Book Review: Libertarian Reaction

Libertarian Reaction is a collection of fifteen essays by Insula Qui. The book explores various issues from a libertarian reactionary perspective. The book is divided into three sections; one focusing on reaction, one focusing on liberty, and a long final essay.

The first part begins with an essay on the limits of libertarian ethics. In Savages, Qui deals with several types of humans who cannot be properly be considered people, and must instead be dealt with as lesser beings. The point that there is a difference between colonialism (the imposition of law and morality on people who have no rational conception of it) and colonization (a parallel development of law and morality while not imposing upon others) is important and oft-overlooked. The essay finishes with a denunciation of both Islam and communism as incompatible with libertarianism if each is to be practiced rigorously. The arguments are correct but elementary, which the author has since remedied elsewhere.

In Borders And Liberty, Qui weighs in on the debate over border policy, concluding that while state immigration restrictions are not libertarian and the only justifiable borders are private property boundaries, closed borders are a lesser evil than the forced integration imposed by modern states. He recommends restoration of the right to discriminate, sponsorship of and vicarious liability for immigrants by those who wish to bring them in, and elimination of welfare programs as methods of improving the current situation. References to support the assertions regarding demographics would improve the case made here.

Prerequisites for Liberty deals with the problem of humans who are not savages as described in the first essay but are nonetheless inclined to aggressive violence. Again, references to support demographic arguments would be helpful. Qui notes several obvious but underappreciated truths here, most notably that a libertarian social order cannot exist below a certain intelligence level, as this would preclude people from understanding the necessary rules of such an order. He correctly states that some people may convert to libertarianism by seeing it in practice instead of reaching it through reason. In fact, this is by far the more likely method of conversion in the near future. The role of hedonistic practices in damaging a social order are discussed, as is the folly of accepting non-libertarians into libertarian circles simply to grow numbers.

The next essay is Voluntary Ethnic Separation, and it explains the difference between what libertarianism requires one to accept and the common caricature of all such ideas as hateful racism. Qui shows great insight in tackling common leftist arguments here. He also makes the important point that collectivism can arise as a benign heuristic to help with decisions because people lack the capacity to deal with individuals beyond a certain point. However, the same demographic claims resurface without proper support. Finally, the point that ethnostatism could be a step toward breaking up large nation-states into more local forms of governance is overlooked by most libertarians, but not Qui.

The Antistatist Case for Monarchial Government is a longer essay that Qui included despite having changed his views on the matter, as he views it as being theoretically important. He makes a distinction between government (a manager of land and provider of essential services) and state (an entity that exercises a monopoly on initiatory force) which is lost on many people. He also explains that while a libertarian society would be imperfect, a state has even worse inefficiencies. Later, Qui hints at a potential problem with wilderness areas falling victim to a tragedy of the commons, but this could easily be solved by homesteading such areas. There are two significant errors here: a lack of accounting for the arguments made by Stefan Molyneux and others in favor of private dispute resolution organizations with regard to how law courts could function without a state, and a contradiction concerning redistribution and efficiency. The final part of the essay reads much like Hans-Hermann Hoppe’s case that monarchy is superior to democracy, and is reminiscent of the real-world example of Leichtenstein.

Qui tackles an uncomfortable issue that perhaps interests too many people in libertarian circles with The Libertarian Solution to the Age of Consent. He quickly rebuts the left-libertarians who wish to let children make decisions regarding sexual conduct, describing parenting of young children as a sort of regency until the child gains the ability to use reason. But Qui errs in saying that damages done by improper parenting are no different from any other sort of crime, as one can never truly be made whole from the lifelong detriments caused by improper parenting.

Dysgenics and Market Nobility discusses the corruption of the phrase “all men are created equal” from a statement of equality before the law into a belief in human biological uniformity. In doing so, he distinguishes between the natural elite of a free society and the power elite of a statist society, which are often conflated by leftists. Qui then explains how the two tend to work together in statist societies to keep the same families at the top for centuries rather than let the rags-to-riches-to-rags cycle properly play out. The essay then turns toward dysgenics, which refers to programs that have the opposite of a eugenic effect. The roles of feminism, sexual liberation, and welfare statism are examined in this light.

The first part concludes with Civilization and Natural Law, which makes unconventional but strong arguments in favor of censoring and physically removing people on the basis of their political opinions. Qui’s case is more utilitarian and reserved than it needs to be, but he still reaches the correct result that freedom of speech is a privilege that comes with owning property, not a fundamental right. He then finds that the solution to intractable differences between people and groups is mutual discrimination and exclusion, as forced integration necessarily results in racial tensions.

The second section begins with The Freedom of Government, which revisits themes from several of the previous essays. Qui makes a powerful case that people who claim to believe in democracy but deny people the self-determination to choose their form of governance are charlatans. He also observes that a large enough number of small monarchies is effectively equivalent to a libertarian social order. The only problem with this essay is brevity, as more explanation of each point would greatly improve the presentation.

The Curse of Citizenship explores how the modern state makes its subjects into cogs of its machine through citizenship as a legal concept. Qui shows that democracy, contrary to leftist propaganda, only makes this worse by providing an otherwise absent appearance of legitimacy. He correctly recognizes the futility of localism as an ultimate strategy, as it fails to account for the supremacy of higher levels of government. But his contention that “corruption within the state is nothing other than the people who are creating the illusion themselves being aware of the illusion” is misguided; one can have this knowledge without weaponizing it into corruption, and one can be corrupt without such an awareness.

