Sunday, November 01, 2009

Levitt and Dubner: "Super Freakonomics": a does of existential analysis of many popular issues

In recent days, major media outlets have given a lot of attention to the new book by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, a followup on “Freakonomics”. The new book is titled “Super Freakonomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes, and Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance,” 2009, from William Morris Publishers, ISBN 978-0-06-088957-9, 270 pages, hardcover, indexed.

Most of the book talks about the existential paradoxes that we reach when we follow popular thinking about major issues. The authors believe that many positive changes in society have come about as a result of relatively simple innovations. They give the polio vaccine as an example. Or, they say, consider that whale oil as a fuel source had sustainability problems in the Nineteenth Century. That was replaced, almost on a whimsical accident in Pennsylvania, by fossil fuel oil, leading to today’s debate on peak oil and global warming.

The authors discuss some relatively simple proposed innovations that could cool ocean and Gulf of Mexico waters to prevent super-hurricanes, and also discuss a huge global “straw” to siphon some sulfur dioxide up into the stratosphere to oppose global warming. They also say that global warming could be more influenced by bovine flatulence (releasing methane) that carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels, and locally grown food is not always more energy efficient.

On the social issues, the authors get interesting. They talk about selfishness and altruism, and show that many nursing home visits or eldercare efforts by adult children seem to be motivated by a desire for bequest; therefore, Singapore (wise to all this) passed its “Maintenance of Parents Act”, one of the world’s most rigidly enforced filial responsibility laws putting responsibility on adult children (most of all the childless themselves).

The authors also discuss statistical evidence that violent crime may have increased since the 1950s in relation to how much exposure young men or boys have to television. It's not violent content that is the issue, as much as the lack of socialization, perhaps.

The authors also explain the particularly self-destructive behavior associated with terrorism, which they say often comes from relatively privileged young men seeking to make their lives into bombastic public statements. They discuss not only 9/11 but also the 2002 Malvo sniper cases, and lay out some horrific hypothetical scenarios which need not be repeated here. They also discuss some profile characteristics of these young men (some of which are kept classified, a secret that the authors say they respect), one of which is the lack of life insurance (because of a lack of generativity).

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

good review. where can i buy super freakonomics as ebook? not kindle