Nov, 2020

On the Shortness of Life by Seneca

The Big Idea: Life is short unless you live it well. Study philosophy and protect your valuable time from others.

It is not that we have a short space of time, but that we waste much of it.

The part of life we really live is small. For all the rest of existence is not life, but merely time.

Vices beset us and surround us on every side. Their victims are never allowed to return to their true selves.

Men do not suffer anyone to seize their estates, and they rush to stones and arms if there is even the slightest dispute about the limit of their lands, yet they allow others to trespass upon their life.

In guarding their fortune men are often closefisted, yet, when it comes to the matter of wasting time, in the case of the one thing in which it is right to be miserly, they show themselves most prodigal.

You live as if you were destined to live forever.

What foolish forgetfulness of mortality to postpone wholesome plans to the fiftieth and sixtieth year.

Among the worst I count also those who have time for nothing but wine and lust; for none have more shameful engrossments.

No one pursuit can be successfully followed by a man who is busied with many things.

It takes the whole of life to learn how to live, and — what will perhaps make you wonder more — it takes the whole of life to learn how to die.

It takes a great man and one who has risen far above human weaknesses not to allow any of his time to be filched from him.

But he who bestows all of his time on his own needs, who plans out every day as if it were his last, neither longs for nor fears the morrow.

There is no reason for you to think that any man has lived long because he has grey hairs or wrinkles; he has not lived long — he has existed long.

No one sets a value on time; all use it lavishly as if it cost nothing.

Yet no one will bring back the years.

Life will follow the path it started upon, and will neither reverse nor check its course; it will make no noise, it will not remind you of its swiftness. Silent it will glide on.

Postponement is the greatest waste of life.

“Why do you delay,” says he, “Why are you idle? Unless you seize the day, it flees.”

Life is divided into three periods — that which has been, that which is, that which will be. Of these the present time is short, the future is doubtful, the past is certain.

The mind that is untroubled and tranquil has the power to roam into all the parts of its life.

Decrepit old men beg in their prayers for the addition of a few more years. They reflect how uselessly they have striven for things which they did not enjoy.

This vain passion for learning useless things has assailed the Romans.

Of all men they alone are at leisure who take time for philosophy, they alone really live.

We may fairly say that they alone are engaged in the true duties of life who shall wish to have Zeno, Pythagoras, Democritus, and all the other high priests of liberal studies, and Aristotle and Theophrastus, as their most intimate friends every day.

Households there are of noblest intellects; choose the one into which you wish to be adopted; you will inherit not merely their name, but even their property.

The life of the philosopher, therefore, has wide range, and he is not confined by the same bounds that shut others in.

But those who forget the past, neglect the present, and fear for the future have a life that is very brief and troubled; when they have reached the end of it, the poor wretches perceive too late that for such a long while they have been busied in doing nothing.

They lose the day in expectation of the night, and the night in fear of the dawn.

How long will these things last? This feeling has led kings to weep over the power they possessed, and they have not so much delighted in the greatness of their fortune, as they have viewed with terror the end to which it must some time come.

With anxiety hold what they have attained; meanwhile they take no account of time that will never more return.

Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil de Grasse Tyson

  1. The Greatest Story Ever Told

In the beginning, nearly fourteen billion years ago, all the space and all the matter and all the energy of the known universe was contained in a volume less than one-trillionth the size of the period that ends this sentence.

Einstein’s general theory of relativity, put forth in 1916, gives us our modern understanding of gravity.

In the 1920s, quantum mechanics would be discovered.

But these two understandings of nature are formally incompatible with one another.

The four distinct forces we have come to know and love, with the weak force controlling radioactive decay, the strong force binding the atomic nucleus, the electromagnetic force binding molecules, and gravity binding bulk matter.

The universe was a seething soup of quarks, leptons, and their antimatter siblings, along with bosons.

For another 380,000 years not much will happen to our particle soup. Throughout these millennia the temperature remains hot enough for electrons to roam free among the photons.

For the first billion years, the universe continued to expand and cool as matter gravitated into the massive concentrations we call galaxies.

After nine billion years of such enrichment, in an undistinguished part of the universe ( the outskirts of the Virgo Supercluster ) in an undistinguished galaxy ( the Milky Way ) in an undistinguished region ( the Orion Arm ), an undistinguished star ( the Sun ) was born.

As less and less accretable matter remained in the solar system, planet surfaces began to cool. The one we call Earth formed in a kind of Goldilocks zone around the Sun, where oceans remain largely in liquid form.

Within the chemically rich liquid oceans, by a mechanism yet to be discovered, organic molecules transitioned to self-replicating life.

We owe the remarkable diversity of life on Earth, and we presume elsewhere in the universe, to the cosmic abundance of carbon.

But what if the universe was always there, in a state or condition we have yet to identify — a multiverse, for instance, that continually births universes? Or what if the universe just popped into existence from nothing?

We are stardust brought to life, then empowered by the universe to figure itself out — and we have only just begun.

  1. On Earth as in the Heavens

Newton had figured out that the force of gravity pulling ripe apples from their orchards also guides tossed objects along their curved trajectories and directs the Moon in its orbit around Earth.

This universality of physical laws tells us that if we land on another planet with a thriving alien civilization, they will be running on the same laws that we have discovered and tested here on Earth.

Among all constants, the speed of light is the most famous. No matter how fast you go, you will never overtake a beam of light.

Another class of universal truths is the conservation laws, where the amount of some measured quantity remains unchanged no matter what.

It happens that we cannot see, touch, or taste the source of eighty-five percent of the gravity we measure in the universe. This mysterious dark matter.

In other words, after the laws of physics, everything else is opinion.

  1. Let There Be Light

In this early epoch, photons didn’t travel far before encountering an electron.

Cosmic microwave background or CMB for short.

The first direct observation of the cosmic microwave background was made inadvertently in 1964 by American physicists Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson of Bell Telephone Laboratories.

Because light takes time to reach us from distant places in the universe, if we look out in deep space we actually see eons back in time.

Ordinary matter is what we are all made of. It has gravity and interacts with light. Dark matter is a mysterious substance that has gravity but does not interact with light in any known way.

Dark energy is a mysterious pressure in the vacuum of space that acts in the opposite direction of gravity, forcing the universe to expand faster than it otherwise would.

  1. Between the Galaxies

The universe may nonetheless contain hard-to-detect things between the galaxies.

In any reliably surveyed volume of space, dwarf galaxies outnumber large galaxies by more than ten to one.

Supernovas are stars that have blown themselves to smithereens.

Worse yet, clusters are overrun by dark matter, which happens to contain up to another factor of ten times the mass of everything else.

Quasars are super-luminous galaxy cores whose light has typically been traveling for billions of years across space before reaching our telescopes. As extremely distant sources of light, they make ideal guinea pigs for the detection of intervening junk.

