Phronetech Non-Fiction Writing


Shifting Grounds

In retrospect, it appears that 2020, to say the least, was an eventfully special year

around the world. Some people have said that life will never be the same again

based on these few instances:

1) United Kingdom left the European Union on January 31, 2020.

2) The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) lost 13% of its value in one day on

March 16, 2020 because of Covid-19.

3) The number of victims of Covid-19 which started last spring has reached 1,98

million (1) worldwide on January 13, 2021, including 17,883 for Canada and

385,000 for the United States.

4) Joe Biden won the November 6, 2020 US election. The seating president has

contested (2) the election results.

5) Natural disasters took a heavy toll on many countries around the world. In the

United States, the damages caused by Hurricane Laura on August 29, 2020 were to

cost between $4 to $12 billion. The Cameron Peak Fire burnt approximately

700,000 acres in Colorado in 2020. In Australia, in the first seven months of 2020,

47 million acres were burnt and nearly three billion animals were killed or

displaced. The deadly blazes also displaced thousands of people from their homes

and killed at least 34 people. Wildfire destroyed 13,000 square kilometers of the

Brazilian Amazon.

And the list of can go on and on. Coincidently, Jackie Sarlo (3) of the New York

Post aptly reported that “the year 2020 certainly experienced its fair share of world-

shifting events”.

But, as terrible as these events may appear, societal collapse is not at the horizon.

In fact, if the review is carried out from a broader time range, their impact is less


Looking again at the events listed earlier, most of them had occurred in the distant

past but in a different economic, sociopolitical and environmental conditions. For

example, the 1918 the Spanish Flu killed between 25 to 40 million people over two

years. This pandemic coincided with the end of World War I making the army’s

assistance less available. Thus far, Covid-19 has killed 1.98 million worldwide.

However, it is unlikely that the current pandemic reaches this proportion.

The DJIA lost 22% when the market crashed in 1987.

In the recent past, national election results were contested five times: In 1800,

between Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr; In 1824, between Andrews Jackson

and John Quincy Adams and two other candidates; In 1876, between Rutherford B.

Hayes and Samuel Tilden; In 1960, by J. F Kennedy and Richard Nixon over

allegations of voter fraud; in 2000, between George W. Bush and Al Gore over

disputed ballots in Florida. I have excluded the1860 election, which led to the civil

war over the moral issue of slavery, opposing the South to the North.

Hurricanes and wildfire are seasonal ecological activities at various degree around

the globe, perhaps enhanced by climate change.

How the causes and effects of the 2020 events can be explained or, for that matter,

the major socioeconomic and political events?

In the dynamics of social evolution, economic dominance, backed up by

technology, has invaded all spheres of human activities. As a result, income

inequality is rampant in society. Last year, the top 1% of U.S. households old 15

times more wealth than the bottom 50% combined (4). As discussed in my recent

book, More Inequality Divides – Less Inequality Unites, wealth concentration in

the upper social stratum is greater than ever. High skilled employees are in great

demand because of technological development. Automation has led to corporate

downsizing. The middle class, the largest segment of most societies, has become

the universal victim of this economic transformation.

The late economist Lester C. Thurow (5) in the Future of Capitalism, gives some

insight on the potential sources of these events and their manifestation over time.

Published in 1996, some of the variables may have changed but his arguments are

still robust.

In geology, the invisible movement of the continental plates floating on the earth’s

molten core causes earthquakes and volcanoes. L. C, Thurow posits that, similarly,

the invisible mixture of technology and ideology cause visible political and

socioeconomic events. The five economic plates are: The End of Communism; A

Technological Shift; A Demographic Diversity; A Global Economy; An Era of No

Dominant Economic, Political or Military Power.

The first tectonic plate infers that capitalism no longer has a political and economic

competitor. However, considering the economic and commercial development of

China, India, it is more accurate to use the position of Francis Fukuyama in the

End of History that humanity has reached “the end-point of mankind’s ideological

evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form

of human government”.

