Is Hell Real: What Happens After You Die?

According to Scott G. Bruce – from his “Introduction” to the Penguin Book of Hell – “Hell, the afterlife of the Christian religion, is arguably the most powerful and persuasive construct of the human imagination in the Western tradition.”

Describing it as a “subterranean realm of eternal suffering, a prison for sinful souls governed by a fallen angel who surpassed all other creatures in wickedness,” Bruce points out the quite obvious fact that “Hell has inspired fear and thereby controlled the behavior of countless human beings for more than two thousand years.”

And that – and this is probably more important – “despite advances in scholarship that have called into question the authority of the Christian scriptures and scientific developments that have changed the way we think about the human race and our place in the cosmos, the idea of Hell has remained tenacious in Western thought.”

Such a sentence begs the most childish – and yet most potent – question of all: why?

Why more than half of the inhabitants of the United States today still believe that there indeed exists such a place “where people who have led bad lives and die without being sorry are eternally punished”?

Why would a human being born in the XXI century be more inclined to accept as true the existence of an afterlife realm of punishment and torment for the bad, than, say, Neil deGrasse Tyson’s scientifically-backed opinion that “the universe is under no obligation to make sense to you”?

Or have we missed something? Could it be that we have been on the wrong track all along? Have scientists rushed a bit to the conclusion and are people like Jordan Peterson right to say that hell is real as much as you make it be?

In one way or another – is Hell real?


Table of Contents
(Click a title below to go to the respective section)

1. Introduction: The Gates of Hell
2. The Description of Hell in the Bible
3. The Evolution of Hell: A Brief History of the Concept
     3.1 Hell Is Not Real: Hell in the Old Testament
     3.2 Hades/Dis: Greek and Roman Mythology
     3.3 The Problem of Hell: Death Discriminates

     3.4 The Law of Contrapasso: Dante’s Inferno
     3.5 Is Hell Real: The Protestant Reformation and Modernity
     3.6 Visions and Near-Death Experiences: Hell Is
Real
4. Is Hell Real According to the People: What the Data Says
     4.1 The World
     4.2 The USA
5. Is Hell Real: A Closing Statement
     5.1 Hell Is Not Sheol
     5.2 Jesus in the Underworld: The Harrowing of Hell
     5.3 A Christian God and an Unchristian Hell
     5.4 The Ultimate Irony: From Real to Metaphysical and Back to Real Hell

 1. Introduction: The Gates of Hell

Well, if you have ever visited Derweze/Darvaza, a barely inhabited village in Turkmenistan, you probably already know the answer to this question.

Hell is real as, well, hell.

And it looks something like this:

Of course, if you asked a scientist, he would probably tell you that this is the Darvaza gas crater – still burning after it had been set on fire by geologists back in 1971 so that the spread of the poisonous methane gas be prevented.

However, the locals have a different understanding of the phenomenon, best illustrated by the name they chose for it: jähenneme açylan gapy.

Now, we don’t understand Turkmen, but based on how a human being would react if suddenly faced with a sight such as the one on the image, jähenneme açylan gapy must mean either “We repent, Good Gracious Lord, we repent for all our sins!” or “The Gates of Hell.”

Intuition tells us to go for the second meaning.

 2. The Description of Hell in the Bible

And we bet that your intuition didn’t make you think of a gas crater the first time you saw the image above either.

Why?

Because, especially if you are living in a WEIRD society, all your life you’ve been fed with a vision of Hell which calls into mind something not too dissimilar from it.

Keyword?

Fire.

Main source?

The Bible, of course.

Not that you need a proof, but here are few just in case:

BOOK VERSES DESCRIPTION (NIV)
Matthew 7:19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
13:42 They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
18:9 And if your eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell.
25:41 Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.
Mark 9:43-44 If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out, where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.
9:47-48 And if your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, where the worms that eat them do not die, and the fire is not quenched.
Luke 3:17 His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.
John 15:6 If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. (For a full summary of the Gospel – click here.)
2 Thessalonians 1:9 They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might.
James 3:6 The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell. (Read a summary here.)
Jude 1:7 In a similar way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion. They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire.
Revelation 14:11 And the smoke of their torment will rise forever and ever. There will be no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and its image, or for anyone who receives the mark of its name.
20:13-15 The sea gave up the dead that was in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that was in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.
21:8 But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars–they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.

So, all in all, Hell is a fiery domain where the wicked and the vile suffer the eternal torment of their sins, nightmarishly depicted by the Gospel of Mark as a host of immortal worms which gnaw upon their souls for all eternity.

And this brings us to the main point of why there is such a thing as Hell in the first place: it is not merely an abode, but a punitive abode. In other words, just as its counterpart Heaven, it exists to balance the injustice of our world. So, something like a Giant Prison of the Afterlife.

Sure, you can be sinful on earth and pass unpunished – as much as you can be good and reap no rewards – but there is a higher law, an always just law, and once you die, there’s no escape from it!

Unlike the earthly and secular one, this higher law seems to be rather clear and straightforward:

The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity, and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:19-21)

In case you can’t find all of the usual suspects, don’t worry: in two other epistles, the same guy who wrote the passage above (Saint Paul) further clears things up:

Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-10)


We also know that the law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, for the sexually immoral, for those practicing homosexuality, for slave traders and liars and perjurers–and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine. (1 Timothy 1:9-10)

No need for additional passages, I believe: more or less, everybody’s covered in these three. Of course, to a 21st-century reader, it may seem a bit odd why God decided to put such a strong emphasis on sex, and, moreover, why it is such “an abomination” (cf. Genesis 19, Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13) to be a male homosexual.

(Seriously, look it up: the only more explicit reference in The Bible to lesbianism being a sin is Romans 1:26-27 – and not only it is not nearly as clear as some theologians would have you believe, but it is also a most probable non-Pauline interpolation.).

Either way, this brief overview all but exhausts the way Hell is depicted in the Bible, both in terms of general appearance and its raisons d’être. And if you wonder where are all the torturing devices and mischievous devils, you better look around you, Ferdinand, because as far as the Bible is concerned, Hell is virtually empty!

 3. The Evolution of Hell: A Brief History of the Concept

3.1 Hell Is Not Real: Hell in the Old Testament

Now, if you know your Bible well, the previous section may have already directed your attention towards something that isn’t pointed out as often as it should be: almost every biblical reference to the fiery Hell of our nightmares can be found in the “The New Testament.”

And for an excellent reason: no matter how much you try to bend the arguments, Hell appears nowhere in “The Old Testament.”

Indeed, it would have been mightily strange if this wasn’t the case: though ambiguous – contrary to Christianity – most forms of Judaism have no doctrine which allows for a concept such as the immortality of the soul, which, by implication, means that you cannot be punished after your death.

Moreover, the only references to some form of life following death in “The Old Testament” come from late biblical sources, such as the Books of Daniel, Ezekiel, and Isaiah; and, as expected, most of them do not sync well with our vision of Hell.

For example, when, in a famous verse (12:2), Daniel states that “multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt,” if he means this literally, he merely builds upon a notion already much more familiar to Jewish eschatology – the World to Come (Olam Ha-Ba).

That is, the dead will awake and will be judged one day which should mark the beginning of the Messianic Age (Heaven on Earth); but until that day, they sleep firmly in the dust.

Obviously, this means that neither the righteous nor the wicked dead should be “alive” in the meantime and that things such as Heaven and Hell (especially if conceived as realms) must be, to say the least, superfluous.

And, indeed, the earliest reference to a dichotomy of this kind saved for posterity is probably one made as late as the 1st century by Yochanan ben Zakkai: “There are two paths before me,” he writes, “one leading to Gan Eden and the other to Gehinnom” (Berakhot 28b)

Gan Eden here refers to the Garden of Eden and Gehinnom to Gehenna, a small valley near Jerusalem where children were supposedly sacrificed to the pagan god Moloch (cf. 2 Chronicles 28:3 and 33:6). “For this reason,” states the Jewish Encyclopedia, “the valley was deemed to be accursed, and ‘Gehenna’ therefore soon became a figurative equivalent for ‘hell.’”

However, the realm of the dead most often mentioned in “The Old Testament” is Sheol and, even if taken with all of its contradictions and inconsistencies, it is still dissimilar from the Hell we know.

3.2 Hades/Dis: Greek and Roman Mythology

Of course, the idea of Sheol evolved over time; but it actually started differing substantially from its original vision (decompartmentalized, indiscriminate place for all the dead) once the Hebrew scriptures were translated into Greek in Ancient Alexandria, and the word “Hades” was used to translate the Hebrew She’ol.

Hades, of course, was the kingdom of the dead in Greek mythology and it was a contradictory concept in itself: as can be witnessed in Homer’s Odyssey, for example, it, too, started off as the ultimate location of all souls, “regardless of how exemplary or dishonorable their earthly lives might have been.”

That’s why Achilles, one of the greatest Greek heroes, is not at all happy to be there in The Odyssey: “I would rather be a paid servant in a poor man’s house and be above ground than king of kings among the dead,” he says in a famous verse later subverted by Milton in Lucifer’s famous outcry in Paradise Lost: “Better to reign in Hell, than to serve in Heaven.”

palace of hades

The Underworld Painter – Detail of the Palace of Hades at the center of the Underworld (via Egisto Sani, Flickr)

However, elsewhere – such as in Hesiod’s Works and Days (170ff) – the heroes can be found “untouched by sorrow, in the islands of the blessed along the shore of deep swirling Ocean, happy heroes for whom the grain-giving earth bears honey-sweet fruit flourishing thrice a year, far from the deathless gods, and Cronos rules over them.”

No matter how long these visions may have coexisted, Aeneas’ descent into the Underworld reveals us that, by the time of Virgil’s Aeneid (some two decades before the birth of Christ), there were already some attempts to conflate them.

And Virgil’s epic marked the triumph of them all, harrowingly depicting the torments which await the incestuous and the traitors, the charlatans, and the murderers. “No ancient author,” states justly Scott Bruce, “was more influential in his depiction of the punitive afterlife than… Virgil.”

3.3 The Problem of Hell: Death Discriminates

Thus, even before the advent of Christianity, the Christians had already inherited a rich tradition which possessed all the right elements for the creation of the New Testament Hell.

“Wedding the pagan notion of a punitive afterlife for those who offended the divine with the imagery of the fire and the worm from the Hebrew scriptures, early Christian authors imagined a host of otherworldly punishments that inspired theologians, artists, and poets throughout the European Middle Ages and beyond,” notes Bruce.

Between Saint Augustine (354-430) and Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) – after triumphantly walking out of the much too real hell of the early persecutions against them – the Christian theologians managed to create “a distinctly Christian Hell,” which appended to the ancient models “their own understanding of original sin and God’s inscrutable mercy.”

However, these two were visibly incompatible: if Death discriminates between the just and the unjust, the One Who Rules Over It discriminates as well – in spite of His benevolence, mercy, and love.

Moreover, the ones who were deemed good and merciful in life are apparently disinterested in helping their fellow beings in death, even though the latter are eternally and viciously tormented in Hell.

And toward the end of Summa Theologica, Thomas Aquinas’ magnum-opus and “one of the most influential works of Western literature,” the Italian Dominican friar and Catholic priest proposed a strikingly unchristian solution.

Namely, he not only argued that the blessed must be happy about the eternal torment of the wicked seeing it as an example of divine justice, but he also claimed they rejoice in seeing perfectly clear the sufferings of the damned, “because when contraries are placed beside one another, they become more conspicuous.”

3.4 The Law of Contrapasso: Dante’s Inferno

At the end of the Middle Ages, Dante Alighieri wrote The Divine Comedy, the first part of which (Inferno) represents “the apogee of the punitive underworld in the medieval imagination” (Bruce).

The poetic vision of Dante seemed so vivid and compelling to his contemporaries, that, it is said, many people asked him whether he had seen some of their beloved ones in Hell or Heaven, fully believing that he had actually been there.

