Plato’s reading suggestions, episode 95

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

You probably think this art is about you

The historically proven way to reduce inequality: wars and assorted catastrophes.

Why so many Indians support men like the “guru” recently convicted of rape.

Time to play more board games. It’s good for you, and it may save the world…

And here are ten of the best board games, if you intend to follow up on the advice above. (Ask me what my choices were…)


Please notice that the duration of the comments window is three days (including publication day), and that comments are moderated for relevance (to the post one is allegedly commenting on), redundancy (not good), and tone (constructive is what we aim for). This applies to both the suggested readings and the regular posts. Thanks

69 thoughts on “Plato’s reading suggestions, episode 95

  1. saphsin

    There are plenty of things that are good for us in development that we just don’t have all the time in the world to try (chess, martial arts, yoga, etc…) so I’m sorry to say that I won’t take the advice to play more board games, but it’s not because I have absolute no interest, just division of time & attention is my problem.

    Actually want to blurt this out though, I’m puzzled by people who are “bored” and have “nothing to do” There are too many interests to pursue, how can you ever afford to be bored?

    Liked by 2 people

  2. SocraticGadfly

    Does Pinker support having more war to reduce inequality and thereby, theoretically, making more people more happy? And, oh, lordy, that piece is by VD Hanson. Doubt I’ll read through it.


  3. valariansteel

    On boredom, I like this quote from Game of Thrones: “[My father used to tell me that] boredom indicates a lack of inner resources.” Some philosophy from the screen writer?

    I had a patient in psychiatry — a young talented smart (but uneducated) male — who kept quitting his jobs b/c he became bored. I told him that he needed to go back to school so he could get the type of job that would engage him intellectually (yes, idealistic on my part, but there’s at least some truth to it). Then I said, “you keep blaming the job for causing your boredom . . . your jobs aren’t the fault, they are not responsible to ‘entertain’ you . . . you have to solve your own problem of boredom.”

    The reason I don’t read fiction per se is because I find the real world so interesting, fascinating (and of course, disgusting at times). Nothing wrong with fiction, but truth is often stranger than fiction.

    Hi Robin:

    Surely your comment about Fidel is in jest? He did lots of good things from Cuba, like free healthcare and education. Which country in the Americas (south, central, north + Caribbean islands) has the lowest infant mortality rate? Cuba

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Alessio Persichetti

    Dungeons & Dragons, Settlers of Catan — and many others — are great boardgames, that teach how to live our lives differently, in a world where competition for wealth, fame and happiness are at base of many relationships. They teaches virtues, like justice, or cooperative kinds of relations, but also they forge bonds.

    Definitely my best friendships were made around a gaming table.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Daniel Kaufman

    I am puzzled that someone would be puzzled that someone else might get bored. I certainly do.

    I am also puzzled by the notion that one would not read fiction because he found real life interesting enough, given that a failure to find real life interesting is not why people read fiction.

    Finally, forget about Castro. The guy whose reputation really needs rehabilitating is Mussolini. After all, he made the trains run on time. I also heard he ran a kick ass health service.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. SocraticGadfly

    The board games piece … include cards and dominoes. Easy way to kick back, chat away some time, get some competitive juices flowing. Hearts, cribbage, spades, pinochle? I’ll play them and more.


  7. valariansteel

    Risk was a college dorm staple when I attended Texas Tech U (1971-75). As a game of war and conquest, I don’t think it was particularly suited to making friends, though you might form an alliance with a real world friend and gang up on another. And I used to play a lot of Strategy in high school.

    Hi Daniel.
    I didn’t mean to imply people read fiction b/c they fail to find the real world uninteresting. It’s only the reason why I (and not necessary others) don’t read fiction. I can’t even begin to read all the nonfiction that interests me. But I do watch fiction — or is Game of Thrones fiction? Aren’t there really dragons?

    I won’t forget about Castro. He is the only socialist in the western hemisphere who dared stand up to U.S. imperialism at great personal peril and risk, and to the benefit of the Cuban people. When you see what U.S. economic and military imperialism did to south and central America (so Greg Grandin, Empire’s Workshop), you see how he spared the Cuban people “boatloads” of suffering. But enough of that. He wasn’t perfect, no hero worship here, just some respect.

