Archives For January 2011

Summary

A fantastic book that chronicles the history of Scotland and the magnificent minds that came out of it.  From Hutcheson, to Adam Smith and Hume this book cover the thinkers and doers that transformed our world modern.  It has many great lessons and ways of thinking that are useful today.

Quotes

  • “I admire commercial enterprise… it is the vigorous outgrowth of our industrial life.  I admire everything that gives it free scope, as wherever it goes, activity, energy, intelligence – all that we call civilization – goes with it.  I hold that the aim and end of all ought not to be a mere bag of money, but something far higher and better.” (commentary… perhaps even, through his bridges and canals, a kind of immortality.)  – Thomas Telford, builder and engineer that opened up the Highlands among other great achievements
  • “The worth of a state, in the long run, is the worth of the individuals composing it” – John Stuart Mill (Scottish-descended Philosopher)
  • “National progress is the sum of individual industry, energy, uprightness; as national decay is of individual idleness, selfishness and vice.” – Samuel Smiles (Self-Help, first self-help thinker)
  • “Knowledge is of little use when confined to mere speculation.” – Benjamin Rush (helped to found the American Philosophical Society)
  • “The best-known Scottish writers were no longer philosophers or political economists or essayists or historians, but masters of the field of fantasy and escapist literature.” – Author Arthur Hermann commenting on the downfall of Scotland in the 1900s (now Scots were pioneers in a new field: the tabloid press)
  • “The grandest moral attribute of a Scot is that he’ll do nothing which might damage his career.”  – James Barrier put it best with a bitter irony.  Towards the end of the Scottish Enlightenment
  • They (Haig, Robertson & Hamilton – Scottish soldiers during WWI that saw grotesque war efforts) were vivid examples of what Adam Smith and Adam Ferguson had warned might happen in an overspecialized modern society, where “the minds of men are contracted and rendered incapable of elevation” – but now at the top of society rather than at the bottom. – Author Arthur Herman
  • Speaking of Bond, He has become like Adam Ferguson’s vision of commercial society’s soldier or bureaucrat, “made, like the parts of an engine, to concur to a purpose, without any concert of their own,” like ants in an anthill. – Author Arthur Herman
  •  “liberty is the perfection of civil society, but authority must be acknowledged essential to its very existence”; and how a strong faith in progress also requires a keen appreciation of its limitations. – Author Arthur Herman, inside quotes is Dave Hume
  • If I have been able to see further, it was only because I stood on the shoulders of giants – Newton
  • 97 – Hume’s point seems to contradict Kane’s belief that property stands at the origin of society, but it actually restates it.  We establish government precisely to put a check on other people’s avidity for our personal goods.  Where property is, laws and government follow, not out of keen desire for them, but out of necessity.  What we want and have, others want, too, and they will do anything to get it, if we let them.  If we left them.  What we might not have the time or even the inclination to do, compelling others to leave our possession alone, the law does for us.  In this way, Kames believes the law, meaning not just legal rules but their enforcement as well, served a powerful didactic purpose.  It tells us our duty, toward others with regard to property and other rights, and towards ourselves.  Doing injury to one person’s property hurts everyone, because violating the rights of one, such as the right to property or the right to lie, threatens the rights of all.  In other words, the law projects a particular moral picture onto the world, which we as members of the community must share.  It its very earliest stages, as in the laws of Moses or of Hammurabi, the law simply taught men not to harm others, in their person or their possessions.  Then it taught the importance of keeping promises and contracts, including the buying and selling of goods.  Finally, as in the civil law code of the ancient Romans, “it extended to other matters, till it embraced every obvious duty arising in ordinary dealings between man and man.”  Eventually the law’s role in creating a moral order is supplemented by an internal device: the voice of conscience.  “In the social state under regular discipline,” Kames explained, “law ripens gradually with the human faculties, and by ripeness of discernment and delicacy of sentiment, many duties formerly neglected are found to be binding on conscience.”  our innate moral sense finds a social footing, and the law is forced to catch up with the new attitudes:  “such duties can no longer be neglected by courts of law.”
  • 101 – why, if everyone has the same desire to be free and happy, as Hutcheson had claimed, are there so many societies in which people are neither?  Now Lord Kames gives us the answer.  Because, under certain primitive material conditions, when resources are scarce or in uncertain supply, the rights of the individual have to give way to the imperative of the group.  The Bushman hunter divides his kill with the rest of his little clan, whether he wishes to or not, because otherwise the group might starve.  During the Dark Ages, peasants were bound to the land to produce food because no one knew when the next attack by marauding Vikings or Saracens might disrupt the harvest and plunge the community into famine.  Then, as material conditions improve, as they inevitably will when human beings devise new ways to increase their stock of property, the institutions governing the community also improve.
  • 208 – our imagination, the inner picture of ourselves being as rich and comfortable as a Duke of Argyll or a Bill Gates, spurs on our efforts, focusing and directing our energies toward a single purpose.  Smith “It is the deception which rouses and keeps in continual motion the industry of mankind.  It is this which first prompted them to cultivate the ground, to build houses, to found cities and commonwealths, and to invent and improve all the sciences and arts, which ennoble and embellish human life; which have entirely changed the whole face of the globe, have turned the rude forests of nature into agreeable and fertile plains, and made the trackless and barren ocean a new fund of subsistence, and the great high road of communication to the different nations of the earth.
  • 209 – the fruits of division of labor’s increased productivity become “commodities”; which creates capitalism and allows us to do things like are – Author Arthur Herman
  • 213 – better to be a poor man in a rich country than a rich man in a poor one – Author Arthur Herman
  • 214 – self interest:  an inner compulsion to better ourselves and our circumstances, which forces us to take action even when we do not particularly want to.  It is in fact the drive behind the division of labor. (but not all are this driven by self interest – but we all profit all of the productive ones that do).  The pursuit of our own self-interest causes us to reach out to others – Author Arthur Herman
  • 214 – It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest – Adam Smith