In fact, Dante’s vision of Hell – and its central structuring principle: the contrapasso, i.e. “suffer the opposite” – owes a lot to Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica (whose version of Hell was divided into four sections) and to his vast knowledge of comparable literary visions, starting with Homer and Aeneas and ending with Visio Tnugdali, “the most popular and elaborate text in the medieval genre of visionary infernal literature” and “without doubt the most graphic and horrifying tour of Hell composed before Dante’s Inferno.

In Dante’s poem (the detailed structure of which you can become familiar with here),

Hell has the organization and efficiency of a bureaucratic state: every impious soul has its appropriate place and every place apportioned a particular punishment keyed to a specific sin. More so than any previous author, Dante had a clear and logical understanding of the geography of the afterlife. He depicted Hell as a deep funnel with circular tiers. He and Virgil descended tier by tier from the gates of Hell, past the limbo of the virtuous pagans, and down through each circle, where those guilty of lust, gluttony, greed, wrath, heresy, violence, fraud, and treachery suffered for all eternity. At the bottom of Hell was Cocytus, a vast, frozen lake. Trapped in the ice of this lake was the gigantic, three-faced Satan, who beat his six massive, bat-like wings in vain to escape his imprisonment. Satan’s face was stained with tears and his chin dripped with the gore of history’s three worst traitors, whose souls he chewed endlessly and without pity in his monstrous mouths: Brutus and Cassius, who assassinated Julius Caesar in 44 BCE; and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Jesus Christ himself. (Scott G. Bruce)

Map of Hell

Sandro Botticelli’s Map of Hell (source)

3.5 Is Hell Real: The Protestant Reformation and Modernity

And then, just as Hell was finally concretized by the Catholics so precisely that it even had its own detailed maps, the Protestant Reformers reverted back to some more speculative concepts.

Sure, they agreed with the Catholics that Death discriminates and that Hell is the destination of the wicked, but, as Scott G. Bruce notes, “they were much more likely to couch the punitive afterlife in abstract terms of remorse and wounded conscience rather than in concrete terms of torment in Hell-fire familiar from the Catholic tradition.”

And this debate has raged ever since. So much so that modern Christian apologists are still incapable of giving a better solution to the ethical problem of Hell than Thomas Aquinas. If it is not real, what do all those references in the Scripture mean; however, if it is real, how do we harmonize it with the idea of a merciful and benevolent God?

No wonder that Narnia-writer and lay theologian C. S. Lewis – whose Screwtape Letters I’ve enjoyed over and over again – writing in “The Problem of Pain,” states that if it lay in his power, “there is no doctrine which [he] would more willingly remove from Christianity than” Hell.

“But” – he adds – “it has the full support of Scripture and, especially, of our Lord’s own words.” Lewis concludes with something that isn’t as obvious: Hell, according to him, not only “has always been held by Christendom” but it also “has the support of reason.”

Neither is actually true, but the latter critically not. If it had been, then there wouldn’t be a problem – or a millennia-long discussion on the topic.

3.6 Visions and Near-Death Experiences: Hell Is Real

However, we must not forget that there are some people whose reasons have actually witnessed – or at least who say that they have experienced – some vision of hell. These are usually either saints or near-death survivors. They certainly form an intruding topic for further analysis and discussion, but, for the sake of brevity, I will have to limit myself to merely mentioning them here. However, for those interested, I warmly welcome you to read here five “terrifying” visions of Hell as related by as many now-saints; and here an account of four “creepy” visions of hell by people who have lived through real near-death experiences.

 4. Is Hell Real According to the People: What the Data Says

Bishop Berkeley was right to wonder if the fall of a tree produces any sound if nobody is around to hear it. Not because scientists discovered – mostly during the past century – that this may not be as unreasonable as it once sounded (consider, say, the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum theory), but because, for better or for worse, our perception of reality, more often than not, (re)defines that very same reality.

In other words, even if (to quote Neil deGrasse Tyson once again) the universe has no obligation to make sense to us, and even if this means that “thou shalt not kill” is an unnatural law we have invented at some point in history (which we most certainly did), does its “artificiality” matters now when we have created a shared structure of reality in which murdering someone is one of the most abominable deeds one can do?

By the same analogy, even if not many people have seen God (in the best-case scenario), does it matter if he actually exists if numerous have sacrificed their lives in his name, while numerous others have done the exact opposite premised on the same belief?

So, let’s see what the data says in relation to people’s belief in Hell. (In addition, World Religious News gives you updates on latest shifts and twists in the culturally-diversified religious community, and thus it can help you see some more of the big picture.)

4.1 The World

Interestingly enough, regardless of the advance of science, surveys and polls consistently show that about half of the world population still believes in Heaven and/or Hell, Heaven being – without exception – the more popular option of the two; however, time and again, they also demonstrate a significant gap between the beliefs of the Western Europeans and the rest of the world.

For example, one of the most recent surveys of this kind – Ipsos’ “Perils of Perception” global survey, conducted in about 40 countries during the period of Sept. 28-Oct. 19, 2017 – revealed that, on average, 45% of the world population believes in either Heaven or Hell:

Country Heaven Hell Difference Average
Indonesia 99 99 0 99
Turkey 88 88 0 88
Philippines 94 85 9 89,5
Brazil 76 68 8 72
Peru 76 65 11 70,5
South Africa 84 60 24 72
India 68 59 9 63,5
Argentina 75 57 18 66
Poland 62 56 6 59
Colombia 80 55 25 67,5
USA 65 53 12 59
Mexico 56 50 6 53
Italy 48 44 4 46
Israel 50 43 7 46,5
Russia 43 41 2 42
Hungary 47 40 7 43,5
Serbia 42 39 3 40,5
Hong Kong 40 38 2 39
Australia 42 31 11 36,5
South Korea 30 29 1 29,5
Canada 40 28 12 34
Great Britain 32 21 11 26,5
Spain 31 19 12 25
France 24 19 5 21,5
Norway 30 16 14 23
Germany 28 12 16 20
Japan 19 12 7 15,5
China 14 12 2 13
Sweden 18 9 9 13,5
Belgium 16 9 7 12,5
Denmark 20 6 14 13
Total 49,58 40,74 8,84 45,16

Or, in the form of a bar chart for better viewing:

Believe in heaven or hell

Few interesting statistics almost immediately stand out:

  • On average, people tend to believe much more in Heaven (1 in 2) than in Hell (about 40%); the difference is especially evident in the case of Columbia and South Africa (countries of high percentage of believers), but, interestingly enough, the same can be said about many Western European countries (Germany, Norway, Denmark, Spain, Great Britain…)
  • The only two countries where there is no discrepancy between the belief in Heaven and Hell are two Muslim countries: Indonesia and Turkey; here, almost everyone believes in both.
  • Though there is a somewhat discernible inversely proportional correlation between economic/human development indices and belief in Hell across the globe (Western Europe, Far East Asia, Canada), the American continent (as a whole) seems to undermine this conclusion.
    • On average, only 17,6% of the people living in Far East Asia (China, Japan, South Korea) believe in Hell (21% believe in Heaven);
    • Just as well, only 17,2% of the people living in Western Europe (Italy, Great Britain, Spain, France, Norway, Germany, Sweden, Belgium, Denmark) believe in Hell (27,4% believe in Heaven);
    • However, 43,6% of the population of North America (United States, Canada, Mexico) believes in Hell (53,6% in Heaven);
    • And a whopping 61% of South Americans (Brazil, Peru, Argentina, Colombia) think that Hell exists (76,75% think likewise about Heaven)

Though it uses somewhat older data (from World Values Survey 2010-2014), the map below (via Reddit) illustrates this quite vividly:

4.2 The USA

So, all in all, the United States of America can be considered an exception: even though the most developed country in the world, more Americans believe in both Heaven and Hell than the worldwide averages. When compared to its northern neighbor, the divergence is even more striking: while only 28% of Canadians believe in Hell, twice as many Americans think that Hell is real!

However, when we break down the stats by state things get clearer: once again, we discover an apparent inverse correlation between how much a US state is developed and how many of its citizens believe in Hell.

Below is a map (via Reddit) which shows the percentage of Americans who believe in Hell by state, using data from the Pew Research Center’s 2014 study.

Belief in hell

The concurrence is almost uncanny when you compare the above image to a map (created by Alice Hunter for Wikimedia Commons) of the American Human Development Index (HDI) within the United States for 2016) (the lighter shade of blue the field, the lower the HDI for the respective state):

does hell exist

Based on the things stated above, it comes as no surprise at all that the state with the highest HDI (Massachusetts, 6.18) is also the state where the lowest percentage of people (38%) believe in Hell; on the other side of the spectrum, the state with the lowest HDI (Mississippi, 3.81) is also the state where the highest percentage of people (77%) think that Hell is real.

For those interested in some more statistics, here are two charts I made which show the correlation between Americans’ belief in Hell and their religious and political affiliations:

If I am allowed to work out a tentative conclusion based on the available data, I guess I should not be wrong to say that the most common American/believer in Hell is a Christian Republican living in a state with an average or below average human development index.

 5. Is Hell Real: A Closing Statement

So, is hell real?

No. Of course not.

At least not any more than Olympus or Valhalla – or Westeros, for that matter.

Simply put – no matter what anybody says – it can’t be: it is a literary creation which we know for sure to have evolved over the centuries from a vision of a place which indiscriminately houses the dead to one part of a Heaven/Hell dichotomy which aims to balance in the Afterlife the abundant injustices on Earth.

This conclusion comes with several interesting topics for further consideration; interestingly enough, most of them are ironies.

5.1 Hell Is Not Sheol

First of all, the Hell we all know came to be when, sometime near the beginning of the first millennium, Roman ideas of the Underworld (Virgil’s Aeneid) were appended to the chilling – but neutral – Jewish vision of Sheol, the-family-tomb-turned-afterlife-world.

That way, “The Old Testament” began retroactively accommodating a Hell which couldn’t have existed for the majority of Jews before the advent of Christianity, since their eschatological notions most commonly included a Judgment Day, i.e., an event in the future which should mark the separation of the Just and the Vile; until then – death is indiscriminate, and everybody shares the same fate after his time on earth.

So, even though people think that Hell originated in the Bible, the ones who wrote the bulk of it don’t believe in Hell: as opposed to 70% of the American Christians who believe in Hell and 76% of American Muslims who share this belief – only 22% of American Jews think that Hell is real. Interestingly enough, that’s less than the number of atheists: 30%!

5.2 Jesus in the Underworld: The Harrowing of Hell

Christians found a great way to insert the doctrine of (continually existing) Heaven/Hell into “The Old Testament”: simply put, they replicated the Judgement Day. If for Jews the Judgement Day is one and it has still not come – for most of the Christians, Christ has both already come and will come again.

Christ’s Second Coming differs not one bit from the Jewish idea of a Day of Reckoning: it should mark God’s final and eternal judgment of the people from every nation of the world.

However, since Christ’s First Coming was an all too important event to have no eschatological weight in itself, it should surprise nobody that Christians had to infer that some aspect of this final judgment must have already happened.

And that’s how the doctrine of Christ’s descent into Hades was devised, gloriously named the Harrowing of Hell.

The logic goes thus: between Christ’s Crucifixion and Resurrection, he visited Hell/Hades and saved the souls of all the righteous people who had died ever since the beginning of the world. Though controversial, this idea fits nicely within the existing narrative: even if initially the Underworld was indiscriminate and it housed both the righteous and the vile, it isn’t so since the First Coming of the Christ.

Of course, this creates a complication as well: if the righteous are already in Heaven and the wicked in Hell – and if one’s death means an immediate one-way trip in one of these two directions – then what’s the point in Christ coming one more time?

The Harrowing of Hell

Jacob van Swanenburgh – The Harrowing of Hell (source)

5.3 A Christian God and an Unchristian Hell

Because of complications much more profound than this – the most challenging being why should a benevolent God create a place for eternal torment for the people he himself created? – many theologians have pondered and discussed the idea of Hell ever since the Roman Empire.

Ironically, the vision we have inherited one can find neither in the Bible nor in the writings of most of these theologians; it is, as we said above, an inherently literary one, influenced immensely by the epics of Homer, Virgil, Dante, and Milton (who, naturally, influenced one another in that order).

