Mo Yan chooses to use reincarnation to bind China’s twentieth century history together. The choice of reincarnation adds humor but suggests something more than laughs.

Audio-book Review

By Chet Yarbrough



Life and Death are Wearing Me Out

By Mo Yan (Translated by Howard Goldblatt)

Narrated by Feodor Chin



Cultural understanding is missing from Howard Goldblatt’s translation of Mo Yan’s “Life and Death are Wearing Me Out”.  Mo Yan chooses to use reincarnation to bind China’s twentieth century history together. The choice of reincarnation adds humor but suggests something more than laughs. 


Author, Mo Yan

The story begins with a murdered man who comes back as a donkey, then as an ox, a pig, a dog, and finally as another man—funny, but is there rhyme or reason in the order?

China becomes communist in the 1940s under the leadership of Mao Zedong.  Communism seeks re-distribution of private land into cooperatives to benefit the many at the expense of the few.  Mo Yan’s story begins with China’s communist revolution and the unjust murder and confiscation of a landowner’s farm.

The murdered landowner is Ximen Nao.  After death, Ximen Nao falls into an imagined purgatory to, presumably, be cleansed of his sins.  Despite severe torture, Ximen Nao refuses purgatory’s judgment of his sin.  In consequence, or happenstance, he is reincarnated as a donkey.  The twist in his reincarnation is that he remembers his former life.  Returning to life as a donkey, he meets former employees, a wife, two mistresses, and his children.


During the Communist revolution, Ximen Nao is murdered.  After death, Ximen Nao falls into an imagined purgatory to, presumably, be cleansed of his sins.  Despite severe torture, Ximen Nao refuses purgatory’s judgment of his sin.  In consequence, or happenstance, he is reincarnated as a donkey.

Ximen Nao, as a donkey, returns to his homeland and finds that his former employee has married one of his mistresses and is farming 6 acres of his confiscated land.  Ximen Nao, the reincarnated donkey, gains a grudging respect for his former employee because the employee steadfastly resists public ownership (being part of the communist co-op) of property and insists on being an independent farmer.  (Communist China’s law allows a farmer to be independent of a cooperative if they choose to work the land themselves.)

The former employee and his new wife become emotionally attached to the donkey because they believe it is a reincarnation of an important person in their lives.  (Later, Ximen Nao’s wife consciously acknowledges that the donkey is a reincarnation of her husband.) The independent farmer and his wife cherish the donkey’s existence and its aid in farming the land.  Several incidents involving the donkey reflect on life in China during Mao Zedong’s reign.

Mo Yan straddles acceptance and rejection of communism and China’s current form of capitalism.  His story skewers both political systems.  In Mo Yan’s story, communism and its belief in public ownership are defeated by human nature’s drive for independence.  The independent farmer lives through Mao’s Cultural Revolution and witnesses the return of a capitalist form of property ownership.  Mo Yan denigrates communism’s intrusion in family affairs and how it turns son against father, brother against brother, and compels women to choose between family and a communist’ collective way of life.


Mo Yan straddles acceptance and rejection of communism and China’s current form of capitalism.  His story skewers both political systems.

Capitalism and its belief in unfettered freedom are also ridiculed. Mo Yan characterizes capitalism in a story about the lives of spoiled youth.  Youth that live off their family’s wealth; living for adventure; denigrating love, productive work, and respect for tradition and family. 


Mo Yan shows how singular pursuit of wealth corrupts morality; how leisure becomes more important than caring for others or working for human improvement.

Is there some significance in the order of Ximen Nao’s reincarnations?  Ximen Nao is first reincarnated as a donkey, then as an ox, then as a pig, then as a dog, and finally as another man.  It is a clever way of observing history through the prism of different animal’s lives.  It also makes one wonder about humankind’s ethnocentricity and failure to respect all living things.

Most importantly –It makes one wonder where these two Presidents are taking their countries.

Finding the right balance in life is an overriding theme in Mo Yan’s story.  As the inscription on the temple of Apollo at Delphi suggests, “Nothing in excess”; Aristotle, Benjamin Franklin, Mark Twain and many others have suggested moderation in all things. Mo Yan suggests that both Chinese communism and capitalism fail to offer the right balance in life.


Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough


The Modern Scholar: Ethics: A History of Moral Thought

By: Peter Kreeft

Lectures by Kreeft



Professor Kreeft, in The Modern Scholar’ lectures, offers stories of interesting philosophers and what they think they know about moral thought.  “Ethics: A History of Moral Thought” is a whirlwind tour of how philosophers define ethics.  It begins in antiquity and continues through tomorrow.

What one hears in these lectures may be accepted and practiced in life tomorrow or never; if never, one is seemingly confirming belief in free choice, but not much more.  As a warning to the curious, the tour is circular.  The tour ends as it begins.

Socrates (469-470 BC-339 BC-estimated age 71)

Socrates (469-470 BC-339 BC-estimated age 71)

Wisdom is characterized by Socrates as—“I Know Something That I Know Nothing”.  Kreeft recounts Socrates’ story of being told by Apollo’s Oracle that he is the wisest man on earth.

Socrates does not believe what he is told by Apollo’s Oracle.  He proceeds to prove the Oracle’s error by asking questions of wise men in his day.  In the process of questioning, Socrates finds no one can convincingly answer the questions he asks. 

