Creative Capital

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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What Do We Know About Time?

“There is no coming into being nor passing away, there is neither genesis nor decay; the elements out of which everything is composed assemble or disassemble while themselves remaining unchanged.”  Parmenides, c. 475 BC” “Time does not flow … it just is.” Leofranc Holford-Strevens, The History of Time” Previously in this series: On Consciousness Part II: …

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How Little We Know

“I think I can safely say that nobody really understands quantum mechanics.” Richard Feynman Previously in this series: On Consciousness We are taking a quick look at the quixotic nature of the quantum world as part of our long-way-around approach to examining the nature of human consciousness. We’ll begin with how little we actually know …

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On Consciousness

“God does not play dice with the universe.” Albert Einstein “If you are not profoundly shocked by quantum physics you have not understood it.” Neils Bohr Across the long intellectual history of the human race, reaching back at least to the pre-Socratic philosophers (beginning, apparently with Thales of Miletus), there have been a handful of occasions …

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The Long War Had Definite Pluses

We are speculating about how the Taliban will govern Afghanistan the second time around. Last week I concluded that one prevalent fear – that the Taliban would protect terrorist groups that are a major threat to the West – is unlikely to happen. Previously in this series: “The Taliban and Future Terrorism: A Positive Take (You …

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The Taliban and Future Terrorism

“If Americans are worried about the return of violent Islamist extremists … Afghanistan is not the most important place they should watch.” — Philip Zelikow, former Executive Director of the 9/11 Commission. Previously in this series: “Afghan History and the Taliban: A Positive Take (You Heard That Right) on Afghanistan, Part II” To begin – and end …

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Afghan History and the Taliban

It’s difficult to remain an atoll of sanity in a typhoon of madness. Previously in this series: “A Positive Take (You Heard That Right) on Afghanistan, Part I” For two decades – from the 1970s to the 1990s – Afghanistan was constantly at war, either with outside states (the USSR) or with itself via civil wars …

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A Positive Take (You Heard that Right) on Afghanistan

“We learn from the mistakes of the past how to make new ones. — Historian A.J.P. Taylor I was part of the 70 percent of Americans who thought it was time to bring most of our soldiers home from Afghanistan. I was also part of the 75 percent of Americans who were angered and embarrassed …

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