Plato’s weekend suggestions, episode 58

readingsHere it is, our regular Friday diet of suggested readings for the weekend:

‪Welcome to the Age of Anger, the result of too much trust in the Enlightenment ideal of rationality.

Physics and fundamental laws: is the field turning into (OMG!) biology?!

‪It’s dangerous to outsource our critical thinking to Google and Facebook.

‪Can evolution have a higher purpose? No. But interesting read nonetheless.

Feel the urge to cheat on your partner? Go ahead, it’s natural, says (misguided) couple therapist.

57 thoughts on “Plato’s weekend suggestions, episode 58

  1. Coel

    Hi ejwinner,

    your understanding is incorrect. See Hamilton’s Federalist Paper, # 68.

    Is it possible for what you’ve said and what I said to both be correct.

    It was assumed that only the gentry would have the refinement of education to vote for the common good, and they would dominate the Senate; businessmen and small farmers were expected to vote their individual interests, and would dominate the House.

    But this is talking about those that had the vote. A businessman or a small-farmer who owns his farm is not the same as a labourer who owns no property.

    From wiki: “At the time of ratification of the Constitution in the late 18th century, most states had property qualifications which restricted the franchise; the exact amount varied by state, but by some estimates, more than half of white men were disenfranchised” (link).

    So, if the election were a simple count of votes, a state that allowed only half of whites to vote (and no blacks, no Native Americans) would lose influence compared to a state with a much wider franchise. Hence such states wanted the electoral-college system to ensure they had full weight in the outcome. Again, your remarks are compatible with this suggestion and so don’t counter it.


  2. SocraticGadfly

    Coel, no … the Electoral College, per my blog post, was designed as a filter — a filter against direct democracy. That said, political parties of a sort, or factions, existed in the US at the time the Constitution was written. I’m not sure of the “whys” of many of America’s “founding fathers” in pretending it wasn’t so.

    After all, the American Revolution was arguably an event driven by the American wing of the “country party” vs. the “court party” or “king’s party” that had gotten firmly in the saddle back in Britain with the ascension of George III.


  3. SocraticGadfly

    Coel, also, as noted in my blog link, the so-called “Three-Fifths Compromise” was first raised by the Articles of Confederation government in the early 1780s, and raised to address the issue of taxing slaves just as much as enumerating them for voting purposes.


  4. Coel

    Well, in evidence for what I’ve said I’ll cite Farrand’s Records of the Federal Convention, and a section deriving from James Madison’s own records. He is talking about his preference for a popular vote for the President:

    “There was one difficulty however of a serious nature attending an immediate choice by the people. The right of suffrage was much more diffusive in the Northern than the Southern States; and the latter could have no influence in the election on the score of Negroes. The substitution of electors obviated this difficulty and seemed on the whole to be liable to the fewest objections.” link to Library of Congress here.


  5. Daniel Kaufman

    The US is a Federation of States, and the Electoral College system reflects that in a very obvious way. Thus, the election system is designed precisely so that you cannot win national elections from LA County, Boston Metro, The Bay Area, and New York City. And this is why the Democrats will keep losing unless they put together a platform that has appeal across a much larger number of states, and that means a much more centrist, less culturally radical one.

    The rest of the “explanations,” frankly are nonsense. Once you understand what kind of country the US actually is, the logic for the EC is rather plain.

    And before people pine too much for parliamentary democracy, in a country as evenly split as ours, that’s a great way to let tiny fringe parties hold the entire country hostage. Overall, a Federal system like ours is better.


  6. SocraticGadfly

    Au contraire on several counts, Dan.

    First, political parties, or factions, existed in 1787. Why the founders pretended otherwise, I don’t know.

    Second, an anachronistic document written as a quasi-straitjacket even in its own time for population of less than 4 million is highly anachronistic today. Maybe that’s the best that could be done in 1787; it’s still no reason to fetishize it today.

    Third, as for the “fringe parties”? Tosh. If one had a full Westminster, we would be not hugely different than today, as the actual Westminster systems of the Commonwealth show. Before the Tory-LibDem coalition of the previous British Government, when’s the last time you heard about a coalition in a Westminster state?

    And, if one adopted the Continental system, all the way to using a national list, one could adopt a 5 percent cutoff like Germany.

    Parliamentary government may not be perfect, but it, or a semi-parliamentary French system, would be better than the anachronistic pile of paper that constitutes the body portion (NOT the Bill of Rights and related amendments) of the US Constitution.

    Again, folks, this book:


  7. SocraticGadfly

    And, in cases where a Continental system does lead to a coalition, not every state under such a system, with or without a cutoff point for parliamentary eligibility, is an Israel or Belgium. Besides Germany, the Scandinavian states, though often governed by coalitions, have been governed by relatively stable coalitions.

    To the degree factionalism, and in a bad sense, spills into a government, arguably, that’s not the government’s fault itself as much as it is the government being a reflection of larger national problems with factionalism.


  8. ejwinner

    Well, the explanations have some historical interest, with ramifications. The fact that the Constitution was designed to favor a social class that no longer exists has always troubled me. And while Coel is right that franchise was an issue at the time of the Constitution’s adoption, Socratic is right that direct democracy was something the the Founders did not trust and wanted to obviate against; which has led to a majority of the electorate stuck with a minority’s presidential choice twice in the past 16 years.

