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Nine Recommended Reads on Nine Big Issues

Nine highly-recommended reads on nine key challenges that should keep our political, social, and philosophical minds busy these days: We cover decentralised censorship, the dangerous gospel of "Workism", the quest for sexual freedom, the future of economics, the GreenNewDeal, the global future of Trumpism,"Surveillance Capitalism, animal consciousness, and Gandhi's political philosophy:

  1. Anne Applebaum on the mechanisms of decentralised censorship in digitalised liberal democracies (The Washington Post).

  2. Derek Thompson on how modern work promises self-actualisation and transcendence while causing disappointment and misery (The Atlantic).

  3. Judith Butler on we should look at gender equality and sexual freedom as life-affirming quests rather than liberal indoctrination. (The New Statesman)

  4. Suresh Naidu, Dani Rodrik, and Gabriel Zucman how modern economics can contribute to inclusive and prosperous societies (the Boston Review).

  5. Ramez Naam on how the public and private sectors need to team up to make a GreenNewDeal work (Tech Crunch).

  6. Gideon Rachman on the possibility of a 30-year Trump Cycle in global politics (FT).

  7. Shoshana Zuboff on the mechanics of "Surveillance Capitalism", reviewed by James Bridle (The Guardian)

  8. Ross Anderson on the fantastic universe of animal consciousness and its Ethical Repercussions (The Atlantic).

  9. Pankaj Mishra on what Gandhi's political philosophy and political activism can teach us to navigate post-truth politics (The New Yorker).

[1]. Reality becomes obscure when we drown in misleading and irrelevant information. Free speech cannot flourish when bots and trolls smear anyone they dislike: "Once, speech was scarce and it was possible to control the speakers. Now, the attention of listeners is scarce — and speakers and their words can simply be drowned out…  the opponents of free speech can ... flood the information space with false, distracting or irrelevant information so that people have trouble understanding what is real and what is fake. Alternatively, they can use those same robotic tools, fake accounts and dedicated teams to troll individuals with hateful commentary or smears that make them afraid to speak, or difficult to be heard or believed. In the new information world, these are the real threats, both to free speech and to civilized public discourse — even to democracy itself.” Read Anne Applebaum's article here:

[2]. How has work become so central to our identities, promising us meaning, transcendence, and self-actualisation? What does this gospel of "workism" mean, as Derek Thompson calls it, for our lives? And what can we do about it? "There is nothing wrong with work, when work must be done. And there is no question that an elite obsession with meaningful work will produce a handful of winners who hit the workist lottery: busy, rich, and deeply fulfilled. But a culture that funnels its dreams of self-actualization into salaried jobs is setting itself up for collective anxiety, mass disappointment, and inevitable burnout... But our desks were never meant to be our altars. The modern labor force evolved to serve the needs of consumers and capitalists, not to satisfy tens of millions of people seeking transcendence at the office. It’s hard to self-actualize on the job if you’re a cashier—one of the most common occupations in the U.S.—and even the best white-collar roles have long periods of stasis, boredom, or busywork. This mismatch between expectations and reality is a recipe for severe disappointment, if not outright misery..." Read Derek Thompson's essay here.

[3]. Judith Butler on why the quest for gender equality and sexual freedom is a fight of life-affirmation rather than some kind of liberal indoctrination: Ultimately, the struggle for gender equality and sexual freedom seeks to alleviate suffering and to recognise the diverse embodied and cultural lives that we live. Teaching gender is not indoctrination: it does not tell a person how to live; it opens up the possibility for young people to find their own way in a world that often confronts them with narrow and cruel social norms. To affirm gender diversity is therefore not destructive: it affirms human complexity and creates a space for people to find their own way within this complexity." Read her entire essay here.

[4]. Suresh Naidu, Dani Rodrik, and Gabriel Zucman and their colleagues have elaborated concrete proposal of how modern economics can contribute to inclusive and prosperous societies:"The tools of economics are critical to developing a policy framework for what we call “inclusive prosperity.” While prosperity is the traditional concern of economists, the “inclusive” modifier demands both that we consider the whole distribution of outcomes, not simply the average (the “middle class”), and that we consider human prosperity broadly, including non-pecuniary sources of well-being, from health to climate change to political rights." Read their exposé here.

