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…)

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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. SocraticGadfly

    Bunsen, yes, I’d read that piece earlier in the week and it’s what I had in mind.

    ==

    Cousin: Per an old joke, “Fala hates war,” too.

    ==

    Dan, I at least never said that Castro behaved well. That said, I hope that you’re not implying, by your piece, that Bautista behaved well. After all, he killed as many as 20,000 people himself, and bled Cuba for the Mafia and other rich Yanquis: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fulgencio_Batista

    Liked by 4 people

  2. wtc48

    I am never bored. But I am seriously project-driven, and a blank spot like the 8-hour layover in Salt Lake City during our return from France was a welcome relief from thinking about all the things that needed doing.

    The selfie art phenomenon resembles another fairly recent development in music, which I call the dirty windshield effect, for the sense of split focus deriving from spots or splatters on the car windows. If you focus on the spots, you stop seeing the road clearly (Crash!). If you focus on the road, the spots become invisible. My local NPR station has taken to backing up all its spoken announcements with a soundtrack, and being tuned in to music, I try to hear the soundtrack and the announcement becomes inaudible. At the same time, I have noticed that all the TV shows I watch have persistent soundtracks that often make the dialog inaudible, so my wife and I have taken to using the closed captions in order to follow the plots. If I go out for a walk or to a store, most people I see have buds in their ears, and are moving around in their own private soundtrack. The art of Bach and Mozart has become commodified as sonar wallpaper.

    The consideration of catastrophe as a remedy for inequality reminds me of an account I came across of a demonstration of the Worst Cure for Hiccups, wherein a man set himself on fire, and the hiccups ceased shortly before he expired. The repositioning of Orwell’s 1984 as a success story was especially convincing in the light of the revelation that women’s sex life was better under the USSR than it has been since.

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  3. saphsin

    The talk about repressive economic policies that undermined Cuba may have partially been because communism just generally sucks as a model, but also because of the U.S. blockade and constant harassment.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Massimo Post author

    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.”

    Yes, it certainly has to do with my attempts, however imperfect, at keeping a Stoic attitude toward things. It’s not that I don’t care, or I don’t understand how awful certainly people are. It’s that a remind myself that stamping around with indignation does not help things in the least. And very likely makes them worse.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Daniel Kaufman

    I said nothing about Batista and implied nothing about him by what I said. I objected strongly to Castro apologetics, and stand by it. You know you are in a weird universe when objecting to the praise of a dictator is controversial.

    Nor did I “stamp around in indignation.” But I’m just going to drop it. I never do well with political conversations in these parts. I’ll have to satisfy those interests elsewhere.

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  6. synred

    These Republican leaders have not been content with attacks on me, or my wife, or on my sons. No, not content with that, they now include my little dog, Fala. Well, of course, I don’t resent attacks, and my family don’t resent attacks, but Fala does resent them. You know, Fala is Scotch, and being a Scottie, as soon as he learned that the Republican fiction writers in Congress and out had concocted a story that I’d left him behind on an Aleutian island and had sent a destroyer back to find him—at a cost to the taxpayers of two or three, or eight or twenty million dollars—his Scotch soul was furious. He has not been the same dog since. I am accustomed to hearing malicious falsehoods about myself … But I think I have a right to resent, to object, to libelous statements about my dog.[7]

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  7. Alan White

    The Stewart piece on selfies and art just stoked my probably-old-guy reaction to the post-smartphone youth I call “The Devotionals”, because they are always solemnly bowing their heads in worship to their (what we increasingly mistakenly call) “phones”. (I admit I see a lot of older mid-life converts to being Devotional–so maybe this tag is the first cross-generational one described more by the influence of a consumer device than some real common generational social milieu. Or maybe the introduction of television did this–making old and young alike “couch potatoes”.)

    Well, what this did was to take me back to my first real encounter with a first-class art museum. Was I 10 or 12 on a field-trip? Oh no, I was 39, attending an APA in Chicago where I delivered some awful paper (no doubt), but where I had read there was a special Magritte exhibition at the Art Institute. Look, I come from a background where high art was Marty Robbins singing “El Paso” or a plaster statue of Jesus with an external and very bleeding heart. But I’d also done the obligatory art/music classes to get my BA (what, two?) I’d liked Magritte’s work in particular, but also knew there was some other stuff, so I took an afternoon to take it all in.

