Plato’s reading suggestions, episode 116

no iPhoneHere it is, our regular Friday diet of suggested readings for the weekend:

Do you really believe X? If so, take the Truth-Demon test. (Or, better yet, tell me how much money you are willing to bet on the truth of X.)

P.K. Dick, not Orwell or Huxley, predicted the world we live in.

More reasons to think the multiverse hypothesis isn’t good science. (see also my recent post here).

Psychologists surveyed hundreds of alt-right supporters. The results are as scary as shit.

Why so many Americans think Buddhism is “just” a philosophy.

An argument for not buying a cellphone. Which I read on, and tweeted about, from my iPhone.

The new “Cosmos” and the debate about the historical and scientific role of Giordano Bruno.


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!

134 thoughts on “Plato’s reading suggestions, episode 116

  1. labnut

    It’s true that admitting to an ideology can have that disadvantage,

    I would put it differently. It is true that ‘subscribing‘ to an ideology can have that disadvantage. Subscribing to an ideology is an emotional act of commitment. The force of that commitment is the problem. It far outweighs the ‘underlying assumptions and impressions that create standards for judgment ‘.


  2. labnut

    I disagree that “neoliberal” and “alt-right” do not have specific enough meanings to be useful. Sure, bth words are abused.

    It is the extent and the thoroughgoing nature of the abuse which make the terms unusable in thoughtful discourse. The terms are not just abused but they are used abusively. When that happens the terms no longer say anything useful about their object but instead say everything about the abuser.


  3. SocraticGadfly

    Paul, do you mean something is factually wrong with the casualty statement from the US Civil War, or something is morally wrong? Especially with estimates of Civil War fatalities ramped upward in the last few years, as far as I know, it remains factually correct.


  4. Massimo Post author


    “It is the extent and the thoroughgoing nature of the abuse which make the terms unusable in thoughtful discourse”

    I hear you. But it’s also possible that your, or Dan’s, perception of the extent of such abuse is not actually reflective of the reality of the situation. Certainly Saphsin and I think so, which means there is room for reasonable disagreement.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. SocraticGadfly

    Perhaps, to fire back, complaints about alleged abuse of the terms “neoliberal” and “alt-right” fall under that old English-language cliché of:

    “Whose ox is being gored.”

    There’s also an old bon mot from Shakespeare which I’m sure people can think of.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. brodix

    Filtering ideologies through Philip’s comment about the language multiverse, there are multitudes of framing devices. Individuals, cultures, states, etc, need some sense of focus, boundaries, input, output, etc and in their more constricted and degenerative stages, become dis-attached from their organic origins and functions, but this life cycle has to be taken into account.
    Sometimes the hard surface can be a protective shell, sometimes it can be a scab in the process of peeling away and often a combination.
    Bottom up processes and top down forms.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. labnut

    But it’s also possible that your, or Dan’s, perception of the extent of such abuse is not actually reflective of the reality of the situation.

    I have the greatest respect for Dan-K’s perceptive insights. He has always struck me as a balanced and fair observer, well informed about US’ cultural matters. His writings have always struck me as even handed, without ideological leanings. Thus I trust his perceptions as being “actually reflective of the reality of the situation“.


  8. labnut

    To that I would add that I have no axe to grind in this matter. I am a distant observer who looks on in some amusement at American theatre. American politics has become Hollywood by other means.


  9. Paul Braterman

    SocraticGadfly, let me spell it out. The statement under consideration is “[M]ore people were killed in the Civil War than all our other wars combined”.

    I have actually heard people say that 40,000 people were killed in Vietnam, and 4,000 in the 2003 Gulf War. Do you think that those are accurate statements, even within an order of magnitude?


  10. saphsin


    My choice of words is arguable but “subscribing” is close to what I meant. But what I wanted to imply in my previous post is that we all inevitably subscribe to something at least ideology-lite, and that actually admitting that we have certain inclinations, being concerned about their implications and how they match up with empirical facts, and trying to bolster specific claims from the perspective of a carefully defended belief system may make us less vulnerable to intellectual mistakes and false judgments.

    As for subscribing to an ideology being about emotional commitment, I assume that issues that seriously concern human beings are and should be about emotional commitment. I don’t see how it would work out otherwise. But being committed to something doesn’t mean that it should exclude open-mindedness and rational judgment. You can choose your own terminology if you want but I would refer to that separately as fanaticism.


