Plato’s reading suggestions, episode 82

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

Live long and prosper: how Star Trek challenged racial and gender stereotypes.

What do you really want? And how do you know that?

The persistence myth, despite evidence, of the placebo effect.

Whole Foods and the failure of (libertarian inspired) so-called conscious capitalism.

The complicated history, and potential current relevance, of the Frankfurt School.

Frank Bruni gets it exactly right on the latest instance of “campus inquisition.”

147 thoughts on “Plato’s reading suggestions, episode 82

  1. Massimo Post author


    No Brexit hasn’t happened yet, but UK culture is significantly different from continental Europe, and much closer to the US. Including with respect to the subject at hand.


  2. brodix


    I agree, but how would you like to see it expressed? It seems to me, from experience, there is a Catch 22, if not multitudes of such conflicts, in trying to change peoples ways of thinking. For example, I try running different ideas through here and while I certainly get enough likes to show I’m not talking complete gibberish, I seem to just get head scratching from the established/professional philosophers.

    How do you get people out of ruts, when their instinct is to just dig deeper when things get questionable?

    Just to use the example I posted, would you consider it a valid field of enquiry to examine the basic conceptual relationship underlaying the conservative, liberal conflict as a way to shed light on how and why this split develops?

    Or the tendency to treat ideals as absolutes, which seems to empower those driving toward extremes?

    Or the ways the monetary system that allows large and complex societies to function, could be better formulated, possibly based on those natural circulation mechanisms which arise in the organic, social dichotomy of expansion and consolidation, that lays at the foundation of conservative and liberal tendencies.

    Otherwise, how would you think such a school of thought should be directed? Humanity certainly appears to be at a breaking point, or cresting in its history and such punctuations are the events which allow new forms and ways of thinking to arise, so there might actually be a good opportunity here.


  3. brodix

    As for the Frankfurt School itself, it seemed far more effective at poking holes in the various ideologies, than offering up effective alternatives.


  4. wtc48

    Massimo: “The “training” that every faculty and staff at the large CUNY system has to go through consists in a short slide show and a set of multiple choice questions. It is done at home. And the system prompts you every time you made a mistake to go back and try again.”

    Sounds exactly like the DMV tests for a driver’s license, i.e. it tests for rote learning of rules in a handbook.


  5. wtc48

    Brodix: “I don’t understand why there are no courses on the sociological functions of conservatism and liberalism and how they define cultural processes.”

    Part of the problem lies in treating “conservative” and “liberal” as nouns, which gives them more appearance of reality than they deserve. As adjectives, they perform a useful function.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. wtc48

    Good essay on the Frankfurt School.

    Stuart Walton: “The human race has become divorced from the very natural world on which it depended for survival in primordial times.”

    The divorce goes back a long way: life in the Inca empire was civilized, but tyrannical.

    “The hardest task facing any emancipatory politics today is to encourage people to think for themselves, in a way that transcends simple sloganising and the dictates of instrumental reason.”

    (…and beware of ideologies.)

    It seems like the Frankfurtians who came to the US exaggerated the degradation of popular culture. Many of the movies of that era (40s and 50s) are now revered as culture classics. It’s a characteristic error of older people: Bach despised the trivial style of opera composers, which less than 50 years later had blossomed into works like “Marriage of Figaro” and “The Magic Flute.”

    Liked by 1 person

  7. SocraticGadfly

    Brodix, to the degree that’s true, that’s because it didn’t have the opportunity to do more. Shoved out of Germany and split up by the rise of Nazism, most its members settled in the US, where the banality of pop culture, etc. semi-smothered it. As the article, and others, note, those who moved back to the post-1949 Federal Republic rightly had wary eyes. I agree that being reactionary to the 68 wasn’t the right move intellectually.

    But, no, they offered a “positive” base program, which was to deal clearly with the class concerns of Marx himself on a pragmatic, non-positivistic, issue-by-issue basis, in essence.


