Plato’s reading suggestions, episode 125

put down the smartphoneHere it is, our regular Friday diet of suggested readings for the weekend:

As If! An entirely uninspiring review of what nevertheless sounds like a really fascinating book by Anthony Appiah.

Jordan Peterson and fascist mysticism.

The dark truth about chocolate. (It’s not a health food, just a pleasant treat.)

What we know and don’t know about losing weight. We know that low carbs vs low fats doesn’t make a difference. And genetics neither.

Put down the damn smart phone! It’s rude, and it’s bad for your health.


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!

62 thoughts on “Plato’s reading suggestions, episode 125

  1. Robin Herbert

    It is the over-the-top worship of Peterson that I find weird. I just recently had someone on my timeline on Twitter say that the Pope should speak to Peterson so that Peterson could explain to him the importance of Catholicism to Catholics. Incidentally it was an atheist who said that. One of the new, new atheists.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. brodix

    “Like Peterson, many of these hyper-masculinist thinkers saw compassion as a vice and urged insecure men to harden their hearts against the weak (women and minorities) on the grounds that the latter were biologically and culturally inferior. Hailing myth and dreams as the repository of fundamental human truths, they became popular because they addressed a widely felt spiritual hunger: of men looking desperately for maps of meaning in a world they found opaque and uncontrollable.”

    Masculinity is a tactic, but the world is complicated. Maturity is a strategy.


  3. Zachary Caudill

    couvent 2401 said:

    “The West’s most influential public intellectual? Perhaps in some quarters in the US and Canada, but not in the part of the West where I live.”

    This was a quote from David Brooks. It’s dumb, but not Mishra’s hyperbole.

    “I think it was slightly more complicated than that.”

    I mean, we could make it more complicated obviously, but it’s hard to overstate the cultural, intellectual and moral implosion that was the early twentieth century and its horrific aftereffects even decades after the fact.

    As for Peterson, he seems to have morphed into a creature of resentment bent on amplifying the hysterics he claims to be healing, and it’s proving really lucrative for him. I’m all for criticizing radicalized students who resort to threats and violence to de-platform people, but I don’t see the need to throw my hat in with a guy who spouts boilerplate pomo-Marxist conspiracies and blandly defends hierarchy by boiling lobsters in a pot of naturalistic fallacies. (He’s a guy in desperate need of a “You, sir, are no Friedrich Nietzsche” moment.) I prefer someone with a little more perspective than that. If this were the late sixties (and sometimes I can’t tell), he’d be in the Nixon posture of someone totally consumed with campus leftwing radicals, and eager to frame every argument with the left in that cast to make the debate a lot easier for himself. Even so, the Weather Underground was bad — the Vietnam War was massively worse.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. SocraticGadfly

    Well, Massimo, if Pinker can’t actually get the Enlightenment right, can he fully be in the spirit of it?

    And Peterson strikes me as a Venn diagram overlap of Pinker and Haidt. Feel free to use that elsewhere.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Zachary Caudill

    Daniel Kaufman wrote:

    “The idea that he is a fascist or even far Right is just nonsense. Only someone swept up in the current derangements could think that. He is very much a liberal in the spirit of the Enlightenment.”

    He said, if he had the chance, he would’ve voted for Trump. Or rather, he said he would’ve walked in the booth intending to vote for Clinton (uh huh), said “screw it” and then voted for Trump. Even leaving aside his adherence to Jungian mysticism (and any number of other things that need leaving aside), he’s a poor representative for Enlightenment liberalism.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Robin Herbert

    I can only speak for myself, it makes no difference whether it is carbs or fat or whatever, if I eat too much, I put on weight, if I eat less I lose it, if I eat just right I maintain weight .

    Eating less is only deprivation in the sense that not smoking is deprivation. I had almost forgotten the pure unalloyed joy of tucking into a great korma when you’re really, really fricking hungry.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. ejwinner

    I did read Vaihinger; it’s actually somewhat frustrating. After a good opening argument, it gets taxonomic, and consequently never really gets to the epistemological core of the issue. The Appiah book does sound interesting, though.

    On that score – watching a lot of Penn and Teller lately – well to remember that all illusion is the result of well-practiced technique. The difference between a professional magician’s illusiosn and fictionalism (and its real epistemological foundation, traditional Nominalism), is that the magician believes that our perceptions of reality can be tricked; fictionalism – and more importantly Nominalism – hold that our perceptions are the trick – and one we can’t help playing.

