a PhD in notetaking. Knowledge is best applied through execution, which means whatever doesn’t help you make progress on your projects is probably detracting from them.

    There is a parallel between PARA and how kitchens are organized. Everything in a kitchen is designed and organized to support an outcome—preparing a meal as efficiently as possible. The archives are like the freezer—items are in cold storage until they are needed, which could be far into the future. Resources are like the pantry—available for use in any meal you make, but neatly tucked away out of sight in the meantime. Areas are like the fridge—items that you plan on using relatively soon, and that you want to check on more frequently. Projects are like the pots and pans cooking on the stove—the items you are actively preparing right now. Each kind of food is organized according to how accessible it needs to be for you to make the meals you want to eat. Imagine

    PARA isn’t a filing system; it’s a production system. It’s no use trying to find the “perfect place” where a note or file belongs. There isn’t one. The whole system is constantly shifting and changing in sync with your constantly changing life.

    Any piece of information (whether a text document, an image, a note, or an entire folder) can and should flow between categories.

    They had repeatedly postponed their creative ambitions to some far-off, mythical time when somehow everything would be perfectly in order. Once we set that aside and just focused on what they actually wanted to do right now, they suddenly gained a tremendous sense of clarity and motivation.

    You could also create folders for your areas and resources, but I recommend starting only with projects to avoid creating lots of empty containers. You can always add others later when you have something to put inside them. Although you can and should use PARA across all the platforms where you store information—the three most common ones besides a notetaking app are the documents folder on your computer, cloud storage drives like Dropbox, and online collaboration suites like Google Docs—I recommend starting with just your notes app for now.

    Each time you finish a project, move its folder wholesale to the archives, and each time you start a new project, look through your archives to see if any past project might have assets you can reuse.

    don’t worry about reorganizing or “cleaning up” any existing notes. You can’t afford to spend a lot of time on old content that you’re not sure you’re ever going to need. Start with a clean slate by putting your existing notes in the archives for safekeeping. If you ever need them, they’ll show up in searches and remain just as you left them.

    They require a bit more refinement to turn them into truly valuable knowledge assets, like a chemist distilling only the purest compound. This is why we separate capturing and organizing from the subsequent steps: you need to be able to store something quickly and save any future refinement for later.

    Your job as a notetaker is to preserve the notes you’re taking on the things you discover in such a way that they can survive the journey into the future.

    Discoverability is an idea from information science that refers to “the degree to which a piece of content or information can be found in a search of a file, database, or other information system.”

    Progressive Summarization is not a method for remembering as much as possible—it is a method for forgetting as much as possible. As you distill your ideas, they naturally improve, because when you drop the merely good parts, the great parts can shine more brightly.

    A helpful rule of thumb is that each layer of highlighting should include no more than 10–20 percent of the previous layer.

    When the opportunity arrives to do our best work, it’s not the time to start reading books and doing research. You need that research to already be done.

    Our time and attention are scarce, and it’s time we treated the things we invest in—reports, deliverables, plans, pieces of writing, graphics, slides—as knowledge assets that can be reused instead of reproducing them from scratch. Reusing Intermediate Packets of work frees up our attention for higher-order, more creative thinking.

    Fourth, and best of all, eventually you’ll have so many IPs at your disposal that you can execute entire projects just by assembling previously created IPs. This

    While you can sit down to purposefully create an IP, it is far more powerful to simply notice the IPs that you have already produced and then to take an extra moment to save them in your Second Brain.

    Ask yourself: How could you acquire or assemble each of these components, instead of having to make them yourself?

    Note:This is a key insight . design for future discoverability and use

    Our creativity thrives on examples. When we have a template to fill in, our ideas are channeled into useful forms instead of splattered around haphazardly. There are best practices and plentiful models for almost anything you might want to make.

    Those four retrieval methods are: Search Browsing Tags Serendipity

    Search should be the first retrieval method you turn to. It is most useful when you already know more or less what you’re looking for, when you don’t have notes saved in a preexisting folder, or when you’re looking for text,

    If you’ve followed the PARA system outlined in Chapter 5 to organize your notes, you already have a series of dedicated folders for each of your active projects, areas of responsibility, resources, and archives.

    You will begin to see yourself as the curator of the collective thinking of your network, rather than the sole originator of ideas.

    This is a turning point in the life of any creative professional—when you begin to think of “your work” as something separate from yourself.

    Translated to English, it means “We only know what we make.”

    One of my favorite rules of thumb is to “Only start projects that are already 80 percent done.” That might seem like a paradox, but committing to finish projects only when I’ve already done most of the work to capture, organize, and distill the relevant material means I never run the risk of starting something I can’t finish.

    My father planned for creativity. He strategized his creativity. When it was time to make progress on a painting, he gave it his full focus, but that wasn’t the only time he exercised his imagination. Much of the rest of the time he was collecting, sifting through, reflecting on, and recombining raw material from his daily life so that when it came time to create, he had more than enough raw material to work with.

    What I learned from my father is that by the time you sit down to make progress on something, all the work to gather and organize the source material needs to already be done. We can’t expect ourselves to instantly come up with brilliant ideas on demand. I learned that innovation and problem-solving depend on a routine that systematically brings interesting ideas to the surface of our awareness.

    One of the most important patterns that underlies the creative process is called “divergence and convergence.”

    The first two steps of CODE, Capture and Organize, make up divergence. They are about gathering seeds of imagination carried on the wind and storing them in a secure place. This is where you research, explore, and add ideas. The final two steps, Distill and Express, are about convergence. They help us shut the door to new ideas and begin constructing something new out of the knowledge building blocks we’ve assembled.

    Your Second Brain is a powerful ally in overcoming the universal challenge of creative work—sitting down to make progress and having no idea where to start.

    When you distinguish between the two modes of divergence and convergence, you can decide each time you begin to work which mode you want to be in, which gives you the answers to the questions above. In divergence mode, you want to open up your horizons and explore every possible option. Open the windows and doors, click every link, jump from one source to another, and let your curiosity be your guide for what to do next. If you decide to enter convergence mode, do the opposite: close the door, put on noise-canceling headphones, ignore every new input, and ferociously chase the sweet reward of completion. Trust that you have enough ideas and enough sources, and it’s time to turn inward and sprint toward your goal.

    I used to lose weeks stalling before each new chapter, because it was just a big empty sea of nothingness. Now each chapter starts life as a kind of archipelago of inspiring quotes, which makes it seem far less daunting. All I have to do is build bridges between the islands.

    An Archipelago of Ideas separates the two activities your brain has the most difficulty performing at the same time: choosing ideas (known as selection) and arranging them into a logical flow (known as sequencing).

    The goal of an archipelago is that instead of sitting down to a blank page or screen and stressing out about where to begin, you start with a series of small stepping-stones to guide your efforts. First you select the points and ideas you want to include in your outline, and then in a separate step, you rearrange and sequence them into an order that flows logically. This makes both of those steps far more efficient, less taxing, and less vulnerable to interruption. Instead of starting with scarcity, start with abundance—the abundance of interesting insights you’ve collected in your Second Brain.

    How do you create a Hemingway Bridge? Instead of burning through every last ounce of energy at the end of a work session, reserve the last few minutes to write down some of the following kinds of things in your digital notes: Write down ideas for next steps: At the end of a work session, write down what you think the next steps could be for the next one. Write down the current status: This could include your current biggest challenge, most important open question, or future roadblocks you expect. Write down any details you have in mind that are likely to be forgotten once you step away: Such as details about the characters in your story, the pitfalls of the event you’re planning, or the subtle considerations of the product you’re designing. Write out your intention for the next work session: Set an intention for what you plan on tackling next, the problem you intend to solve, or a certain milestone you want to reach.

    Note:Make this a notion thing

    Knowing that nothing I write or create truly gets lost—only saved for later use—gives me the confidence to aggressively cut my creative works down to size without fearing that I’ve wasted effort or that I’ll lose the results of my thinking forever.

    Set a timer for a fixed period of time, such as fifteen or twenty minutes, and in one sitting see if you can complete a first pass on your project using only the notes you’ve gathered in front of you. No searching online, no browsing social media, and no opening multiple browser tabs that you swear you’re going to get to eventually. Only work with what you already have.

    The three habits most important to your Second Brain include: Project Checklists: Ensure you start and finish your projects in a consistent way, making use of past work. Weekly and Monthly Reviews: Periodically review your work and life and decide if you want to change anything. Noticing Habits: Notice small opportunities to edit, highlight, or move notes to make them more discoverable for your future self.

    The practice of conducting a “Weekly Review” was pioneered by executive coach and author David Allen in his influential book Getting Things Done.III He described a Weekly Review as a regular check-in, performed once a week, in which you intentionally reset and review your work and life.

    The truth is, any system that must be perfect to be reliable is deeply flawed. A perfect system you don’t use because it’s too complicated and error prone isn’t a perfect system—it’s a fragile system that will fall apart as soon as you turn your attention elsewhere.

    orchestrating and managing the process of turning information into results.

    We can try to describe how we do these things, but our explanations always fall far short. That’s because we are relying on tacit knowledge, which is impossible to describe in exact detail. We possess that knowledge, but it resides in our subconscious and muscle memory where language cannot reach.

    you can always fall back on the four steps of CODE: Keep what resonates (Capture) Save for actionability (Organize) Find the essence (Distill) Show your work (Express)

    Thank you to Venkatesh Rao for serving as my introduction to the online world of ideas.

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  • Books

    Alms for Oblivion by Peter Kemp

    From my Notion book template

    The Book in 3 Sentences

    1. Alms for Oblivion is the final book in Peter Kemp’s war memoirs. It covers his time in the far east (Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and Indonesia) slightly before and after the surrender of Japan. He spends much of his time trying to prop up the French and Dutch colonial empires, often using Japanese troops who had not yet been released from their army service.


    It was the best written of his books, it had to most geographical information of any of them. I did spend a lot of time pondering how much of his impressions of the local population were true vs a heavily biased British viewpoint. I was the most surprised by the lack of self reflection of how he went from law student to Lt Colonel in charge of a (sort of) country in a very short period of time. The post war colonial world was also very, very fractured, more so than I would have thought

    How I Discovered It

    I read the previous two books in the war trilogy

    Who Should Read It?

    Anyone who read the previous books

    How the Book Changed Me

    No changes – perhaps a further enforcement of the view that societies are very complicated things and the thought that disparate groups would unite in the face of a common threat is actually an attribute of very advanced societies.

    Summary + Notes

    For me it proved a first-class travel agency, sending me at His Majesty’s expense to countries that I could never otherwise have hoped to visit.

    Juliet was a trim and self-possessed young woman with soft brown hair, faultless curves and inviting dark blue eyes. Most of her advice on the Far East proved inaccurate; she did, however, give me a few tips of more lasting value, and she was a sparkling, even bewitching companion and partner in pleasure.

    A heavy rucksack, I told the training staff, was a white man’s burden that I was not prepared to tote; a small haversack such as had served me well in Albania and Poland was the most I would allow to aggravate my prickly heat; anything bulkier must be carried by mule, pony, bullock-cart or local labour—or abandoned. I never had cause to change this view.

    I could only recall the bitter words of Colin Ellis’s epigram: ‘Science finds out ingenious ways to kill Strong men, and keep alive the weak and ill, That these asickly progeny may breed: Too poor to tax, too numerous to feed.’

    In the excitement and fatigue of the last few days I had forgotten that this was indeed my thirtieth birthday, 19th August 1945.

    The soil is poor and so, therefore, are the people, who supplement their income by breeding water buffalo, oxen and pigs for export to other parts of the country. But poverty has not brought discontent; most of the land is owned by the peasants who till it, and those twin vultures, the absentee landlord and the money-lender, cannot prey here as in India and in Lower Siam.

    The Chinese, on the other hand, though not loved were tolerated; they owned all the hotels and eating houses and, together with the Indians, all the shops.

    I received also a great deal of information that turned out to be false. The problem of sifting true from inaccurate reports was one that I was never able to solve the whole time I was on the frontier; I was at the mercy of my agents, who turned out as often as not to be double agents.

    Another of his duties was to supervise the disarming of some eleven thousand Japanese and the shooting of their horses, which were in terrible condition, having been shamefully neglected by their masters. He was astonished, therefore, to see the Japanese soldiers in tears as they shot their horses, and then to watch them remove their caps and bow for two minutes before filling in the graves, which they covered with flowers.

    Although the capital of the Laotian province of Cammon, Thakhek had a very large Annamese population, which in fact outnumbered the Laos; in the countryside, on the other hand, there were comparatively few Annamites, for they tended to congregate where there was some form of industry to give them employment. There was no love lost between the two races. The majority of Laos stood by the French, whereas the Annamites detested them and, having collaborated actively with the Japanese, were now organizing themselves into a Communist movement, with the declared intention of expelling the French from the whole of Indo-China; this movement was the Viet-minh. Now the Annamites, having obtained large supplies of arms from the Japanese, would, after the departure of the latter, control Thakhek. Tavernier’s troops were too weak and poorly armed to drive them out; indeed, they would be lucky to hold their own.

    When the Japanese occupied French Indo-China in 1940 they did so with the acquiescence of the Vichy authorities who at that time ruled the colony; the French Colonial Army had orders not to resist. Until March 1945 the Japanese were content to use the country as a base, leaving the administration in the hands of the French, whose soldiers retained their arms.

    The headman, who spoke pidgin French, procured us the men we needed; but it took time to assemble them, for hurry is a word unknown in the Laotian vocabulary.

    During our talk the Annamese insisted on producing for our close inspection the very messy bodies of their dead—as Smiley commented, they must have been unattractive enough when alive.

    A few days of rest, decent food and, above all, freedom from fear, worked amazing changes in their appearance, especially among the women. After observing the effects of a little make-up and a lot of ingenuity on one or two of the girls, I began to regret that present circumstances did not allow me to cash in on my position as their liberator and protector.

    Although since the last century, when they had annexed Cambodia, the French had been the immediate object of Siamese fear and suspicion, always there had been the remoter but much more formidable menace of China.

    The American attitude was summarized by the late Mr. Chester Wilmot, who wrote, ‘Roosevelt was determined that Indo-China should not go back to France.’ Mr. Graham Greene, who visited the country early in 1954, wrote of American intervention: In 1945, after the fall of Japan, they had done their best to eliminate French influence in Tongkin. M. Sainteny, the first post-war Commissioner in Hanoi, has told the sad, ignoble story in his recent book, Histoire d’une Paix Manqée—aeroplanes forbidden to take off with their French passengers from China, couriers who never arrived, help withheld at moments of crisis.

    We were shortly to witness even worse. Like ourselves the French had been accustomed to thinking of the Americans not only as allies but as friends; it never occurred to any of us simple officers that the most powerful country in the free world would deliberately embark upon a policy of weakening her allies to the sole advantage of her most dangerous enemy. We have learnt a lot since, but in those days it all seemed very strange.

    At the end of the month the Chinese arrived in strength. Almost their first action was to invite all the French officers to a dinner-party. At the Chinese headquarters in the Residency, where the tricolour was flying in their honour, Fabre and his companions were courteously shown into a room and immediately surrounded by Chinese soldiers with levelled tommy-guns. They were relieved of their arms, equipment, money and watches and ordered to quit the town instantly, on pain of arrest. After some argument Fabre himself was allowed to stay, together with his wireless set and operator; but he had to send the rest of his force ten miles away, for he had been ordered to avoid incidents with the Chinese.

    Banks assured them that he was determined to put an end to what he called French aggression; also that Chinese troops would shortly arrive to disarm the French and take over the administration of the country pending the establishment of a ‘national and democratic government’ in Indo-China, free from the rule of France.

    I reflected that if it were true, as we had heard, that the Viet-minh had Japanese deserters in their ranks, it was lucky for us that none of them was behind those guns.

    Cox was a clever and experienced officer who had served with Force 136 in Burma; his gift for extracting the maximum amount of quiet fun out of life made him a delightful companion. Maynard was a young man of twenty-two whose ingenuity and enthusiasm more than compensated for any lack of maturity. Powling, a tall, quiet, very young soldier, most efficient at his job, unfortunately died the following January from virulent smallpox.

    The girls were not prostitutes; they would take no money from us, but gave themselves over with uninhibited abandon to the pleasures of the night. Their attitude was not untypical, in my experience, of the Siamese outlook on sex which seemed to be compounded of equal parts of sensuality and humour.

    Nothing so concentrates a man’s mind, observed Dr. Johnson, as the knowledge that he is going to be hanged.

    My intention had been to apply at once for the demobilization to which I was now entitled. But while waiting in Bangkok I was offered and immediately accepted the command of a mission to the islands of Bali and Lombok in the Netherlands East Indies. There the Japanese garrisons had not yet surrendered, and the situation in both islands was obscure; SEAC therefore decided to send in a small advance party of British troops before committing the Dutch forces of occupation.

    Tolerance and mercy are qualities seldom found in twentieth century revolutionaries.

    whenever I have to give orders to clear out a nest of snipers that’s been harassing my men I seem to feel the hot, angry breath of Socialism on the back of my neck. So

    I had never met Japanese in battle, the most I had had to do was keep out of their way. Now in my unearned hour of triumph I felt ashamed to watch this veteran sailor, who had spent his life in a service with a great fighting tradition, weeping openly over his humiliation at the hands of a jumped-up young lieutenant-colonel who had never even fought against

    Lying between eight and nine degrees south of the Equator Bali naturally enjoys a warm climate and an even temperature throughout the year; there is in fact less than ten degrees variation between the warmest and coolest months. Sea winds preserve the island from the burning heat of other equatorial lands, but from November until April the north-west monsoons bring heavy rainfall and the discomforts of a high humidity; the pleasantest months are from June to September, when a cool, dry wind blows from Australia.

    In their fear and hatred of the sea the Balinese are exceptional among island peoples. At Sanoer I saw men wading in the lagoon a few yards off shore with casting nets, or putting to sea in canoes with triangular sails and curiously carved and painted prows, to hunt the sea turtles that are a favourite delicacy at banquets; but most Balinese avoid even the coast and the beaches. In the words of Covarrubias ‘they are one of the rare island peoples in the world who turn their eyes not outward to the waters, but upward to the mountain tops.’

    Every adult male Balinese, he says, was obliged to contribute a tax to his rajah in the form of work; if a man died without leaving a son old enough to take over this work, his widow and female children became the rajah’s property. Old women were employed in the palace, the middle-aged put to heavy manual labour; but the young girls—often before the age of puberty—were forced to become prostitutes and pay as much as nine-tenths of their earnings to the rajah. In Badung, the old principality of Den Pasar, Dr. Jacobs met several of these prostitutes under the age of puberty. Each rajah owned between two and three hundred of these unfortunate girls—a considerable source of income.

    It is true that Hindu gods and practices are constantly in evidence, but their aspect and significance differ in Bali to such an extent from orthodox Hinduism that we find the primitive beliefs of a people who never lost contact with the soil rising supreme over the religious philosophy and practices of their masters. . . . Religion is to the Balinese both race and nationality.

    Certain acts or conditions of individual members can make the whole community sebel, or unclean, and therefore vulnerable to evil forces. Such acts extend beyond the unpardonable crimes of suicide, bestiality, incest and the desecration of a temple, to quite innocent or unavoidable breaches of taboo; a menstruating woman, for instance, is sebel and must be secluded, and parents who have twins will render their village sebel. To such a people, in the words of Mr. Raymond Mortimer, ‘sin is not a disregard for conscience but a breaking, no matter how unintentional, of a taboo; and the resulting pollution can be removed only by ritual cleansings and sacrifice.’

    There are four main castes, of which more than ninety per cent of Balinese belong to the lowest, the Sudras. The three noble castes are the Brahmanas, the priests; the Satrias, the princes, and the Wesias, the warrior caste. All three claim divine origin—from Brahma, the Creator—which is probably why the common people hold them in such respect. The Brahmanas are theoretically the highest, although the Satrias are inclined to contest their superiority; their influence is religious rather than political, but they serve as judges in the courts; their own laws forbid them to engage in commerce. Brahmana men carry the title Ida Bagus, and the women are styled Ida Ayu, both meaning ‘Eminent and Beautiful’. The two principal titles of the Satrias are Anak Agung, ‘Child of the Great’, and Tjokorde, Prince. Most of the nobility, however, belong to the Wesias and carry the title, Gusti; they have considerable political influence.12

    There do not seem to be any ‘untouchables’, as in India, but certain professions are ‘unclean’ and will pollute a village if practised within its boundaries; among them are, strangely enough, pottery, indigo-dying and the manufacture of arak—a powerful, fiery spirit distilled from the juice of the sugar palm.

    Only the laws of marriage are inflexible between the castes. A man may marry a woman of an equal or lower caste, but never may a woman marry a man of lower caste; even sexual intercourse between the two is forbidden, and in former times was punishable by the death of the guilty pair.

    The most terrible of all punishments for a Balinese is expulsion from the village, when the offender is publicly declared ‘dead’ to the community; when the Dutch abolished the death penalty this became the capital punishment. ‘A man expelled from his village cannot be admitted into another community, so he becomes a total outcast—a punishment greater than physical death to the Balinese mind. It often happens that a man who has been publicly shamed kills himself.’

    ‘Childlike’ is the label attached in this hideous age to a people unresponsive to the language of the demagogue, the high-pressure salesman and the advertising hound; it is a label that bears no resemblance to the character of the Balinese, although they prefer their traditional way of life to that of the modern world, which, they would certainly agree with Pierre Louÿs, ‘succombe sous un envahissement de laideur.’ They have neither the ignorance nor the innocence of childhood, although they give an impression of its simplicity. They are, as I have said, the most skilful agriculturists in Asia, they are painters, craftsmen, poets, musicians and dancers; and their art has aroused the envy of a civilization to whose arrogance, ugliness and brutality they are largely indifferent.

    The enthusiasm of the Balinese for this sport is as intense as that of the British for football or the Spanish for bulls; in ancient times, indeed, men would sometimes gamble away their whole fortunes in cockfights, even staking their wives and children. It was for this reason that the Dutch government intervened.

    Moreover, unlike the Common Law of England, Balinese law does not hold a husband responsible for his wife’s debts.

    Leaving the Buffs by the car Shaw and I approached the Pemudas; we put on the most nonchalant air we could muster, but for my part I know that my stomach felt full of butterflies and, as the Spaniards so prettily express it, my testicles were in my throat.

    ‘No, and I don’t suppose they care either. It must be all the same to these highlanders whether the Dutch, the Nips, the British or their own people are in power. Nobody seems to have bothered about them; they look as if they live pretty near the starvation level, and I’m sure they wouldn’t recognize a social conscience if they saw one.’

    by the early symptoms of the tuberculosis which eighteen months later almost ended my life. Apart from the usual persistent cough, to which I paid no attention, I became noticeably neurotic, short tempered and snappy, with spells of overpowering lassitude that seemed to deprive me of all my energy and will. At the time I put everything down to war-weariness and alcohol.