However, the notion of divine retributive justice – upon which Hell is usually structured in the imagination of the modern man (via, say, Dante’s Inferno) – predates Christianity by millennia (say, the Code of Hammurabi) and is, in fact, at odds with its central idea of forgiveness.

– and fascinatingly – the very idea of Hell questions the Christianity of the Christian God. And it begs the question: should a Christian forgive a fellow who has done one some injustice, when his god obviously doesn’t?

5.4 The Ultimate Irony: From Real to Metaphysical and Back to Real Hell

However, in my humble opinion, this is not the ultimate irony; the ultimate irony is much more chilling than a theological conundrum or, for that matter, any vision of Hell. Because, at the end of the day, the very question “Is Hell real?” says much more about us than it says about anything else.

5.4.1 The Real Hell: Gehenna

First and foremost, it should be telling that the imagery associated with Hell in Abrahamic religions started emerging back at the time when there was no idea of a discriminate Afterlife.

Namely, even at the time when Sheol was supposed to be the final destination for both merciful King David (1 Kings 2:6) and merciless armor-clad warriors (Ezekiel 32:27), Gehenna was an accursed place on Earth unambiguously associated with the wicked; and even in the absence of a heavenly counterpart, it remained to be so.

It was when the imagery of Gehenna was interspersed with Hellenistic ideas of the Afterlife that Sheol metamorphosed into Hell. In Islam, in fact, Hell is called Jahannam, a word etymologically related to this Old Testament Gehenna.

It’s a striking irony when you start thinking about it: a small valley in Jerusalem where children were sacrificed by fire seemed such an abominable place to the eyes of the living that writers used the imagery (fire, false gods, punishments) to invent an Afterlife of eternal torment for the dead.

5.4.2 The Personalized Metaphysical Hell: Poetic Visions

In other words, the metaphysical actuality of Hell was shaped by the building blocks of physical reality. But this where it gets even more frightening: once that happened, Hell began an existence of its own. And while reality is bounding, imagination is limitless. So, writers started reimagining Hell over and over again – if only so that they can use it as a tool to further their own agendas.

Thus, Virgil used Aeneas’ trip to the Underground to advance the worldview of the Roman Empire: in the eternally green fields of Elysium (which is something like a Heaven inside Virgil’s Hell), Aeneas hears from his father a prophetic vision of the future destiny of Rome, which, among other things, celebrates the glory of the ruler which commissioned the writing of the Aeneid in the first place, Octavian Augustus, Rome’s first emperor.

Guided by Virgil, Dante went a step further and built a highly personalized version of Hell, in which many people suffer not because of their sins against humanity, but because of their sins against Dante himself.

And, ay, there’s the rub: every vision of Hell ever since (or before) is as personalized as Dante’s. And it is difficult to overemphasize the danger of this. The reason why the justice system is so complicated is due to the fact that almost nothing in real life is as simple as the distinction between black and white.

However, we sure would want it to be; and the Heaven/Hell dichotomy is the absolute metaphysical pinnacle of this (in terms of origin) primitive belief, which philosophers – and justly so – deem it an informal fallacy.

The effects?

As it usually happens when someone uses fallacies to argue something which can have actual effects – potentially terrifying.

5.4.3 The Real Hell and Jordan Peterson

And this brings me back to Jordan Peterson whom I mentioned in the Introduction:

In the video above – and elsewhere – Jordan Peterson says quite explicitly that even though he suspects that there may be some kind of metaphysical reality beyond the metaphor of Hell, he can’t really know if it actually exists.

And he also describes heaven-like experiences as pointers towards the way that things could be, saying that it’s incumbent on people to work as hard as they can, not to fall into Hell and drag people there with them and to work as diligently as possible to bring Heaven onto Earth as rapidly as possible.”

Now, one of postmodernism’s main contributions to the history of thought – one which Jordan Peterson unjustly and discriminatorily distorts – has been its attempt to question the stability of language. And sentences such as this prove why such an endeavor makes sense – as much as they prove why no intellectual living in the XXI century should allow himself to be unambiguous in relation to religious questions which have straightforward scientific answers.

Simply put, because not everybody shares the same visions of God and Satan, of Heaven and Hell. “I believe that I am acting in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator,” writes, after all, Adolf Hitler in Mein Kampf (London: Houghton Mifflin, 1969; p. 60), “by defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord.”

Unfortunately, that is something many perpetrators of crimes against humanity also believe: that they are Godsend Messiahs whose objective is to bring Heaven on Earth and take people with them; of course, in doing that, they are actually bringing their own version of Heaven on Earth; and this usually also means – by implication – someone else’s version of Hell.

Imagine that you’re Hitler and that you firmly believe that the Jews are devilish creatures that have brought upon the downfall of your world; now go back and read Jordan Peterson’s sentence once again.

That’s right: even though Peterson has no intention of saying that whatsoever (in fact, he’s saying the opposite), what you will actually hear is that it’s your obligation to proceed to the Final Solution.

5.4.4 “Hell is Other People”

Scott G. Bruce concludes his Introduction to The Penguin Book of Hell with this blood-curdling paragraph:

Despite the erosion of traditional religious beliefs in the modern era, Hell has survived and prospered. While the belief in Hell as an actual place has declined in recent centuries, the idea of Hell has endured as a dominant metaphor and, frighteningly, as an inspiration for how to treat other people. From the world wars and the Holocaust to the plight of prisoners and detainees, the political calamities of the modern world have increased the currency of the concept of Hell as a metaphor for torment and suffering. Although many modern people have turned their backs on a literal understanding of Hell as a place of future punishment, they nonetheless draw inspiration from imaginative traditions about the punitive afterlife to cause suffering to others in this present life, to ‘give them hell.’ The modern technologies and rational ways of thinking that supposedly mark our progress over earlier generations now allow us to commit mass murder and replicate infernal landscapes at the touch of a button; in an ironic reversal, we have become the very demons our ancestors trembled to meet when death foreclosed on their lives.

And this calls into mind a quote by Sartre from his play No Exit in which three deceased characters (Joseph Garcin, Estelle Rigault, and Inès Serrano) are punished for eternity by being locked into a room together. Near the end of the play, Joseph Garcin comes to a sudden realization:

All those eyes intent on me. Devouring me. What? Only two of you? I thought there were more; many more. So this is hell. I’d never have believed it. You remember all we were told about the torture-chambers, the fire, and brimstone, the ‘burning marl.’ Old wives’ tales! There’s no need for red-hot pokers. Hell is other people!

True, Sartre has something else on his mind – the existential dread of existing both as a subject and an object in someone else’s gaze – but, allow me to misuse him once again (after all, he has been misused numerous times before).

Because, dear Ferdinand, you’re right after all: hell is indeed empty, and all the devils are here. And in the eyes of other people – that includes us, as well.

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Breaking Free of Nehru PDF Summary

Breaking Free of Nehru PDFLet’s Unleash India!

Many countries are in chains because they fail to recognize the power emerging from the liberal movement.

Adhering to socialist principles induces corruption, and crashes individuality – the very embodiment of life.

In this book, you’ll find what it takes to let off the hook, and lay the foundations for a new India.

Who Should Read “Breaking Free of Nehru”? And Why?

The world had enough time to measure the benefits cropping up from both socialism and liberalism. We bear witness to what’s been done by now, and whether a change is required.

Breaking Free of Nehru” is, by all means, a life-altering book that will shift your perspective regarding India’s regulation and constitution.

About Sanjeev Sabhlok

Sanjeev SabhlokSanjeev Sabhlok is an Indian author and a person who endeavors to reform the corrupt Indian government and all its sub-branches.

He has obtained two MAs, in economics and a doctorate from the University of Southern California.

“Breaking Free of Nehru PDF Summary”

In his early days, the author recalls how he was affected by the ineffectiveness of the Indian society. Economy and production were plummeting, corruption was blossoming, and the people of India became an easy mark for dishonest politicians.  

Putting up a fight as an individual, without the support of the community is ridiculous. Sanjeev abandoned the Indian Administration and decided to cross swords with socialism – despite the odds. In the meantime, hardship was literally dispersed to every corner of the nation, and only a small portion of the population lives above the poverty line, even today.  

Nehru, one of India’s most notable figures of the 20th century is at the core of this masterpiece. Sanjeev talks about the socialist system, which breaks India from within for more than 60 years. Although Nehru merits all the praises for helping India to reform, the policies enforced in his time remain questionable to this day.

The socialist movement deprives people of their freedom, innateness, and creativity. Hence, even the most skillful personalities are not able to thrive on opportunities, leaving the economy on the brink of collapse.

Sanjeev gives his critical review of India, covering three crucial periods:

  • Pre-1757 – The pre-1757 era was arduous for the entire country. The people had limited rights, and freedom was basically removed from the dictionary.
  • 1757-1947 This period is filled with wars, and twists in the world. The era of the apartheid and colonization began to evaporate, and new nations emerge. Gandhi absorbed the role as the liberator of countries, but his vision didn’t live up to the expectations because India remains rooted to the spot.
  • Post-Independence – Sanjeev declared: Gaining independence is only the first step in creating a free nation. Due to the incompetence of Nehru and Indira Gandhi’s administration, India almost declared bankruptcy in 1991 and lost its influence in the world.

Advanced countries share elements, which represent the embodiment of freedom, such as:

  • They are human magnets
  • They don’t put pressure on the individual
  • They don’t fund nor support terrorism
  • They advocate for wealthiness
  • In general, people live longer

Socialism makes a stand against this new form of society and threatens to obstruct the free markets. All things considered, all people should receive equal treatment and follow a trail blazed by modern societies. To achieve that, India must:

  • Incite people to leverage the free markets.
  • Help those who still find it hard to rise above the poverty line.

India, as a country filled with diversity, realizes that modifying the Constitution is an uphill battle. Since 1949, India abides by the same legislation and regulation, even though it’s of great value to adjust the Constitution to emphasize freedom.

In order to do just that, the Indian society must pay heed to win the hearts of those oppressed by the regime. What’s key to make that happen:

  • A political majority, which is eager to embed liberty in all areas of public and private life.
  • Second, a society that is no longer neglected but fully immersed in the decision-making.

As we move forward through the book, Sanjeev introduces us with thought-provoking and often distorted reality by displaying “The Iceberg of Indian Corruption.” Three layers compose the inept Indian bureaucracy:

  • 1st Layer – Visible corruption
  • 2nd Layer – Hidden deep corruption
  • 3rd Layer – Hidden policy corruption

In the first place, the people of India must understand that political campaigns funded with dirty money cannot tackle corruption. It would be like, extinguishing a fire with gasoline. As we mentioned, the incompetent administration is just icing on the cake.

This cast doubt on the entire Indian population and raises the question – Is the problem in the implementation of policies, or their bad design? According to Sanjeev, the only route to tackling Nehruvian socialism is by enacting laws that will restrict the power of the bureaucrats.

To instigate a full-scale change, and help India rise again, several things must be accomplished:

  • Recruit the best candidates for any job
  • Give them support, to do the same down the chain
  • Create a network of leaders with integrity

Key Lessons from “Breaking Free of Nehru”

1.      Deal with shortages of food, water, and electricity
2.      Don’t let your guard down
3.      Support political parties with a limited budget

Deal with shortages of food, water, and electricity

As it turns out, to mitigate extreme poverty, people need to advocate for a systematic change, and that will automatically improve the implementation of policies.

In addition, the gap between the private and public sector needs to be closed in order to discourage bribes and shady activities.

Don’t let your guard down

Corrupt politicians don’t endorse a regulated change, because in doing so, they’ll lose their influence.

They even take possession of resources allocated for rural parts of India and do everything in their power to conceal their wrongdoings.

Support political parties with a limited budget

You don’t need us telling you, that India is practically overrun by corruption.

If you don’t merely want to be a pawn in the hands of an organized mafia, you should weigh your options.