    Entering I encountered in an expansive portal an image i had seen in art books (but didn’t know)–Seurat’s Sunday Afternoon on La Grande Jatte (truncated; I had to look up the name right now because I couldn’t remember it). It was huge. I was floored by its immensity, and my profound ignorance in assuming it was just, well, a painting about a painting’s size. But this was like a huge mural–but still a painting. Oh I’d learned about some like Guernica in my book-learning–but not this. Thus began quite a learning experience. First-hand encounter with art only previously known by tiny representations in books.

    I went to the Magritte exhibit and felt humbled and exhilarated. I spent I don’t know how long in front of Time Transfixed, not even thinking then that I was enacting the title (and though I was presenting a paper at the Society for the Philosophy of Time at the APA, the irony escaped me). I later bought a poster featuring that piece at the gift shop; it’s on my office wall to this day.

    But other moments were just as stunning. I walked through a Picasso exhibit featuring his Blue Period, and just by browsing one could see the chronological evolution toward something like his more abstract work.

    Later I was moving through an exhibit of American art that was curated in a closer setting where you moved in a more labyrinthine manner among the works. I’ll never forget one moment: I turned and there, just a couple feet from me and rather unceremoniously displayed, was Nighthawks.

    In just a few hours this experience exhausted me. Perhaps I’d gotten through a third of the museum? But the very presence of so much great art was wearing me out.

    That was the first of many later days where I had the rich experience of great art. You are hardly there at all. The art fills your senses. The feelings persist as much as the visual memory.

    If you place yourself at the center of such an encounter with a selfie, I fear you miss the very core of what it’s all about. It’s derivatively about you–you will carry around the feelings–but it’s really about the art and its meaning for you, not all about you.

    Old man–out.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. SocraticGadfly

    OK, back to the board games.

    First, I’ve already said we should extend this to card games, and mentioned my favorites there.

    Massimo, what are your favorites among board games, since you invited us to ask?

    Second, one of my favorites is not a board game. It is a computer game, which, yes, does defeat the human interaction part of the idea.

    That said, the Civilization series has so many permutations that, although I haven’t played in years, I know I would love it if I started again.

    As far as traditional board games? Per another comment, yes, Diplomacy is fun.

    Some others missing from that list that aren’t necessarily on my top 10? But might be? Or might have been in the past?

    First, from younger days, would be Life.

    Next would be two classics — Parcheesi and Go.

    Third would be a game that’s perhaps not a “board game,” and certainly not a card game, but is a non-gambling dice game.

    I of course refer to backgammon, which would definitely be in my top 10.

    Oh, and contra the “it’s good for you” author, no … board games are about winning. They may not be ONLY about winning, but, no, they’re about winning.

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  9. wtc48

    Socratic: “Oh, and contra the “it’s good for you” author, no … board games are about winning. They may not be ONLY about winning, but, no, they’re about winning.”

    You’re right, and I hate it: from chess down to Yahtzee, they all max me out on adrenaline. I don’t even like to win arguments. My diversion is trail ultrarunning; my most recent race was a 100K, and yes, I won (my age group), but that wasn’t what it was about, and the adrenaline was spread nicely over 25 hours in the Arizona desert.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Robin Herbert

    And let me stress it again, it was a joke. I don’t really think that the fact that Castro ordered all sets of the Monopoly board game to be destroyed is any recommendation for Castro or his regime.

    Nor would I actually wish to deprive people who, bafflingly, enjoy the game to be deprived of the opportunity to play it.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. saphsin

    synred

    You’ll have to look at his history more deeply, politicians have said and done contradictory things.

    Daniel Kaufman

    In extremely unfair circumstances, it’s only natural to acknowledge someone’s contributions to mitigating human suffering if they are huge. There’s no real exact standard one can set evaluate this, just common sense I suppose. Hitler fought for animal rights and jumpstarted his country’s economy eliminating much of unemployment and poverty, but it sounds silly praising his efforts for that in light of that because his negatives heavily outweigh the positives to the point of making the positives look trivial.

    That kind of evauation is very hard to pin on Castro on the other hand, it absolutely does not look like the extent of the bad things done heavily outweigh any positive contributions, in fact, it clearly looks the opposite. It doesn’t necessarily mean you should extol him as a hero of course, but I don’t see how you can’t be at least a bit grateful. If we are to judge political leaders on the standard you’re evaluating him by, I think it’s going to be very difficult to find any political leader to appreciate for their contributions, especially those of powerful countries, because you’ll quickly find that even leaders of free countries did far worse than Castro in contributing to human suffering.

