It’s time once again to list a few of the books I’ve been taking up time with recently.
First on the list that I found very interesting and thought-provoking was Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s audiobook AntiFragile. Basically it’s about how so much in life can be assessed as belonging along a spectrum ranging from fragile to robust to antifragile, where fragile describes that which is damaged by change and time and volatility, where robustness signifies that which is neutral and unaffected either way by time or volatility, and antifragility where something actually grows stronger and benefits from damage and volatility, up to a point at least. Here the author is primarily concerned with economics and the fragility of current financial markets, particularly as globalization unfolds and greater centralization is taking place, creating a situation where many businesses are so big that they’re indeed destined to fail and also to impact entire sectors and markets when they do. He’s making an argument in this book that bolsters the libertarian philosophy and spirit of bottom-up entrepreneurship and competition within a market that then can lead to greater stability across the market itself, even if not among those individual businesses therein. The fragility of the parts coalesce to promote greater antifragility in the system they belong to. In short, keeping things small and local is oftentimes the best way to go in the long-run, and here Taleb explains why.
It’s a more complex argument than I can get into here today, but this was a truly interesting book that I intend to listen to again as well as purchase the print copy of so as to transcribe a few portions. Definitely a worthwhile read for those interested in social systems and the limits of forecasting and predictability.
Another book I finished up listening to in audio format recently was F. A. Hayek’s Road to Serfdom. Loved it and am glad I took the time to check into this book, having heard about it secondhand throughout my life. What I found most interesting is how many people have co-opted phrases and quotes from Hayek and then repurposed them to support causes that actually completely contradict what he was arguing for (as in the case of neocons/corporatists branding themselves as “libertarians” and skewing the whole notion in a way that has done much harm to people’s understanding of libertarian principles). For a while now I’ve realized it would be a good idea to go directly to the source to see for myself what he actually had to say instead of taking the words of others speaking on his behalf as accurate, and I’m so glad I did. As with the case of Adam Smith, most who bandy about Hayek’s name apparently haven’t read his works themselves. His arguments in this book aren’t automatically pro-capitalist in nature (at least not so far as being strictly against all forms of regulation), though he is very critical of socialism due to its inevitability to lead to totalitarianism within large, complex nation-states. His writing struck me as surprisingly even-handed and non-ideologically-driven, counter to so many who use his name in vain to bolster their own ideologically-driven agendas (still looking at you, corporatists).
Out of all the libertarian thinkers and economists I’ve read thus far, Hayek really captured a lot of my own thoughts and concerns and addressed them intelligently without unnecessary hyperbolic denouncements or framing opposing arguments as simply “evil” or corrupt in origin (again, unlike so many who borrow quotes from the man to support their own us vs. them arguments). In this book Hayek explained how German citizens around the time of the World Wars bought into such logic with presumably good intentions, not realizing how concentrating power in the hands of the State would surely backfire over time, as was also the case within communist countries. And he warned about the future of England and America, clearly seeing our own emerging drives toward a top-down approach to promoting economic “fairness” and “equality.” Now, a century later, I read his words as quite prophetic and illuminating in terms of how we arrived where we are now and where this likely will lead us in due time if we continue this course (though, even he admits, there may be a point of no return where we can’t simply change the tides and choose another direction since we, as a nation, become thoroughly entrenched in a particular worldview that we come to take for granted, thanks in part to the use of propaganda across several generations).
It was an excellent read that I also intend to listen to again as well as purchase the print copy for in-depth transcribing purposes. I find his writing to be a definite complement to that of Taleb’s mentioned above, as well as the numerous German, Austrian and Jewish authors from around that same time period whom I’ve taken up time reading over the years. Would love to find a way to weave their arguments and positions together so as to demonstrate a collective body of works does exist and has attempted to call people of the last century’s attention toward what exactly we’re creating (short-sighted intentions aside) and the follies inherent to following such a path. Too many of these authors have either remained obscure, ignored, or had their ideas taken out of context and repurposed to support the very missions they were critical of. Goes back to the notion that we live in topsy-turvy times (as I describe them) where white is referred to as black and slavery is exalted as freedom — basically, you can’t believe half of what you hear anymore since so many words and concepts are turned upon themselves and utilized to depict nearly the opposite of what they were originally intended for or otherwise are watered down to the point of losing all real substance and meaning (as Hayek himself even remarked on in this book).
Now, the third book I will mention here is one I am still working through (again, in audio format since that’s more my speed these days) but am finding fairly intriguing so far. It’s Erich Fromm’s book You Shall Be as Gods: A Radical Interpretation of the Old Testament and Its Tradition. Here he goes into exploring the Jewish tradition and its scriptures, examining the various ways they might be interpreted and explaining concepts that many religious persons have long since ceased being able or willing to grasp (such as the notion of God being the nameless and how idolatry is something one has to be diligently conscious about avoiding, seeing as how it’s the norm for people to turn to, even when they consider themselves “true believers”). I’m not far enough along in this book to speak much more on it at this time. Just following along and pondering what he’s pointing to and aiming to shine light on. Initially I found the book a bit boring, but a few chapters in it’s becoming quite interesting.
The last book I’ll mention here is nothing like the first three and was received as a birthday present from my brother. It’s Randall Munroe’s What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions. A humorous and light read for those who find this sort of thing entertaining, which I imagine many would. The author is the creator of a site that showcases his stick figure webcomics titled XKCD. Just a funny little read for passing the time while waiting in line or stopping in for lunch. Very gift-worthy.