The second tectonic plate refers to the flexibility of services centers around the

globe. It is no longer necessary for these centers to be located in developed

countries where the required skills are available. This production process is

facilitated by the development of information technology.

The third tectonic plate relates to the demographic heterogeneity of the world.

Population growth in developed countries is less than in developing countries, not

necessarily applicable to the skilled-unskilled workers distribution. Hence, the

migration wave to developed countries for better living conditions. Population

aging of developed countries requires more increase in the social benefits budget.

In my previous book I wrote that the number of centenarians will substantially

increase by the end of this century (Toussaint 2017: p. 111) (6).

The fourth tectonic plate concerns the production interchangeability of goods and

services around the globe. The global economy makes winners and losers. In other

words, while society in its entirety benefits from globalization, the gains are

unevenly distributed.

The fifth tectonic plate encompasses the center of economic, political and military

dominance. Contrary to the First Industrial Revolution (1760-1840) led by Great

Britain and the Second Industrial Revolution (1870-1940) led by United Kingdom,

Germany and United States, the notion of dominance be carefully dealt with.

Economically and politically the United States still can be seen as the superpower.

The US military power is well known. The military capability of other developed

countries will remain their best kept secret.

Now that the broad causes of changes have been established, it is equally important

to understand their effects meaning how they manifest themselves. A change

process is often invisible. As an analogy, no one can see the formation of a volcano

by the movement of the tectonic plates but the resulting eruption (the effect) is a

radical change from the previous physical condition. As another analogy, the slow

growth of a fruit tree to maturity is invisible but its sudden blooming in the spring

(effect) cannot be missed.

In essence, this is the concept of Punctuated Equilibrium of Stephen J. Gould and

Niles Eldridge (7). In essence, it means that species are generally stable, changing

little for long period of time. But this slow pace is "punctuated" by a rapid burst of

change that results in a new event or species and that leaves few traces behind.

This theory is different from the incremental changes on the way to a new species

of Darwin’s theory.

Let’s now look at the 2920 events in light of the aforementioned theories.

1) Brexit

In a nutshell, among the arguments supporting Brexit, immigration and

unemployment are often mentioned as the driving factors. Again, the importance of

the economy cannot be underestimated. Migration has adversely impacted The

United Kingdom. In addition, in 2008, unemployment in Southern Europe was

20%. UK was not prepared to entertain this relationship. These arguments are

reflected in economic tectonic plates 3 and 4.

2) The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) lost 13% of its value in one day

3) The number of Covid-19 victims has reached 1.98 million on January, 2013

To support the economy, the accelerated pace of international trade as a result of

the production’s interchangeability centers substantially increases the probability

of viral contamination. The loss of value of DJIA is a consequence of the

investors’ anxieties. The fourth tectonic plate, inter alias, explains the emergence

of Covid-19 around the globe.

4) The seating US president has contested the results of the November 6


Populism has been enhanced not necessarily by the ramifications of globalization

but the lack of appropriate macroeconomic policies to counteract some of its

negative effects. Some of the unskilled workers’ jobs have been exported. In their

suffering they feel that their voice has been ignored and became predisposed for

political change particularly when they are called the real people by a populist

leader in contrast to the ‘elite’. Populism feed itself on antagonism and non-

traditionalism. The recent contesting of the election results should not come as a

surprise. Globalization in the fourth economic tectonic plate explains the origin of

this movement. But, the success of populism also contains the seeds of its demise

by the non-conformist behavior of its leader and the social disconnection he


As can be seen, economic tectonic plates shifting and punctuated equilibrium can

be used to rationalize the emergence and nature of economic and political events.

As to what can be done to solve the issues resulting from these events will be the

subject of another article.


1.Max Roser. Our World in Data.


2.Jackie Sarlo. 2020 Events: Yep. These things happened in the year from hell.

New York Post. December 31.2020.

3.Alexander Cohen. History tells us that a contested election won’t destroy

American democracy. November 4, 2020.

4. Tommy Beer. Top 1% Of U.S. Households Hold 15 Times More Wealth Than

Bottom 50% Combined.