Socrates concludes the Oracle is right.  He is the wisest man in the world because he knows that he knows nothing.  Others say they know, explain what they know; believe they know, but show (from Socrates’ questions) they know nothing.

Kreeft moves on from the ancients to Aquinas (1225-1274), Machiavelli (1469-1527), Hobbes (1588-1679), Locke (1632-1704), Rousseau (1712-1778), and Sartre (1905-1980) to reveal the truth of Socrates’ aphorism.  Each of these philosophers open new doors of explanation to human ethics but each door leads to empty rooms.


Aquinas acknowledges happiness as a goal in life. To Aquinas, happiness is defined by union with God, the Father of divine virtue.

The cardinal virtues are prudence, temperance, courage, and justice.  Aquinas believes, to the degree humankind follows the cardinal virtues, he/she finds happiness. The logical extension of this philosophy is that there is no chance of happiness without union with God, a God defined by its believers–a Christian, a Buddhist, a Muslim, who?



Kreeft explains that Machiavelli removes the idea of virtue and ethics from the concept of happiness and suggests the exercise of power is the source of happiness.

Machiavelli views mankind as innately evil with happiness as reward from the pragmatic use of power; power gathered by any means necessary.  Machiavelli argues that being feared is more important than being loved.  “Might makes right” in Machiavelli’s observation of the world; virtue is superfluous in the face of force.  The logical extension of this philosophy is tyranny of the many by the few.

THOMAS HOBBES (1588-1679)

THOMAS HOBBES (1588-1679)

Kreeft notes that Hobbes believes, like Machiavelli, mankind is innately evil.  However, Hobbes suggests societies form into communities to mitigate human’ evil through the creation of laws exercised by a great Leviathan, a powerful monster.

The logical extension of Hobbes belief is big government that proscribes laws to mitigate mankind’s inherent evil.

John Locke (English philosopher 1632-1704)

In contrast to Hobbes, Kreeft explains John Locke’s argues that mankind is basically good and freedom-to-compete in a marketplace for goods and property will result in a balanced community of interests.

The logical consequence of Locke’s philosophy is smaller government but only theoretical happiness because competition generates win/lose consequences that amplify community’ inequity.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778)

Next, Krefft’s analysis of Rousseau opens a door to the French Revolution with the idea of “The Social Contract”.  Rousseau believes in the innate goodness of man and argues for the rights of assembly and representative government to establish standards for the common good.  The consequence of that belief is mobocracy in the “Great Terror” of the French Revolution.

In more modern times, the rise of Sartre’s philosophy brings ethics into the 20th century.  Krefft describes Sartre’s philosophy as relativist.  Sartre is an atheist.  He argues that the world is indifferent to all life forms.  People are free but their freedom comes with responsibility.  Without God, all things are permissible but the individual bares the consequence of his/her action.  Sartre believes everything is defined by relationship to an “other”.

JEAN-PAUL SARTRE (1905-1980)

JEAN-PAUL SARTRE (1905-1980)

Sartre suggests human beings live in a state of oppression.  What he means is people choose to emulate others rather than be themselves.  They are oppressed by working to stay up with the Joneses rather than fulfilling there own desires.

David Riesman (1909-2002), a sociologist, wrote a book titled “The Lonely Crowd” that exemplifies Sartre’s concept of oppression.  Sartre suggests we can break that bond by recognizing the oppression and choosing independent self-actualization or authenticity.

This is an existentialist philosophy that demands knowledge and understanding of oneself. 

Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855)

Oddly, existentialism began with a religious philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard. Sartre is known as an atheist. Every person is his/her own god.  Ethics are situation-ally determined with individual’ acceptance of responsibility; every person is an island.

A logical extension of this ethical belief is that societies breed iniquity and distort truth and leave every person on their own path to happiness.

From Krefft’s lectures, one begins to believe human beings are good and bad by nature.  Aside from “Knowing One’s Self” and “Knowing that I Know Nothing”, there is no philosophy that adequately defines virtue or ethics that would predict any kind of Utopian future. 

If happiness is the goal of life, its attainment by an individual or a society remains a mystery.

Nearing the end of Krefft’s lectures, he addresses attempts of science to define morality and ethics.  Krefft acknowledges observation’ analysis dates back to Machiavelli and his views of history but the scientific movement gains momentum with David Hume (1711-1776), Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), and John Stewart Mill (1806-1873).  It seems none of these “users of the scientific method” shed much light on the subject.


Finally, Krefft lightly covers eastern philosophy’s approach to morality and ethics.  One fundamental difference between western and eastern beliefs is eastern belief in reincarnation versus western belief in a one way ride.  A second fundamental difference is the belief in eastern’ culture that human beings are both good and bad while western’ culture believes humans try to be good but are seduced into being bad. 

Krefft suggests an eastern religion may pass a dying person on the sidewalk because he/she fears interference with reincarnation.  In contrast, a westerner might pass a dying person to not be involved, or with a belief that a dying person’s problem is not my problem.


Krefft also notes that eastern philosophy is by nature a “let be” view of life with a concerted effort to leave worldly concerns to their own destiny. 

Western philosophy is more proactively involved in defining and practicing, or failing to practice, morality and ethics.


By the end of Professor Krefft’s lectures, a listener returns to Socrates suggestion; i.e. “Know thyself” because “The un-examined life is not worth living”. 

What you believe is what you believe, but Krefft seems to suggest we should always seek to understand why.


Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough


Philosophy of Science

By: Professor Jeffrey L. Kasser

Narrated by Professor Kasser Lecture Series



This is a tough audiobook to adequately summarize.  Dr. Jeffrey Kasser offers evidence for the value and advance of human knowledge through philosophy and science.  Kasser explains that philosophy is the beginning of what becomes a scientific world view.  Kasser attempts to drag skeptics out of Socrates’ cave with a “36 lecture” series titled “The Philosophy of Science”.

Kasser recounts the history of science from a world controlled by fickle gods to a world of cause and effect.  Then, in the early twentieth century, Kasser notes that science reveals a world of probability.  Kasser reports on views of science changed by philosophers like Karl Popper, Paul Feyerabend, and Bas van Frassen.

KARL POPPER (1902-1994)

KARL POPPER (1902-1994) Popper suggests science cannot be proven but only falsified.  His point is that only infinite experimentation can prove the truth of a scientific theory.

Infinity, by definition, is boundless; therefore, science offers limited truth in so far as no one can reach an infinite number of experiments to prove a theory.



Feyerabend argues that scientific method is a constraint rather than exploratory tool of science. To Feyerabend, when science begins with hypothesis, research is restricted and experimentation becomes biased by pre-conceived or experienced perception.

Bas van Fraasen (Philosopher)

Bas van Fraassen suggests that, at best, science can only reveal approximate truth about the physical world.  His view lends itself to quantum physics where cause and effect become probabilistic rather than definitive.

These three philosophers, as well as several others noted by Kasser, steer science to a category of understanding called logical positivism.  Logical positivism is argued to be the primary focus of what is called good science.  Logical positivism suggests that science must be based on direct experience and logic; within limitations like those argued by Popper, Feyerabend, Frassen, and others.

However, Kassen suggests even logical positivism is challenged by the realization that acts of analysis, particularly measurement of results, distort reality.

Distortion comes from the act of measurement and the bias of human cognition.  In other words, experiments done by different scientists with the same results remain only qualified scientific truths.  Experimentation, even accompanied by logic, becomes suspect.  Observational measurement and human perception are critically important to science but, by nature, both measurement and perception taint objective truth.

Kasser explains the truth of science lays in experiment designed to disprove hypothesis.  Logic generates hypothesis.  Hypothesis is tested for falsity through experiment.  Experiment requires measurement.  Science experiment is influenced by measurement and human perception which raises doubt about results of tested hypothesis.

SIR ISAAC NEWTON (1642-1727)

SIR ISAAC NEWTON (1642-1727) Kasser notes that Newton’s laws infer a cause-and-effect world

Newton’s laws work in the macro world.  We no longer believe rocks fall to the ground because they live there.  Newton’s laws of motion suggest that a bowling ball and a basketball will fall at the same rate of speed, even though their mass is different.  This is experimentally and logically provable.  If a rock, bowling ball, or basketball are picked up and dropped, they will fall to the ground.  If they are in a vacuum, they will fall to the ground at the same rate of speed.

In the micro world, components of atoms that combine to form what we see as bowling balls and basketballs cohere to each other in a way that does not conform to Newton’s laws.  The components of atoms operate in accordance with quantum mechanics which shows that elements of atoms in bowling balls and basketballs do not follow Newton’s laws of motion.  The orbital planes of atomic elements like quarks and leptons appear and disappear; i.e. they do not follow a predictable pattern of action.  


Cause and effect in the macro world is replaced by probability in the micro world.

None of this is to suggest that Newton’s laws are false or that quantum mechanics are anything more than an expansion of Newton’s laws.  However, at this stage of scientific discovery, the two laws are not compatible even though both laws are experimentally confirm-able.  Attempts have been made to unify these laws.  String theory is the present day most studied hypothesis but it fails the criteria of null hypothesis because of today’s instrumental and cognitive limitations.

Philosophy and science are integral to the advance of human civilization.  We are still looking at shadows of reality but Kasser infers philosophy and science are the best hope for Socrates’ spelunkers.


Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough


The Complete Essays of Montaignethe complete essays of montaigne

By: Michel Eyquem de Montaigne, Donald M. Frame (translator)

Narrated by Christopher Lane


Michel Eyquem de Montaigne, a sixteenth century philosopher and writer, wrote and re-wrote “Essays”, originally published in the 1580s.  Essay was a new form of writing.  Montaigne’s subject is the philosophy of life and death.

Montaigne writes his collection of essays while cloistered in a château in southwest France.  Donald Frame translates and compiles three volumes of Montaigne’ essays into one book–“The Complete Essays of Montaigne”, first published in 1957.

Montaigne, born into a family of wealth, affords the luxury of time for personal reflection and contemplation.

Montaigne, born into a family of wealth, affords the luxury of time for personal reflection and contemplation.  Not surprisingly, Aristotle wrote that life depends upon awareness and the power of contemplation.  In one respect, this quiet life is a contradiction in Montaigne’s philosophy.  Montaigne reflects on history and ancient times to explain how life should be lived when his life seems a shadow of most people’s reality, the reality of a day-to-day fight for survival.  There is reader skepticism about the 1% life of Montaigne versus the 99% life of most people.

Montaigne, with great family wealth and a storied education, becomes a Mayor of Bordeaux.  He draws on a privileged life and recorded lives of great philosophers and leaders to create insight about lives of those that “do”, and have little time, or no time, to contemplate.

