Arguing to death, Fourth branch of gov & A Socratic Dialogue

I enjoyed reading The Economist’s “The tyranny of the majority: The fourth branch of government has run amok in parts of America” and ended up also enjoying “Arguing to death: From Socrates, history’s quintessential nonconformist, lessons for America today” the way I enjoyed the TV series Deadwood.

It is my pleasure to get to know the two articles’ author Andreas via his blog. Here is my reply to one of Andreas’ latest entry “WordPress: Plato’s Academy Today” which I hope you may enjoy reading,


Thanks for creating a community for us to amuse ourselves, teach ourselves, challenge ourselves, feel safe to contradict ourselves, and sometimes to be plain silly.

This piece and others you linked to reminded me of a lovely little Chinese book I read more than 20 years ago when I was wiser, more self-assured, handsomer and video game machines didn’t dare to tell their owners they were obese! :)

The tiny Chinese book was a translation of Hungarian mathematician Alfréd Rényi‘s “Dialoge über Mathematik” which contains the charmingly insightful “A SOCRATIC DIALOGUE ON MATHEMATICS”. (more on Rényi here and here)

I took some time yesterday to try to find something to share. Well, I lucked out and found an English version of this gem of a socratic dialogue as imagined by Rényi. Plus I was delighted to find the author’s postscript which was not in my Chinese translation.


It is wonderful to see you crediting many people in the community who contributed to our shared discovery and even took time to include this sporadic visitor. :) And then I thought of what Confucius wrote in Analects,


Which I venture to translate as,

“In a group of people, I can always learn from someone.
Observe their merits and try to learn from them.
Observe their mistakes and try to reflect and correct our own failings.”

P.S. Sorry for taking longer to reply to this post than I had originally thought.

P.P.S. I quite enjoy “The tyranny of the majority”. And to be honest, I didn’t think I would enjoy “Arguing to death” at all as I don’t have the slightest idea about most of the long dead Greeks, Athens, Carthaginian, et al (Fabius, Scipio, … huh, who?). Fortunately, to my surprise, I ended up enjoying “Arguing” like I enjoyed (very much) the TV series Deadwood (which I don’t understand about 20% of their words).

[Tangent: David Milch, creator of Deadwood & NYPD Blue, speaking at MIT]

By the way, you and your publisher have probably thought about something like this. Will there be a companion blog/website to your book pre and post book launch where lively discussions about things, views, and ideas in and around the book can be further explored? Freakonomics is one model and I am certain there are many just as or more interesting ideas to be explored.

P.S. I asked my wise friend Mr. Tong for his insight re the translation of “三人行,必有我師焉。擇其善者而從之,其不善者而改之。” He shared a lot of good ideas and gave two suggestions,

“Here are the translations. The first one is in an old style by James Legge; the second one is done in a more plain language.

[older style] The Master said: “When I walk along with 2 others, they may serve me as my teachers. I will select their good qualities and follow them, their bad qualities and avoid them.”

[plain language] Confucius said: “When 3 men walk together, there is always something I can learn. Choose to follow what is good in them and correct what is not good.”

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