Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Culture Code by Clotaire Rapaille

I finished this book recently. I read it on the recommendation of Karl Rove. Karl Rove! Well, yes, in a sense. I attended a seminar for plaintiffs' lawyers recently, and the speaker told how an Atlanta attorney discovered that his beach house neighbor was none other than the prince of darkness. Discussing tradecraft (did Rove know that he was talking to the enemy, a trial lawyer?), Rove revealed his admiration for the work of Rapaille. The trial lawyer looked at Rapaille's work, specifically, The Culture Code: An Ingenious Way to Understand Why People Around the World Live and Buy as They Do
(2007, 224 p.). Rapaille has two main ideas that he works from:

  1. The theory of the triune brain developed by Yale neuroscientist Paul Maclean, which postulates that humans have, in effect, three brains. The survival-oriented brain of the reptiles (eat, sleep, fight or flight, and sex); a limbic brain for emotions that we share with other mammals, and the neo-cortex, which provides our distinguishing reason. Rapaille believes that when fear is in the air, the reptile brain, motivated by fear, takes over and guides our actions, reason be damned.
  2. Rapaille, who trained as an anthropologist and psychiatrist, has done a sophisticated form of group testing to discover deeply held attitudes toward food, sex, doctors, nurses, hospitals, health, cars, the nation, and so on. These are the "culture codes" that he says predominate in a society and that differ from one society to another.
The book makes a lot of sense and provides what I believe to be very insightful perspectives on group attitudes here in the U.S. (especially important for jury work), as well as differences between the cultures of different nations. This was a fun and interesting read. If you want to know more about the attitudes of your fellow citizens, as well as obtaining a sense of how we differ from others, I highly recommend this book.

Economist v. Historian

I found an interesting exchange in the Financial Times (London) about the role of economists vs. historians. I dissent from the argument to the extent that I see social science as frozen history. It may have some predictive value, but nature (including us) is always changing, sometimes imperceptively slowly, sometimes with obvious and dizzying speed. So economists can make models and test them against history (the past) and in the future. They are useful tools, but like all tools, limited by our own fallibility. History doesn't repeat itself (in any certain sense) and we can't predict the future (with a high degree of certainty in anything other than the trivial). We have to muddle through.

U.S. Senate Iowa 2010: Conlin vs. Grassley

If you're in doubt about who to support in the U.S. Senate contest in Iowa, you can get a good sense of the candidate's abilities, perspectives, and positions on issues from this joint appearance on Iowa Press. In case you don't' have time to watch it, I'll give you my take: my money (and Iowa Guru's) money and votes are going with great enthusiasm to Conlin. Senator Grassley is showing his age, but its worst manifestation is that he's become more of a right-wing Republican, sacrificing a sometimes pleasantly surprising independence that he used to show in the past (and his past goes back a long way!).

Grand Strategies: Literature, Statecraft, and World Order, by Charles Hill

This book has quite a title, and amazingly, it lives up the grandness of its title. Hill, a former Foreign Service officer, now teaches a course at Yale with John Lewis Gaddis and Paul Kennedy entitled "Grand Strategy". Based on this book, and the biography of Hill that I'm currently reading, that would be one heck of a course.

Simply put, this book tours the world, in time and place, and considers regimes, society, and international relations through the lens of great literature. In the Prologue he considers Cao Zueqin's The Dream of the Red Chamber, Dante's Comedia, and Conrad's The Rescue. From there, Hill takes us through the Classics (Homer, Thucydides, and on to Virgil, among others), and then into medieval, Renaissance, early modern, and Enlightenment authors. Nearer to our own time, he discusses Rushdie, Liu E, Ma Jian, and others. A truly amazing tour. (I throw in the Chinese authors of the benefit of 1HP, as I have only heard of them here.) Each of these works of literature, philosophy, and history reflects and molds the order of the society in which it was written. Hill makes the case for considering these works by relating a tale about Chairman Mao, who kept a copy of The Dream of the Red Chamber (among many other literary works) and claims to have read it five times. As Hill notes, this doesn't make Mao a humanitarian (far from it!), but it shows that he was a student. Hill also worked with long-time American diplomat Paul Nitze, and he reports that Nitze would be found reading Shakespeare on long flights across the Atlantic, where he traveled to negotiate arms control agreements with the Soviets.

Hill discusses these numerous texts, explicating their perspectives on society and statecraft. The scope and depth of his erudition is impressive. However, I'd say that this book isn't just for those interested in international relations. Indeed, I'd argue that relations between nations isn't so different than relations between individuals. (No agency problem—or is there?) In any event, even if you took this book as a reading list, you'd have years of great literature to read.

I'll write more about Hill after I've finished his biography, but if he's representative of the caliber of the men and women of the USFS, the we have some very capable persons there. A highly recommended book for anyone interested in literature or international relations.

Icarus Syndrome Review

An interesting review of Peter Beinert's The Icarus Syndrome, which I enjoyed very much. This is a thoughtful review by Yale political scientist Jim Sleeper. I think that Beinert, despite his youthful exuberance and errors, does the right thing by re-considering his position.