Montaigne is modest about his erudition but there is an elitist odor that clings to his self-effacing commentary.

Montaigne suggests the appeal of his essays lies in the middle of the human population.  Montaigne suggests the in-between are those who are not highly intelligent, who are abysmally ignorant; preferentially plebeian, and ordinary.  In other words, people of course nature and manner, like this critic.  In spite of this elitist leaning, the wisdom noted in Monsieur Montaigne’s essays is enlightening.

This is a one thousand page journey with something for everyone.  Montaigne suggests humans need to embrace life and eschew tragic interpretations of death.  Life and death are only stories of being.  Death is inevitable and should not be feared.  Death should be embraced like life; it is merely a final act, a denouement of life; well or poorly lived.  In Montaigne’s opinion there are justifications for ending one’s life volitionally but only for valued reason.

Montaigne suggests humans need to embrace life and eschew tragic interpretations of death. Death should be embraced like life; it is merely a final act, a denouement of life; well or poorly lived.

The interpretation of justification and value are lines un-clearly drawn by Montaigne.

Montaigne suggests women may choose to kill themselves rather than be raped.  Men may choose to kill themselves and murder their families to avoid enslavement by an enemy.  The defeated may kill themselves if mortally ill or wounded.  To Montaigne, euthanasia is permissible at death’s door.  Today, the lines are only slightly more clearly drawn and only in a few of the American States (like Washington, Oregon, Montana, Vermont, and California).

EPICURUS (341 BCE-270BCE).jpg died at age 72
EPICURUS (341 BCE-270BCE). Founder of one who believes living life is meant to be the pursuit of pleasure.

Montaigne is Epicurean in the sense that he believes living life is meant to be a pursuit of pleasure.  However, the pursuit of pleasure is not defined by money, power, or prestige.  Those pleasures are diminished by their attainment because they are insatiable human desires.

“Not-needed” things become human’ handcuffs. Life becomes an unending accumulation of things that fail to satiate desire.

When one makes more money than needed to sustain life, he/she buys more of what is not needed.  Those “not-needed” things become human’ handcuffs. Owners worry about losing things; worry about replacing things; worry about keeping up with neighbors. Life becomes an unending accumulation of things that fail to satiate desire.

Power never rests.  Power is always moving like an electron around a nucleus of followers.  Leaders are enslaved by followers.

Leaders worry about followers, worry about competition for position, worry about their place in history; they die alone just like every human being.  Power is an ephemeral pleasure that never rests in one place.

Leaders with power are targets for support or destruction. Power is an ephemeral pleasure that never rests in one place.

Prestige comes from respect of fellow human beings.  It is outside the control of the seekers or the chosen; it is limited by the opinion of others; it changes like the direction of the wind or the habits of the culture within which one lives.

Life is not an either/or proposition despite Kierkegaard’s philosophy. Humans are good and bad; no one is totally one or the other–not even America’s challenged leaders.

Montaigne disdains habit because it contains un-grounded reason that distorts nature.

Montaigne attacks cultural shibboleths that are based on unfounded reason.  Because one says the earth is the center of the universe does not make it so but a universe of fiction may grow around a culture of mysticism that defies the natural state of being.  Montaigne insists on skepticism when confronted with culturally reinforced habit that is not bound by nature.

To Montaigne, pleasure lies in self-understanding; doing what one is best at; and letting go of life when it fails to improve self-understanding or keeps one from valuing existence.

Pleasure lies in self-understanding; doing what one is best at; and letting go of life when it fails to improve self-understanding or keeps one from valuing existence. Montaigne cites many ancient philosophers like Plato, Aristotle, Epicurus, and Lucretius that reinforce his arguments.

Plato drives the point of virtue as the human characteristic of doing what one is best at doing.  Montaigne notes that both Plato and Aristotle emphasize the importance of education for self-understanding.  Self-understanding inures to the benefit of humankind by revealing to each what they are best at and giving them tools (through education) to be the best they can be.  Montaigne insists on learning; not rote memorization, but clear understanding.  Montaigne argues that it is not reciting what someone has said but understanding what is meant by what is said.  This is a somewhat ironic statement in view of Montaigne’s voluminous quotes from dead philosophers.

Montaigne infers education opens all doors to self-understanding and the pleasures of a good life and honorable death.

Montaigne reflects on his upbringing and his Father’s drive to educate his son by making Latin Montaigne’s first language, the language of scholarship in the 16th century.  Montaigne did not only live the life of a scholar.  He was elected mayor of Bordeaux before retiring to his cloistered existence as a writer of the “…Essays…”  Montaigne applauds his father for providing him an education and infers that every family is obligated to support education of their children.

Montaigne died from complications of tonsillitis at the age of 59.  Frame’s translation of Montaigne’s essays offers a philosophy of life in a horse-size pill.  It encourages the old but escapes the young because life happens too fast.

As George Bernard Shaw notes, youth is wasted on the young; probably because they are too busy for contemplation.  “The Complete Essays of Montaigne” is an insightful guide for the conduct of life and the acceptance of death.


Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough


36 Arguments for the Existence of God36 Arguments for the Existence of God
By Rebecca Newberger Goldstein
Narrated by Stephen Pinker, Rebecca Newberger Goldstein, Oliver Wyman


Rebecca Goldstein writes like Stephen Pinker on steroids.  (Coincidentally,  Goldstein is married to Pinker.)  Goldstein’s novel is not the story one expects from its title because “36 Arguments for the Existence of God” is about denial; not affirmation of existence.

