Suggested readings, #88

Here it is, a rundown of interesting articles I’ve come across recently, to consider for your weekend readings:

The long and tortured history of cancel culture. The public shaming of those deemed moral transgressors has been around for ages. As practiced today, though, is the custom a radical form of citizen justice or merely a handmaiden to capitalism? (New York Times)

It’s only fake-believe: how to deal with a conspiracy theorist. As the pandemic has taken a grip, so have the misinformation spreaders. Here are five ways to spot the holes in their logic. (Guardian)

China tests social credit system waters. According to this philosopher, it is hard to see what’s wrong with the Chinese experiment. Can you do better? (Observer Today)

Did Einstein say he believed in the pantheistic God of Baruch Spinoza? Einstein wasn’t afraid to question religion as critically as he did scientific theory. (Snopes)

We can thank Herodotus, the ‘father of history,’ for our knowledge of the ancient world. One of the first to attempt to write down an account of the past, Herodotus helped establish a historical tradition that continues to this day. (Discover)

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Massimo is the K.D. Irani Professor of Philosophy at the City College of New York. He blogs at and He is the author of How to Be a Stoic: Using Ancient Philosophy to Live a Modern Life.

13 thoughts on “Suggested readings, #88”

  1. The social credit system thing isn’t an actual national surveillance program.

    “With just over a year to go until the government’s self-imposed deadline for establishing the laws and regulations governing social credit, Chinese legal researchers say the system is far from the cutting-edge, Big Brother apparatus portrayed in the West’s popular imagination. “I really think you would find a much larger percentage of Americans are aware of Chinese social credit than you would find Chinese people are aware of Chinese social credit,” says Jeremy Daum, a senior research fellow at Yale Law School’s Paul Tsai China Center in Beijing. The system as it exists today is more a patchwork of regional pilots and experimental projects, with few indications about what could be implemented at a national scale.”

    Some more articles:

    The interpretation of Spinoza as a kind of pantheist is actually pretty dubious in scholarship. From Steven Nadler, one of the leading Spinoza scholars:

    “Among the issues was whether or not pantheists are atheists, and in particular whether Spinoza was a pantheist; and if so, whether he was also an atheist. This seems to me more a debate about epithets and intellectual categorization than about philosophical substance. By definition, I would argue, pantheism is not atheism. And it is absolutely clear, to me at least,
    that Spinoza is, in substance, an atheist.

    …If there is a theism in Spinoza, it is only a nominal one. He uses the word ‘God’ to refer to ‘Nature’, but only because the basic characteristics of Nature or Substance – eternity, necessity, infinity – are those traditionally attributed to God. It was a way of illuminating his view of Nature and Substance, not of introducing a divine dimension to the world.” (from “Spinoza’s Ethics: An Introduction”)

    I also like this interpretation of Spinoza as a type of deflationist, sounds similar to Buddhism:

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m going to have to disagree with Nadler. A number of scholarly sources I have read are pretty clear about Spinoza’s pantheism (which, I agree, is not atheism). And that’s the clear impression I got from reading Spinoza myself.

      As for the Chinese social credit system, maybe it is currently less sophisticated than portrayed in the west. Nevertheless, I find it highly disturbing, particularly because I don’t have an iota of trust in the Chinese government.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Per Massimo, and per our own previous discussion, and a previous post of Massimo’s, I don’t trust China’s COVID stats, either. Nor Vietnam’s. We can talk on South Korea and Japan.

      Liked by 1 person

    3. I’ll respond once more, which also serves as a response to Albert’s response to me. The latest news about Chinese social media censorship of early coronavirus news shows it CAN do something like this. The social media credit system could be seen as NOT being cutting edge in the sense that China already has the capability for a fair amount of this and already does a fair amount of this.

      Liked by 1 person

    4. Yeah the internet surveillance and persecution is harsh.

      I think the issue we’re having is the different starting points. You’ve seen those videos about the social credit system right? It’s like two levels up there in surveillance dystopia. It’s the kind of scenario that makes you concerned about whether you should tour the country, and whether the citizens live their daily lives paranoid about their scores and develop mental illness from it.

      But if the reality is not “that” then you’re going to have a distorted view of the society and how the citizens live their lives.


