Friday, September 15, 2017

The Ring of Truth


image from

At some point in the early 1930s, the psychoanalyst Otto Rank gave his lover Anaïs Nin a ring that he had received from his mentor Sigmund Freud. Nin returned the favour with a ring that came from her father, with whom she had previously embarked on a sexual relationship. It gets weirder. Before handing over her father's ring to Rank, Nin commissioned a jeweller to make a copy. This duplicate she then gave to her other lover, Henry Miller.

--Kathryn Hughes, reviewing Wendy Doniger, The Ring of Truth: And Other Myths of Sex and Jewelry (Oxford University ress); review from The Times Literary Supplement (September 1, 2017), p. 11

When History’s Losers Write the Story - Note for a discussion, "E Pluribus Unum? What Keeps the United States United."


By SABRINA TAVERNISE SEPT. 15, 2017, New York Times

Image from article, with caption: A statue of Jefferson Davis in Richmond, Va.

I visited a summer camp in western Russia in July 2015. Its theme was “military
patriotism,” and it involved dozens of teenagers lounging around in tents, wrestling,
carving wood and making garlands. They were also taking history classes. Joseph
Stalin, the Soviet leader who killed millions of Soviet citizens, was remembered
fondly.

“Whatever your view of Stalin, you can’t deny that he was a strong leader,” a
counselor told me later over steaming bowls of cabbage soup. “Stalin won the war.
He made it possible for us to go to space. You can’t just throw out a person like that
from history.”

Russia has not faced the darker parts of its past, something I spent a lot of time
thinking about as a correspondent there. But my own country has memory problems,
too. Take the Civil War. Historians tell us it was fought over slavery. But an entirely
different version unspooled last month at an Applebee’s in Delaware.

“It’s too simplified to say the war was over slavery,” said Jeffrey Plummer, head
of a local chapter of the Sons of the Confederate Veterans. “That’s what’s been taught
in the schools, but there’s more to it.”

Selective memory, it seems, is a global phenomenon. Think of Turkey and its
blank spot where the Armenian genocide should be. Or Japan with its
squeamishness about its aggression and mass murder in China. It starts as a basic
human impulse to take the sting out of defeat or to avoid admitting some atrocity.
But it’s also a way to help cope with a difficult present. And like a growth on a tree
ring, it can keep the past off-kilter until some future generation is brave enough to
right it.

“In most countries you are more likely to get evasion and nationalistic versions of
history than tough grappling with the darker parts of your past, and the U.S. is no
exception,” said Gary Bass, a professor of politics and international affairs at
Princeton.

In the United States, the Civil War remains “the most divisive and unresolved
experience Americans have ever had,” [JB emphasis] according to David Blight, 
a historian at Yale. “The Civil War is like a sleeping dragon. If you poke it hard enough, 
it will raise its head and breathe fire.”

That is, in part, because the loser was allowed its own interpretation. The South,
facing catastrophic loss of life and mass destruction on a European scale, wrote its
own history of the war. It cast itself as an underdog overwhelmed by the North’s
superior numbers, but whose cause — a noble fight for states’ rights — was just. The
North looked the other way. Northern elites were more interested in re-establishing
economic ties than in keeping their commitments to blacks’ constitutional rights.
The political will to complete Reconstruction died.

“The whole notion of honoring the Confederacy and the sacrifice that your
family made became part of what we taught in the schools,” said Charles Dew, a
Williams College historian whose book “Apostles of Disunion” [JB emphasis]describes the white
supremacist arguments that underpinned the South’s case for leaving the Union.

To correct the record, Mr. Dew gave talks about his book in the early 2000s, as
part of the National Park Service’s efforts to clarify the causes of the war. Some
audiences pushed back, saying, “My family did not own slaves, so how could they
have been fighting for slavery?”

“I’m not trying to denigrate your ancestors,” Mr. Dew said he told those people.
“I’m trying to explain why the war came and ask everyone to consider the issue with
an open mind.”

In Russia, people choked on memory. As the Soviet Union was falling, the sins
of the past flooded the present. Newspapers wrote about Soviet repressions.
Researchers began documenting political killings. All this, as Russians were losing
their jobs, their savings, their respect in the world and their dignity. They could not
afford to lose their past. So Stalin became the man who led the Soviet Union to
victory in World War II and industrialized a peasant nation.