In The Role of Co-Operation in Competition, Qui refutes several myths about capitalism. First, he proves that capitalism is not as anti-social as its critics claim. Second, he corrects the misconception of competition as being necessarily aggressive in nature. Third, he explains how competition can actually be a form of cooperation, in that individuals or groups can agree to compete in order to find out which methods are superior. Qui segues into several examples of cooperation that are not strictly competitive, such as food companies co-marketing with drink companies and agreements between private road companies. To complete the argument, he examines how the contrapositive is also true; namely, that removing competition also removes an incentive to cooperate. He finishes with a brief discussion of cartels and makes the insightful observation that a labor union is not commonly recognized as a cartel, despite functioning much like one.

It is only in Reverse Claims to Property that Qui truly goes off the libertarian reservation in his thinking, though he admits at the beginning that he may be doing so. Here, he tries (and fails) to invent an inverse of property rights to resolve questions of state-occupied property and wilderness areas. Qui again neglects other libertarian theories on how to deal with pollution. This un-ownership would, as he suggests, legitimize rights violations in some cases.

In Who Watches the Watchmen, Qui explores the libertarian answer to this age-old question, namely that the watchmen (in the form of private defense agencies) all watch each other. Here he enters an off-topic though informative discussion on the impossibility of eliminating the state by democratic means. He then returns to the topic to find that re-establishment of a state is the worst case scenario in a stateless society, but all economic and military incentives work against it. That it is the worst case means that all other outcomes must be better, setting this particular objection on its ear.

National Defence Without Coercion is the last essay in the second part, and it deals with the subject at length. Qui begins by noting the common fallacy committed by statists: using a state to defend people against other states does not change the fact that people are subjugated by a state; it only changes which state is in control. He covers the basics of how a private defense agency should function, but is a bit too enamored with nationalism. His comparisons between a private defense agency and an insurance company make one wonder where such arguments were in earlier essays. The latter part includes some novel thought on how the facilities of a private defense agency might be employed in other ways during peacetime. The conclusion discusses the difference between pre-modern gentlemen’s war and modern total war, with libertarianism likely to end modern warfare and return us to the less destructive pre-modern type of warfare. This essay and the previous essay could have been combined.

The final part consists of one much longer essay titled Examining Cultural Destruction. Qui examines the causes and symptoms of cultural decay, then proposes solutions. The role of the state and central banking in reducing time preferences is explained, then Qui shows how capitalism makes this worse not by being bad in and of itself, but by amplifying whatever inputs it receives. Egalitarianism is blamed in the Rothbardian sense of a revolt against nature, as is the loss of autonomy and identity that statism causes. Symptoms of these causes are identified as the demonization of productive work, the collapse of stable interpersonal and family relationships, the loss of spiritualism and hierarchy, the ascent of shallow materialism, the prevalence of escapism, and the expansion of empiricism into inherently rational disciplines. To solve these problems, Qui recommends absolute private property rights, abolition of central banking and as much of the state as possible, and a restoration of traditional values.

The first word that comes to mind when describing the entire collection is ‘incomplete.’ Qui lacked an editor for the book, and it shows. The grammatical constructions and punctuation are frequently in need of revision, and each of the essays would benefit from a much deeper bibliography. But the thoughts expressed therein are sufficiently intriguing to merit reading despite these flaws.

Rating: 4/5

Book Review: Calculating The Cosmos

Calculating The Cosmos is a book about the history and current practice of physics, astronomy, and cosmology by British mathematics professor Ian Stewart. The book gives the reader an overview of many topics, including gravitation, the solar system, spacetime, extraterrestrial life, and quantum mechanics. The book is divided into nineteen chapters, as well as a short prologue and epilogue.

The prologue begins with the mission to comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, then gives a brief recounting of previous space missions. The role of mathematics in astronomy is discussed, followed by its role in cosmology. The first chapter takes us through the history of gravitational theories, from the ancient Greeks to Galileo, Kepler, and Newton, and onward to general relativity and quantum mechanics. More detail in the path toward relativity would have improved the book here. With the second chapter, Stewart begins discussing the solar system, starting with its formation. The nebular hypothesis of a collapsing gas cloud that forms stars and planets is the main focus, along with previous theories and why they were rejected. These are used to illustrate the importance of physics concepts like momentum and angular momentum. The chapter ends with a discussion of possible futures for the solar system, some of which involve planetary collisions and ejections.

The third chapter is devoted to the theories for the formation of the Moon. These include the giant impact hypothesis, as well as several other ideas that fail to explain the Moon’s composition, tidal locking with Earth, and angular momentum. Much of the chapter concerns the nature of constructing simulations for events like an impact between Earth and a Mars-sized object, or the formation of a solar system. In the fourth chapter, Stewart examines the Titius-Bode law, then expands to power laws in general. Their use in discovering Uranus comes next, followed by the use of perturbation techniques to find Neptune. The chapter ends with the accidental correctness of perturbation techniques concerning Pluto and their failed prediction of Vulcan, a hypothetical planet closer to the Sun than Mercury. Oddly, no mention is made here of the hypothetical Planet Nine, and Stewart does not note that Neptune is out of place by the Titius-Bode law.