We call them cosmic rays. The highest-energy particles among them have a hundred million times the energy that can be generated in the world’s largest particle accelerators.

  1. Dark Matter

Gravity, the most familiar of nature’s forces, offers us simultaneously the best and the least understood phenomena in nature.

Einstein demonstrated that Newton’s theory requires some modification to describe gravity accurately — to predict, for example, how much light rays will bend when they pass by a massive object.

We don’t know who’s next in the genius sequence, but we’ve now been waiting nearly a century for somebody to tell us why the bulk of all the gravitational force that we’ve measured in the universe — about eighty-five percent of it — arises from substances that do not otherwise interact with “our” matter or energy.

Today, we’ve settled on the moniker “dark matter,” which makes no assertion that anything is missing, yet nonetheless implies that some new kind of matter must exist, waiting to be discovered.

Across the universe, the discrepancy averages to a factor of six: cosmic dark matter has about six times the total gravity of all the visible matter.

Dark matter exerts gravity according to the same rules that ordinary matter follows, but it does little else that might allow us to detect it.

More likely, dark matter consists of matter whose nature we have yet to divine.

Particle physicists are confident that dark matter consists of a ghostly class of undiscovered particles that interact with matter via gravity, but otherwise interact with matter or light only weakly or not at all.

For now, we must remain content to carry dark matter along as a strange, invisible friend, invoking it where and when the universe requires it of us .

  1. Dark Energy

As if you didn’t have enough to worry about, the universe in recent decades was discovered to wield a mysterious pressure that issues forth from the vacuum of space and that acts opposite cosmic gravity.

One of the most powerful and far-reaching theoretical models ever devised, already introduced in these pages, is Einstein’s general theory of relativity — but you can call it GR after you get to know it better. Published in 1916, GR outlines the relevant mathematical details of how everything in the universe moves under the influence of gravity.

Einstein’s concept as, “Matter tells space how to curve; space tells matter how to move.”

Einstein discarded lambda entirely, calling it his life’s “greatest blunder.”

Sixty-nine years later, in 1998, science exhumed lambda one last time.

And there was no easy way to explain the extra expansion without invoking lambda, Einstein’s cosmological constant.

Lambda suddenly acquired a physical reality that needed a name, and so “dark energy” took center stage in the cosmic drama.

The most accurate measurements to date reveal dark energy as the most prominent thing in town, currently responsible for 68 percent of all the mass-energy in the universe; dark matter comprises 27 percent, with regular matter comprising a mere 5 percent.

The closest anybody has come is to presume dark energy is a quantum effect.

Dark energy inhabits one of the safest harbors we can imagine: Einstein’s equations of general relativity. It’s the cosmological constant. It’s lambda. Whatever dark energy turns out to be, we already know how to measure it.

Einstein’s greatest blunder was having declared that lambda was his greatest blunder.

  1. The Cosmos on the Table

Only three of the naturally occurring elements were manufactured in the big bang. The rest were forged in the high-temperature hearts and explosive remains of dying stars, enabling subsequent generations of star systems to incorporate this enrichment, forming planets and, in our case, people.

Hydrogen lays claim to more than two-thirds of all the atoms in the human body, and more than ninety percent of all atoms in the cosmos.

Although a distant second to hydrogen in abundance, there’s fifty times more of it than all other elements.

The element carbon can be found in more kinds of molecules than the sum of all other kinds of molecules combined.

Sodium is the most common glowing gas in municipal street lamps across the nation.

Aluminum occupies nearly ten percent of Earth’s crust.

Titanium, the ninth most abundant element in Earth’s crust, has become a modern darling for many applications.

In most cosmic places, the number of oxygen atoms exceeds that of carbon.

By many measures, iron ranks as the most important element in the universe.

Unstable weapons-grade plutonium was the active ingredient in the atomic bomb that the United States exploded over the Japanese city of Nagasaki.

  1. On Being Round

Of all shapes, spheres are favored by the action of simple physical laws.

For large cosmic objects, energy and gravity conspire to turn objects into spheres.

So, contrary to what it looks like to teeny humans crawling on its surface, Earth, as a cosmic object, is remarkably smooth. If you had a super-duper, jumbo-gigantic finger, and you dragged it across Earth’s surface (oceans and all), Earth would feel as smooth as a cue ball.

The stars of the Milky Way galaxy trace a big, flat circle. With a diameter-to-thickness ratio of one hundred to one, our galaxy is flatter than the flattest flapjacks ever made.

For rich clusters of galaxies, the overall shape can offer deep astrophysical insight. Some are raggedy. Others are stretched thin in filaments. Yet others form vast sheets. None of these have settled into a stable—spherical—gravitational shape.

The sphere to end all spheres — the largest and most perfect of them all — is the entire observable universe.

The universe beyond this spherical “edge” is thus rendered invisible and, as far as we know, unknowable.

There’s a variation of the ever-popular multiverse idea in which the multiple universes that comprise it are not separate universes entirely, but isolated, non-interacting pockets of space within one continuous fabric of space-time.

  1. Invisible Light

Filling out the entire electromagnetic spectrum, in order of low-energy and low-frequency to high-energy and high-frequency, we have : radio waves, microwaves, infrared, ROYGBIV, ultraviolet, X-rays, and gamma rays .

Radio telescopes, the earliest non-visible-light telescopes ever built, are an amazing subspecies of observatory .

The world’s largest radio telescope, completed in 2016, is called the Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical radio Telescope, or “ FAST ” for short. It was built by China in their Guizhou Province, and is larger in area than thirty football fields .

Another variety of radio telescope is the interferometer, comprising arrays of identical dish antennas, spread across swaths of countryside and electronically linked to work in concert .

Intermittent, distant, titanic stellar explosions across the universe, signaling the birth of gamma ray astrophysics.

Today, telescopes operate in every invisible part of the spectrum, some from the ground but most from space.

  1. Between the Planets

Hundreds of tons of meteors per day — most of them no larger than a grain of sand. Nearly all of them burn in Earth’s upper atmosphere.

Nearby interplanetary space also contains rocks of all sizes that were jettisoned from Mars, the Moon, and Earth by the ground’s recoil from high-speed impacts.

Thousand tons of Martian rocks rain down on Earth each year.

Most of the solar system’s asteroids live and work in the main asteroid belt, a roughly flat zone between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter.

Asteroids are not the only space objects that pose a risk to life on Earth. The Kuiper belt is a comet-strewn swath of circular real estate that begins just beyond the orbit of Neptune.

Far beyond the Kuiper belt, extending halfway to the nearest stars, lives a spherical reservoir of comets called the Oort cloud.