5.Lester C. Thurow. The Future of Capitalism. How Today’s Economic Forces

Shape Tomorrow’s World. Penguin Books 1996.

6.Carmel M. Toussaint. Technology and Society – Rewards and Challenges.

Phronetech Writing 2017.

7.Stephen J. Gould.  Belknap Press: An Imprint of Harvard University Press (May

31 2007).

Who is The Western Man?

Gennady Stolyarov II - August 31,2016

On the fourteenth anniversary of The Rational Argumentator, it is fitting to consider the tagline that has been featured on TRA since its founding: “A Journal for Western Man”. But who is this Western Man for whom The Rational Argumentator is intended? In 2002, the answer to that question seemed rather apparent for at least a substantial segment of then-prevalent libertarian, conservative, and objectivist thinkers who, each in their own way, understood the Western Man to stand for the general cultural ideals and noblest aspirations of Western civilization.

Unfortunately, the decade of the 2010s and the past two years especially have seen the rise of a noxious and fundamentally anti-Western, anti-modern, and anti-civilization movement known as the “alt-right”, which has attempted to appropriate the rhetoric of Western culture and even of the Renaissance for itself. The Rational Argumentator will not allow this appropriation to remain unchallenged. TRA stands resolutely in opposition to all forms of bigotry, racism, nativism, misogyny, and any other circumstantially rooted intolerance – all of which are contrary to the ideals of high Western civilization. But at the same time, The Rational Argumentator also cannot cave to the “social justice” campus activism of the far Left, which would have even the very identification of Western culture and civilization banished, lest it offend the ever-more-delicate sensibilities of firebrand youths who resolutely refuse to let knowledge of the external world get in the way of their “feelings” and subjective experiences. TRA will not abandon the Western Man, but will continue to explain what it is that the Western Man represents and why these principles are more important and enduring than any tumultuous, ephemeral, and most likely futile and self-defeating activist movements of our era.

So who is the Western Man? It is a not a particular man from the West. It is not a descriptor limited to a particular subset of individuals based on their birth, skin color, national origin, or even gender. Indeed, my original intent behind the “Western Man” descriptor was specifically to salvage the generic term “man” – meaning an archetypical representative of humankind – from any suggestions that it must necessarily be gender-specific. This subtitle was meant transparently to imply, “Of course, ‘Western Man’ includes women, too!” Some of the greatest and most courageous Western Men – from Hypatia of Alexandria to Mary Wollstonecraft to Ayn Rand to Ayaan Hirsi Ali – have been women.

A Western Man can have been born anywhere, have any physical features, any age, any gender (or lack of gender identity), any sexual preferences (or lack thereof), any religion (or lack thereof) – as long as he/she/it is a thinking being who accepts the valuable contributions of Western culture and civilization and seeks to build upon them. If self-aware, rational artificial intelligences are developed in the future, or if an intelligent alien species comes into contact with us, these beings could potentially be Western Men as well.

A Western Man will respect and seek to learn from the great philosophy, literature, art, music, natural and social sciences, mathematics, and political theory that flourished in Western societies throughout the past three millennia – although by no means is a Western man required to focus exclusively on ideas that originated in the West. Indeed, Western culture itself has unceasingly interacted with and absorbed the intellectual contributions of Egyptian, Mesopotamian, Arabic, Persian, Indian, Chinese, Korean, and Japanese thinkers and creators – to provide just a few examples. Likewise, a great deal of hope for the future of Western civilization can be found among entrepreneurs in Asia, Africa, and Latin America who have endeavored, with notable success, to spread the technologies of the digital age, construct great buildings, and lift billions of people out of abject poverty and into humane and respectable living standards accompanied by ever-increasing longevity.

A Western Man is someone who embraces the ideal of cosmopolitan universalism – a rejection of circumstantially defined tribalism, of the casting of people as “one of us” or “the other” based on attributes that they did not choose. This cosmopolitan universalism is the product of both a long-evolving philosophical framework and the material abundance that enabled the broadening of what Adam Smith termed our circles of sympathy to encompass ever more people.