The fifth chapter is called Celestial Police, in reference to a group of astronomers at the turn of the 19th century, though most pages have the chapter name “Number of Asteroids.” Stewart gives the history of discovery of the asteroids, then explains how resonances with Jupiter’s orbit explains gaps in the asteroid belt. This leads into a discussion of the 2½-body problem and the five Lagrange points of such a system. The chapter concludes with natural examples of objects in Lagrange point orbits, such as Jupiter’s Trojan asteroids and Saturn’s moons Tethys, Telesto, and Calypso. The next two chapters concern the moons and rings of Saturn and Jupiter, respectively. The discovery of Saturn’s rings and the path toward discovering their true nature comes first, then Stewart shows how resonances with Saturn’s moons explain both the gaps in its rings and how the F ring stays in place. Resonances appear once more in Chapter 7 to explain conjunctions between the moons of Jupiter and Pluto. The chapter ends with facts about some of Jupiter’s and Saturn’s major moons.

Comets are the focus of the eighth chapter. The comet 67P and the effort to land a space probe on it are examined in greater detail. Better known comets, such as Halley’s Comet, are discussed to illustrate the predictive power of mathematics. The origin of comets leads to sections on the Oort Cloud and the Kuiper Belt, then the chapter concludes with the 1994 impact of Shoemaker-Levy 9 on Jupiter. The ninth chapter gives a basic overview of chaos theory, and does a good job of clearing up common misconceptions in popular culture about the subject. After this, Stewart returns to the asteroid belt resonances to discuss a possible origin for the object that likely caused the Cretaceous extinction event.

The tenth chapter discusses various types of orbits and how they can be used to send spacecraft from one place to another with varying degrees of efficiency and travel time. In the eleventh chapter, Stewart brings optics into the discussion to write about stellar composition and classification, illustrated by the Hertzsprung-Russell diagram. The nuclear fusion reactions that power stars, as well as the ultimate fates of stars of various masses comes next. The role of stars in producing all of the heavier elements is explained, from supernovas to newer stars. The observation of sunspots is the subject of the next section, as well as a possible explanation for their cycles. The last subject of the chapter is the means of measuring cosmic distances, from the distance from Earth to the Sun to the distances of various stars. The chapter ends with a few pages of color illustrations, the only ones in the book.

Chapter 12 is devoted to galaxies. Stewart begins with the Milky Way, observed since antiquity but only explained relatively recently. Hubble’s empirical classification of galaxies is cited, then attempts to explain the various shapes are discussed. The failure of galactic rotational speeds to match predictions is left as a puzzle for a later chapter. In the thirteenth chapter, the methods for discovering exoplanets are examined, along with possibilities for extraterrestrial life both elsewhere in the solar system and elsewhere in the universe. The chapter concludes with Stewart’s inventive imagination concerning a hypothetical alien world. The fourteenth chapter begins with the historical steps toward current theories about black holes. The difference between a static black hole and a rotating black hole are explained, as well as their possible role as a link to other universes and hypothetical white holes, which function as expellers of matter and energy that cannot be entered. Alternative explanations for black hole geometry, such as gravastars, are considered at the end of the chapter. The Penrose diagrams here could use more explanation, as they can be quite confusing to a lay reader.

The fifteenth chapter is about the distribution of matter in the universe, as well as the topology of the universe. Stewart does as well as he can without resorting to complex mathematical equations, but doing so would greatly aid the reader’s understanding of the subjects involved. In the sixteenth chapter, the discoveries and interpretations leading to the Big Bang theory are discussed, as well as the various proposals for how the far future of the universe may play out. The next two chapters deal with inflation, dark matter, and dark energy, which are correctives to make the Big Bang theory agree with experimental results. Stewart criticizes this standard cosmological model for its large number of unobserved conjectures, then discusses some alternative theories. The final chapter waxes philosophical about the unlikely combination of physical constants that seem fine-tuned to produce life, then Stewart critiques some of the more outlandish claims regarding this. The epilogue recounts many subjects from the book and points out the difference in procedure between science and mathematics.

Overall, Stewart does a good job of both exploring past and present scientific theories while stressing that science is always tentative, subject to new theories and empirical evidence, unlike his native mathematics. He helpfully notes the scientific jargon so that the lay reader can look up the relevant topic to learn more. However, there is relatively little mathematics in the book, and this can be disappointing for people who cannot see physics without the mathematics. Even so, Calculating The Cosmos is a good read for an intelligent layperson who wants an introduction to cosmology.

Rating: 4/5

Book Review: Islamic Exceptionalism

Islamic Exceptionalism is a book about the relationship between Islam and the modern nation-state by American author Shadi Hamid. The book explores the role that Islam has played in the development of the Middle East, as well as the currently ongoing conflicts there. The book is divided into eight chapters, each focusing on a different Muslim country or other aspect of the situation.

The first chapter begins with the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak in February 2011, the 2013 coup against Mohamed Morsi two years later, and the massacre of Muslim Brotherhood members by the Egyptian military. These are contrasted with the activities of the Islamic State. Hamid spends much of the chapter laying out the subject matter and structure of the rest of the book, which include the role of Islam in political affairs, the unique history and teachings of Islam, and the effects that this history and these teachings are likely to have. Hamid’s explorations of these questions leads him to question the mainstream liberal narrative of Whig historiography, democratic supremacy, and progressive determinism, though he never quite manages to reject this narrative. He contrasts Muslim countries which have experienced great political unrest, such as Egypt, Tunisia, and Syria, with those that have not, such as Iran, Indonesia, and Malaysia. He then explains the differences between contemporary Muslim countries and European countries in the 1950s, suggesting that what worked in Europe will not work in the Middle East. Hamid ends the chapter by contemplating the compatibility of Islam and democracy.