Germany is the exception. It took a generation, but German society faced its
Nazi past and has emerged as an exemplary democratic culture. That is partly
because of the extreme nature of the Nationalist Socialist regime and the devastation
of the war it brought. Germans had to come to terms with the Holocaust. The Nazi
regime had perhaps overcome the depression, but its increasing brutality left no
redeeming qualities.

“In the United States, slavery was embedded in a constitutional regime that at
least verbally offered universalizing rights,” said Charles Maier, a professor of
20th-century history at Harvard. “The German cause had no equivalent.”

But while top Nazis were put on trial right after the war, with the world
watching, mainstream German society did not fully grapple with the crimes until the
1960s. There was a political shift to the left that encouraged young Germans who
posed hard questions about their parents’ past. Even today, there are no major
memorials to the perhaps half a million Germans who died in Allied bombing
campaigns in Hamburg, Dresden and other cities, as that would be seen an assertion
of equivalence.

In the years immediately after the war, Japanese society was actually ahead of
German society in terms of facing its past, said Ian Buruma, author of “The Wages of
Guilt: Memories of War in Germany and Japan.” Leftists then had a strong voice in
the media and universities, encouraged by liberals in the American occupation, and
the history being taught was starting to grapple with Japan’s wartime atrocities
against other Asian peoples. But that early reckoning got bogged down in politics:
The United States, together with Japanese liberals, decided the problem was
Japanese militarism and gave the country a pacifist Constitution. That alienated the
right, causing a rift that persists to this day.

“In Japan, history became politicized,” Mr. Buruma said. “Whenever you hear a
right-winger say, ‘It’s all a left-wing myth, we’re not as guilty as people are saying,’
what he’s really saying is, ‘We want to revise the Constitution and postwar order
imposed by the United States.’ ”

The argument over Confederate monuments has surprised historians like Dr.
Blight, who has studied the war for decades. It is a moment for public education like
no other, but with risks. When history’s losers get to define the story, it can create
rifts — with allies, with adversaries or even with our fellow citizens . But so can a
sudden, emotional rush to rectify it. [JB emphasis] Historians say the Confederate statues should
be removed slowly, with deliberation, not destroyed in the middle of the night.

“This sudden, almost rage to get rid of monuments kind of violates our instincts
as historians,” he said. “Be careful, slow down. If they are taken down, let’s preserve
and curate them. These are part of our historical landscape. To just destroy them is
not educational.”

Sabrina Tavernise is a national correspondent for The New York Times

America’s Racial Wealth Divide Is Worse Than Thought, Undermining The Middle Class And Deepening Under Trump - Note for a discussion, "E Pluribus Unum? What Keeps the United States United."


Steven Rosenfeld, nationalmemo.com[original article contains links]

uncaptioned image from article

America is heading toward “a racial and economic apartheid state.” As the country becomes more diverse, today’s wealth gaps between whites and non-whites are poised to grow unless government policies helping people build personal wealth are reformed.

That is the takeaway from a dramatic new report, “The Road to Zero Wealth,” co-authored by the Institute for Policy Studies and Prosperity Now. It finds America’s racial wealth gap is larger than thought and deepening. Ironically, the report comes as working-class whites who feel economically adrift helped elect a president and Congress to prioritize their community—as opposed to reviving everyone in a sinking middle class.

“We don’t know how to make sense of the two stories happening at the same time,” said Chuck Collins, director of the Program on Inequality at the Institute for Policy Studies, and one of the report’s four co-authors. “One is overall inequality, which is happening to the bottom half of wage earners [including whites]. And then there’s the story of the legacy of racism and wealth and asset building, which is a longer story going back centuries. Both these things exist at the same time.”

“We’re missing the ways in which the overall inequalities that are affecting a lot of white working-class people are supercharging these racial wealth divides,” Collins continued. “So you have a white working class that legitimately feels like they have been betrayed or left behind, and they can’t hear the story of the racial dimensions of this because they are feeling their own pain. So how do we recognize that those two stories exist and they are intertwined and connected? And a lot of times, the solutions would be good for everyone who has been left out—free education would be a good thing; raising the minimum wage would help all kinds of low-wage workers.”

The report tells a stark story by using a new way to measure personal wealth—it doesn’t count assets that fall in value like cars and household appliances.