  8. SocraticGadfly

    Brodix, the Frankfurt School probably erred in part by not being forward-looking toward incorporating ideas from Situationalism, libertarian Marxism and libertarian Socialism and similar post-WWII and later movements.


  9. synred

    Robin, My experiences of protest were long ago. Margaret and I had one bad experience being which caused us to only go to ‘big’ protest afterwards. Bigger, organized are better controlled while small (a few 100) can get out of control.


  10. synred

    The problem with the word ‘racism’ is the way it’s being used. It’s all good to have people go out in protest/march for a equality etc. The problem is that things rarely change after. The status quo returns once the party is over so to speak. The march/protest generate awareness, but rarely is that awareness converted to action. Action that actually changes the status quo.

    The March on Washington? The Edmond Pettis bridge? Etc. Kennedy, Johnson and congress would not have acted w/o this pressure.

    Small protest have small effect, but overall they are effective and they are action. Generally, they work best if they are peaceful and any violence from the ‘authorities.’

    Shouting down Ann Coulter is not good tactics. Indeed it likely helps her.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. synred

    DMV: When passing stopped bus should you go 5,10,15 mph?

    Silly! You should go slow. You should watch for people not stare at your speedometer.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. synred

    Part of the problem lies in treating “conservative” and “liberal” as nouns, which gives them more appearance of reality than they deserve. As adjectives, they perform a useful function.

    Brodix uses the noun form! I don’t see any problem with that. Like all words the boundaries of ‘conservatism” and “liberalism” are fuzzy. There are such rough groupings though not crisp as rocks.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. brodix


    Consider the basic direction;

    “So in A Hacker Manifesto I wanted to explore the idea that there was already a different kind of political economy growing out of, and on top of, capitalism. Just as it had grown out of, and on top of, a prior moment of the commodification of land. The commodification of land threw up the antagonistic classes of farmer and landlord. Then the commodification of energy systems threw up the antagonistic classes of worker and capitalist. What if the commodification of information generated new classes as well? I called these classes hacker and vectoralist.”

    “We won that battle, but lost the war. Commodification regrouped at a higher level of abstraction. The commodity form seems always dependent on some form of gift economy that recirculate what it separates. The vectoral class found ways to commodify that too. It commodified not the data but the meta-data – the information about where and what the information is.”

    “And if you know your structural linguistics, you’ll expect that once you have three terms, you’ll expect the fourth: worker, hacker, gamer – and maybe ‘hustler’ is the fourth.”

    So the next stage emerges from a further level of abstraction of the one before. It is a consolidation process. My argument is that it is one side of a cycle. Each level of concentration requires enormous amounts of energy and pressure, most of which is shed, in order to produce the result, which must then either become a next stage of consolidation, or be also shed in the process of reaching that next stage.

    We don’t know what the next stage will be, because it is only emergent through the process. Sometimes it is not directly linear from what had come before, because the underlaying momentum is lost and the process crests, like a wave.

    To ask the question posed, what would be the next stage beyond the aggregators of meta-data, from Google to the NSA? Or are they the crest of a wave? I would argue the real, underlaying wave, the real energy propelling the accumulation of information, is the abstraction of value,”money” and the game is to accumulate more than the other guy. The problem being is that abstracted value is debt. Promises of payment and the system as such, is reaching limits on how much debt it can extract and sustain.

    Then consider how he ends the interview;

    “Rather than play the game each of those fields wants to play of asserting its distinctiveness and sovereignty, it makes them agents of a kind of comradely project of mapping the world so we might act in and against it. I’m interested in the conditions of possibility of working together.”

    With an appeal to generalism.

    The fact is the future lays in what has been shed in this process. The masses of people this system no longer needs. As I’ve pointed out previously, efficiency is to do more with less, so the ideal of efficiency would be to do everything with nothing. Consider this in terms of black holes; While we focus on what is in them, what is really happening is what goes on around them. Galaxies are cycles of mass/structure falling in and energy radiating out.