STEVEN PINKER (Cognitive psychologist, linguist, and author)
STEVEN PINKER (Cognitive psychologist, linguist, and author who wrote “How the Mind Works”, “The Blank Slate”, “Angels of Our Better Nature”, etc.)

A more apt title for Goldstein’s book might be “The Science of Human Nature Denies the Existence of God”.

Goldstein has done a masterful job of creating “fear and trembling” in believers.  This is “fear and trembling” in the opposite sense of Soren Kierkegaard’s meaning. Kierkegaard’s meaning awakens believers in God.  Kierkegaard, an author, theologian, and philosopher, argues one should fear and tremble at the truth of God’s existence.

SOREN KIERKEGAARD 1813-1855 (Kierkegaard, an author, theologian, and philosopher, argues one should fear or tremble at the truth of God’s existence.)

On one level this is a story about a man named Cass Seltzer and his personal (sometimes romantic) relationships.

On a second level it is about human ethnocentrism. Characters, including Cass Seltzer, see through myopic eyes based on who they have become and what peer group they belong to.

On a third level “36 Arguments…” is about human nature and cultural memes (Richard Dawkins defines a cultural meme as an inherited learned behavior).

On multiple levels, Goldstein’s writing is about the elephant in the room; i.e. mankind’s belief in a Supreme Being.

The story of Cass Seltzer’s life is absorbing.  The women he loves are monumentally independent, fantastically alluring, and maddeningly self-centered (as self-centered as Cass Seltzer).  Each character believes what they believe with conviction that directs their lives.

The introduction of Felix Fidley exemplifies tribal ethnocentrism and conviction; i.e. a believer who says one way is the only way.

Goldstein’s introduction of Felix Fidley in her novel exemplifies tribal ethnocentrism and conviction; i.e. a believer who says one way is the only way.

Ms. Goldstein cleverly introduces the town of New Walden.  Its isolated belief system reflects the heritability of good and bad genetic markers and memes that trap people in worshipful repetition.  One might categorize it as a cult or, more politely, a commune.

Finally, Goldstein creates a straw man debate about God,  The debate is conducted in the next to last chapter.  It pits Cass Seltzer against a purportedly renowned debater. Seltzer beats his debate opponent.  Believers in God lose.  In the last chapter, 36 arguments for belief in God are stated and refuted.

One doubts Goldstein will change the world with her book but its rational arguments are a big add to the non-believing world’s arguments for a scientific theory of the world that explains everything about everything.

One doubts Goldstein will change the world with her book but its rational arguments are a big add to the non-believing world’s arguments for a scientific theory of the world that explains everything about everything.

Faith is always a refuge but is it enough?

If you are a believer, “36 Arguments…” is a clear explanation of your battleground; it reveals the manifesto, strategy, and tactics of a non-believer.  Faith is always a refuge but is it enough?

“36 Arguments for the Existence of God” is a fascinating piece of literature.


Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough


Asabiyyah: What Ibn Khaldun, the Islamic Father of Social Science, Can Teach Us About the World Today

Written by: Ed West 

Narrated by:  P. J. Ochlan





Ed West offers a brief introduction to the life of an ancient historian.  His name is Ibn Khaldun.  Khaldun describes the first known evolutionary theory of human origin.  West also notes this 14th century scholar creates the first known socio/political theory of the rise and fall of civilizations.

Khaldun explains life’s origin as a aggregation of chemicals and minerals that create organic life and, in turn, evolve into different species. 


West notes that Khaldun suggests humankind evolved from monkeys. This is four centuries before Darwin’s “Origin of Species”.

Ibn Khaldun is considered by some to be the first person to write foundational theories for modern sociology, economics, and demography.  West notes that Khaldun explains how nations are formed, maintained, and destroyed by sociological, economic, and demographic forces.

Khaldun offers counsel to the great conqueror, Amir Timur (aka Tammerlane), who plans to resurrect the 13th century Mongol empire built by Genghis Khan.  


TIMUR AKA TAMMERLANE IS COUNCELED BY IBN KHALDUN  (1336-1405–(Timur is said to have caused the death of over 17 million people in the effort.)

West suggests that Khaldun explains how Timur and other rulers, from the Roman empire to Genghis Kahn to Timur successfully conquered great areas of the known world.  His explanation is “Asabiyyah” (aas-sah-bee-ah), a theory that all successful conquerors establish a social environment that creates solidarity among a group of people sharing understanding, purpose, and achievement.

West explains that Khaldun expands “Asabiyyah” to a theory of civilization’s rise and fall.  Humans proliferate based on family affiliations.  Religion widens family relationships to create tribes. Tribes become a congregation of different families with common beliefs.  Tribes come into conflict and eventual settlements that grow into larger groups based on evolved common beliefs. 

At each step of widening common interest, a leader rises from the ranks.  With an accretion of social ties, villages, towns, and cities are formed with a leader at its head.  As the ties that bind continue to expand, nation-states are formed.


Ibn Khaldun’s explanation is “Asabiyyah”, a theory that all successful conquerors establish a social environment that creates solidarity among a group of people through shared understanding, purpose, and achievement.

West shows that Khaldun goes on to explain how civilizations decline. First, Khaldun notes that sons and daughters of great leaders rarely exceed their parent’s leadership success.  Khaldun posits the current social and scientific belief of “reversion to a mean”. 