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“Breaking Free of Nehru Quotes”

Freedom means each of us being held to account; no one can make the excuse that there was an error in not supplying what was promised, and get to walk away from a major discrepancy. Click To Tweet And therefore economic equality is associated only with those political ideologies which oppose freedom and which disrespect life. Click To Tweet India’s democracy clearly shows signs of early onset of mobocracy, with many communal elements elected to high positions in its Central or State Government(s). Click To Tweet No other well-established democracy generates super-corrupt, even criminal political leaders like ours does. Click To Tweet I mention this incident to suggest that we need to get out of our chronic habit of criticizing without taking action. We need to outline our preferred methods which will bring about the change we want. Click To Tweet

Our Critical Review

It is about time for India to say “No” to corruption. Changing the standards, however, must be done transparently, by disclosing the alarming numbers to the people.

We were impressed by Sanjeev’s open-mindedness and gift to nail down the issues tormenting the Indian society.

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Financial Reckoning Day PDF Summary

Financial Reckoning Day PDFSurviving the Soft Depression of the 21st Century

What if someone told you that there are serious indicators attesting that we are experiencing the beginning of the end of American capitalism?

And what if that same guy added that, in fact, American capitalism wasn’t that great to begin with – but just another case of plain old dumb luck?

You may have second thoughts whether you should listen to that guy even a second more – probably just another time-forsaken communist, right? – but William Bonner and Addison Wiggin are anything but.

And, at least at first glance, they offer a strong case in “Financial Reckoning Day.”

Who Should Read “Financial Reckoning Day”? And Why?

“Financial Reckoning Day” references almost everyone from Adam Smith to Robert Merton, and from Freud to Einstein. In other words, it’s not exactly an easy read, but, strangely enough, it’s not a difficult one either.

Those who are interested in economics will certainly find here many things to think about. Those who are not – may find a reason to be.

About William Bonner and Addison Wiggin

William BonnerWilliam “Bill” Bonner is an American author of articles and books on economic and financial topics.

He is also the founder and president of Agora Inc. and the driving force behind its email newsletter The Daily Reckoning.

Bonner has co-authored two bestsellers with Addison Wiggin, the other one being “The New Empire of Debt” (in two editions). In addition, he has co-authored “Mobs, Messiahs, and Markets” with Lila Rajiva and “Family Fortunes” with his son, Will Bonner.

Independently, he is the author of “Hormeggedon” and, most recently, “Dice Have No Memory.”

Addison WigginAddison Wiggin is an American financial author and filmmaker.

Executive publisher of Agora Financial, he is a long-time friend and collaborator of Bill Bonner, with whom he has co-authored two books.

In addition, he has co-authored “I.O.U.S.A.” (with Kate Incontrera) and written “Demise of the Dollar” and “The Little Book of the Shrinking Dollar.”

“Financial Reckoning Day PDF Summary”

Back in 1989, Francis Fukuyama published a widely discussed essay titled “The End of History?” on the pages of the renowned international affairs journal, “The National Interest.”

Inspired by the events happening in Eastern Europe and Germany at the time, Fukuyama had an interesting case to make:

What we may be witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing of a particular period of post-war history, but the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.

One dot-com bubble and another financial crisis later, and not even Fukuyama himself currently believes his barely three decades old own prediction! In fact, in retrospect, it couldn’t have been further from the truth!

The truth – in the opinion of Bill Bonner and Addison Wiggin – has much more to do with luck than it has to do with smart organization.

Let’s look at the twentieth century, they say, but this time, without prejudice or partiality.

The United States currently accounts for about one-fifth of the world’s economy, but back in 1870 it accounted for no more than a tenth – a little less than what the United Kingdom did at the time; China accounted for more than twice as much.

The US economy grew during the next half a century, and most of the other economies stagnated, which resulted in the country being one of the richest in the world before the start of the First World War.

However, neither that war, nor the next one, were as gentle to USA’s competitors as they had been to the United States themselves.

As you probably already know, the US lost about half a million people in both wars combined and emerged from them without a single decimated city. For comparison, France lost six million people in World War I and the Soviet Union and Germany at least thrice as much in the Second World War only.

Needless to add, whole cities were ravaged throughout Eurasia, and industrial complexes had been irretrievably devasted.

In a nutshell, even though the United States did become the largest national economy in the 20th century, don’t you think that another European country would have achieved something similar if it hadn’t been bombarded and

What followed next was the Cold War during which – and don’t forget that – the Soviet Union was surely an enemy to fear from: its often ridiculed economy accounted for 20% of the world’s GDP in 1966!

At that time, the Soviets – and even the North Koreans! – believed that communism has brought not only the end of capitalism but the end of history as well. But we all know how that ended two decades later, don’t we?

Cue for rereading the Fukuyama quote above.

Notice the cycle?

Things are going great, everybody believes in progress and ultimate victory, and then everything goes down in blood and mud and flames!

Well, brace yourself for a somewhat similar future!

How do Bonner and Wiggin know this?

Well, because the US economy seems to freakishly closely mirror the Japanese economic miracle, offset by a decade.

The Japanese bull market began in 1971; the US in 1981. Stock market value increased by 500% by 1985 in Japan and by 1995 in the United States. Within the next five years, it increased three-fold in both countries, peaking in 1990 in Japan and at the turn of the millennium in the United States.

Who would have guessed back then – when everybody was investing in everything with .com at the end – that merely a year and a half later, the U.S. stock market would drop about 30%! The Japanese, interestingly, lost almost the same amount of value by the third quartal of 1991.

Supposedly, the Americans fared better during the next decade because of their consumerism: tight-fisted spending should have been the thing that hurt Japan.

But it isn’t: it’s simply the way the current economic system works. Too much optimism is never a good thing, especially if history has been kind to you; because it will certainly come back and hit you on the head.

Don’t forget: this book was written before the financial crisis of 2008 which it all but predicts: “…when those bubbles burst, it’s going to be worse than the stock market bubble, because there are many more people who are involved in consumption and housing.”

Key Lessons from “Financial Reckoning Day”

1.      The Cold War Was a Battle Between Myths
2.      The Trouble of the Market
3.      The Damning Relation Between Economics and Demography

The Cold War Was a Battle Between Myths

You’ve already heard a lot about how the idea of a communist society was always a myth. However, barely half a century ago, a large part of the world firmly believed in this myth.

Well, capitalism is another myth based on the very same premise: the one of constant progress.

Constant progress is impossible and the fact that the US has experienced it for a century is merely evidence that things will soon deteriorate.

In a nutshell: don’t believe all those George Gilders out there!

The Trouble of the Market

The case of LTCM should be a lesson for everybody: the market is irrational, and there’s no way to predict it. In the words of Keynes, it can stay irrational much longer than an investor can remain solvent:

The trouble is that the market may look mechanistic, but it is not. The market is an unbounded, organic system; mastering it is a human science, not a hard science.

The Damning Relation Between Economics and Demography

Historian Jack Andrew Goldstone, in his book “Revolution and Rebellion in the Early Modern World,” argues that the fall of three empires (the Ottoman, the Chinese, and the Japanese) occurred because of population growth.

Currently, we have one even more serious problem: in the developed world, old people live far too long for the current social institutions to work.

Will we learn how to be flexible before it’s too late?

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“Financial Reckoning Day Quotes”

History shows that people who save and invest grow and prosper, and the others deteriorate and collapse. Click To Tweet

Policies being pursued at the Fed are making the bubble worse. They are changing it from a stock market bubble to a consumption and housing bubble. Click To Tweet

The consumer was the last man standing in the U.S. economy. Greenspan was compelled to do all he could to hold him upright, even if he was already dead. Click To Tweet

The average boomer came of prime ’stock-buying’ age in the years when all good things seemed not just possible, but inevitable. Click To Tweet

Most economists will tell you that the economic system is controlled by mood changes at the Fed. Click To Tweet

Our Critical Review

“Financial Reckoning Day” was first published a decade and a half ago and, in few years’ time, one of its predictions came true: the United States (and the world) was hit by a serious financial crisis.

Now, if Bonner and Wiggin are right, that’s bound to happen again; and again; and again.

So, excuse us for reserving our judgment for now.

Because if it does, then this one will definitely go down in history as one of the most prophetic and visionary economics books ever written.

If, however, it doesn’t, then “Financial Reckoning Day” is hardly anything more than those apocalyptic religious prophecies (not that dissimilar from the Mayan 2012 phenomenon) which tend to scare a few people from time to time before turning into ingenious memes and the laughing-stock of multitudes.

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Strangers in Their Own Land PDF Summary

Strangers in Their Own Land PDFAnger and Mourning on the American Right: A Journey to the Heart of Our Political Divide

The American Dream – unfortunately – is a bit deadish for millions of Americans.

According to Arlie Russell Hochschild, some of them feel like “Strangers in Their Own Land.”

But not for the reasons you would expect.

Who Should Read “Strangers in Their Own Land”? And Why?

As Christopher H. Achen and Larry M. Bartels demonstrated a while ago, unfortunately, elections don’t produce responsive governments even in the most democratic societies.

And the reason is fairly simple: the people who vote don’t really understand what they are voting for.

Since that’s basically the reason why Hochschild wrote “Strangers in Their Own Land,” this is a book which should certainly interest you if you want to understand better the voting psychology of the common man.

However, it will interest you even more if you are a student of sociology or politics, or if you are interested in the nature of the current American society.

Since even more interesting that the reason behind Hochschild writing “Strangers in Their Own Land” are the results of her study.

About Arlie Russell Hochschild

Arlie Russell HochschildArlie Russell Hochschild is an American sociologist and academic.

A Professor Emerita of sociology at the University of California, Berkeley, she has spent decades studying the links between human emotions and moral beliefs as well as private troubles and social issues.

She has authored nine books, few of which – such as “The Managed Heart” and “The Second Shift” – have been either nominated or won important awards.

“Strangers in Their Own Land” was a finalist for the National Book Award.

“Strangers in Their Own Land PDF Summary”

After Mississippi, Louisiana is the second-poorest state in the Union. It is also the one which relies more heavily on federal funding than any other state barring the only one poorer than it.

Interestingly enough, it’s also the country which hands out a greater percentage of “taxpayer money than any other state.”

And that is merely one aspect of the Great Paradox Hochschild discovered while interviewing numerous Louisiana supporters of the conservative Tea Party movement within the Republican Party:

Across the country, red states are poorer and have more teen mothers, more divorce, worse health, more obesity, more trauma-related deaths, more low-birth-weight babies, and lower school enrollment. On average, people in red states die five years earlier than people in blue states. Indeed, the gap in life expectancy between Louisiana (75.7) and Connecticut (80.8) is the same as that between the United States and Nicaragua. Red states suffer more in another highly important but little-known way, one that speaks to the very biological self-interest in health and life: industrial pollution.

In a nutshell, most people living in Louisiana are poor, and many of them die of pollution-related cancer issues, but they still vote for politicians who oppose pollution-related regulations and government aid.

Now, why would they do that?

Why would the country with the highest cancer rates in the United States re-elect Bobby Jindal in a landslide in 2011 even though most of his policies in the previous term had included awarding billions of dollars of incentives to petrochemical industries?

It’s basically like they are paying for their own executions!

Interestingly enough, the big oil companies know and abuse this!

Interviewing one of them, Hochschild has found out that certain towns possess a few qualities which make them the ideal place for the opening of an oil plant.

Populated by long-term residents who are devout Christians lacking education past high school, most of Louisiana’s towns fit the categories perfectly.

In addition to the natural resources, this is the main reason why oil companies settle in Louisiana: it’s difficult to open an oil plant near somebody who understands the risks of pollution. Which means that, as far as the oil companies are concerned, the phenomenal tax-free business opportunities offered by Jindal are basically just a cherry on the top!

Louisiana has profited not one bit of them: in fact, studies have shown that the state has lost more money than it has earned. Not to mention that it has been the site of serious ecological atrocities which have directly claimed the lives of many.

Just consider the aftereffects of the Bayou Corne Sinkhole which was created in 2012 when the Texas Brine company, contrary to government regulations, decided to drill into an underground salt dome and unintentionally drilled through a side wall.

