Suggested readings, #131

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

The battle of the Classics: the Humanities without Humanism. It is one of the many oddities of contemporary academic life that few humanities professors would deem themselves humanists. In fact, I’d wager that most current teachers of the humanities (Classicists included), if queried about the humanistic tradition, would have only the vaguest sense of what that term means. By comparison, one would be hard pressed to find professors of the so-called hard sciences who don’t self-identify as scientists. This peculiar state of affairs isn’t entirely the fault of humanities faculty. After all, as the famous Renaissance scholar Paul Kristeller observed in the early 1960s, the term humanism “has become the source of much philosophical and historical confusion”. He added that, “in present discourse, almost any kind of concern with human values is called ‘humanistic’, and consequently a great variety of thinkers, religious or anti-religious, scientific or antiscientific, lay claim to what has become a rather elusive label of praise.” Hence, we find locutions such as secular humanism and scientific humanism, which bear little resemblance to the humanist movement as it was founded in Roman antiquity. … (Antigone)

It’s shocking to see so many leftwingers lured to the far right by conspiracy theories. It’s an uncomfortable thing to admit, but in the countercultural movements where my sympathies lie, people are dropping like flies. Every few days I hear of another acquaintance who has become seriously ill with Covid, after proudly proclaiming the benefits of “natural immunity”, denouncing vaccines and refusing to take the precautions that apply to lesser mortals. Some have been hospitalised. Within these circles, which have for so long sought to cultivate a good society, there are people actively threatening the lives of others. … (Guardian)

How conspiracy theories “infiltrated” the wellness community. Susanna Barkataki, a yoga teacher in Los Angeles, saw it unfold on her social media feed starting last year. “It was so fascinating, because they were using words that spoke to me and people like me,” Barkataki told CBSN Originals’ Adam Yamaguchi. “They were saying phrases and hashtags like, ‘Where we go one, we go all.’ That’s like, OK, yeah, that sounds very yogic, right? … Or the ‘Great Awakening.’ I mean, that’s samadhi, that’s enlightenment.” … (CBS News)

Political orientation predicts science denial – here’s what that means for getting Americans vaccinated against COVID-19. Vaccine refusal is a major reason COVID-19 infections continue to surge in the U.S. Safe and effective vaccines have been available for months, but as of mid-September 2021, only 65% of eligible American adults are fully vaccinated. In many areas, a majority of eligible adults haven’t taken advantage of the opportunity to get vaccinated. In the U.S., polling on intent to get vaccinated shows a massive political divide. Counties that went for Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential election show higher vaccination rates than counties that went for Donald Trump. Attendees at the Conservative Political Action Committee’s summer meeting cheered the fact that the U.S. didn’t meet Biden’s July 4 vaccination goals for the country. … (The Conversation)

The baffling legal standard fueling religious objections to vaccine mandates. As vaccine mandates begin to take effect, thousands of Americans are scrambling to get religion. For those who oppose vaccination, a “sincerely held religious belief” might be the only way to avoid getting the shot—or losing their job. Online, one can find dozens of official-looking forms, letter templates, and tips on how to explain why your anti-vaccination beliefs are both sincere and religious. Some people are even attempting to turn the exemption business into a lucrative side hustle. Leaders of many major religious organizations and denominations have released statements supporting vaccination and clarifying that their teachings, official and unofficial, do not oppose vaccination. But some are offering “exemption letters” to parishioners who want a minister’s religious authority backing them up. … (New Republic)

A match made in law? On corporations and their uncomfortable fit with democracy. Even though many people in the world live under democratic governments, they spend much of their lives under dictatorial rule. For about a third of their day, employees toil under the eyes of superiors who, as Elizabeth Anderson has pointed out in her 2017 book “Private Government”, rule arbitrarily and are not accountable to their subordinates. Under this dictatorial rule, workers neither have a right to be heard nor can they appeal their superiors’ decisions. What—if anything—could justify such a structure, especially in societies that put so much emphasis on democratic organizations in all other domains? And if it is not justifiable, what would be a better structure and how can we implement it? … (APA Blog)

An empirical approach to the analytic-continental divide. What’s the difference between analytic philosophy and Continental philosophy? In a new paper, a pair of researchers use a computer analysis of the content of different journals to test one way the distinction is sometimes characterized. Moti Mizrahi (Florida Institute of Technology) and Mike Dickinson (Illinois, Urbana-Champaign) note that sometimes the distinction between analytic philosophy (AP) and Continental philosophy (CP) has been drawn by reference to a supposed difference in the importance of argumentation in these philosophical traditions. In their “The analytic-continental divide in practice: an empirical study,” published in Metaphilosophy, they write: ‘Some philosophers have argued that the differences between AP and CP have to do with the place of argument in these two philosophical traditions or camps. That is, it has been argued that argument occupies a more important place in AP than in CP.’ … (Daily Nous)

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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.