[5]. For an impactful GreenNewDeal, we need the public and private sectors to dance on the same floor, embracing each other's strenghts and weaknesses. Ramez Naam advocates to combine gov-funded research with subsidies to deploy new tech (especially in agriculture & industry), topped up with carbon tax / tax incentives for electricity. "[B]asic government R&D is a high-value investment, especially when the technologies we need to invent don’t even exist yet. The government has a vital role to play. At the same time, the incredible, unprecedented decline in cost of solar power, wind power, batteries, and electric cars has happened both because of early government R&D, and because private sector companies, incentivized by governments, have brought these technologies to market and been forced to compete with one another to provide the best technology at the lowest price..." Read his entire tour-de-force on clever climate policy here.

[6]. James Bridle reviews Shoshana Zuboff's "The Age of Surveillance Capitalism":"Originally intent on organising all human knowledge, Google ended up controlling all access to it; we do the searching, and are searched in turn. Setting out merely to connect us, Facebook found itself in possession of our deepest secrets. And in seeking to survive commercially beyond their initial goals, these companies realised they were sitting on a new kind of asset: our “behavioural surplus”, the totality of information about our every thought, word and deed, which could be traded for profit in new markets based on predicting our every need – or producing it. ... the tech giants unilaterally declared that these previously untapped resources were theirs for the taking, and brushed aside every objection. ... there are companies that have poured billions into lobbying against oversight, and while building empires on publicly funded data and the details of our private lives they have repeatedly rejected established norms of societal responsibility and accountability. And what is crucially different about this new form of exploitation and exceptionalism is that beyond merely strip-mining our intimate inner lives, it seeks to shape, direct and control them..." Read the entire review here.

[7]. Gideon Rachman examines the possibility of a 30-year Trump cycle in politics based on movements movements across the globe emulating his tactics : "If new movements or politicians develop an aura of success, they find imitators around the world. That sense of ideological momentum then creates a demand for the original ideas behind the movement to be pushed further and faster. And that leads to the over-reach phase of the cycle... The fact that populist and nationalist parties around the world are already taking their cue from Mr Trump suggests that the cycle of emulation is already well under way. It is now standard practice for politicians, such as Viktor Orban in Hungary, as well as Messrs Salvini and Bolsonaro, to imitate the Trump playbook — condemning “globalism”, accusing the media of spreading fake news, mocking the “politically correct”, and scorning international organisations that attempt to deal with problems such as climate change or the resettlement of refugees." Read the entire article here.

[8]. Ross Anderson on the fantastic universe of animal consciousness, its origins, and its ethical repercussions: "It was likely more than half a billion years ago that some sea-floor arms race between predator and prey roused Earth’s first conscious animal. That moment, when the first mind winked into being, was a cosmic event, opening up possibilities not previously contained in nature.. There now appears to exist, alongside the human world, a whole universe of vivid animal experience. Scientists deserve credit for illuminating, if only partially, this new dimension of our reality. But they can’t tell us how to do right by the trillions of minds with which we share the Earth’s surface. That’s a philosophical problem, and like most philosophical problems, it will be with us for a long time to come." Read the eitnire essay here.

[9]. What can we learn from Gandhi to bring stability to our modern era of tribalist, post-truth politics? Pankaj Mishra guides us through Gandhi's political philosophy and political activism, drawing on a rich contemporary literature: “Gandhi recognized early on that societies with diverse populations inhabit a post-truth age. “We will never all think alike and we shall always see truth in fragments and from different angles of vision” ... At every point, Gandhi still upends modern assumptions, insisting on the primacy of self-sacrifice over self-interest, individual obligations over individual rights, renunciation over consumption, and dying over killing. What were the sources of Gandhi’s relentlessly counterintuitive thought, and what makes it resonate in our time?“ Read the entire essay here.

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