If we had eyes that could see magnetic fields, Jupiter would look five times larger than the full Moon in the sky.

Earth’s Moon is about 1 / 400th the diameter of the Sun, but it is also 1 / 400th as far from us, making the Sun and the Moon the same size in the sky — a coincidence not shared by any other planet – moon combination in the solar system.

Jupiter’s system of moons is replete with oddballs.

Pluto’s largest moon, Charon, is so big and close to Pluto that Pluto and Charon have each tidally locked the other.

The Sun loses material from its surface at a rate of more than a million tons per second. We call this the “ solar wind, ” which takes the form of high-energy charged particles.

Earth’s atmosphere is commonly described as extending dozens of miles above Earth’s surface.

Orbiting high above this level, twenty-three thousand miles up ( one-tenth of the distance to the Moon ) are the communications satellites.

  1. Exoplanet Earth

A celebrated photograph taken in 1990 from just beyond Neptune’s orbit by the Voyager 1 spacecraft shows just how underwhelming Earth looks from deep space : a “ pale blue dot, ” as the American astrophysicist Carl Sagan called it.

Water covers more than two-thirds of Earth’s surface ; the Pacific Ocean alone spans nearly an entire side of the planet.

Earth’s distinctive polar ice caps, which grow and shrink from the seasonal temperature variations, could also be seen using visible light.

The nearest exoplanet — the nearest planet in orbit around a star that is not the Sun — can be found in our neighbor star system Alpha Centauri, about four light-years from us and visible mostly from our southern hemisphere.

NASA’s Kepler telescope, designed and tuned to discover Earth-like planets around Sun-like stars, invoked.

Yet another method of detection, mightily adding to the exoplanet catalog.

So if those alien eavesdroppers turn their own version of a radio telescope in our direction, they might infer that our planet hosts technology.

Bell and her associates realized they’d discovered a new class of cosmic object — a star made entirely of neutrons that pulses with radio waves for every rotation it executes. Hewish and Bell sensibly named them “pulsars.”

There’s also cosmochemistry. The chemical analysis of planetary atmospheres has become a lively field of modern astrophysics.

If the aliens track our nighttime side while we orbit our host star, they might notice a surge of sodium from the widespread use of sodium-vapor streetlights that switch on at dusk in urban and suburban municipalities.

If the aliens decide that Earth’s chemical features are sure evidence of life, maybe they’ll wonder if the life is intelligent.

Looking more closely at Earth’s atmospheric fingerprints, human biomarkers will also include sulfuric, carbonic, and nitric acids, and other components of smog from the burning of fossil fuels.

The first exoplanet was discovered in 1995, and, as of this writing, the tally is rising through three thousand, most found in a small pocket of the Milky Way around the solar system.

As many as forty billion Earth-like planets in the Milky Way alone.

  1. Reflections on the Cosmic Perspective

However big the world is — in our hearts, our minds, and our outsized digital maps — the universe is even bigger.

More bacteria live and work in one centimeter of my colon than the number of people who have ever existed in the world.

I began to think of people not as the masters of space and time but as participants in a great cosmic chain of being, with a direct genetic link across species both living and extinct, extending back nearly four billion years to the earliest single-celled organisms on Earth.

Imagine a life-form whose brainpower is to ours as ours is to a chimpanzee’s. To such a species, our highest mental achievements would be trivial.

Some of the water you just drank passed through the kidneys of Socrates, Genghis Khan, and Joan of Arc.

Some of the air you just breathed passed through the lungs of Napoleon, Beethoven, Lincoln, and Billy the Kid.

There are more stars in the universe than grains of sand on any beach, more stars than seconds have passed since Earth formed, more stars than words and sounds ever uttered by all the humans who ever lived.

The four most common, chemically active elements in the universe — hydrogen, oxygen, carbon, and nitrogen — are the four most common elements of life on Earth.

It’s conceivable that life began on Mars and later seeded life on Earth, a process known as panspermia.

Giving the Devil his Due by Michael Shermer

The Big Idea: We must protect speech no matter how hateful it may seem.

The devil is anyone who disagrees with you. And what he is due is the right to speak his mind.

0. Introduction Who Is the Devil and What Is He Due?

Err on the side of freedom.

Let Truth and Falsehood grapple in a free and open encounter.

The most formidable weapon against errors of every kind is Reason.

The freedom of speech is meaningless unless it means the freedom of the person who thinks differently.

Don’t take refuge in the false security of consensus.

We must resist the urge to control what other people say and think.

Freedom of inquiry – a form of free thought and speech – is the basis for all human progress.

My freedom to speak and dissent is inextricably tied to your freedom to speak and dissent.

Even the Catholic Church employed an Advocatus Diaboli – a Devil’s Advocate – tasked with arguing “against the canonization (sainthood) of a candidate in order to uncover any character flaws or misrepresentation of the evidence favoring canonization.”

Hate speech is best countered with free speech, better speech, or no speech at all (just ignore them).

Chapter 1 Giving the Devil His Due

In America, the First Amendment protects the right of citizens to express their opinions on anything they like, no matter how extreme, evil, conniving, or crazy. Here you are free to doubt the Apollo moon landing, the JFK assassination single-bullet theory, the existence of God, the divinity of Jesus, the verisimilitude of the Quran, the prophetic nature of Moses or Muhammad, al Qaeda’s role in 9/11, and even the president’s birthplace.

That process of generating new ideas and introducing them to your peers and the public where they can be skeptically scrutinized in the bright light of other minds is the only way to find out if you’ve come up with something true and important or if you’ve been immersed in self-deception.

Elitist arrogance goes a long way to explaining the recent and disturbing trend on college campuses to censor unwanted speech and thought.

This is why the principle of free speech and the arguments in its favor apply to the political world as well as the scientific one, and why no Philosopher King or Benevolent Dictator can ever be allowed to rule.

Democratic elections are analogous to scientific experiments: every couple of years you carefully alter the variables with an election and observe the results.

The freedom of speech has been one of the driving forces behind moral progress through science and reason because it enables the search for truth.

Chapter 2 Banning Evil

The solution to hate speech is more speech.

The problem with banning the weapons of evil is that Australia and New Zealand are not comparable to America and other large and diverse nations.

Censorship is almost invariably the wrong response to evil actions.

There is no such thing as evil.

Nearly everyone who has ever committed what most of us would consider evil think that they did it for perfectly good reasons.

John Wayne Gacy explained, “I see myself more as a victim than as a perpetrator. I was cheated out of my childhood.”

Campaigns aimed at banning evil in its own (mythical) right almost always include efforts to ban evil speech.

It is my contention that we must protect speech no matter how hateful it may seem.

Chapter 3 Free Speech Even If It Hurts

Europeans have a different history and culture of free speech than we do in this country.