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  12. saphsin

    Ok to add a final comment about boredom. I mean of course I have been bored before in certain circumstance. When I was kid and had nothing to do in the car because I couldn’t read without getting motion sickness, I was bored. If I find nothing to do for the time being, I probably would feel boredom. It’s just in today’s world, if you have a computer & internet connection, and some money, there are too many things to be interested in and activities to pursue to be in the situation to be bored. Some people who constantly feel otherwise just don’t realize the vastness I suppose. If those people include people here in the comments, enlighten me.

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  13. Massimo Post author

    I dont’ know why people have such a hard time understanding why some of us can’t conceive of getting bored. This isn’t a value judgment, it’s just the way it is. I need to be constantly stimulated, by readings, while I engage in writing (ever wondered how is it that I’m fairly “productive”?), traveling, going to the theater, having good evenings with friends, etc.

    I am also sympathetic with the idea that real life is so darn engaging that one may read less fiction. I always read 4-5 books at a time, and make a point of at least one of them being fiction. But there is so much interesting non-fiction stuff out there! Again, not a value judgment, just a reflection of one’s priorities.

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  14. Massimo Post author

    Socratic,

    My favorites from that list are chess, which I like playing with my daughter especially, and Catan, good for a company of friends. When I was a child I played both Monopoli and Risk for endless hours, with my father, my brother and others in my family.

    I think the point of the article is that, especially in these times of everyone being on-line on his own, playing games in real life — something that people have done literally for millennia — simply reminds us that we are fellow members of a larger polis.

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  15. saphsin

    I agree about what was about boredom, but I want to add the detail that there is a physical impediment that actually forces many people to feel boredom, which is an unfulfilling job, or poverty that prevents you from pursuing stimulating activities (not always, but to an extent) And perhaps fiction is popular because people want to enjoy something that goes beyond the dreariness of their own life. Doesn’t mean it can’t be popular among those who enjoy their own life otherwise, but I think there is clearly some of that.

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  16. Bradley Sherman

    As a teenager I read as many as four novels in one day and hated reading textbooks. Now I can’t read fiction at all but find textbooks fascinating exercises in circumnavigating islands of wisdom. I have always had trouble writing outlines and sometimes will spend an hour just studying the table of contents of a well-organized nonfiction book.

    And backgammon should have been on the list of board games. It takes a special kind of person to keep playing chess or go against a stronger opponent, but in backgammon the element of chance allows the weaker player to win occasionally. Plus backgammon games are over in minutes. Monopoly takes too long to make the list. I would venture that less than 5% of Monopoly games are played to completion.

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  17. synred

    >Hitler fought for animal rights and jumpstarted his country’s economy eliminating much of unemployment and poverty

    I had a long running occasional argument with my father as he used to say ‘the trouble with Hitler was he thought the end justified the means.’ My father was an engineer and his idea of an end was building the autobahn and persecuting the Jews was the political means.

    Of course, he had this just backwards, building the autobahn was the means, the goals were imperialism, persecution and genocide. Eventually, I got him to see this!

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  18. synred

    I dont’ know why people have such a hard time understanding why some of us can’t conceive of getting bored

    Different strokes for different folks. It’s not really something that can be argued about.

    Blogs would be boring if people weren’t bored…

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  19. synred

    As a teenager I read as many as four novels in one day and hated reading textbooks

    My wife could polish of a mystery in an hour the would take me all day.

    At her speed even a pretty bad book could hold her interest long enough to finish, but I would get bored and give up.

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  20. Daniel Kaufman

    Saphsin wrote:

    That kind of evaluation is very hard to pin on Castro on the other hand, it absolutely does not look like the extent of the bad things done heavily outweigh any positive contributions, in fact, it clearly looks the opposite.

    = = =

    Given what I quoted from Human Rights Watch, all that I can say is that my fundamental value system is so far from and opposite to yours that it is likely pointless for us to discuss it. There is no point in my repeating over and over again how repugnant I find your justification of a brutal, authoritarian dictatorship, for its good deeds. (I’ve had similarly depressing conversations with people about Hamas.) And as incredible as it seems to me, I don’t think that simply posting more of the data on the number of people imprisoned, beaten, tortured and executed is going to persuade you. So, no more on Castro for me.

    Re: Fiction, I also worry that the discussion is going to go nowhere … at least for me. While there is no question that people read common genre fiction for escapist purposes — Harold Robbins and the like — the idea that this is why one reads literature — Shakespeare, Milton, Dostoevsky, Joyce, Kafka, Faulkner, etc. — strikes me as representing a fundamental misunderstanding of the thing in question. If people want to have a serious discussion on the reasons for and value of literature, I’m game for it — I’ve been teaching a philosophy and literature course for almost 20 years now — as it is something I think is of the utmost importance, especially today. But the conversation on the subject, as it has been thus far, is not one that anyone who has really engaged with and invested in literature can do much with.