The edifice of Western philosophical thought has been built upon by thinkers since the times of Thales, Socrates, and Aristotle – but its greatest intellectual breakthroughs were made during the 18th-century Age of Enlightenment. The Western Men who embraced these ideals were often personally flawed; they were men of their time and constrained by the practical realities and social mores that surrounded them. Some Western Men throughout history have, unfortunately, owned slaves, respected individual liberty only in some instances, or been improperly prejudiced against broad groups of people due to ignorance or gaps in the consistent application of their principles. Nonetheless, the legacy of their work – the notions of universal, inalienable individual rights and the preciousness of each person’s liberty and humanity – has been indispensable for later accomplishments, such as the abolition of slavery, women’s suffrage and liberation, civil and privacy rights, cultural and legal acceptance of homosexuality, and recognition of individual rights for members of religious minorities, atheists, and children. If we are able to see farther and know better than to repeat some of the moral errors of the past, it is because, to paraphrase Sir Isaac Newton, we stand on the shoulders of intellectual giants who paved the way for our embrace of the aforementioned great cultural achievements.

The ideals of peaceful commerce and cultural exchange – indeed, cultural appropriation (in an educated, informed, and deliberate manner) of the best elements of every time, place, and way of life – have resulted in a dramatic reduction in warfare, a general decline in nationalistic and tribal hatreds, and a widespread understanding of the essential humanity of our fellows in all parts of the world. Were it not for the intellectual achievements of Western civilization and the global commercial and industrial networks to which it gave rise, humankind would still be embroiled in a bitter, Hobbesian war of all against all. A Western Man is anyone who gives the essential achievements of modernity their well-deserved recognition and admiration, and who studies and offers justified respect to the forebears and authors of these achievements. A Western Man is also anyone who seeks to build upon these accomplishments and add his, her, or its distinctive bricks to the edifice of human progress.

A Western Man is not a fanatic or a bully, and sees fanatics and bullies as the threats to civilization that they are. A Western Man does not use ideology to stifle peaceful expression or compel others to dutifully “know their place” within some would-be totalitarian static social order. A Western Man knows that some people will disagree with him, her, or it, and they have the right to disagree peacefully. However, they do not have the right to be protected from attempts at persuasion or the presentation of diverse and possibly contrary views.

A Western Man embraces reason as the way to discover more about the external world and about human beings. Reason is not the exclusive province of any subset of people; anyone is capable of it, but it takes training and effort – and great respect for the intellect – to utilize consistently and properly. From reason stem the empirical scientific method, the deductive processes of formal logic and mathematics, and the application of empirical and logical truths to the development of technology which improves the human condition. A Western Man does not vilify technology, but rather sees it as a key driver of human progress and an enabler of moral growth by giving people the time and space which prosperity affords, making possible contemplation of better ways of living and relating to others – a prerogative only available to those liberated from hand-to-mouth subsistence.

The ideal of the Western Man is to maintain the great things which have already been brought into this world, and to create new achievements that further improve human life. There is thus both a conservative and a progressive motive within the Western Man, and they must combine to sustain a rich and vital civilization. A Western Man can go by labels such as “liberal”, “conservative”, “libertarian”, “progressive”, or “apolitical” – as long as they are accompanied by careful thought, study, discernment, work ethic, and an earnest desire to build what is good instead of, out of rage or spite, tearing down whatever exists. Conservation of great achievements and progress in creating new achievements are not antagonists, but rather part of the same essential mode of functioning of the Western Man – transcending petty and often false political antagonisms which needlessly create acrimony among people who should all be working to take civilization to the next level.

The next level of civilization – the unceasing expansion of human potential – is the preoccupation of the Western Man. This – not descending into contrived identitarian antagonisms – is the great project of our era. Building on the philosophical groundwork laid by Enlightenment humanism and its derivatives, a Western Man can explore the next stage of intellectual evolution – that of transhumanism, which promises to liberate humankind from its age-old shackles of death, disease, severe scarcity, Earth-boundedness, and internecine conflict.