In England, libel law requires the defendant to prove that he or she did not libel the plaintiff, unlike US law that puts the onus on the plaintiff to prove damage.

David Irving’s three-year prison sentence for denying the Holocaust may please his detractors, but it is an assault on the civil liberties of us all.

Chapter 4 Free to Inquire

The Darwinian revolution was the greatest of all intellectual revolutions in the history of mankind.

Creationists have lost all major court cases of the past half-century.

You are free to doubt not just evolution, for example, but the Big Bang theory, vaccines, the germ theory of disease, and global warming.

Chapter 5 Ben Stein’s Blunder

The central premise of Expelled is that there is an academic conspiracy afoot among scientists and scholars to censor the speech of creationists and Intelligent Design advocates.

Even more disturbing than these distortions is the film’s other thesis that Darwinism inexorably leads to atheism, Communism, Fascism, and the Holocaust.

Intelligent Design creationists, by contrast, have no interest in doing science.

Chapter 6 What Went Wrong

2013 was a pivotal year as this is when the iGen (or Gen Z) generation of students born in 1995 or after began to enter college, and as Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt demonstrate in their 2018 book The Coddling of the American Mind.

Most notably in how they were raised (helicopter parenting) and what that means for how a “coddled” generation handles challenges.

As often happens in moral movements, a reasonable idea with some evidentiary backing gets carried to extremes by engaged moralists eager for attention, sympathy, and the social standing that being a victim or perpetrator-shamer brings.

The deeper problem with safe spaces, however, is that in addition to infantilizing adults, they often end up protecting students from opinions that they don’t happen to agree with or shielding them from ideas that challenge their beliefs.

What may have started out as well – intentioned actions at curbing prejudices and attenuating bigotry, with the goal of making people more tolerant, has now metamorphosed into thought police attempting to impose totalitarian measures that result in silencing dissent of any kind.

Most of the big moral movements have been fought and won, leaving today’s students with comparatively smaller causes to promote and evils to protest.

In this victimhood culture, the primary way to gain status is to either be a victim or to condemn alleged perpetrators against victims, leading to an accelerating search for both.

Today’s college students have brittle bones and thin skins.

Social movements tend to turn on themselves in puritanical purging of anyone who falls short of moral perfection, leading to preemptive denunciations of others before one is so denounced.

Virtue signaling, in which members of a movement compete to signal who is the most righteous by (a) recounting all the moral acts one has performed and (b) identifying all the immoral acts others have committed.

A deeper reason behind the campus problem is a lack of diversity. Not ethnic, race, or gender diversity, but viewpoint diversity, specifically, political viewpoint.

Solutions are likely to be incremental and gradual.

Chapter 7 E Pluribus Unum for All Faiths and for None

Foreigners could be forgiven for thinking that America is fast becoming a theocracy.

At most, Christians comprise 60 – 76 percent of all Americans.

Chapter 8 Atheism and Liberty

USA scores the highest in religiosity and the highest (by far) in homicides, STDs, abortions, and teen pregnancies.

Religious conservatives donate 30 percent more money than liberals (even when controlled for income), give more blood, and log more volunteer hours.

If we do not want theists to prejudge atheists in a negative light, then atheists must not do unto theists the same.

Chapter 9 The Curious Case of Scientology

Chapter 10 Does the Universe Have a Purpose

Life began with the most basic purpose of all: survival and reproduction.

Evolution created in us a basic drive of purpose, but higher moral purposes are learned.

Chapter 11 Why Is There Something Rather Than Nothing

The questions are answerable through science, through natural and testable hypotheses and theories, without resort to supernatural intercession.

Science does not yet have a definitive explanatory theory accepted by most scientists, it means that one is not forthcoming.

Chapter 12 Another Dream Deferred

Hans Rosling’s Factfulness, Yuval Noah Harari’s 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, Steven Pinker’s Enlightenment Now and The Better Angels of Our Nature, Greg Easterbrook’s It’s Better Than it Looks, Norberg’s Progress, my own The Moral Arc , and Matt Ridley’s The Rational Optimist.

The past decade has witnessed what appears to be a reversal of Dr. King’s dream in the form of identity politics.

Identity politics are said to be pulling us into another civil war.

Chapter 13 Healing the Bonds of Affection

The Case for Classical Liberalism

I came to believe was the right balance between Left and Right, between liberalism and conservatism. I believe I may have found it in classical liberalism.

Classical liberalism – and its values form the basis of most modern Western societies. Its founders are a veritable Who’s Who of political and economic thought admired by liberals and conservatives alike: Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Thomas Jefferson, Adam Smith, David Hume, Thomas Paine, Jeremy Bentham, John Stuart Mill, Alexis de Tocqueville.

So it is not only moral to help those who cannot help themselves, it pays fiscal dividends to have a strong social safety net within the umbrella of a competitive free market economy.

Chapter 14 Governing Mars

Elon Musk, for example, thinks Mars should be governed by a direct democracy. Well, in theory this sounds good, but in practice such a system can easily slide into a tyranny of the majority – aka mob rule – which is why they are historically rare. Switzerland is an exception, although it is a hybrid, or semidirect democracy, with federalism – like vertical separation of powers mixed in.

If he were to recommend to the first Mars colonists what documents they should take with them to help design their new society, Cockell unhesitatingly offered, “The US Constitution, Bill of Rights, and the Declaration of Independence.

Being stranded in a remote place is one such natural experiment, and, believe it or not, there’s a database of such forbidden experiments in the form of shipwrecks with survivors.

“The groups that typically fared best were those that had good leadership in the form of mild hierarchy (without any brutality), friendships among the survivors, and evidence of cooperation and altruism.

Chapter 15 The Sandy Hook Effect

They are what are known as Black Swan events, but, in this context, I shall refer to them as Sandy Hook Events – high-profile, improbable, rare, and unpredictable mass murders. We cannot and never will be able to predict Sandy Hook Events.

There really is a difference between a gun and a knife, and in this case that difference is measurable in the number of survivors.

The problem is murder, not mass murder; individual homicides, not Sandy Hook Events.

If we cannot predict or prevent Sandy Hook Events, what can we do.

Run, Hide, or Fight.

A National Mental-Health Hotline.

Gun Control. This is the most talked about option for preventing Sandy Hook Events, but it’s a complicated route with numerous permutations.

Chapter 16 On Guns and Tyranny

Chapter 17 Debating Guns

The debate is not really about guns or gun controls. It is about something much more fundamental, and therefore the topic carries much greater emotional salience.

This is rational gun control that even the NRA can get behind.

Conservatives employ a “Strict Father” family model, while liberals embrace a “Nurturant Parent” family model.

Chapter 18 Another Fatal Conceit

The Lesson from Evolutionary Economics Is Bottom-Up Self-Organization , Not Top-Down Government Design

Species are analogous to companies and corporations.

