Plato’s reading suggestions, episode 128

student evaluations and hotnessHere it is, our regular Friday diet of suggested readings for the weekend:

Another atheist / skeptic leader gets in trouble over claims of sexual harassment and assault.

Dear Humanities profs, we are the problem.

A real-life Lord of the Flies: the troubling legacy of the Robbers Cave experiment.

How to deal with “losing” the Nobel Prize.

Are Student Evaluations Really Biased by Gender? Nope, They’re Biased by “Hotness.”

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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!

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Categories: Plato's Suggestions

55 replies

  1. Labnut: “Have some more cheese”

    “That must be some kind of cultural reference foreign to my part of the world. I have no idea what it means, other than it might appeal to my resident rodents. I hope the intent was not snarky.”

    No, not meant to be snarky and certainly no kind of cultural code: I generally appreciate the reasoned tone of your comments. My remark, in this case, was essentially like a polite change of subject, because the notion of an either/or choice between religion and irreligion left me feeling like a child whose parents make him choose between them. I was raised without religion, hence without the strictures that often seem to drive people either into fierce opposition to religion, or equally fierce defense of it. It’s just not my quarrel.

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  2. Robin,

    One of the more basic problems of assuming a spiritual absolute as an ideal, rather than an essence, is the tendency to assume the patriarch as its form, given it is singular.

    It is useful for giving validation to authority, but eventually people have to recognize a spiritual source is elemental, not ideal. That would give room for the many dualities, including the sexes.

    In fact, if one wants to use current religion, the Trinity is in many respects, two sides of a greater whole.

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  3. Robin,

    “I have pointed out that it is not necessary for good citizenry. Education may make for better citizenship, I don’t know, I haven’t seen any evidence that it does and see no particular reason to think so”

    You see no reasons to think so. At times I get the impression you take a contrarian position just for the sake of it. How can anyone doubt that education makes for better citizens? And no, that’s not the same as better persons. I completely agree that being good does not require education. But voting with discernment requires being aware of political agendas, international and national affairs, and so forth. In other words, requires education.

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  4. Massimo,

    You see no reasons to think so. At times I get the impression you take a contrarian position just for the sake of it.

    On the contrary, I find myself more and more holding my tongue in subjects where I get this kind of reaction. It is a little hard to predict.

    How can anyone doubt that education makes for better citizens?

    Again, I didn’t doubt it, I just said I had no reason to believe it is the case. There is a difference. Until I hear an argument as to why this should be the case then I can only draw on my admittedly limited experience of the people from whom I learned about good citizenship.

    I completely agree that being good does not require education. But voting with discernment requires being aware of political agendas, international and national affairs, and so forth. In other words, requires education.

    So an education in politics and economics? Well perhaps, although many here speak very slightingly of that kind of education – indeed one of the first comments here was to diss the whole idea of being educated in economics.

    But I don’t see why I should think that, for example, someone who studies Conrad, Melville, Eliot and so one would have any better grasp on the intricacies of political agendas, international and national affairs and so on, than someone who did not complete high school and worked in a factory all their lives. The same with someone who studies physics, biology, mathematics, art, music etc.

    And there is a good deal more to being a good citizenship than simply voting with discernment.

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  5. Gadfly,
    Here in America, Labnut, various secular groups are starting their own charities.

    That is a most welcome development. We need all the help we can get. The suffering don’t care about the labels on the boxes. They only care about the contents of the boxes.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Robin,
    Education may make for better citizenship, I don’t know, I haven’t seen any evidence that it does and see no particular reason to think so

    Sometimes things are so obvious that we see no reason to demand evidence, and this is one of those cases.

    Daniel Goleman, in his book, Social Intelligence, made the point that we are embedded in a dense network of interactions. We are shaped most strongly by the neighbouring nodes in this social mesh because we exchange values directly. Exchange of values with remote nodes becomes progressively weaker as the inter-node distance increases.

    This allows disjunctive islands of values to develop in the overall social mesh, accounting for populism, nationalism, suspicion, bigotry and conflict. Each of us, in our own island of values, sees ourselves as correct and the others as wrong.