    Why they made no attempt to kill us all is something I can only attribute to Hubrecht’s personal popularity with the Balinese, and to the well-known Oriental affection for lunatics and children.

    It occurred to me now that I was just two months short of my thirty-first birthday and for ten years I had been almost continuously at war; I wondered how I should make out in peace.

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  • Books

    No Colours or Crest: The Secret Struggle for Europe by Peter Kemp

    From my Notion template

    The Book in 3 Sentences

    1. The second of the Peter Kemp war books – it details the bulk of the Second World War for him. By odd twists of fate, he volunteers for the most dangerous jobs imaginable, but is first (mostly) constrained by weather – then by terrain , then by people. Functionally his job changes from commando, to would be guerilla leader to outside sales, where the penalty for failure to meet quota is perhaps death. The sales job was trying to organize Albanian guerilla groups into an effective fighting force, which did not happen.


    This seemed a lot like a diary that he filled supplemented with the benefit of hindsight, after action reports and historical perspective, which is not a bad thing, but the prioritization is odd – the march up the hill for the ambush that gets rained out gets the same number of pages and emphasis as getting chased by German patrols.

    How I Discovered It

    I read his first book – “Mind Were of Trouble”

    Who Should Read It?

    World War Two history buffs, people interested in the Balkans

    How the Book Changed Me

    How my life / behaviour / thoughts / ideas have changed as a result of reading the book.

    • A reaffirmation on the importance of geography, weather and culture in history
    • A reaffirmation that there are winners and losers in all things
    • A reminder that the modern way of life, Britain in this time period would qualify, existed with other ways of life until quite recently in much more of the world than I would have thought. The existence of blood feuds being binding restraints on nationwide political movements was quite interesting. The primary political unit is not always the nation, or even the party, but also the family and extended family in a lot of the world.
    • I am now wondering how much of history was written by the victors in Eastern Europe – the standard narrative does not seem to be quite complete.


    A strong Tory myself, I had served in the Carlist militia and the Spanish Foreign Legion, where my friends—Traditionalists, Conservatives and Liberal Monarchists—had no more sympathy than I for totalitarian regimes. But General Franco’s friendship with Hitler and Mussolini and his establishment of the Falange as the only political party in Spain had erased from most British minds all memory of the Communist threat he had defeated; even the Soviet-German Pact had not wholly revived it.

    Poor Greta. She was a wonderful cook. But her naïve optimism did not save her from nearly six years in an internment camp.

    I was all too conscious of my failure to set a proper example of indifference and courage. When the All Clear sounded I reflected sorrowfully that the last three years had left their mark upon my nerves.

    He nursed a particular resentment against Hitler for what he regarded as an intolerable interruption of his private life. ‘Up to the age of thirty-five,’ he explained to me, ‘a man can work and drink and copulate; but at thirty-five he has to make up his mind which of the three he is going to give up. I had just passed my thirty-fifth birthday and made all my arrangements to give up work when that bloody Hun started the war.’

    Easily the most junior of our party, I was delighted to find myself promoted overnight to the rank of Captain, which seemed to be the lowest rank on our Establishment.

    This new organization, known as S.O.E., became responsible for all subversive activities in enemy-occupied territory. It received its directives through the Minister of Economic Warfare, and was staffed, surprisingly, by senior executives from several large banking and business houses, with a small but useful leavening of Regular Army officers, a few of whom had received Staff College training.

    ‘Save and deliver us, we humbly beseech Thee, from the hands of our enemies; abate their pride, assuage their malice, and confound their devices.’

    took advantage of my leave to get married. Looking back from time’s distance I wonder how I could have been so foolish, complacent, and blind to my own character as to ask any girl, at my age and at such a time, to marry me; it is scarcely less remarkable, I suppose, that any girl who knew me well—and this one did—should have considered me a suitable husband. Our marriage lasted almost, but not quite, to the end of the European war.

    In London, when we arrived after completing the course, my greeting from the staff officers of the Spanish section was not such as a hero might expect. Coldly the R.N.V.R. lieutenant said to me, ‘Perhaps you would care to read the concluding words of Major Edwards’s report on you?’ They ran simply: ‘Not once, nor twice, but three times have I seen this officer punctual.’

    By religion a deeply sincere Roman Catholic, by tradition an English country gentleman, he combined the idealism of a Crusader with the severity of a professional soldier.

    Thus, although we were also known as No. 62 Commando and were issued with green berets, March-Phillipps encouraged us to wear civilian clothes when off duty; this was in keeping with his conception of us as successors to the Elizabethan tradition of the gentleman-adventurer.

    Reynolds was an Irishman, well known before the war as a sportsman, bon viveur, and playboy. On the outbreak of the Russo-Finnish war in 1939 he went to Finland as a volunteer in Major Kermit Roosevelt’s International Brigade; having exchanged the comfort and cuisine of Buck’s for the icy forests of Lapland and Karelia, he endured bitter hardship with that ill-fated band of idealists before making his way to Sweden after the collapse of Finnish resistance. There

    leave, I was ordered by Brigadier Gubbins to take a party of our officers on the parachute course at Ring way. I had been sleeping badly, with terrible nightmares of those screaming sentries, and I was glad of an opportunity to take my mind off the recent raid.

    For a few months the supporters of Tito and Mihailović had worked together, although with mutual suspicion, for they were fundamentally opposed in outlook and objectives. By the end of 1941 their hostility to each other had flared into open warfare, so that their efforts were wasted in internecine strife.

    Although Mihailović still enjoyed the official support of the British Government, Tito was not without friends in S.O.E.: one staff officer, in fact, so far allowed his enthusiasm to exceed his discretion that he was subsequently tried and convicted under the Official Secrets Act for passing confidential information to the Soviet Embassy in London.

    in 1936, he had been the secretary and inspiration of the Cambridge University Communists. I had innocently supposed that Communists were strictly excluded from S.O.E., for I myself had been required to sign a declaration that I belonged to no Communist or Fascist party before I was enrolled in the organization. However, among my acquaintances at Cambridge there were a number of young men who had joined the Party in a spirit of idealism, only to leave it after the Soviet-German pact of 1939; I assumed that Klugmann was one of them. But I was wrong: like his contemporary, Guy Burgess, he was one of the hard core and today he is a member of the Politburo of the Communist Party of Great Britain.

    At this time the social structure in the north was tribal, resembling that of the Scottish highlands before the Forty-five; in the south a rich landowning aristocracy exploited a landless peasantry which since the beginning of Turkish rule had been allowed neither the security of wealth nor the dignity of freedom.

    There are three religions in the country, generally confined within geographical limits: in the south the majority of the peasantry is Greek Orthodox, though the land-owning Beys are Moslem; the centre and plains are predominantly Moslem, while the north is divided between the Catholic mountaineers of Mirdita and Djukagjin, and the Moslems of Kossovo and the wild north-eastern frontier. But religious differences seemed to be of little importance in comparison with the rivalry of Gheg and Tosk and the age-long hatred of both for their Slav and Greek neighbours. At

    the end of the Balkan Wars the Ambassadors’ Conference of 1913 recognized Albania as an independent State, delineating for it frontiers which were acceptable neither to the Albanians nor to their neighbours.

    Two years later he was back in the mountains of Mati, where he carried on a guerrilla war against the Italians and their German successors until the end of 1944, when he was overrun and driven into exile by the Communists who now dominate his country. In

    ‘In practice, exclusive control of the movement was retained in the hands of a small committee, all of whom were Communists. This committee, besides directing policy, appointed the guerrilla commanders, the political commissars, and the regional organizers. The former were most often, and the two latter invariably, Communists; while, in accordance with the best conspiratorial traditions, all three were kept under observation by Party members who held no official position at all. By these methods, seconded by the salutary liquidation of those who disobeyed or disagreed, the Partisan movement presently achieved a degree of discipline and cohesion of which few observers believed Albanians to be capable.

    gradually became apparent that the arms and money which S.O.E. was dropping so lavishly into Albania were being conserved by L.N.C. and Balli Kombëtar alike for use against each other.

    These instructions, which seemed clear and logical to us in Cairo, were to prove quite unrealistic in the field.

    he had volunteered for Albania, he informed us, in order to keep himself in practice for his next Himalayan attempt.

    Reading this last sentence I was reminded that the Encyclopedia Britannica listed the word ‘intelligence’ under three headings: 1. Human; 2. Animal; 3. Military.

    Unlike most of the Partisan leaders he already had some practical experience of serious warfare, for he had commanded a company of the International Brigades in Spain; unlike most of them, also, he spoke good English. A sour, taciturn man of ruthless ambition, outstanding courage, and sickening ferocity—he had personally cut the throats of seventy Italian prisoners after a recent engagement—he tried hard to conceal his dislike and distrust of the British, because he admired the soldierly qualities of McLean and Smiley and valued the help they gave him.

    the whole L.N.C. movement—was in the hands of the Chief Political Commissar, Professor Enver Hoxha, an ex-schoolmaster from the Lycée at Korçë. He was a tall, flabby creature in his early thirties, with a sulky, podgy face and a soft woman’s voice. Like Mehmet Shehu he was a fanatical Communist, cruel, humourless, and deeply suspicious of the British. He spoke excellent French but no English. Although physically a coward he had absurd military pretentions, which led him two years later, when his forces had made him master of Albania, to arrogate to himself the rank of ‘Colonel-General’. It

    No wonder the villagers are fed up! They must either take to the hills and lose their property, or stay and be massacred. Sometimes, to escape reprisals, they do warn the enemy of L.N.C. ambushes, and it’s hard to blame them.

    If I had been entranced before I came to Albania by the romance and glamour of guerrilla warfare, this was a sobering reminder of its squalor and injustice.

    Enver Hoxha and Mehmet Shehu were not building up their military formations in order to fight Germans or Italians, but in order to gain control of Albania for themselves by force; they were not going to risk serious losses in operations which to them were only of secondary importance.

    Now a Bektashi monastery stood on the slopes. The Bektashi sect, which was influential in Albania, seems to have originated during Turkish times among the Janissaries and contains elements of different religions absorbed into the Islamic faith. In particular, its adherents are not forbidden the use of strong drink.

    In accordance with custom our arms were taken from us when we entered the house. This gesture signified that as long as we were under his roof our host was responsible with his life for our safety; if anyone were to kill us our host must start Hakmarjë—a blood feud—with him and would be dishonoured in the eyes of all his neighbours until he avenged our death with that of the murderer. The

    It was not unusual for as many as twenty members of one family to be killed in the same vendetta in the course of two or three generations.1 More than once an Albanian has said to me: ‘I cannot go with you to that house; I have enemies.’

    few months after his appointment to command the Italian Partisans in Albania he absconded to the mountains, accompanied by his Staff, with a considerable sum of money given him by the Allies to feed and equip his men.

    As soon as he heard the news of the surrender, on 9th September, Seymour hurried to Arbonë, where he sent a message to General Dalmazzo in Tiranë requesting his co-operation and asking for a meeting; unfortunately the message was not delivered until the next day, when the Germans were already in occupation of the capital. However, Dalmazzo sent a staff car to Arbonë, which took Seymour, wearing an Italian army greatcoat over his uniform, through the German control posts to Army Headquarters, where he had a long discussion with Dalmazzo’s Chief of Intelligence. At the same time, in an adjoining room, Dalmazzo himself was in conference with senior German officers, arranging his own evacuation under German protection to Belgrade; not until Dalmazzo had left Albania did Seymour learn the truth.

    Moreover, to many patriotic Albanians it was by no means clear that an Allied victory was in the best interests of their country; they feared—perhaps I should say fore-saw—that it would result not only in the loss of Kossovo but also in their own subjection to Communist rule.

    The Germans played cleverly upon these feelings. Firstly they made very few demands on the civilian population, to whom they behaved with courtesy and consideration, and secondly they made much political capital out of the Kossovo question. It is a measure of their success that when they set up a puppet government in Tirana they were able to induce Albanians of high principles and distinction to serve in it. As time went on it became more and more obvious that we could offer the Albanians little inducement to take up arms compared with the advantages they could enjoy by remaining passive.

    we British Liaison Officers were slow to understand their point of view; as a nation we have always tended to assume that those who do not whole-heartedly support us in our wars have some sinister motive for not wishing to see the world a better place. This attitude made us particularly unsympathetic towards the Balli Kombëtar, although the latter was a thoroughly patriotic organization. The Balli refrained from collaboration with the Germans against us; indeed, they gave us much covert help; but they did sit on the fence, hoping to establish themselves so firmly in the administration of the country that the victorious Allies would naturally call upon them to form a government. Indeed, they were naïvely convinced that the British and Americans would be glad to entrust the government to them, in preference to the Communist alternative of the L.N.C. The leaders of the L.N.C. had good reasons for continuing the struggle; but their interests, of course, were not Albania’s.

    He did nothing to raise my spirits by pointing out how conspicuous I should appear in the town, for not only did I look like a foreigner but I even walked like one; to the vast entertainment of Seymour, Myslim, and Stiljan he insisted on giving me lessons in the ‘Albanian Walk’. He was not impressed with my progress.

    I had come to Tiranë unarmed, believing that a gun was more likely to get me into trouble than out of it.

    Cairo agreed to drop the money, but in small amounts, and to disperse it among the various British missions in the country, hoping thus to control its expenditure. The result was the same: most of the money was diverted to finance the Albanian Communist Party, who took exclusive credit for such relief work as was done.

    but I was unable to shake off the feeling that they intended to keep one foot in the German camp in order to conserve their strength for the real struggle for power with the Partisans.

    From his first days in Albania he suffered continuously from dysentry, but his spirit and determination drove him to endurance far beyond his strength.

    At first sight Fiqri Dine reminded me of an evil, black, overgrown toad; his manner was reserved and barely friendly, his speech patronizing.

    In Dibra, we subsequently heard, the Germans had received a similar ovation; disgusted with the behaviour of the Partisans and grateful to the power that had united them with their kin in Albania, the Dibrans had turned their backs on the Allied cause.

    But it derived also from the perpetual insecurity of life in the mountains, especially on the frontiers; there were very few families whose houses had not been burnt at least once this century by Turks, Serbs, Greeks, Austrians, Germans, Italians, or fellow Albanians.

    must have shocked the Germans’ own allies, for even in their blood-feuds the Albanians would respect the lives of women and children.

    he looked very frail, sitting in a corner swathed in bandages, but his wounds were healing well under the usual local treatment, which was to plug the bullet-holes with goat’s cheese.

    My principal task was to explore the chances of forming a resistance movement among Albanians in Kossovo. When I sounded him on the subject Hasan Beg warned me, as I had feared he would, that the majority of Kossovars preferred a German occupation to a Serb; the Axis Powers had at least united them with their fellow Albanians, whereas an Allied victory would, they feared, return them to Jugoslav rule. Therefore, although most believed that the Germans would eventually be beaten, few would risk their lives to help in the process without some combined declaration by the Allied governments, guaranteeing the Kossovars the right to decide their own future by plebiscite.

    when I was awakened by the sound of three rifle shots in quick succession; grabbing their weapons Zenel and the others ran outside, to return in a few minutes with the comforting assurance that it was only a tribesman settling accounts with his blood-enemy.

    ‘Old man, it looks as though you’ve walked out of one spot of bother straight into another. There’s a blow-up expected here any day between the Partisans and the local chiefs.’

    I did not mention the matter in front of Salimani because he had a feud with the Kryezius, dating from the 1920s when the eldest Kryeziu, Cena Beg, had invaded Krasniqi with a force of gendarmerie to hunt down his outlawed rival, Bairam Curi. I heard more of this tale later.

    I ordered them to return to Deg at once, adding that the Kosmet could do what they liked about it. What they did, I soon discovered, was to send word to the Germans that I was in Gjakovë.

    Soon we were prowling through the twisting, cobbled streets of the town like small boys playing Red Indians.

    In the calm yet menacing grandeur of that mighty massif looming through the twilight I saw embodied all the splendour and savagery of the Balkans; all the harsh nobility and fierce endurance of the land shone in the opalescent beauty of those ice-bound, snow-wrapped cliffs.

    was painfully reminded of the local name for these mountains—Prokletijë, or Accursed.

    ‘We have nothing against you English,’ he added. ‘Only we don’t want the Communists here; and so we collaborate with

    those whom they considered to be our friends. In the eyes of the new rulers of Albania collaboration with the British was a far greater crime than collaboration with the Germans.

    Of the Partisan leaders with whom I worked some have survived to enjoy power and privilege: others have been devoured by the monster they helped. to rear.

    Albania, now the most abject of the Russian Satellites, was a totally unnecessary sacrifice to Soviet imperialism. It was British initiative, British arms and money that nurtured Albanian resistance in 1943; just as it was British policy in 1944 that surrendered to a hostile power our influence, our honour, and our friends.

    but it was not the disappointment or the boredom that irritated us—not even the needling of the Partisans—so much as the knowledge that we were sitting idle in a backwater while great things were happening in the war outside. I thank heaven that I was never so unfortunate as to become a prisoner of war.

    These supplies came from the Americans, but the Political Commissar used all his ingenuity to persuade his men and the peasants that they came from Russia. He went to the trouble of explaining that the initials, U.S. which were clearly stamped on the packages stood for ‘Unione Sovietica’; had not the planes been Italian? Then of course the labelling would be in Italian.

    ‘At least refrain from treachery to your officers in the field. Such conduct is unworthy of prostitutes let alone S.O.E. Staff Officers.’ He very rightly rejected my amendment, which would have read: ‘Such conduct is unworthy of prostitutes or even S.O.E. Staff Officers.’

    Quayle had just come out of Albania from the Valona area, where his life had been an uninterrupted nightmare in which the Germans had played only the smallest part.

    I suppose that eight months in the Balkans can be lethal to anyone’s sense of proportion.

    He proposed to send me to Hungary to work with a non-Communist resistance group near Gyöngyös, north-east of Budapest. I should have to drop in the Tatra mountains in Slovakia, where the Slovak army was in revolt against the Germans, and cross the frontier to Hungary. It sounded an interesting assignment in a part of Europe that I had always wanted to visit.

    In the years since the disruption of that curious manage a trois, the Anglo-American honeymoon with Russia, the various instances of Soviet treachery have faded from our memory, dulled either by the passage of time or by the frequency of repetition. The story of the Warsaw rising, however, provides a particularly odious example. In July the Red Army summer offensive across Poland was halted on the Vistula by the German Army Group Centre under Field-Marshal Model; on 1st August Russian forces under Marshal Rokossovsky—himself a Pole—were only five miles east of the capital. At this critical moment the Polish Home Army rose in revolt, joined by the entire civilian population of Warsaw.2 It may be that the rising was premature and that supply difficulties and heavy German reinforcements held up the Russians; perhaps the Poles were unduly sanguine if they forgot for the moment that it was the stab in the back from the Red Army in 1939 that brought about the final collapse of their resistance to the Germans, or if they expected Stalin to forget the great Polish victory on the Vistula in 1920 which drove the Red Army from their country. Nothing, however, can excuse the Russian failure to lift a finger in support of Bór-Komorowski; most infamous of all, the allied aircraft flying from Britain and Italy to drop supplies to the beleaguered Poles were refused permission to use the Russian airfields near the city. Knowing that the Armja Krajowa was opposed to Communism in Poland, Stalin was delighted to watch its destruction at the hands of the Germans; in the words of Dr. Isaac Deutscher, usually a sympathetic biographer, ‘he was moved by that unscrupulous rancour and insensible spite of which he had given so much proof during the great purges.’3 After a few weeks of lonely and heroic resistance, during which the Germans systematically reduced Warsaw to rubble, the remnant of the Polish garrison surrendered.

    We were also handed, in an atmosphere of grim and silent sympathy, a small supply of ‘L tablets’, each containing enough cyanide to kill a man in half an hour if swallowed, in a few seconds if chewed; the idea was that we might find ourselves in circumstances where suicide would be preferable to capture. Fortunately or unfortunately we somehow mixed them up with our aspirin tablets and so decided to destroy our store of both.

    We lived in a trullo, one of the beehive-shaped dwellings that are typical of the Apulian hill country. These quaint and cosy buildings, warm in winter and cool in summer, are said to date from pre-medieval times when taxation was levied on every house with a roof; their ingenious construction requires no mortar, the bricks supporting one another from foundations to ceiling, so that the roof could be quickly removed on the approach of the tax collector and as quickly replaced after his departure. From the terrace of our trullo on the hillside we looked eastward over silver-green olive groves to the lead-coloured waters of the Adriatic.

    At first I thought my parachute must have been late in opening; but it turned out that the pilot, either through an error of judgment or in the excitement of finding himself so close to his native land, had dropped us all from a little over two hundred feet. If any of our parachutes had failed to open immediately there would have been a fatal accident.

    It is well known, although it can bear repetition, that Poland alone among the countries occupied by Germany produced no Quisling.

    As far as I know we were the first and only British officers to be dropped into the country.

    Most savage of all were the German auxiliary troops belonging to the army of the renegade Russian General Vlasov. Vlasov was a Cossack who was captured at the beginning of the German offensive against Russia in 1941 when, according to some figures, eight hundred thousand Russian soldiers were taken prisoner. From these Vlasov recruited an army of Cossack, Ukrainian, Turkoman, Mongol, and other Asiatic troops, which the Germans employed chiefly on garrison and security duties in occupied countries. Knowing that they would receive no quarter if taken, these men fought to the last; such was their barbarity towards the civilian population that they were feared and detested throughout occupied Europe. In this part of Poland there were Ukrainian and Turkoman divisions on the river Pilica and Cossack patrols everywhere. The A.K. shot any of Vlasov’s men whom they captured, as they also shot all S.S. men; prisoners from the Wehrmacht were usually deprived of their arms and uniforms and then released.

    We commented on the lack of interest that all of them, old and young, showed in the personalities of the exiled Polish Government in London—an indifference which we found everywhere in Poland. Mikolajczyk alone seemed to have a considerable following. It has often been remarked that governments in exile tend to lose touch with the people they claim to represent; they tend also to lose their respect.

    with astonished admiration I saw that a detachment of our escort had emplaced itself behind a low bank and was firing on the tanks and the advancing infantry: some twenty-five Poles with rifles and one light machine-gun were taking on four tanks and at least a hundred well-armed Germans.

    If there is any more disagreeable experience in warfare than that of running away under fire I hope I never meet it. There is none of the hot excitement of attack, but much more of the danger;

    At that time, of course, the whole problem seemed academic and unreal; none of us could foretell the hideous future, none of us remembered Stalin’s pledge to Hitler in 1939 that Poland should never rise again; least of all could we suppose that those apostles of freedom, Britain and the United States, would underwrite by treaty such an odious conspiracy.

