January 6, 2017
Imperial Viennese society could not survive. But the ideas and art brought forth during the fecund period of Viennese history from the late 1880s to the 1920s endured—from Loos’s modernist architecture to Gustav Klimt’s symbolist canvasses, from Schoenberg’s atonal music and Mahler’s Sturm und Drang to Ludwig Wittgenstein’s philosophy. Those Viennese who escaped Nazism went on to sustain the West during the cold war, and to restore the traditions of empiricism and liberal democracy. ... This ferment was part of a generational revolution that swept Europe at the end of the 19th century, from Berlin to London. But the Viennese rebellion was more intense, and more wide-ranging. And it provoked a more extreme reaction. Hitler arrived in Vienna from the Austrian provinces in 1908 and developed his theories of race and power there. Vienna was thus the cradle of modernism and fascism, liberalism and totalitarianism: the currents that have shaped much of Western thought and politics since Vienna itself started to implode in 1916 until the present day. It has been the Viennese century. ... Amid a babble of peoples and languages—one in which, as elsewhere at the time, gender roles were being redefined—Viennese thinking was driven by an urge to find universal forms of communication. ... Often the Viennese intellectuals leapt ahead by transferring knowledge gained in one discipline to others, gloriously indifferent to the mind-forged manacles that have come to stifle modern academia and research. ... Von Mises and Hayek, one of his students, saw earlier than most that by the interwar years the liberal era in Europe was being overwhelmed by the collectivism and totalitarianism of the right and the left. They subsequently devoted their lives to reversing the tide. ... The Viennese school placed the lived experience of individuals—rather than the abstractions of class, race and nationalism favoured by their opponents—at the heart of their intellectual enterprises.
America’s economic health depends on sustained, long-term investment to support our families and communities and to reinvigorate the economic engine that creates jobs and prosperity. There is no viable model under which either business or government can or should shoulder the responsibility for long-term investment alone; both are required. ... The time is right for a national conversation about long-term investment in infrastructure, basic science, education and training for workers who feel the brunt of globalization and technology. We need to focus on the critical levers for economic growth along with sources of revenue to help pay for it, as well as ways to overcome the short-term thinking currently baked into government policy and business protocols. … The ideas offered here have been developed under the auspices of the Aspen Institute in consultation with a non-partisan working group of experts in public policy formation, tax and regulation, business, and corporate law and governance. While these ideas enjoy support across party lines, breaking the log jam and taking action will require a coalition of leaders across the private and public sectors who are committed to the health of the commons and America’s prosperity.
Now, with The Case Against Sugar, Taubes launches his toughest crusade yet: to prove that we've been bamboozled into thinking that cookies and soda are simply "empty" calories and not uniquely toxic ones. That's the result, he argues, of a long history of deception from the sugar industry and its support of shoddy science. ... With his new book, Taubes will likely have his largest platform, and an audience poised to listen. By now, nearly everyone believes that Americans eat too much sugar. Most experts agree that it's a major contributor to our nation's grim health: More than a third of adults are obese, and one in 11 has diabetes. This understanding has spurred campaigns for soda taxes nationwide — five measures were approved by voters in November — and moves by big companies to ban sugary drinks from workplace cafeterias. ... Even these new anti-sugar crusaders, he says, are motivated by a naive, and ultimately dangerous, "less is better" view of sugar. To Taubes, the answer to our obesity crisis isn't more expensive soda and less sweetened cereals. It's to stop poisoning ourselves altogether. ... By rooting through archives and obscure textbooks, he has uncovered, he says, evidence that sugar is not just the harmless, empty calories we indulge in, but that it may well be toxic, dangerous even in small amounts.
Napoleon Hill is the most famous conman you’ve probably never heard of. Born into poverty in rural Virginia at the end of the 19th century, Hill went on to write one of the most successful self-help books of the 20th century: Think and Grow Rich. In fact, he helped invent the genre. But it’s the untold story of Hill’s fraudulent business practices, tawdry sex life, and membership in a New York cult that makes him so fascinating. ... The past few decades have been a profitable era for all sorts of self-help and business success books. Napoleon Hill blazed a trail for an entire industry. But Napoleon’s early work is seen as “the source” when people get deep into self-help and business success literature. Hill’s Think and Grow Rich is passed around in certain business and real estate circles like some kind of ancient text. ... The legend of Napoleon Hill has grown and morphed over the years. He really did live an extraordinary life, just not the life that his thousands of disciples over the years have claimed. ... Hill was a product of the late 19th century New Thought movement and the magic that came along with believing that mere thoughts could move mountains, or at the very least cure cancer. ... Hill was involved in countless scams over the years. One of his earliest involved buying lumber on credit, never paying his suppliers, and selling the lumber to others for cash at rates well below market value. ... There are only so many times that a man can be arrested for the sale of unlicensed stock, altering checks, and outright theft, before you have to question the official history.
This kind of “counterfactual history” is derided by some historians, but there’s more to it than a new parlor game for scientists (although it can be that, too). It allows us to scrutinize and maybe challenge some of the myths that we build around scientific heroes. And it helps us think about the way science works: how ideas arise out of the context of their time and the contingencies and quirks of individual scientists. ... the most obvious candidate to replace one genius seems to be another genius. No surprise, maybe, but it makes you wonder whether the much-derided “great man” view of history, which ascribes historical trajectories to the actions and decisions of individuals, might not have some validity in science. You might wonder whether there’s some selection effect here: We overlook lesser-known candidates precisely because they weren’t discoverers, even though they could have been. But it seems entirely possible that, on the contrary, greatness always emerges, if not in one direction then another.