    To overcome this we must bridge these islands of differences. Education plays a vital role in this. It extends our vision and equips us with a discerning vision. Literature plays an especially valuable role. Good authors have a special insight into the circumstances they describe. By reading their works we gain access to their unique insights so that we are enabled to see across the distance of the social mesh with sudden and surprising clarity.

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  7. Gadfly,
    Related? In the US, “nones” are expected to pass Catholics by 2020.

    You should read the book, Bowling Alone, The Collapse and Revival of American Community, by Robert Putnam. Get the facts.

    He comprehensively surveys trends in civic engagement(social capital). He analyses the fields of political participation, civic participation, religious participation, connections in the workplace and informal social connections. He makes use of a vast array of sources. The net message is the same in all cases. Social capital has declined markedly by 30 to 60% in all of the categories I have mentioned above over the period 1960 to the late ’90s.

    This is a social phenomenon that crosses all divides, is persistent and strong. The rise of the “nones” is just one more piece of a much larger process whereby Americans are withdrawing from civic engagement with each other. It has become so bad that in some case 40% of Americans report feelings of loneliness.

    So don’t congratulate yourself on the rise of the “nones”. It is just one small part of a larger process, and it is a harmful process. Reduction in civic engagement allows us to withdraw into islands of suspicion and bigotry. And today you are seeing what results from this. It is driven by forces in society that have precisely nothing to do with New Atheism. Perhaps, however, New Atheism is one of the harmful outcomes of this process.

    On the other hand, the Catholic diocese, where I reside, has maintained an almost exactly constant membership over the period 1950 to 2013, when expressed as a proportion of the total population in the diocese. The diocese has 43 parish churches, with 57 Priests, 27 Deacons and 136 Religious serving a population of 3.0 million, of whom only a minor part are Catholic. We count membership as attendance at Mass and not as a name on paper.

    So far we have unexpectedly defied the trend towards loss of social capital(greater civic disengagement) but we are feeling the pressure as people increasingly resort to cocooning. Religious devotion has many gradations from the very devout to the very occasional and uncommitted(hatch, match and dispatch Catholics). What we are seeing today is a loss of the the uncommitted and occasional. The devout core of the Church, that sustains it, remain staunchly committed.

    This core of the Church will sustain it through the difficult times ahead so that the Church will remain as a beacon of good, compassion and hope in the dark times.

    Probably the group that are the most resistant to this process of civic disengagement are the Jews, because of their strong traditions, cohesion and solidarity. I would love to hear Dan-K’s opinion on this.

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  8. Robin,

    there is ahuge literature on the benefits of liberals art education. You may want to look into it.

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  9. Labnut

    Sometimes things are so obvious that we see no reason to demand evidence, and this is one of those cases.

    I am afraid I just don’t see it. We may not even mean the same thing by good citizenship. All I know is that those who shaped my ideas on good citizenship were not well educated while, as I said, valuing the idea of education.

    And in Australia we are seeing in a Royal Commission that there seem to be very many superbly educated specimens at the top of the banking and finance industry who are being as bad citizens as it is possible to be without actually breaking any law that a smart (superbly educated) lawyer can’t weasel out of.

    That is the thing about education – it helps you be more effective whether you want to be a good citizen or a rotten citizen. But it won’t make you one or the other.

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  10. We’ve been here before. I’ve spent six decades trying to wrap my head around the fifteen year period from 1930 to 1945. One could cynically come away with the conclusion that if Goethe couldn’t save Germany from Auschwitz then the humanities and liberal arts are a waste of time.

    Jacques Ellul was a French historian, sociologist, who was also deeply religious. He wrote in his book, The Technological Society, that “Technique,” is a concept in which technology subordinates all that it use it to a complex of rationally ordered methods that, distressingly, has outgrown human control. It has a life of its own that subordinates human freedom and responsibility. He argued that technology and technique have become impervious to any solution that can restore our sense of freedom.