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  21. saphsin

    Daniel Kaufman

    That’s because I’m dealing with the conditions of the real world and the alternatives, I’m not making political judgments from the View of Nowhere. Of course I would prefer a Capitalist Social Democracy in Cuba. But it’s too bad for poor & vulnerable people in the third world, they didn’t have that option. If the leaders of a society are fending for the lives of the citizens of their society and they successfully do so, while other political leaders co-opt to the interests of American Elites, leading to the brutalization & torture of hundreds of thousands of people, how can I not appreciate it, even if it’s a mixed appreciation. My political judgment comes from sympathizing on the side of those who face debilitating conditions from which they struggle at odds with the reality before them, not from some ideals that don’t meet my moral satisfaction.

    I often hate when many liberals criticize conservative arguments “being from a position of privilege”, because even if it is true, it’s not an actual argument, and won’t convince anybody. But I can’t help pointing out that the reasoning I’m seeing to be just that.

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  22. saphsin

    And yes I probably have more of (positive perpective? I don’t think anyone necessarily looked down on fiction here) towards fiction here. There’s something about the human ego that debilitates our intuitions through ideological lens and what not, so it’s often helpful to see the world through the lens of other constructed human beings, or even through another world. And I suspect writings like memoirs & autobiographies are too distorted to help you with that.

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  23. saphsin

    Socratic

    Ahh I just took a look at it. Walter Scheidel book that he reviews may be a good one, because it was also reviewed positively by Branko Milanovic, who I respect very much. VD Hansen I do not respect at all, which anyone who takes a brief look at his wikipedia page will immediately understand why.

    From Hansen’s article

    “Inequality seems often to rest on paradoxes. Near zero interest rates favor investments that make a few rich and more poor. Higher taxes often discourage investors and entrepreneurs while encouraging talented money-makers to hoard and hide assets rather than to risk them. At some point, expanding entitlements can encourage consumption and dependence rather than industry and thrift. One reason why the United States claims that it is exceptional in producing vast goods and services is its cultural attitude to wealth creation and inequality, emphasizing emulation as much as envy. In popular American lore, the owner of a Chevrolet is the owner of a Cadillac in prospect.”

    You take a look at his citation #18 for this and the idea comes from an attack of the New Deal. I’ve seen these type of arguments before, and people who use don’t seem to know that the period after the New Deal was known as the Golden Age of Capitalism, when the US Economy grew the fastest:

    “The period between 1945, the end of the Second World War, and 1973, the first Oil Shock, is often called the Golden Age of capitalism'. The period really deserves the name, as it achieved the highest growth rate ever. Between 1950 and 1973, per capita income in Western Europe grew at an astonishing rate of 4.1% per year. The US grew more slowly, but at an unprecedented rate of 2.5%. West Germany grew at 5.o%, earning the title of theMiracle on the Rhine’, while Japan grew even faster at 8.1%, starting off the chain of `economic miracles’ in East Asia in the next half a century.

    High growth was not the only economic achievement of the Golden Age. Unemployment, the bane of the working class, was virtually eliminated in the advanced capitalist countries (henceforth ACC s) of Western Europe, Japan and the US (see Chapter lo). These economies were also remarkably stable on a number of accounts – output (and thus employment), prices and finance. Outputs fluctuated much less than in the previous periods, not least thanks to Keynesian fiscal policy, which increased government spending during downturns and reduced it during booms.20 The rate of inflation, that is, the rate at which the general price level rises, was relatively low.21 And there was a very high degree of financial stability. During the Golden Age, virtually no country was in banking crisis. In contrast, since 1975, anything between 5 and 35% of countries in any given year have been in banking crisis, except for a few years in the mid-z000s.22

    So in every measure the Golden Age was a remarkable period. When Harold Macmillan, the British prime minister, said, `You’ve never had it so good,’ he wasn’t exaggerating. Exactly what lay behind this sterling economic performance, which was unprecedented and has since been unparalleled, is a matter of an ongoing dispute.”

    Ha-Joon Chang http://pratclif.com/2014/chang.htm#09

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  24. SocraticGadfly

    Yep. And, I’ve “known about” VD for 15 years, Saph, which is why I call him “VD” and not his full name. He is also a cultural “Christianist” / war of civilizations guy and more.

    I know you’ve said before you don’t agree with everything you post, Massimo, but, I hope this isn’t a sign you read VD that much.

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