Hamid goes into a history lesson of Islam in the second chapter, as the present cannot be understood without knowledge of the past. The idea of glorious achievements threatened by internecine killings permeates Islamic history from the beginning, and this coupling continues to shape the Middle East today. The decline and fall of the Ottoman caliphate has left a longing for the return of a caliphate, and ISIS has been more than happy to try to meet this demand. He compares the founding of Islam to the founding of Christianity, as well as sharia law to halakhic law. The relative flexibility and adaptability of Islam compared to other religions is explored in order to explain the simultaneous perceptions of Islam as both modern and medieval. The chapter ends with a discussion of the Christian Reformation, which segues into the next chapter.

The Islamic Reformation is the subject of the third chapter. Contrary to popular belief, Hamid shows that such a reformation has already occurred, as Islam adapted to modernity in a way that Christianity failed to do. The line of thinkers that led to Hassan al-Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, is discussed alongside the decline and fall of the Ottoman Empire and the rise of Salafism. That Islamism only makes sense in a modern context is an important point that Hamid makes here, which is an example of the larger truth that a term which describes everything really describes nothing. The founding and principles of the Muslim Brotherhood are addressed next, with emphasis on the differences between Banna’s view of Islam and the less observant practices of Muslims in prior centuries. The second half of the chapter returns to the 2013 massacre in Egypt, then goes back to Banna’s time and moves forward through the Brotherhood’s history of being suppressed under Gamal Abdel Nasser and Anwar el-Sadat.

The fourth and longest chapter continues the story of the Muslim Brotherhood, detailing how its members have responded to the 2013 massacre. Here, Hamid turns to interviews with Brotherhood members, many of whom are now in exile to escape imprisonment by the regime of Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. The massacre changed the minds of many in the Brotherhood, whose stance on political change had always been to play the long game and make gradual gains over decades. While the leadership was largely unmoved by this, the younger rank-and-file became radicalized. The Brotherhood’s shift to nonviolence in the 1970s has always been doubted by some as merely a tactical move, and this shift may well be undone. Hamid presents the differing views on the nature of the state and political change of the Muslim Brotherhood versus the Islamic State, and most of those interviewed were not willing to support ISIS. The youths Hamid interviews have come to understand the need to break the Westphalian order, but Hamid cannot seem to grasp this idea.

The fifth chapter considers the case of Turkey, in which Recep Tayyip Erdogan managed to take and solidify power after several cases of Islamist parties being banned. Here, the modern history of Turkey is covered, including the dissolution of the Ottoman caliphate, the role of Ataturk in transforming Turkey into a modern nation-state, and the enforced secularism of that project which alienated Islamists. Once more, the localist nature of Islamic law came into conflict with the nationalism and globalism of the state. The role and path of Erdogan in changing the secular nature of the Turkish state is discussed. No mention of the failed coup attempt against Erdogan is made because it occurred after the time of publishing, and the significant changes since then somewhat date this chapter.

The example of Ennahda in Tunisia is the focus of the sixth chapter, and it presents a much different outcome for Islamists there. Seeing the bloodshed in Egypt, Islamists in Tunisia conceded their Islamism and allowed more secular interests to govern in their stead in order to keep peace and order. Hamid portrays Ennahda as being in an impossible predicament; if they moderate, they will lose their base to a more radical party, but they can never moderate enough to convince secularists to accept them.

The stark alternative presented by ISIS to the whole debate over Islam, democracy, and the modern nation-state is the subject of chapter seven. Hamid shares an interview with a man whose son left Tunisia to join Jabhat al-Nusra in Syria and then ISIS, eventually dying in battle there. The discussion of Tunisia continues in this context because a disproportionate number of ISIS militants come from Tunisia. Hamid correctly recognizes ISIS as a state because it has a monopoly on initiatory force within a geographical area and provides the common functions of a state, even if the rest of the world refuses to accept this reality. He shares another important truth here: moderates tend to lose in civil wars and revolutions because they lack both the fervor and resolve to do what the extremists on all sides will do. Though Hamid predicts the eventual downfall of ISIS, it may take some time and the motivations that led to its formation can lead to other such efforts in the future.

The book concludes by summarizing the previous chapters. The last chapter begins with the attack on Charlie Hebdo‘s offices and the reaction to them, which was somewhat muted among hardline Muslims. Hamid discusses the rise of nativist sentiment around the world and the role that it plays for those who would restore older forms of governance in the Middle East. He presents another important insight: that there are no such things as universal values, at least in practice. The contradictions of imposing a democratic process by non-democratic means are explored, but in some cases Hamid finds restrictions on pure democracy to be a necessity to prevent collapse.

Hamid’s insights into the inner workings of the region are not to be missed. But the Western liberal democratic biases of the author are inescapable. Hamid is unable to process the possibility that democracy is inferior to the older pre-Westphalian order, especially for the Muslim world. This is especially irksome, given the amount of evidence that he himself finds for this possibility. That being said, Islamic Exceptionalism is a highly informative book, especially for those with only a passing knowledge of Islamic history or current events in the Middle East.

