Plato’s reading suggestions, episode 66

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

Xenu’s Paradox: the fiction of L. Ron Hubbard and the making of Scientology (turns out, he didn’t like scifi).

How to stop arguing and actually change someone’s mind on social media (maybe).

Socrates Tenured: The Institutions of 21st-Century Philosophy and what to do about them.

America’s Village Atheists, up to H.L. Mencken.

Derrida vs. the rationalists: was the Frenchman onto something important? (I still think he was full of it).

Oral histories and the unreliability of memory.

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42 thoughts on “Plato’s reading suggestions, episode 66

  1. Brodix,

    I liked your analogy of the pearl. It reminded me of a model used by Gregory Bateson in Mind and Nature: A Necessary Unity. Any organic (stochastic) system is composed of three functional elements which can be visualised as concentric rings. In the centre is the conservative core the function of which is, unsurprisingly, to conserve. The outer is a comparatively radical ring that is experimental/random and open to ideas from outside. The middle ring (think middle classes in society) functions as a filter that allows some of the radical ideas, more or less sanitised, to enter the core. If the core becomes too powerful the result is stagnation and the organism is vulnerable to takeover or attack by more adaptable and progressive organisms. If the radical outer ring becomes too powerful, chaos ensues and the centre cannot hold and the organism disintegrates.
    Getting the balance right is as difficult to do as it is easy to say.

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  2. Sherlock,

    That’s similar to the relationship between conservatism and liberalism, as both necessarily opposing elements of the social dynamic. As such, the balance is not static, but dynamic. The fluctuation between these polarities is a necessary part of the process.

    Think of it as the relationship between organic social energy pushing forward and out, with cultural and civil structures pulling in. Then, like individuals growing older, the energy coalesces and combines with the structures it is pushing against, both enforcing and changing them, which adds another layer to the pearl of cultural identity. Another ring on the tree.

    The problem, as I keep trying to point out, is when air pockets, or other forms of metastatic flaws become incorporated into the process, such as a culture founded on 400 years of geographic, population, industrial, technological growth, starts to slow and rather than recognizing this process cannot be infinite and developing methods of cycling back and re-enforcing the structural integrity, simply reverts to enormous credit expansion. Which serves to hollow out and mortgage the structure that does exist.

    The further this process continues, the greater the reset will be, when it does happen. If one is climbing a mountain and gets tired, one simply stops and rests, but if one is in a rocket and the fuel runs out, there is no stopping to rest.

    So when that socially liberal, or economically neoliberal growth starts to slow, those who don’t want society to collapse back into warring nationalistic pockets, need to get their heads out of the clouds of everything from academic infighting to transgender bathrooms and really start to look at the big picture of this small world.

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  3. Actually we could make that 4000, or 40,000, or 400,000 years of growth…., depending on where on that curve we want to start.

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  4. ‘Searle argues that when we read the words of a dead author and without the presence of the speaker, the intended receiver or even the context, such as “On the twentieth of September 1793 I set out on a journey from London to Oxford” we can still say, “The author intended to make a statement to the effect that on the twentieth of September 1973, he set out on a journey from London to Oxford.”

    For the “follower” of Derrida, this sentence is ripe for deconstruction. In this novel, who is speaking? The author? The character? What assumptions…’

    This looks to me like a false antithesis. To come close to home, it makes perfect sense to ask what motivated my last piece of scientific research, who funded it, and to what end, and how I came to be sufficiently privileged to be doing this on a generous salary at public expense, but none of these issues are relevant to whether or not my claimed results are true, in the sense of being a tolerably good description of the way the world is.

    And while much can be said, as the last paragraph shows, about my philosophical naivete, I don’t see how questions such as those attributed to Derrida in the article have any bearing on that.

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  5. The trouble with atheism is that religions were already established before the philosophers started applying reason to them, somewhat like a pre-existing condition, so atheism usually presents itself as a denial of some sort, which is not a very strong position. What were the climate-change deniers before we had climate-change?

    The third definition of faith in my paperback Merriam-Webster is “complete trust.” In this sense, I think of faith as primal, in humans, as it is in animals. It’s implicit in animals, because they are guided by instinct. We have lost most of our instincts, and we have created religions in compensation for this lack of unquestionable direction.

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  6. Per WTC: What if, per evolutionary accounts of religious development, our pattern-detectors plus agency-imputers, plus sharper decisions on good vs. evil and theodicy, had seen all demons instead of all divinities “out there”?

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  7. wtc,

    Our attraction to the beneficial and repulsion of the detrimental is as instinctive as any life form. It is when many such options exist together and we have to decide, such as between short and long term, that things get complicated. Then memory and rationalization become necessary. Gods are a rationalization. Memory is the basis of religion, to hold the hold lessons we learn. Narratives without some moral get forgotten.

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  8. Wtc,

    I like the idea of faith as complete trust and I think you’re right in seeing animals’ behaviour as ‘faith’ in their nature. Humans are of course so much more complex that finding our ‘true’ nature is a lot more difficult. I recall learning as a child (in a christian tradition) about what i think were called ‘natural saints’. These are people, of any religion or none, who seem naturally to live in a way that is harmonious with what is commonly regarded as virtue. That there may be a way for humans to attain the natural ‘faith’ of animals and that in that state we may be innately drawn to virtue is interesting, as they say, if true.

    Of course, the idea that such virtue is the way that humans ‘should’ live hints at the kind of teleology or ‘final cause’ notions that usually prompt materialists to reach for their shotguns. 😊

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