Plato’s reading suggestions, episode 127

wine not so good for youHere it is, our regular Friday diet of suggested readings for the weekend:

The three things that justify a feeling of achievement.

Is science hitting a wall? (part II here)

Why Julian Baggini does not meditate.

How to serve a deranged tyrant, Stoically. (Any reference to current political figures in the US is most definitely on purpose.)

Wine in excess of (small) recommended daily serving will shorten your life, significantly.


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!

81 thoughts on “Plato’s reading suggestions, episode 127

  1. labnut

    Dan, emphasis is on regularly.

    A better definition of alcoholism is inability to control one’s level of drinking, accompanied by an ongoing escalation of one’s drinking habits and its interference with the effective conduct of one’s life. Quantity is a dreadful indicator.

    But we are re-hashing well known ground. It is not as though this is something new. We have been doing this for 2000+ years so it is fair to say we have a good idea about the effects of drinking alcohol.

    I am sure there is a certain level above which alcohol consumption is harmful to health but it varies widely according to the individual. The small differences pointed out in the article make me sympathetic to Dan-K’s view where we are being continually subjected breathless announcements of the next amazing piece of health research. These articles all have one thing in common, they play on, indeed exploit, our fear of mortality. It is clickbait that fuels advertising income and gives the authors a brief moment in the limelight.

    In any case, mortality is a bad indicator. The number of disability free years is a far better indicator. Once one adopts that point of view it changes our approach to the subject because we must then seek positive behavioural changes and move away from an ethos of avoidance and restrictions.


  2. Massimo Post author


    “If I seek to live a life in accordance with Stoic principles, why should I be concerned about whether I have one glass of wine a day or two?”

    This isn’t my Stoic blog, but since you asked. No, you shouldn’t be concerned with the difference between or and two glasses, nor with the specific results of a single study. But you should always practice temperance, so excessive drinking is out of the question for a Stoic. Also, Stoics believed that empirical information ought to inform our behavior, so scientific studies on the effects of alcohol are very much to the point.

    Moreover, the Stoics are clear that we have a duty to keep our bodies (and minds) in good order, because that allows us to be virtuous and help others. So you can see that there is a strong Stoic case for moderate alcohol consumption. Which is why Diogenes Laertius says that Stoics drink wine, but do not get drunk.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Robin Herbert

    An average of 3.5 drinks a day on a regular basis would seem like an awful lot of drinking to me, even in my most bibulous phase. Mind you, for my Great Aunt Phyllis is might have represented a dry season and she lived to be 99.


  4. Massimo Post author

    I sympathize with Dan’s reaction, but up to a point. I reject the idea that empirically based medical advice is just people trying to tell you how to live your life. We live your life as we want, but it would be rather irresponsible not to take into consideration health issues, not just for ourselves, but for the people we love and care for, of have responsibilities toward.


  5. brodix

    Living is about balancing the various elements and we are goal oriented.

    Maybe there are some lessons there, by prying apart the relationship.


  6. labnut

    We live your life as we want, but it would be rather irresponsible not to take into consideration health issues,

    Prudence need not be incompatible with joyous, celebratory living. Modesty, temperance and humility should be our watchwords but they need to be offset from time to time with joyous, exuberant and congratulatory celebrations of great achievements and things well done, even if done to excess. We need these emotional peaks in our lives. An emotional landscape of the dry plains is enervating and debilitating. We need the capacity to dare greatly, risking everything, to suffer dreadful failure or enjoy soaring triumphs. This emotional capacity is not nourished by the chains of prudence and temperance. Sometimes these chains must be loosened so that you can learn to fly, if only to crash in flames.


  7. brodix

    An interesting point about our goal orientation:

    “It wasn’t until human impacts started becoming a factor that large body sizes made mammals more vulnerable to extinction,” said the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Kate Lyons, who authored the study with Smith and colleagues from Stanford University and the University of California, San Diego. “The anthropological record indicates that Homo sapiens are identified as a species around 200,000 years ago, so this occurred not very long after the birth of us as a species. It just seems to be something that we do.

    “From a life-history standpoint, it makes some sense. If you kill a rabbit, you’re going to feed your family for a night. If you can kill a large mammal, you’re going to feed your village.”


  8. brodix


    Very true. Without the ups and downs, it would be a flatline. Yet humanity has grown quite powerful, relative to our environment, so we should begin to consider the context, when putting it all on the line. The eventual blowback will be beyond comprehension.


  9. wtc48

    Brodix (quote): “It wasn’t until human impacts started becoming a factor that large body sizes made mammals more vulnerable to extinction,”

    From the African beginning, we have been like an introduced species, and where we have found animals capable of preying on us, we have eliminated them, a process that has made us like the rabbits in Australia, but on a global level. This has sustained our illusion that we are the only species that matters, and caused discussions of human population to be focused on the maximum level that the earth can support, rather than the sustainable level that would enable our civilization and culture to thrive. We’ve certainly got the brains to solve this problem, but the primitive level of our politics, based on arbitrary national boundaries, prevents us from doing anything about it.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. milesmutka

    Ethanol is a very simple chemical, apart from oxygen probably the smallest molecule that the human body can use as an energy source. Part of the negative health effects of alcohol may be because it is a raffinated energy source like sugar, bypassing the usual digestive pathways (making short cuts). The damage to liver can take decades to become apparent.

    I think there was also another study recently that was about binge drinking. So you cannot “save” unused daily doses to the weekend and think you are ok. Basically any situation where you lose memory or consciousness counts as a kind of concussion, increasing the risk of dementia in later life.