Rating: 4/5

Book Review: Level Up Your Life

Level Up Your Life is a book about self-improvement and adventure by American entrepreneur, fitness instructor, publisher, and writer Steve Kamb. The book shows people how to define goals and use a game setup of experience points and levels to accomplish those goals while avoiding various pitfalls along the way. The book is divided into six sections, each of which contains three to five chapters.

Kamb begins with a brief introduction, describing several of his most interesting adventures as well as the life he led before deciding to change his life. He talks about the online community he founded about changing one’s life to be more active and adventurous, then invites the reader to join.

The first section begins by going into greater detail about Kamb’s own experiences and backstory than did the introduction. The middle is a warning about getting stuck in the research and planning stages of an adventure without ever actually going on the adventure. The final chapter of this section is an exhortation to stop waiting and thinking you cannot live the life you want to live.

Getting started on a hero’s journey is the subject of the second section. Kamb begins by laying out the basic story arc that almost all heroic characters follow. Next, he asks the reader to describe one’s normal life and then create the superhero alter-ego that one wishes to become. The following chapter presents several common excuses that people use to justify not living a more interesting life and rebuts each of them. The sixth chapter contains advice on dealing with people who offer discouragement and resistance to one’s ambitions. Kamb ends this section by explaining how game mechanics such as experience points and leveling can be used in real life to help one learn skills and achieve goals.

In the third section, Kamb discusses how to set up one’s Game of Life. He lays out the rules that his group uses, but one can create one’s own list. The ninth chapter gives examples of character classes from role-playing games and how they might translate into real-world skill sets. The point of the chapter is to describe one’s ideal leveled-up character. The next chapter explores various quests that one could pursue in order to get from one’s current state to one’s ideal state. Kamb ends this section by sharing how he used the methods from the previous two chapters in his own quest.

The fourth section begins with more discussion of experience points and levels, then proceeds to discuss the need to self-impose both positive and negative reinforcement in order to cultivate discipline. An excellent bit of advice is given here: rewarding yourself should take the form of something that will aid in one’s quest, not something immediately pleasurable that will hinder one’s efforts going forward. In the fourteenth chapter, Kamb explains the importance of willpower. He suggests altering one’s environment to make pursuing one’s goals require less willpower and working against those goals require more. Following this, the need to create flow and momentum in one’s life is explained. The section concludes with a chapter about team-building that describes the roles of mentor, peer, trainee, and wildcard. Finding people to fill each of these roles helps make a quest more productive and interesting.

The fifth section uses the examples of four well-known fictional characters and how they overcame adversity in their stories to discuss how to prepare the body and mind for any adventure, nurture an adventurous spirit, and make necessary sacrifices in pursuit of success. The stories of Bruce Wayne, Jason Bourne, Indiana Jones, and Katniss Everdeen contain a multitude of lessons, making this the longest section of the book.

In the last section, Kamb reminds the reader that tomorrow is not guaranteed and whatever is worth doing should be started now. He encourages those who have completed their personal quests to share their stories and knowledge so that less experienced people can learn from them. The final chapter encourages those who have done great deeds to avoid resting on their laurels and move on to another adventure. The book concludes with a list of resources, acknowledgments, and a repetition of the offer to join Kamb’s online community.

Level Up Your Life is one of the better self-help books out there, and the online community is an added bonus. The greatest criticisms of the book would be that it is too much of an advertisement for the online community, and that while it is excellent for someone who is enduring life but not enjoying it, it is far less useful for someone who already uses similar methods with great success in some areas of life but is held back by failures in other areas. Even so, Kamb has created a book that is worth reading (and a website worth visiting).

Rating: 4/5

Book Review: In Our Own Image

In Our Own Image is a book about the prospects of creating artificial intelligence as well as the cultural, economic, historical, philosophical, and political concerns about it by Greek author and scientist George Zarkadakis. The book considers the problem of AI from the perspectives of human evolution, cybernetics, neuroscience, programming, and computing power.

Zarkadakis begins by briefly speaking of his early years and doctoral research, then spends the rest of the introduction outlining what he will discuss in the rest of the book. The book proper is divided into three parts, each with five or six chapters. The first part covers the evolution of the human brain from the primate brain, especially the most recent 40,000 years. The role of language in accelerating human progress is discussed, as well as the effects of totemic thinking, story-telling, philosophical dualism, and theory of mind. The use of metaphor and narrative to understand the world is examined, along with the inaccuracies inherent in them. The invention, uses, and limitations of the Turing test are explored, as are Asimov’s laws of robotics and the role of AI in fictional stories throughout history.

The second part is about the nature of the mind. The differences in approach between dualism versus monism, rationalism versus empiricism, and materialism versus Platonism are discussed. The thought experiment of the philosophical zombie and the possibility of digital immortality are explained. On the matter of why there appears to be no other intelligent life in the cosmos, Zarkadakis shares an interesting hypothesis: science is an unnatural idea at odds with our cognitive architecture, and an intelligent alien species would be unlikely to widely adopt it. This means that the universe is likely full of Platos, as well as Ancient Greeces, Romes, Indias, Chinas, and Mayas, but is perhaps devoid of Aristotles and societies advanced beyond that of humanity in the early eighteenth century. Daniel Dennett’s explanation of consciousness is overviewed, as well as the contributions of a great number of scientists to the field of cognitive psychology. Finally, the field of cybernetics and its offshoots are examined, showing that the hard problem of consciousness is actually solved with ease. The brain-in-a-vat paradigm of consciousness is shown to be insufficient by applying cybernetic theory.