“A disproportionate share of the nation’s wealth is held in white hands, while households of color own a shrinking slice of the proverbial pie,” it says. “Today, this translates into a racial wealth divide in which the median net worth of black and Latino families stands at just $11,000 and $14,000, respectively—a fraction of the $134,000 owned by the median white family. Even more disturbing is that when consumer durable goods such as automobiles, electronics and furniture are subtracted, median wealth for black and Latino families drops to $1,700 and $2,000, respectively, compared to $116,800 for white households.”

The authors project forward, to the years of the next presidential election, and further down the line to the early 2040s, when non-whites will become the majority of the country’s population. Looking to the near future, the racial wealth gap is poised to grow.

“By 2020, if current trends continue as they have been, black and Latino households at the median are on track to see their wealth decline by 17% and 12% from where they respectively stood in 2013,” the report said. “By then, median white households would see their wealth rise by an additional three percent over today’s levels. In other words, at a time when it’s projected that children of color will make up most of children in the country, median white households are on track to own 86 and 68 times more wealth, respectively, than black and Latino households.”

“Current trends suggest that by 2024, median black household wealth will have declined by a total of about 30% from where it stands today,” the report continued. “In that same timeframe, the median Latino family can expect to see their net worth decline by a total of 20% over today’s levels. By then, median white household wealth will have increased by about five percent over today’s levels.”

There are many reasons why this is happening. Going back nearly 75 years, the federal government prioritized policies favoring home ownership for whites but not for non-whites. One example from the post-World War II years is the government would not make home loans to black veterans. That policy, and others, such as making mortgage interest rates tax deductible, gave an edge to families with a higher foothold on the economic ladder.

However, the election of President Trump and the GOP Congress is deepening these long-simmering structural factors because the administration is shifting resources up the economic ladder or removing protections that kept lower- and middle-class people from slipping down.

“The racial wealth divide is not a new phenomenon, nor can a single presidential administration or other policymaking body expect to ameliorate the racial wealth divide overnight,” the report says. “However, since the inauguration of President Trump in early 2017, two phenomena give cause for concern that the trends of the past 30 years might become even more pronounced in the near future. First, less attention has been paid to the growing racial wealth divide compared to previous administrations. Second and more alarmingly, there have been a bevy of policies proposed or championed by President Trump—from healthcare to immigration to housing and financial services reform—that would inevitably and exponentially exacerbate racial wealth inequality.”

The report poignantly notes that the reasons for inequality in America have little to do with the work ethic espoused by the political right.

“While some falsely argue that this racial wealth divide stems from choices made by individuals and communities, the facts tell a different story,” the report said. “Recent research shows that the racial wealth divide persists across all levels of educational attainment and family structures, seriously diminishing the ‘personal choices’ argument. Case in point? White high school dropouts own more wealth than black and Latino college graduates. Furthermore, single-parent white households own more wealth than two-parent black households.”

Further, the report says the country is on a precipice, and unless government policies—at the federal and state level—do not do more to bolster the middle class, regardless of its racial composition, the middle-class will keep shrinking and disappear, creating “a racial and economic apartheid state.”

“To claim that the future existence of the middle-class hinges on whether we reverse the trends of growing racial economic inequality is by no means an exaggeration,” the report said. “Indeed, the rise of a once-strong American middle class didn’t happen on its own. Rather, it required a healthy, vibrant economy, including significant investments in Americans’ ability to build lasting financial security, such as through homeownership, higher education and transportation, all of which enable families to build wealth.”

“However, these policy investments haven’t had a lasting positive effect on the middle class because most often, they were intentionally directed at white communities and away from communities of color,” the report continued. “Although the intentional exclusion of communities of color from opportunities to build wealth is a morally repugnant feature of American history, it remained economically viable at a time when the vast majority of our populace was white. As we look ahead to a time when people of color will comprise the majority of the population, however, we are committing economic suicide if we continue believing that we can exclude the majority of the country from opportunities to invest in the future.”

Collins, a co-author, said the solutions start with understanding that America’s economic woes traverse racial lines—and shouldn’t pit struggling whites and non-whites against each other. But the solutions also include acknowledging and reversing many decades of institutional racism.

“I think it is owning up to these two dynamics,” he said. “But then if we want to address the racial wealth divide, we have to understand that it has its own historic dynamics. We, in the report, say you should have a racial wealth audit. Any [government] policy that we think will be good for everyone, let’s just not assume that if it’s a universal approach. Let’s make sure, let’s look at how it affects the racial wealth divide.