    During the three days of our stay we became infested with the most prolific and ferocious crop of lice that I at least have ever encountered. For the Spanish, Albanian, and Montenegrin louse I had learnt to acquire a certain tolerance, even affection; but these creatures bit with an increasing and fanatical fury that excluded all hope of sleep and comfort.

    As the evening progressed, the pace of the party quickened to a macabre and frenzied gaiety whose implications could no longer be concealed. However much these people hated the Germans—and there was not a man or woman in the room who had not lost at least one close relative fighting against them—they literally dreaded the Russians. Tonight they were saying good-bye to the world they had always known. The German occupation had brought unbelievable hardship and tragedy to their country and their class: Russian rule, they foresaw, meant extinction for both.

    the Red Army’s method of living off the country during an advance was as devastating as their ‘scorched earth’ policy in retreat.

    Such was the routine of our prison life. The N.K.V.D. had taken over the building from the Gestapo only two days earlier—with all fittings.

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  • Books,  Drug War

    Never Enough: The Neuroscience and Experience of Addiction by Judith Grisel

    From my Notion template

    The Book in 3 Sentences

    1. This book is an extremely readable book from both the personal and scientific side of addiction. The author, once a street addict, and currently a neuropsychologist, explains how drugs affect the brain and body quite well and fills in the gaps that other books miss. The root point is that the body is biologically tuned for homeostatis/normalcy and this, via a weird series of biological processes will lead to addiction – there is never enough drug to keep one high forever.


    This book is by far the best book on the mechanics of addiction, why it happens, how it happens, and why it is so hard to make it “unhappen”

    How I Discovered It

    A Tyler Cowen blog post

    Who Should Read It?

    Everyone really – it clarifies all thinking on both drugs and a lot of behavior.

    How the Book Changed Me How my life / behaviour / thoughts / ideas have changed as a result of reading the book.

    • I now think much more of counterreactions
    • I now see things as more of a Process A vs Process B axis (in terms of physical matters)

    My Top 4 Quotes

    • Data such as these suggest that some of us are especially likely to find alcohol reinforcing because we can use it to medicate an innate opioid deficiency. Perhaps the “hole in my soul” I felt finally filled in my friend’s basement was nothing more than a flood of endorphins at last quenching destitute receptors. The heritable differences in endorphin signaling between those at low risk (left) and high risk (right) for alcohol abuse.
    • In other words, addicts may be those who are especially charmed by the quality of carrots and immune to the beating of sticks, as any municipal court could attest.
    • Never does nature say one thing and wisdom another. —Juvenal (Roman poet, A.D. 60–130)
    • Until about ten seconds before the first time I used a needle, I thought I’d never inject drugs. Like most people, I associated needles with hard-core use. That is, until I was offered a shot.

    Summary + Notes

    As with every addict, my days of actually getting “high” were long past. My using was compulsive and aimed more at escaping reality than at getting off. I’d banged my head against the wall long enough to realize that nothing new was going to happen—except perhaps through the ultimate escape, death, which frankly didn’t seem like that big a deal.

    This accomplishment would seem almost unremarkable to most addicts, who know firsthand that there is nothing we would not do, no sacrifice too great, to be able to use.

    Addiction today is epidemic and catastrophic. If we are not victims ourselves, we all know someone struggling with a merciless compulsion to remodel experience by altering brain function. The personal and social consequences of this widespread and relentless urge are almost too large to grasp. In the United States, about 16 percent of the population twelve and older meet criteria for a substance use disorder, and about a quarter of all deaths are attributed to excessive drug use.

    In purely financial terms, it costs more than five times as much as AIDS and twice as much as cancer. In the United States, this means that close to 10 percent of all health-care expenditures go toward prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of people suffering from addictive diseases, and the statistics are similarly frightening in most other Western cultures. Despite all this money and effort, successful recovery is no more likely than it was fifty years ago.

    Although reliable estimates are hard to come by, most experts agree that no more than 10 percent of substance abusers can manage to stay clean for any appreciable time. As far as illnesses go, this rate is almost singularly low: one has about twice as good a chance of surviving brain cancer.

    My aim in writing this book is to share these principles and thus shed light on the biological dead end that perpetuates substance use and abuse: namely, that there will never be enough drug, because the brain’s capacity to learn and adapt is basically infinite. What was once a normal state punctuated by periods of high, inexorably transforms to a state of desperation that is only temporarily subdued by drug.

    “Alcohol makes you feel like you’re supposed to feel when you’re not drinking alcohol.” Among other things, I wondered why, if the drug can

    The chief of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, George Koob, has said that there are two ways of becoming an alcoholic: either being born one or drinking a lot. Dr. Koob is not trying to be flip, and the high likelihood that one or the other of these applies to each of us helps explain why the disease is so prevalent. I agree that many who end up like me have a predisposition even before their first sip but also appreciate that enough exposure to any mind-altering drug will induce tolerance and dependence—hallmarks of addiction—in anyone with a nervous system. Unfortunately, though, no scientific model can yet explain my quick and brutal slide to homelessness, hopelessness, and utter desolation. Choosing

    Until about ten seconds before the first time I used a needle, I thought I’d never inject drugs. Like most people, I associated needles with hard-core use. That is, until I was offered a shot.

    All of us face countless choices, and there is no bright line separating good and bad, order and entropy, life and death. Perhaps as a result of following rules or conventions, some live under the delusion that they are innocent, safe, or deserving of their status as well-fed citizens. But if there is a devil, it lives inside each of us. One of my greatest assets is knowing that my primary enemy is not outside me, and for this I am grateful to all my experiences. We all have the capacity for wrong; otherwise we could not, in fact, be free.

    The opposite of addiction, I have learned, is not sobriety but choice.

    I’d finally reached the dead end where I felt I was incapable of living either with or without mind-altering substances. This bleak situation describes the condition of many, if not all, addicts and illustrates why relatively few recover. Despite being depleted, they think the cost of abstinence seems much too high: Without drugs, what is there to live for anyway? Eventually,

    a willingness to take risks, and perseverance that make a bulldog seem laid-back have all contributed to the successes I’ve had as a neuroscientist.

    Never does nature say one thing and wisdom another. —Juvenal (Roman poet, A.D. 60–130)

    The idea that I am my brain still guides the efforts of thousands of neuroscientists around the world as we work to connect experience to neural structures, chemical interactions, and genes.

    behavior. In fact, it’s beginning to seem that the brain is more like a stage for our life to be acted out upon than like the director behind a curtain calling shots. Nonetheless, it’s reasonable to assume that all of our thoughts, feelings, intentions, and behaviors at least have correlates in electrical and chemical signals in the brain, because there’s not a whit of evidence to suggest otherwise.

    And the vast majority of us are trichromats, meaning that we perceive thousands of different colors by the combined activity in just three types of color-sensitive neurons. But some lucky individuals have a mutation that gives them a fourth type of color sensor, and even though they may not be aware of their mutant gift, they are more likely to have careers as artists or designers. The most important lesson here, though, is that our senses constrain our experience by offering us a relatively thin slice of what’s out there—a highly filtered version of our environment.

    The fundamental role of the brain is to be a contrast detector. As experiences are distinguished from monotony, they spark neurochemical changes in specific brain circuits, informing us of all we care to know: opportunities for food, drink, or sex; danger or pain; beauty and pleasure, for example. The process of actively maintaining the stable baseline critical for conducting the brain’s business of contrast detection is called homeostasis, and it depends on having a set point, a comparator, and a mechanism for adjustment. It is easy to appreciate this principle in terms of body temperature, which is maintained around ninety-nine degrees Fahrenheit. If you become much warmer or colder than this, your body feels it, and there are mechanisms to return you to baseline, such as sweating or shivering. Feelings are also constrained within tight bounds under normal conditions. What we generally experience is our personal neutral okayness; otherwise we’d be incapable of detecting “good” or “bad” events.

    All drugs affect multiple brain circuits, and variation in their sites of neural action accounts for their different effects. However, all addictive drugs are addictive precisely because they share the ability to stimulate the mesolimbic dopamine system. Countless studies have demonstrated that the squirt of dopamine in the nucleus accumbens from addictive substances (including chocolate and hot sauce!) is associated with the substances’ pleasurable outcome. Some, like cocaine and amphetamine, are universally effective; others seem to have a bigger influence on mesolimbic dopamine in some individuals than in others (for example, marijuana and alcohol), and some that have been labeled addictive probably aren’t. For instance, most research suggests that the psychedelic LSD does not stimulate the mesolimbic pathway. From this and related evidence, the majority of addiction researchers would argue that LSD is not an addictive drug.

    pleasure. But in general, the mesolimbic pathway conveys a transient good time, not a stable sense of hopefulness

    possible. Without dopamine in the nucleus accumbens, nothing, not a letter from a friend, an especially beautiful sunset or piece of music, or even chocolate,

    recent years, new evidence has shown that dopamine in the mesolimbic pathway works not exactly by signaling pleasure but by signaling the anticipation of pleasure. This anticipatory state is not the same as the pleasure associated with satisfaction, contentment, or release, but rather the anxious, lip-smacking foretaste of something of import that is just around the corner.

    or really valuable (oxygen to a deprived organism). In other words, this system alerts us to the anticipation of a meaningful event, not to pleasure per se. Pleasurable stimuli happen to be meaningful, but many other things are also inherently meaningful to an organism that has evolved to survive in ever-changing conditions.

    Parkinsonian deficits occur between the desire to move and the movement circuitry, which are both intact.

    Besides being slower to enact intentions, low dopamine is also associated with higher-than-average orderliness, conscientiousness, and frugality. In other words, it confers a tendency toward rigidity in areas other than movement.

    To sum all this up, dopamine in the mesolimbic circuit leads us to appreciate opening doors, and dopamine in the nigrostriatal circuit enables us to do so. Drugs of abuse (as well as natural reinforcers like food and sex) stimulate both of these pathways, which is how drugs make us feel good and why we seek them.

    Another aspect of our control over delivery is timing. Natural stimuli increase activity of the mesolimbic system by recruiting chemicals in a cascade of neural changes that come about gradually, generally after a few minutes. Drugs, on the other hand, are absorbed rapidly and act directly to produce nearly instantaneous changes in neurotransmitter levels, including dopamine. The difference is something like the slow bloom of dawn versus switching on a floodlight.

    In general, the more predictable and frequent the dosing, the more addictive a drug will be.

    The very definition of an addictive drug is one that stimulates the mesolimbic pathway, but there are three general axioms in psychopharmacology that also apply to all drugs: All drugs act by changing the rate of what is already going on. All drugs have side effects. The brain adapts to all drugs that affect it by counteracting the drug’s effects.

    Exogenous (made outside the body) drugs often work this way because their shape sufficiently mimics endogenous

    Repeated administration of any drug that influences brain activity leads the brain to adapt in order to compensate for the changes associated with the drug.

    An addict doesn’t drink coffee because she is tired; she is tired because she drinks coffee. Regular drinkers don’t have cocktails in order to relax after a rough day; their day is filled with tension and anxiety because they drink so much. Heroin produces euphoria and blocks pain in a naive user, but addicts can’t kick a heroin habit, because without it they are in excruciating pain. The brain’s response to a drug is always to facilitate the opposite state; therefore, the only way for any regular user to feel normal is to take the drug. Getting high, if it occurs at all, is increasingly short-lived, and so the purpose of using is to stave off withdrawal.

    Eventually, exposure to a favorite drug results in virtually no change in mesolimbic dopamine, but withholding it leads to a big drop, which we experience as a feeling of disappointment and craving. Thus the most profound law of drug use is this: there is no free lunch.

    Having a set point enables meaningful interpretation of a stream of ceaselessly changing input. Sustained feelings in either direction impede our ability to perceive and thus respond to new information, so the nervous system imposes transience. This means that if something truly wonderful happens—you meet Prince or Princess Charming—the elation will not last. On the other hand, even the most terrible calamity won’t result in perpetual despair. This is also true with more mundane stimuli: we can probably all relate to the letdown after returning home from a great vacation, or to the flood of relief after a near accident on our commute.

    While different people may have different set points, for any individual the neutral state is robustly maintained throughout life. Happy-go-lucky kids tend to be contented adults, and pessimists generally remain so whatever their circumstances.

    Though for regular drug users affective stability makes it impossible to maintain a high, chronic use of stimulants like cocaine or methamphetamine may actually modify the affective set point. Unfortunately for users, this alteration is always in the “wrong” direction, resulting in lower baseline mood.

    Persistent change in response to environmental input is called learning, and all organisms with a CNS—from cockroaches to the Dalai Lama—learn. As it turns out, memories, which are traces of learning, serve as Joe’s escape from the terror and tedium of his helpless consciousness in a hospital bed in Johnny Got His Gun. They are also, in

    The term “tachyphylaxis” (TACKY-phil-axis), meaning “acute tolerance,” refers to the adaptive, compensatory changes that begin as soon as alcohol reaches the brain. A large and rather arcane literature surrounding tachyphylaxis has a practical implication that, were it widely known, might be a real boon to DUI defense lawyers and their clients. It turns out that there is a reliable and interesting twist in the relationship between blood alcohol level and impairment, due to tachyphylaxis. When

    Virtually as soon as a drug begins to act on the brain, the brain begins to adapt—to counteract—that action. Thus, there is good rationale for arguing that despite a high BAC (blood alcohol concentration), because you are in a state of tachyphylaxis, you are really okay to drive. Good luck persuading the judge! In

    If we are talking about drug use, we can think of the a process as what the drug does to the brain. Big doses produce large a processes, and protracted stimuli produce long-lasting a processes. But for each a process, there is a b process. The b process is the brain’s response to the a process, or the brain’s response to what the drug does to the brain, counteracting the changes in neural activity produced by the stimulus in an effort to return brain activity to its neutral, homeostatic state. When

    While the a process is a direct reflection of the stimulus and so is always the same if the stimulus is the same (a certain number of ounces of alcohol or milligrams of heroin, for instance), this is not so with the compensatory b process. Generated by a powerfully adaptive nervous system, the b process learns with time and exposure. Repeated encounters with the stimulus result in faster, bigger, and longer-lasting b processes that are better able to maintain homeostasis in the face of disruption. Moreover, the b process can be elicited solely by environmental stimuli that promise the a process is coming—which is what happened with Pavlov’s dogs, who learned to salivate even when food was not present.

    It also explains why the states of withdrawal and craving from any drug are always exactly opposite to the drug’s effects. If a drug makes you feel relaxed, withdrawal and craving are experienced as anxiety and tension. If a drug helps you wake up, adaptation includes lethargy; if it reduces pain sensations, suffering will be your lot.

    My clever undergraduates are quick to point out a flip side to Solomon and Corbit’s model: if you want to achieve a sustained positive state, you could submit yourself to negatively charged experiences. This way the opponent process would be positive. Solomon and Corbit argued that such a pattern may be at work in an activity like skydiving. Jumping out of an airplane at several thousand feet produces intense feelings of arousal and panic, even feelings associated with impending death. They would probably last for much of the air time and certainly for all of the “free fall.” As the stimulus ends and your feet are miraculously back on solid ground, not only is the panic gone, but according to hobbyists it is like being awash in feelings of extreme calm and well-being. The relief following an intensely stressful experience, if you live through the event, may make it all worthwhile. Maybe this helps explain why people push themselves to exercise or go to graduate school.

    The hallmarks of addiction—tolerance, withdrawal, and craving—are captured in the consequences of the b process. Tolerance occurs because more drug is needed to produce an a process capable of overcoming a stronger and stronger b process. Withdrawal happens because the b process outlasts the drug’s effects. And craving is virtually guaranteed because any environmental signal that has been associated with the drug can itself elicit a b process that can only be assuaged by indulging in the drug. This might happen at cocktail hour, during stressful times, or even upon awakening if that’s when you typically start using; in particular contexts such as bars or family gatherings; or in the presence of specific cues such as spoons, dealers, and paychecks, which is one of the reasons intense feelings of craving continue to frustrate recovery. To this day, and seemingly out of the blue, a certain warmth and humidity in the air or a specific type of music can make my mouth pucker with the anticipation of tequila.

    Cutting-edge treatments take almost the opposite tact from the pastoral setting strategy (unless of course your using primarily took place on the farm). Following detox and some stability in mood and physiology (usually after several weeks of clean time), the addict is purposely exposed to cues that used to coincide with using, but this time within a supportive, therapeutic context. Wads of cash, drawing fluid into a syringe, or experiencing a disappointing day at first is likely to produce profound physiological and psychological effects such as changes in heart rate, body temperature, and mood. But with repeated exposure (and no drug delivery), such responses indicative of the b process begin to dissipate and eventually disappear. So, it is possible to extinguish a craving over time, as the brain adapts again, but this time to the non-predictive value of the cues.

    Addiction differs in many ways from diseases typical of the broad category, a fact that took me several years to appreciate. Though I believed—and still do—that it is a brain disorder, it’s not like having a tumor or Alzheimer’s disease. Both of these can be definitively diagnosed by identifying particular cellular changes. Diabetes or high cholesterol is even easier to assess—by a simple blood test—and obesity is determined by a body mass index. On the other hand, there are no clear-cut tests to determine whether one is, or is not, an addict, and in addition to making diagnosis murky, this lack of clarity hinders efforts to cure the disease. If we remove the tumor or other errant structures, restore an appropriate insulin response, or lose enough weight, related diseases might indeed be cured. In the case of addiction—really a disorder of thought, emotion, and behavior resulting from widespread adaptation in multiple brain circuits—a cure is unlikely aside from removing most of the matter above my shoulders.

    There are many contributors to this tendency toward excess, but ultimately my behavior is extreme because the stimuli (that is, drugs) have had such a potent impact on me relative to natural stimuli. The nervous system of an addict is acting normally and predictably in response to such consequential input, and addiction is a natural consequence. It’s also not likely to be prevented

    The lackadaisical habits of so-called normal people who leave drinks half finished, snort a few lines on a Friday night, or occasionally smoke a cigarette with friends are strikingly different from those of addicts. Though adaptation still occurs in “chippers,” it is virtually imperceptible because of the irregular and low-dose patterns of use.

    • The term “plasticity” is used by neuroscientists to refer to the ability of the brain to modify its structure and function. Though changes are always possible (that is, we remain somewhat plastic until the day we die), they are especially likely during periods of rapid development, until the age of about twenty-five years.

    From the first time I got high until long after I’d smoked my last bowl, I loved marijuana like a best friend. This is not hyperbole. Some people it makes sleepy, others paranoid (due, no doubt, to an unfortunate confluence of neurobiology and genetics), but for me it was nearly perfect. One

    If alcohol is a pharmacological sledgehammer and cocaine a laser (and they are), marijuana is a bucket of red paint. This is so for at least two reasons. First is its well-known ability to accentuate attributes of environmental stimuli: music is amazing, food delicious, jokes hilarious, colors rich, and so on. Second, its effects are neither precise nor specific, but modulatory and widespread. It’s a five-gallon bucket with a four-inch brush, painting up the gain on all kinds of neural processing.

    It seems that anandamide and similar compounds evolved along with the CB1 receptor to modulate normal activity, highlighting important neurotransmission. The normal activity of the brain, as we’ve discussed, mediates all of our experiences, thoughts, behaviors, and emotions. The cannabinoid system helps to sort our experiences,

    good. The millions of neurons involved in this discovery—including those involved in processing input from your senses, stimulating movement, coding memories or thoughts connecting this good thing to your plans or communicating it to others—are likely all releasing cannabinoids to turn up the volume on this information, helping to distinguish it from the other parts of your day in which interactions with the environment weren’t all that special.

    This should make it easy to understand why the stimuli we encounter when stoned are so intensely rich. Sights, sounds, tastes, and thoughts that might otherwise be average take on incredible attributes. Early in my love affair with pot, I remember finding Rice-A-Roni so astoundingly delicious I couldn’t imagine how it stayed on the shelves of the grocery stores. Today I’d have to be backpacking for at least a week before I’d even find it palatable, but with my synapses primed for import, food is exceptional, music transcendent, concepts mind-blowing. What a wonderful treat

    After I got sober, it took me a little over a year to go a single day without wishing for a drink, but it was more than nine years before my craving to get high abated. For the longest time, I couldn’t go to indoor concerts, especially if I was in proximity to pot. Good sinsemilla would induce a sort of mini panic attack. I’d

    Predictably, chronic exposure leads to substantial consequences. The brain adapts by downregulating the cannabinoid system.2 “Downregulation” is a general term describing processes that work to ensure homeostasis, which in this case translates to a dramatic reduction in the number and sensitivity of CB1 receptors. Without copious amounts of pot on board, everything is dull and uninspiring.

    There’s been a long-standing debate, akin to one about the relationship between cancer and smoking in many ways, about whether regular marijuana smoking leads to an amotivational syndrome (“amotivational” means lacking motivation). For instance, does regular use lead to spending long hours on the couch watching cartoons, or does it just so happen that people who like to sit around watching television (or poring through shells at the beach) also enjoy marijuana? Because correlation doesn’t mean causation, cigarette companies argued for decades that a predisposition for cancer and the tendency to inhale cigarette smoke just coincidentally occur in the same people. In both cases, common sense and mounting evidence point to the same thing. Downregulation of CB1 receptors might make the user more suitable for jobs that don’t require creativity or innovation, exactly the effects that initial exposure seemed to stimulate.

    “Great,” I said. “How’s it with your kids when you’re not high?” “Increasingly irritating and tedious,” he admitted.

    So, if you smoke weed, remember that infrequent and intermittent use is the best way to prevent downregulation and its unfortunate effects: tolerance, dependence, and a loss of interest in the unenhanced world.

    Unlike stimulants, or even alcohol, the subjective effects of these drugs seem almost perfectly subtle as they bestow utter contentment.

    Among women, who are most likely to take these medications (partly because they are more likely to suffer from chronic pain), the first decade of the twenty-first century saw a 400 percent increase in lethal overdoses.

    The drive to change our subjective experience is universal, and there are many like me who will try anything that might get us high. Therefore, the solution is not to be found on the supply side, but rather depends on a change in demand, and that’s likely to be an inside job.

    The patients recognized in their friend’s death a sign of high-quality dope. You’ve probably seen similar phenomena in your community; regional bursts in overdoses tend to occur not because most addicts don’t know what’s to be found but because they do. They are victims of the laws of pharmacology who fail to recognize that even drugs like fentanyl and carfentanil, which are thousands of times as potent as heroin, can’t deliver the desired effects to a learned brain (though, unfortunately, they remain potent enough at depressing respiration, which is how they can be lethal). Dream

    Stimulants increase activity, hallucinogens alter perception, and sedative-hypnotics slow brain activity and promote sleep.

