Plato’s reading suggestions, episode 76

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

John Oliver explains the issue of gerrymandering.

The problem with celebrity profiles.

Did Elizabeth Anscombe do away with all moral philosophy, ancient and modern? (Not really, but interesting point of view…)

Racial attitudes and income made the largest impact on the likelihood to vote for Trump in 2016.

Can anything save us from the consequences of unknown unknowns?

The importance of being an epistemologist in the post-truth era.

The real Spartacus and the importance of a philosophy of life: the story of Andy Whitfield.

Can democracy survive the Internet? Good question. (Which I am, of course, asking on the Internet…)

The most and least educated religious groups. No surprises there, except for atheists, perhaps?

A comedian takes on scientists who think the rest of us are stupid.

169 thoughts on “Plato’s reading suggestions, episode 76

  1. Bunsen Burner

    On the racism article the thing that I personally found most interesting was this:

    “While the wealthy are usually most likely to vote for the Republican, they didn’t this time; and while the poor are usually less likely to vote for the Republican, they were unusually supportive of Trump. And the degree to which the wealthy disdained the 2016 Republican candidate was without recent historical precedent.”


  2. Bunsen Burner

    also, Republican racial attitudes seem to be incredibly stable over the given time period. Something Wood mentions:

    “The biggest movement was among those who voted for the Democrat, who were far less likely to agree with attitudes coded as more racially biased.”


  3. saphsin


    As I noted in my comment before (I’m just abridging it, here full argument in my previous comment), these statistical studies that you mention

    1) tend to leave things out for (they assign focus on income but don’t take into account all sorts of economic factors like the one I listed that predicts higher Trump support. And anyone who thinks an income of $50,000 – 100,000 don’t have their own economic struggles they’re genuinely worried & frustrated about is completely clueless about American middle class struggles)

    2) don’t actually statistically prove that the unique support for Trump is motivated by racism. Almost all racists tend to be right-wing, most right-wingers who can’t exactly be called full-on racist tend to be less sensitive to racist, so of course you’re going to see a strong statistical slant. That doesn’t actually prove that their motives are primarily racist, and you can easily come up with a scenario of just the opposite.

    People’s motives tend to be messy and often contradictory, sometimes with the person himself completely unaware. Why do I personally like dogs over cats for instance? I can do some kind of psychoanalysis-kind-of-thing on myself and I have no clue.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Robin Herbert

    I mean it is easy enough to come up with these hypotheses. I could say that belief was oriented more to social grouping than evidence. A more cohesive group has better survival chances and a group who all believe the same thing will be more cohesive.

    So independent thinkers did not manage to join a group and had less chance of survival.

    Lets say there’s a Steve tribe and a PZ tribe. The Steve tribe believes X but the PZ tribe doesn’t. Now say someone, lets call him “Jerry” is skeptical of X but wants to be part of the stronger Steve tribe and not the weaker and slightly silly PZ tribe.

    So, by this hypothesis you might expect “Jerry” to change his views and even to uncritically repeat some extremely dubious claims of the Steve tribe.

    Perhaps I could look atound and find examples or conduct studies which appeared to support my hypothesis.

    But how would you know I wasn’t just projecting some opinion or prejudice of my own?


  5. saphsin

    Massimo, take a look at this quote from Pinker in his famous book:

    “And now for a correlation that will annoy the left as much as the correlation with liberalism annoyed the right. The economist Bryan Caplan also looked at data from the General Social Survey and found that smarter people tend to think more like economists (even after statistically controlling for education, income, sex, political party, and political orientation). They are more sympathetic to immigration, free markets, and free trade, and less sympathetic to protectionism, make-work policies, and government intervention in business. Of course none of these positions is directly related to violence. But if one zooms out to the full continuum on which these policies lie, one could argue that the direction that is aligned with intelligence is also the direction that has historically pointed peaceward. To think like an economist is to accept the theory of gentle commerce from classical liberalism, which touts the positive-sum payoffs of exchange and its knock-on benefit of expansive networks of cooperation. That sets it in opposition to populist, nationalist, and communist mindsets that see the world’s wealth as zero-sum and infer that the enrichment of one group must come at the expense of another. The historical result of economic illiteracy has often been ethnic and class violence, as people conclude that the have-nots can improve their lot only by forcibly confiscating wealth from the haves and punishing them for their avarice.”

    Okay, so rational and educated people tend to be economic libertarians (like Bryan Caplan whom he quotes), and or else you’re either an oddity or plain stupid. The concept of “Free Market” is generally taken to be on the fringe even in mainstream economics (the Chicago School has an absurd disproportionate amount of influence here) and is treated with scorn by anyone who seriously knows anything about economics. But of course I need Pinker to tell me otherwise.