    However, that said, to go back to my original comment, the possibility of the present electoral process changing is highly unlikely. and a Constitutional Convention in the current climate would not end well, so the question of whether we need a parliamentary system is basically moot. On that basis, of course your right about Democratic strategy; in fact they don’t have a popular national agenda they have articulated well, and seem utterly reluctant to battle out state for state for what agenda they do have.

    But I’m sure there is some pay off on this for the politicians themselves; after all, whoever wins, they can always work as lobbyists….


  9. wtc48

    The last election demonstrated an absence of a coherent platform in both major parties. The discrepancy between the popular and electoral vote reflects the uncertainty of an electorate forced to choose between two unattractive candidates running two bad campaigns. I think the blame that most people are putting on the electoral college should be transferred to the primary process, which began as a move toward direct democracy, but for the past few decades has devolved into a tiresome and expensive beauty contest that has produced very few acceptable candidates.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. brodix

    I would argue the overwhelming problem of the day isn’t “democracy,” but “capitalism.”

    There are variations on government as public franchise and none perfect, but it still beats government as private franchise. Aka, monarchy.

    Currently we have a medium of public exchange as a privately dominated system.

    The argument for capitalism is that the economy is an ecosystem, in which specific businesses rise and fall, while the system as a whole ebbs and flows. Yet what allows this market to exist is a medium of exchange. Money and finance are the very definition of what a public utility does.

    The problem with making it a public function is that as a department of government, there is short term political advantage to loose money policies, but long term destruction. The trick is to keep them separate, but both public. For instance, in the body, the nervous system, as the method of feedback and control, is separate from the circulation system.

    As it is now, our political system is drowning in a bloated and increasingly metastatic circulation system. Money rules.

    Arguing variations on methods of governance before curing the financialization of virtually everything, especially government, is re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.


  11. SocraticGadfly

    Well put on that, Robin. Canada does, too, of course. As does Germany. Not all parliamentary governments have a centralized national system. And, both Westminster and Continental systems, as noted with Germany, allow for federal structures.


  12. synred

    A lesser reform that needs no amendment would to pass incentives to encourage to states to split the electoral vote by the popular vote.

    This would still give and edge to small states and, e.g., keep the big states from hogging all the defense contracts, but would be less likely to result in popular vote wins that fail to win.

    And it would stabilize our elections. No longer would the presidency be decide by a handful of voters in, ah, Florida.


  13. brodix

    As someone who grew up in horse racing, this “she won the popular vote” is bs. It only matters who crossed the finish line in front. If you win according to the rules, you win. If you do away with the rules, all the worms are not going to go back in one can.


  14. brodix


    It might be a little fuzzier than that. What we learn goes in the sorting basket and mentally slots into the networks of connections. Critical thinking is noting the anomalies, as well as the authorities. Sometimes those cracks in the structure are surface and sometimes not. We don’t really want to take a sledge hammer to them, so much as a sounding hammer and listen to the echo.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. wtc48

    Brodix: “The argument for capitalism is that the economy is an ecosystem, in which specific businesses rise and fall, while the system as a whole ebbs and flows. ”

    I would say that the argument against capitalism is that it requires perpetual economic growth, which will eventually run into a Malthusian wall unless the population stabilizes. Some people counter that with the possibility of interplanetary colonization, which scares the hell out of me.


  16. Robin Herbert

    Given the article on evolution and higher purpose let me make one last observation.

    We see to be all agreed that evolution can gave no higher purpose, but I wonder why we all act, even the arch Materialists, as though evolution did have a higher purpose, even super reductionists like Alex Rosenberg.

    When a feeling of well being is associated with some behaviour , we behave as though it was that behaviour that we are seeking and not the feeling of well being itself.

    Some, like Peter Singer and his fans, try to rationalise this by pretending that it is the consequence of cold hard logic but I am surprised they are even fooling themselves.

    But even those of us who see that no such rationalisation is possible still seem to be compelled to act as though moral abstracts had some sort of Platonic reality.


  17. SocraticGadfly

    Robin, maybe for the same reason, or similar reasons, that the pattern detector and agency imputer “routines” have been hijacked to make us think we have a unitary, allegedly rational, consciousness?


  18. brodix


    That is often true of all organisms.Though the compulsion to grow is counteracted by environmental factors, from competition to crashing the environment itself.

    Yet at this point, capitalism has become the organism, not the ecosystem. It has metastasized from the efficient transfer of value, to the creation of capital as an end in itself. For the larger economy, finance is the medium, but for finance, capital is the product. Given capital is ultimately a contract, in that every asset is the other side of an obligation, as much debt has to be produced, as monetary value. Think how much US government debt is believed to be the most stable and trustworthy of investments. Then consider how much of that borrowing is spent in ways which have no conceivable return.

    So the system which enables this industrial economy to function in the first place, is destroying it from within. Possibly before it fully destroys the actual environment.


    As you point out, it is the element of compulsion which drives this, not the seeming objects of the compulsion.


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