Luxury empoly’d a million of the poor,

And odious pride a million more;

Envy itself and vanity

Were ministers of industry;

Their darling folly, fickleness

In diet, furniture and dress,

That strange ridiculous vice, was made

The very wheel that turned the trade – Bernard Mandeville

  • 216 – Adam Smith’s real point behind the ‘invisible hand’ was that market-based order was more beneficial and rational than ones put together by politicians or rulers, who are themselves creatures of their own passions and whims – Author Arthur Herman
  • 217 – Smith explains the importance of a strong national government; but not as a monopolistic industry leader – more for protection and large public projects – Author Arthur Herman
  • 219 – Smith’s overall picture of a typical businessman is unflattering.  “they say nothing concerning the bad effects of high profits.  The government of an exclusive company of merchants is, perhaps, the worst of all governments for any country whatsoever.”
  • 220 – another bad effect of commerce is that it sinks the courage of mankind, and tends to extinguish martial spirit.  In all commercial countries the division of labor is infinite, and everyone’s thoughts are employed about one particular thing… the minds of men are contracted, and rendered incapable of elevation.  Education is despised, or at least neglected, and heroic spirit is utterly extinguished. – Adam Smith
  • 220 – Through capitalism we gain, but we also lose.  The loss, Smith felt, was felt most among the lowest classes – his particular example was employees in a pin factory – whose cramped place in the chain of production leaves no room for the enlargement of the mind and spirit, which the freedom of commercial society should open up.  It was especially worrisome to Smith, because “in free countries, where the safety of government depends very much upon the favorable judgment which the people may form of its conduct,” a mass of ignorant, culturally degraded citizens easily becomes an immense drag on the system.  They become easy prey to demagogues and applaud every attempt to undermine the foundations of that “natural liberty” which they have enjoyed the first place.”
  • 221 – Ferguson found in them (Highlanders, Native Americans) honor, integrity, and courage, which commercial society, with its overspecialization and mental mutilation, destroyed – Author Arthur Herman
  • 222 – today, the individual considers his community only so far as it can be rendered subservient to his personal advancement and profit – Ferguson
  • 223 – the last stage of modern history would not be liberty, but tyranny, unless something was done to prevent it.  Left to itself, commercial society would become humanity’s tomb (Ferguson – freedom itself becomes a commodity, to be sold to the highest bidder – or seized by the strongest power) – Marxism grew from Ferguson
  • 223 – Smith and Hume clearly saw the shortcomings of a society organized completely around the gratification of self-interest and the calculation of profit and loss
  • 272 -the science of legislature should remove the obstacles that hinder the natural path of commercial society and its social order – Dugald Stewart
  • 273 – Burke insisted it was the elaborate network of civilized ‘manners’ meaning morality, law, and tradition grown grown up over the ages, that made a system of commercial exchange based on trust possible, and hence human progress possible (Edmund Burke)
  • The Scots believed the great driving force in the progress of civilization was economic change – Author Arthur Herman
  • 278 – information is made more memorable when it is tinged with bias – Author Arthur Herman
  • 279 – the judge is condemned when the guilty is acquitted – the Edinburgh Review
  • 287 – The great cause of revolution is this: that while nations move onward, constitutions stand still – Macauly
  • 340 – Man was designed by nature to appropriate – Lord Kames
  • 392 – A new force was stirring in the Western Education world, that of the German University ideal, which stressed rigorous research and professional specialization rather than the generalist approach the Scots favored
  • 393 – “Elective approach” encouraged dilettantism, more importantly it destroyed the notion of a fundamental unity of knowledge, learning everything ‘scattered like the start dust out of which worlds are said to have been made.” – Scottish education vs German
  • 406 – the Republic may not give wealth or happiness, she has not promised these.  It is the freedom to pursue these, not their realization, we can claim. – Andrew Carnegie
  • 406 – “the great error in your country is that things are just upside down.  You look to your officials to govern you instead of you governing them.”  – Andrew Carnegie
  • 428 – the great insight of the Scottish enlightenment was to insist that human beings need to free themselves from myths and to see the world as it really is – Author Arthur Herman

