on August 7, 2007
This is a fine book by a genuine futurist, albeit written in a polemical style that may be a little tough for some folks to take.
There are several areas in which Minkin points out that we could do much better if we want people in general (let alone ourselves and our inheritors) to prosper in the future.
That means conserving resources rather than squandering them. Facts are a resource. People are a resource. Informed people are a resource.
Does diversity benefit the United States? In the past, it has. And we still attract some of the best and brightest from other nations. But diversity is not always a benefit, and Minkin points this out.
Minkin argues against discrimination by color, in either direction. By the way, my own idea about affirmative action is simple: given that grade schools and high schools are mandatory, apply most of one's affirmative action ideas there! After that, it is less effective and it threatens to brand minority students as less qualified.
The Left has a noble duty of trying to speak out in favor of all people, rather than just the majority, or even just our own country. And that's a good idea. But that means it can fall into the trap of supporting ideas that are not merely okay for us and great for the rest of the world, but those which are bad for everyone and horrible for us. And Minkin shows some places where it has fallen into this trap. In particular, much of the Left fails to realize just how great our nation has been: sure, we've done some counterproductive things, but we've also done some truly wonderful things that benefit practically everyone. If we fail to praise ourselves for this, we're overlooking ways in which we might all prosper in the future.
Minkin also mentions organizations such as Amnesty International, which I think have made a good name for themselves by performing some useful services and then have become truly perverse.
As for the Right, Minkin shows that it has often failed to realize the benefits of separating religion from public policy.
There is a section on the United Nations: I wonder just what it is united against? Perhaps the US? Or Israel? Minkin exposes some outrageous anti-Israeli lies that are standard fare at the UN. The very existence of the Levantine Arab "people" is shown to be a myth, just from the fact that even as recently 1967, there was still no mention of it in UN resolutions. Now, are these sorts of racist lies truly a threat? Sure: if enough of them get spewed into the international information supply, we'll have more strife, and we won't know what to trust. In my opinion, we need to outlaw the UN. Don't laugh: eventually people will rebel against counterproductive organizations; you can't keep selling poison to people indefinitely. And I think we can replace the UN with ad hoc organizations that can't just rest on their laurels but have to accomplish something of value.
Minkin discusses our American court system. Here, we see some examples of counterproductive behavior. There are way too many frivolous lawsuits that are affecting the ability of people to get things done. We need a way to sort out real problems from frivolities here. In addition, I think that we're making a big mistake in criminal trials to have juries decide what the facts are. Juries are not only bad at deciding what facts are, they are also deprived of the information and expertise they need. Criminals can change their alibis at will until they find one that makes sense, and all the juries hear is the latest one. In some high profile cases, one would have done far better than using an expensive jury just by flipping a coin, so I think we need to do much, much better than this if our society is to function smoothly. And the new International Criminal Court is hopelessly political and counterproductive.
Minkin tells of some of the media, and this may be our biggest problem. I saw hopelessness of the media in the Communist world as a good measure of its counterproductivity, and I think the BBC is becoming a good measure of it in the West. Minkin shows us how amazingly biased some of the BBC reporting actually is.
Minkin also tells of the environmental threats we face, and our reluctance to figure out how to face them. I agree with him that we need to make projections for the next 10, 100, and 1000 years and come up with metrics that show us how we're doing to meet our goals here. I agree that we need to explicitly limit our use of non-renewable resources. In addition, as Minkin points out, we really need to simplify our income tax. I might favor simply eliminating it and taxing employers (and payers of interest) with a flat rate: that would get the worker out of the loop and stop using a tax collecting agency to make and enforce social welfare decisions.
Finally, I'd start with the media, where Minkin has plenty of good advice for us, including the development of "provable" news services, maybe initially via the internet. I'd get them to stand or fall on their own merits. After all, as Minkin says, "journalism's first obligation is to the truth." And I agree with Minkin that we all ought to support media watchdogs such as CAMERA (which addresses an issue where some of the media are spectacularly bad).
I recommend this book.