Schumpeter’s descriptor for this process in an economy was “creative destruction”.

Taxing the rich will do next to nothing for our debt crisis.

Taxing the rich won’t make the poor any happier.

Positional ranking exists for a range of traits, not just for wealth.

Do we really need a defense budget that currently accounts for 43 percent of all military spending in the entire world.

A century ago Americans somehow survived and thrived with a government that consumed only 8 percent of our GDP; today it is over 40 percent and climbing.

What will happen when servicing the debt exceeds 50 percent of GDP? You can ask Auto Loan Brokers for satisfactory answers to such questions.

This is the consequence of the fatal conceit that we can design a society from the top down.

Chapter 19 Scientific Naturalism: A Manifesto for Enlightenment Humanism

Scientific naturalism is the principle that the world is governed by natural laws and forces that can be understood and that all phenomena are part of nature and can be explained by natural causes, including human cognitive, moral, and social phenomena.

Widespread adoption of Enlightenment humanism, a cosmopolitan worldview that places supreme value on science and reason, eschews the supernatural entirely, and relies exclusively on nature and nature’s laws – including human nature and the laws and forces that govern us and our societies – for a complete understanding of the cosmos and everything in it, from particles to people.

Scientific naturalism and Enlightenment humanism made the modern world. Many of the founding fathers of the United States, for example, such as Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, Benjamin Franklin, James Madison, and John Adams, were either practicing scientists or were trained in the sciences.

They argued, in essence, that no one knows how to govern a nation, so we have to set up a system that allows for experimentation. Try this. Try that. Check the results. That is the heart of science.

Chapter 20 Mr. Hume: Tear. Down. This. Wall.

Chapter 21 Kardashev’s Types and Sparks’ Law

We have a natural aversion to Others, and we show a remarkable ability to sort people into in-group / out-group categories.

To move beyond this political tribalism, I suggest we adopt the approach that considers liberals and conservatives as emphasizing different moral values, rather than one being right and the other wrong.

One long-term solution is to shift from the zero-sum tribal world of our past to a non zero-sum global world of our future.

Globalism, or Civilization 1.0, includes worldwide wireless Internet access, with all knowledge digitized and available to everyone. A completely global economy with free markets in which anyone can trade with anyone else without interference from states or governments. A planet where all states are democracies in which everyone has the franchise.

Well established democracies do not make war on and rarely commit lesser violence against each other.

Conclusion: Power kills, democracy saves. Solution: Spread democracy.

Trade leads to peace and prosperity. Therefore: Spread trade.

Sparks’ Law: Innovations are best generated when people are free to try their ideas in a competitive and voluntary market.

Chapter 22 How Lives Turn Out

Our inner demons overwhelm our better angels just often enough that I’ve come to believe that in the same manner that sports need rules, markets need regulations, and societies need fair and just laws.

I no longer think that private charity alone can do the job of shoring up a social safety net for the unlucky.

Conservatives, for example, tend to embrace a Just World Theory.

Liberals tend to hold an Unjust World Theory.

We cannot simply employ the hindsight bias by taking only successful people and looking to see what they did to become successful and then back-engineer those traits.

Chapter 23 Transcendent Man

An Elegiac Essay to Paul Kurtz – A Skeptic’s Skeptic

Paul Kurtz, one of the central figures in the birth of the modern skeptical and humanist movements.

Chapter 24 The Real Hitch

Did Christopher Hitchens Really Keep Two Sets of Books About His Beliefs?

Chapter 25 The Skeptic’s Chaplain

Chapter 26 Have Archetype – Will Travel

The Jordan Peterson Phenomenon

I recommend Jocko Willink’s 2017 book Discipline Equals Freedom and Amy Alkon’s 2018 book Unfuckology: A Field Guide to Living with Guts and Confidence.

Chapter 27 Romancing the Past

Graham Hancock and the Quest for a Lost Civilization

Disunited Nations by Peter Zeihan

THE BIG IDEA: American will retreat to the safety of its borders while other countries struggle to find their place behind America is this new global order. Without the American-led global order, the world will face turbulence not seen in a hundred years.

0. Introduction: Moments of Transition

Geography might not be destiny, but it is damn close.

The Order will come crashing down.

In creating their anti-Soviet Cold War alliance, the Americans by hook, crook, carrot, and stick brought every significant power of the past five centuries together under a single banner.

The Americans have changed their mind about their alliance and have turned sharply more insular.

In a world without America, the questions become: Who will still benefit from some lingering connection to the Americans? And who can go it alone?

Without the global security the Americans guaranteed, global trade and global energy flows cannot continue.

France will lead the new Europe, not Germany. We should be worried about Saudi Arabia, not Iran. We should be thinking about how to remedy mass starvation in China, not counter its economic and military clout.

1. The Road So Far

1.1. The First Age: Empire

It all comes down to a pair of concepts we all instinctually grasp but spend little time pondering. The first is continuity. The second concept is economies of scale.

National success requires achieving both continuity and economies of scale.

For over four thousand years, empire was the norm.

1.2. The Second Age: Order

When the dust settled, only two powers remained — the United States and the Soviet Union.

Combine American shared identity with fantastically crunchy borders and a truly wonderful gooey center, and post-Reconstruction America isn’t simply a fundamentally different sort of political beast; it is the most powerful country on Earth.

The United States floated what was indisputably the most powerful navy in history.

The Americans pledged total physical security for anyone who joined their alliance, protecting them with tanks, troops, ships, and the still-under-development nuclear umbrella.

1.3. The Third Age: Order Without Borders

None of the four subsequent presidents picked up the challenge of George HW Bush to reform the Order and build a better world.

With no clear grand strategy, the Americans lurched from crisis to crisis.

The American system continued to enable all the nuts and bolts of global energy and finance and agriculture and manufacturing. The only change was, the Americans stopped asking for anything in exchange.

American involvement in the Order isn’t about — was never about — free trade.

Today the United States remains the least integrated major economy in the world.

The Americans forged, operated, and subsidized the free trade Order so that they would have allies to help face down the Soviets.

Many condemn Donald Trump for destroying the global Order. Let’s be real here. If there is one thing that Americans on both the Left and Right agree on, it is that the United States should pursue a more modest role in foreign affairs. The push for an American retrenchment did not begin with Trump, nor will it end with him.

Despite Donald Trump’s trademark brashness, American policy trajectory hasn’t changed much. In the seventh year of George W Bush’s presidency, the United States initiated a broad global drawdown of its troop levels. That disengagement continued both under Barack Obama and Donald Trump. At the time of this writing, the Americans now have fewer troops stationed abroad than at any time since the Great Depression.