6 thoughts on “Suggested readings, #131”

  1. Thank for your postings Massimo. I work in the National Health Service in the UK and even here we have staff and patients who deny the merits of vaccination. This has always been the case since the first introduction of vaccines e.g. smallpox vaccine. i think it is because there are a number of psychological processes going on: fight and flight response (something is being done to you); cognitive biases (overestimation of ones own ability to make a judgement about risk); identity rewards from being a rebel and being part of rebel group. Our approach is ask the individuals to consider if there are any alternative reasons for their views e.g. being in receipt of misleading information; and to ask them to show any actual factual evidence that they may have that could make a strong arguement against vaccination. We often find that after having these discussions some anti vaccination views do change particularly when we discuss the ethics of unimmunised persons blocking beds and resources in hospitals that could be used for patients with other serious dieseases. Keep up the good work. I am actually retiring soon and planning to write a short book on Stocism for NHS managers and staff with any profit going to our twin hospital in Zambia. I am going to base it on the last episode of your excellent great courses series. will keep you informed how I get on!

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  2. First, on the religious exception claim? Per an Arkansas hospital CEO, if you’re actually worried about fetal stem cells, then you can’t take aspirin, ibuprofen or Tylenol for pain, along with many other over the counter medicines.

    The sincerity issue is problematic for two reasons. First, one can fake sincerity, and psychopaths are better at it than the general population. Second, to go Godwin’s Law, like Adolf Hitler, one can sincerely believe all sorts of nuttery.

    On the conspiracy theories? The overlap between left and right isn’t perfect. Leftist conspiracy theories re COVID tend to me more capitalism-driven (Pfizer is getting massively rich), as is the case on GMOs (though, pre-Bayer acquisition, Monsanto had a smaller market capitalization than Starbucks).

    Ditto for tech-based anti-vax claims like “5G.”

    There is a degree of overlap, though, and, contra some leftists (as I’ve seen from inside the Green Party, tho not all Greens are leftists on many issues), the idea of “horseshoe theory” does have a degree of truth.

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    1. Possibly the first of your responses I’ve found myself agreeing with SG ;-) It’s a Halloween miracle!

      The single straight line from far left to far right is far more deceptive than informative for sure, although even the horseshoe (which I like) isn’t multi-dimensional enough perhaps–I think maybe the most similarity is found with left libertarians and right libertarians (maybe it is far lefties without the authoritarian streak and far righties without the fascist streak?). Maybe it is just classical liberalism which was never the forte of the right and has now been abandoned by the left (pro-censorship, anti-privacy, and somehow, God help us, pro-corporate and pro-security state).

      And just to feed the far-left conspiracy theory about big pharma getting rich by having their media stoolies support a particular COVID narrative, I found this amusing:

      As Heller reminded us, “just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you.”

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  3. It’s interesting to see people (the authors, not you Massimo I hope) bending into every contorted position imaginable to explain the loss of faith in the scientific community on the right (and center I noted); the simplest and I believe most accurate explanation is that science has become politicized, by scientists and administrators, to the perspective of the left.

    People on the right noticed and hate it.

    People on the left noticed and love it.

    People in the center noticed and see how a politicized scientific process, in either direction, is a big problem.

    People aren’t nearly as stupid or manipulated as the media’s narrative would have you believe. Once one notices that the establishment (scientific, political, cultural, economic, and technological elites) is pushing a political agenda, there is no reason to blindly follow their edicts anymore. Once the establishment notices this reaction, censorship, mandates, and authoritarianism follow and this is where we are now, with the establishment desperately trying to control the narrative (pretty easy with their control of media and the cooperation of corporate and big tech interests) to maintain it’s power.

    Just in case you missed it:

    Buon weekend a tutti!

    p.s. Massimo have you read “Cynical Race Theories”? I’m reading it now and Chapter 3 in particular overlaps quite a bit with your thoughts on indigenous pseudoscience, giving a lot of context and history that you might find interesting and useful.

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    1. Montana, I don’t know what Massimo has read, but I have read “Silent Covenants” by Derrick Bell, one of the founders of critical race theory. I don’t agree with everything in CRT, just as I don’t agree with everything claimed by gender-critical radical feminists. I do find a fair amount of truth in both, a fair amount of things to think about, and a fair amount of things that are wrong. With GCRF, this is worsened by many of them being willing to ally with rightists on battling “trans activism,” and I totally get off that bus.

      Anyway, my review of “Silent Covenants.”

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