    From a neuroscience perspective, the appeal of opiate drugs is easy to understand. The large class of narcotics, from heroin, fentanyl, and oxycodone to their less potent analogs like tramadol and codeine, all work by mimicking endorphins (endogenous morphine-like substances), the body’s natural painkillers. It turns out that our brains manufacture an incredibly rich and varied pharmacopoeia of these natural opioids, the sheer number and wide distribution of which suggest that they play a critical role in our survival.

    Suppose you are overcome with pain and fear and spend what remains of your life writhing on the floor of your apartment until you bleed to death or are dispatched some other way. This is unlikely to help you survive or—more to the point—reproduce in the future. Instead, within about ninety seconds of the alarming encounter, cells in your brain will stimulate gene activity to direct the synthesis of endorphins, which are quickly released to produce effects throughout the central nervous system: blocking pain transmission, inhibiting the panic response, and hopefully facilitating an escape. It is easy to see how modulating pain and suffering would provide evolutionary advantage to an organism.

    There are dozens of different opioids manufactured by the brain (including actual morphine). Experiments have shown that these chemicals serve a range of critical functions including modulating activities like sex, attachment, and learning.

    These have been collectively called anti-opiates, and they produce exactly the opposite effects as narcotics. Why did evolution or that benevolent Creator decide we need compounds that enhance suffering and restlessness?

    Once you are no longer in immediate danger, it would actually be helpful to perceive your pain rather than to remain analgesic. Otherwise you might still die—just more slowly—from loss of blood or, eventually, infection. So the brain doesn’t wait for the endorphins to naturally degrade. Instead, the edges of perception are sharpened by a flood of anti-opiates. In fact, pain has two primary purposes: the first is to teach us to avoid dangerous stimuli or situations, and the second is to encourage recuperation after failing the first lesson. Another potential rationale for the existence of anti-opiates was outlined in earlier chapters: the brain’s role as contrast detector relies upon a stable baseline. Anti-opiates restore the brain to its baseline most efficiently. One

    But if a drug makes your mouth water, the cues associated with the drug would give you cotton mouth instead. This apparent contradiction is understood by appreciating whether or not a stimulus acts directly on the CNS and recruits homeostatic processes. A drug does. Dinner does not.

    But the anti-opiate system is the cruelest. Because an addict’s nervous system is regularly flooded with compounds that produce euphoria, the anti-opiate system ramps up to create pain so that the net effect is something like normal sensation. This opposing anti-opiate system can be turned on by safety, or by the expectation of safety after danger passes, but it’s likely that there is no more effective way to activate anti-opiate processes than through regular exposure to opiates, which must

    Adaptations that underlie opiate addiction, including the production of anti-opiates, begin during the very first administration (this is true of all drugs) and rapidly gain strength with use. The strength of these opponent processes may be so robust because the sensation of pain is so critical for survival.

    Addicts can administer upwards of 150 times the dose that would be lethal to naive users and, even so, just feel “right” but not really high. In

    Methadone acts as a substitute opiate—one that is orally absorbed and has an especially long half-life. Drinking a daily “cocktail” at the clinic prevents withdrawal (as well as antisocial activities that help keep withdrawal at bay, like stealing and shooting up in public places), and because the drug is so cheap, it’s been seen as of great benefit—though likely less to the addicts than to members of their communities.

    A better strategy from a neurological perspective might be to employ the opposite tack. Instead of bathing the cells in opiates for long periods, knock them over the head with a big dose of anti-opiates! Giving anti-opiates should induce the brain to maintain homeostasis by upregulating, or at least normalizing, its opioid system. This has in fact been tried and in some ways works like a charm. Here’s how it goes: you check into a hospital, receive general anesthesia (the reason for this will be clear momentarily), and take a whopping dose of Narcan. This drug occupies all of the same sites opiates do but doesn’t activate them. If Narcan is administered to unsedated addicts who haven’t been using, they will come unglued—instantaneously experiencing the throes of withdrawal. However, if they are anesthetized while their brain is bathed with high doses of the drug, then the cells adapt back to their naive state in fairly short order.

    Suboxone is a combination of a Narcan-like drug and an opiate drug called buprenorphine. Buprenorphine doesn’t have much street appeal for the same reason it’s a good choice here: although it occupies the same places in the brain as opiate drugs, it doesn’t do as good a job and therefore it is much less rewarding than its abused counterparts. However, the effects are potent enough to reduce symptoms of withdrawal, including craving, and to allow addicts to sleep. It’s less stigmatizing than methadone, but even more important, under a doctor’s supervision, it won’t make the addiction stronger. For someone motivated to get clean, this could provide a sound start. If the dose is tapered over time, it’s likely to afford the best shot at a life free from opiate addiction.

    This custom certainly hasn’t diminished in the past couple of centuries, and it presents a tremendous challenge to recovery.

    The manic insistence on ignoring the obvious is reminiscent of cigarette commercials I grew up watching. The juxtaposition of youthful athleticism with a nicotine habit seemed as odd to me as a child as the insistence today that alcohol somehow makes everything sexier and livelier. I still remember one commercial in particular that showed a group of gorgeously tanned young adults whitewater rafting down a rugged canyon as they promoted a popular menthol brand. Really? Smoking while rafting?

    True, at times life can be awful, disappointing, terrifying, or mind-numbingly tedious. But just the same, there is the frequent possibility of being overcome with joy, gratitude, or delight. In short, it is likely impossible to tamp down terror without also leveling pleasure. As Socrates noted, and many appreciate, sorrow and joy depend on each other; I prefer the roller coaster to the train.

    People also take drugs in order to reduce unpleasant feelings. This tendency is called negative reinforcement, and the motivation it provides is critical. Alcohol and other downers are negatively reinforcing in part because they reduce anxiety; opiates are so compelling because they reduce suffering; stimulants because they reduce boredom. Moreover, because alcohol reduces anxiety, this drug will be more reinforcing to those who are naturally anxious than to those who are not, increasing the risk of regular drinking in such individuals. There is good evidence that those of us who are naturally inclined toward any of these predisposing states are more likely to abuse the “complementary” substance.

    However, because the brain adapts to the neural changes wrought by any drug, the effects of chronic exposure are going to undermine any attempts at self-medication. Alas, if someone finds alcohol especially rewarding because of an inherited tendency toward anxiety and she imbibes frequently, she’ll become

    Other people have deficiencies in the primary enzyme that is responsible for metabolizing nicotine, and for these smokers the concentration of the drug in the blood gets higher and stays high longer. Because too much of this drug is also unpleasant, these people are less likely to smoke, and when they do, they are more likely to successfully quit. Chalk one up for positive punishment.

    In other words, addicts may be those who are especially charmed by the quality of carrots and immune to the beating of sticks, as any municipal court could attest.

    Because the process of fermentation is so simple, it has been discovered and exploited by virtually every human culture.

    Paradoxically, the simplicity of the ethanol molecule is what makes it so difficult to understand. Molecules of cocaine, THC, heroin, and ecstasy are much larger and more structurally complex, and therefore their sites of action in the brain are very specific. Alcohol is so small and wily its actions are hard to pin down. It’s easy to imagine that there are many more places to park a skateboard than an airplane. Because the effect of a drug is dependent on this “parking” or “binding,” and alcohol does this at multiple sites, its effects are also much less specific.

    Cocaine blocks a protein that recycles dopamine, and because dopamine hangs around longer than usual, we feel euphoric and energized. For alcohol, the target(s) are not as clear, which is to say that the mechanisms of drunkenness are still being worked out.

    Alcohol also reduces activity at glutamate receptors. Glutamate happens to be the primary excitatory neurotransmitter, so this plus GABA inhibition really tamps down the electrical activity of neurons. Glutamate is also critical for forming new memories, and if I had blacked out that day (that is, forgotten chunks of experience), it likely would have been from alcohol’s ability to impede glutamate’s activity. Because glutamate and GABA are so prevalent, alcohol slows neural activity throughout the brain, not just in a few pathways, explaining the drug’s global effects on cognition, emotion, memory, and movement.

    We have long known that alcohol use rapidly leads to the synthesis and release of beta-endorphin, a string of thirty-one amino acids that is thought to contribute to the drug’s euphoric and relaxing effects by increasing mesolimbic dopamine levels and inhibiting the “fight or flight” response. This system is the target of one of the pharmaceutical strategies to combat alcohol abuse, naltrexone, a longer-acting and orally available cousin of naloxone, which is marketed as Narcan. Both naltrexone and naloxone firmly park on opioid receptors but don’t activate them. (Thus they are called opioid antagonists.) Naltrexone, marketed as ReVia and Vivitrol, occupies these sites for relatively long periods so that when a person drinks alcohol, any endorphin activity is rendered moot. Narcan/naloxone doesn’t hang around as long but effectively reverses an opiate overdose by fitting even better than opiates do into the “parking” spot and therefore kicking them out.

    Data such as these suggest that some of us are especially likely to find alcohol reinforcing because we can use it to medicate an innate opioid deficiency. Perhaps the “hole in my soul” I felt finally filled in my friend’s basement was nothing more than a flood of endorphins at last quenching destitute receptors. The heritable differences in endorphin signaling between those at low risk (left) and high risk (right) for alcohol abuse.

    As the concentration in the blood and brain increases, judgment is impaired and motor skills decline while risky behavior increases, along with memory and concentration problems, emotional volatility, loss of coordination, including slurred speech, and confusion. Finally, nausea rises and vomiting begins as the area postrema, otherwise known as the brain’s vomit center, reflexively works to expel the poison. Eventually, the drinker could fall into a coma. If intoxication occurs very rapidly—for instance, by guzzling high-potency beverages on an empty stomach—it’s possible for the anesthetic effects to occur before the vomit reflex is engaged. In this case, as the brain is shut down, it’s possible to die from overdose.

    Binge drinking is risky for anyone, but particularly for those whose brains are still developing. The impact of high alcohol concentrations during this “plastic” period leads to lasting alterations in brain structure and function and is more likely to result in an alcohol use disorder. The converse is also true: one of the most effective ways to curtail the risk of addiction is to avoid intoxication during periods of rapid brain development. People who begin drinking in their early teens, as I did, are at least four times more likely to eventually meet the criteria for an alcohol use disorder. In fact, the lifetime risk for substance abuse and dependence decreases about 5 percent with each additional year between ages thirteen and twenty-one.8 Yet young people are especially prone to binge drinking in part because they are neurobiologically primed to seek and appreciate novel and high-risk experiences. Though their parents may not appreciate it, for adolescents these tendencies are well timed to promote the development of adult goals and identity formation.

    Lower blood volume and slower metabolism may also partly explain the steeper dive in women alcoholics who more quickly progress to organ damage, disordered use, and death from drinking.

    As a rule, sedation is not as much enjoyed as stimulation, which is why, despite its popularity, alcohol is not as addictive as are some other drugs. Over 85 percent of the world’s adults drink, but only about one-tenth of these develop a problem. Also, even though the ethanol in all alcoholic beverages is the same molecule, different beverages contain different congeners or impurities from the distillation process, often connected to the source—tequila has more congeners than vodka—that can affect the experience of intoxication and withdrawal

    While the consequences have generally gotten stricter, the per capita consumption both here and worldwide has been rising fairly steeply since my heyday. Excessive use of alcohol now results in about 3.3 million deaths around the world each year.9 In Russia and its former satellite states, one in five male deaths is caused by drinking. And in the United States during the period between 2006 and 2010, excessive alcohol use was responsible for close to 90,000 deaths a year, including one in ten deaths among adults aged twenty to sixty-four, translating to 2.5 million years of potential life lost. More than half of these deaths and three-quarters of the years of potential life lost were due to binge drinking.

    In fact, alcohol killed about twice as many people in 2016 as prescription opioids and heroin overdoses combined, and even this number would be almost three times higher if it included drunk-driving-related deaths.

    place. For example, by the 1970s, Valium was the single most prescribed brand of medicine in the United States, used by about one in five women.

    In 2013, close to 6 percent of U.S. adults filled more than thirteen million prescriptions for sedative-hypnotics.

    The first true sleep medicine was chloral hydrate, perhaps familiar to some as the knockout drops mixed with alcohol to make a Mickey Finn. A

    “hypnotic” refers to their sleep-inducing properties. Because

    Unfortunately, the problem with all the drugs that have been developed to treat these serious issues thus far is that with regular use they elicit an opponent process, therefore creating the state they were designed to remedy. The insomniac become sleepless. The anxious become wrecks.

    What I liked most about the downer class was the feeling of distance from my feelings.

    Or we might speculate that the decline in the use of tranquilizers, caused mostly by negative press and pressure on doctors to reduce the number of prescriptions written, was related to the rise of alcohol use. It would be no wonder, because these drugs essentially represent alcohol in pill form.

    Americans changed the name to barbital in a sleight of hand during World War I to permit manufacture of German products in the United States without having to pay royalties.

    More recently, Michael Jackson succumbed to a massive dose of Propofol, which his private doctor administered to help him sleep. The very short-acting anesthetic doesn’t share the barbiturate structure, but acts in a similar fashion. It’s a very good anesthetic because it has a really fast onset and short half-life, but like all these drugs, as well as the rest of Mr. Jackson’s pharmacological strategies, doses need to escalate as tolerance develops, making the therapeutic window grow narrower and the risk of accidental overdose grow greater over time.

    Speaking of which, both inventors of barbiturates, the chemists Fischer and von Mering, died of overdose after years of dependence.

    Not surprisingly, those claims were overstated. Millions of people are now hooked on benzos, but on the bright side it’s not possible to overdose from them alone, so the market is likely to stay strong.

    example, whether or not you are able to drink others under the table, or are known as a “lightweight,” has been attributed to the particular makeup of subunits. Structural differences may also confer individual variation in pain sensitivity, anxiety, premenstrual or postpartum depression, diagnosis on the autism

    The major difference between benzos and barbiturates is that overdose is virtually impossible with benzodiazepines alone and fairly likely with barbiturates.

    Excessive anxiety is estimated to be the sixth leading cause of disability across the globe.5 Anxiety differs from fear in that the latter is an emotional response to a clear and current danger, as opposed to apprehension about possible future events or unfocused or irrational worry. There are many ways anxiety disorders are expressed, including panic disorder, phobias, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). Anxiety disorders are also linked to depression; these are sometimes thought of as two sides of the same underlying issue(s). Anxiety disorders tend to begin early in life and follow a recurrent, intermittent course, exacting costs on life satisfaction, income, education, and relationships.

    In fact, women tend to be two to three times more susceptible to all stress-related disorders, at least partly as a result of neurobiology that is only beginning to be investigated.

    The difference between those with ADHD diagnoses and those without is quantitative: for those with the disorder, drug treatment brings their cognition within normal range.

    Multiple studies have shown that when these substances are administered in a controlled laboratory setting, virtually everybody enjoys their effects.

    other drug effects, including those associated with movement and cognition, tend to get more robust rather than less so with repeated exposures, a phenomenon called sensitization. Sensitization among stimulant users is thought to account for bizarre behavioral and cognitive changes that often develop over time, such as stereotypy. Stereotypy is evident as highly dosed or sensitized individuals engage in purposeless, repetitive movement. There can be other causes of stereotypical behavior besides drugs, but it is common enough among speed users to have its own slang: users often refer to stereotypies as punding or tweaking, as they mindlessly sort, clean, or dis- and reassemble objects,

    In fact, there are several documented benefits to regular caffeine use including improvements in mood, memory, alertness, and physical and cognitive performance. It also seems to reduce the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease and type 2 diabetes. This is all good news, especially because, unlike many other psychoactive substances, it is legal and unregulated nearly everywhere.

    over 1.1 billion people smoke tobacco, and more than 7 million die each year from their addiction. Like

    Though I’m also a former smoker and can therefore be self-righteous, I don’t think nicotine is worth dying for. On average, tobacco users lose fifteen years of life.

    In fact, the total annual cost of smoking is almost 2 percent of global gross domestic product, which is also about 40 percent of what all the world’s governments spent on education.

    Once in the lungs, it is readily absorbed into the bloodstream and distributed to the brain in about seven seconds. (A pack a day smoker takes in over two hundred separate hits of nicotine a day.)

    As with all drug addictions, the target concentration is an ideal window between withdrawal and toxicity. Nicotine is metabolized fairly quickly, and a smoker has to regularly dose to avoid withdrawal,

    The dynamic adaptations that lead to tolerance within such a short time are mirrored on the other end as tolerance partially decreases during even a few hours of withdrawal, so the first few puffs are the best of the day. The bigger lesson here is the temporal symmetry: tolerance that develops rapidly tends to reverse quickly too, while changes that take longer to accrue tend to persist.

    Some of these effects have led to the idea that a nicotine patch might be used to treat cognitive decline in the elderly—the drug can improve some aspects of attention and memory—but the unlikelihood of being able to take anything long term without incurring compensatory adaptations, or substantial side effects, has so far kept these out of the clinic.

    Many people notice that drinking makes them want to smoke, or vice versa, and wonder why this is. There are several hypotheses, each of which may explain part of the relationship. For one, any drug that stimulates dopamine greases the rails for another. Because they are both addictive, they can also serve as reminders of addiction, and especially when smoking was okay in bars, the contextual cues were largely overlapping. Also, the arousing effects of nicotine may counteract the sedative effects of alcohol, reflecting the familiar pattern of users counterbalancing uppers and downers. One more hypothesis suggests that smokers can drink more, perhaps because nicotine stimulates digestion and this might decrease alcohol absorption from the gut. So, until further study, we’re not sure whether, overall, the two drugs enhance or counteract each other’s effects.

    My relationship with cocaine was more like leaving a mean, unfaithful lover. Pangs of desperate regret mixed with a growing sense of relief. It was like most users of coke and meth in that my compulsion was repulsive even to me, yet I’d have kept on, grinding my jaw tighter, had it not been for Steve’s brief epiphany that probably saved my life. He was the friend who noted with unexpected insight that there wasn’t enough cocaine in the world to satisfy our desire, and somehow—I honestly have no idea how—steered us both away from injecting over the ensuing several months that it took me to get to treatment.

    Cocaine is like the sole porn shop in a down-and-out town. You hate yourself for going but end up visiting over and over. While using, especially in a binge, I felt as if I were flooring the gas pedal, headed for a granite wall, unable or unwilling to stop, or even to care. It was the short course to self-loathing, and with every bag my soul grew more and more hollow. Cocaine is the drug I miss the least.

    does not involve interacting with a receptor. Instead, they interfere with the recycling mechanism for monoamine neurotransmitters. Though the name monoamine might be new, most people are familiar with the members of this group of neurotransmitters: dopamine, norepinephrine, epinephrine (or adrenaline), serotonin, and melatonin, chemicals that play major roles in mood and sleep.

    Coke, speed, and E all act by blocking transporters. Transporters, like receptors, are proteins embedded in the neural cell membrane, but unlike receptors the function of transporters is to transport (or recycle) released neurotransmitter back into the presynaptic neuron, where it can be repackaged and reused. Transporters are one of the two main ways that synaptic transmission is discontinued; the other is through enzymatic degradation. Without transporters or enzymes to break apart neurotransmitters, synaptic transmission would persist much longer than it does, and therefore the signal would be quite different. When one of these drugs occupies a spot on a transporter, it prevents the monoamines from utilizing their reuptake mechanism and prolongs their effects. In the case of dopamine, for example, indication of something newsworthy would be more like a home alarm than a pop-up notification.

    Thousands of people have lost their families, jobs, homes, and lives because the ability of cocaine to extend dopamine’s presence in the synapse seemed worth giving up relatively unimportant stimuli like relationships, a livelihood, and teeth. The half-life is very short (usually less than an hour), and though pharmacologists say the subjective effects last about thirty minutes, in my experience it was more like three, barely enough time to prepare the next bump.

    Methamphetamine abuse is a significant problem worldwide. Though rates in the United States have been stable with about a million chronic users, the market is growing quickly in East and Southeast Asia.8 Meth is a Schedule II drug and may be prescribed for ADHD, extreme obesity, and narcolepsy, but amphetamine is more often the choice of physicians because it is less reinforcing than methamphetamine (the addition of a methyl group increases absorption and distribution). Either of these drugs can be neurotoxic when taken at high doses, and there is no treatment for this brain damage.

    when all three superpowers (Japan, Germany, and the United States) might have been so as a result of loading their troops with “uppers.”

    The half-life of methamphetamine is about ten hours (ten times that of cocaine), but amphetamine’s half-life varies widely—anywhere from seven to thirty hours, depending on the pH of the user’s urine.

    In contrast to most other drugs, where there is more or less a linear relationship between time since last using and the experience of craving, with coke and meth craving seems to build over time, and most users relapse within a few weeks.

    the way a hungry lab rat must

    (As a rule of thumb, it takes about five half-lives to get rid of about 95 percent of any drug, so this one hangs around for a couple of days.)

    But for many, the acute effects make this short-term dip well worth a little low. The drug greatly enhances a sense of well-being and produces extroversion and feelings of happiness and closeness to others, due in part to the fact that it impairs recognition of negative emotions, including sadness, anger, and fear. Affective neuroscience (the study of the brain’s role in moods and feelings) has demonstrated quite clearly that we can’t feel what we can’t recognize, so this pro-social bias seems perfectly engineered and helps explain why ecstasy is called the love drug and has been adopted for use by marriage counselors. In terms of unpleasant acute effects, the drug can cause overheating, teeth grinding, muscle stiffness, lack of appetite, and restless legs—none of which are especially contraindicated on a dance floor. At

    But, alas, the more you take any drug, the larger the b process grows, and the opponent/dark side of this drug is truly awful. Many regular users look to be headed for a lifetime of depression and anxiety.

    For example, primates given ecstasy twice a day for four days (eight total doses) show reductions in the number of serotonergic neurons seven years later.

    There were two major findings. First, former and current ecstasy users were virtually identical, and, second, these groups showed significantly more clinically relevant levels of depression, impulsiveness, poor sleep, and memory impairment. Again, these were recreational users, many had not taken the drug for years, and still deficits were strikingly evident.

    As discussed, coke, meth, and E interact not with receptors but with transporters, but that in itself is not what makes them dangerous. Indeed, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors as well as older tricyclic antidepressants are some of the most well-known transporter-blocking drugs, and neither shows evidence of permanent brain damage. Even cocaine doesn’t appear to cause the same sort of long-term damage that amphetamines and ecstasy do, perhaps because it—like the antidepressants—stays in the synaptic gap rather than being transported into cells like its more toxic cousins. It seems likely that the presence of these drugs inside the

    A singular fact about psychedelics is that the majority of scientists who study abused substances don’t think these are addictive.