Everything up to this point lays the foundation for understanding the last part of the book. The third part details the history of computers and programming, from ancient theorists to more recent mathematicians, and from punched cards to modern electronics. The limitations of symbolic logic and the implications thereof against AI in conventional computers are explored, and possible solutions in the form of new electronic components and computer architectures are explained. Charles Babbage’s inventions are discussed, as well as the lost potential of their lack of adoption in their own time. The role of computational technology during World War II is considered, along with the results of government spending on computer research at the time. The development of supercomputers, including IBM’s Deep Blue and Watson, is outlined. The ‘Internet of things’ is compared and contrasted with true AI, and the possible societal impact of large-scale automation of jobs is considered. The possibility of evolving rather than creating AI is examined, as are the possible dispositions of an AI; friendly, malevolent, or apathetic. Interestingly, Zarkadakis shows that there is good reason to believe that a strong AI may exhibit autism spectrum disorders. A short epilogue that begins with a summary and then considers possible economic, political, and social implications of strong AI completes the book.

The book is well-researched and impeccably sourced, at least in its core subject matter. That being said, the book struggles to find an audience, as it can be a bit too technical for the average layperson, but does not venture deeply enough into the subjects it covers to interest a professional in AI-related fields. In other words, it is lukewarm where being either cold or hot is best. Zarkadakis also commits some ultracrepidarianism, particularly in the fields of economics and politics. He seems to believe that AI will overcome the limitations described by Hayek’s knowledge problem and Mises’s economic calculation problem, but unless AI can get inside of our heads and know us better than we know ourselves, this is impossible. In politics, he briefly mentions the possibilities of AI leading to anarchism or to neoreactionary-style absolute monarchies with computerized philosopher-kings, but does not give these possibilities the amount of consideration that they warrant. Finally, the book contains more typographical errors and grammatical abnormalities than a competent editor should fail to correct, though we may grant Zarkadakis some leeway because English is not his first language.

Overall, In Our Own Image is worth reading for those who already have some knowledge of the subject matter but would like to fill gaps in their understanding, but there is room for improvement and expansion.

Rating: 4/5

Read the entire article at ZerothPosition.com

Book Review: The West Point History of the Civil War

The West Point History of the Civil War is a book derived from course material used at West Point to teach students about military history, strategy, and tactics. The book offers analysis of the political context of the events during the Civil War, as well as the events immediately preceding and following.

The book begins with an introduction that focuses on the role that West Point played in the lead-up to the Civil War, as well as the effect that the war had on the military academy. The main part is divided into six sections, each written by a different expert historian on the particular subject being discussed. An extensive bibliography ends the book, featuring a multitude of references and image credits.

The first chapter covers the events leading up to the Civil War, beginning with the end of the Mexican War and going through the Compromise of 1850, the battles over slavery in Kansas and Nebraska, the Caning in Congress, John Brown’s raid at Harpers Ferry, the election of 1860, the secessions resulting from Abraham Lincoln’s election, and the battles of First Bull Run and Shiloh. The second and third chapters are devoted to the war in the east in 1861-1863, which at the time meant the territory from the Appalachian Mountains to the Atlantic Ocean. The fourth chapter covers the western theater in 1862-1863, which was the territory from the Appalachian Mountains westward, although relatively little warfare occurred west of the Mississippi River. The fifth chapter discusses the coordination of Union forces and their strategy of hard war during 1864-1865 that led to the Confederacy’s defeat. The final chapter begins with a strategic discussion of the entire war, and finishes with a brief account of the Reconstruction Era that followed.

Throughout the book, many pictures, posters, and political cartoons from the period provide important evidence of the conditions and popular sentiments at the time. Accounts by troops of battlefield events help to show the harsh reality of war. Maps that show the locations and troop movements involved in each major battle help the reader to get a sense of what happened when, and the historians do a decent job of explaining why most of the commanders made the decisions they made. The greatest fault of the book is its incompleteness; important campaigns along the Atlantic coast get only brief mentions, and the Battle of Pea Ridge is completely omitted. In short, this is no West Point Atlas of American Wars, but it is one of the better new books on the Civil War.

Rating: 4/5

Book Review: Freedom!

Freedom! is a book about libertarian theory written by activist Adam Kokesh. The book discusses the philosophy of libertarianism, applies it to various socioeconomic issues, and discusses its potential.

Mr. Kokesh begins by discussing the nature of freedom from a self-ownership perspective, and shows how government is philosophically incompatible with this perspective. He then shows how the non-aggression principle and the right to claim property derives from self-ownership. The validity of the self-ownership perspective has been argued with more robustness elsewhere, but we can assume that Kokesh omits a deeper discussion of argumentation ethics for the sake of brevity. Strangely, Kokesh does not include the precise definition of government that he has used repeatedly elsewhere (a group of individuals who exercise a monopoly on the initiation of force within a geographical area). He finishes the first chapter by proposing a society in which people only engage in voluntary relationships.

The second chapter is about the history of the state and how we might evolve past it, with an emphasis on the role of technology in helping people see through the lies of government propaganda and become productive enough to oppose the state in meaningful ways. The overall tone is rather Pollyanna-ish, as governments have become far more dangerous with recent advances in technology, and technology alone is not guaranteed to lead to the end of the state. There is also an alternative interpretation of the available data which is not directly discussed; namely, that the evolution from more crude forms of government to democracy did not occur because common people wanted more influence in government, but because rulers found that human livestock are more productive when given the illusion of freedom.