    Peterson is a hard call from this distance. The politics within the Academy doesn’t interest me much. Dan makes a good case – but so does Mishra.I never liked appeal to myth for any … well, just anything. This despite my love of myth narratives and narratology. But no archetypes are discoverable in our genes, and thus cannot be discovered in our psyche. “As with Jung, he presents some idiosyncratic quasi-religious opinions as empirical science, frequently appealing to evolutionary psychology to support his ancient wisdom.” – Ooh, that hurts, given what I think of EvPsych.

    Diet: No interest at all; really, eat as much chocolate as you want. When I was 18 I went on the then-popular “water diet” and lost 170 pounds – and ended up anorexic for the next 9 months, It isn’t worth it. Exercise properly, and eat good food, you should be ok.

    Cell-phones, texting, I-Pods – spawn of the devil (I’m still on landline/ dial-up). Convenience is no excuse.When you dip your hand into the aquarium to feed the piranha, remember they bite.


  8. valariansteel

    I am not an Epictetus expert, but didn’t he say (something to the effect): “do not despise that which is good for you.” If so, that would be perfect advice for diet and/or losing weight.

    I think people try to make losing weight complex. Nothing works better than caloric restriction. Robin was right on the mark — eating less = caloric restriction. While exercise and physical activity are important for health, the key to weight loss is found in the kitchen, not the gym. No human activities burn enough calories to even come close to how fast we can consume calorie-dense foods. I have argued this from studies several times on the Internet and I tire of repeating the argument.

    I spent three years assisting in bariatric surgeries, all which are based on the principle of “caloric restriction”. Yes, in an ideal world, no one would need bariatric surgery, nor medication, nor any other kind of medical procedure or treatment, but . . .


  9. Robin Herbert

    If someone was reading a mobile device at a social event I held I just wouldn’t invite them back. I don’t think I know anyone like that.

    But I am struggling to understand the difference in neck position between reading on my mobile phone and reading a book. I have read thousands of paperbacks in my life, I have spent entire days poring over a book, and no one has warned me of “paperback neck”. My posture seems fine.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. SocraticGadfly

    On the diet, as on similar issues, what there is, ultimately, IMO, is the search for a magic bullet. To riff on Euclid’s words to Ptolemy, there is no royal road to weight loss, healthy physical or mental life in general or other things.

    I suspect about 50 percent of the magic bullet desire is human nature, and especially on issues like this, the other 50 percent is Merika.


  11. saphsin

    Criticizing over the top identity politics is a low hanging fruit, that’s what all the popular right wing pundits do. (and right wingers typically go further than criticizing the excesses to denying actual problems, which seems Peterson is in that category) To come up with an analogous example, people from the New Atheist movement criticize religious people for rejecting science when it comes to evolution and being uncritically accepting of their texts. I mean okay, but that doesn’t impress me.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. saphsin

    On dieting, there’s every possible formula recommendation you can find on the internet, so to me it was transparent that most of it was fraudulent in the sense they were promoting their own as the “right” one. You just have to use your common sense. Exercise more, avoid junkfood and overstuffing yourself before bed time, eat more vegetables, etc.


  13. Robin Herbert


    The current idea that ones identity is entirely determined by oneself is one particularly pernicious notion that I think he has been quite good on.

    I think I would have been in a pretty bad place had I allowed society to tell me who I am, so I am glad I didn’t.

    On the other hand I would never want there to be laws forcing others to agree with my version of who I am.


  14. Philip Thrift

    On Jordan Peterson and conservatives: I’m a progressive, but I watch several conservative commentators (Steve Schmidt, Nicolle Wallace, George Will, David Frum, Bret Stephens, Joe Scarborough, …others I’ll think of later), and while I don’t agree with their political philosophy or some (or a lot) of what they say, they are perfectly reasonable (sane) to me (at least when they are on MSNBC). Why any conservatives would want to align with the Jordan Peterson types, or say that an attack on him is an attack on conservatives, is kind of crazy.


  15. Robin Herbert

    Let me clarify that when I talk about eating less, I don’t mean eating nothing for three days and drinking only water. I wouldn’t even go one day without eating.


  16. brodix

    On “As If,” and our tendencies toward reconstructing reality as ideals, maps and all number of other framing devices, from gods to mathematical formalisms, it would seem to me that Appiah is stating the obvious. That is simply how our minds function. We seek some point of focus, pattern, distillation, etc to extract some signal from the noise.