    He’s one of those public intellectuals who look like he knows what he’s talking about until you actually delve into the literature. And you just keep reading and reading and you find, oh, he doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Bunsen Burner


    ‘don’t actually statistically prove that the unique…’

    I think what Wood is stating is that the difference in racial attitudes between Democrat and Republican voters was a more highly correlated with the 2016 vote than the difference between their attitude to authoritarianism. A bit of a mouthful, but he was exploring correlations not making causal claims.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. saphsin

    “I think what Wood is stating is that the difference in racial attitudes between Democrat and Republican voters was a more highly correlated with the 2016 vote than the difference between their attitude to authoritarianism. A bit of a mouthful, but he was exploring correlations not making causal claims.”

    Maybe, but why do you think this article was shared around everywhere? What do you think this article was trying to imply otherwise? Of course all the ones with the most racist motives were enthusiastic about Trump and his implementation of policy, that’s hardly disputed.


  8. brodix

    It might also be useful to note that waves themselves interact and so threading any wave back to a particular duck has to include all interactions with every other wave and duck.

    And the same with genes, political interactions, etc.

    So what higher level descriptions cover these multiple forces and their effects?

    Thermodynamics would seem to be the most basic area of field level effects.

    When you step back and consider effects like political movements, violence, belief systems, etc, they do seem like essential waves, just that the medium they move through is complex.

    So while studying the complexity of the medium is useful on some levels, so to is seeing the higher levels of essential patterns.


  9. saphsin


    I’ll say this.

    I’m unconvinced about the rigour of evidence that what motivated Trump supporters (uniquely, not just tendency to support a right wing agenda, which is obviously true) was racism, or at least many of them definitely did so but in terms of a broad appeal that helps explain Trump in contrast to the others.

    That being said, if you can’t see Trump’s racist agenda clearly with your own eyes, you are probably insensitive to racism and it wasn’t a deal breaker for you in choosing to support him, which is on the lower spectrum of being racist in my book.


  10. Bunsen Burner


    I suspect it’s a question of single issue demographics. Certain groups will always vote for a particular party because they are only interested in one or two particular issues. Evangelicals, gun nuts, white supremacists, and so on will simply never vote Democrat. Not unless the republican candidate decides to campaign on taking away everyone’s guns and giving them to gay married aborted fetuses working for the UN.


  11. Massimo Post author


    Regardless of the fact that I usually disapprove of what Myers writes, and especially how he writes it, in that quote he is not asking for what you think he’s asking. He doesn’t want evopsych supporters to pinpoint the gene(s) before they do anything else. But demonstrating some sort of genetic basis to a trait would have to be a necessary component of the evopsych program, without which it risks descending even more into just-so stories. And of course one of the problems is that it is difficult to establish genetic basis for a lot of specific human behaviors, like, say, the preference of some women to wear high heels — for which, of course, evopsych has a ready-made “explanation” in terms of sexual selection.


    As you probably know, we are on the same side of the political spectrum, but asking for “proof” from a single study based on statistical parsing is a bit too much. What I find objectionable is fellow liberals who automatically reject any evidence that seems to point away from their preferred narrative, particularly when they do so on the basis of general statements, rather than of an actual engagement with the technicalities of the study. Right, the article in question doesn’t prove that a good number of Trump voters were motivated by racism. But the data is there, and it needs to be explained. One explanation is that racism itself is the result of underlying factors, such as lack of education, which in turn results from socio-economic status. Fine. But they are still racists.

    And Thomas’ positive anecdotal evidence can easily be countered by plenty of anecdotal evidence (in the form, for instance, of television interviews) of Trump supporters where they very clearly, unmistakably utter viciously racist and misogynist comments. Are we just going to ignore them?


  12. Massimo Post author


    Perhaps. And perhaps it is behind some of these “racism doesn’t enter into it” ideas? That’s why one needs quantitative data…


  13. saphsin


    There’s nothing you’ve written there that I disagree with. Perhaps my tone may have appeared to unfairly direct your genuine question to suggesting a denial of multi-factored explanations 1) because I’ve seen the article used for that purpose when being shared everyone so it was a bit of an unconscious reaction 2) I think my irritation has some rationale because the article outlines a focus on income while ignoring a host of other economic factors and it’s incredibly misleading, if not revealing possible intentions of the author of the article itself of how he’s framing the issue.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Massimo Post author

    True, Socratic, but one has to do the hard work to show that particularly statistics are lying, not just quote Twain and be done with it.


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