Plato’s reading suggestions, episode 103

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

Hipparchia the Cynic: a determined badass woman.

The genius, and stupidity, of Silicon Valley.

Does each click of attention cost a bit of ourselves?

The universe shouldn’t exist, confused physicists say.

Cambridge University turned me into an arrogant, entitled brat. Don’t go there.


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. Also, keep ‘em short, this is a comments section, not your own blog. Thanks!

59 thoughts on “Plato’s reading suggestions, episode 103

  1. saphsin

    Daniel Kaufman

    A lot of people in my high school went to IV league schools more because of their parents than their own accomplishments (there were a lot of kids from very wealthy families who went to my school, though many of the people who attended weren’t wealthy) I wouldn’t call them brats, because that implies a personality problem.

    But it is deeply unfair for those who aren’t as privileged and want to compete for the seats. MIT has the right policy, they think legacies are B.S. and that the only thing that should merit an admission is one’s own ability and effort.

    As for your daughter, I don’t blame her for exploiting an advantage that already exists, most of us do to some extent (I buy some cheap products based on unfair and exploitative trade rules with third world countries). But for the Top Elite Schools, legacies are especially unfair, and it’s a way for wealthy families and their kids to maintain their privileges while decreasing social mobility for the rest of the population.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. synred

    USC is known as the university of spoiled children. My father graduated in the navy’s V12 program there. He wasn’t spoiled…


  3. Daniel Kaufman

    Saphsin: My point really was not about the questions of fairness, etc. that you raise. Rather it was the more narrow, much less important question of who is “looking down” on whom and for what. You say you “don’t blame” my daughter for taking advantages that exist. But say you did? The point just is why you would dream that any of us would care? Who are you, exactly? What is your position relative to ours, such that I should give a crap about what you think of us and our family’s choices?

    For social opprobrium to have efficacy, one must assume that the person being criticized cares about what the critic thinks of him or her. My point just was that the sorts of people who are likely to obsess about Cambridgers being “brats” are precisely the sorts of people whose opinion Cambridgers are unlikely to give a damn about. So it just winds up looking like an unseemly exercise in the venting of envy and resentment.

    My father came to this country not having finished high school, without two pennies to rub together, and barely speaking the language. But rather than vent about how Harvard legacies are brats and how “unfair” it all is, he worked his ass off to the point at which now his own descendants in the position to become legacies somewhere.

    I know which attitude I admire more. Not that I expect anyone to care. Lol.


  4. synred


    Everybody with slave ancestry should be a ‘legacy’ at Ivy League schools as their ancestors uncompensated labor paid for their creation.

    Given compound interest I suspect a good deal of their endowment was ‘contributed’ by slaves too.

    I only have trouble with ‘legacy’ admissions from those who complain about affirmative action.


  5. saphsin

    “Looked down upon by whom? These institutions feed people directly into the most significant, powerful institutions on the earth. If they’re being “looked down upon,” they likely could care less.”

    By anyone who thinks the distribution of privelege is unfair, and thinks the flaunting of it distasteful.

    “I’ll be very proud if my daughter goes to Michigan as a legacy.”

    I mean if she would’ve been accepted Michigan either way because she was a good student, it makes sense to be proud of her. I don’t know your daughter so I can’t judge the proportion, but if the reason she went to Michigan was because of legacy, I don’t know what there is to be proud. Because it quite literally means her admission over someone else had nothing to do with her character, ability, and effort.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Massimo Post author


    Tone it down please. This discussion on legacy and brats is getting too heated as unproductive.

    That said, Dan, the people who go to Cambridge may not give a damn about what the rest of society thinks. But thy should. Both ethically and possibly practically. If enough people think an institution is harmful that institution will lose privileges, or even get shut down.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. saphsin

    Daniel Kaufman

    Your comment missed what I was trying to say. And yes, legacies are unfair. If it’s a matter of design, not of fortune and effort, and if it could be changed, it should. Everything else you mentioned is entirely irrelevant, including the point about perception.


  8. Daniel Kaufman

    Massimo: I was not under the impression that the conversation was hostile or angry or unproductive.