  2. I prefer the Acosmist rather than Pantheist interpretation, the former which does seem closer to atheism in substance. But okay, I should have said contentious rather than dubious when it comes to scholarship.

    When making claims about political reality, I think we should strive to sharpen the accuracy of our understanding as much as we can in all cases, because differences in nuance can lead to differing assessments and forms of advocacy when the time comes down to it.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Just WOW on the Observer philosopher guy. And, sorry, Saph, the fact that it doesn’t reduce to “one score,” and is more on the scale of regional pilots at this time, doesn’t make it any more right. Contra the philosopher, privacy rights are enshrined in Western European countries that wrote new constitutions post-1945 and Eastern European ones that did so post-1989. In the US, they’re selectively considered “unenumerated rights,” but yes, rights.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m also with Massimo on Spinoza. I don’t see him as a BuJew! (Is that presentism, Massimo? Reminder that I’m still working on a piece that rejects your calling me a presentist on people like Hume on racism, knowing now the full scope of Beattie calling Hume out during his own life.) Nor do I see Spinoza as a Berkeley, for whom the word “acosmism” might be accurate.

    RE Nadler? He also says this at Wiki’s page on Spinoza:

    “Steven Nadler suggests that settling the question of Spinoza’s atheism or pantheism depends on an analysis of attitudes. If pantheism is associated with religiosity, then Spinoza is not a pantheist, since Spinoza believes that the proper stance to take towards God is not one of reverence or religious awe, but instead one of objective study and reason, since taking the religious stance would leave one open to the possibility of error and superstition.”

    Uhh, per Wittgenstein, claiming that these definitions rely on an analysis of attributes is a language game I don’t play. If that’s part of why he claims Spinoza is not a pantheist, it’s all the more reason to reject Nadler’s claim.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Socratic

    Surveillance is bad. The popular picture of what’s referred to in the article is false. I don’t understand the response frankly, there are plenty of other issues about China to analyze. China is going to be the most important country to understanding in the coming decades, and we need to do it correctly. That’s my last word on it.

    I saw that statement in the Wikipedia article, which referred to the Stanford Encyclopedia piece Nadler wrote. I don’t have time to read it, but it wasn’t such a simplistic argument from his book.


    1. saphsin, the reality may not *currently* be as dystopian as some make it to be. But you don’t think that is a very disturbing development, which very likely *will* develop into that reality? Do we have any reason at all, based on recent historical record, to trust the Chinese government to treat its citizens (or those of Taiwan, Hong Kong, Tibet, you name it) as independent minded human beings?


    2. You’re misreading my intentions. It’s an unfortunate it sounds like this, but when I’m criticizing the mainstream view, I’m going to sound like an apologist, and if I criticize China-tankies, I’m going to sound like an anti-China hawk.

      And no I don’t believe in trust, like at all, I believe in factual analysis. You’re engaging in media good guy/bad guy analysis. I’m interested in sociological analysis. Every state on the planet is abysmal, just in different degrees in different areas. The U.S. with its extreme inequality and empire, France with its neo-colonial possession of West Africa, Russia with its oligarchical government and crimes in Syria and so on. But there are correct factual analysis of all of these countries and their political systems. You don’t exaggerate their crimes.

      Which for example, I think does happen. I’m a vociferous critic of U.S. militarism, but I think many anti-war activists exaggerate their role in the Syria Civil War, when it happens to be a minor player (the U.S. is more active in Eastern Syria against ISIS). If I’m serious about political analysis and understanding the world, I don’t manipulate the facts no matter how cynical I am about U.S. foreign policy.

      Liked by 2 people

  6. I do not engage in fact manipulation either. It doesn’t mean one cannot use recent behavior and reasonably extrapolate it to the near future.

    And I agree that all nation-states have engaged in seriously bad actions. But as you say, some more than others, and China is pretty high on the list.


    1. I’m most concerned about China’s repression in Xinjiang at the moment, but it hasn’t militarily intervened in any country since the 1970s and there are many things to praise about its economic development strategies.

      And I really hate our political system, but freedom of speech is protected pretty well here in the U.S. even compared to the European countries.


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