    I don’t see any problem with self-reporting as such in the study, since that is the number people are aware of: how much they think they are drinking.

    The effects of alcohol on the brain is of course why people drink, and also why it is sometimes hard to stop drinking when you have started. In small doses it makes you feel relaxed, and works as a social lubricant. But the relaxation is just in your mind: if you have access to a blood pressure measuring device, take a reading after your daily “relaxing” dose. If you compare it with a normal relaxed BP measurement after a couple of weeks sober, you might be surprised.

    For a more total daily relaxation, why not try a meditative technique?


  11. SocraticGadfly

    Labnut, simply disagree with you too.

    As for ‘varies widely with the individual,’ well, yes … that’s why such studies are population studies, not for individuals.

    At the same time, that can become an excuse, the individual variation in metabolism.

    Many people say “I have a high tolerance for alcohol” or “I can hold my liquor.”

    Picture those rephrased as, “I have a high tolerance for cocaine” or “I can hold my cocaine.”

    And, per the link i sent about alcohol and breast cancer, no, this is not “breathless new research.”

    “Mortality is a bad indicator”? Well, it’s the ultimate indicator.

    And, on quality of life, if you want to focus on that, I’ve mentioned proven connections to both cirrhosis and cancer.

    Clickbait? That’s the wine subdivision of the booze industry breathlessly, to use a word, touting health benefits of wine.

    There’s an old pun in the American version, at least, of the English language, about a certain river in Egypt …

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Daniel Kaufman

    The effects of alcohol on the brain is of course why people drink.

    = = =

    For some. But this is not why I spent over 60$ on a 15 year old Highland malt.

    = = =

    For a more total daily relaxation, why not try a meditative technique?

    = = =

    See above. Meditation does not provide the same experience or pleasure as a 15 year old malt. It’s like saying to someone: “Why eat that negi toro? You should go for a run instead.”

    Liked by 1 person

  13. brodix


    We do seem headed for an aesthetic and environmental disaster of epic proportions, but it is what it is.

    Humanity is motivated by the same elemental desire to survive and thrive as all of life. In fact, if biology were ever to escape the bounds of this planet, it will be through humanity. Otherwise nature will simply work around and through our ineptitudes and messes.

    The issue, as I see it, are what lessons are there to be learned from our present situation and how might they be useful going forward.

    It seems the present generation isn’t going to alter course, so whatever lessons that might be learned, will be discovered the hard way.


  14. milesmutka


    There is nothing wrong with my sense of taste. I would not refuse a good single malt once in a while in good company (drinking alone is both sad and stupid), or a choice piece of meat with a fresh salad. But too much of a good thing can detract from the experience also; imagine having to eat only negi toro for the rest of your life, would you enjoy it as much?

    Guided relaxation techniques take training and effort before getting results, they are not for those seeking instant gratification I guess.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. SocraticGadfly

    not directed at Dan, but … at the idea.

    People get drunk, and even enter alcoholic drinking, on single-malt Scotch, Courvoisier, or Dom Perignon, just like on Pabst Blue Ribbon or fake Russian vodka.

    People become cokeheads on the finest refined Columbian powder or on $10 crack rocks, too.

    In both AA/NA and secular sobriety support groups, all these things have been expressed before by people who have been there.


  16. couvent2104

    The effects of alcohol on the brain is of course why people drink.
    For some. But this is not why I spent over 60$ on a 15 year old Highland malt.

    I did 60 km on my race bike today. I averaged 30 kph. At the end I stopped at a bar and had an Orval (best beer in the world), while the wind was gently drying my perspiration-soaked shirt. I think the beer destroyed all the benefits my ride could have given me. Then, I showered, worked a bit on a report I’m writing, and prepared dinner for The Wife and me. We had a glass of wine made of Tannat grapes from the south-west of France. The centerpiece of dinner was a nice Irish steak – actually one steak for us both, cut in two, we like steak but are not great meat-eaters.

    I did everything wrong that can be done wrong, I suppose.

    It was great. I’m going to do it again.

    Liked by 3 people

  17. Robin Herbert

    The alcohol moment in my life seems to have passed. Most of us are teetering on the Micawber limit these days in any case and at the cost of booze these days who can afford it. I can’t justify pouring myself a glass of wine at dinner when I am telling the kids that they can’t have something because we can’t afford it. And really I find that I just don’t miss it. There are pleasures enough that don’t cost an arm and a leg.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. labnut

    There are pleasures enough that don’t cost an arm and a leg.

    Yes. There can be no finer pleasure than a good cup of tea.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Robin Herbert


    There’s an old pun in the American version, at least, of the English language, about a certain river in Egypt …

    Careful, I made that pun on the old JREF board and had my post pulled for inappropriate content. Apparently it is racist in a way that non-Americans can’t properly appreciate.


  20. valariansteel

    I just don’t drink alcohol. Period. This posture nothing to do with scientific studies, suggesting either that drinking small amount of wine is “good for you”, or too much will shorten your life. It simply has to do with the fact that I don’t like the taste of any alcoholic beverage (unless you sweeten it beyond its natural taste).

    It provides me no pleasure or buzz. It provides no relaxation. Simply as that. It can impair your reasoning, depending on your tolerance and the amount consumed. Why would I want to do that, for even a second? Is it inconsistent with Stoicism? No, not in moderastion, as Massimo pointed out. Is it a waste FOR ME? Yes.

    If it gives you pleasure, buzz, or relaxation, and you do such in moderation, then go for it.

    Liked by 1 person

  21. ejwinner

    I like to think that drinking a good beer is a form of meditation.
    Savor every taste, experience every sensation.
    When done, consider what’s in the glass.


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