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History’s Lessons and Historic Mistakes

Angela Merkel’s Reputation Is Trashed – But Is America at Fault? Merkel’s reign at the top of Germany’s political apparatus was remarkable, and she stepped down as something of a secular saint with a 77% approval rating. But it’s amazing what six months can do. Previously in this series: A Coat of Varnish Part III, …

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Not Everyone Agrees with Us

Let’s Talk Nukes “If a third world war is such a crippling worry, how can the premise of NATO be credible? Its effectiveness has always depended on the belief that NATO is indeed prepared to run the risk of nuclear war.” — Martin Wolf in the Financial Times Previously in this series: A Coat of Varnish Part …

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Posture of U.S. Weakness Encouraged Ukraine Invasion

What do Caesar’s Wife, Justice, and Military Deterrence Have in Common? “The lure of appeasement – in essence, a return to the policies pursued in many Western capitals for the past two decades – will be strong.” — Thomas de Maizière, former German defense minister Previously in this series: A Coat of Varnish “It is better …

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A Coat of Varnish

C. P. Snow titled his last book, written a few years before he died, A Coat of Varnish. What he meant, as he put it, was that “Civilization is hideously fragile…there’s not much between us and the horrors underneath. Just about a coat of varnish.”  Civilization, that is to say, is like a thin coat of …

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Timely Thoughts on a Free America

“The defense of agency is what individual human rights are meant for.”  James Griffin Previously in this series: On Agency, Part XII, The Complexities of Institutional Racism Last week I pointed out that controversial policies like DEI, microaggressions, safe spaces, trigger warnings and so on shouldn’t be viewed with so much alarm for the simple …

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The Complexities of Institutional Racism

Last week we examined the introduction into American law of so-called “group rights” and the failure of that collective agency movement to improve the lives of African-Americans – America’s most disadvantaged group. Previously in this series: On Agency, Part XI, American Blacks and Agency For roughly 200 years the very high individual human agency of …

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American Blacks and Agency

In my discussion of the extraordinarily high individual human agency in America, I have deliberately omitted – until now – an important caveat: not everyone in the U.S. has historically been, or is today, vouchsafed the same degree of agency. Previously in this series: On Agency, Part X, The Sniping About America is Nothing New …

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The Sniping About America is Nothing New

“Going to America!” Arkady Svidrigailov’s dying words as he commits suicide in Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment Previously in this series: On Agency, Part IX, It Turns Out, the U.S. Really is Exceptional Criticism of the extremely high human agency in America has been constant, starting even before the USA was officially born. For example, if you …

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It Turns Out, the U.S. Really is Exceptional

“America, you are better off than our continent, the old.” – Goethe Previously in this series: On Agency, Part VIII, America – Where Agency Flourishes Last week we observed that the vigorous human agency of the American colonists allowed them to defeat a powerful antagonist – the combined forces of France and numerous Native American …

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America – Where Agency Flourishes

“In the beginning all the world was America.” — John Locke Previously in this series: On Agency Part VII Turning from China to the West Last week we observed human agency as it collapsed in Rome but was championed by the Germanic tribes that would eventually defeat the Roman Empire. The “freedom of the German …

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Turning from China to the West

“Valour begets tranquility, tranquility ease, ease disorder, and disorder ruin.” –Sallust Previously in this series: On Agency Part VI, The Strategy of Xi’s China Earlier in this series of essays I noted that, broadly speaking, the history of Western Civilization has mainly been one of ever-increasing human agency. In the West, human agency has meant individual agency, …

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The Strategy of China’s Xi

From the beginning of Deng Xiaoping’s economic reforms in the early 1980s right up through the first decade of the twenty-first century, China’s socialist-capitalist hybrid society worked remarkably well. Previously in this series: On Agency Part V, Deng’s Accidental Revolution The Chinese economy grew rapidly and the Chinese people – post Tiananmen Square, anyway – …

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Deng’s Accidental Revolution

“Deng Xiaoping knew what he did not know!” — Deng Xiaoping Previously in this series: On Agency Part IV, The Rise of Deng in China Since the Mao Dynasty was launched in 1949 there have been five “emperors” – what the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) calls “paramount leaders” – but only three have mattered. Mao, of …

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The Rise of Deng in China

“It doesn’t matter if a cat is black or white, so long as it catches mice.” — Deng Xiaoping Previously in this series: On Agency Part III, The Rise of the Individual in Ancient China The current Chinese dynasty was established by Mao Zedong in 1949, following his victory over Chiang Kai-shek and the Nationalists. The …

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The Rise of the Individual in Ancient China

The Shang and the ZhouThe Shang dynasty (roughly 1600 – 1046 BC) is the earliest Chinese dynasty for which we actually have solid evidence. Earlier dynasties may have existed, but if so no one can prove it – they are referred to as “legendary” dynasties. Previously in this series: On Agency Part II, China and …

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China and the Individual

“We found that the belief in human agency in ancient Chinese philosophical and religious thought co-occurred with progress.” —  Yukun Zhao et al., “Agency in Ancient China” Previously in this series: On Agency The history of human agency in China – one might better say the tribulations of human agency in China – is, in its …

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On Agency

“Agency” is a small word, but it has large meanings. In my day job in the financial industry, for example, “agency” issues refer to the differences in interests between investors (the principals) and their financial advisors (the agents). The classic example of a conflict between the interests of these parties involves stockbrokers. An investor can …

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Are We All Actually Immortal?

“There is a realm the laws of physics prevent us from accessing.” — Ryan Mandelbaum  Previously in this series: On Consciousness Part VII: Entering Unitarity “Death, be not proud.” — John Donne We are discussing the phenomenon of unitarity, a core feature of quantum physics. Last week we noted that, in the mid-1970s, Stephen Hawking argued that unitarity …

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Entering Unitarity

“Death may be the greatest of all human blessings.” — Socrates Previously in this series: On Consciousness Part V: Is It All Predictable? “I’m not afraid of death, I just don’t want to be there when it happens. –Woody Allen The Uniform Determination of Death Act (UDDA) states, simply, that “An individual who has sustained either (1) …

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Uh-oh! Free Will Pulls Vanishing Act

“I do not believe in free will.” — Einstein Previously in this series: On Consciousness Part V: Is It All Predictable? “There is no absolute or free will.” — Spinoza We are investigating my claim that free will is an illusion that grows out of our ignorance of the factors – the prior interactions – that engender …

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Is It All Predictable?

“Pretend that you have free will. It’s essential that you behave as if your decisions matter, even though you know they don’t.” — Ted Chiang Previously in this series: On Consciousness Part IV: Is Our Consciousness so Special? “Man can do what he wills but he cannot will what he wills.” — Arthur Schopenhauer Does free will …

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Is Our Consciousness So Special?

“If all phenomena are determined by physical laws … then life itself becomes little more than a string of kinetic experiences.”  –Walter Pater Previously in this series: On Consciousness Part III: What Do We Know About Time? “Je suis, donc je pense.” — What Descartes should have said   It seems likely that nothing exists except in …

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