January 2, 2012

As the new year commences, many of us will soon be breaking the resolutions we just set.  My wife and I were traveling home on New Year’s Day when we overheard a lady talking in the Dallas airport.  She was talking to the man next to her about her resolution to quit smoking.  She said it would be easy because she had done it many times before!  In fact, she was so confident she could quit that she made a bet to pay her brother $100 for every cigarette she smoked.

The story wasn’t worth telling you until what happened when we landed in New Orleans.  After we retrieved our numerous heavy bags from the carousel, we headed out the door like a U-Haul to catch a cab home. Who was standing outside the door smoking a cigarette?  Oh yes, the lady who was so confident she could stop smoking!  I wonder if she paid her brother $100 for that cigarette.

I don’t like making New Year’s resolutions because they too often have a beginning and an end.  I try to live my goals throughout the entire year without using January 1st as the motivator.  One of my main goals and main objectives of the blog is to take control of my life and to help you take control of your life.

What does it really mean to take control of your life?

Taking control of your life will mean different things as you get older and as your goals change. It should also change as you accomplish more and more of your objectives. You should begin to get greedy and confident as your accomplish more and more of your goals because you’ll see the importance of taking control of your time and your life.

Now, I don’t think we’ll ever fully control of our lives, but that shouldn’t stop us from trying. As Nassim Taleb explains in his Black Swan Theory, “Wear your best for your execution and stand dignified. Your last recourse against randomness is how you act — if you can’t control outcomes, you can control the elegance of your behavior. You will always have the last word.”

Taking control of my life has meant different things through the years as it will for you as well. When I graduated college, my goal was to be independent financially, and feel like I could finally do what I wanted with my money. Unfortunately, this resulted in $50,000 in debt before I realized I needed to change.

It got so bad that my next goal was to be able to make all of my payments at the end of the month, but I had a few months that I was unable to do this without using my credit card and racking up additional debt.

I had to take control of my money. I started tracking my spending and finally saving money. It felt good to finally have it under control.

Once I got control of my money, it was time to take control of my life and figure out what I wanted to accomplish. I started to think more about my career and how I could accomplish more. This resulted in success at work and more money. However, it inspired me to want to do more with my life.

The goal that I’m working on now is to take control of my future and to help others do the same. This is a long term goal, but I need to work on it everyday if I want to make it happen.

What does taking control of your life mean to you? Does it mean quitting a bad habit, getting control of your money, retiring with millions, or all of the above?