LikeWar: The Weaponization of Social Media by P.W. Singer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
LikeWars is a well written, well researched and penetrating analysis on how powerful social media has become in influencing society, politics and our perceptions of what is real and what is not. More importantly, it attempts to chart a trajectory of how social media will evolve in the future and powerful role artificial intelligence (AI), specifically neural networks, will play in determining that trajectory. The solutions presented by the authors to the issues we are facing and will face are as insightful as their observations. I would hope that every educator and policy maker here in the United States would read this book and be motivated to take action.
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“We pass through this world but once. Few tragedies can be more extensive than the stunting of life, few injustices deeper than the denial of an opportunity to strive or even to hope, by a limit imposed from without, but falsely identified as lying within.”
— Stephen Jay Gould
In this book Guy Harrison takes over where Ashley Montagu left off in Man’s Most Dangerous Myth: The Fallacy of Race. Where Harrison has the edge is the science of DNA sequencing has confirmed that there is no biological basis for the idea of race. Homo sapiens is not made up of different “races”; we are one unified species. This isn’t to say that there are cultural differences between various groups but these are as arbitrary as hairstyles and skirt lengths. Again, there is no biological basis for them. Harrison also makes a point of taking anthropologists and biologists to task for not being more vocal about the lack of any empirical evidence for race. He recounts his astonishment of not hearing this until he was in his late teens even though this fact was well known long before that. He makes a strong argument why this fact should be inculcated throughout the entire educational system starting at the earliest grades. This would do much to offset the racial canards that children are exposed to and prevent them from gaining much traction. Concerning the canards and myths about race he systematically takes them apart, chapter by chapter. This book will make you uncomfortable as any good book should but it will give you the empirical evidence and arguments you need to counter the bigotry and racism that runs through society all of which are based on the lie of ‘race’.
“For the trouble with lying and deceiving is that their efficiency depends entirely upon a clear notion of the truth that the liar and deceiver wishes to hide. In this sense, truth, even if it does not prevail in public, possesses an ineradicable primacy over all falsehoods.” Hannah Arendt
So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
If one is interested in bringing about justice and equality for all then this is a book that you want to read. This is an intense read and you will find out more about yourself than you may care to but the effort and self-searching is the sort of work that needs to be done by all of us who claim justice for all is what we want. Ms. Oluo is quite adept at smashing the trite slogans and talking points that are always heard in discussions about race using facts and research. Implicit in the sophistry that you hear in discussions of race is the subtle or not so subtle denying of the life experiences of millions of men, women and children. This denying of peoples’ experiences is the engine of the anger that we see so often and one feels empathy for people who experience this each and every day once one the message of this book sinks in. It is a good writer that can produce empathy in the reader and Ms. Oluo is exceptional at it. More importantly, the empathy she engenders will move you to take action on both yourself and the social systems we live with. There is a lot of work to be done and thankfully Ms. Oluo gives us in this book the tools and guidance on how to get it done.
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I’ve read a number of books that dealt with Intelligent Design (ID)/Creationist arguments which outline the various straw arguments that Creationists and ID proponents use and present the overwhelming body of scientific evidence which refutes each and every one one without exception. Rosa Rubicondior’s book goes one step further and goes after the presuppositions that Creationists and ID proponents assume to be the case when crafting their sophistry and systematically shreds them. Ideas such as ‘complexity is indicative of design’, ‘the world in which we find ourselves has been designed for us’, ‘DNA couldn’t possibly have evolved via a natural process’, and ‘mutations can only destroy information, not increase it’ are addressed and refuted. The dissection of these false ideas are presented in a very deliberate and systematic way which prepares the reader to engage in a debate with proponents of Creationism/ID. The author is quite adept at unpacking things in a manner that will make the concepts take residence in the reader’s mind and be available for use whenever and where ever the situation presents itself. Copious footnotes and bibliography give the reader ample resources to pursue specific areas of interest.