    Psilocybin, mescaline, and DMT are natural compounds that have been used for millennia by indigenous people in sacred rituals; LSD is a synthetic compound, created by Albert Hofmann, a Swiss chemist, in 1938.

    and who often bring nothing to the experience but a vacuous yearning.

    the very body of the Western heritage at best, in favor of exotic traditions they only marginally understand; at worst, in favor of an introspective chaos in which the seventeen or eighteen years

    usually delivered through a paper tab that has been dosed with a small amount of liquid, will induce a trip that lasts for six to twelve hours. Mescaline is similarly long acting, while psilocybin’s duration is about half as long. All of these are typically taken orally and induce rapid and profound tolerance. In fact, besides the fact that they don’t cause dopamine release in the nucleus accumbens, this tolerance is so quick that regular use is pointless.

    The first time I tripped, and every time after, was like opening a door into a much more vast and mysterious existence than the one I usually inhabited.

    worthwhile. My good fortune was probably partly due to my optimistic constitution and the somewhat idiotic naïveté that characterized the 1980s.

    because deep down I knew my smoking was mostly to quell the panic and boredom of not smoking—I

    These drugs don’t lead to the release of dopamine in the nucleus accumbens (need I say more?), so nonhuman animals won’t self-administer them.

    For instance, khat is so popular in Yemen that its cultivation consumes an estimated 40 percent of the country’s water supply.

    In addition to this sense of detachment, sometimes accompanied by a feeling of leaving one’s body, the drugs produce amnesia, so whatever happens under their influence is lost to conscious memory.

    addition, at least some of PCP’s effects are due to increased levels of the neurotransmitter glutamate, and excess glutamate has also been implicated in schizophrenia. The

    Unfortunately for them, chronic use is bad for the brain. Reflecting the ubiquitous role of glutamate signaling, a variety of negative effects are evident in regular users, supported by parallel research in other animals, including problems with incontinence, cognitive deficits, gross abnormalities in brain structure, deficits in dopamine signaling, and a loss of both dopamine and glutamate synapses. Because these drugs are still used in the clinic, there is some concern, especially regarding pediatric anesthesia, that they may be altering brain structure and function, although studies in humans are so far inconclusive.2 Unwittingly,

    There is a well-established positive correlation between exposure to weed or other natural cannabinoids and a diagnosis of schizophrenia. The general consensus has been that cannabinoids don’t cause the disorder but can unmask a latent vulnerability, bringing schizophrenic symptoms to the surface that might otherwise have remained below the threshold for detection.

    drop in the number of functional CB1 receptors. In such cases, users can expect profound cross-tolerance so that smoking weed would actually be about as effective as smoking the grass in your backyard.

    Although inhalant abuse exists worldwide, it’s especially common among the poor and the homeless, including especially children who work or live on the street.

    The effects of inhalants are similar to getting drunk, but some people report experiencing something like hallucinations. A sudden sniffing death syndrome may occur, but more commonly these compounds tend to damage the liver, kidneys, lungs, and bone in addition to the brain. Repeated use has been linked to cognitive impairment, likely due to degeneration of neural pathways as the axons that conduct information throughout the brain lose function, and perhaps to lead poisoning from huffing gasoline.

    Schedule I or II substances were made illegal by analogy. The need for this law was so compellingly obvious, even to Congress, that it was introduced, passed by both houses, and signed by the president of the United States (Reagan) in less than two months. However, like virtually all legal attempts to control the drive to use drugs, it hasn’t made a dent.

    one of those people who couldn’t control their use. I thought I was smarter…or more resolute…or more deserving. Besides, I was just getting started and way too young to have a habit. My desperate evasions were just like those of millions of other people determined that they’d never be like a drunkard parent or

    Sure, I met some of the criteria some of the time, but my ability to fool teachers, clinicians, and law enforcement stemmed from an ability to fool myself.

    say there are four primary reasons people like me develop addictions. Well, actually five, but I’m saving the gloomy news for last. The four are these: an inherited biological disposition, copious drug exposure, particularly during adolescence, and a catalyzing environment. It’s not necessary to have all four, but once some threshold is reached, it’s like breaching a dam—virtually impossible to rebuild. So, with enough exposure to any addictive drug, any one of us will develop the hallmarks of addiction: tolerance, dependence, and craving. But if the biological predisposition is very high, or use starts during adolescence, or certain risk factors are present, less exposure will do the trick. Genetics

    for instance, some people might have a tendency toward anxiety or be naturally endorphin deficient, and both of these states can be remedied by drinking.

    All genetic influence, we’ve learned, is context dependent and incredibly complex.

    The relatively new field of epigenetics is just getting under way, but it is thought that some of our parents’ and grandparents’ experiences are imprinted in our cells this

    other words, the experiment suggested that if your parent used THC before you were conceived, you may be at increased risk

    It’s increasingly looking as if exposure to drugs of abuse in our parents and grandparents predisposes us to take drugs ourselves—effectively a b process across generations.

    concretized by lasting patterns in the brain and behavior. The downside of this is that any neurobiological consequences of drug use are much more profound and longer lasting when exposure occurs during adolescence than when it occurs after about age twenty-five—the neural definition of adulthood.

    Beyond the gateway effect, we know that chronic THC users have an increased tendency to feel blue, show more difficulty with complex reasoning, and suffer from things like anxiety, depression, and social problems. Scientists

    The heart of the matter is that the brain adapts to any drug that alters its activity and it appears to do this permanently when exposure occurs during development. The more exposure to the substance we have, and the earlier we have it, the more strongly the brain adjusts.

    Those with high anxiety—whether they got there from inherited liabilities or stressful experiences, or both—are obviously more likely to enjoy the benefits of sedatives like alcohol and benzodiazepines.

    Even today, I’m confounded by people who can drink or use other drugs but don’t. For me, and others like me, nothing short of impending doom (and often even that) would provide enough incentive to forgo pharmacological stimulation. People who stop after only one drink, mete out cocaine like a banker, or keep a bag of weed around for months are entirely foreign to my experience and beyond my capacity to comprehend.

    For example, on some reservations close to half of children are born with fetal alcohol poisoning, and rates of addiction are similarly through the roof.

    However, no biological differences have been discovered that explain the higher rate of addiction in these people.

    The more closely we examine any aspect of reality, the more we see how much there is to learn. Complexity,

    As a result of looking closely at any problem, we increasingly realize the flaws in our assumptions and ask better and better questions. So, I can say with absolute certainty that there’s not “a gene” for addiction, nor is it caused by a “moral weakness”; it doesn’t “skip a generation”; all people aren’t equally vulnerable, nor is any one person equally at risk across the life span. In other words, we know a lot about the causes of addiction, and they are complicated.

    but “how much more likely am I” to become an alcoholic if my parent or grandparent lost control of his or her drinking than if no one in my immediate family had done so? The answer is about 40 and 20 percent, respectively, versus 5 percent. In

    It turns out that we have about half the number of genes as the average potato: around twenty thousand!

    The truth is, people like me who are prone to excessive use are less likely than average to be swayed by outside pressure, including punishment. We’re also more likely to ignore public mores

    it’s been done with Suboxone/buprenorphine for opiate addicts, with Chantix/varenicline for smokers, and with benzos for alcoholics, to a lesser degree, because the drug is such a generalist.

    fact, there is no evidence of addiction among people who use coca in its indigenous form. Risk for addiction likewise increased with distillation of alcohol—yielding concentrations way above the limits of fermentation. And so on. As drugs get more potent, they are easier to traffic, and once they are popular, it’s a pretty good bet that synthetic versions—with even more potency—are on their way.

    After being sober for some time, I was stopped at a light early one morning on Spanish River Boulevard in Boca Raton. Glancing over at the car next to me, I noticed a seemingly normal fellow guzzling from a bottle in a brown paper bag. He looked up, and our eyes connected over the edge of the bag. What has haunted me ever since is how thoroughly and quickly I looked away, as if I had done something wrong by noticing his early-morning nip. And I did feel, and can still recollect, a sense of shame and, I’m embarrassed to say, distaste. Why do people who are acting so contrary to their own best interests evoke denial in all of us? A victim of virtually any disease usually elicits pity; addicts mostly evoke revulsion. What is it about the irrational behavior of an addict that makes everyone want to turn away?

    and behavior, in ways that are direct and profound. As we grapple to respond to the growing population of addicts, we’d do well to recognize that disordered use comes from, thrives in, and creates alienation. This means that building walls to keep us from our emotions or our neighbors will only make things worse, by feeding the epidemic.

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  • Books

    Mine Were of Trouble by Peter Kemp

    From my Notion Template

    The Book in 3 Sentences

    1. A somewhat erratic memoir of a Nationalist volunteer in the Spanish Civil War. It doubles as something of a war travelogue, and has the general air of a tourist on a very gripping vacation trip, with grenades, death and maiming. It was seemingly written before they invented trauma in literature, or at least written by an author not able to write it.

    How I Discovered It

    The Amazon Algorithm.

    Who Should Read It?

    Anyone who enjoyed Storm of Steel by Ernst Junger – it’s not as good and could have used an editor, but good nonetheless.

    How the Book Changed Me

    How my life / behaviour / thoughts / ideas have changed as a result of reading the book.

    I’m not sure I was changed in any way, but seeing the very, very wide range of human experience is always interesting – particularly how Kemp could just turn the war on an off (rational, since he was a tourist/volunteer) whereas the Spanish on either side could not

    My Top 3 Quotes

    • The details of his flight had been arranged in London by a certain Major Hugh Pollard, one of those romantic Englishmen who specialize in other countries’ revolutions.
    • Father Vicente, in great spirits, dominated the gathering. He was the most fearless and the most bloodthirsty man I ever met in Spain; he would, I think, have made a better soldier than priest.
    • The motto of the Legion was ‘Viva la muerte!’

    Summary + Notes

    Of course, if I had been willing to join the International Brigade and fight for the Republicans it would have been simple; in every country there were organizations, ably directed by the various Communist parties, for that very purpose. But

    Certainly the execution of prisoners was one of the ugliest aspects of the Civil War, and both sides were guilty of it in the early months. There were two main reasons for this: first, the belief, firmly held by each side, that the others were traitors to their country and enemies of humanity who fully deserved death; secondly, the fear of each side that unless they exterminated their adversaries these would rise again and destroy them.

    Resolved to be the first to welcome the victorious army, he and a Spanish friend of a similar temperament, Ricardo González, of the famous sherry family, loaded his aircraft with crates of sherry and brandy, took off from San Sebastian and soon afterwards landed on the airfield at Santander. A swarm of blue-clad soldiers surrounded the aircraft and Bellville and González climbed out with glad shouts of ‘Viva Franco!’ and ‘Arriba España!’ when they realized with astonishment and dismay that these were Republican militiamen and that Santander was still in enemy hands. They were brusquely marched to prison, transferred to Gijón, in Asturias, just before the fall of Santander and for a week or two were in grave danger of summary execution.

    The details of his flight had been arranged in London by a certain Major Hugh Pollard, one of those romantic Englishmen who specialize in other countries’ revolutions.

    The Nationalists started with the great advantage that the most important of the fighting Services, the Army, was on their side.

    Their difficulty was that the crews, having murdered their officers, were unable to sail or fight the ships effectively until, later on, they were trained and officered by Russians.

    So perished in the first few months of the war the finest flower of Spain.

    Less wisely, they opened the prisons. These, as Señor de Madariaga points out,9 had been emptied months earlier of their political prisoners by an amnesty of President Azaña, and so could disgorge only common criminals. The latter were immediately enrolled in the various militias, and were responsible for much of the violence and horror that disgraced Republican Spain in the early months of the war.

    Apart from Andalusia, where the Anarchist tradition was strong among the peasantry, it is reasonable to say that the agricultural districts were for the Nationalists, the cities and industrial areas were for the Republicans. Thus,

    The Russians did for the Republicans roughly what the Germans did for the Nationalists—they supplied technicians and war material of all kinds. In return they exacted a far greater measure of control over Republican policy and strategy than the Germans were able to obtain from Franco; the price of Russian co-operation was Russian direction of the war and the complete domination by the Communist Party of all Republican political and military organizations.14

    On many occasions during those early days it was the courage and initiative of individual commanders that turned the scale for the Nationalists. At the end of the war, when I was in Madrid, I heard the comment of an Englishman who had witnessed both the Russian and Spanish revolutions: ‘If Franco’s generals hadn’t had more guts than the White Russian generals, Spain would now be Communist.’

    Their job was not made easy for them by the attitude of the military, which seemed to be that all foreign correspondents were spies who must be kept as far as possible from the scene of operations, who were only in the country on sufferance and who ought to be more than satisfied with whatever news the Army cared to issue in the official communiques. This was in marked contrast to the attitude of the Republicans, whose Press and Propaganda services were far superior to those of the Nationalists as their fighting was inferior and who took pains to give journalists and writers all the facilities they required. Although both sides imposed a rigid censorship on all dispatches going out of the country, the Nationalist made virtually no concessions to the Press, while the Republicans laid out enormous sums on propaganda abroad. These factors account in a large measure for the poor Press which the Nationalist received—and of which they ceaselessly complained—in England and the United States.

    to look at the ruins of the Alcázar. There was nothing but a vast pile of rubble; the cellars, even the foundations, lay bare, with twisted iron girders sticking through the broken masonry and a great pit in the middle where the Republicans had exploded a mine. From the débris rose a foul stench of ordure and decay. The houses all around the square were pocketed with bullet holes, their windows shattered. A young Carlist from Galicia told us: ‘We are going to leave it like that as a monument to Marxist civilization.’ In fact, no attempt has been made to rebuild the Alcázar, and when I revisited it in the spring of 1951 it looked, and smelt, exactly the same.

    It was early when we went to bed but late before I found my sleep. This was due partly to the thoughts racing through my mind, partly to the strangeness of my bed but chiefly to the thunderous sounds punctuating the stillness as my companions broke wind throughout the night.

    The day after my arrival two troopers reported for duty incapably drunk; apparently they were old offenders. The following evening Llancia formed the whole Squadron in a hollow square in the main barrack-room. Calling out the two defaulters in front of us he shouted, ‘There has been enough drunkenness in this Squadron. I will have no more of it, as you are going to see.’ Thereupon he drove his fist into the face of one of them, knocking out most of his front teeth and sending him spinning across the room to crash through two ranks of men and collapse on the floor. Turning on the other he beat him across the face with a riding crop until the man dropped half senseless to the ground. He returned to his first victim, yanked him to his feet and laid open his face with the crop, disregarding his screams until he fell inert beside his companion. Then he turned to us: ‘You have seen, I will not tolerate a single drunkard in this Squadron.’ The two culprits were hauled, sobbing, to their feet to have half a bottle of castor oil forced down their throats. They were on duty next day, but I never saw either of them drunk again.

    As we came over the crest San Merano gave the order, ‘Charge!’ Spurring our horses, we swept downhill in a cheering line, leaning forward on our horses’ necks, our sabres pointed. In a moment of mad exhilaration I fancied myself one of Subatai’s Tartars or Tamerlane’s bahadurs. Whoever, I exulted, said the days of cavalry were past? Preoccupied with these thoughts and with my efforts to keep station I never thought of looking at our target; nor, it seemed, did anyone else. For the next thing I knew we were in the middle of a bleating, panic-stricken, heard of goats, in the charge of three terrified herdsmen.

    The enemy were evidently respecting the hour of the siesta for everything was quiet when we arrived. The

    Father Vicente, in great spirits, dominated the gathering. He was the most fearless and the most bloodthirsty man I ever met in Spain; he would, I think, have made a better soldier than priest.

    At first they made no progress against our fire. Many fell; some lay down where they were and fired back at us, others turned and ran in all directions, looking for cover, not realizing that this was the most certain way of being killed.

    Parties with more divergent political views than the Requetés and the Falange could scarcely be imagined. Writing of ‘this magnificent Harlequin’, Señor de Madariaga says it was ‘as if the President of the United States organized the Republican-Democratic-Socialist-Communist-League-of-the-Daughters-of-the-American-Revolution, in the hopes of unifying American politics’. Either the Falange or the Requetés would have to dominate; the skill at intrigue of the former, and the political ineptitude of the latter made the outcome certain; the Requetés ceased to exert any serious influence on Spanish politics.

    A former Chief of Police of the Irish Free State, General O’Duffy launched into Irish politics in the 1930’s, forming his own United Party, or ‘Blueshirts’. Seeing in the Spanish Civil War a chance to increase his prestige in Ireland, he raised a ‘Brigade’ of his countrymen to fight for the Nationalists. The ‘Brigade’ was in fact equal in strength to a battalion, but O’Duffy was granted the honorary rank of General in the Spanish Army.

    Like some other Irishmen and some Americans—happily a minority—whose minds cherish the memory of past enmity he had a pathological hatred of the English, which he never tried to conceal. To his men he was known as ‘General O’Scruffy’ or ‘Old John Bollocks’.

    It seems to me that nothing illustrates better the superiority of Republican propaganda over Nationalist than the Republican story about Guernica was given immediate and world-wide publicity, and is still generally believed; whereas the Nationalist case scarcely received a hearing.

    At a smaller table nearby sat the newspaper correspondents, among them Randolph Churchill, Pembroke Stevens, Reynolds Packard and his wife and Philby of The Times; Churchill’s clear, vigorous voice could be heard deploring with well-turned phrase and varied vocabulary the inefficiency of the service, the quality of the food and, above all, the proximity of the Germans, at whom he would direct venomous glances throughout the meal. ‘Surely,’ he exclaimed loudly, ‘there must be one Jew in Germany with enough guts to shoot that bastard Hitler!’

    He was greatly relieved when I assured him that I was not a Freemason; he had been convinced that all Protestants were Masons—a belief shared by most of the other officers. It was a waste of time trying to explain to Spaniards that English Freemasonry was a different thing from the Continental variety, which they abhorred because of its connection with the Popular Front governments in France and Spain. My friend FitzPatrick told me that what eventually finished his career in the Legion was his admission, in the course of an argument, that he was a Mason.

    Another officer, Alférez Colomer, a Catalan from Gerona, was about the same age as myself. He was a noisy, rancorous little man, for ever bickering with his brother-officers and bullying his men. He had been badly wounded in an earlier battle, which had perhaps affected his temper; but he always seemed to me to have a chip on his shoulder. His contentious nature was, literally, the death of him: one day, after I had left the Bandera, he became very drunk after a battle, and challenged another officer to a stupid competition to see which of them could pick up more of the unexploded hand-grenades lying in front of their trenches. Colomer picked up one too many; it blew his head off.

    He was just as severe on matters not strictly military but reflecting indirectly on the health and efficiency of the cadet. A model of rectitude in his own private life, he was also well aware of the temptations to which young men so easily succumb in a city. He therefore made it an order that every cadet, when walking out in the evening, must carry in his pocket at least one contraceptive. He would frequently stop cadets in the street and demand that they show him this armour; heavy was the penalty for him that failed to produce it.

    The motto of the Legion was ‘Viva la muerte!’ It

    In contrast, discipline on duty and the field was extremely strict, even savage by English standards. Orders were executed at the double and usually reinforced by threats or imprecations; the slightest hesitation, laxity or inefficiency was punished on the spot by a series of blows across the face and shoulders from the fusta—a pliant switch made from a bull’s pizzle, which was carried by all officers and sergeants. More

    If there is any case of an attempt on the virtue of a woman, it will be punished on the spot by death.’ He

    The earlier happy atmosphere evaporated without any corresponding gain in efficiency.

    The New Year opened sadly for me. On January 31st a Press car containing four friends of mine—Dick Sheepshanks, Kim Philby, and two American correspondents, Eddie Neil and Bradish Johnson—was passing through the village of Caude, eight miles north-west of Teruel, during an enemy artillery bombardment, when a 12.40 cm. shell burst beside it. Sheepshanks and Johnson were killed outright. Neil died a few days later; Philby escaped with a wound in the head.

    Campos was a tall, flabby young man, a little stupid and morose. He told me that he had been one of the original members of the Falange in Granada, and that he had taken part in the firing squad that executed the poet García Lorca. I prefer to believe him a liar. The Nationalists, including the Falange, strongly denied any responsibility for Lorca’s death, attributing to the vengeance of his private enemies, of which he had a large number; certainly he had many good friends on the Nationalist side who would have saved him if they could. His murder was a crime that robbed the world of one of its greatest living lyric poets; the mystery of it has never been satisfactorily explained.

    They complained bitterly of well-fed Political Commissars who came from Madrid or Barcelona to give them lectures on The Fighting Spirit or The Meaning of Democracy.

    At this moment a voice behind me said in English: ‘Excuse me, but didn’t we meet at Cambridge?’ Wondering if I was dreaming I turned and saw a lieutenant of artillery of about my own age, with a pleasant, clean-shaven face. He introduced himself as Guy Spaey. He had, in fact, been a contemporary of mine at Cambridge, where he was at King’s; we had a number of friends in common. Of mixed Belgian, Dutch and German extraction, he had arrived in Spain in October 1936, and immediately joined the Nationalist forces. At the moment of our meeting he was Gun Position Officer of a battery of 10.5 cm. mountain artillery, attached to Lieutenant-Colonel Peñaredonda’s command.

    and from the north-west by the First Cavalry Division and the 5th Navarre Division, both under the command of General Monasterio.

    Mora let her finish—I think she would have scratched his eyes out if he had interrupted. Then he asked her what she thought her loss was worth, paid her the sum she demanded and told the officer of the Vigilancia to find the offenders; they did a month in the Pelotón. I imagine the Duke of Wellington, who had his troops flogged for similar offences,1 would have approved of Mora.

    At first sight von Hartmann, though short and handsome, looked like the typical Prussian officer of stage and screen, with close-cropped hair, scarred face and monocle.

    am inclined to turn red in the face when scared, and I couldn’t help laughing when one of the ammunition numbers cried out: ‘Look at the colour of the Alférez’s face! It’s giving away our position.’

    About this time I had another lesson in the workings of chance, in the form of a letter from my brother, once again at Gibraltar. He told me that his new observer, Charles Owen, had a brother who was also in the Legion; did I know him? His family were half Spanish and had lived in Vigo before the war. As it happened, there was a lieutenant in the 55th Company who came from Vigo, a sombre but friendly character called Arrieta; upon inquiry I had found that he knew the Owens well: Charles,

    Cecil Owen and I must have been the only two British officers in the Corps; meanwhile our only brothers were in the same ship, flying together in the same aircraft. After receiving a citation for the Medalla Militar, Cecil Owen was killed in the Battle of the Ebro at the end of August, serving with the 16th Bandera.

    Gay, courageous and sincere, he was one of the sweetest-natured men I have ever met. He did not live long.

    At nine o’clock on the morning of February 28th I was ordered to withdraw my guns and rejoin the Bandera below; by ten o’clock I had completed the withdrawal. Around noon a ‘75’ shell landed squarely on top of my recent command post, blowing it inside out.