    I would be pleasantly surprised to see some effort to get beyond that. To sense the underlying dynamic and not keep trying to dismiss it as some effect of the signal.

    Not going to hold my breath though.


  17. milesmutka

    Chocolate does have documented health effects, negative ones mainly (increases heartburn and acid reflux, poisonous to dogs, some children get allergy to chocolate (although I am under the impression the reaction is not to the plant stuff, but unintended animal tissue present in all processed chocolate (and if that is the case, can vegans eat chocolate if they know there are insect parts in measurable amounts in it?))). But it sure tastes delicious!

    Losing weight permanently is probably possible, but if it was easy then no-one would be overweight. There are lifestyle choices that help, and not everyone needs to follow the same lifestyle, of course. For myself I have found that hunger comes at those times of the day I am used to eating. I have found that it is best to keep a daily routine, but adjusted to fewer meals per day, with a longer period of non-eating included (about 12h between dinner and breakfast).

    Macronutrient composition of the diet is not that important for weight loss, or health. These things are very much essentialism and idealizations of the complex biochemical substances we call “food”. The attention on “carbohydrates” is mainly because that type of food is easiest to process and preserve, thus commoditize and industrialize it. Proteins and fats are much more easily decaying forms of sustenance, and we have only recently been able to industrialize them better, making hydrogenated fats for example. Humans tolerate carbohydrates quite well in their original form, whole fruits and vegetables.

    Liked by 2 people

  18. leonids

    Regarding the addictive or quasi-addictive nature of cellphones, I find compelling the argument that they are addictive or quasi-addictive for the same reasons slot machines are. Likes slot machines, cellphones offer the promise of a dopamine-boosting surprise. Each pull of a slot machine’s arm just might yield a surprise, just as each swipe down a cellphone screen does.

    Regarding weight loss, diets don’t work in the long run. And people who decide undertake a rigorous exercise regimen to lose weight often gain weight. After an exercise session of, say, running an extravagant distance, they burn fewer calories throughout the rest of the day than they would had they not run, and, letting their guards down, when confronted with tempting, calorically dense food, they indulge themselves, and ingest more calories than they burned during their run. Adopting healthy eating habits can be harder than training for an endurance event. Once you’ve finished a workout, you’re done for the day. But to eat healthy, you have to stay vigilant throughout the day in the face of constant challenges to your willpower.

    When we engage in physical activity and when we eat healthy, we should do so for the health benefits, not for weight loss. Losing weight isn’t necessarily healthy and can be unhealthy. Diet industry marketing and the BMI scale notwithstanding, it’s difficult to say with a practical degree of precision how much you “should” weigh.

    Instead of worrying about weight, a better approach is: stay physically active but don’t overdo it, don’t overeat, and discard the bathroom scale.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. davidlduffy

    Australia, like most places, has seen an increase in overweight children. One calculation is that this could be completely reversed by 15 minutes more activity a day, and one less chocolate biscuit. In US studies, childrens’ weight is stable during the school term, and increases during vacation time.


  20. Robin Herbert

    I have often heard that diets don’t work in the long term, but I don’t see why it shouldn’t continue to work as long as you stick to it. It is not as though the body has alternate sources of adding mass, other than the food and drink we put into it.

    I suspect that this really means that people don’t stick to diets in the long term, which is not surprising as people tend to make these a miserable experience. Who wants to be miserable long term and why should we?

    That seems to be the common mistake, food is there to be enjoyed, preferably with friends and family.


  21. labnut

    I have often heard that diets don’t work in the long term

    Yes, that is commonly said but it is plainly untrue.
    The failure is one of will, determination and persistence, and not a failure of diet. The problem is that our modern society of ease and gratification has lost touch with these concepts. It is looking for easy solutions that do not require these attributes of character. Perhaps one day a solution will be found that is as simple as taking a pill or having an injection. It will make some company very wealthy indeed and make us even more indolent. Neither outcome is to be desired, though one may argue that it is better than the health problems of obesity.

    The bottom line is that the best diet for you is still the one you will stick to

    And here the NY Times gets it dreadfully wrong. The bottom line is that we should develop the necessary character attributes of will, determination, hardiness and persistence. These are the attributes that enable one to stick to a diet(and achieve success in life). Without these attributes every diet will fail. The choice of a diet is quite simply a nutritional and medical choice.

    Endurance exercise is valuable because it develops these attributes, improves health and burns Calories. This is the perfect win-win situation. You will seldom see obese marathon runners.

