What I’ve been reading

1. Bruno Latour, Down to Earth: Politics in the New Climactic Regime.  Mostly not about climate per se, rather how we are failing at being true materialists: “In a sense, Trump’s election confirms, for the rest of the world, the end of a politics oriented toward an identifiable goal.  Trumpian politics is not “post-truth,” it is post-politics — that is, literally, a politics with no object, since it rejects the world that it claims to inhabit.”  Mostly interesting, as one expects from Latour, but not exactly in the Anglo-American style either.  It also shows a kind of convergence with the ideas of Bruno Macaes, reviewed here by John Gray.

2. Robert Townsend, Distributed Ledgers: Design and Regulation of Financial Infrastructure and Payment Systems. Bitcoin and crypto yes, but the more fundamental concept in this book is…distributed ledgers, which include Thai rice allocation schemes and Mesopotamia circa 4000 B.C.  It is highly intelligent and well done, but somehow I think books like this work better when they are more speculative and future-oriented.

3. Hermione Lee, Tom Stoppard: A Life.  So many pages, and perhaps this will not be surpassed soon.  Yet it never quite tells you how he got to be so smart, or how his intellectual development proceeded, or even what his smartness consists of.  So I can’t say I liked it.  By the way, for those of you who don’t know, it seems to me that Stoppard is one of the smartest people and also the most important living playwright, most of all for anyone interested in intellectual history.

4. Ronald Bailey and Marian L. Tupy, Ten Global Trends Every Smart Person Should Know.  Lovely visuals, blurb from Pinker, the curves slope upward, get the picture?  Let’s hope they’re right!  Ultimately I find this kind of exercise less convincing than I used to, instead preferring a broader theory that also accounts for what I perceive to be a growing disorientation.  Which brings us to the next title…

5. Slavoj Žižek, Hegel in a Wired Brain.  How do transhumanism, Elon Musk/Neuralink, the Singularity, Book of Genesis, and Hegel all fit together?  There is only one person who could pull off such a book, noting this version is dense and not for the uninitiated.  Here is one squib: “Police is closer to civil society than state; it is a kind of representative of state in civil society, but for this very reason it has to be experienced as an external force, not an inner ethical power.”  If you take away all the people who quite overrate him, Žižek is in fact remarkably underrated.


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