Collins also said that the top 20 percent of wage earners—disproportionately whites living in large homes in better-off suburbs, who send their kids to private schools and work in upper echelons in corporate America, finance, medicine and law—should surrender some of the government subsidies they receive to lift people below them.

“We also talk about this upside-down subsidy thing,” he said. “We already spend $600 billion-plus helping people build wealth in this country. But it’s mostly going to the top 20 percent of the already-haves. So just reversing some of those upside-down wealth-building subsidies would be a really good start, and should be politically more acceptable. You’re not looking at new revenue. Look at the resources we are already using to help encourage home ownership [such as the mortgage interest deduction], which is mostly going to people who already have big houses and two of them.”

Collins said he and others will try to raise these issues when Congress turns to tax reform this fall. But he is not optimistic about the Republicans in Washington. Instead, he looks toward state governments for near-term progress.

“We are trying to make that an issue, like let’s look at the upside-down subsidies,” he said. “I guess I don’t have any short-term optimism about the national picture. I do think people can start to pilot some of these things in states. It goes to the Dream Hoarders book [Dream Hoarders: How the American Upper Middle Class Is Leaving Everyone Else in the Dust, Why That Is a Problem, and What to Do About It, by Richard Reeves].

“That’s where you have the interesting politics of the top 20 percent who benefit from all these tax breaks and subsidies,” Collins said. “If you get that constituency to recognize that they are a barrier to greater equity and maybe they shouldn’t be getting those levels of subsidies. We see that discussion happening in a lot more places than two years ago.”

Steven Rosenfeld covers national political issues for AlterNet, including America’s democracy and voting rights. He is the author of several books on elections and the co-author of Who Controls Our Schools: How Billionaire-Sponsored Privatization Is Destroying Democracy and the Charter School Industry (AlterNet eBook, 2016).


Thursday, September 14, 2017

How to get into Harvard after a certain age/notoriety (and getting paid -- a "stipend" -- for it), without doing (working?) too too much ... A Facebook comment


Update: Matthew Haag, "Harvard Revokes Fellowship for Chelsea Manning After Criticism," New York Times


Mr. Spicer and Ms. Manning will be part of a fellowship class that reads like a who’s who of tense political debates in the United States.
NYTIMES.COM



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John Brown Great minds enlightening Harvard lesser minds ...

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John Brown And they get paid (and do little for it) for it: About Visiting Fellows Program http://iop.harvard.edu/.../about-visiting-fellows-program
Each semester the Institute of Politics invites a select number of prominent political practitioners to Harvard serve as Visiting Fellows for a shorter period of time than a full academic semester of a resident fellowship. The Visiting Fellows program brings distinguished veterans of public life for a short, yet comprehensive stay; often a week.JB comment - well, ok, it's only a week] The program is designed to provide maximum contact with the University community, particularly undergraduate students. Each fellowship is individually tailored to the background of the visiting fellow, as well as his/her calendar availability.

The experience is compact and the schedule is more intense than a resident fellowship. A Visiting Fellow can expect to participate in at least three events daily. The Fellow often will lead at least one 90-minute study group during the week-long visit. Study groups offer the guest the opportunity to share his/her views and experiences in a meaningful way with students. 

Most events are with students (both undergraduate and graduate) and occasionally meetings are arranged with faculty from the Kennedy School and throughout Harvard. Events are typically off-the-record discussions with a relatively small group of around 30 students. [***] Like most Fellows’ events at the IOP, these discussions do not require much if any preparation [***]. They are discussion based and the conversation is driven by the questions posed by the audience and the views and [***] anecdotes [***] presented by the Visiting Fellow. Additionally, Fellows have the opportunity to audit one or two Harvard courses based on availability.

As with the Resident Fellows program, Visiting Fellows are assigned undergraduate students who serve as his/her guide and support team over the course of the week. Known as “liaisons,” these students assist the Fellow in navigating schedules, preparing for presentations and counseling the fellow on the audience expectations and goals.

Visiting Fellows are provided a private office with a computer and phone for their use. There is a small staff to assist the Fellow during their stay. Visiting Fellows are provided a modest stipend.

Recent visiting fellows have included Ambassador Tim Roemer; former Senator Norm Coleman (R-MN); former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge; former Labor Secretary Elaine L. Chao; former Prime Minister of Haiti, Michèle Pierre-Louis; former Prime Minister of Great Britain, Gordon Brown and former Prime Minister of Greece, George Papandreou.