    But it is so unfashionable to talk about developing character. Why should character be allowed to stand in the way of freedom and gratification?


  22. labnut

    As for Jordan Peterson, Robert Barron sums up the book thoughtfully, in a way that largely agrees with my take. He is a Catholic theologian so please be forgiving of the few short statements of belief he makes near the end.

    My own understanding of the importance of order vs chaos is this. Order sustains us when we are buffeted by the challenges of chaos. There is no one who does not reduce his life to some semblance of order, even if it only means simple things like hanging your keys on the key rack. The problem with order is that it becomes so habitual that it reduces our ability to detect important changes and respond to them in new ways not contained in our habitual repertoire. We lose flexibility and succumb to unanticipated challenges.

    Thus we need an internal structure of order(the archetypes that Peterson refers to) that confers enough strength to deal with known challenges. But we must also have the flexible strength to embrace chaos and bring about a new kind of order, not reducing it to the outworn templates of the old order. It is this strength, with its willingness to embrace chaos in new and flexible ways, that marks out the hero.


  23. Philip Thrift

    Bishop Barron still hates gay marriage and thinks it is destructive, but doesn’t want to get involved in fighting it. So I really can’t take anything he says seriously.


  24. brodix


    One problem with video is not being able to cut and paste.

    After referring to the yin and yang, he makes a very interesting point about chaos; That it is not simply randomness, but the unknown of the future. That we need to be able to embrace the unknown, but then bring it back to the known. Consider this as a cycle of expansion and consolidation, much like the rings of a tree.

    There always has to be that dynamic pushing us forward, yet laying down tracks that become the order tying our lives and communities together. In fact, it does go to the foundation of Christianity, as that renewal of life. The Trinity as the original year gods. Father, Son and Holy Ghost as past, present and future.

    We can’t just settle for the old and ordered. As he said, that is death, but still need it as a template to make sense of what is happening and what will happen.

    I would add the tendency to frame the dynamic in terms of the ordered leads to absolutism. Once a course has become habituated, it tends to become rigid. The deeper reality is this rigidity is exactly what has to be shed, like the old bark of a tree, skin of the snake, cocoon, or whatever shell has protected us, but also confines further growth.

    Which mitigates against machismo. What blooms in the spring is like grass and flowers pushing up through the cracks in this hardness. Water over rock.

    Maturity is when we are old enough to have seen this cycle enough to understand it creates form, rather than is confined by it. Old enough to be crusty, but not limited and beaten by it.


  25. Robin Herbert


    I disagree. If meal times are a grim test of character then you are doing it wrong.

    Endurance, hardiness, will determination and character are all well and good, but they are things you want to take a break from when you are having a nosh.

    People seem to think that a diet is something you do for a while, work hard at then succeed, then the task is over. That is why people just put on weight again.

    But a diet is a practice for life. There is no finishing line, you have to keep it up if you want to maintain the weight.

    So if you make this some sort of endurance test then you will make this joyful part of life miserable (unless you are really fond of endurance tests) .

    If you can’t find a diet that maintains the joyful nature of eating then it would be better to remain happily overweight.

    Liked by 1 person

  26. leonids


    You are using the word diet in the sense of the food a person habitually and permanently eats, whereas I am using the word in the sense of a person temporarily restricting their intake of food or certain kinds of food in an effort to lose weight.


  27. leonids


    You’re going against the research on this subject, which shows gene-environment interaction is to blame, not inadequate willpower. Accusing people suffering from obesity of lacking willpower is a common prejudice, a prejudice which results in discrimination against tens of millions of people. As one obesity researcher with the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, La., put it, “It’s frustrating to see doctors and the general public stigmatize patients with obesity and blame these patients, ascribing attributes of laziness or lack of willpower.”

    Why not accept people for who they are instead of whether or not they conform to modern-day, advertising-driven notions of ideal body shapes?

    “Endurance exercise is valuable because it develops these attributes, improves health and burns Calories. This is the perfect win-win situation. You will seldom see obese marathon runners.”

    You seldom see obese marathoners because obese people tend not to enter marathons. You do, however, see many marathoners gain weight, especially marathoners who take up the sport solely to lose weight, provided they complete a training program before getting sick or injured. Regarding character, many people who take up marathoning or other extreme endurance sports rob time and energy from more important commitments, such as their commitments to their partners and to their careers. If you want to derive the benefits of running, you can derive those benefits without training for and entering 26.1-mile foot race.


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