    Joan Didion wrote in the New York Times, in 1972, regarding second wave feminism and its effort to pattern itself after Marxism:

    “Marxism in this country had ever been an eccentric and quixotic passion. One oppressed class after an other had seemed finally to miss the point. The have‐nots, it turned out, aspired mainly to having.”

    Didion understood/understands America very well. Which is why, Massimo, I’d be willing to bet quite a lot that your imagined outcome at the end of your comment is not going to occur.

    Saphsin: I would be very proud to have been the one to begin a familial, intergenerational relationship with the University of Michigan, an institution I am both extremely fond of and think very highly of. That you find that odd is, of course, your prerogative.


  9. SocraticGadfly

    And, Dan’s comments about “legacies,” as well as extending that beyond Ivies, which Saph and I did not, are another good illustration of why I exited the “duopoly” in voting, when possible, long ago.

    Primarily at the Ivies, it’s that “elite” that has repeatedly led the US into untenable wars, and otherwise fostered a myopic, imperialistic, bipartisan foreign policy establishment.


  10. saphsin

    Daniel Kaufmann

    I’m sorry, this has nothing to do with Marxism. Not only liberal progressives have criticized university legacies for being unfair (because they believe in fair opportunity) but so have American Conservatives, because they argued for fair competition and success based on merit (that’s why they stress competitive markets. Overly so in my opinion, in a distorted manner). I’m afraid your dodging of any criticism with points that are quite irrelevant as being completely indifferent to the ethical implications of your preferred status quo. That’s your choice, but I don’t see that as virtuous or intellectually defensible.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Robin Herbert

    The kind of entitlement fostered by Oxford and Cambridge is well known, there was a running joke in “Yes Minister” about the senior civil servants looking down their noses at Jim Hacker because he went to the LSE.


  12. brodix


    The increasing separation of the upper crust is weakness, not strength.
    The assumption is that There Is No Alternative, but history continues to unfold.
    Chaos is coming, so the only real question is what order will rise.


  13. Massimo Post author


    I consider Hipparchia badass because she was willing to flaunt social conventions. Which I find to be an unquestionable good, even though I wouldn’t do it myself, at least not that way. Society needs to be reminded from time to time that a lot of what we do is, in fact, arbitrary.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Daniel Kaufman

    Saphsin: My name is spelled ‘Kaufman’, not ‘Kaufmann’.

    You obviously misunderstood the point of my referencing Didion, in the context of my exchange with Massimo. You also clearly misunderstood which points of yours I was and was not interested in addressing.

    As for your personal estimation of my character, I would refer you back to my early comment, in which I addressed that sort of thing.

    Robin: Trust me, Didion knows that. If you actually read the essay — a very famous essay that caused quite a firestorm — you will see the way in which Marxism is invoked and the ways in which it is not.


  15. saphsin

    Daniel Kaufman

    Sorry for mistyping your name.

    I read your comment along with Massimo’s. I’ll be more clear. No it’s not related to Marxism. If people don’t like rules, they can protest and bring about changes. Of course it might not happen (that’s why we’re in the mess we’re in as a society), but you don’t have to be part of a left-wing movement to disapprove of what makes sense to most people.

    And I’m not interested in addressing your points as I’ve pointed out, because they are not relevant. If rules are not proper and can be changed, they should. This is supposed to be a philosophy discussion about ethics and policy, not about personal squabbles. I’m not interested in judging your character either, I’m interested in ethical implications of organizing a society and that’s what I want to talk about. I only brought up what you’re ignoring to point out the evasiveness I see in the discussion.


  16. saphsin


    “I consider Hipparchia badass because she was willing to flaunt social conventions. Which I find to be an unquestionable good, even though I wouldn’t do it myself, at least not that way. Society needs to be reminded from time to time that a lot of what we do is, in fact, arbitrary.”

    I admire teachings that challenge the status quo and unexamined assumptions. But I don’t think flaunting social conventions for the sake of itself are an admirable thing, and I’m not impressed by the justifications for how Diogenes & Hipparchia reacted to those social conventions. Again the example I brought up that you wrote in your book, I really don’t see the point of evaluating the boy’s use of his hands to drink water to be wise. If the social convention was unnecessary and tedious, and there was a creative alternative option, that would be another thing. But using a bowl to gather way and drinking it is convenient, whatever the social convention may be. Diogenes’ reaction is just being radical posturing without much substance.