The Death of Truth: Notes on Falsehood in the Age of Trump by Michiko Kakutani
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
“In a republican nation, whose citizens are to be led by reason and persuasion and not by force, the art of reasoning becomes of first importance”
― Thomas Jefferson
“Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost.”
― Thomas Jefferson
I’m sure every reader of this has asked themselves, “How do these people believe the lies coming out of our political leaders that are demonstrably false?” There has been a subtle shift in the common epistemology that has been deliberately engineered for the benefit of a few. No longer do people claim, “I believe it because it is true and here is how I know that.” Today, the mantra is, “I believe it so therefore it is true.” It matters not whether the claim is the earth is flat and 6,000 years old, or that politicians you don’t like are surely running a child sex ring out of the basement of a building which has no basement, it is true because they believe it to be true. Congruence to reality has ceased to have any intellectual weight in these peoples’ thinking process. How did we get to this point? This book attempts to answer that question and, in this reader’s opinion, answers it well. Well written and well researched, it traces back the various threads that have come together to give us the intellectual climate we find a large percentage of our fellow Americans living in. The two pronged attack on reason and the free press is, as it turns out, by design and this book unpacks the “how” and “why” behind it.
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This is a good primer for those interested in Stoicism. There are a number of Stoics, both Greek and Roman, whose writings are available to the modern reader. In this book Pigliucci stresses the writings and thoughts of Epictetus and the reader is introduced to Stoicism through that lens. Had this book been written by, let’s say, former President Clinton it would be through the lens of Marcus Aurelius as President Clinton lists “Meditations” as one of his top books to read. As an introduction to Stoicism this book offers the reader two main benefits that other introductory books may not. First, a cogent and thorough history of Stoicism and how it fits into the different threads of Greek philosophy. The historical approach to studying philosophy, especially in the beginning stages, is the method I was schooled in and experience has shown it to be the most fruitful in gaining a thorough understanding of the subject matter. Pigliucci does this exposition well. The second thing that the author stresses is that Stoicism is first and foremost a practice that one undertakes in order to achieve ‘eudaimonia’ or the good life. Pigliucci again gives this a very good treatment and I would say work and discipline to achieve the good life is the main thread that knits together the entire book. Wherever he can, Pigliucci uses personal anecdotes to illustrate the point he is making chapter by chapter and how it relates to achieving ‘eudaimonia’. By the end of the book you may very well be looking at the world through Stoic lenses and notice the internal changes that this view brings. It did for me and the book has motivated me to explore and practice the disciplines of Stoicism in my daily life. Well worth the read.
In a rather testy exchange today reporters grilled the White House Press Secretary about the current administration’s decision to move from a civil to a criminal stance regarding people crossing the US/Mexican border. By classifying this as a crime it allows the ICE agents to separate the children from their parents. You can listen to Session’s decision here. Sessions also made some changes to the asylum law and now people who are the victims of domestic violence or gang violence will not be able to seek asylum on the basis of either. So not only has the administration criminalized crossing the border they are attempting to close any legal avenues for people to escape the violence of their countries and seek sanctuary here in the United States. Both Sanders and Sessions cite biblical justification for these actions. According to them, this is what Jesus would do and to them there is no higher justification than ‘God’s word on the page’. Gott Mit Uns.
This was also the justification for the internment and genocide of millions under Nazi Germany. In fact the SS troops, when they were separating the children from their parents, told them the same lies that ICE agents are telling these parents: we are taking them away for questioning and to bathe them. The method is the same in both cases, change the laws to make it a crime to be Jewish or a Gypsy or to be a member of the ‘dark’ races or an asylum seeker and stand strong knowing you are doing the work of the Lord. Lest you point out the horror of what is happening the response from Sanders and Sessions is identical to how Himmler and the SS Death’s-Head Units (SS-Totenkopfverbände) responded: we are doing the Lord’s work. Gott Mit Uns.