Who is the Western Man? If you accept the challenge and the honor of supporting and building upon the great civilization which offers us unparalleled opportunities to create a glorious future for all – then the Western Man can be you.

The Rational Argumentator’s Fourteenth Anniversary Manifesto: Who Is the Western Man

Gennady Stolyarov II (G. Stolyarov II) is an actuary, science-fiction novelist, independent philosophical essayist, poet, amateur mathematician, composer, and Editor-in-Chief of The Rational Argumentator, a magazine championing the principles of reason, rights, and progress. Mr. Stolyarov regularly produces YouTube Videos discussing life extension, libertarianism, and related subjects.

Mr. Stolyarov can be contacted at​

GMO Debates

Genetically Modified Organisms have been the subject of intense debate over the last decades. The following article has the merit to underline some important fundamental concepts in GMOS and to eliminate some ill-founded ideas. One must keep in mind that the soil conditions have changed and humanity's food security system is at issue.

All our food is ‘genetically modified’ in some way – where do you draw the line?

April 4, 2016 9.47am EDT

Author:James Borrell

PhD researcher in Conservation Genetics, Queen Mary University of London

Disclosure statement - James Borrell is currently a NERC funded PhD student.

In the past week you’ve probably eaten crops that wouldn’t exist in nature, or that have evolved extra genes to reach freakish sizes. You’ve probably eaten “cloned” food and you may have even eaten plants whose ancestors were once deliberately blasted with radiation. And you could have bought all this without leaving the “organic” section of your local supermarket.

Anti-GM dogma is obscuring the real debate over what level of genetic manipulation society deems acceptable. Genetically-modified food is often regarded as something you’re either for or against, with no real middle ground.

Yet it is misleading to consider GM technology a binary decision, and blanket bans like those in many European countries are only likely to further stifle debate. After all, very little of our food is truly “natural” and even the most basic crops are the result of some form of human manipulation.

Between organic foods and tobacco engineered to glow in the dark lie a broad spectrum of “modifications” worthy of consideration. All of these different technologies are sometimes lumped together under “GM”. But where would you draw the line?

1. (Un)natural selection

Think of carrots, corn or watermelons – all foods you might eat without much consideration. Yet when compared to their wild ancestors, even the “organic” varieties are almost unrecognizable.

Domestication generally involves selecting for beneficial traits, such as high yield. Over time, many generations of selection can substantially alter a plant’s genetic makeup. Man-made selection is capable of generating forms that are extremely unlikely to occur in nature.

2. Genome duplications

Unknowing selection by our ancestors also involved a genetic process we only discovered relatively recently. Whereas humans have half a set of chromosomes (structures that package and organize your genetic information) from each parent, some organisms can have two or more complete duplicate sets of chromosomes. This “polyploidy” is widespread in plants and often results in exaggerated traits such as fruit size, thought to be the result of multiple gene copies.

Without realizing, many crops have been unintentionally bred to a higher level of ploidy (entirely naturally) as things like large fruit or vigorous growth are often desirable. Ginger and apples are triploid for example, while potatoes and cabbage are tetraploid. Some strawberry varieties are even octoploid, meaning they have eight sets of chromosomes compared to just two in humans.

3. Plant cloning

It’s a word that tends to conjure up some discomfort – no one really wants to eat “cloned” food. Yet asexual reproduction is the core strategy for many plants in nature, and farmers have utilized it for centuries to perfect their crops.

Once a plant with desirable characteristics is found – a particularly tasty and durable banana, for instance – cloning allows us to grow identical replicates. This could be entirely natural with a cutting or runner, or artificially-induced with plant hormones. Domestic bananas have long since lost the seeds that allowed their wild ancestors to reproduce – if you eat a banana today, you’re eating a clone.

Each banana plant is a genetic clone of a previous generation.

4. Induced mutations

Selection – both human and natural – operates on genetic variation within a species. If a trait or characteristic never occurs, then it cannot be selected for. In order to generate greater variation for conventional breeding, scientists in the 1920s began to expose seeds to chemicals or radiation.