The third and fourth chapters briefly discuss the nature of self-defense and justice in a free society, with much more space devoted to the ways in which governments have corrupted these concepts with their monopolies on legal systems and military defense. Such corruptions include military interventionism, foreign aid, conscription, the military-industrial complex, wars against abstract ideas and tactics rather than physical foes who may be defeated, laws that criminalize victimless behaviors, laws that restrict access to weapons, courts that give agents of the state cover to assault peaceful people, the prison-industrial complex, and a legal system of punishment rather than a justice system of restitution.

The fifth chapter discusses taxation and explains why it is immoral, in both direct forms and indirect forms such as central banking. Kokesh shows that attempting to use the state to rein in the excesses of the rich will fail because the rich control the state by funding politicians. He then demonstrates that taxes discourage production because removing incentive to work in the form of income taxation will lead to less work being done (at least officially). After explaining how fiat currencies are imposed and how they are used to make it easier to tax a population, he argues that eminent domain and property taxes violate private property rights and are yet another form of theft. Kokesh finishes the chapter with a glimmer of hope; that a generation of people will come who will disown national debts because such debts legitimately have nothing to do with them. There are two problematic arguments in this chapter. First, there is the idea that taxation can be voluntary if one believes that governments serve people, one’s tax money is used properly, and one willingly pays taxes. This is false on two counts. Truth is independent of belief and morality is objective, so taxation is immoral even if one does not believe that it is. Also, consent under duress is not valid consent. As it is impossible to distinguish consent given only because of duress from consent given despite duress, it is impossible to consent when duress is present. Second, Kokesh claims that the only options for fighting taxation are to fight tax collectors in court and to conduct economic activities out of the view of tax collectors. This is false because the use of defensive force against agents of the state is also an option, even if there are not yet enough potential practitioners to make it likely to succeed.

In the sixth chapter, Kokesh begins by explaining the ideal of trade without force, fraud, or coercion, then examines how destructive government interference in trade is to the economy. He then goes into more detail about how central banks and fiat currencies distort the economy, and suggests cryptocurrencies as a possible way to solve this problem. Next, there is the problem of corporations, which led to the formation of unions. Kokesh explains that corporations are legal fictions created by the state to protect the wealthy who bribe politicians, and that this led to strong unions as a reaction by workers to the formation of powerful corporate interests. After this, he discusses the effect of government monopolization on infrastructure and utilities, which has hampered advancement beyond current technology and raised the cost of all goods and services by eliminating the increased efficiency that results from competition among service providers. The fifth section of the chapter is devoted to the method of ostracism and boycotting to bring about change in a peaceful manner. Unfortunately, the shortfalls of ostracism are not fully explored. Kokesh ends the sixth chapter by making the case that everything should be viewed through the lens of economics.

In the seventh chapter, Kokesh demonstrates how government interference in schooling, medicine, assistance for the poor, drug use, environmental protection, and the free flow of ideas has harmed everyone. Free market solutions to these problems are discussed perhaps too briefly, but discussing them at full length would make the book several times longer, and this has been done elsewhere by other authors.

The eighth chapter discusses government involvement in personal and family relationships. Here, Kokesh makes the case against laws forbidding consensual relationships as well as the case for peaceful parenting and treating children more like people and less like property vis-à-vis their current standing in society. This perspective is then applied to the problem of bullying in government schools. The chapter ends with a discussion of racism that examines its nature, its uses from a libertarian perspective, and how it is used by power elites to divide and conquer.

The last two chapters present Kokesh’s advice for living free in an unfree world, as well as his prediction for where the human species is going. His advice includes learning to master one’s emotions, becoming knowledgeable about taking care of one’s body and using that knowledge, living as debt-free as possible, doing work that one can be proud of, and choosing to have a positive state of mind. The last chapter returns to the theme of the second chapter; namely, that of technological advancement reaching an asymptote beyond which the state cannot function. Fortunately, the Pollyanna-ish tone does not return here, as Kokesh warns about the destructive potential of states with technology at a nearly asymptotic level. The next three sections discuss the methods by which people may transition to a voluntary society, which include education, civil disobedience, conducting business out of view of the state, and abolishing states gradually from the top level down rather than all at once. The use of force to topple governments is perhaps unfairly downplayed, however. Kokesh ends the book by explaining that the transition to a free society is not a revolution in the historical sense, but an evolution to something entirely new.

Overall, the book could explain some concepts in more detail and could avoid a few specious arguments, but it is what it was meant to be: a strong but concise treatise on the philosophy and potential of libertarianism.

Rating: 4/5

Book review: Unlocking More Secrets of Libertarian Persuasion

Unlocking More Secrets of Libertarian Persuasion is a book about communication of libertarian ideas written by Michael Cloud. The book is a sequel to Secrets of Libertarian Persuasion.

Mr. Cloud’s approach is to begin with insights about the nature of libertarianism as well as libertarian positions on various issues. He then tells stories and parables to illustrate points about libertarian communication, and finishes by discussing a number of persuasion techniques.

The book goes into more detail about specific issues than the first book, and is better for it. The discussions on health care, the nature of credit, and the effect of minimum wage laws are especially enlightening, and the essays about the need to define terms correctly touches on an issue that is of paramount importance for anyone who wishes to have a rational discussion. But like the first book, the focus on political libertarianism rather than philosophical libertarianism remains, along with the minarchist stance of Mr. Cloud’s writing throughout the book.