    We think we exist on a continuum. Ellul would, I think, argue that we are tethered to technique and that we are constrained to frame all of our positions relative to technique, whether it be education, economics, politics, or global warming. Economics, politics, philosophy, and society are all dominated by technique, whether we know it or not. Ellul wrote:

    “Technique elicits and conditions social, political, and economic change. It is the prime mover of all the rest, in spite of any appearance to the contrary and in spite of human pride, which pretends that man’s philosophical theories are still determining influences and man’s political regimes decisive factors in technical evolution….”

    He also wrote:

    “It is not true that the perfection of police power is the result of the state’s Machiavellianism or of some transitory influence. The whole structure of society of society implies it, of necessity. The more we mobilize the forces of nature, the more must we mobilize men and the more do we require order.”

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  11. Robin,
    I am afraid I just don’t see it.
    it helps you be more effective whether you want to be a good citizen or a rotten citizen.

    You and I seem to have had very different experiences of education but I can only describe mine. My experience of education was a total one. I was formed in the dormitories, on the playing fields, on the playground, in the sports competitions, in the manifold extra-curricular activities, in the fire of intra-house and intra-school competition and by the guidance of wise house and form masters, both in the class and outside of it.

    We learnt to be gentleman, always courteous and considerate of other people and always ready to defer to the needs of other people. And especially we learnt to respect women. We learnt that duty was a calling, that we should accept responsibility, that respect, diligence, persistence and hard work were worthy things. We learned that principled behaviour was the mark of a gentleman and that expedient behaviour was the mark of the cad. We learnt to be flexible and creative. We discovered that resilience and hardiness would guide us through the challenges and hardships of life. We were imbued with a sense that there must always be a better way to do things.

    We discovered that game of life was to be played fairly, according to the rules and that often we would lose, but that we would never give up and that we would only blame ourselves for our loss. We would shake the hands of the winner and congratulate him, while quietly resolving to double down on our training and preparations so that we could beat him next time.

    All the while, in the form rooms, we imbibed the narratives of the past that had shaped our world. We learned to analyse them, understand them and adapt them to our modern situation. Our young minds were expanded and reshaped by this experience. We learned the skills, attitudes and values that would equip us to be productive members of a challenging world.

    Against this background I cannot even begin to understand how it is possible that one should doubt the value of a good education. Perhaps I was lucky.

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  12. Labnut, the actual facts of changes in people’s religious identification have nothing to do with whether or not they participate in social groups. I”m the one who presented the actual facts.

    That said, things like the British-origin Sunday Assembly organization is gaining steam. https://www.npr.org/2014/01/07/260184473/sunday-assembly-a-church-for-the-godless-picks-up-steam

    (As for Jews, I remind you that Dan identifies as culturally-socially Jewish far more than religiously so. I have no idea how often – or how little – he attends services.)

    As for the idea that the rise of the nones is harmful? Tosh. And, please, I don’t need more Catholic apologetics, or evangelism. As I’ve said here and elsewhere before, I’m not an atheist evangelist; all I was doing was presenting sociology of religion demographic information.

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  13. Oh, per the back and forth on one issue, I think in general that when many Westerners talk about what religion is, or its particular sociological or whatever benefits, while they use the word “religion,” they’re normally referring just to Christianity, and in reality, their particular flavor of it.

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  14. Gadfly,
    As for the idea that the rise of the nones is harmful? Tosh

    Here, below, is what I said. I fear you have misunderstood it. Just for clarity I restate my intent below.

    It is just one small part of a larger process, and it is a harmful process.

    The larger process of civic disengagement(decline in social capital) is harmful. That was the intent of my words. You are welcome to dispute my contention that increasing civic disengagement is harmful. I am curious to see how you could make such a case.

    And, please, I don’t need more Catholic apologetics, or evangelism.

    I tend to believe that what is needed is thoughtful, structured argument. That is how I go about doing things and I do my best to present such arguments. You may disagree and in that case you are welcome to comment about the thought and structure of my arguments. Your needs don’t come into this.

    As for Jews, I remind you that Dan identifies as culturally-socially Jewish far more than religiously so. I have no idea how often – or how little – he attends services.

    My comment was addressed at Dan-K. I think he should be allowed to reply for himself. In any case you seem to have misunderstood my question to Dan-K.