    So we are circling a black hole of informational structure, wondering what lays within, but as the world spirals down, everything, from nature, to farmers, to laborers, to all the classes built on them, are broken down and radiated back out, leaving a few paranoid megalomaniacs, demanding war on anyone and everyone who don’t support their empire of parabolic greed.

    The real, human future is in what arises in this intermediate world, of socially expanding liberalism and culturally consolidating conservatism.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. wtc48

    Brodix: “The fact is the future lays in what has been shed in this process. The masses of people this system no longer needs. … The real, human future is in what arises in this intermediate world, of socially expanding liberalism and culturally consolidating conservatism.”

    I think any world-view predicated on the need for humans, on their usefulness in general, is doomed from the start. Useful for what? and to whom? We have to start with the assumption that every human individual has an intrinsic value. Just to take an absurd example, suppose you had to make one, a viable living person! Even if it were possible, the cost would be incalculable, in the trillions. And yet there they all are, seven billion or so, free for the taking!

    I’m not saying this to refute your remarks, which are quite interesting. But sometimes we tend to refer to people as if they were just bundles of data, destined for obsolescence, which is a preposterous proposition.


  15. synred

    Sorry, Massimo, I did not mean to post huge picture of ‘Red Emma Speaks” cover. Only linked to Amazon page where the book can be purchased, but some how WordPress inserted the whole cover pix in a large size.

    Liked by 2 people

  16. brodix


    I’m of the opinion the Gaia hypothesis is a logical extension of biology and that it is developing humanity as a central nervous system. Once we get over being top predator and fully understand we are not going to move to other planets, the imperative of taking care of this one with become unmistakable. Which is the function of the nervous system.


  17. brodix

    And if that sounds teleological, remember how it works; Feedback. As in, “Ouch! That hurts. Don’t do that again.” We are very good at finding ways to get ourselves hurt, like children.


  18. brodix


    Life naturally pushes up against its boundaries and reacts in ways to further its own survival. This planet is the ultimate, or at least a very significant boundary. Give the situation a few more centuries and I suspect those around will be both a little more tuned into the circumstances and cognizant of its limits.
    Much as we often find what appear to be boundaries turn out to be horizon lines, as all the detail we overlooked in reaching toward them, come back in ways that are not expected in the original, simpler assumptions. Malthus comes to mind.
    Right now, we are exploring the limits of abstracting reductionist value. Commodification will prove to be a very useful lesson in the value of quality.


  19. synred

    %And if that sounds teleological, remember how it works; Feedback. As in, “Ouch! That hurts. Don’t do that again.” We are very good at finding ways to get ourselves hurt, like children.

    A simple spring thermostat in your house has feed back. There’s no teleology there that wasn’t put in by the engineer that designed it or you adjusting.


  20. brodix


    Life and the planet are a process. Competition is generally over having the same desires. You are one person, with likely competing desires. Currently we all are wrapped up, willingly or not, in this singular race to extract and acquire distilled, abstract value out of any possible source. Either as predators, or prey. It’s only meaning is a security that the very process destroys.

    It’s not as though there will be some one world government, because it doesn’t work top down. It will be a bottom up process of pushing our limits in every possible direction and dealing with the consequences.

    People like Hawking who talk about colonizing other planets seem utterly clueless about how useless the whole premise is, in any meaningful sense. We got to the moon nearly 50 years ago and the effort amounted to a bridge too far. Maybe we can start terraforming Mars, but at best it will be little more than what a station in Antartica is today, for a very long time.

    The reality is that we are going to keep recycling ourselves on this planet and the more stable and thus ecofriendly social systems will prove the more long lasting. Having grown up fairly close to nature, if I were to bet on man, versus nature, my money is on nature and man will eventually come to heel.

    Maybe it will take another few hundred, or thousands of years, before this becomes evident, but in the grand scheme of things, that is just around the corner.


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