Books to Read While the Algae Grow in Your Fur, June 2014
Attention conservation notice: I have no taste.
- Plato, The Republic
- I had a teacher in junior high who had the good idea, when I was bored, of
making me read philosophers and political writers he thought I'd violently
disagree with, and forcing me to explain why I thought they were wrong. The
ones which stuck with me were Ayn Rand and Plato. I did indeed disagree
furiously with both of them (I'd
on orcs), but they became part of the, as it were, invisible jury in my
head I run things by.
- Reading Drury on Strauss (below) drove me back to
the Republic. (You couldn't pay me enough to revisit Rand.) As a
grown-up, I find it such a deeply strange book as to sympathize with Strauss's
position that it couldn't possibly be taken at face value.
- For instance: the idea that justice is doing good to friends but bad to
enemies is proposed in I 332d, and then rejected with downright sophistry.
But it's then revived as a desideratum for the guardians
375), and argued to be psychologically realizable because pure-bred dogs
show "love of learning and love of wisdom"
- Or again: the whole point of the book is supposedly to figure out what
justice is. The ideal city was spun out because it's supposed to be easier to
figure out what makes a just city than a just person. (No reason is given for
why the justice of the just city has to resemble the justice of the just person
any more than the beauty of a beautiful sunrise has to resemble the beauty of a
beautiful poem.) Plato's answer is that the justice of the ideal city consists
of the members of each class sticking to their duties and not getting above
433). Socrates supposedly reaches this by a process of
elimination, all the other features of city having been identified
with other virtues (IV 428--432). I won't say that this is the worst train of
reasoning ever (I've graded undergraduates), but how did it ever persuade
- The whole thing is like that: a tissue of weak analogies, arbitrary
myths. Whatever you think about Plato's conclusions, there's hardly any
rational argument for those conclusions to engage with. And yet
this is the foundation-work of the western (as in, west-of-China)
intellectual tradition which prizes itself on, precisely, devotion to reason!
- Given how much better Plato could argue in works like
Euthyphro and Meno, how moving
the Apology is, how other dialogues show actual dialogue,
etc., I am led to wonder whether our civilization has not managed to canonize
one of the oldest surviving attacks of
- ObLinkage: Jo Walton reviewing it as though it were SF.
- Update: John Emerson on Plato.
- Christopher Moore and Ian Corson with Jennyson Rosero, The Griff
- Ted Naifeh, Courtney Crumrin and the Night Things
- Nick Spencer and Joe Eisma, Morning Glories: For a Better Future
- Brian K. Vaughan et al. Runaways, 2: Teenage Wasteland and 3: The Good Die Young
- Comic book mind candy, assorted.
- Shamini Flint, A Bali Conspiracy Most Foul
- Mind candy. The intersection of dissipated ex-pat life with terrorism. (Previously.)
- John Layman and Rob Guillory, Chew (3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8)
- Comic-book mind candy (forgive the pun). I'm not sure what further
food-related weirdness there is for them to pull, but I look forward to finding
out. (Previously: 1, 2.)
- Shadia B. Drury, The Political Ideas of Leo Strauss
- Convincing portrait of Strauss as someone who was basically Nietzschean,
and who projected his own views back on to admired figures from the past by the
device of claiming they engaged in "esoteric
writing". The esoteric doctrine is that the definition of justice given
and then (to exoteric eyes) rejected at the beginning
Republic, namely helping one's friends and hurting one's enemies, is
in fact right, because there is really no basis for justice or morality beyond
force and fraud. When Plato's Socrates seems to say
bandits must be just to each other in order to prey effectively on others,
what Plato really means is that this is all justice is. (In other
words, Thrasymachus is right.) Hedonism is also true, and the only real good
is pleasure in this world. Despite this, there are higher and lower types of
humanity; the highest types are the philosophers, the tiny elite able to take
pleasure from contemplating the Cosmic Null and/or fabricating new values.
Political society exists for their sake. If most people realized the truth,
political society would fall apart, so they need to be thoroughly soaked in the
illusions of morality, virtue, afterlives, personal divinities, etc.
Philosophers must on no account teach the truth in such a way that the masses
can pick up on it. For these purposes, "the masses" including most rulers, who
should be just as much ideological dupes as any servant. Basically every
philosopher in the Greek tradition and its descendants, from the British Isles
to Khurasan, had this same esoteric teaching, whatever the differences in their
exoteric teachings. The rot set in when people like Machiavelli and Hobbes
began to give the game away, and look where we are now.
- Drury makes no attempt to evaluate Strauss as a historian of philosophy
She confines criticism of his ideas to her last chapter, where she suggests
that people who believe this sort of thing are not going to be fun to live
around, or have in your government. Strauss's own
modes of interpretation (heavy on numerology and inversions of meaning) are
left undeployed. Mostly, it's just an attempt to say plainly, based on
Strauss's actual texts, what he says obscurely and circuitously. At that
point, criticism becomes almost superfluous.
- Side-notes and speculations:
- 1. Drury presumes that Strauss gave his story of the Platonic tradition of
political philosophy, and its degeneration via Machiavelli and Hobbes into mere
modernity, as sincere (if between-the-lines) account of what happened. This
would make it a remarkably influential piece
and Strauss a sort of superior (because genuinely
Moldbug. After reading her, however, I wonder if it wasn't
a deliberate myth, told in indifference to the facts but
eye on its effects on his students, or perhaps their students.
- 2. It's interesting to imagine what Strauss or Straussians would've made of
evolutionary game theory. On the one hand, being so explicit that
behavior" means cooperating to prey on others might count as decadent
modernity. On the other hand, math is arguably even better than esoteric
writing for keeping the doctrine from the multitude, so it might be acceptable
as "political philosophy".
- 3. It is true that there's a puzzle in interpreting The
Republic: the arguments against Thrasymachus are horribly bad. After
Thrasymachus is given a chance to state his views, Socrates tries to refute
them with a
of incredibly weak analogies, and shouldn't have convinced anyone.
of the shepherd is much stronger than any of Socrates's.) Then
Thrasymachus shuts up in a huff, and
a very similar position in more social-contract or tit-for-tat terms
illustrated by John Holbo). Socrates's response is to change the
subject to the ideal city. Since Plato could certainly argue much more
logically, why didn't he? (ETA: See above.)
- Europa Report
- I appreciate the effort at making a hard-SF movie. But: how would a
private company make money sending an expedition to Europa? More importantly
(ROT-13'd for spoilers), ubj
bsgra qbrf fbzrguvat ynaq ba Rhebcn, gb cebivqr na rpbybtvpny avpur sbe gur
perngher jr frr?
- Tim Seeley and Mike Norton, Revival: 1, You're Among Friends; 2, Live Like You Mean It; 3, A Faraway Place
- Comic book mind candy. It's just a little resurrection of the
dead, barely worth bothering over...
Books to Read While the Algae Grow in Your Fur;
Scientifiction and Fantastica;
The Running-Dogs of Reaction;
Writing for Antiquity;
Pleasures of Detection, Portraits of Crime;
Posted at June 30, 2014 23:59 | permanent link