The Americans have lost interest in being the global policeman, security guarantor, referee, financier, and market of first and last resort.

Throughout history, food supply has repeatedly proven to be the most significant limiting factor. If a government couldn’t feed its people reliably, well, let’s just say that famine is the ultimate continuity-ending event. The Order’s safety and openness enabled such massive agricultural investment and expansion that famine was banished from not only the imperial centers, but most of the world.

Not to be outdone, most of the world’s raw materials — whether iron ore or bauxite or lithium or copper — are produced on one continent, processed on another, and consumed yet somewhere else. Even minor interruptions to global shipping will collapse the availably of the base materials upon which modern life has been built.

This Order forced peace upon Europe. This Order dismantled the empires, freeing colonies the world over. This Order enabled the formation of the European Economic Community during the Cold War, and the European Union after. This Order’s extension into the post–Cold War world is what enabled the rise of Brazil and India and China. This Order ended imperial predation in Africa and China. This Order enabled Brazil and Kazakhstan to grow row crops en masse. This Order allowed South Korea and Slovakia to industrialize. This Order enabled oil to flow from Saudi Arabia and Australia and Libya to France and Argentina and Singapore. This Order transformed Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan into democratic pacifists. This Order provides hope for a world beyond coal. This Order makes London and Hong Kong and Singapore financial centers. This Order makes container ships possible. This Order provides global markets for South African ore and Thai electronics and Ecuadorian bananas.

For more than half the world’s population — in countries as disconnected as Korea and China and India and Iran and Saudi Arabia and Egypt and Algeria and Mali and Peru — life expectancy has increased by three decades or more since 1950.

The beginning of the fourth age is a global Disorder in a world without American overwatch. That is what the rest of this book is all about.

2. How to Rule the World, Part I The American Model

Most casual — hell , most professional — observers of international affairs fear a third is on the rise: China.

The Chinese are doing it wrong.

The American system of global management can be summed up as: entice everyone to be on your team.

2.1. Carrot 1: Ensure Physical Security For All

Such distance means any historical bad blood between the Americans and others is fairly thin; few countries have ever faced an American occupation.

Such is most certainly not the case for the Chinese.

It isn’t just that the Chinese can’t displace the Americans as global security guarantor; it’s that no one can.

2.2. Carrot 2: Ensure Maritime Security For All

They could and would guarantee absolute protection of all allies’ merchant shipping. These promises required the Americans to patrol all seas at all times.

The United States was now not only the sole, undisputed global naval power.

That leaves the Chinese with only one fully fledged foreign base: Djibouti.

2.3. Carrot 3: Offer Unfettered Market Access

The Americans used their naval power to create a global market, but just as important, they allowed all the Order’s various members to access the American market.

For their post-American “Order” to be suitably attractive to induce willing cooperation, the Chinese would need to replicate such open access. That’s flat-out impossible.

The Chinese development model has its downsides: risky corporate behavior brought on by a lack of consequences, bloating of expenses, and, of course, a mountain of debt that will never be repaid.

When China’s financial system cracks, Beijing will face a stark choice: watch its modern food production collapse, or empty the cities and force industrial workers back into peasant gardening.

In a time of recession or financial rectification, the entire Ponzi scheme of financing that led to the residence purchases collapses.

In the 2010s China overproduction became so extreme that it surpassed global demand. Part of the rationale behind projects like One Belt, One Road is to dispose of this excess supply by building infrastructure to and in places that would never justify investment in the first place.

Without its capital-flooded finance model and the outlet the Order provides, China’s social fabric would burn.

2.4. Carrot 4: Float a Global Currency

On top of ensuring security, enabling global shipping, and creating a global marketplace, the United States also provides an irreplaceable service by providing the sole global currency.

The yuan has been one of the world’s most manipulated currencies.

While the Europeans have a currency union, banks are still managed and regulated at the national level.

Nobody wants Polish zloty or Vietnamese dong or Argentine pesos, so the dollar plays middleman in lubricating all global trade save that which occurs exclusively within the eurozone.

  1. How to Rule the World, Part II The British Model

The British model was far less complicated than the American system. There is no global set of rules. No paying swathes of countries to be on your side. No trade among nations to facilitate. No chronic need to militarily protect other countries. No guaranteed independence for weak states. There is only flat-out conquering of the world.

3.1. Stick 1: An Unassailable Strategic Position

China has no such insulation.

3.2. Stick 2: A Potent, Flexible Navy

China has nothing like this.

China is an inveterate land power that has fought major land wars with each and every one of the powers it borders. It simply cannot afford the sort of resource focus that made the British navy possible.

3.3. A Massive Technological Advantage

China’s position in the global import market is made possible not by technological edges, but by subsidized production and risk-free transport, all made possible by the American Order. What technologies the Chinese command often have a theft component to them.

The mass application of stolen tech throughout the immense spread of the Chinese population fuels Chinese advances in production and market size and economic bulk, but do not confuse that with a technological edge that gives them a leg up in the British style of global strategic competition.

The real problem is that China cannot build and maintain a large, outward-looking navy and a huge defensive navy and a huge air force and a huge internal security force and a huge army and a huge intelligence system and a huge special forces system and global deployment capability at the same time. For China to be a global power, it would need all of these.

As the world falls into Disorder and American strategic commitments wither, the United States’ strategic toolkit can be smaller. Defending the American homeland is pretty straightforward — float a sizable navy and back it up with some domestically stationed air force assets.

China’s strategic regional geography means it cannot downsize in that way — under any circumstances. The question is not whether China can be the next global hegemon. It cannot. The real question is whether China can even hold itself together as a country.

4. How to Be a Successful Country

Historically speaking, most countries don’t last long.

Remove the Order and what has enabled many of these countries to form, survive — even thrive — will fade away.

Dozens of assets contribute to national survival and power, but these are the big four: 1) viable home territories, with usable lands and defensible borders, 2) a reliable food supply, 3) a sustainable population structure, and 4) access to a stable mix of energy inputs to participate in modern life.

4.1. Territorial Viability

Internal water transport


Temperate climate zones

Rivers + plains + a temperate climate help guarantee a sharp upward technological and economic trajectory.


Rivers + plains + a temperate climate + an accessible coastline all but dictate that a region will become a significant economic and military player.


Hills and swamps limit contact, but determined invaders can still push through them, and both are just habitable enough to house groups that might resist central rule. Mountains are better. But the best by far are wide, wild oceans.

Flat-out, the Americans have both the richest territories in the world as well as the most securable.

The Chinese core territories of the North China Plain are decidedly mediocre.

The only way to maintain reliable agricultural output in the North China Plain is to apply bottomless supplies of labor to manage water supplies.

Cultural unification in the North China Plain is easy. Political unification in northen China is nearly impossible.