The sinkhole had spread to 37 acres by 2015 releasing toxins all around and necessitating the relocation of the entire community.

All but two members of a family living nearby eventually died from cancer, just like most of their animals. Even the cypress trees suffered the same destiny.

So, why are these people still supporting regulation-free business ventures?

Simply put, the problem is that humans are not “thinking machines which feel,” but “feeling machines which think.” And that, as Jonathan Haidt argues in “The Righteous Mind,” different people have different ideas of what morality actually means.

As we learned from Haidt, the one shared by the blue-collar workers of Louisiana is based on loyalty, authority, and sanctity – things which the liberal media (advocating care and fairness) scoffs at.

However, as Hochschild discovered, the morality of the members of the Tea Party Movement in Louisiana is not something to be scoffed at, but something to be analyzed and understood.

Because it has deep cultural roots that go way back to the American Civil War, which, in the opinion of most Southerners, led to them forcibly changing their ways of life.

And this – in their opinion – happened once again during the Civil Rights Movement which, supposedly, marginalized the white farmers of the South once again.

Most of the interviewed people believe that this has gone on to this very day, regardless of whether it’s about the Southerners’ religion or their preference of American soldiers to Syrian refugees.

Backed by the misrepresentation of FOX News, the election of Barack Obama was merely the icing on the cake: the final piece of the evidence which proved to the citizens of Louisiana that nobody cares for them, even though, being hardworking white citizens, they have been the backbone of the country’s success for centuries.

In layman’s terms, the people of Louisiana hate the government because they think that it gives minorities more rights and opportunities to realize the American Dream than it gives them.

So, in their point of view, they are currently living the way the African-Americans did in the past.

Key Lessons from “Strangers in Their Own Land”

1.      Red-State Voters Need the Government More – But They Like It Less
2.      The Tea Party Movement Feels That White American Southerners Are Marginalized
3.      Partyism Is Officially the New Racism

Red-State Countries Need the Government More – But They Like It Less

You’d expect that the poorer a state is, the more democratic it should be. After all, it’s the Democrats who believe that big businesses have too much money and power and it’s them who advocated and support policies of redistribution of wealth.

However, the very opposite is the case. It seems that the poorer a state is, the more neglected it feels, and (in one of the worst Catch-22 cases) the more inclined it is to support policies which keep its dreadful status quo.

The Tea Party Movement Feels That White American Southerners Are Marginalized

The above is the main reason why most of the people living in Louisiana are not just Republicans, but supporters of the even more conservative Tea Party Movement.

In their opinion, they are strangers in their own land, since the policies of the Federal Government favor women, racial minorities, and immigrants, who “cut in their lines” on their way to achieving the American Dream.

And it is the Dream that (as far as they are concerned) they have established.

Partyism Is Officially the New Racism

Here’s one frightening statistic from this book:

In 1960, when a survey asked American adults whether it would ‘disturb’ them if their child married a member of the other political party, no more than 5 percent of either party answered ‘yes.’ But in 2010, 33 percent of Democrats and 40 percent of Republicans answered ‘yes.’ In fact, partyism, as some call it, now beats race as the source of divisive prejudice.

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“Strangers in Their Own Land Quotes”

The Tea Party was not so much an official political group as a culture, a way of seeing and feeling about a place and its people. Click To Tweet

Louisiana was poor before oil came, and we’re poor today. (Via Dr. Paul Templer). Click To Tweet

One has the police to protect one’s property, Rush Limbaugh to protect one’s pride and God to take care of the rest. Click To Tweet

Louisianans are actually victims, doing emotional work and suffering damages so that we can all have the products of the petrochemical industry. Click To Tweet

Louisianans are sacrificial lambs to the entire American industrial system. Click To Tweet

Our Critical Review

“Strangers in Their Own” is more than a profound insight into the psychology of American right-wing voters. It is also a plea for empathy and understanding.

Which makes this book more than one of the most brilliant sociological studies of the last couple of years.

Namely, an essential read.

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Nothing to Envy PDF Summary

Nothing to Envy PDFOrdinary Lives in North Korea

Care to learn a bit more about the history of the most mysterious country in the world?

If so, welcome to North Korea, possibly the only developed nation “that has fallen out of the developed world.”

Barbara Demick shares her deep knowledge of the country in “Nothing to Envy.”

Who Should Read “Nothing to Envy”? And Why?

Nothing to Envy” is a rather curious book, written somewhat in the manner of Dave Eggers’ “What Is the What. Meaning: it is a nonfiction book, but it has numerous fictional elements, if not in terms of facts, certainly in terms of style.

So, even though it’s based from cover to cover on Barbara Demick’s interviews with 100 real-life North Korean defectors – and especially focuses its attention on six of them – you can read much of it as if a fact-based novel.

Which, we believe, makes the book appealing to both historians and fiction-lovers alike.

Needless to add, those interested in North Korea’s past and current ways of life and those who want to learn more about the destinies of its defectors will enjoy this book the most.

If you are one of them, be sure to check out “Without You, There Is No Us” and “Escape from Camp 14,” two books which share many similarities with Demick’s.  

About Barbara Demick

Barbara DemickBarbara Demick is an American journalist, the Beijing bureau chief of the “Los Angeles Times” ever since a decade ago.

A correspondent for “Philadelphia Inquirer” in Eastern Europe between 1993 and 1997, Demick first reached prominence as the author of a series of articles following the lives of the regular people in Sarajevo during the Bosnian War.

These formed the basis for her first book, “Logavina Street,” which was published in 1996. Though published a decade and a half later, “Nothing to Envy” is Demick’s second book.

“Nothing to Envy PDF Summary”

If you look at satellite photographs of the far east by night,” writes Barbara Demick in the first sentence of “Nothing to Envy,” you’ll see a large splotch curiously lacking in light. this area of darkness is the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

In case you haven’t seen one so far – and you wonder if Demick is exaggerating a bit – please, be our guest and see if you can find North Korea on this satellite photograph.

The strangest thing: this wasn’t always the case! And it’s not like North Korea never had an electrical network. In fact, just half a century ago, it’s GDP per capita – which (never forget) doesn’t mean quality of life as well – was about the same as that of its southern neighbor, the other Korea.

So, what happened in the meantime?

How did North Korea fell so spectacularly from grace?

Well, the truth is that its rise was kind of peculiar to begin with. North Korea was nothing more but an unimportant Japanese colony for the most part of the first half of the twentieth century.

Then came the Second World War and, then, the actual creation of two separate countries on the Korean Peninsula.

The reason?

Because the Americans and the Soviets said so!

In order to appease the Soviet Union, two American officers (Charles Bonesteel and Dean Rusk) divided the Korean peninsula along the 38th parallel for basically no reason whatsoever other than the fact that this parallel neatly divided the peninsula in half.

Three years later, both Koreas were allowed independence by the two superpowers, but neither of the two governments (the communist one led by Kim Il-sung and the capitalist fronted by Syngman Rhee) thought it just to control merely one part of the peninsula.

So, incited and helped by the Soviets, North Korea tried to occupy South Korea just two years after these two became countries, which provoked a counter-reaction by the United States and 15 other nations.

Three years later, the Korean War ended achieving next to nothing: the border barely moved in either direction, the 3 million victims – futile symbols of the absurdity of one of history’s most meaningless conflicts.

After the war, Kim Il-sung divided the supposedly egalitarian communist society into three provisional categories: the selected loyal core, the indecisive few and the numerous and numerous hostiles.

Every North Korean citizen had to go through eight background checks before being assigned a certain status – or songbun – according to which he or she would later receive adequate responsibilities or even amounts of food.

Just like most of the other communist countries, Kim Il-sung introduced the cult of personality and an elaborate system of persistent ideological training which lasts to this day:

North Korea invites parody. We laugh at the excesses of the propaganda and the gullibility of the people. But consider that their indoctrination began in infancy, during the fourteen-hour days spent in factory day-care centers; that for the subsequent fifty years, every song, film, newspaper article, and billboard was designed to deify Kim Il-sung; that the country was hermetically sealed to keep out anything that might cast doubt on Kim Il-sung’s divinity. Who could possibly resist?

North Korea’s official state ideology is called Juche and is a variant of Stalin’s revision of Lenin’s original idea of a world communist revolution. It isn’t merely “socialism in one country,” but it’s basically “socialism in only one country.”

Namely, Kim Il-sung – who developed the ideology – firmly believed that the North Koreans don’t need anybody to be great, and that, as a children’s song from a 1970 film would later claim, that they have nothing to envy in the world:

It is in this idea of self-reliance that North Korean isolation was begotten. However, in time, things changed dramatically and suddenly it was the isolation that made sure that North Korea had no way of moving forward with the same government but by being self-reliant: “the strength of the regime,” notes at one place Demick, “came from its ability to isolate its own citizens completely.”

The trigger for the dramatic changes was, expectedly, the collapse of the Soviet Union. Without its help, the North Korean economy could not stay afloat.

Suddenly, North Korea had neither supplies nor electricity – in 1991, energy imports fell by 75%! – but did have large debts to both Russia and China.

To make matters worse, the last years of Kim Il-sung’s reign were marked by few bad harvests, which meant that the first year after his death, the great North Korean famine – known as the Arduous March began.

During the next four years, as many as 3 million North Koreans died of hunger and hunger-related issues, more than one-tenth of North Korea’s total population!

Kim Il-sung’s son, Kim Jong-il, had to admit that North Korea suffers from a severe food shortage and in September 1995 a UN relief team entered the country.

Five years later, Kim Jong-il had to legalize the black market which emerged during the course of the famine, but it was too little too late: most of the North Koreans had realized that they were living in a lie.

And that’s when they started defecting to (mostly) South Korea and China.

The stories of some of these defectors recounted in “Nothing to Envy” reveal that North Korea hasn’t changed one bit even under Kim Jong-un whom you may know as the “little rocket man.”

Key Lessons from “Nothing to Envy”

1.      In North Korea, You Are Defined by Your Songbun
2.      Juche Is the Official North Korean State Ideology
3.      The Majority of North Korean Defectors Are Women

In North Korea, You Are Defined by Your Songbun

Songbun – or officially chulsin-songbun – is the system North Korea uses to ascribe a social status to its citizens.

It works something like that “Nosedive” episode from “Black Mirror” only it’s much more real and deep: North Koreans go through eight background checks which include an analysis of the economic history and the behavior of their direct ancestors and relatives!

In short, if your grandparent was a dissident – you are a potential enemy of the state.

Juche Is the Official North Korean State Ideology

North Koreans are taught that they are genetically predetermined to be the only egalitarian socialist country in the world.

Believe it or not, according to the official state ideology called Juche, North Korea has nothing to envy the world!

Of course it hasn’t.

The Majority of North Korean Defectors Are Women

The easiest way to leave North Korea is if you sell yourself as a wife (read: slave) to a Chinese citizen.

75% of North Korean defectors have done exactly that!

Apparently, it’s better to be a slave in China, than a free citizen of North Korea!

Now that we believe.

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“Nothing to Envy Quotes”

Dogs in China ate better than doctors in North Korea. Click To Tweet

The more there was to complain about, the more important it was to ensure that nobody did. Click To Tweet

As her students were dying, she was supposed to teach them that they were blessed to be North Korean. Click To Tweet

The strength of the regime came from its ability to isolate its own citizens completely. Click To Tweet

Listening to South Korean television was like looking in the mirror for the first time in your life and realizing you were unattractive. Click To Tweet

Our Critical Review

A sort of a North Korean “Gulag Archipelago,” “Nothing to Envy” juggles brilliantly between objectively recounting the history of North Korea and movingly telling the chilling personal stories of its victims.

A real “tour de force of meticulous reporting”!

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Slavery by Another Name PDF Summary

Slavery by Another Name PDFThe Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II

How many times have we heard about the exploitation and killings of Jews, and just bypassing the destiny of the African-Americans?

Although organized extermination was never the goal; slavery was seen as the quickest way of becoming rich.

Let’s see what Douglas has to say.

Who Should Read “Slavery by Another Name”? And Why?