    Liked by 3 people

  8. SocraticGadfly

    Other than countering Valerian on Castro, I don’t know how tongue in cheek Dan was about Il Duce. The reality, though, is that “trains on time” was a myth. And, yes, his dark side aside, Castro did do those good things for Cuba. But, his dark side, if not Stalinesque, was Brezhnevesque.

    Oh, that said, many women of the former USSR, and elsewhere in the old Eastern Bloc, have said that, at least on the issue of social equality with men, the good old days actually were the good old says.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Daniel Kaufman

    It is fallacious to suggest that because America behaved terribly in Central and South America that Castro behaved well. It is even more fallacious to suggest that because someone did good things — there probably isn’t an authoritarian dictator who didn’t — that it is in any way appropriate to praise him. Was Castro’s up there with the dictatorships of Hitler or Stalin? Of course not. But it is pretty unseemly — no, I would say grotesque — to praise a man and a regime whose standard MO was the terrorizing, torturing, and imprisoning of his political opposition, by way of secret police. According to Human Rights Watch:

    = = =

    “During Castro’s rule, thousands of Cubans were incarcerated in abysmal prisons, thousands more were harassed and intimidated, and entire generations were denied basic political freedoms. Cuba made improvements in health and education, though many of these gains were undermined by extended periods of economic hardship and by repressive policies.

    ‘As other countries in the region turned away from authoritarian rule, only Fidel Castro’s Cuba continued to repress virtually all civil and political rights,” said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch. “Castro’s draconian rule and the harsh punishments he meted out to dissidents kept his repressive system rooted firmly in place for decades.’

    The repression was codified in law and enforced by security forces, groups of civilian sympathizers tied to the state, and a judiciary that lacked independence. Such abusive practices generated a pervasive climate of fear in Cuba, which hindered the exercise of fundamental rights, and pressured Cubans to show their allegiance to the state while discouraging criticism.

    Many of the abusive tactics developed during his time in power – including surveillance, beatings, arbitrary detention, and public acts of repudiation – are still used by the Cuban government.”

    = = =

    Maybe I’m sensitive because my own parents were born in and had their young lives destroyed by authoritarian dictatorships. Maybe I think a little harder about these things, because my mother and her family were dragged out of their house by Secret Police and my father would see his father come home beaten and bruised by a dictatorship’s street thugs. All I know is I’d be ashamed of praising such a regime. And I’d be embarrassed for thinking that doing so made some sort of sense, because the regime ran a good school system or health service. Indeed, I find even saying such things nauseating.


  10. Massimo Post author

    While I tend to agree with Dan on Castro, I would ask people to try to refrain from using strong emotional language. In my opinion it doesn’t really help the discussion, nor is it likely to persuade people of one’s point of view. Failing that, why do it?


  11. synred

    Other than countering Valerian on Castro, I don’t know how tongue in cheek Dan was about Il Duce. The reality, though, is that “trains on time” was a myth.

    And the Italians didn’t really care if the trains ran on time.


  12. Daniel Kaufman

    I thought what I said was fair, explained, and put civilly. I don’t see how one can avoid emotionally charged language, when one is talking about such an emotionally charged subject. It is appropriate to despair of the praise of dictatorships and it is also appropriate to express the physical and emotional devastation suffered by real people under them. I don’t think there was anything wrong with what I wrote, at all, given what it was a reply to.


  13. synred

    Dan, Even dictators vary. E.g., see the fate of Haiti vs. the Dominican Republic.

    And Haiti is made even sadder by it heroic beginnings…


  14. saphsin


    Castro was definitely pretty good during the Cuban Revolution when he overthrew the Batista regime and reconstructed the society to be less repressive and more egalitarian. Castro afterwards is where it’s problematic, he was mixed depending on how you look at it. By nature, he was the leader of a repressive regime no matter how you look at it so there’s something grotesque if you cheer for him too much. If you look at his structural position in the world, it’s undeniable that he protected his nation against American Imperialism and distributed resources so that his citizens were able to have many of their basic needs met that are incomparable to the conditions of other third world countries. Cuba literally looks like a paradise compared to the rest of Central & Latin America. Those are the facts, facts that you can accept while also simultaneously accepting the repressive nature of his regime and the failure of Marxism-Leninism to bringing a genuine free & equal society. If you’re to be honest, you have to integrate this into an evaluation of a political figure, just like how you would do other political figures. FDR was a racist and a war hawk. He also brought upon the New Deal.