  11. Massimo Post author


    does the statement about the Civil War also include WWI and especially WWII? That seems hard to believe, but it’s an empirical question, I’m sure there is a decently substantiated estimate out there.


  12. synred

    Well my Uncle enjoyed life and accomplished some things. I suspect there are a lot more people like him than AA would like to admit.

    He did finally quit or stop for the sake of his second wife who was a hardcore alcoholic who when she quit couldn’t be around the stuff.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. labnut

    so by implication you do not trust my own percetions. Good to know. Cheers.

    I am sorry that I expressed myself in such a ham-fisted way. I pretty much trust most of your perceptions and indeed admire your viewpoint in most matters. We disagree on some matters but I hope that can be a source of stimulating and friendly debate.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. synred

    .> I am a distant observer

    There are no ‘distant’ observers anymore. Trump with is finger on the ‘button’, his wackadoodle economics, his anti-science agenda, and his disastrous environmental policies will affect you.

    Sure he’s a buffon. He’d be funny, if he wasn’t so scary. We can laugh ourselves to death.

    Liked by 2 people

  15. synred

    I have actually heard people say that 40,000 people were killed in Vietnam, and 4,000 in the 2003 Gulf War. Do you think that those are accurate statements, even within an order of magnitude?

    I think there are about 50K on the Vietnam wall. We don’t count vietnamese.

    None of these add up to the 750-800K killed in the Civil War.

    The Russians lost 19M in WWII (not counting those they killed themselves before hand), so all and all America has been lucky.

    And remember the Civil War was undertaken (by North) to preserve the union not to free the slaves. That was a side-effect.

    All-in-all I’d rather not be part of a ‘great power’, but there’s no choice. At most we can have alternative history novels.


  16. synred

    Massimo: Yes, it does include WWI and WWII and ALL of our wars. It’s been known for years, but not much talked about.

    We entered the worlds wars relatively late and got off relatively lightly. The Russians took the brunt and ‘broke the back of the Wehrmark along the easter front’ ‘At the Elbe’

    Liked by 1 person

  17. SocraticGadfly

    Per what Cousin said, the latest estimates are the US Civil War killed more than 750,000 people. World War II had about 400,000 war deaths, WWI about 115,000, Vietnam about 57,000, Korea about 39,000, and downward from there. It must be remembered that the late US entry in WWI spared it most the horrors of trench warfare; in fact, half of US deaths in the “Great War” are Spanish flu. In WWII, it must be remembered that the US avoided civilian bombing deaths, etc.

    The fact that most US wars outside the Civil War have been relatively low-cost for Americans may be part of why, even with a national mythos proclaiming America as especially peace-loving, the reality is different.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. SocraticGadfly

    To follow my previous comment, it IS Wiki, Cousin, but it’s from footnoted information. Here’s the best estimates on US deaths in all major and minor wars. The nearly 2.5 percent death rate of the Civil War, even without modern machine guns or modern howitzers, would put it as high or higher than WWI deaths of the other Great Powers. (Among white Southerners in the 11 Confederate states, the death rate exceeded 3 percent.)

    (Sidebar to another thread here — I am also with Massimo on the general relative accuracy of Wikipedia. Usually living political and political science pages deserve a certain deal of scrutiny, but otherwise OK. Often, when I find Wikipedia use being challenged — as Doug Henwood did with me when I was refuting the claim that New Mexico is a “highly white state” — it often strikes me as another version of that “whose ox is being gored.”)


  19. SocraticGadfly

    Re Philip on Dick and the US Civil War, especially near the end of the piece — even by the end of war, Sherman had not become as enlightened on racial issues as many other Union generals, including and above all Grant. And, with stuff like that piece — and the news source doing that interview — perhaps we should not call him, Dick that is, totally uncongenial to today’s alt-right. (For the unknowing, The American Conservative has in the past regularly run pieces by the likes of Steve Sailer.)

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Bunsen Burner


    ‘I doubt there’s been a war the meets Augustine’s conditions.’

    As a matter of fact, in the International Relations community, the Vietnamese intervention to end the Khmer Rouge is considered a Just War in the Augustinian sense.

    Liked by 2 people

Comments are closed.