    As we marched along the road we saw ahead of us the ‘circuses’ of our fighters diving in rotation to machine-gun the fleeing Republicans, harrying them incessantly with hand grenades tossed from the cockpits as well as with their guns. Later we heard from prisoners that these grenades, although they caused few casualties, were very demoralizing.

    Beyond were several half-ruined shepherds’ huts; against their walls about a dozen prisoners were huddled together, while some of our tank crews stood in front of them loading rifles. As I approached there were a series of shots, and the prisoners slumped to the ground. ‘My God!’ I said to Cancela, feeling slightly sick. ‘What do they think they’re doing shooting the prisoners?’ Cancela looked at me. ‘They’re from the International Brigades,’ he said grimly.

    It was over lunch the next day that I nerved myself to ask Cancela: ‘Where do the orders come from that we must shoot all prisoners of the International Brigades?’ ‘As far as we’re concerned, from Colonel Peñaredonda. But we all think the same way ourselves. Look here, Peter,’ he went on with sudden vehemence, ‘it’s all very well for you to talk about International Law and the rights of prisoners! You’re not a Spaniard. You haven’t seen your country devastated, your family and friends murdered in a civil war that would have ended eighteen months ago but for the intervention of foreigners. I know we have help now from Germans and Italians. But you know as well as I do that this war would have been over by the end of 1936, when we were at the gates of Madrid, but for the International Brigades. At that time we had no foreign help. What is it to us if they do have their ideals? Whether they know it or not, they are simply tools of the Communists and they have come to Spain to destroy our country! What do they care about the ruin they have made here? Why then should we bother about their lives when we catch them? It will take years

    He paused for breath, then went on: ‘Another thing; I mean no offence to you personally, Peter, but I believe that all Spaniards⁠—even those fighting us—wish that this war could have been settled one way or another by Spaniards alone. We never wanted our country to become a battleground for foreign powers. What do you think would happen to you if you were taken prisoner by the Reds? You’d be lucky if they only shot you.’

    it was better to be one of the heroic wounded than one of the glorious dead;

    As I unwound the tape from a grenade and slung it across the clearing I understood that at last I was face to face with death; that there was nothing I could do about it. With that realization there came over me an extraordinary sense of freedom and a release from care. A few yards in front of me I caught sight of the red and yellow colours of a Nationalist flag which had been carried by one of our pelotones; it was on the ground beneath the dead body of its bearer. Running forward—I realize now, of course, that this was the most puerile dramatics—I seized the flag and ran back with it; calling encouragement to my men, I waved it in a wide arc. Whether this nonsense had any moral effect I am unable to say: a second or two later there was a soft thud beside me, an anguished shout of warning from my runner—‘Cuidado mí Alférez !—and a violent explosion.

    Nearly a year later I learnt that our adversaries this day were a British battalion of the International Brigades; Captain Don Davidson, my informant and one of its Company Commanders, told me that their own casualties were very heavy.

    Captain Don Davidson, an English officer of the International Brigades whom I met subsequently, confirmed that I should certainly have been shot if captured. CHAPTER TEN After

    In fact it never occurred to me to offer my services to the British Intelligence authorities, even if I had known how to do so; certainly they never approached me—I suppose I was considered too irresponsible.

    ‘Oh God!’ I prayed, ‘don’t let me die like this, in terror!’ I took a grip on myself, remembering how someone once said to me, ‘You’re never dead till you think you are’.

    Sheean had run his own hospital for the British Army in the First World War, after which he had gone to America, where he had a fashionable and lucrative practice lifting the faces of the ageing rich; but his hobby was travelling round Europe, treating wounded ex-Servicemen without payment; just before coming to Spain he had paid a visit to Turkey for this purpose.

    Next morning, when I was wheeled down to the operating theatre, I took the bottle with me and asked Scherman if I might use it in place of the anesthetic he couldn’t give me. ‘Certainly! I might even have a nip with you.’ I started with an enormous swig, he with a very small one to encourage me; then he set to work. Whenever the pain became too much for me I signaled him to stop and took a long pull at the brandy. In this way I finished the bottle, feeling comparatively little pain during the operation, although I felt a great deal when the effect of the brandy had worn off. I was quite proud of myself until I remembered that this was the manner in which operations were usually performed before the last century.

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  • Books,  Uncategorized

    The Land of Enterprise: A Business History of the United States – A review

    From my Notion template

    The Book in 3 Sentences

    1. A surface level history of business in America. There nothing terribly new or interesting in this book. Other books, most notably American Republics , do a better job of presenting information.


    It is a very surface level economic history of the United States. Granted – I’m a tough crowd, I’ve read several books on the topic – taken several classes, etc, etc, but there wasn’t that much new in the book.

    How I Discovered It

    The Amazon Algorithm

    Who Should Read It?

    Someone looking for a very rudimentary overview of US economic history

    How the Book Changed Me

    Nothing changed

    My Top 3 Quotes

    • Approximately 80 percent of the English migrants to Virginia between 1607 and 1624, or close to five thousand, were dead by 1625. Hemorrhaging money and unable to attract new investors, the Virginia Company failed in 1624, when the English government declared Jamestown a royal colony
    • The push for national independence grew strongest in the parts of the British empire that could envision their economies operating without the British army present.
    • In fact, by the mid-19th century, approximately two hundred thousand slaves worked in industrial settings. At the outbreak of the Civil War, more than sixty worked for, and were owned by, William Weaver, a native Philadelphian who moved to Virginia in 1814 to establish an iron forge with two charcoal blast furnaces in the Shenandoah Valley.

    All Quotes

    When historians use the term feudalism, they are attempting to describe an economic system in which power relations among people formed the building blocks of society.

    Monarchs in Spain, France, and England grew wealthier through trade, which spread from the Mediterranean to coastal West Africa, and then to the Americas. In the process, they consolidated military power at the expense of local lords.

    At the same time, these mercantilist exploits brought a major economic downside. The huge amounts of silver shipped back to Spain flooded the currency market, sparking a bout of inflation that lasted a century and crippled the Spanish economy. In spite of its large land-holdings in the Americas, Spain would never recover the economic power it wielded in the early 16th century.

    Most of those early migrants lived along the Atlantic coast in former Indian towns that had been abandoned during the plague epidemic that forced survivors inland from the coast in the late 16th century.

    fact, the first two successful English colonies in what would become the United States—Virginia (1607) and Massachusetts Bay (1620)—were themselves private companies.

    Joint-stock companies, the forerunners of today’s publicly owned corporations, pooled private sources of capital under the official protection of the crown, funding ventures that were too expensive or risky for an individual person. Drawing on a system of legal contracts developed in Italy centuries earlier, 16th-century English monarchs pioneered the practice of issuing corporate charters that granted an exclusive right to trade in a certain area to a particular group of subjects. In addition to creating a helpful monopoly, these charters created legal entities whose ownership was spread among several investors. These people purchased shares, or stock, to make up the whole company, which they owned jointly. Hence, “joint-stock company.”

    Approximately 80 percent of the English migrants to Virginia between 1607 and 1624, or close to five thousand, were dead by 1625. Hemorrhaging money and unable to attract new investors, the Virginia Company failed in 1624, when the English government declared Jamestown a royal colony.15

    Three years later, approximately one hundred people—a combination of the Separatists who had bought the patent and others who purchased their own passage directly—landed by accident far to the north of Jamestown in a former Massasoit Indian town, which they renamed Plymouth.

    (We start to refer to “Britain” instead of “England” after the Acts of Union in 1706 and 1707 by the English and Scottish Parliaments unified those two countries into the United Kingdom of Great Britain.)

    The American slave population became self-sustaining in the early 18th century, so even as the international trade declined, the population of enslaved people grew. By

    the 1770s, nearly seven hundred thousand people, or 15 percent of the total non-Indian population of the United States, were enslaved.

    Almost 95 percent of all enslaved people in the United States at the time of the Founding lived in Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, the Carolinas, and Georgia. One-third of the population of those southern colonies was enslaved, and approximately one-third of all southern households owned slaves.

    The push for national independence grew strongest in the parts of the British empire that could envision their economies operating without the British army present.

    On the other hand, Europeans on the periphery of the British empire depended greatly on the mother country. In present-day Canada, which Britain acquired from France after the Seven Years War in 1763, ongoing conflicts between the substantial native population and far-flung European fur traders and fishers meant that colonists depended greatly on British military support. In the slave societies of the West Indies, native inhabitants had been almost entirely annihilated, and small numbers of English colonists owned massive sugar plantations farmed by African slaves, whose numbers eclipsed those of their white owners by as much as ten to one in 1780. Landowners relied on brutal violence, sanctioned and backed by British law, and the strength of the British military, further cementing their ties to the crown.

    generations. Beginning in the early 15th century, merchants from kingdoms and city-states along the west coast of Africa established commercial relationships with Portuguese merchants, trading gold and spices for European metals and textiles. From the beginning, African-European commerce included the trade in human beings.

    In 1807, both the British Parliament and the U.S. Congress outlawed the international trade of slaves. (The Constitution of 1787, in an effort to forge a compromise between slave-owning interests and antislavery advocates, had included a clause prohibiting any move to ban the trade for twenty years.) By 1820, all other major European powers had as well.

    Large plantations certainly wielded disproportionate economic power, but most southern whites were not slave-owners. Historians estimate that, by the time of the Civil War, about 385,000 out of a total of 1.5 million white households in the South owned slaves. (African Americans and Native Americans did not own slaves in significant numbers, and were usually legally barred from doing so.) About half of these slave-owning households owned between one and five slaves; another 38 percent owned between six and twenty. Although they held a vastly disproportionate level of wealth, the remaining 12 percent of slave-owners (those who had twenty-plus slaves) represented only 3 percent of all white households.

    In fact, by the mid-19th century, approximately two hundred thousand slaves worked in industrial settings. At the outbreak of the Civil War, more than sixty worked for, and were owned by, William Weaver, a native Philadelphian who moved to Virginia in 1814 to establish an iron forge with two charcoal blast furnaces in the Shenandoah Valley.

    A significant number of enslaved people lived in urban areas such as Charleston and Baltimore. There, some slaves labored for, and often alongside, their owners in workshops, but many were owned by urban professionals—doctors, bankers, and lawyers who kept slaves as investment property. Some performed domestic duties, but more often they were hired out to work for private companies or to perform public works projects, such as digging canals or dredging harbors. Slave-owners received hourly pay for their slaves’ labor, and in many cases the enslaved people themselves brought home those wages in cash. In both cases, urban slaves often labored alongside free workers, both black and white.8

    By the eve of the Civil War, historians estimate that the total cash value of the 4 million slaves in the American South was $3.5 billion in 1860 money. At more than 80 percent of the country’s total economic output, that figure would be roughly $13.8 trillion today. Understood in that way, enslaved people were capital assets worth more than the country’s entire productive capacity from manufacturing, trade, and railroads combined.

    1776, when Thomas Jefferson declared the “self-evident” truth that “all men are created equal,” nearly 15 percent of the 4 million non-Indian inhabitants of the United States were enslaved. Although slavery remained legal in all states, almost 95 percent of enslaved people lived south of Pennsylvania, and the highest concentration was in Virginia.

    By 1804, every state north of Delaware had legally abolished the practice, and new midwestern states and territories that joined the nation in the decades to come likewise prohibited it.

    Slavery in the North died out because of the organizational power of antislavery activists combined with the lack of large-scale commercial agriculture in the region.

    Evidence suggests that many, if not most, white northerners had no moral problem with slavery, but few powerful interests had much to gain by defending it.

    In 1794, a twenty-eight-year-old Yale-educated New Englander named Eli Whitney, engaged as a tutor for the children of a plantation owner in South Carolina, patented a machine that mechanically separated cotton fibers from cotton seed. According to the traditional story, Whitney invented this “cotton gin” (gin was short for “engine”) after observing enslaved people slowly and painfully removing seeds from cotton balls.

    The amount of cotton an individual enslaved person could prepare for export rose as use of the mechanical devices spread. By some estimates, the per-slave cotton yield increased 700 percent.

    The results for the cotton industry were astounding. Southern planters produced around 3,000 bales of cotton per year in the early 1790s. By 1820—by which time domestic textile manufacturing had spread considerably—that number approached 450,000. By the eve of the Civil War in 1860, the South grew and exported (either domestically or abroad) nearly 5.5 million bales of cotton per year.

    Karl Marx, who was simultaneously capitalism’s fiercest critic and its most trenchant analyst, viewed slavery and capitalism as incompatible.

    Just as slavery drove the southern economy, manufacturing became increasingly important to the economies of the Northeast and, by the middle of the 19th century, the Midwest. And just as slavery’s social and economic reach extended far beyond the South, so, too, did industrialization exert a powerful influence on all Americans.

    The Boston Associates engaged so-called “mill girls” to perform the difficult and monotonous work of textile production. Primarily the daughters of white Protestant farmers, these workers encountered a paternalistic social system at the mills, designed to “protect” their feminine virtue and convince their parents to allow them the social independence to live away from home. Lowell provided dormitories for workers as well as churches, libraries, and stores.

    In 1790, only 5 percent of Americans lived in urban settings; by 1860, 20 percent did.

    Unlike roads, waterways allowed merchants to move large quantities of textiles, iron, slaves, and foodstuffs over significant distances. According to one estimate, the amount of money it took to ship a ton of goods from Europe to an American port city would only get the same cargo about thirty miles inland pulled by a wagon.

    These trenches—a few feet deep, a few dozen feet across, but sometimes hundreds of miles long—represented a tremendous engineering challenge. They were designed so that draft animals could walk parallel to the water, dragging nonmotorized barges laden with goods. As a result, the

    In most cases, municipal governments saw a positive return on their investments, not only in direct payments but also through the tremendous economic growth generated by the new system of canals—three thousand miles’ worth by the 1840s, linking the Atlantic seaboard with midwestern cities such as Terre Haute, Indiana, and Cincinnati, Ohio.

    while canals increased the ease with which large quantities of goods could be moved from the interior to the seaboard, ultimately those goods moved only as quickly as the oxen dragging the barges.

    The American foray into rail began in 1828, when the state of Maryland chartered the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad company, which laid tracks to the west to create an alternative to canal traffic. The first steam-powered locomotive to travel those rails moved slower than a horse, but within two decades, the technology improved. The railroad boom took off in the late 1840s, and the number of miles of tracks multiplied. Americans laid more than twenty-one thousand miles of railroad track in the 1850s. By the eve of the Civil War, a New Yorker could reach Chicago in two days, a trip that would have taken three weeks in 1830.

    The U.S. Post Office, which was granted a special license and responsibility by the Constitution to deliver the country’s mail, expanded from seventy-five branches in 1790 to more than eighteen thousand by 1850.

    In the 1840s, a group of investors formed a rapid-delivery service that charged customers high fees to move parcels by stagecoach westward from the East Coast. Within ten years, that original partnership broke up into several specialized companies, including Wells Fargo and American Express.

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    The first telegraph was created by the French government in the 1790s to allow communication from Paris to twenty-nine cities up to five hundred miles away. But those original telegraph networks were optical, not electronic. To make them work, trained operators staffed towers spaced ten to twenty miles apart, from which they sent coded signals by shifting the positions of specialized panels. Although nothing in the United States matched the complexity of the French system, smaller networks of optical telegraphs emerged along the Atlantic Coast in the first decade of the 1800s, and others connected New York and Boston to their outlying farming communities in the 1810s. Optical

    By erecting poles alongside railroad tracks, telegraph companies made all parts of their network accessible, so they could perform maintenance and protect against the elements and sabotage. Thus, as railroads spread across the continent in the mid-19th century, the electronic telegraph went with them.

    Yet before 1800, corporate charters were far from common, and almost no business enterprises were incorporated. Because charters had to be granted by the sovereign—the king or Parliament in colonial times; the state or federal legislature after independence—the few corporations extant were almost exclusively public operations, such as turnpikes, bridges, churches, and cities, including New York. During the entire 18th century, charters were issued to only 335 businesses—and much more than half of those were issued in the last four years of the century.

    Unlike today, when incorporation is granted in perpetuity, most antebellum corporate charters were limited in time, set to expire after a fixed period of ten, twenty, or thirty years. Nonetheless, having a distinct legal existence separate from their owners made corporations appear more stable and predictable, and made them more attractive to investors.

    Slowly, states turned to a new model known as general incorporation, granting corporate charters administratively, rather than legislatively. In 1811, New York became the first state to enact such a law for manufacturing firms. In 1837, Connecticut became the first state to allow general incorporation for any kind of business.

    A landowning Virginian, Jefferson believed that self-reliant and small-scale family farms, not impersonal factories (or, ironically, large slave-labor plantations like his), provided a bulwark against tyranny and ensured the future of self-governance.

    In the years to come, the Jeffersonian Republicans completed the rout of the Federalists at nearly all levels—by the War of 1812, the Federalist Party barely clung on in remote and far-flung corners of state and local politics, but had largely disappeared as a national force.3 Yet

    These three pillars—tariffs, internal improvements, and a national bank—formed the essence of the American System.

    In addition, the Bank’s corporate structure reinforced the privileged place of the wealthy: The federal government itself owned 20 percent of the corporate stock, while the other 80 percent was sold to wealthy Americans. Yet this structure was exactly as Hamilton intended. By catering to elite merchants, the Bank wrapped up their financial interests in federal institutions and thus guaranteed that they would continue to lend political, moral, and economic support to the Constitution and its government.

    Jackson’s coalition, heirs to the Jeffersonian Republican tradition, renamed themselves as Democrats during the fight. Beginning in 1833, their opponents identified as Whigs, taking the name of the British party that had historically challenged the authority of the king. (The “king,” to these American Whigs, was Jackson himself.) America’s second party system was born. The

    Hoping to mollify southern planters, Congress passed, and President Jackson signed, a law to lower tariff rates in the summer of 1832. Enraged politicians in South Carolina still insisted that the rates were too high. In the fall of 1832, South Carolina’s legislature passed a law nullifying the federal tariff. In response, a vengeful Andrew Jackson asked Congress for the right to use military force to collect tariffs in that state. Calhoun resigned the vice presidency and declared that any use of force by Jackson would give South Carolina a just cause to declare its independence from the United States.15 For a few months, the possibility of armed conflict appeared real. Only skillful diplomacy defused the crisis. Congress passed a compromise tariff that lowered rates, on the condition that South Carolina repeal its nullification statute. Yet the battle lines that formed over the Nullification Crisis, as well as the constitutional and legal theories about the relationship between the federal government and the states, established a powerful precedent.

    The first “land grant” law, passed in 1850, designated a line—which would become the Illinois Central Railroad—between Mobile, Alabama, and Chicago, Illinois. The law created a series of six-mile-square land parcels along each side of the proposed track; in an alternating, checkerboard pattern, the federal government bequeathed every other parcel to the states of Illinois, Alabama, and Mississippi, and sold the others off to farmers.

    oceans. Although economic recession in the mid-1870s slowed the juggernaut somewhat, Americans laid up to 8,000 miles of track per year through the 1880s. By 1890, the country boasted 166,000 miles; by the early 20th century, there would be 254,000 miles of tracks.

    Railroads became the first “Big Business” because they combined the unique scale and scope of their industry and the deliberate choices by their leaders to adopt what we now recognize as a modern system of management.

    Educated and skilled office workers, they would—along with other professionals such as doctors, lawyers, and accountants—form the heart of a new urban middle class in the modern American economy. Keeping their company in business for years to come meant job security, so professional managers tended to promote stable and less risky business practices.

    In 1856, he borrowed $600 from a personal mentor (who was also his boss) and bought stock in a transport company that soon paid him his first return: a check for $10. By 1863, still a manager at the Penn Railroad, the $45,000 he made per year from his stock investments far outpaced his salary.

    In 1867, he and a handful of partners launched an oil refinery in Cleveland, just as the commercial petroleum industry was beginning to grow.

    A 19th-century “trust” resembled what we would call a holding company today. As a legal entity distinct from any of the member companies, the Standard Oil Trust controlled all the stock of those corporations, centralizing control over prices, distribution schedules, and other business decisions. By the 1890s, more than 90 percent of the oil produced in the United States was refined through Standard

    As a percentage of gross domestic product, which at the turn of the last century was about $21 billion, the merger that birthed U.S. Steel would be worth about $1 trillion today.

    The largest and fastest-growing corporations in the decades after the Civil War were typically more capital-intensive than labor-intensive.

    Morgan had an extremely conservative disposition toward risk, even by the standards of bankers, who were traditionally averse to excessive gambles.

    The disastrous financial Panic of 1893 created new opportunities for Morgan to put his vision of corporate control into action. The economic collapse, precipitated by overspeculation in railroads, crippled the nation. More than fifteen thousand companies, including six hundred banks, failed in what became the worst economic depression to that point in U.S. history. As countless railroad companies teetered on the verge of bankruptcy, Morgan and a handful of his partners engineered a series of takeovers and mergers. Shareholders in those failing companies surrendered their stocks in exchange for “trust certificates,” and the House of Morgan took control of the companies’ assets. In the aftermath of the Panic of 1893, approximately thirty-three thousand miles of railway track (one-sixth of the total) was “Morganized.”22

    The Great Railroad Strike of 1877—the first major industrial strike in American history—began in July, when workers on the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad in West Virginia walked off the job. Their specific grievances were local—a series of sharp pay cuts as the B&O struggled through the protracted economic depression that followed the Panic of 1873—but their fury echoed across the industrial heartland. Within

    Men, women, and children by the thousands toiled in dirty, dark, dangerous environments in factories and mills, quarries and mines, rigs and rail yards. The spread of mechanization and chemical technologies made work itself more boring and, simultaneously, more dangerous. Booming industry drew rural Americans away from farms and into cities, where they competed with a massive influx of European immigrants in a flooded labor market.

    One of the earliest and most dramatic manifestations of class tension between laborers and economic elites was the creation of a national labor union in 1869 called the Knights of Labor. Officially called “The Noble and Holy Order of the Knights of Labor” and first organized as a secret society, the Knights of Labor grew into a major voice for the wholesale reform of the industrial system. Unlike most trade unions, the Knights welcomed both skilled and unskilled workers from the craft, retail, and manufacturing sectors, and, quite notable for their day, they encouraged membership by both African Americans and women. Central to the Knights’ social vision was the notion of the producer. So long as you made something, they reasoned, you served a social good, regardless of your race, sex, or relationship to the means of production. The only people the group actively excluded were “nonproducers”—liquor dealers, gamblers, lawyers, and bankers, for example.