If the name Nelson Mandela doesn’t ring any bells, then you are not of this Planet. Let’s assume that you’ve heard about his fight against the Apartheid and which granted him 27 Years in Prison.

This book bears a different name, but it’s written with an equally powerful purpose. In our humble opinion “Slavery by Another Name” doesn’t focus on anti-white rhetoric, but on social justice.

Anyone who thinks otherwise should indulge in reading it.

About Douglas A. Blackmon

Douglas A. BlackmonDouglas A. Blackmon is an American journalist and an award-winning author born on September 6th, 1964.

“Slavery by Another Name PDF Summary”

Blackmon digs deep in World History, and as a reporter decides to provoke the Wall Street Journal by asking a series of questions that make every person raise its eyebrows over the money-making methods.

He refers to in particular the idea of putting the British and American Imperial interests on the same wavelength as the German Policies during WW2. In other words, is the business/world community prepared to “bestow” the same level of disgust upon US Corporations as they did on the Swiss Banks and German Companies.

It’s no surprise that the history is written by the victorious, and this biased approach leaves people blinded by the ideas enforced upon them. The Holocaust was not only the cold-blooded execution of millions of Jews but also a well-planned robbery.  

Anyway, Douglas turns his attention over to Corporate Policies that in the post-Civil-War period relied on Black Labor Force to achieve their goals and quotas. In general, this was Douglas’ main trigger, which inflamed the burning desire and passion for writing about this “abandoned” course of history.

Although Blackmon covers a lot more than just the life of a single person, the storyline is built and revolves around Green Cottenham – a young African-American man. What’s even more shocking is that the historical records of this individual are scarce, which puts additional weight on the problem.

According to the author, depriving Cottenham of his voice, rights, needs, and urges is what lies at the center of this trilogy. From today’s perspective, we know very little of Cottenham’s life. But that doesn’t lead to any sort of discouragement regarding the idea of digging up of what has remained of his “journey.”

From the information gathered, Cottenham’s day of birth is still up in the air. He was born in the late 19th century, to two former “incarcerated” slaves who shared the same fate in the South. In 1908, the Alabama State Penitentiary archive records show that Cottenham was arrested on charges of vagrancy.

Let’s clear up the confusion – this means: A dog running around without a master. However horrifying this sounds, this destiny was shared among many African Americans who were robbed of their freedom for the same reasons.

The State of Alabama sent a notice to the Penitentiary Facilities to “rent” African Americans that are detained in prisons on unclear charges. They were needed in coal mines to work for U.S. Steel Corporation, where many of them had their final breath.

Cottenham died while being worked to death.

As you may already have guessed it, this new form of captivity is what Blackmon calls “Industrial Slavery.” It’s within the context of robbing someone of his will and way of life. The cotton fields were replaced by factories, where many people met their end.

Although, The Thirteenth Amendment released all slaves from the lashes of their masters; many Southerners found new ways to restrict the political, social and economic freedom of African-Americans. The South known for its racial rhetoric and through the governmental bodies decided to deviate from the laws enforced about abolishing slavery, and invented terms to keep African-Americans obedient.

Jail acted as the primary weapon for labeling these figures as crime-oriented personalities in need of social education.

Exploitation even after The Thirteenth Amendment happened on a colossal scale, as Blacks were being detained for no good reason. Worked and sometimes starved to exhaustion on plantations, factories, coal mines, and lumber camps.

The evidence of this unethical and inhumane behavior can be found anywhere. The former Governor of Georgia who accumulated great wealth through his “convict and socializing program,” is just one of them.

Eugene Reese was among the few who endeavored in putting the responsible parties behind bars, who orchestrated this whole process. Under federal laws, he had the right to do so, but his efforts bore very few fruits because such policies and rhetorics were not “popular” at the time.

Excluding the Blacks from the social life, was not something seen as an injustice, especially in the South, so the prosecution was left empty-handed.

The slave tendencies put a strain on the relations between various communities within the country, and at the height of WW2, the country required unity. So, the racial issues slightly loosened at the time. Military action was crucial, and mobilization was underway.

Key Lessons from “Slavery by Another Name”

1.      We need sincerity
2.      You reap what you sow
3.      New way, new life

We need sincerity

Blackmon doesn’t feel that a royal apology, nor pardon would do the job.

He believes that it’s vital to acknowledge the fact that the Blacks were demonized and used for personal agendas.

This is the only way to put all the differences aside and create a society in which every life counts.

You reap what you sow

If the world continues to perceive the world through the lens of judgment, we will reap sorrow and conflicts.

Building a better place requires a higher awareness that no longer divides people based on their status, political background, nationality, religion, skin color, etc.

New way, new life

Have we learned something? Are we walking down the same road or take different ones? All things considered, this compelling book should incite an inner change.

Go with the flow, and understand life as a basic human right to live/go/do/think as you please.

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“Slavery by Another Name Quotes”

the account of how a form of American slavery persisted into the twentieth century, embraced by the U.S. economic system and abided at all levels of government, offered a concrete answer to that fear for the first time. Click To Tweet How had so large a population of Americans disappeared into largely unrecorded oblivion of poverty and obscurity? Click To Tweet Compelled to help arm the troops fighting to preserve his enslavement. Click To Tweet In the eyes of the vast majority of white Americans, the refusal of the southern states to fully free or enfranchize former slaves and their descendants was not an issue worthy of any further disruption to the civil stability of the… Click To Tweet

Our Critical Review

As much as we loved reading “Long Walk to Freedom,” we share a slightly higher affection for this one. To amplify our answer – this is something no one has ever talked about.

We all know about the slavery, but the idea of unveiling other subtler forms appeared just in time.

We give our thumbs up!

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The Structure of Scientific Revolutions PDF Summary

The Structure of Scientific Revolutions PDFHave you heard of something called “paradigm shift”?

Of course you have: it’s mentioned in every second “Big Bang Theory” episode.

Well, this is the book where that phrase was first invented:

Thomas Kuhn’s immensely influential “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.”

Who Should Read “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions”? And Why?

“When it was first published in 1962,” – states the blurb on the 50th-anniversary edition of “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions” – it was a landmark event in the history and philosophy of science. Fifty years later, it still has many lessons to teach.

In other words, this is a landmark book: one that has changed the way we understand a certain thing once and for all, and one that will, most probably, never get old.

It is required reading in most curricula for students of philosophy, history, or science. It should be required reading for anyone interested in the history of thought or how progress happens.

Thomas KuhnAbout Thomas Kuhn

Thomas Samuel Kuhn was an American philosopher of science, historian, and physicist, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

He is most famous for his 1962 landmark study, “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions,” which not only radically changed the way humans think about scientific progress, but it also questioned the very concept of “objectivity” in the world of science.

Kuhn’s other books include “The Copernican Revolution” and “Black-Body Theory and the Quantum Discontinuity, 1894-1912.”

He died from lung cancer at the age of 73, on June 17, 1996.

“The Structure of Scientific Revolutions PDF Summary”

Since science organizes our knowledge of the world “in the form of testable explanations,” it’s only natural that one assumes that its progress is incremental.

In other words, if an explanation is scientific, that means that it is essentially true, which, in turn, implies that every other explanation must not be contradictory to it and merely build upon and add to the already established knowledge.

However, that doesn’t explain how Ernst Mach was able to resurrect Leibniz’s explanations of space and time and, even less, how, once Einstein came along, suddenly none of the previously existent scientific theories were correct?

What about the centuries between?

What about the geocentric universe and the ether theories? Some of the greatest minds in histories believed and tried testing those? How did they end up being mere myths?

If these out-of-date beliefs are to be called myths,” interrupts Thomas Kuhn, “then myths can be produced by the same sorts of methods and held for the same sorts of reasons that now lead to scientific knowledge.

Wait a second!

That’s a bit controversial, isn’t it?

Because doesn’t that imply that some of our existent scientific theories may be about as correct explanations of life and the universe as Lamarckism and pre-Copernicus models of the cosmos?

Interestingly enough, as Kuhn convincingly argues, it does.

(But hold your horses there, buddy: evolution is here to stay!)

Now, how can that be?

Well, to understand Kuhn’s explanation better, you must first do away completely with your preconceived ideas of what it means to be a scientific innovator.

Because, if history has taught us anything, an innovator isn’t someone who works with a specific goal in mind: most innovations actually happen by mistake.

And there’s a reason for that!

You see, to become a scientist, you need to study a lot. And what is studying if not acquiring the wisdom of your predecessors.

Kuhn calls this wisdom a scientific paradigm, a phrase he uses to refer to the shared framework of knowledge and accepted theories a new scientist operates within. This framework is vast and highly networked, but it is never capable of encompassing everything.

It is in the gaps of the existent framework where most of the normal science happens.

Normal science – writes Kuhn – the activity in which most scientists inevitably spend almost all their time, is predicated on the assumption that the scientific community knows what the world is like.

Or to explain this in an even more vivid manner:

Under normal conditions the research scientist is not an innovator but a solver of puzzles, and the puzzles upon which he concentrates are just those which he believes can be both stated and solved within the existing scientific tradition.

Put simply, most scientists do experiments the results of which they can guess in advance; that’s why most experiments start with a hypothesis.

As Thomas Kuhn says, “The man who is striving to solve a problem defined by existing knowledge and technique is not… just looking around. He knows what he wants to achieve, and he designs his instruments and directs his thoughts accordingly.”

In case you think any differently, just ask yourself: would you be granted any money from a respected scientific fund if you proposed an experiment which should prove that we live in a simulated universe and that we are basically just characters in a game?

No, you’ll have to start a Kickstarter campaign to do that – because the existing scientific paradigm says that something like that is all but impossible.

Which brings us to the main point of Kuhn’s book:

Unanticipated novelty, the new discovery, can emerge only to the extent that [an innovator’s] anticipations about nature and his instruments prove wrong… There is no other effective way in which discoveries might be generated.

To give you an example of this:

A few years back, scientists at the CERN research center in Geneva – more or less established to experimentally prove Einstein’s theory of relativity – announced that they had managed to observe faster-than-light neutrinos!

In the existing Einsteinian scientific paradigm – the one which has helped organize our existing knowledge so well – there is no such thing as speeds faster than light.

So, the observation had to be either an anomalous one or one which proves Einstein wrong.

Many scientists vehemently claimed the former, since the latter would mean that we are operating within a wrong scientific paradigm.

In the end, it turned out that they were right, but many times in history the conservative scientific parties end up on the losing side.

In other words, the anomaly questions the existing scientific paradigm and ushers a new era, the era of extraordinary science.

If proven right by the revolutionaries, then the anomaly becomes the basis of a new scientific paradigm, and a paradigm shift occurs.

Now, suddenly, there’s a new jigsaw puzzle waiting to be solved, and scientists start using their old instruments to see new things.

It’s like that duck-rabbit illusion: once an anomaly inaugurates a paradigm shift, scientists start seeing the same information in a completely different manner.

And they reshape the world.

Key Lessons from “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions”

1.      Scientific Progress Is Not Incremental
2.      Paradigm Shifts Are the Result of an Anomaly
3.      Novices, Science Welcomes Your Amateurism

Scientific Progress Is Not Incremental

Science is not linear accumulation of knowledge.

It’s, in fact, progressing in leaps – from one paradigm to another.

The moment Copernicus appeared, the geocentric model was made obsolete; but once we understood the structure of the Milky Way, Copernicus’ heliocentric model was suddenly unscientific as well.

Paradigm Shifts Are the Result of an Anomaly

Most of the time, scientist work within an existing paradigm – a shared body of knowledge, a framework of accepted theories – trying to fill in the existing gaps via experiments.

But once they encounter an anomaly, they are incited to reconsider the existing paradigm.

And that’s when paradigm shifts – radical changes – occur!

Novices, Science Welcomes Your Amateurism

If paradigm shifts happen only when an existing paradigm is questioned, then scientific progress may depend largely on the unconservative novices:

Almost always the men who achieve these fundamental inventions of a new paradigm have been either very young or very new to the field whose paradigm they change. And perhaps that point need not have been made explicit, for obviously these are the men who, being little committed by prior practice to the traditional rules of normal science, are particularly likely to see that those rules no longer define a playable game and to conceive another set that can replace them.

