© 2020 Phronetech -
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-
3) The number of victims of Covid-
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
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-
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-
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
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-
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-
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
The fifth tectonic plate encompasses the center of economic, political and military
dominance. Contrary to the First Industrial Revolution (1760-
Britain and the Second Industrial Revolution (1870-
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.
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-
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
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-
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. https://ourworldindata.org/grapher/total-
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. theconversation.com. 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
Who is The Western Man?
Gennady Stolyarov II -
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-
Unfortunately, the decade of the 2010s and the past two years especially have seen the rise of a noxious and fundamentally anti-
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-
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-
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-
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-
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-
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-
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-
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-
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-
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-
Mr. Stolyarov can be contacted at email@example.com
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-
All our food is ‘genetically modified’ in some way – where do you draw the line?
April 4, 2016 9.47am EDT
PhD researcher in Conservation Genetics, Queen Mary University of London
Disclosure statement -
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.
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-
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-
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-
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.
James Borrell is currently a NERC funded PhD student.
This article was originally published in The Conversation:
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-
By mapping this co-
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-