Each subsequent offspring of a great leader comes closer to the average of a civilization’s population.  Leadership diminishes in succeeding generations.

Second, Khaldun suggests diminished common beliefs lessen a civilization’s cohesion.  Religious differences rise, economic circumstances change, social groups fracture, family ties reassert themselves as ties that are more important than community.  The example that Khaldun gives is Rome’s decline as a world power. West suggests the same may be said of the United Kingdom’s decline.


Has the American Dream become a lie few believe in?  Are elected officials withdrawing to their families at the expense of nation-state’ leadership?

West’s “Asabiyyah” makes one think of America.  Does today’s political conflict reflect diminishment of commonly held nation-state belief?  Is the increasing gap between rich and poor destroying the social fabric of America?  Is the divisiveness of former President Trump a reflection of a nation in decline?

Is nationalism dead, or are we crossing a threshold where the principals of nation-state need to be expanded to include a wider community?  Is the next step reflected by the E.U. or some similar congregation of nation-states?


According to West, Khaldun believes nationalism is critically important for a civilization to remain strong.  In the time of Khaldun, there was no vehicle for common beliefs except a leader’s influence over conquered nations. 

Today, there is an internet.  It seems the human family may once again be expanded.  Nation-states may not be prepared for “space-ship-earth” but there may be an interim step.

That interim step was tried during the cold war with the U.S.S.R.  It failed.  The E.U. is facing challenges today.


Trump’s America is regressing from comity to disparity with emphasis on making itself great again.  A leading question today is whether civilizations are competing to be in decline or ascendance?

Of course, leadership is key to any future.  Right now, there seem few leaders that can make civilizations grow beyond their borders. Khaldun seems as relevant today as he was in the 4th and early 5th centuries.

Psychological Unease

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough



Written by: Jeremy Narby

Narration by:  James Patrick Cronin


Psychological unease accompanies Jeremy Narby’s erudite speculation about the meaning and origin of life in “The Cosmic Serpent”.  The unease comes in two forms.  One, is Narby’s seduction by hallucinatory experience.  Young people in America are choosing to overdose rather than face today’s perceived reality.  The other is Narby’s patterning of observations to create either a true or false belief.  It reminds one of the potential of Einstein’s discovery of matter and energy equivalence.  Einstein discovered falsifiable evidence of nuclear fission that holds a key to sustainable energy.  He also opened the door to Armageddon.

TIMOTHY LEARY (1920-1996)
TIMOTHY LEARY (1920-1996)

Narby, like Timothy Leary, is educated at some of the best universities in the world (Leary at Harvard; Narby at Yale).  Both have PhDs. Narby has a PhD in anthropology; Leary in Psychology.  Few, if any, believe LSD (Leary’s hallucinatory drug of choice) offers insight to the origin and meaning of life. However, like Leary, Narby suggests hallucinatory drugs may be a pathway to understanding.

Regarding hallucinatory experience, Narby does not appear to have slipped into the bizarre behavior of a Timothy Leary; at least not yet. Narby is 59 years old.  When Narby did his research, he was in his late 20s and early 30s.  “The Cosmic Serpent is published when Narby is still in his 30s.  Leary lived to be 76.  Each passing year exaggerated Leary’s belief in the therapeutic potential of psychedelic drugs.

MIND PATTERNINGPatterning is the human ability to see structure in disparate facts and events.  Some say this is the sign of genius.  Einstein is said to have formulated a theory of time by riding a train.  Einstein’s insight came from thinking (patterning) how time is relative based on a person riding a train and a stationary observer watching the train pass.  However, patterning also leads to incorrect conclusions like a person’s recollection of a crime.  Human brains are shown to manufacture events and facts to make stories complete rather than necessarily accurate.

SHAMANISM – Narby’s articulate presentation of Peruvian shamanism tempts seekers of knowledge and experience to try something new.

Narby’s articulate presentation of Peruvian shamanism tempts seekers of knowledge and experience to try something new.  The temptation comes from different sources.  One is genuine interest in understanding more about the world and our place and purpose in it.  Another is the desire to believe that there is something more important in life than wealth, power, or position.

“The Cosmic Serpent” suggests that native cultures around the world offer insight to the origin and meaning of life because of common hallucinatory experiences.  Narby suggests the hallucinatory symbol of a winding serpent is evidence of the configuration and importance of DNA; long before Watson’s and Crick’s discovery.  The inference is that shamanistic hallucinations are not mere symbols but a truth of life.  Narby’s inference is that seekers of life’s truth should listen to the experience of shamans and pursue shamanistic experience through the studied use of their methods.

Narby suggests the hallucinatory symbol of a winding serpent is evidence of the configuration and importance of DNA; long before Watson’s and Crick’s discovery.

Narby argues that the scientific community needs to widen its view of the world. He believes DNA holds the secrets of nature’s existence.  The question is whether youth and science should accept the risk of Narby’s patterned belief?

At the least, Narby makes one appreciate the importance of native culture.  He may be opening a worthy field of scientific research.  On the other hand, Narby may be creating false expectations that offer ignorance and escapism, rather than research and science.


Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough


Age of Anger

Written by: Pankaj Mishra

Narrated by: Derek Perkins



Pankaj Mishra shows that today is yesterday in “Age of Anger”.  Leaders in America, China, India, and Russia return their countries to the ritual of nationalism, i.e., societies’ position of “all against all”.  Mishra’s observations imply either enlightenment is nigh, or an end is coming. The most recent example of course is Russia’s retaliatory bombing and missile strikes in Ukraine.

Ukraine deaths and displacement.

To some, covid-19 heightens belief that an end is coming. A view of history suggests that is nonsense.


Today’s tribalist anger (aka extreme nationalism) carries the imprimatur of an overheated world from the threat of covid-19, a nuclear holocaust, and climate change.

This is not a new “Age of Anger”.  It is the same anger from the same origin.  Its origin is human ignorance; i.e. an ignorance existing from the beginning of time.


It is revivified by Mishra’s recount of violence between and among competing cultures.

Mishra focuses on the origin of anger in the world.  He offers examples written in the blood of all nations at different times in history.  India, China, Japan, Russia, Great Britain, South Africa, America, and other nations with different governments, different religions, and different cultural norms create ages of anger.  It is an anger inherent in humankind.  Mishra argues that anger is revealed by science and exposed in philosophy.

This anger is not only between nations but within nations. Most recently in America, domestic evidence of the “Age of Anger” are senseless mass shootings that have taken the lives of 19 children, their teacher at a grade school, and a grandmother in Texas, a doctor and 3 hospital workers in Oklahoma, and three adults at a Tennessee nightclub.

It is as though America wants to turn back to the wild west to settle disagreements and act-out at every frustration or depressive circumstance of their lives. The public acts with anger and violence that is made deadlier by weapons of war designed only to murder.


Mishra suggests the “Age of Anger” is reinforced when philosophical interpretation distorts facts (aka Kellyanne Conway’s alternative facts). The distortion of facts by Trump’s early comments on the Covid-19 pandemic exemplify origins of the “Age of Anger”.

Mishra offers an example of how lies of those in power and influence magnify the “Age of Anger”. Science can be distorted by philosophical interpretation, e.g., Herbert Spencer captures Darwin’s theory and falsely interprets it as a social construct.

Spenser argues that society evolves and advances because of “survival of the fittest”.  He implies it is the same mechanism described in Darwin’s “…Origin of Species”.  Darwin’s research and theory of evolution are distorted by Spencer.


Spenser creates alternative facts.  Spenser argues that progressive development of society is dependent on ethics, religions, economics, political theories, philosophies, and sciences that are the fittest to survive.  Spenser infers survival is the only criteria of what is good for humankind.  To Spenser, life is a competition for “all against all”.

Darwin’s theory of evolution has little to do with survival of the fittest.  Extinction or perpetuation of an evolutionary line is a matter of happenstance; not fitness for survival.  (Hairlessness does not make humankind more fit for survival; i.e. it makes the human body more environmentally vulnerable.)

Mishra explains how concepts of materialism and well-being are interpreted within and among nation-states.  As materialism becomes a measure of well-being–money, power, and prestige set a precedent for valuing human existence in a Spenserian creed of “all against all”. 

Mishra reviews the beliefs of Voltaire, Nietzsche, and Kant to show how materialism, supermen, and human perception control the course of history.  Voltaire ranks wealth; Nietzsche ranks power, and Kant ranks perception as measures of human worth.

Mishra suggests anger has risen through generations, within and among nations, that explain world wars, genocidal acts, and atrocities beyond imagining.  That anger exhibited itself in the murder of an innocent woman in Valle Verde Park, California in April of 2019.

Our former President exacerbates American anger that is exhibited by extremists who attack Asian Americans because of an ignorant belief that China purposely introduced Covid19 to the world. If all Americans are not ashamed, they should be.

Extremists embarrass themselves and America by believing Q Anon conspiracy theories.

Pittsburgh Synagogue Murders (11 Dead, 6 wounded in October 2018.)

Poway, Valle Verde Park, CA Synagogue–murder of one and injury to three in April 2019.

Racially motivated killing of 10 Americans in May of 2022 by an 18-year-old white supremacist male who believes the “replacement” conspiracy theory spread by bigoted Americans.

It is fair to say that there have been respites from this cycle of violence.  But, unless or until human beings see themselves as part of the same society, the world will end in the Armageddon of biblical imagination.


Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough


The Consolation of PhilosophyTHE CONSOLATION OF PHILOSOPHY

Written by: Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius

Narrated by: David Rintoul


This translation of “The Consolation of Philosophy” impresses all who listen to it because of the beauty of Boethius’s writing and Rintoul’s narration.  Though one may either agree or disagree with Boethius’s religious philosophy, the juxtaposition of his poetry with chapters of Socratic dialog are a pleasure to hear.

Boethius is born into a rich aristocratic Roman family and achieves high office and continued wealth, even when Rome is conquered by a Ostrogothic King, Theodoric the Great. In the beginning of Theodoric’s reign, Boethius is a court favorite but in 524 AD, he is arrested and imprisoned for (according to Bothius’s writings) defending the poor and powerless from the new Roman Ostrogothic government.  During Bothius’s imprisonment, just before his execution, he writes and completes “The Consolation of Philosophy”.

One may think of Bothius’s book from two perspectives.  One, “The Consolation of Philosophy” is a treatise to justify God.  Two, “The Consolation of Philosophy” is a rationalization for mistreatment by others; i.e. “others” defined as both God and Mammon.