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“The Structure of Scientific Revolutions Quotes”

Novelty ordinarily emerges only for the man who, knowing with precision what he should expect, is able to recognize that something has gone wrong. Click To Tweet

Truth emerges more readily from error than from confusion. Click To Tweet

Science does not develop by the accumulation of individual discoveries and inventions. Click To Tweet

Unanticipated novelty, the new discovery, can emerge only to the extent that his anticipations about nature and his instruments prove wrong. Click To Tweet

To reject one paradigm without simultaneously substituting another is to reject science itself. Click To Tweet

Our Critical Review

“The Structure of Scientific Revolutions” caused great controversy very soon after it was published since many felt that science is much more objective and scientific than Thomas Kuhn’s book suggests. And even half a century later, numerous scholars keep questioning its core concepts.

However, many others believe that Thomas Kuhn’s book has radically and irretrievably changed the way the world looks at science and that, consequently, it produced the paradigm shift it discusses.

If you’re making a list of books to read before you die,” – the latter think – “Kuhn’s masterwork is one.

We agree with them.

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Guns, Germs, and Steel PDF Summary

Guns, Germs, and Steel PDFA Short History of Everybody for the Last 13,000 Years

You’ve read that right:

Guns, Germs, and Steel” tells everything about everybody.

In 500 pages.

Here summarized in about 1,500 words!

Who Should Read “Guns, Germs, and Steel”? And Why?

The main reason why Jared Diamond wrote “Guns, Germs, and Steel” was a conversation he had with a New Guinean politician called Yali.

Yali asked Diamond: “Why is it that you white people developed so much cargo and brought it to New Guinea, but we black people had little cargo of our own?”

If you want to find out the answer to this question – then read “Guns, Germs, and Steel.”

Because this book does give the most widely accepted one.

Jared DiamondAbout Jared Diamond

Jared Mason Diamond is an American polymath (geographer, physiologist, biologist, anthropologist) and the author of many popular science books, such as “The Third Chimpanzee” and “Why Is Sex Fun?”

A professor of geography at UCLA, he is one of the most influential public intellectuals in the world.

Read more at http://www.jareddiamond.org

“Guns, Germs, and Steel PDF Summary”

“It seems logical to suppose that history’s pattern reflects innate differences among people themselves,” writes Jared Diamond in “Guns, Germs, and Steel” in a sentence which sounds controversial despite the italicized verb.

But, nevertheless, it’s difficult to dismiss it simply because it is not politically correct.

After all, there are some questions which seem unanswerable without a “convincing, detailed, agreed-upon explanation for the broad pattern of history.”

For example, why almost all of the hunter-gatherer societies disappeared even though the ones we could study until recently seemed non-violent, lawful in the absence of laws, egalitarian, and, for all intents and purposes, more content than us?

Why did practically every technological innovation you can think of was made either by a European or a Chinese for millennia?

Even more controversially: why did the white people enslave the African-Americans and not the other way around?

In “Guns, Germs, and Steel,” Diamond attempts to answer these – and numerous similar – questions by taking a wide interdisciplinary look of history, biology, and – possibly most importantly – geography.

In fact, the main thesis of the book, in the words of the author, is the following one:

History followed different courses for different peoples because of differences among peoples’ environments, not because of biological differences among peoples themselves.

In other words, it does matter where you are born; not because of the who; but because of the where.

The main environmental difference between the conquerors (Europe and Asia) and the conquered (Africa, the Americas) is the primary geographic axis.

Namely, as opposed to the Eurasian east-west latitudinal axis, the African and the American axis is longitudinal, i.e., north-south.

And, unfortunately, that is the direction in which climate changes.

Consequently, European and Asian countries were able not only to communicate easily between them even before the proper sailing and marine technology was developed, but they were also able to almost inadvertently share each other’s progress in agriculture as well.

For example, domesticated crops could easily spread from Europe to Asia and vice versa via one domestication, few bugs and a little bit of wind; contrary to this, cotton or squash had to be domesticated over and over again in Mesoamerica in multiple individual areas, because the crops couldn’t spread by themselves in north-south direction.

As Diamond notes, “all human societies contain inventive people. It’s just that some environments provide more starting materials and more favorable conditions for utilizing inventions than other environments.”

And this, logically, meant many different things in the long run, best summed up in this cycle: more food → more people → more intellectual power → better technology → more food…

Less intuitively, it also meant better immunity, due to the domestication of numerous animals and the subsequent exposure to deadly germs.

Which is why far more Native Americans, Australians, and South Africans died from infectious diseases than from knives and guns.

Speaking of which, Jared Diamond points out four primary reasons why the Europeans conquered the Americans and the Africans and not the other way around:

#1. Opportunities for domestication of plants and animals.

Europe and Asia had by far the best prospects in this area, as opposed to, say, Australia, whose chances to become a superpower were always going to be slim to none. We can place Africa and America somewhere in the middle.

However, the fact that Europeans and Asians could eat far better food and in far larger quantities (these continents were inhabited with a far larger number of domesticable animal and plant species) meant that they were able to reproduce in larger numbers when compared to the inhabitants of Africa or the Americas.

#2. Agricultural and technological expansion.

In addition to having more domestication-worthy/viable animals and plants, the Eurasians also had the luxury of domesticating them at a faster rate, due to the primary direction of the continent’s geographic axis (east-west) and the absence of any significant geographic barriers (deserts and mountains).

#3. Intercontinental diffusion.

Since Eurasia is one large (easily traversable) landmass, it was always easy for ideas and technologies to spread from China to Portugal – even in the absence of direct contact. The northern parts of the African continent profited from this communication as well.

However, such communication was all but impossible in the Americas which are connected by an almost inhabitable area notorious for its susceptibility to floods, landslides, and earthquakes.

#4. Population size.

This is self-explanatory: you can’t have a large army if you don’t have a large population. And you can’t profit from competition if you don’t have someone to compete against:

In short, Europe’s colonization of Africa [and America] had nothing to do with differences between European and African peoples themselves, as white racists assume. Rather, it was due to accidents of geography and biogeography — in particular, to the continents’ different areas, axes, and suites of wild plant and animal species.

Key Lessons from “Guns, Germs, and Steel”

1.      Geography and Progress
2.      The Anna Karenina Principle
3.      Centralized Power vs. Fragmentation

Geography and Progress

The main thesis of Jared Diamond’s transdisciplinary classic “Guns, Germs, and Steel” is that “history followed different courses for different peoples because of differences among peoples’ environments, not because of biological differences among peoples themselves.”

Throughout the book, he attempts to show that Eurasians had the opportunity to develop more and better than the Americans or the Africans simply because they lived on the better continents.

In a nutshell, the fact that Eurasia is one large landmass and that its primary geographic axis is east-west meant better diffusion of technology and culture and more efficient communication between the people living on these continents as opposed to the ones living in the Americas and Africa whose geographic axis is north-south.

The Anna Karenina Principle

According to the Anna Karenina principle – inspired by the memorable first sentence of the Leo Tolstoy classic – in order for an endeavor to be successful, all factors must be met; in other words, if any one of these factors remains unmet than the endeavor is doomed to fail.

Jared Diamond uses this principle to explain why there are only 14 (out of 148 possible candidates) domesticated species.

In his opinion, the factors which must be met for an animal to be domestication-worthy are at least six: diet (it must be easy to feed), growth rate (it must grow fast enough), captive breeding (it must be able to breed in captivity), disposition (it must not be ill-tempered), tendency to panic (it mustn’t take flight), and social structure (lonely animals are not good candidates).

Very few animals – in Diamond’s opinion only the 14 we have already domesticated – meet all six criteria.

Centralized Power vs. Fragmentation

Interestingly enough, the only reason why Europe crossed the Atlantic first – and not China the Pacific – to colonize the Americas was the social structure of the continents.

China, in other words, had the technology, but about half a century before Columbus set sail, a local political dispute resulted in a national ban on transoceanic expeditions. This was possible because one man had the power to do that.

In Europe, Columbus was turned down by four different kingdoms before Spain decided to fund his trip. A Chinese sailor with an idea to cross the Pacific didn’t have another country to look funds from but China.

In other words, a little fragmentation is good; too much centralized power is not.

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“Guns, Germs, and Steel Quotes”

Much of human history has consisted of unequal conflicts between the haves and the have-nots. Click To Tweet

With the rise of chiefdoms around 7,500 years ago, people had to learn, for the first time in history, how to encounter strangers regularly without attempting to kill them. Click To Tweet

It's striking that Native Americans evolved no devastating epidemic diseases to give to Europeans in return for the many devastating epidemic diseases that Indians received from the Old World. Click To Tweet

Rhino-mounted Bantu shock troops could have overthrown the Roman Empire. It never happened. Click To Tweet

One way to explain the complexity and unpredictability of historical systems, despite their ultimate determinacy, is to note that long chains of causation may separate final effects from ultimate causes lying outside the domain of that… Click To Tweet

Our Critical Review

“Guns, Germs, and Steel” won the Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction in 1998 and was turned into a National Geographic documentary seven years later.

About a decade after this, we didn’t think twice before including it in our list of top history books ever written.

Not because numerous giants of modern scholarship – from Yuval Noah Harari to Gregory Clark – have been directly inspired by “Guns, Germs, and Steel.”

But, simply put, because we have been as well.

One of our favorite books.

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A Dictionary of the English Language PDF Summary

A Dictionary of the English Language PDFIn Which the Words Are Deduced from Their Originals, And Illustrated in Their Different Significations by Examples

There are much better dictionaries than Samuel Johnson’s (read: OED).

But many people still think of his dictionary when they hear “A Dictionary of the English Language.”

Read ahead to find out why.

Who Should Read “A Dictionary of the English Language”? And Why?

Well, we rarely read dictionaries nowadays.

In fact, if you are like us, a dictionary to you basically means a search field (regardless of the online dictionary you use).

However, it doesn’t hurt to have a dictionary on your shelves and leaf through it from time to time.

If so, as old as it is, this one’s one of the best candidates.

Especially if you are a writer (see our Key Lessons section).

Samuel JohnsonAbout Samuel Johnson

Samuel Johnson – known as Dr. Johnson as well – was an English poet, essayist, biographer, literary critic, and lexicographer.

Considered “arguably the most distinguished man of letters in English history,” he is primarily known for his “Dictionary of the English Language,” his collection of biographies “Lives of the Most Eminent English Poets,” his travelogue “A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland,” as well as his superbly annotated edition of “The Plays of William Shakespeare.”

He is the subject of, quite possibly, the best biography ever written: James Boswell’s “The Life of Samuel Johnson.”

“A Dictionary of the English Language PDF Summary”

Now, how do you summarize a Dictionary?

The answer is, of course, you don’t.

But you do list several reasons why one should own Samuel Johnson’s gargantuan 1755 “Dictionary,” possibly the most influential dictionary ever produced in the history of any language.

#1. Because It Was Compiled by a Single Man

And that man was Samuel Johnson, one of the smartest people to have ever graced our planet with their presence.

This is the proportion,” he said upon learning that 40 French scholars had worked for about 40 years to complete the French dictionary. “Let me see; forty times forty is sixteen hundred. As three to sixteen hundred, so is the proportion of an Englishman to a Frenchman.

Meaning: he intended to do the same thing which took 40 scholars half a century all by himself in no more than 3 years.

Eventually, he did it in 7.

It’s difficult to say that he failed.

#2. Because It Intended to Establish the English Language Once and for All

In preparation for his work on the actual book, Johnson wrote a Plan for the Dictionary, where he stated, in no uncertain terms, what was his intention:

Our language will be laid down, distinct in its minutest subdivisions, and resolved into its elemental principles. And who upon this survey can forbear to wish, that these fundamental atoms of our speech might obtain the firmness and immutability of the primogenial and constituent particles of matter, that they might retain their substance while they alter their appearance, and be varied and compounded, yet not destroyed?

