Past Articles (2011)

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* 2011 *

(Reverse Chronological Order)

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'The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined' by Steven Pinker#3. A Summary of The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined by Steven Pinker

Preview: We are fresh out of a century that featured two world wars often considered to be the most destructive in history (not to mention numerous inter-state, civil and tribal wars and genocides), and are persistently submerged in news coverage that features more than its fair share of military conflict, terrorism, murder, gang violence, rape, domestic violence, child abuse and animal cruelty. As such, we may be forgiven for thinking that human beings are at least as violent as ever, if not more so. Indeed, many are persuaded that the onset of civilization some 5000 years ago has had none but a de-civilizing effect on the world and its people, and has led to an increasing level of violence as state hierarchies have grown in size and complexity, and military technology has advanced.

However, in his new book The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined, the Harvard scholar Steven Pinker argues that, all appearances to the contrary, an in depth look at the evidence reveals that violence has in fact decreased world-wide and in virtually every category we can think of since civilization began (albeit unevenly in both time and geography, and with a few blips along the way). The evidence comes not only from anecdotal and narrative tales but from an exhaustive look at the statistics, which is altogether very convincing. Read more…

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'Debt: The First 5000 Years' by David Graeber#2. A Summary of Debt: The First 5000 Years by David Graeber

Preview: Debt is certainly a topic of deep interest and import these days, what with future prosperity seemingly threatened on all sides by a combination of personal, commercial, and national debt. A fact that has been brought home with particular poignancy in recent times by the role that debt played in the latest global financial crash of 2008, and the continuing threat of growing consumer debt and national debts in places such as Greece, Ireland, Portugal, and now Italy, and, of course, the US. According to Anthropologist David Graeber, author of the new book Debt: The First 5000 Years, debt takes on an even larger significance when we trace its history, since this exercise allows us to gain a new and more complete understanding of economics as a whole, and our modern capitalist system in particular (not to mention several other aspects of the human condition to boot). The story of debt takes us from the origins of money itself; through to the age of slavery and conquest; on to the origins of the major world religions (with their near universal prohibitions on usury); through to the middle ages, and the beginnings of capitalism and the modern banking system; and finally on to the modern age itself with its national currencies, central banks, and commitment to market capitalism.

While this story is interesting in its own right, Graeber’s main argument here is that tracing the history of debt unearths some uneasy truths and deep flaws in the nature of modern capitalism, and it is high time, he proposes, that we rekindle the conversation about how and with what we might replace it. Read more…

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'Brain Bugs: How The Brain's Flaws Shape Our Lives' by Dean Buonomano#1. A Summary of Brain Bugs: How the Brain’s Flaws Shape Our Lives by Dean Buonomano

Preview: As much as we rely on our brains to navigate the complex world before us, anyone who has ever forgotten someone’s name, or misread a situation, or made a poor decision in the heat of the moment knows that the brain does not always work as we would want. In his new book Brain Bugs: How the Brain’s Flaws Shape Our Lives, neurobiologist Dean Buonomano explores the brain’s many pitfalls and mistakes (and how and why it makes them), and also offers up some advice on how we can best manage these so called ‘brain bugs’ in our everyday lives. Read more…

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