    Just to present the other side since Dan (rightfully) pointed out the negatives:

    “Well first of all I would just point out that the issue of human rights is an issue not only in Cuba but everywhere in Latin America. And that it’s true that there have been violations, well we can talk about on several different levels about what’s going on in Cuba. But it’s true that there have been violations of individual, civil, and political rights in Cuba. But if you compare those to the kinds of violations of individual, civil, and human rights elsewhere in Latin America, you see an exponential difference.

    That is, in Cuba there are no death squads. In Cuba there are no gulags. In Cuba, there are no massacres of civilians. As we have seen there are no torture chambers. There’s nothing on the level of what’s happened in Mexico, of what’s happened in Central America, what’s happened in Chile, Argentina, Uruguay. There’s no disappeared in Cuba.

    So we’re talking about human rights violations of a very different level from what we’’ve seen happening virtually everywhere else in Latin American during the late 20th century and including the 21st century. There’s no massive displacements of populations in Cuba as there are in Columbia. There’s no assassinations of human rights leaders as are happening today in Columbia. So we just have to keep a little bit of perspective on this question of human rights.

    Then the second thing I would bring up responding to the way you framed the question, social rights as well as political rights. Social and economic rights. That is, I would say Cuba is probably the country that has done the most to recognize the social and economic rights of the population. That is, to guarantee people access to housing. To guarantee people access to food. To guarantee people access to education. To guarantee people access to healthcare. All of those are very important social and economic rights that are not guaranteed really anywhere else in the world to the degree that they are guaranteed in Cuba.

    However, I would also say, let’s just talk about the issue of political rights. And I want to even divide those up into two. When the United States talks about political rights they often talk about the right to have a political system exactly like the one that exists in the United States. It’s true that Cubans do not have a political system exactly like the one that exists in the United States. However, the vast majority of Cubans do not want a political system exactly like that that exists in the United States. In fact, the vast majority of people in the world don’t want a political system exactly like that of the United States.

    So it’s kind of an imperial arrogance that makes the United States criticize countries for having political systems that may function perfectly well and guarantee routes for citizen participation and politics in ways that are different from the US. And that’s what exists in Cuba.

    But finally, there are also violations of freedom of speech, of freedom of association. There have been purges of people. There are people that have people who have trouble getting work. There are people who have trouble getting work in their chosen field in Cuba. There certainly have been violations of political rights that we may value very strongly and that I think Cubans value very strongly too and are highly critical when those rights have been violated in Cuba.”

    Aviva Chomsky (if you were wondering, yes she’s Noam’s daughter and a scholar on Latin America & American Immigration)

    Liked by 3 people

  15. saphsin


    Might that be due to your Stoicism? (and Dan’s lack thereof) because aside from just this subject, I honestly have a hard time thinking it’s right to talk about awful political leaders while being completely calm about it.


  16. ejwinner

    The guru piece does suggest insight into the Trump phenomenon, and why criticism of his behavior, and revelations concerning his misbehavior don’t change any minds among his more devoted followers. Even if they trusted the sources of the criticisms and relevations, they wouldn’t believe them. Godmen can do no wrong.

    I get bored very easily. I have a friend who does to. We sit around boring each other sometimes. Other times we have dinner, watch movies, debate literature. Eventually, that gets boring too, and we go our separate ways for a time. Boredom is a quote of non-reflexive sense of deja vu – of having ‘been there, done that,’ before even getting there. Heraclitus wrote that one can’t step into the same river twice. However some of us come to the river for the first time, and – ‘oh, no, this river again!’ – without even stepping into it.

    As we know, part of our evolutionary inheritance is our ability to see patterns, impose patterns where there aren’t any, create patterns for others. I think those of us who get bored easily have the ability to recognize patterns swiftly and then find themselves stuck with them.