    A horrific incident in Chicago in the spring of 1886 helped cement the link between the Knights of Labor and radical, often violent, socialism in the minds of many business leaders. Amid a labor protest in Haymarket Square, someone threw a bomb that killed ten people. Eight suspects, all loosely affiliated with the Knights and variously described as anarchists, were convicted of murder. The Knights themselves were not involved, but their public image never recovered. Membership peaked in 1886, and the group declined in size and influence thereafter.

    Within weeks, the strikers attracted the support of the burgeoning American Railway Union (ARU), the first industry-specific nationwide union. The ARU had been founded the previous year by Eugene V. Debs, a labor organizer from Indiana who would later—after his imprisonment for leading the Pullman Strike—become the country’s most prominent socialist politician and activist.

    Troops killed several dozen strikers in clashes before the strike ended. Eugene Debs served six months in jail for violating a federal injunction to allow rail traffic to resume. During his imprisonment, he became a committed Marxist and later converted his American Railway Union into a socialist political party.

    Yet the most distinctive aspect of the farmers’ political program, and the issue with which Bryan launched his career, was their attack on eastern banks and the influence of financiers over the national government. Monetary policy, in particular the question of the free coinage of silver, was their primary focus. The “silver question” often strikes history students as esoteric, obscure, and technical, yet it was one of the single most important political issues of the late 19th century. The struggle split the country between those who favored minting coins only in gold—monometallists—and those who wanted to use both silver and gold—the bimetallists. As a political rallying cry, the silver debate proved instrumental to a larger critique of corporate capitalism. Bimetallists,

    As with everything in the history of big business, the story of regulation begins with the railroads.

    Another strategy, which took aim at the rise of corporate monopolies more explicitly, led to the passage of the Sherman Antitrust Act in 1890. If the ICC had represented an effort to regulate monopolistic behavior, the antitrust movement endeavored to disband monopolistic companies entirely. Named after its chief proponent, Ohio senator John Sherman (brother of Union general William Tecumseh Sherman), the act sought to preserve the benefits of free competition by cracking down hard on anticompetitive behavior. It criminalized “every contract, combination in the form of trust or otherwise, or conspiracy, in restraint of trade or commerce.” Instead of prescribing rules and procedures to mitigate corporate power, as the ICC did, the law required the criminal prosecution of “every person who shall monopolize, or attempt to monopolize, or combine or conspire with any other person or persons, to monopolize any part of the trade of commerce.

    For the antimonopoly forces, U.S. Steel’s survival exposed the limitations of the antitrust movement. The Sherman Act successfully attacked cartels and price-fixing schemes, but because it banned restraint of trade, not market dominance in general, it did nothing to curb corporate mergers

    Historians of the period have long used the phrase “Progressive Era” to describe the years between the turn of the century and the onset of World War I, defined by a political and intellectual response to the rapid rise of industrialized society. Rooted neither in radical socialism nor in unfettered laissez-faire economics, Progressivism sought to mitigate capitalism’s excesses while retaining its benefits. In the process, the Progressive period both reaffirmed classical elements of the American political tradition and established new institutions, government agencies, and expectations about the promise of democracy.

    1908 Model T cost $850, but by the early 1920s, the price had fallen to under $300.

    As one journalist put it in 1924: “The American citizen has more comforts and conveniences than kings had 200 years ago.”

    Henry Ford didn’t invent the car—there were already six different models on display at Chicago’s Columbian Exposition in 1893—but his devotion to the Model T starting in 1908 revolutionized the industry. Standardization was key: Ford simplified the design of his “Tin Lizzie” and used a bare minimum of parts (about five thousand).

    To entice his workers to remain, Ford also pioneered labor policies that appeared progressive to many. In 1914, the company introduced the “five-dollar day,” when two dollars a day was more typical.9 In the next few years, Ford reduced the workday to eight hours and the workweek from six to five days, goals long championed by the labor, populist, and socialist movements. His business success, his personal austerity (especially when compared to the flamboyant wealth of men like J. P. Morgan), and his public devotion to the ideal that industrial workers should be able to afford the fruit of their labors—that a car should be inexpensive enough for the masses—contributed to Ford’s personal popularity around the world.

    Before the rise of industrial capitalism, however, retail outfits were only found in cities and mostly sold specialty items such as books and furs. The idea of shopping for a variety of grocery or household items—or the notion that stores themselves could be big businesses—didn’t develop until the late 19th century.

    In 1872, a Chicago-based traveling salesman named A. Montgomery Ward launched the country’s first mail-order firm. He published an illustrated catalog and mailed it, free of charge, to small-town farmers, who could then order products at lower prices than what local merchants charged. In 1886, another Chicagoan—a twenty-three-year-old man named Richard Sears—imitated Montgomery Ward’s success and started selling pocket watches by mail. Within a few years, Sears partnered with Alvah Roebuck, a watch repair specialist, providing both sales and maintenance services, all remotely. The pair broadened their offerings to compete directly with Montgomery Ward—their catalog became known as “the Farmer’s Bible,” and their Chicago warehouse filled orders from around the country.

    Incorporated in 1893, Sears, Roebuck supplanted Montgomery Ward and became the country’s biggest mail-order company by 1900.13 In

    The earliest and most famous pioneers of this model were F.W. Woolworth’s, which operated from 1878 to 1997, and the Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company, which survived until 2015 as the A&P supermarket. Formed in 1859, the A&P opened its doors in New York as a discount purveyor of teas and coffees, which its founders purchased in bulk straight from ships (allowing them to offer cheaper prices). Within twenty years, the A&P offered a wide variety of grocery products and owned stores in more than one hundred locations, stretching from Minnesota to Virginia. Combining efficient distribution channels, inventory management, and low costs—the hallmarks of Taylorism—grocery chains like the A&P grew prominent in the early 20th century.14 The success of the retail revolution, and the chain store model in particular, changed the way Americans identified as consumers, but it came at a cost.

    Invented in the mid-19th century, Listerine was an alcohol-based chemical designed as a powerful antiseptic for use during surgery. In 1920, advertising copywriters for Lambert launched a marketing campaign that proposed a new use for this old product—as a solution to bad breath (when taken in small quantities and not swallowed!). In its ads, Lambert introduced Americans to the word “halitosis,” an obscure but clinical-sounding, scientific word for “bad breath,” giving the impression that Listerine addressed a pressing medical problem. By 1927, Lambert’s profits, driven by Listerine sales, had skyrocketed from one hundred thousand dollars a year to more than $4 million, in the process changing the daily ablution habits of millions of people.18

    General Motors was founded in 1904 when William Durant, a carriage maker in Flint, Michigan—just seventy miles northwest of Henry Ford’s headquarters in Detroit—took over a small and failing car company called Buick. Over the next several years, Durant expanded his production of Buicks and absorbed dozens of other car manufacturers under his corporate umbrella, following the model of horizontal integration pioneered by large extractive companies such as Standard Oil. That rapid growth created organizational and managerial confusion, because the various constituent companies (Oldsmobile, Cadillac, and so on) each had their own internal structure, products, and corporate culture. Many of General Motors’s cars targeted the same type of consumer, leading to a frustrating internal competition that hurt profits. In the mid-1910s, Durant set his company on the road to resolving these problems by launching an important collaboration with executives from the DuPont Corporation.

    Only after the death of Henry Ford in the late 1940s would the Ford Motor Company start to catch on to the modern strategy for marketing cars.

    What made the years framed by the Roosevelt presidencies so pivotal for business history was not the flamboyant rhetoric, but the long-term dance between two emerging giants of the 20th century: the massive integrated corporation and the administrative, bureaucratic state, which developed an essentially associational relationship with each other.

    During World War I, income taxes provided vital revenue for the government, but the tax regime was steeply progressive, applying only to the top earners. Only approximately 15 percent of American households paid any income taxes at all in 1918; the richest 1 percent contributed about 80 percent of all revenue and paid effective tax rates of about 15 percent of their total income.

    During the Coolidge administration (1923–29), Mellon achieved many of his goals, and the top rate paid by individuals declined from 73 to 25 percent.

    Total corporate profits fell from $10 billion to $1 billion, a drop of 90 percent.

    By the time the market bottomed out in 1933, nominal gross domestic product was nearly half what it had been in 1929.

    and gestures such as the “Hoover flag,” an empty pocket turned inside out.

    As he put it: “We put those payroll contributions there so as to give the contributors a legal, moral, and political right to collect their pensions and their unemployment benefits. With those taxes there, no damn politician can ever scrap my social security program.”29 Social Security was highly popular (rising from a 68 percent approval rating in 1936 to 96 percent in 1944), but many large corporations and business associations recoiled at the new expense employers faced.

    All told, the United States government spent approximately $320 billion (in 1940s money) on World War II, about half of it borrowed from the public through bond sales and the other half raised in taxes. That spending provided a massive boost to the gross national product, which shot up from $88.6 billion in 1939 to $135 billion in 1945.

    By 1944, unemployment had fallen to just over 1 percent (remember that the official rate hit 25 percent in 1933). Within the span of eleven years, in other words, the country had seen both the highest and lowest levels of joblessness of the century.

    In 1929, prescription drugs accounted for only 32 percent of all medicines purchased in the United States (by cost); by 1969, that figure reached 83 percent.

    In 1954, however, General Electric became the first private firm to own a mainframe computer when it bought a UNIVAC.

    Roughly defined, a conglomerate is a corporation that conducts business in a wide range of markets and industries that have little or no relationship to one another. Berkshire Hathaway, the company founded by billionaire investor Warren Buffett, provides a familiar example of the form today—it acts as a holding company that owns and operates an array of disparate businesses, from GEICO insurance to Jordan’s Furniture to Fruit of the Loom.

    The rise of the conglomerate form reshaped managerial culture. Conglomerate builders such as Charles Bluhdorn succeeded, at least for a time, because they were experts at managing their company as an investment portfolio, not as a productive entity.

    From the 1960s onward, boards of directors increasingly sought to hire men (and let’s not forget that occupying the corner office was a nearly exclusively male privilege) who were experts not in a particular industry or niche, but in business management itself. Versatile generalists, holding degrees from the newfangled business schools mushrooming throughout the country, could adapt their broad understanding of business principles to any specific managerial problem they encountered. Conglomerate executives in particular often bragged that they could manage their companies through financial controls and measurements, remaining disconnected from the actual product or service the company provided. The

    Bluhdorn’s successor (he died of a heart attack in 1983) renamed the company Paramount Communications in 1989 to take advantage of one of its highest-profile holdings, Paramount Pictures. The entire operation became part of the media giant Viacom in 1994.

    In short, the dominant regulatory trend had been economic regulation. In contrast, the trend in the 1960s and 1970s was toward social regulations, rules that, by design, targeted aspects of business behavior not traditionally considered “economic”—public health and safety and, quite literally, the downstream consequences of companies’ production processes. There had been earlier examples of social regulation, including the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906, which led to the creation of the FDA to improve the safety and quality of food and medicine. Yet the scale and scope of this new type of regulation exploded in the late 1960s, reinforcing a cultural and political distinction between protecting the economy and protecting people from business.

    In the early 1970s, Congress overhauled the laws governing campaign finance contributions. The federal government had regulated campaign giving to various degrees since the Tillman Act of 1907, which barred corporations and unions from donating to political campaigns on the rather explicit grounds that they were not humans.

    Instead, with minor exceptions, businesspeople preferred other, less official ways to skirt the campaign finance laws. Executives, for example, routinely arranged for special bonuses to top managers, with the clear expectation that those managers would donate their windfall to the candidate of the corporation’s choice.

    In 1975, the FEC clarified that political action committees were legally legitimate, and an explosion in corporate-backed political action committees followed. In the four years between 1974 and 1979, the number of business PACs increased tenfold, from 89 to 950, while the number of labor PACs barely budged, rising only from 201 to 226. The number of corporate PACs continued to soar, peaking around 1,800 in the late 1980s before declining slightly and largely leveling off. In the winter of 2016, the Federal Election Commission counted 1,621 political action committees affiliated with businesses, and 278 for labor.

    Not satisfied with running a traditional restaurant, the McDonalds spent the 1940s searching for a way to simplify. They wanted a food item that they could perfect and sell at a constant, affordable, and profitable price. They settled on the hamburger.

    In 1955, the American automobile giant General Motors topped Fortune magazine’s list of global companies ranked by annual revenue. For the remainder of the century, GM held that crown. Yet in 2002, it fell to second place, bested by a company that had barely been known outside of Arkansas in 1980 but exploded onto the international stage thereafter: Walmart.

    The son of a farmer-turned-debt-collector, a teenage Sam Walton spent the Great Depression with his father foreclosing on delinquent farms in Missouri.

    Rural America had traditionally been a hotbed of populist opposition to unfettered capitalism, from the anti-chain-store movement to opposition to the gold standard and eastern finance. Yet by the late 20th century, conservative politicians found greater success linking evangelical Christianity with free market economics.

    When Gates stepped down from Microsoft in 2014 (having reduced his role since 2000), he was the wealthiest person on Earth.

    At the beginning of 2008, five venerable and highly respected investment banks—the descendants of the “House of Morgan”—sat atop American financial capitalism. By the fall of that year, none of them existed. Two, Bear Stearns and Merrill Lynch, avoided bankruptcy through emergency mergers (engineered to a significant degree by government officials and the Federal Reserve) with J.P. Morgan and Bank of America, respectively. The 150-year-old Lehman Brothers was not so lucky. After its leaders failed to convince government regulators to offer either a direct bailout or a “shotgun marriage” to another financial institution, Lehman entered the largest bankruptcy in history on September 15. The remaining two, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, surrendered their status as investment banks and transformed themselves legally into traditional bank holding companies, which faced far greater government regulation in exchange for easier access to government loans. As the former chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation put it, it was “the end of Wall Street as we have known it.”

    That political shift proved to be a guiding force behind the movement for widespread deregulation, which often garnered the support of groups that otherwise opposed each other politically. In 1978, President Jimmy Carter signed the Airline Deregulation Act, a law spearheaded by liberal politicians such as Ted Kennedy (D-MA) and consumer activist Ralph Nader, as well as free-market conservatives like the economist Milton Friedman. The opponents to airline regulation argued that a more market-driven airline industry would face greater competition to cut rates and, eventually, provide better service.8

    By the mid-1990s, having stripped away most of its functions, Congress finally dissolved the Interstate Commerce Commission

    The redirection of capital to financial pursuits—the hallmark of the process of financialization—led to growing number of deals known as “leveraged buy-outs” (LBOs)—mergers that depended on tremendous amounts of borrowed money.

    Before the mid-20th century, just under 50 percent of American households owned their own home. Excluding farmers, who owned land at disproportionate rates, the rate of homeownership was below 40 percent. Between 1940 and 1970, American homeownership rose steadily to about 65 percent,

    After hovering around 65 percent for several decades, homeownership rates rose quickly between the late 1990s and 2007, reaching 69 percent.

    either renegotiate the loan or resell the home later at a profit, convinced many people that homeownership was a foolproof investment. “They’re not making any more land,” went a common refrain.

    This unfounded faith in the never-falling value of houses was perpetuated by mortgage lenders and the real estate business, which profited from every loan made and every home purchased. (Economic historians showed that the misunderstanding of historical home price values came from the simplest of oversights: Once you account for the overall increase in prices over time, the real—noninflationary—price of homes remained remarkably stable throughout the entire 20th century.)

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  • Books

    Eric Hoffer: The Longshoreman Philosopher by Thomas Bethell

    From my notion book review template

    The Book in 3 Sentences

    1. This book is an honest account of the life of Eric Hoffer. It is an honest summary, including actual independent research and not just Hoffer’s version of his life. Bethell focuses his attention on his life and hot his political views.


    I liked it a lot – it did actual research and dispelled lots of the Eric Hoffer self created legend and made him a much more interesting and mysterious character. This is one of the rare cases where more details adds mystery instead of taking it away.

    How I Discovered It

    An Amazon recomendation

    Who Should Read It?

    Eric Hoffer Fans

    How the Book Changed Me

    How my life / behaviour / thoughts / ideas have changed as a result of reading the book.

    I don’t think it will change anything – perhaps it increases my willingness to disbelieve weird life origin stories in favor of even weirder life origin stories.

    My Top 6 Quotes

    • Quite possibly, he was born in Germany and never became a legal resident of the United States.
    • It seems extraordinary, then, that no one from Hoffer’s early life should ever have shown up. Possibly—just possibly—he actually came to America for the first time across the Mexican border in 1934, the year after the El Centro camp was opened. Perhaps he walked to San Diego and was by then every bit as hungry as he said he was, ate some cabbage “cow fashion,” and found the truck driver who took him to El Centro.
    • It’s understandable that Hoffer might have concealed his background if he were indeed undocumented. If born abroad he was not an American citizen, for he never went through any naturalization ceremony. Congress severely restricted immigration to the United States in 1924 and by the 1930s, when jobs were scarce, U.S. residents found to be here illegally were deported without due process. Some were minor children born in the United States. In one report, “between 1929 and 1935 some 164,000 people were deported for being here illegally, about 20 percent of them Mexican.”32 Others estimate that between 1929 and 1939 as many as a million people were unceremoniously repatriated, many of them to Mexico. If Hoffer himself was in the United States illegally, he was wise to keep quiet about it.
    • Hoffer’s blindness has functioned in all accounts as an alibi, explaining why he didn’t go to school, didn’t have friends, spoke with a German accent, had “shadowy” recollections, and so on. How reliable is his blindness story?
    • Much later, Hoffer decided that “the social scientist is no more a scientist than a Christian scientist is a scientist.”
    • An ideal environment for him, he said, was one in which he was surrounded by people and yet not part of them.