    My wish is that we engage in a friendly, thoughtful discussion. That is always the best way to do things.

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  15. Gadfly,
    Oh, per the back and forth on one issue, I think in general that when many Westerners talk about what religion is, or its particular sociological or whatever benefits, while they use the word “religion,” they’re normally referring just to Christianity, and in reality, their particular flavor of it.

    That is very context dependent and we need to examine the context to understand what it is they really mean. Any normal language user is skilled at interpreting words according to their context.

    But I am puzzled by your need to make this statement. Can you clarify what your point is in the larger context of this discussion?

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  16. Labnut: “You and I seem to have had very different experiences of education but I can only describe mine. My experience of education was a total one. I was formed in the dormitories, on the playing fields, on the playground, in the sports competitions, in the manifold extra-curricular activities, in the fire of intra-house and intra-school competition and by the guidance of wise house and form masters, both in the class and outside of it.”

    I relate personally to your account of education as a source of moral and ethical strengths and values. I covered much the same ground when I was twelve, mostly from two books I ran across in the school library: “Tom Brown’s School Days” and “Van Loon’s Lives.” The first is an encomium to the development of the kind of moral fiber that supported the British Empire in its glory days; the second is a fantasy on the high (and low) points of human civilization, written during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands, at a time when that civilization was in danger of going down for the third time. My education, in this sense, was not directly involved with any institution; it was based on direct communication by a couple of books to a twelve-year-old brain, essentially intellectual mainlining.

    I’m not arguing with your assessment, but I think it’s important to realize that in a free society (which we still have, thank God!), the ability of individuals to administer to their intellectual and spiritual needs may be influenced by social institutions, but is not determined by them.

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  17. Labnut:

    I agree with you wholeheartedly about civil disintegration and about the crucial role played by deep, pre-rational forms of bondedness that are most commonly manifested in family and religion and which has always been classical liberalism’s weakest point. (I say this as a classical liberal myself.) In my own case, because I find myself incapable of accepting the existence of anything supernatural, these connections are largely effected by my genealogical and cultural connection to the Jewish people and through very strong family bonds. And yes, I think Jews have always had an “advantage” in this regard, because unlike Christians and Muslims, Jews are a people as well as a religious tradition; Judaism always having been a national religion and never a trans-national one. A Jew can come un-moored from the religious dimensions of Judaism, without it having any effect on his connection with the Jewish people and Jewish traditions, something that is much harder for Christians, among whom I’ve only seen something similar in those for whom there is a very close connection between their national identity and their Christianity, like the Irish.

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  18. Gadfly,
    the actual facts of changes in people’s religious identification have nothing to do with whether or not they participate in social groups.

    Here is what I said:

    He comprehensively surveys trends in civic engagement(social capital). He analyses the fields of political participation, civic participation, religious participation, connections in the workplace and informal social connections. He makes use of a vast array of sources. The net message is the same in all cases. Social capital has declined markedly by 30 to 60% in all of the categories I have mentioned above over the period 1960 to the late ’90s.

    Putnam, in a most comprehensive study, has found that civic disengagement has taken place to roughly the same extent and over the same period in five major dimensions(political, civic, religious, workplace connections and informal social connections).

    Putnam certainly thinks that the same phenomenon is manifesting itself in all five major dimensions. And why should this not be the case? Can you present an actual counter-argument instead of simply denying Putnam’s well researched and well argued findings?

    Remember that you believe that God does not exist. You are fully entitled to your belief but it has certain consequences. The main consequence is that we must then see religious organisations as being just another form of social gathering, or social engagement, and therefore subject to the same forces as the other four main dimensions of civic engagement. In which case the process of civic disengagement, that Putnam observed and has so amply documented, must apply with equal force to religious groups. And this is exactly what Putnam has observed. Why should we be surprised?

    Now you may disagree with Putnam in which case I would be very interested in examining a well reasoned rebuttal by you. However a mere contradiction is not a rebuttal.