Anyone who can reach northern China has had a fairly easy time of dominating whatever chunks of it they find interesting: Mongols, Russians, Japanese, Koreans, Americans, British, French — even Australians. But they have just as much trouble holding that territory as any local authority. The result is a nearly complete lack of political and economic continuity in the Han core.

The Yangtze is one of humanity’s great rivers, boasting nearly two thousand miles of navigability. The most important spot lies at the river’s mouth: Shanghai.

Every bit of this makes Beijing perennially suspicious of Shanghai, and whenever the north manages to unify, Shanghai tends to be the first target of any wider imperial expansion.

Sichuan’s access to the Yangtze enables it to trade with downriver and oceanic partners, making it nearly as wealthy as mighty Shanghai.

Northern China’s beef with Sichuan is threefold. First, Sichuan is by far the most culturally distinct of China’s Han-majority regions.

Second, Sichuan is big.

Third, the Sichuanese realize just how distinct and big and economically viable and remote they are from Beijing.

In the Chinese Civil War of the twentieth century, Sichuan was one of the last spots on the mainland to stand against Mao.

Move south of the Yangtze and the land changes again, edging into the subtropics and becoming incredibly rugged.

Hong Kong, the quintessential southern Chinese city, is the crowning example of how a separate economic life easily leads to a separate political destiny.

To the southeast are tangles of forested and jungle mountains.

Centralish China contains enormous empty stretches.

Beyond those vast swathes of nothing live ethnicities almost pathologically hostile to the Han — most notably the Tibetans on their namesake plateau , and the Uighurs of Xinjiang.

In times of Han weakness, the Tibetans and Uighurs are effectively independent.

What we think of as “China” is in reality less a political entity and more a culture that has a damned hard time keeping itself together.

Contemporary Chinese government — the Communist Party — expends so much effort on nationalist propaganda.

4.2. Agricultural Capacity

Anyone sufficiently arrogant to think the poor will simply starve in silence has a particularly weak grasp of not only biology, but history. Far more cultures and governments and dynasties and countries and empires have collapsed throughout history from famine and failures in food distribution than have been wiped out by war or disease or revolution or terrorism.

Food grows best on flatlands in temperate climates.

The American Midwest is the largest chunk of high-quality, temperate-zone, arable agriculture on the planet.

Without the American Order, a billion people are going to starve.

One downside of China’s massive population is that the country has less farmland per person than Saudi Arabia.

As China’s population urbanized under the Order, much of the country’s good-ish farmland was paved over.

In any sort of constrained import environment — such as problems in the explosion-heavy Middle East — the Chinese will have to choose what they will let go of. Electricity? Motor fuels? Fertilizers?

China is the world’s largest importer of rice, barley, dairy, beef, pork, fresh berries, and frozen fish by tonnage.

4.3. Demographic Structure

Young workers are the big consumers in society.

Mature workers are the big producers.

Upon retiring, mature workers shift from being massive suppliers of capital to massive consumers of state spending via pensions and health care.

The Koreans are hardly alone. The demographics are similar in nearly all the advanced countries, especially Russia, Ukraine, Belgium, Germany, Italy, and Japan (the farthest down this path, by far). In those places and more, demographic twilight before 2030 is both inevitable and imminent.

No mature workers means no capital. No young workers means no consumption. No children means no future.

The short list of First World states that managed to keep their birthrates higher: United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Sweden, and Switzerland.

The countries whose Baby Boomer generation had kids, and so may face aging, but it will be a graceful process: France, New Zealand, the United States, Argentina, Indonesia, Vietnam, and Mexico.

China has a demographic that is the worst of all possible worlds. By 2050, one-third of the Chinese population will be over 60.

Chinese population has an extra 41 million men under age forty who will never marry.

4.4. Energy Access

Only about 10 percent of the world’s population is lucky enough to live within a thousand miles of the wells and mines that provide them with their energy.

For the most part, the oil is not where the people are, and it is only the Order that has enabled the oil to reach the people.

Most of the major wars in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries had an oil component to them.

Coal reserves remain throughout the former Soviet Union, Western Europe, the Indian subcontinent, Australia, and the Americas.

Americans have become a net exporter of crude oil, courtesy of their shale boom.

That still leaves several significant spots where wind and/or solar look fairly promising. The United States comes in a hard first.

Between the shale revolution increasing American energy output and the ongoing efficiency gains reducing American energy demand, the Americans are no longer the world’s top importer of crude oil. They haven’t been since 2014. That title now falls to China.

China’s primary pipe import source is Russia, a country that, since the Cold War’s end, has repeatedly interrupted shipments to consumers to achieve geopolitical goals.

Four-fifths of the world’s internationally traded crude oil is waterborne.

China — as the world’s largest importer of every energy product — has a vested interest in keeping Persian Gulf oil flowing. What it lacks is the capacity to guarantee its vulnerable import routes.

It was not the Chinese who created the environment that made all of contemporary China possible. That was the Americans.

There are parts of China that can be successful statelets: the Pearl River Delta, Shanghai, Sichuan — maybe even Tibet or Xinjiang.

The future of China is that of a people literally fighting to the death to continue to exist as a unified country.

14. The Misshape of Things to Come The Future of American Foreign Policy

This is the seventh reshuffling. Before the last reshuffling in the 1930s and 1940s, the Republican Party included African Americans while the Democrats were home to both the business community and the populists of the right.

Given time, the United States will settle into a new groove, adopting an outcomes-based foreign policy based on a mix of concerns strategic, economic, and moral.

14.1. Unwinding the Global War on Terror

Without the strategic distraction of the Middle East, the Americans will at a minimum put more effort into weapons systems that emphasize power projection over distance rather than those that help with manhunts.

14.2. The Order Hangover

After the Cold War, however, the allies are confused because Americans are confused.

Without an overarching goal, America’s priorities change not year by year, but often hour by hour.

14.3. Strategic Retrenchment

Americans aren’t just tired of global engagement; they’re confused by it. They don’t understand how everything fits together — because it doesn’t any longer.

The United States now has fewer troops stationed abroad than at any time since the Great Depression.

If the United States is going to do anything in the Middle East that involves real power, America must have a military footprint in the Gulf: Bahrain, Kuwait, and Qatar, and so that’s where the United States maintains its military facilities.

Downsizing in the 1990s reduced the personnel roster of the American armed forces by over half, with the biggest drawdowns within the army.

14.4. Profits Without Borders

Few countries have both wealth and productivity. The marriage of a high-value-added workforce to a high-value commodity system generates scads of economic opportunity. The United States sits at the very top of this very short list.

American business community — in and of itself a thin slice of the American electorate — will largely determine what American interests are.

This fusion of corporate interests with otherwise listless American power is called dollar diplomacy.