#3. Because It Revolutionized Dictionaries

Johnson’s “Dictionary” wasn’t the first dictionary of the English language.

But it was the first one of its magnitude: it included 42,773 entries and over 114,000 quotations from the “best writers” explaining the meaning of the words.

Even though few have included literary quotations before Johnson, he did it so well, that it’s safe to say that his dictionary was the first to really understand why these literary quotations mattered.

However, Johnson’s most important innovation was introducing sense divisions into his dictionary entries, something without which it’s impossible to imagine a modern dictionary.

The word with most definitions?

“Take” with 134!

#4. Because Samuel Johnson Was a Humble Lexicographer… Sometimes

Bearing in mind the fact that Johnson worked on his dictionary almost singlehandedly, it’s only natural that he encountered upon quite a few words he was unable to define.

However, he chose to include them all in his dictionary, affixed with the only possible explanation: “I don’t know.”

Really!

Next to dogbolt, Johnson wrote “Of this word I know not the meaning” (neither do we, Sam!) and for tatterdemalion, he wrote “tatter and I know not what”!

How endearing.

#5. Because He Was Aware of His Limitations

Of course, Johnson made quite a few mistakes while compiling his dictionary. His biographer and dear friend, James Boswell, recounts a story which explains that he was always aware that this was inevitable:

A lady once asked [Johnson] how he came to define pastern as the knee of a horse: instead of making an elaborate reply, as she expected, he at once replied, ‘Ignorance, Madam, pure ignorance.’

#6. Because He Disliked Some Words… and He Was Not Afraid to Say That

Johnson didn’t like the French or the practice of freely appropriating and loaning foreign words.

That’s why, after defining the word souvenance, Johnson comments “A French word which with many more is now happily disused.”

In addition, he says that “to proselyte” is “a bad word” and that “to proverb” is “not a good word.” When feeling more spirited, Johnson is a bit more descriptive of his dislikes: finesse is “an unnecessary word” and twittlewattle a “vile word.”

As for dissever, it “ought to be ejected from our language.”

Wonder what would Poe say?

#7. Because Johnson’s Dictionary Contains Many Interesting Definitions

This is the best part.

You know how Johnson defines monsieur?

A term of reproach for a Frenchman.

What about writative?

A word of Pope’s, not to be imitated.

The most famous (though also the most chauvinistic) example is Johnson’s definition of oats:

A grain which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people.

Key Lessons from “A Dictionary of the English Language”

1.      Never Underestimate a Man Who Overestimates Himself
2.      Dictionaries Don’t Need to Be Boring
3.      Samuel Johnson and the Writers of the Future

Never Underestimate a Man Who Overestimates Himself

When we included Johnson’s “Dictionary” among the 15 best nonfiction books of all time, we wrote that “there’s nothing even remotely similar to Johnson’s endeavor in all of human history.”

And really: this guy was so sure of himself that upon learning that the French needed half a century and 40 scholars to produce a dictionary he announced that he could do the same job by himself in three years.

And, more or less, he succeeded: he singlehandedly completed a Dictionary of the English language containing more than 40,000 words and around 114,000 quotations in no more than seven years!

Dictionaries Don’t Need to Be Boring

Nowadays, Dictionaries try to be impartial which means that most of them are as neutral as possible, the paragons of objectivity.

Johnson’s was all but.

In addition to all the scholarship definition, he decided to include several personal comments and explanations, including one definition which sums up full well how he felt while creating the dictionary:

Lexicographer: a writer of dictionaries; a harmless drudge that busies himself in tracing the original and detailing the signification of words.

Samuel Johnson and the Writers of the Future

With his personal comments, Johnson “established the oblique traditions of facetious and political lexicography,” that is, he inspired other writers to create strange types of dictionaries, the most famous among them being Ambrose Bierce’s misanthropic and widely beloved “Devil’s Dictionary.”

But that is not everything!

Everyone from Jane Austin to Charles Dickens, from Thomas Jefferson to Charles Darwin owned a copy of Johnson’s “Dictionary” and could think of no other book as important as it.

Coleridge even wrote that he “should suspect the man of a morose disposition who should speak of it without respect and gratitude as a most instructive and entertaining book.”

Robert Browning read this dictionary “in its entirety” because he thought this was the only way to qualify himself as a poet.

Finally, Samuel Beckett constantly browsed it to find obscure words he could use; and he did: “increpation,” “inosculation,” and “to snite” came from here.

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“A Dictionary of the English Language Quotes”

Network: Any thing reticulated or decussated, at equal distances, with interstices between the intersections. Click To Tweet

Biographer: A writer of lives; a relator not of the history of nations, but of the actions of particular persons. Click To Tweet

Purist: one superstitiously nice in the use of words. Click To Tweet

Lexicographer: a writer of dictionaries; a harmless drudge that busies himself in tracing the original and detailing the signification of words. Click To Tweet

Oats: a grain which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people. Click To Tweet

Our Critical Review

Now, why would you add an old dictionary in a list of the 15 best nonfiction books of all time – especially if it is a dictionary of a single language (no matter how ubiquitous that language is today)?

Well, there are two reasons.

Johnson’s most famous 20th-century biographer, Walter Jackson Bate, put it best when he noted that this dictionary “easily ranks as one of the greatest single achievements of scholarship, and probably the greatest ever.”

The second one is even better: because Johnson’s dictionary was the first dictionary which really attracted people’s attention to why a dictionary is important.

Or, to quote Michael Adams, because it was the book which “stimulated lexicography, raised the status and interest of the dictionary as a literary and cultural artifact, and generated new genres of dictionary.”

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Is the American Dream Alive or Dead? It Depends on Where You Look PDF Summary

Is the American Dream Alive or Dead? It Depends on Where You Look PDFIn “Guns, Germs, and Steel,” Jared Diamond first championed the notion that geography has had a profound influence on the distribution of human wealth.

Now, in the appropriately titled report “Is the American Dream Alive or Dead,” the Economic Innovation Group demonstrates that the American reality of today can be described along the same lines.

Which is a scary notion.

But, unfortunately, is backed by data.

Who Should Read “Is the American Dream Alive or Dead? It Depends on Where You Look”? And Why?

Whether you believe in the American dream or not, this article is certainly a wakeup call – for the latter to see their fears validated by the available data, and for the former to realize that, even if still alive, it’s all but a nightmare for millions.

Economic Innovation GroupAbout the Economic Innovation Group

The Economic Innovation Group (EIG) is a bipartisan public policy organization founded half a decade ago with the mission “to advance solutions that empower entrepreneurs and investors to forge a more dynamic economy throughout America.”

To do that, EIG combines research and data-driven approaches to thoroughly examine some of the most pressing economic challenges facing the United States.

The organization considers itself “a leading voice in bringing geographic inequality into the national conversation.”

“Is the American Dream Alive or Dead? It Depends on Where You Look PDF Summary”

Ever since being both invented and overused ad nauseam by Horatio Alger Jr. in the second half of the 19th century, the nature and the reality of the American Dream have been explored by a host of great American writers in some of USA’s essential works of literature.

However, whether it’s F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “Great Gatsby” or Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men,” Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman” or Hunter S. Thompson’s “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” – these books all seem to have in common a profound distrust in Alger’s vision, neatly summed up in George Carlin’s famous quip: “it’s called the American dream because you have to be asleep to believe it.”

Well, many still do, George: if you work hard enough – they think – you can reach the top of the ladder, no matter how many steps you need to climb on the way to there.

In EIG’s report “Is the American Dream Alive or Dead?”, we learn that things are not as pink.

On the contrary, in fact: the American Dream is unequivocally at risk, since “more than half of all U.S. counties [exert] a negative impact on children’s future earnings.”

You heard that right:

Basically half of America can only sleep through the American Dream!

Why?

Because they live in the wrong counties.

Really:

Place matters. While many like to think of the United States as a country where anyone willing to work hard can succeed, the reality for many is more complicated. The American Dream lies far out of reach for young people across much of the country not due to any individual shortcomings, but due to the unique mix of social, cultural, and economic forces at work in their communities—forces that condition and affect, if not always determine, lifetime outcomes.

Based on data coming from 2,869 US counties, EIG has discovered that “economic prosperity and economic mobility are positively and meaningfully correlated.”

Meaning: upward mobility is possible in prosperous counties, but unlikely in the poor ones which suffer from high rates of inequality as well!

The ratio is staggering:

Three out of five children under the age of 18 (so, 60% of underage Americans) live in counties where the American Dream is all but a nightmare.

If the American Dream is a “twofold promise of prosperity and mobility,” then “neither is in good health,” since both promises are alive and well in only 420 (i.e., one-seventh) of the examined counties. These are mostly located on the East Coast and the metropolitan areas on the West Coast, as well as the upper and the industrial Midwest and Texas.

The Southeast, on the other hand, and the remote desert Southwest (populated by Native Americans), abounds in counties in which the American Dream is merely a distant prospect.

Most of the counties have less than 100,000 people, “but altogether 14.5 million Americans live in these corners effectively vacated by the American Dream.”

In between these extremes, EIG analyzes two more groups of counties: such where mobility is possible, but the upward move doesn’t mean prosperity as well (the American dream is within reach) and such which are prosperous, but immobile (the American dream is fenced off).

The American Dream is fenced off in 28% of USA’s prosperous counties where 47.5 million Americans live in wild inequality.

On the other hand, the American dream is within reach against the odds for about 1.4 million Americans living in the few counties “that are still able to reconcile distress with mobility.”

The conclusion?

If the American Dream is to become more accessible, the country needs a more geographically inclusive pattern of growth, and it needs to tackle the determinants of mobility at their roots, neighborhood by neighborhood, at the same time.

Key Lessons from “Is the American Dream Alive or Dead? It Depends on Where You Look”

1.      The American Dream Is a Twofold Promise of Prosperity and Mobility
2.      The Four States of the American Dream
3.      The Stats Behind the American Dream

The American Dream Is a Twofold Promise of Prosperity and Mobility

By definition, the American Dream promises two things: that if you work hard, you’ll be able to move up the social ladder and become rich.

EIG’s report studies the data of almost 3,000 counties to see in which condition is the American Dream in relation to these two promises.

The Four States of the American Dream

After studying the data, EIG then categorizes each county in one of the four possible categories: prosperous and mobile counties (the American Dream is alive and well), prosperous and immobile (the American Dream is fenced off), distressed and mobile (the American Dream is within reach) and distressed and immobile (the American Dream is a distant prospect).

The Stats Behind the American Dream

Overall, over 60 percent of Americans under the age of 18 are growing up in counties which are geographically and environmentally incapable of fostering economic mobility.

The American dream is alive and well in 72% of USA’s prosperous countries examined by EIG (about 71 million people), mostly located in the Upper Midwest and Northern Plains.

The rest 28% (which encompass 47.5 million people) lack policies capable of translating prosperity into mobility and are, thus, fencing off the American Dream from many dreamers.

Against the odds, about 10% of America’s distressed counties (only 1.4 million people) still manage to foster upward mobility, rendering the American Dream within reach.

However, for the rest of the Americans living in USA’s poor counties (14.5 million), the American Dream is merely a distant prospect.

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“Is the American Dream Alive or Dead? It Depends on Where You Look Quotes”

The American Dream can be summed up as a two-fold promise of prosperity and mobility. Neither is in good health. Click To Tweet

Overall, the majority (51 percent) of counties in the United States exert a negative impact on the economic mobility of low-income children. Click To Tweet

Fewer than 10 percent of the country’s distressed counties manage to provide disadvantaged children with a ladder to higher incomes in adulthood. Click To Tweet

Altogether 14.5 million Americans live in… corners effectively vacated by the American Dream. Click To Tweet

The American Dream does indeed exist; our task is to expand its reach. Click To Tweet

Our Critical Review

The concluding sentence of EIG’s report may be the most important you’ll read this year if you still believe in the American Dream or, at least, in some things such as compassion and humanity:

The American Dream does indeed exist; our task is to expand its reach.

We’ll just leave it at that.

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