We have met the Enemy: Self-Control in the Age of Excess (2011) by Daniel Akst is a book about self-control and in particular self-control in the modern world. Akst combines philosophy, economics, neurology and other research to create a very readable book about self-control. It’s a good non-fiction popular book.
Akst points out that many of the health problems we have are the product of poor self-control. What we eat and how much we exercise, smoking and addiction are all problems that relate to self-control.
Much of what the book contains is predictable. The famous marshmallow test, where the self-control of kids resisting eating a sweet is shown to be predictive of their achievements in later life is included. Akst writes about pre-commitment and strategies such as paying a fine for failing to get to a goal.
But Akst also extends the predictable examples and has done more research and extends these concepts by looking at how Freud and others looked at things and how Skinner and Skinner’s disciples looked at self-control in animals. Discount rates for the future are also discussed. Akst posits that much of what government does is requested by people in democracies because they use government to avoid temptation themselves.
Akst also writes about his own experience and that of many people who work on a computer and have to combat the constant temptation of the internet and procrastination. He compares this to people who work directly with people and do not have the ability to as easily procrastinate and distract themselves.
We have met the Enemy is a good book, it looks at what is undoubtedly a really important issue for people to deal with. It’s not a great book, but a book worth reading and thinking about.