While Mr. Cloud’s libertarianism may not be 100% philosophically pure, his book is still very useful for those who seek to convince others of the benefits of individual liberty and limited (or no) government.

Rating: 4/5

Book review: Secrets of Libertarian Persuasion

Secrets of Libertarian Persuasion is a book about communication of libertarian ideas written by Michael Cloud. Mr. Cloud’s approach is to begin with stories that illustrate libertarian positions on issues as well as some lessons about communicating libertarian positions. He then discusses a number of persuasion techniques, and finishes by analyzing the psychology of some failed approaches to libertarian persuasion.

The persuasion techniques outlined in the book are useful not just for libertarians seeking new converts to their political philosophy, but for anyone who wishes to persuade someone else to do almost anything. With interest in libertarianism rising, the book is sure to help libertarians increase the number of people who will join the libertarian movement.

The book contains a serious flaw, however. Mr. Cloud’s view of anarchism and its position within the libertarian movement is certainly not welcoming to anarchist libertarians. On page 77, Mr. Cloud says quite plainly that “libertarians are not anarchists.” This is only true of the more political types of libertarians. Those who have a philosophical understanding of libertarianism from first principles are necessarily anarchists, because such an approach leaves no room for a state to function, as it cannot do so without violating absolute moral principles. He also says in multiple places in the book that “libertarians advocate small government,” which again is only true of political libertarians, or those who do not apply libertarian philosophy consistently and from first principles.

Despite the flaw of his treatment of anarchism, Mr. Cloud has still written a useful book, and Secrets of Libertarian Persuasion is still worth a read.

Rating: 4/5

Book review: We Who Dared to Say No to War

We Who Dared to Say No to War is a collection of essays gathered by progressive Murray Polner and libertarian Thomas Woods. The book includes anti-war writings by prominent Americans from the War of 1812 to the Iraq War. Accordingly, the authors whose works are included range across the political spectrum from socialist Eugene V. Debs to anarcho-capitalist Murray Rothbard.

Highlights of the book begin with Daniel Webster’s speech before Congress in which he compared military conscription for the War of 1812 to slavery and murder, an argument which Vietnam-era politicians would have done well to remember.

The second section contains an admonition against the Mexican War by Henry Clay, as well as the speech in which then-Congressman Abraham Lincoln demanded to know the exact spot upon which American forces were attacked by Mexican forces (it was in Mexican territory, but this did not faze the war hawks of the time).

The Civil War section contains arguments that show how war was not necessary to end slavery in the South and that the primary motivation was economic domination of the southern states by northern banking interests, many of which are made most effectively by Lysander Spooner, better known for his essay No Treason: The Constitution of No Authority.

Next, the essays deal with U.S. imperialism around the turn of the century, focusing on the Spanish-American War and the occupation of the Phillippines, as well as how imperialism is contrary to the ideals of earlier generations of Americans.

The fifth section contains essays from such luminaries as Eugene V. Debs, Helen Keller, and Robert La Follette, and demonstrates how people of all walks of life opposed World War I. Most prominent among this group of essayists is Randolph Bourne, whose refrain “The state is the health of war” remains a key part of the anti-war lexicon.

An explanation by Jeanette Rankin of why she voted against the declarations of both world wars bridges the gap between the World War I section and the World War II section. The World War II section is a bit sparse, containing a few essays by draft resisters but lacking the multiple hard-hitting pieces of both the previous and following sections. Stuart Chase’s “Assumptions about War” does as good of a job as one essay can, but it needs more support from other pieces. There are many surviving arguments against the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the inclusion of only Fleet Admiral William D. Leahy’s brief quote on the matter is mystifying.

The Cold War section highlights the non-interventionist wing of the Republican Party that was driven underground in the 1950s and 1960s and has only recently resurfaced with the rise of Ron Paul. Here, the most prominent piece is by Murray Rothbard, who did an excellent job of explaining the foundations of libertarianism and the illegitimacy of the state apparatus.

The Vietnam War, while technically a part of the Cold War, gets its own section, due to the massive social unrest caused by it. In this section, Wayne Morse speaks against the Gulf of Tonkin resolution, General David M. Shoup makes a solid case for non-interventionism, and 1972 Democratic presidential candidate George McGovern delivers one of the most potent verbal lashings ever given to Congress, telling them “this chamber reeks of blood.”

The lessons that current policy-makers should have learned from the preceding eras of American history are brought to bear in the Iraq War section, which also includes Barbara Lee’s rationale for her lone vote against the Afghanistan War. Particularly moving is the resignation letter of John Brady Kiesling, who resigned as a U.S. diplomat on February 25, 2003 in protest of the Iraq invasion.

The final section is devoted to various criticisms of war in general, from John Quincy Adams speaking about foreign policy to Harvey Wasserman’s insightful comparisons of the false pretenses that have started many wars. The best summary of the preceding chapters is given by Sheldon Richman with the title of his essay, “War is a Government Program.”

While the book does an excellent job of presenting the anti-war case, it could have been improved by the inclusion of speeches and essays against the brutality inflicted upon Native Americans in the 19th century, as well as more criticism of World War II and the many smaller interventions of the current era. Nonetheless, it is still a treasure trove of sound arguments against the worst government program of all.

Rating: 4/5