    Summary + Notes


    As for Hoffer, Selden said: “All his conclusions are wrong—every one of them. But he writes beautifully and he asks the right questions.” They remained on good terms, and when Eric Hoffer died two years later, in the room where we had met, Selden was with him.
    His date of birth is uncertain, often given as 1902 but more likely 1898.
    And the account he often gave of losing his sight at an early age and then regaining it several years later doesn’t fit with some
    Quite possibly, he was born in Germany and never became a legal resident of the 
    United States.
    Over the next thirty-three years she knew him better than anyone in the world. But, she said: “I never met anyone who knew Eric in his earlier life.”
    One day, when he was six, she fell down a flight of stairs while she was carrying him. Two years later, she died and Hoffer went blind. His blindness lasted for eight years. When asked, “Did the fall cause those things?” he responded, “I don’t know.”5 Hoffer also didn’t remember the fall itself, nor could he recall whether his sight returned suddenly or gradually. In an early account he said that he went “practically blind,” followed by a “gradual improvement.”
    Martha Bauer was a “Bavarian peasant” and his German accent came from
    It seems extraordinary, then, that no one from Hoffer’s early life should ever have shown up. Possibly—just possibly—he actually came to America for the first time across the Mexican border in 1934, the year after the El Centro camp was opened. Perhaps he walked to San Diego and was by then every bit as hungry as he said he was, ate some cabbage “cow fashion,” and found the truck driver who took him to El Centro.
    and during those fifteen years Cole saw Hoffer almost every week. His account coincides with Lili’s: “I never met a single person who knew him before he worked on the waterfront.”
    It’s understandable that Hoffer might have concealed his background if he were indeed undocumented. If born abroad he was not an American citizen, for he never went through any naturalization ceremony. Congress severely restricted immigration to the United States in 1924 and by the 1930s, when jobs were scarce, U.S. residents found to be here illegally were deported without due process. Some were minor children born in the United States. In one report, “between 1929 and 1935 some 164,000 people were deported for being here illegally, about 20 percent of them Mexican.”32 Others estimate that between 1929 and 1939 as many as a million people were unceremoniously repatriated, many of them to Mexico. If Hoffer himself was in the United States illegally, he was wise to keep quiet about it.
    Hoffer also spoke German and did so fluently.
    Hoffer’s blindness has functioned in all accounts as an alibi, explaining why he didn’t go to school, didn’t have friends, spoke with a German accent, had “shadowy” recollections, and so on. How reliable is his blindness story?
    There is no Martha, and in this account he clearly lived with this aunt for a year after his father died, thus accounting for the gap between his father’s 1920 death and his 1922 departure for Los Angeles. Hoffer’s later and oft-repeated account of a $300 legacy from his father’s guild is also contradicted.
    “Martha had often consoled him with the advice: ‘Don’t worry Eric. You come from a short-lived family. You will die before you are forty. Your troubles will not last long.’ ” These thoughts
    All attempts to locate Hoffer or his parents, Knut and Elsa, in the Bronx, either through census data or, have drawn a blank.
    He was almost forty years old before he acquired a definite street address.
    What may be more likely is that Hoffer came to America as a teenager or young adult and never did live in New York.
    It’s easy to understand why Hoffer would make up an American background if he was eager to avoid questions about his citizenship, but why so elaborate a ruse? Hoffer was a great storyteller, and he insisted that a writer should entertain as well as inform his audience. He was also a master at diverting attention from his own background. Finally, he did provide a few hints that his story shouldn’t be taken too seriously.
    Much later, Hoffer decided that “the social scientist is no more a scientist than a Christian scientist is a scientist.” But
    Although they were white Anglo-Americans, Starr writes, and often fleeing from the Dustbowl in Oklahoma, Texas, and elsewhere, they were regarded as a despised racial minority by much of white California.
    In 1935 California had 4.7 percent of the nation’s population but triple that percentage of its dependent transients.
    worked.” He described Hoffer as a natural loner; in fact, all his life he wanted to be left alone. For many years his relations with women were therefore confined, with one exception, to prostitutes.19 Koerner adds that Hoffer was “terrifically lusty”:
    The earliest documentary record of Hoffer’s existence is a photostat of his application for a Social Security account, filled out on June 10, 1937. He said at the time that he was thirty-eight years old, having been born in New York City on July 25, 1898. If so, of course, he was four years older than he claimed at other times.
    identified himself as the son of Knut Hoffer and Elsa Goebel, and gave his address as 101 Eye Street, Sacramento. His employer at the time was the U.S. Forest Service in Placerville, California. It is the only documentary evidence of his life to be found in the archives before he moved permanently to San Francisco.
    Vigorous walking seems to ease the flow of words; and
    The feeling of being a stranger in this world is probably the result of some organic disorder. It is strongest in me when I’m hungry or tired. But even when nothing is wrong I sometimes find it easy to look at the world around me as if I saw it for the first time.
    The war, the nationwide draft, and a labor shortage on the docks made it possible for him to become a longshoreman at the age of forty-five.
    There were many accidents. In 1943 a five-ton crate crashed to the wharf and just missed him, but it destroyed his right thumb. He was in the hospital for months as a new one was reconstructed from his own thigh. It was little more than a stump.
    my case conditions seem ideal. I average about 40 hours a week, which is more than enough to live on. And all I have to do is put in 20 hours of actual work. It’s a racket and I love it.
    Selden became a “diet faddist,” and Hoffer noticed that, too. How true is it, he wondered, “that true believers have an affinity for diet cults? You attain immortality either by embracing an eternal cause or by living forever.” Selden told Eric that when he ate, he methodically chewed so many times on one side, so many times on the other.
    “It would be hard to find another occupation with so suitable a combination of freedom, exercise, leisure and income,” he wrote to Margaret Anderson in 1949. “By working only Saturday and Sunday (eighteen hours at pay and a half) I can earn 40–50 dollars a week. This to me is rolling in dough.”10 But in a 1944 notebook he recorded that creative thought was incompatible with hard physical work.
    An ideal environment for him, he said, was one in which he was surrounded by people and yet not part of them.
    But routine work was compatible with an active mind. On the other hand a highly eventful life could be mentally exhausting and drain all creative energy. He cited John Milton, who wrote political pamphlets throughout the Puritan agitation, and postponed Paradise Lost until his life was more peaceful.
    Clumsiness, he concluded, is inconspicuous for those who are not on their home turf. Similarly, the cultural avant-garde attracts people without real talent, “whether as writers or artists.” Why? Because everybody expects innovators to be clumsy. “They are probably people without real talent,” he decided. But those who experiment with a new form have a built-in excuse.11
    and it began with this issue. The union “was run by nobodies,” just like America, Hoffer said.
    “It did not occur to the intellectuals,” Hoffer commented, “that in this country nobodies perform tasks which in other countries are reserved for elites.” It was one of his favorite reflections.
    Financial records show that Hoffer made $4,100 as a longshoreman and $1,095 in True Believer royalties in 1953.
    The examples of Lenin, Mussolini and Hitler, where intellectually undistinguished men made themselves through faith and single-minded dedication into shapers of history is a challenge to every mediocrity hungering for power and capable of self delusion.
    During the day it occurred to me that if it were true that all my life I have had but a single train of thought then it must be the problem of the uniqueness of man.
    Most days he set off for a “five mile hike in the Golden Gate Park,” he wrote, and there he found that he could “think according to schedule”: I have done it every day for weeks. Each day I took a problem to the park and returned with a more or less satisfactory solution . . . The book was written in complete intellectual isolation. I have not discussed one idea with any human being, and have not mentioned the book to anyone but
    A visiting reporter, Sheila K. Johnson of the Los Angeles Times, said of this apartment: “There are no pictures on the walls, no easy chair, no floor lamps, no television set, no radio, no phonograph. There are in short no distractions.”
    Hoffer himself received his retirement papers from the longshoremen’s union in 1966. He may have already received that news when he accompanied Tomkins to the docks later that
    Here is a case where a genuine belief in God would make a difference. He is obviously drifting to an unmarked grave in a godforsaken graveyard. In lucid intervals he drifts back to San Francisco but does not stay long.2
    “He wanted to change the world, and he wanted to change it alone,” Lili recalled. “He made a single convert—his mother.” Years after his death, reflecting on her former husband’s impractical nature, Lili still seemed amazed. “The idea that he chose to express his ideas was by leaflets,” she said with an emphasis that conveyed her frustration.
    Reflecting on Hoffer’s account of his early life, and the implausibility of his claim that as a large child he was carried downstairs by a small woman who tumbled and then died, Gladstone said: “I don’t believe a word of it.”
    In 1979, Eric moved to Alaska, became a fisherman, married, and had a family. He lives in western Alaska to this day.
    At the San Francisco reception following his mother’s funeral in October 2010, Eric (by now the father of six) was receptive to the idea that Hoffer’s account of his early life didn’t quite add up. He thought Hoffer’s case might be comparable to that of B. Traven, the mysterious German author of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. (B. Traven was a pen name for a German novelist whose actual identity, nationality, and date and place of birth are still unknown. The book, published in Germany in 1927, then in English in 1935, was made into the famous movie of the same name in 1948.)
    Of the paternity question, Stephen said, “Has there been a DNA test? No. But Eric suspected that Hoffer [which he pronounced Hoafer] was his father. He asked my mother and she said yes.”
    I have been generous with myself and my money and the truth is that Selden did not love Lili and felt my invasion as a liberation. He told me yesterday that my intrusion enriched the children’s life and whatever I have saved will be theirs when I am gone. My attachment to Lili after 33 years is undiminished. In Lili’s hand beneath she wrote: “Dear, dear Eric! Always beloved.”
    Some of these fanatics act out of the weakness of their personalities, the reviewer added; some out of the strength. But by the end of the book Hoffer had brought “the fanatical leader and the fanatical follower into a single natural species.”
    True believers don’t start mass movements, Hoffer wrote. That is achieved by “men of words.” But the true believers do energize those movements. Hoffer’s understanding of the relationship between true believers and mass movements was Hitler’s relationship to the Nazi Party. The German Workers Party—its name was later changed—was founded in 1919. Hitler soon joined it and ousted the founder, Anton Drexler, in 1921. With all the zeal of the true believer, Hitler infused it with fanaticism and Nazism became a mass movement. Hoffer did not make this Hitler relationship explicit in his book but it was his unstated guide.
    “the preoccupation with the book is with theories—right or wrong. I cannot get excited about anything unless I have a theory about
    For a movement to prevail, the existing order must first be discredited. And that “is the deliberate work of men of words with a grievance.” If they lack a grievance, the prevailing dispensation may persist indefinitely.8 Sometimes, a regime in power may survive by co-opting the intellectuals. The partnership between the Roman rulers and the Greek men of words allowed the Roman Empire to last for as long as it did.
    As Hoffer saw it, then, men of words laid the groundwork for mass movements by creating receptivity to a new faith. This could be done only by men who were first and foremost talkers or writers, recognized as such by all. If that ground had not been prepared, the masses wouldn’t listen. True believers could move in and take charge only after the prevailing order had been discredited and had lost the allegiance of the masses.11 Mass movements are not equally good or bad, Hoffer wrote. “The tomato and the nightshade are of the same family, the Solanaceae,” and have many traits in common. But one is nutritious and the other poisonous.12 In adding this he was probably responding to another caution from Fischer, who wrote that some in-house readers “. . . got the impression that Hoffer is implying that all mass movements are equally good or bad, that the ideas on which they are based are always predominantly irrational, and that from the standpoint of value judgments there is not much distinction between, say, the Nazi movement, Christianity, and the Gandhi movement in India.”
    The Harper contract to publish the book was sent to Hoffer in June 1950. Harper scheduled the book for publication and, not surprisingly, wanted some independent report about this mysterious author who was unreachable by phone, worked on the docks, had never gone to school, and yet wrote so well.
    After publication, some reviewers, including the New York Times’s Orville Prescott, also called the work cynical—“as cynical about human motives as Machiavelli.”14 The libertarian author Murray Rothbard, writing for Faith and Freedom under the pen name Jonathan Randolph, was also highly critical. “Hoffer may be anti-Communist,” he wrote, “but only because he sneers at all moral and political principles.”
    Hoffer later became openly political, attacking Stalin, Communism, and leftist intellectuals en masse. He had “a savage heart,” he reflected, and “could have been a true believer myself.”17 America and Israel were to become his great causes. But the neutrality of The True Believer contributed to its critical success.
    Fischer also pointed out that the book would be more readable “if the author would make greater use of examples and illustrations.” Readers of The True Believer do indeed encounter a sea of abstractions—fanaticism, enthusiasm, substitution, conversion, frustration, unification—and many will have scanned its pages, often in vain, looking for the tall masts and capital letters of a proper name.
    As a historical assessment, nonetheless, Hoffer’s treatment was questionable on several fronts. Longevity was just one. Nazism lasted for twelve years, Communism’s span was measured in decades, while Christianity has endured for two thousand years and shows no sign of disappearing.
    Pipes has great admiration for Hoffer and assigned The True Believer to his Harvard class. “Mass movements do occasionally occur,” he added, “but my feeling is that most such movements are organized and directed by minorities simply because the ‘masses,’ especially in agrarian societies, have to get back to work to milk the cows and mow the hay. They don’t make revolutions: they make a living.”
    Communism resembled a religion but it was the faith of disaffected Western intellectuals, not of the masses. After the immediate revolutionary fervor cooled it was sustained, in Russia and everywhere else, by coercion and terror. Communism never did bring about a release of human energies—or if so, only for a short time.
    The explosive component in the contemporary scene, Hoffer wrote, was not “the clamor of the masses but the self righteous claims of a multitude of graduates from schools and universities.” An “army of scribes” was working to achieve a society “in which planning, regulation and supervision are paramount, and the prerogative of the educated.”
    In its May 22, 1983, obituary on Hoffer, the Washington Post said that The True Believer is “difficult to summarize [but] easy to admire.”
    In contemplating the mystery of Eric Hoffer, Lili Osborne would ask herself how a self-educated laborer came to write so abstract a work. His early manuscripts had shown that he was a polished writer before he (apparently) had much experience of writing anything. His comments to Margaret Anderson give one or two clues. Looking back over his earlier notebooks, he was surprised to find how hard it had been for him to reach insights “which now seem to me trite.” The key was that “the inspiration that counts is the one that comes from uninterrupted application.” Sitting around waiting for lightning to strike got one nowhere.
    His rewritten drafts of The True Believer showed how much he owed to perseverance. His self-assurance and stylistic mastery were remarkable coming from someone who had not yet published anything. But if his success with The True Believer were to be attributed to any single quality, it would be his capacity to concentrate and persevere. His ability to exercise these talents also explained his self-confidence. Still, the mystery never quite goes away.
    warning them that woe betides a society that reaches a turning point and does not turn.
    He worried that if workers’ skills were no longer needed they might become “a dangerously volatile element in a totally new kind of American society.” America itself might be undermined—no longer shaped by “the masses” but by the intellectuals. Hoffer increasingly saw them emerging as villains in the continuing American drama.
    The culmination of the industrial revolution should enable the mass of people to recapture the rhythm, the fullness and the variety of pre-industrial times.
    By now Hoffer’s life story was fixed. The KQED version became, in effect, the canonical account. In later interviews—by Tomkins, James Koerner, Eric Sevareid, and others—Hoffer stuck to the same script, sometimes almost word for word. He told the same anecdotes with no new details. The inconsistencies in his earlier accounts were gone. It was as though by 1963 he had settled on the story of his life and he no longer deviated from it.
    Later, the FBI heard that Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber, an assistant professor at Berkeley at that time, might have visited the class; at one point, agents combed through Hoffer’s papers at Hoover. “Anyone could drop in to Hoffer’s class,” Cole said. “But they never established that Ted Kaczynski was there. Lili asked me if I remembered him. I didn’t.”
    So he taught himself Hebrew, “and his pronunciation was wonderful.” Cole heard Hoffer “more than a few times say something in Hebrew. He had such a great ear.” Hoffer told another interviewer that he had learned Hebrew while on skid row in Los Angeles. “I think I mastered it. I can speak it, but I cannot make out the text,” he said.
    He memorialized this appeal to brevity by funding the Lili Fabilli and Eric Hoffer Essay Prize at UC–Berkeley. It is awarded each year for the best essays of 500 words or less on a topic chosen by the Committee on Prizes.
    At least one of these columns was read by Pauline Phillips, the author of the “Dear Abby” column, who had been friends with Hoffer for some time.
    At the time of the anti-Soviet revolt in East Germany in 1953, Hoffer recognized the Communist evil. He noticed, too, that the West held Communism in awe.9 But he was also impressed by what Communism had apparently achieved. Stalin had shown unbounded contempt for human beings, but he could justify it by pointing to “the breathtaking results of sheer coercion.” Cruelty worked, in other words. “Idealism, courage, tremendous achievements both cultural and material, faith and loyalty unto death can be achieved by relentless, persistent coercion.”
    That industrial production had in fact collapsed following the Bolshevik Revolution and had made only a faltering recovery was not appreciated for decades. Led by U.S. government agencies that took Soviet statistics at face value, policy analysts and economic textbooks continued making the same mistake right up to 1989.
    As always, he was aiming for the widest generalization.
    An enduring problem was that Hoffer was not interested in economics and paid little attention to political institutions. He either took private property and the rule of law for granted, or thought them unimportant. “Far more important than the structure of a governmental system is the make-up of the men who operate it,” he wrote in 1952.
    He persisted, surely, because his underlying argument—mass movements had animated societies by releasing pent-up energies—came from The True Believer.13 Abandon this search, then, and his argument about the role of mass movements might collapse. He had referred to his new book as “vol. 2.” His prolonged difficulty with that unwritten book was rooted in “vol. 1,” on which his reputation was largely based. Later on, Hoffer was inclined to ignore and even to disparage mass movements.
    He had no wife and no debts, and his rent was as low as rents in San Francisco ever get. His expenses were minimal and his frugality ingrained. Pen, paper, and books from the public library were for him the key ingredients of contentment. When
    A related theme was often found in his notebooks: “What tires us most is work left undone.” He kept insisting that he was not a writer, but to continue functioning he had to keep on writing:
    He also saw reasons for believing that “Russia’s day of judgment will come sometime in the 1990s.” (The Soviet Union was always “Russia” in Hoffer’s lexicon.) “And when the day comes everyone will wonder that few people foresaw the inevitability of the end.”
    There will be no peace in this land for decades. The journalists have had a taste of history-making and have become man-eating tigers. Life will become a succession of crises . . . What will political life be like when history is made by journalists?
    As a symptom of aging, he noted what many in retirement have reported: he felt hurried though no one was pursuing him.
    Working on an essay about the old, he knew that “to function well the old need praise, deference, special treatment—even when they have not done anything to deserve it. Old age is not a rumor.”
    They say that on his deathbed Voltaire, asked to renounce the devil, said: “This is no time to be making new enemies.”
    This talk of living a life of quiet desperation is the blown-up twaddle of juveniles and if it hits the mark it does so with empty people. I have no daemon in me; never had. There is a murderous savagery against people I have never met; a potential malice which is not realized because of a lack of social intercourse.
    In the usual sense of the word, Hoffer himself was an intellectual. He read books and wrote them. But he had no desire to teach others, he said, and this made him “a non-intellectual.” For the intellectual is someone who “considers it his God-given right to tell others what to
    Another correspondent was the community organizer Saul Alinsky.
    the language is cryptic because the idea is not clear.”
    He viewed them as a dangerous species. They scorn profit and worship power; they aim to make history, not money. Their abiding dissatisfaction is with “things as they are.” They want to rule by coercion and yet retain our admiration. They see in the common criminal “a fellow militant in the effort to destroy the existing system.” Societies where the common people are relatively prosperous displease them because intellectuals know that their leadership will be rejected in the absence of a widespread grievance. The cockiness and independence of common folk offend their aristocratic outlook. The free-market system renders their leadership superfluous. Their quest for influence and status is always uppermost.
    free society is as much a threat to the intellectual’s sense of worth as an automated economy is a threat to the worker’s sense of worth. Any social order, however just and noble, which can function well with a minimum of leadership, will be anathema to the intellectual.
    The intellectual regards the masses much as a colonial official views the natives. Hoffer thought it plausible that the British Empire, by exporting many of its intellectuals, had played a counter-revolutionary role at home. Employment and status abroad for a large portion of the educated class may have “served as a preventive of revolution.”
    All intellectuals are homesick for the Middle Ages, Hoffer wrote. It was “the El Dorado of the clerks”—a time when “the masses knew their place and did not trespass from their low estate.”
    Eric Osborne recalled one humorous incident: “Once Eric Hoffer was talking and a rabbi was in the audience; or maybe Hoffer was talking to a bunch of rabbis, and he was telling them that there is no God. One rabbi said, ‘Mr. Hoffer, there is no God and you are His prophet.’
    Yet he continued to ponder the nature of God. It was speculation without faith—more philosophy than religion—but it was never far from his mind. In his notebooks he often wrote as though God was a reality whether he believed in Him or not. And he did (sometimes) capitalize the pronoun.
    Sometimes you think how much of a better world it would be if Judaism, Christianity and Islam with their driving vehemence had never happened. Then you think of all the misery and boundless cruelty practiced in lands that never heard of Jehovah, his son and his messenger.
    Hoffer’s ideas about the uniqueness of man and the great error of trying to assimilate man into nature—a key dogma of modernity—was perhaps his most original venture into philosophy.
    Hoffer was strongly opposed to the modern tendency to see science and religion as antagonists. On the contrary, religious ideas about the Creator had inspired the early scientists. They tried to work out how God had created the world and science emerged from this study.
    He believed Israel revealed that history is not a mere process, but an unfolding drama.
    The insights and thoughts that survive and endure are those that can be put into everyday words. They are like the enduring seed—compact, plain looking and made for endurance.
    La Rochefoucauld, in his maxims, delighted Hoffer with his brevity and wit, sometimes bordering on cynicism (“We are always strong enough to bear the misfortunes of others”).
    Philosophers, on the other hand, had little to boast about. Why was this? Russell concluded, “As soon as definite knowledge concerning any subject becomes possible this subject ceases to be called philosophy and becomes a separate science. The whole study of the heavens, which now belongs to astronomy, was once included in philosophy; Newton’s great work was called ‘The Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy.’ Similarly, the study of the human mind, which was a part of philosophy, has now become separated from philosophy and has become the science of psychology. . . . [Only those questions] to which, at present, no definite answer can be given, remain to form the residue which is called philosophy.”1
    He once wrote that “the trouble with the Germans is that they are trying to express in prose what could only be expressed in music.”
    There was “a German desire for murkiness,” Hoffer argued, “a fear of the lucid and tangible.” Worse, “the German disease of making things difficult” had conquered the world.
    The less we know of motives, the better we are off. Worse than having unseemly motives is the conviction that our motives are all good. The proclamation of a noble motive can be an alibi for doing things that are not noble. Other people are much better judges of our motives than we are ourselves. And their judgment, however malicious, is probably correct. I would rather be judged by my deeds than by my motives. It is indecent to read other people’s minds. As for reading our own minds, its only worthwhile purpose is to fill us with humility.
    Nowhere is freedom more cherished than in a non-free society, for example. “An affluent free society invents imaginary grievances and decries plenty as a pig heaven.”
    As for deciphering others, the only real key is our self. And considering how obscure that is, “the use of it as a key in deciphering others is like using hieroglyphs to decipher hieroglyphs.”
    Sophistication is for juveniles and the birds. For the essence of naivety is to see the familiar as if it were new and maybe also the capacity to recognize the familiar in the unprecedentedly new. There can be no genuine acceptance of the brotherhood of men without naivety.
    The most intense insecurity comes from standing alone. We are not alone when we imitate. So, too, when we follow a trail blazed by others, even a deer trail.
    At times he felt euphoric and he wondered how that arose. He came to believe that “the uninterrupted performance of some tasks” was the key to happiness. It was not the quality of the task, which could be trivial or even futile. “What counts is the completion of the circuit—the uninterrupted flow between conception and completion. Each such completion generates a sense of fulfillment.”
    Whenever conditions are so favorable that struggle becomes meaningless man goes to the dogs. All through the ages there were wise men who had an inkling of this disconcerting truth. . . . There is apparently no correspondence between what man wants and what is good for him.
    Flaubert and Nietzsche have emphasized the importance of standing up and walking in the process of thinking. The peripatetics were perhaps motivated by the same awareness. Yet purposeful walking—what we call marching—is an enemy of thought and is used as a powerful instrument for the suppression of independent thought and the inculcation of unquestioned obedience.
    Originality is not something continuous but something intermittent—a flash of the briefest duration. One must have the time and be watchful (be attuned) to catch the flash and fix it. One must know how to preserve these scant flakes of gold sluiced out of the sand and rocks of everyday life. Originality does not come nugget-size.
    Like Hoffer, Montaigne almost never mentioned his mother, who came from a family of Sephardic Jews. Hoffer said that when he read Montaigne’s essays in 1936 he felt “all the time that he was writing about me. I recognize myself on every page.”
    Overall, however, he found it remarkable “how little we worry about the things that are sure to happen to us, like old age and death, and how quick we are to worry ourselves sick about things which never come to pass.” Montaigne said something very similar. His life had been full of “terrible misfortunes,” he said, “most of which never happened.”
    Theorizing in the future, he predicted, would tend to regard humanity “as unchangeable and unreformable.”
    “I shall not welcome death,” Hoffer wrote. “But the passage to nothingness seems neither strange nor frightful. I shall be joining an endless and most ancient caravan. Death would be a weary thing had I believed in heaven and life beyond.”
    September 27, 1981 How does a man die? Does he know when death approaches? Friday night (25th) I vomited the first time in my life. The vomit was dark and bitter. The new experience of vomiting gave me the feeling that I was entering the realm of the unknown.
    As they lay there in the dark, Selden once again heard Eric’s heavy breathing. Reassured, Selden went back to sleep. But when he woke up again, perhaps an hour or two hours later, Eric’s breathing could be heard no more. He was gone—you could say that he didn’t say goodbye to anyone.
    He was buried at the Holy Cross Cemetery in Colma, just outside San Francisco. Lili Osborne’s grave is next to his.
    the well-off will no longer be able to derive a sense of uniqueness from riches. In an affluent society the rich and their children become radicalized. They decry the value of a materialist society and clamor for change. They will occupy positions of power in the universities, the media, and public life. In some affluent societies the children of the rich will savor power by forming bands of terrorists.
    Bacon touches upon two crucial differences between Judeo-Christianity and other religions. In a monotheistic universe nature is stripped of divine qualities—this is a downgrading of nature. At the same time, in a monotheistic universe, man is wholly unique, unlike any living thing. It would have gone against Bacon’s aristocratic grain to point out that the monotheistic God, unlike the God of other religions, is not an aristocrat but a worker, a skilled engineer. Bacon could have predicted the coming of a machine age by suggesting that if God made man in his own image, he made him in the image of a machine-making engineer.
    An aphorism states a half truth and hints at a larger truth. To an aphorist all facts are perishable. His aim is to entertain and stimulate. Instruction means the stuffing of people with perishable facts. And since in human affairs the truthful is usually paradoxical, aphoristic writing is likely to prove helpful.
    The French Revolution and its Napoleonic aftermath were the first instances of history on a large scale made by nobodies.
    The intellectuals loathe democracy because democracy creates a political climate without deference and worship. In a democracy the intellectual is without an unquestioned sense of superiority and a sense of social usefulness. He is not listened to and not taken seriously. The sheer possession of power does not satisfy the intellectual. He wants to be worshipped.
    years of pauseless killing of the First World War. This tangibility of death created a climate inhospitable to illusion..
    But it is probably true that from the beginning of time talents have been wasted on an enormous scale. It is the duty of a society to create a milieu optimal for the realization of talents. Such a society will preach self-development as a duty—a holy duty to finish God’s work.
    Where the creative live together they live the lives of witches.
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