Each semester the Institute of Politics invites a select…
IOP.HARVARD.EDU


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Trump Says Jump. His Supporters Ask, How High? - Note for a discussion, "E Pluribus Unum? What Keeps the United States United."


Thomas B. Edsall, New York Times, September 14

Image from article, with caption: "Signs of love greet President Trump's motorcade as it passes through Lake Charles, La. earlier this month

Excerpt:
Michael Barber and Jeremy C. Pope, political scientists at Brigham Young
University, reported in their recent paper “Does Party Trump Ideology?
Disentangling Party and Ideology in America,” that many Republican voters are:
malleable to the point of innocence, and self-reported expressions of ideological
fealty are quickly abandoned for policies that — once endorsed by a well-known
party leader — run contrary to that expressed ideology. ...

The extraordinary approval ratings Trump gets from his core voters further
reinforces the unwillingness of Republican elected officials to defy him. Among
Republicans who voted for Trump in the primaries, his approval rating in a Wall
Street Journal/NBC News poll earlier this month stood at 98 percent. Among
Republicans who did not vote for Trump in the primaries, his approval rating stood
at 66 percent.

I asked both Barber and Pope of Brigham Young what their thoughts on
American politics are now that Trump has been in office eight months.
Pope argued in an email that there has been too much emphasis on polarization
and not enough on partisanship. [JB emphasis]

While elites — elected officials and party activists — are ideologically polarized,
the best the general public “can manage is a kind of tribal partisanship that does not really reflect the content of the elite discussion,” Pope wrote:
Citizens pick a team, but they don’t naturally think like the team leadership
does. And when Trump tells Republicans to think in a new way, lots of people happily adopt that new position because they were never that committed to the old ideas anyway. They’re just committed to the label. ...
[I]nsofar as elections have become primal struggles, and political
competition has devolved into an atavistic spectacle, the prospect for a return to a
politics of compromise and consensus approaches zero, no matter what temporary
accommodations professional politicians make.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Ten richest counties in America - Note for a discussion, "E Pluribus Unum? What Keeps the United States United."


Rebecca Lerner , CONTRIBUTOR, Forbes

image from article

Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own.

Here’s one way to follow the money in the United States: look past the Washington Monument and the Capitol to the D.C. suburbs. Half of the richest counties in America are roughly an hour away from the capital.

Virginia’s Loudoun County boasts an eye-popping median household income of $125,900, tops in the nation, according to 2015 Census Bureau estimates, the most recent available. Almost 10,000 Loudoun residents commute to D.C., but the vast majority of residents find plentiful well-paid job opportunities close to home – the top local employers are Dulles Airport, the Department of Homeland Security and the Loudoun County Public Schools.

Loudoun County also houses a large amount of technology companies and data centers — up to 70% of the world’s Internet traffic flows through Loudoun’s data centers each day.

In second place is its Virginia neighbor Falls Church City, a small city encompassing just 2.2 square miles that has previously topped the list of wealthiest counties. The vast majority, 78.8%, of Falls Church adult residents have a bachelor’s degree or higher. Though technically an independent city, Falls Church is considered by the Census Bureau to be equivalent to a county. It’s a government town: 31.3% of Falls Church residents are employed by Uncle Sam.

***

Gallery
Top richest counties in America

Launch Gallery
10 images

***

Other D.C. suburbs with high earning include Virginia’s Fairfax and Arlington counties and Howard County in Maryland. The long arm of government spending is also fueling high incomes in Los Alamos County, N.M., sixth on the list this year and home to the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

The high median incomes of most of the counties on our list are not due to a wealthy few masking a lower-earning population. In both Falls Church and Colorado's Douglas County, the poverty rate is a scant 4%, compared to the national rate of 13.5%, with most counties on the list falling between 4% and 6%. Only Arlington County, Va., and Santa Clara County, Calif., had higher poverty rates, at 9% and 9.5%, respectively.

While some might expect that older communities would be wealthier, in six of the ten counties, the median age is between 37 and 39, not appreciably different from the national median of 37.8. The oldest county on the list is Hunterdon County, N.J., with a median age of 45, while the youngest is Arlington County, with a median of 33.9. Most of the counties on the list have predominately white residents except for Santa Clara, California, which has 1.06 times more Asian residents than any other race or ethnicity.