Boethius is visited by a vision of the “Lady of Philosophy” in his cell.  The “Lady” has been Bothius’s companion since childhood.  She sees Bothius shedding tears over his plight and asks why he laments his station in life after having so dutifully followed in the steps of the great philosophers of antiquity.  As the “Lady” recounts Plato’s and Aristotle’s teachings, she berates Bothius for his lamentation over loss of wealth, power, and prestige.  In a Socratic dialog, the “Lady” recounts the folly of those who covet worldly ephemera when “happiness” has always been the goal of human life.  Bothius begins to recollect the teachings of Plato and Aristotle that explain wealth, power, and prestige are fleeting values in life and never the source of happiness because of the constant fear of loss and the insatiable lust for more.

BOETHIUS’ LADY OF PHILOSOPHY (In a Socratic dialog, the “Lady” recounts the folly of those who covet worldly ephemera when “happiness” has always been the goal of human life.)

The “Lady” reminds Boethius of the omniscience of God. 

The “Lady” reminds Boethius of the omniscience of God.  He knows all, sees all, and loves all.  Both good and evil are part of earthly life and it is only those who choose moderation in all things good that will find earthly happiness.  Bothius creates a Socratic dialog between himself and the “Lady” to question how God allows evil to exist, and whether man can have free will when God is omniscient and knows each human being follows a known path in life.  Bothius asks “…is there not chance in every person’s life that leads them in one direction or another?”

Boethius implies these questions are answered to his satisfaction.  He accepts God as omniscient.  Every listener will have their own opinion after completing Bothius’s story.  To some, the answers are the machinations of a man who rationalizes his bereft state; to others, the answers are a guide to life in this world.

In any case, “The Consolation of Philosophy” is a literary work of art.


Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough



Invisible Man, Got the Whole World Watching

Invisible Man, Got the Whole World Watching: A young Black Man’s Education

Written by: Mychal Denzel Smith

Narrated by: Kevin R. Free


Mychal Smith’s book is difficult to listen to for a white liberal; i.e. the difficulty is more because of what Smith sees than what he does not see.  The necessary truth of what Smith sees is that being black, female, homosexual, or any color but white disadvantages citizens who live, work, and love in America.  Smith correctly notes that Barrack Obama did not change that truth.  But, for a liberal, Smith’s criticism of Obama is heart-rending.

No singular person will ever unwind history’s discrimination. That Obama is black and became the first black president of the United States proves being human is the best one can be.

Smith’s expectation is superhuman.  No singular person will ever unwind history’s discrimination.  Obama is an extraordinary human being by any standard of measurement.  That Obama is black and became the first black president of the United States proves being human is the best one can be.  Martin Luther King’s “arc of justice” still bends toward freedom and equal opportunity for all; despite the world’s, let alone Obama’s, failings.

The nature of humankind is an evolutionary work in progress.  Sadly, evolution is a chancy proposition that moves human nature both backward and forward.  Maybe, humanity will never get to a state of freedom and equal opportunity, but Obama’s “audacity of hope” is better than anger, and fear.

MALCOLM X (1925-1965)
MALCOLM X (1925-1965, Malcolm X’s life experience and intelligence led him to believe all people are human beings.)

Smith cites Malcolm X as his ideal of black resistance but fails to note that Mr. Little evolved to believe separate but equal is a fiction.  Malcolm X broke from the Nation of Islam because of its belief in Black separatism and superiority.  Malcolm X’s life experience and intelligence led him to believe all people are human beings.


In being human, there is good and bad in every race, color, and creed. None of this denies Smith’s recognition of the questionable murder of Trayvon Martin, or the Jena Six debacle in Jena, Louisiana where a white high school student is beaten by five black teenagers.  Both incidents are riven with racial hatred, lack of justice, and human failing.

Smith gravitates to violent lyrics to say the anger of rap artists appeals to his inner frustration.  Smith recounts the considered statements of Kanye West when President Bush fails to conscientiously respond to the Katrina disaster in New Orleans.  (West suggested Bush did not care about black people.)  Ironically, Kanya West appears to support President-Elect Donald Trump who was sued for discrimination under the fair housing laws of the United States.

Ironically, Kanye West appears to support President-Elect Donald Trump who was sued for discrimination under the fair housing laws of the United States.

There are many incidents that Smith recognizes as the failure of white America to treat minorities fairly.  At the same time, Smith is introspective in acknowledging some of his own human failings.  He writes of his fears, his desire to be a great writer, and his earlier life failure to understand how important women’s rights are in the black community.  He writes of his father’s concern over his sexuality and how gender discrimination has some of the same hatred, lack of justice, and human failing as black discrimination.

Listening to Mychal Denzel Smith is difficult because his observations explain why he, if not most, black Americans are disgusted with white America.  It makes a white person feel guilty because white Americans are the majority; and, as a majority, white (particularly male) America has the bulk of the country’s money, power, and prestige.  Until all people are humans first, there seems little reason to believe there is much hope for the “arc of justice” to bend toward freedom and equal opportunity for all.

PRISONHope is not enough for black American’s suffering today.  That is Mychal Smith’s message–too many blacks are being murdered; too many blacks are denied equal opportunity; too many blacks are jailed, and too many black families are broken.

What Smith fails to fairly acknowledge is who is at fault.  All of us share the blame.  Human beings must recognize the humanity of all human beings.  If evolution is not the answer, then human will (in a Nietzschean sense) must come to America’s aid.