    One trait I’ve noted among those who bore easily is a strong distaste for small talk – the patterns of small talk are simple and set in stone.

    “Chilly today, isn’t it? Think it’ll rain? Nice weather if you’re a duck!”
    (Outwardly:) “yeah, sure is!” (Inwardly:) ‘who the eff cares about the effing weather! Do I look like a duck?’

    Then there’s the time…. I know there’s something I can do, but I know I can do it in 15 minutes, there’s no hurry, so I start piddling around – play with the dog, manicure my nails, watch an old TV show – finally I get around to doing that thing I was putting off, it takes 15 minutes, and suddenly I don’t have anything to do anymore. And there’s the clock ticking away, mocking my momentarily empty existence….

    Faced with this dilemma, some will actually get creative – the threat of boredom has been a great motivator among artists. On the other hand, it can also motivate great silliness. College pranks were always the result of collective boredom, as I remember.

    Sustained interest – the real opposite of boredom – requires some sense that an activity is meaningful in a deep and continuing away, with a delayed or possibly unreachable resolution.

    But while we are frequently unreflectively busy in our lives, how much of what we do actually is that meaningful? Asking that question itself can lead to boredom experienced in much of this busy-ness.

    But I’m beginning to bore myself here, so let’s move on.

    Hey, how about the weather today? Think it’ll rain?


  17. wtc48

    Socratic: “Oh, that said, many women of the former USSR, and elsewhere in the old Eastern Bloc, have said that, at least on the issue of social equality with men, the good old days actually were the good old says.”

    How amazing, that the equality that can’t be accomplished in a democracy, because of its skittishness about absolute values, can flourish in a conservative dictatorship with a philosophical agenda.


  18. synred

    I generally avoid ‘fuck’ but not because I think it inappropriate, but to preserver, it’s value. Dan’s case would seem to be one where it is understandable.


  19. synred

    FDR was a racist and a war hawk. He also brought upon the New Deal.

    “I hate war and so does Eleanor” – From the Almanac singers album “the state of Arkansas”

    Anti-lynching legislation[ edit]

    Roosevelt condemned lynching as murder but did not support Republican proposals to make it a federal crime, although his wife Eleanor did so. FDR told an advocate, “If I come out for the anti-lynching bill now, they [Southern Democratic senators] will block every bill I ask Congress to pass to keep America from collapsing. I just can’t take that risk.”[49]


  20. Bunsen Burner

    ‘Oh, that said, many women of the former USSR, and elsewhere in the old Eastern Bloc, have said that, at least on the issue of social equality with men, the good old days actually were the good old says.’

    Apparently the sex was better.

    Liked by 1 person

  21. synred

    Who wouldn’t be bored? MSNBC has not mentioned the 8.1 quake in Mexico…

    Not that Irma isn’t important, but nothing much happens every 5 mins…


  22. saphsin


    As much as I think the craziness of rejection of climate change, Fox News, and Breibart is significantly worse than the already bankrupt mainstream corporate media, I don’t think there is anything about the psychology of Trump supporters that needs special insight with regards to why they’re devoted to him despite contrary evidence. It’s just ordinary fanaticism and interpretation of contrary evidence in a way that’s convenient to them. I’ve seen that all across the spectrum, and I don’t mean tepid versions of it. I mean just outright extreme stubbornness despite evidence right in front of their eyes that any intelligent child would find immediately obvious.

    Liked by 1 person

  23. couvent2104

    Boredom is great. It has always been the greatest source of creativity in my life. One of the reasons I like week-long cycling trips, each day 8, 9, 10 or more hours in the saddle, is that they are so refreshingly boring.

    When I read Balzac, it’s with great anticipation that I wait for his trademark boring passages, when he interrupts the flow of the story to explain in detail how unscrupulous rascals could swindle poor folk out of their hard-earned money in 19th century France etc. etc.

    The reason I don’t read fiction per se is because I find the real world so interesting.

    You’re kidding. How could the Paris of Balzac be less interesting than the real world?

    Liked by 1 person

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