Plato’s reading suggestions, episode 119

French Revolution paintingHere it is, our regular Friday diet of suggested readings for the weekend:

How loneliness generates empathy and shapes identity.

The strange order of things, by Antonio Damasio.

The ungrateful traveler: how we have come to take intercontinental travel for granted.

How we forgot the collective good and started to think of ourselves primarily as consumers.

How responsible are killers with brain damage?

Review of studies shows mindfulness meditation apparently no better than watching nature documentaries on tv, when it comes to fostering pro-social behavior.

Lessons from history on how to spot a financial bubble.

Steven Pinker’s debatable scholarship about the Enlightenment, part 1/2.

Steven Pinker’s debatable scholarship about the Enlightenment, part 2/2.


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!

Categories: Plato's Suggestions

68 replies


    Skin in the Game by Nassim Nicholas Taleb – digested read

    …That way we’ve both got skin in the game. This book is 25% probability theory, 25% classical anecdotes, 25% stating the bleeding obvious, and 25% complete bullshit.

    Who are the worst offenders? Politicians, advisers, middle managers, university lecturers, architects and every liberal pinko you’ve ever met. That’s you, Steven Pinker. Man’s a halfwit. There’s only room for one genius round here and that’s me.

    Slightly more seriously, if we take Pinker as defending the “Enlightenment legacy” as we normally shorthand it, is this anything to do with the complexities and how well or badly the historical Enlightenment went in the short term anyway? Recalling that legacy includes both Adam Smith and de Sade?

    I often read James Schmidt’s; his list from 1790 mentions,


    a) of the state and its institutions, namely
    α) useful public institutions VIII.
    β) freedom of thought, speech, and the press IX.

    b) of the sciences in the objective sense

    α) the perfection of sciences in general X.
    β) perfection of certain specific sciences XI.
    γ) the incorporation of heterodox religious beliefs XII.
    δ) unspecified didactic objects

    Liked by 1 person

  2. David,

    Ah, if only I could take Taken seriously…


  3. Another Pinker review;

    “So, even though I believe in Pinker’s graphs, I don’t quite share his optimism. As Voltaire pointed out in Candide, that great Enlightenment text, this never has been, and never will be, the best of all possible worlds. Humans may be capable of sympathy, but they also take eagerly to cruelty. We are not nice, and the world we have constructed is, above all, a response to our selfish demand for more and more of all the things we value. The graphs tell a true story because ours is a culture of maximization, with all the accompanying strengths and weaknesses.”


  4. Pinker a pinko? If only. Author of that piece a real loon!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. A bit more off topic, but ties with the issue of consumerism, and we have many here who have mentioned the country or the man before.

    The Chinese Communist Party has just decided to let Xi Jinping be president-for-life. That is the last nail in the coffin of the #neoliberal idea of “engagement.”


  6. David,
    Your James Schmidt reference is fascinating. Thanks.


  7. David,
    Skin in the Game by Nassim Nicholas Taleb – digested read

    The Digested Read is highly entertaining stuff which beautifully reveals all of John Crace’s prejudices. I enjoy a good chuckle when reading his articles but go somewhere else for good reviews.

    His scoffing, cynical, ironical viewpoint is an extreme manifestation of today’s intellectual malaise. My response to him is to agree with Nicholas Taleb, that we all need some skin in the game. Skin in the game is an act of commitment, that places something of you at risk. This is how we live authentic lives. We may, some of us, live misguided lives, but at least live authentic lives by having skin in the game.


  8. Socratic,
    “The Chinese Communist Party has just decided to let Xi Jinping be president-for-life. That is the last nail in the coffin of the #neoliberal idea of “engagement.” ‘ If the PRC Constitution is amended to allow this, and it probably will be, then, yeah, I think the China experiment of the past few years is over. It has strenuously striven to keep alive a kind of liberal globalism, while reforming certain tendencies toward corruption. But if it opens the door to a cult of personality, it may as well toss in the towel. Cults of personality are by nature corrupt.That means that any claim China may have to ‘leading the free world’ (as I’ve occasionally, tongue in cheek, suggested) is at an end. Bit it may also mean that the hope of a ‘free world’ is itself at an end. We have 8 billion people on this planet, with variant beliefs often in conflict – even violent conflict. By the end of the century, that number will at least double. How are these numbers to be controlled so that conflict is reduced? Don’t for a minute imagine that governments across the globe are not asking themselves that question. Autocracy may be inevitable, my friend. I don’t like that idea anymore than you might. But it may be inevitable.

    Just as we once had ‘benevolent monarchs’ and ‘benevolent dictators,’ perhaps the best we can hope for are benevolent autocracies.


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