Unlike more modern GM technologies, this “mutational breeding” is largely untargeted and generates mutations at random. Most will be useless, but some will be desirable. More than 1,800 cultivars of crop and ornamental plants including varieties of wheat, rice, cotton and peanuts have been developed and released in more than 50 countries. Mutational breeding is credited for spurring the “green revolution” in the 20th century.

Many common foods such as red grapefruits and varieties of pasta wheat are a result of this approach and, surprisingly, these can still be sold as certified “organic”.

5. GM screening

GM technology doesn’t have to involve any direct manipulation of plants or species. It can be instead used to screen for traits such as disease susceptibility or to identify which “natural” cross is likely to produce the greatest yield or best outcome.

Genetic technology has allowed researchers to identify in advance which ash trees are likely to be susceptible to ash dieback disease, for instance. Future forests could be grown from these resistant trees. We might call this “genomics-informed” human selection.

6. Cisgenic and transgenic

This is what most people mean when they refer to genetically modified organisms (GMOs) – genes being artificially inserted into a different plant to improve yield, tolerance to heat or drought, to produce better drugs or even to add a vitamin. Under conventional breeding, such changes might take decades. Added genes provide a shortcut.

Cisgenic simply means the gene inserted (or moved, or duplicated) comes from the same or a very closely related species. Inserting genes from unrelated species (transgenic) is substantially more challenging – this is the only technique in our spectrum of GM technology that can produce an organism that could not occur naturally. Yet the case for it might still be compelling.

Since the 1990s several crops have been engineered with a gene from the soil bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis. This bacteria gives “Bt corn” and other engineered crops resistance to certain pests, and acts as an appealing alternative to pesticide use.

This technology remains the most controversial as there are concerns that resistance genes could “escape” and jump to other species, or be unfit for human consumption. While unlikely – many fail safe approaches are designed to prevent this – it is of course possible.

Where do you stand?

All of these methods continue to be used. Even transgenic crops are now widely cultivated around the world, and have been for more than a decade. They are closely scrutinized and rightly so, but the promise of this technology means that it surely deserves improved scientific literacy among the public if it is to reach its full potential.

And let’s be clear, with global population set to hit nine billion by 2050 and the increasingly greater strain on the environment, GMOs have the potential to improve health, increase yields and reduce our impact. However uncomfortable they might make us, they deserve a sensible and informed debate.

Disclosure statement

James Borrell is currently a NERC funded PhD student.

This article was originally published in The Conversation:

Recommended Reading

How China Escaped the Poverty Trap

Author: Yuen Yuen Ang

This is the title of our best pick for this month. The  book's title says it all. China went to many changes in the last century before emerging as a developed country.

Summary by Winner, Peter Katzenstein Book Prize (Department of Government, Cornell University)

Before markets opened in 1978, China was an impoverished planned economy governed by a Maoist bureaucracy. In just three decades it evolved into the world's second-largest economy and is today guided by highly entrepreneurial bureaucrats. In How China Escaped the Poverty Trap, Yuen Yuen Ang explains this astonishing metamorphosis. Rather than insist that either strong institutions of good governance foster markets or that growth enables good governance, Ang lays out a new, dynamic framework for understanding development broadly. Successful development, she contends, is a co-evolutionary process in which markets and governments mutually adapt.

By mapping this co-evolution, Ang reveals a startling conclusion: poor and weak countries can escape the poverty trap by first harnessing weak institutions—features that defy norms of good governance—to build markets. Further, she stresses that adaptive processes, though essential for development, do not automatically occur. Highlighting three universal roadblocks to adaptation, Ang identifies how Chinese reformers crafted enabling conditions for effective improvisation.

How China Escaped the Poverty Trap offers the most complete synthesis to date of the numerous interacting forces that have shaped China’s dramatic makeover and the problems it faces today. Looking beyond China, Ang also traces the co-evolutionary sequence of development in late medieval Europe, antebellum United States, and contemporary Nigeria, and finds surprising parallels among these otherwise disparate cases. Indispensable to all who care about development, this groundbreaking book challenges the convention of linear thinking and points to an alternative path out of poverty traps.