  17. saphsin

    Let me leave my last comment about legacies, because the whole discussion strikes me as bizarre.

    Say a man gets hit by a car, and it’s the driver’s fault. It is unfair if the laws are designed if the driver has the ability to get away with not paying for the victim’s recovery. At the same time, it is also the victim’s responsibility in his circumstances to listen to the doctor’s advice, get proper exercise, eat a proper diet, and raise enough money for his recovery if he didn’t have one. It’s unproductive to “just” complain about the laws not being fair, he has to do all that is necessary to achieve his goals and make a successful recovery. But denying the legitimacy of his complaints on this basis is pretty morally bankrupt. If the way society is organized is unfair, so we should we change it for the better. Period.

    If a college denies admission to someone because they gave space to someone else who had less academic ability & effort than he did, then that’s not fair and it should be changed. No that does not mean you should just complain about the system and the privileges of other people not work hard to get in. That has nothing to do with the legitimacy of the complaints.


  18. Massimo Post author


    The story of Diogenes and the boy is meant to illustrate that sometimes we don’t realize that we carry with us things that we don’t actually need. I think it is a metaphor for attachment to externals, I doubt it really happened. Again, one may or may not agree with the Cynics (I don’t), but I think it is refreshing to have people who question pretty much everything that we normally do in society and make us reflect on why we do it.

    Liked by 3 people

  19. Massimo Post author


    For what is worth, I agree that legacy admissions to colleges is morally bankrupt and should be abolished. Period.

    As for Oxbridge, I’m sorry, Dan, but I’d rather see such places of flaunted privilege gone, regardless of their “traditions,” and society invest in decent access to education for everyone. But of course that is (a) just my opinion, and (b) will never happen. Unfortunately.


  20. saphsin


    Well I said in my previous comment that one can take insight from the Cynics and not agree with the way they’re doing about things. My comment was about them characterized as “badass” as if their lifestyle deserves to be portrayed as admirable. I get what you’re trying to say but I don’t know. I just find it odd to consider them as that for holding a lifestyle that seems nonsensical to me just because there are some principles behind it that I sympathize with.


  21. brodix


    Is it really possible to educate the next generation in the culture and direction of society, while eliminating the biases and habits held by that society?
    We do advance and give the next generation a little more insight, but can’t quite pass on the shift of perspective, so they can’t fully appreciate it. Whether it is cups for drinking water, or computers for drinking information.
    Each generation builds on the previous, so the core of our culture and knowledge go back to when we were far more primal. Hopefully that grain of sand, around which our pearls of wisdom formed, is true.


  22. wtc48

    Massimo: “Again, one may or may not agree with the Cynics (I don’t), but I think it is refreshing to have people who question pretty much everything that we normally do in society and make us reflect on why we do it.”

    When Diogenes and Hipparchia flouted convention by having sex in public (if that actually happened), that was also metaphorical. The same thing has occurred (by proxy) in many movies, beginning in the sixties, metaphorically developing the sequence:

    1: If X happens, the world will end

    2: X happens

    3: The world doesn’t end

    4: Oh well, I guess it’s not the end of the world

    It is interesting that the extensive use of nudity and graphic sex in movies of the period 1965-1985 (it has tapered off considerably in recent years) has never produced a significant change in real-world behavior: taking off one’s clothes in public (except in stage performances and similar situations) is as shocking and illegal (at least in the US) as it ever was. But we are probably reassured, by the metaphoric appearance on the screen, that if it did occur, it would not pose a threat to our institutions.


  23. Massimo Post author


    Hipparchia was married to Crates, not Diogenes. And they very likely did happen, as the Cynics were notorious for that sort of thing.


  24. SocraticGadfly

    Massimo, has anybody made the argument that Diogenes’ clipping of coinage was not (just) an act of embezzling but was itself a Cynic action? I know that the clipping itself, according to one story, is referenced by a statement from the oracle at Delphi.


  25. SocraticGadfly

    I know we’re not talking about him, but the mention of him — and as you know, I’m acquainted with the major figures — just tripped a light bulb. Would also provide an interesting twist to Jesus as Jewish Cynic and “give unto Caesar”!

    Liked by 1 person

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