What I have been reading (26 Jan 18)

With papers like this about the inequality crisis, articles in the FT about increasing military tensions, the Economist special feature on the renewed risk of great power conflict, and even Martin Wolf describing the liberal world order as “crumbling”, it is with eerie familiarity and growing trepidation that I continue to read Christoper Clark’s The Sleepwalkers. As I have said in one of these posts before, history doesn’t repeat itself so much as it rhymes. Clark makes the point (at the end of section II of the book) that too much of our analysis of pre-WWI is coloured by our knowledge of what comes next and, as such, we tend to view it as inevitable (what people like Robert Cialdini would call “anchoring”). I don’t think war was inevitable in 1914 but I do think that, given the tensions and the military build up, that a war was inevitable in that decade.

Anyway, on that cheery note, lets move on to other articles and blogs which have caught my interest this week.

  • This is interesting research, conducted in the US but I am sure it would find similar results in the UK too – the lower your social class the higher your wisdom. Wisdom in this context is defined as “the ability to take the perspectives of others into account and aim for compromise”. This rings true intuitively.
  • Have any of the people reading this post set unrealistic self-improvement goals for themselves in 2018? This article is the right one for you then – how self improvement is killing us. I would go further and say that the cult of self improvement (and I use the word ‘cult’ deliberately) is actually treating us like robots to be tweaked rather than as fully rounded human beings. As the article says at the end “Things don’t need to be of concrete use in order to have value. Put away your self-help guides, and read a novel instead.”.
  • The article above mentions one form of “anti-self-help self-help” in the form of Stoicism. Stoic thinking has seen a bit of revival in recent years (in a rare move for me, I have been ahead of the curve on this one – I have been a student of stoicism since I picked up an old Everyman copy of the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius in a secondhand bookshop in Oban when I was 16). Unfortunately, as with all such things, it has been taken up by the “lifehack” people who have taken a coherent philosophy of life and tried to turn it into a series of ‘hacks’. In some cases, as with the “red pill” movement of MRAs, they have perverted it completely, as this blog shows. In summary, for Star Wars fans, Red Pill is to Stoicism as Sith are to Jedi.
  • This is a really good piece on the importance of public engagement and the importance of getting it right. And I am not just saying that because I wrote something a while back that completely agrees with this!
  • Great article about the multifaceted nature of stakeholder engagement. I have written about some of the issues covered in this article before, for example here and here.
  • Yet more rhyming histories – at the end of the Roman Republic, all trust had broken down between the elected magistrates who ran the empire it had become. The only respected institution left was the Legion and the vir militaris was held up as the model of a good Roman. Hold that image in mind as you read this column in the FT by Edward Luce.

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