The breakdown of East Asian manufacturing supply chains will spawn huge interest in the United States in re-forming those chains with more of an American emphasis. American businesspeople will be particularly interested in integrating with pieces of the old system that can be salvaged. That suggests a heavy American hand in Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, and Vietnam.

Brazil, Cuba, and Mexico in particular are likely to see an influx of American corporate interest.

14.5. Desperately Seeking Instability

Drone and Special Operations require only a single small footprint that doesn’t even need to be in-country.

The United States will begin to view disruption in and of itself as a tool, perhaps even a goal.

Targeted disruptions, even broad disruptions, make would-be trading nations strategically dependent upon American goodwill.

Chaos, war, and depression encourage capital flows to the American system.

Today most global trade is denominated in US dollars, and any significant global degradation will reduce the stability of nearly every currency to the point that nearly all future trade will be USD denominated.

Marry an American strategic, willing disregard for global security to a public that has become more comfortable with low-level, disavowable military activity to a military with global reach to a more mercantile approach to the world, and it is Anaki -falling-to-the-Dark-Side eeeeasy to envision a United States that seeks disruption rather than stability as both a tool and a desired end of foreign policy.

15. The United States The Distant Superpower

15.1 Group 1: Allies

United Kingdom, Norway, the Netherlands, Denmark, Germany, Japan, a number of states in Africa, France

15.2. Group 2: Friendly Neighbors

Should benefit: Mexico, Argentina

Mixed: SE Asia, Australia, New Zealand

15.3. Group 3: Transactional Allies, It’s Complicated

Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Israel

16. Present at the Destruction The Dawning of the Fourth Age

If I had to select a single word that will define the ongoing historical turning, it would be overwhelming.

Few recognize just how beneficial and transformative the global Order has been to the world writ large, much less their personal lives.

But in the Disorder the sense of achievements lost will be palpable. People will remember a degree of security and wealth that they will never be able to achieve on their own.

The Americans are not so much passing the torch as dropping it. It will start quite a few fires before someone picks it up.

For the four new regional powers — Turkey, Iran, Japan, and Argentina — allaying American concerns and courting American goodwill will be essential to long-term success.

For the short list of countries likely to remain in the Americans’ inner circle of allies, the whole situation is actually pretty good. For the short list of countries likely to seek American alliance as a hedge against the new crop of regional powers, life isn’t so clear-cut. For everyone else, waking the eagle is something to be avoided.

The “America First” of the hard right is reflexively hostile to the world. The “America First” of the hard left is reflexively hostile to American involvement in the world. The “America First” of the middle just finds the world exhausting.

In all three versions, however, Americans believe that the world is not their problem and that America’s military strength will keep the world from hurting them.

The Americans face more opportunities than challenges.


China’s Report Card: Only Russia has worse relations with its neighbors. When the Order ends, everything that has made China successful will end with it and no one will reach out with a helping hand.

Japan’s Report Card: The Japanese have the capital, navy, technological know-how, and geographic insulation to step into the space left by a retreating United States better than any other regional power.

Russia’s Report Card: Russia is an aging, insecure, former power determined to make a last stand before it is incapable of doing so. American disengagement from the global scene couldn’t have come at a better time, but the reactivation of Russia’s traditional local foes couldn’t have come at a worse one.

Germany’s Report Card: Few countries are more dependent on the American-led global Order. Germany’s best backup plan — the European Union — is already falling apart.

France’s Report Card: France is rarely number one, but it is almost always in the top five. When France’s neighbors struggle — as they are now — French power naturally rises.

Iran’s Report Card: The Iranians have won the Middle East in large part because of American security commitments there. Cast in the role of troublemaker for four decades, Iran has recently experienced mammoth success in disrupting its foes. Now that Iran has more or less won regional leadership, it is woefully ill prepared to protect its gains.

Saudi Arabia’s Report Card: The state of Saudi Arabia is first and foremost a medieval-style monarchy — a tyrant-king , multi-wife, family-murdering , crush-the-peasants, rich-get-richer, poor-get-poorer, off-with-her-head monarchy. Power is concentrated wholly within the ruling family. Political dissent is routinely punished by torture and execution. Oil doesn’t simply make them rich; it makes them essential. Saudi Arabia wholly lacks the sort of geography that would provide them with any natural shielding from out-of-region powers. The Americans had no choice but to ally with one of the world’s least functional and most repressive regimes. Saudi Arabia is in the rare position of having the money, military equipment, and the will to position itself as a legitimate counterweight to Iran in a region long defined by American (mis) management.

Turkey’s Report Card: The Turks are about to come roaring back. Well-positioned locations that could also offer some semblance of security and shelter became crossroads. And Istanbul was the ultimate example of a secure crossroads. Remove the Order, and there is no longer an integrated system of global trade. Instead, the world devolves into a series of national and, in some lucky areas, regional systems. Turkey is among the few countries that have already adapted to the new reality. Turkey will always be smack dab in the middle of everything. It’s relationships with outside powers may wax and wane, but it will always be the economic and military heavyweight of its region.

Brazil’s Report Card: Brazil’s extreme geopolitical weaknesses comes from difficult transport combined with Brazil’s omnipresent tropics. Brazil owes its modern existence to globalization and the Order. Without the foreign capital to fuel its infrastructure and agricultural sector, without safe transport to send its beef and soy to customers around the world, Brazil will struggle to maintain its economy on its own.

Argentina’s Report Card: Once a political ideology more conducive to…sanity takes hold, Argentina has everything it needs to dominate its neighborhood.

United States Report Card

USA > BORDERS: Lakes, mountains, forests, deserts, and vast ocean moats surrounding the best agricultural lands and largest waterway network on the planet. Nowhere else on Earth does a territory have such a beneficial balance of good lands with great standoff distance. Americans spend little on territorial defense, freeing their military to project out.

USA > RESOURCES: Nearly two centuries of industrialization have heavily tapped out a continent of bounty, but new technological breakthroughs continue to surprise. The most recent surprise — the shale revolution — has made the country a net oil and natural gas exporter.

USA > DEMOGRAPHY: The American Baby Boomers — the country’s largest generation ever — are nearing mass retirement, generating a painful financial crunch. But American Boomers had kids. Lots of them. America’s Millennials may be a pain, but their numbers may just save us all.

USA > MILITARY MIGHT: The most powerful projection-based military in world history. With the Order ending, it has…nothing to do.

USA > ECONOMY: The American economy isn’t simply the world’s largest and most diversified economic system; it is the least dependent upon the outside world for its health. The world needs the American economy to survive, not vice versa.

USA > OUTLOOK: The Americans excel at missing opportunities due to domestic squabbling, but there is nothing in what’s left of the international system that will threaten the American heartland either militarily or economically before 2050