We rank the nation’s wealthiest counties by median household income data from the Census Bureau’s Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates for 2015, the last full year for which data is available.

Big Tech’s Heavy Hand


wsj.com

Are companies like Google, Facebook and Amazon ‘shredding’ individuality with their pervasive collection of our individual data? Steven Poole reviews ‘World Without Mind’ by Franklin Foer.

image from article

The urbanist Adam Greenfield’s “Radical Technologies” (2017) argues compellingly against the “colonization of everyday life” by information processing; in “To Save Everything, Click Here” (2013), Evgeny Morozov [JB note: Belorussia-born Morozov, an early skeptic the inevitably coming "cyberutopia" proclaimed by the intellectually ahistorical innocent fans of the wonders of the Internet and the future  infomration utopia it supposedly promised; Morozov has been oddly quiet in recent years;] demolished the rhetoric of “solutionism,” according to which Silicon Valley can solve social problems with technology; and computer scientist and polymath Jaron Lanier has argued for years that we give too much of our personal data away. Mr. Foer adds little to such discussions while barely crediting any forebears. “The time has arrived to consider the consequences of these monopolies,” he writes early on, as if he is the first to have the bright idea of doing so.
It’s a drawback, too, that Mr. Foer is substantially less well-informed technically than other writers who have treated these topics. He thinks Google’s ability to autocomplete your search term is an example of its proficiency in artificial intelligence, when it is simply applied statistics—the engine offers the term most commonly entered by other users. He credulously asserts that Google’s “brain” is one “unhindered by human bias,” when the far more serious problem is that modern AI systems routinely reinforce the human biases baked into the data they learn from.
Mr. Foer also appears to think that the term “algorithm” (essentially a step-by-step recipe for performing a task) is relatively newfangled jargon, when it dates from the 19th century. Were he sounder on such basics, one might forgive him for adopting a skeptical tone toward prominent cyber-theorists such as Ray Kurzweil, a computing pioneer who, it says here, began “manically swallowing pills” to prolong his own life. (Surely it’s more likely that he swallowed all those pills with great aforethought and deliberation.)
PHOTO: WSJ

WORLD WITHOUT MIND

By Franklin Foer
Penguin Press, 257 pages, $27
The real interest of the book lies in the fragments of memoir scattered about, describing Mr. Foer’s own experience in what digital prophets contemptuously call the “legacy media.” At the New Republic, Mr. Foer wrote an essay critical of Amazon’s abusive and threatening behavior toward publishers, after which Amazon terminated lucrative advertising with the magazine. And he tells, not without an air of spurned-artist score settling, the story of how the New Republic was bought by Chris Hughes, a young investor who had made a fortune at Facebook and initially seemed enthusiastic about preserving the biweekly’s cultural and political legacy. Instead, Mr. Hughes ended up pursuing a strategy of maximizing web traffic, to the dismay of the magazine’s tweedy team. Mr. Foer resigned, and much of the editorial staff walked out in support.
The answer for “old media” institutions, Mr. Foer concludes correctly, is simply to charge money for what is these days dispiritingly called “content.” He points to continued strong sales of books in the U.S., concluding: “Consumers have no inherent problem paying for words, so long as publishers place a price tag on them.” Indeed, contrary to the briefly fashionable claims of cyber-hustlers who insisted that newspapers could survive only by being free, some version of what is now with childish resentment termed a “paywall” is plainly what works for publishers—and the public.
Perhaps the continued influence of hurt feelings is what causes Mr. Foer’s case throughout to wobble between good arguments strongly expressed and unproductively exaggerated scare-mongering. Given that Mr. Foer is so worried about the prospect of the tech companies eliminating free will, for instance, it seems overblown for him to claim that they are also “destroying something precious, which is the possibility of contemplation.” I am a satisfied user of many internet services, but no one has destroyed my ability to switch off notifications on my smartphone and contemplate whatever I want to. To argue otherwise, as Mr. Foer does, is to assume that we are helpless machines without volition. And on the book’s last page the author even seems to change his mind: “The contemplative life remains freely available to us.” Which comes as a pleasant relief, at least until the robots take over.
Mr. Poole is the author of “Rethink: The Surprising History of New Ideas” and “You Aren’t What You Eat.”
Appeared in the September 13, 2017, print edition.