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  19. Gadfly,
    a small correction to my comment. I mentioned five major dimensions. I was wrong. Putnam covered seven major dimensions. The remaining two are 6) Altruism, Volunteering and Philanthropy; 7) Reciprocity, Honesty and Trust. The same trend holds over all seven major dimensions of social capital. It is a bleak picture.

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  20. labnut, your last comment first.

    Exactly! So if ‘nones’ aren’t going to Sunday Assembly but are maintaining … or even expanding … other social ties, then your Putnam-derived worries are invalid. (Ditto for similar by Neil Postman.0

    That said, part of the decrease in participation in social groups is due to more Americans working more than they have in the past. And, it was one of Putnam’s shortcomings not to allow for this. Between working more, and helicopter parenting, Americans don’t have as much time for Rotary, Kiwanis, bowling leagues, etc. In addition, for both better and worse, social media has had transformational effects in this area.

    Second, re Dan. He has responded. But, my comment was based on his previous public comments here.

    As for my comments re what most people “really mean” when they talk about religion? Per Pilate, what I have written is what I have written. As with my comment about apologetics, etc., it should be clear my take on that vis-a-vis this conversation.

    Reasoned argument has an empirical base for its warrants as well as logical reasoning style.

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  21. Beyond Americans working more, let’s not forget the US is the only ‘developed’ country with no paid parental leave and other factors. These too are things that Putnam and Postman ignored.

    https://20somethingfinance.com/american-hours-worked-productivity-vacation/

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  22. Per Dan’s comment of Christianity … of a certain stripe … identified with its people … Italian-Americans probably fit that same description.

    That said, I think one can speak, perhaps quite dilutedly, of socio-cultural extracts of Christianity forming “Christianism.” It is this, in my opinion, that lies behind Huntington’s “Clash of civilizations,” Chirac’s “non” to Turkey joining the EU and other things. And, of course, it is set in contrast to “Islamism”

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  23. Socratic,

    “And, please, I don’t need more Catholic apologetics, or evangelism.”

    As a fellow denizen of the Bible Belt, I can offer a suggestion for dealing with evangelicals the next time one tries to convert you. When a proselytizer bent on saving my soul confronts me, I ask them, “Have you ever read the Bible cover to cover?” They always answer either “no,” or, hemming and hawing, they answer they’ve read snippets, as if that were good enough. (None have ever answered yes.) I offer several reasons why they should read their Bible, and then tell them they are welcome to get back with me to have a conversation about their religion once they’ve done so.

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  24. Labnut

    Against this background I cannot even begin to understand how it is possible that one should doubt the value of a good education.

    I don’t recall doubting the value of a good education, I know that value well.

    What I have said is that I have no reason to suppose that one of the benefits of a good education is to make the difference between being a good and a bad citizen.

    I have just not heard any arguments or evidence as to why I should suppose this and so I can only fall back on my, admittedly limited, experience of those who helped shape my ideas of good citizenship and there were no dorms, playing fields and wise house masters in the slums of Glasgow and yet that side of my family appear to have come by the highest standards of good citizenship without those things.

    Those appearing before our Royal Commission, on the other hand, seem to have had the benefit of the best schools, complete with dorms, playing fields and wise house masters etc, and yet somehow good citizenship appears not to have been one of their accomplishments.

    So, while I don’t rule out that education level may correlate positively with good citizenship in the general population, I still haven’t seen any reason to think so.

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  25. I actually agree with a lot of what Labnut says. Frankly, I think there’s a religion-shaped hole in my life. I think I would be better off if I were part of the kind of community he describes. I’m pretty cut off from all those around me as it is, and I’m not sure what to do about it.

    But I simply don’t think that God exists and I’m not willing or able to pretend otherwise, even if it would help me to participate in such a community. I’m quite envious of Dan’s situation. Ideally, I’d like to see a viable secular alternative to religion arise. There have been various attempts in this direction but it seems that without the supernatural (or nationalistic in the case of Dan’s Judaism) element it hasn’t had enough traction. I’m hoping that changes some day.

    That said, were there such an alternative in my local area, I’m not sure that I would attend. I’m sure that it would be good for me, but my revealed preference may well be to stay at home on the couch.

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