Saturday, July 25, 2020

Big Theory Reading List

I have been reading a lot of books that hint toward the same large underlying theory of society and societal dysfunction but its outlines aren't completely clear. Until I write that grand theory, here is the reading list to lead you down the same path, maybe leading you to get to the destination first.

1. Why Buddhism is True, Robert Wright

Evolutionary biologists are the most no fun of all scientists, so if an evolutionary biologist is going to bat for a religion you know that's something. To be clear, Wright doesn't defend reincarnation, hungry ghosts, karma etc. but is focused on Buddhist ideas of the mind and psychology, attacking one of the cornerstones of Western philosophy, showing that science actually sides with Buddhism. This is a great start to undermining the paradigm of ideas we find ourselves trapped within.

2. The Way of Zen, Alan Watts

If you're brave you should go to the Tao te Ching, or the Zhuangzi, or the Diamond Sutra and read the primary texts themselves. But that can be confusing to the uninitiated. While I'm sure Watts is woefully out of date, if you have an Anglo-American background, he's very good at making the ideas of the Tao and Zen make sense. He's water wings while you get acclimated to the water, the raft you can leave behind once you can read the sutras yourself. Exposing yourself to an entirely foreign philosophical system helps you to understand the perspective you've been trapped within. Watts is more playful and fun than the more serious Wright.

3. Gods of the Upper Air, Charles King

A great introduction to the project of cultural anthropology and its birth in the context of eugenics and race science. Now that race science is making a comeback, it's important to understand this project, especially since many of the other books on this list rely on the evidence of other cultures to explain the rut we've gotten ourselves into.

4. Debt: The First 5000 Years, David Graeber

An important philosophical, anthropological, and historical exploration of the concept of debt. Overthrows some ridiculous assumptions of classical economics, which like must of Western philosophy, was reasoned from flawed premises and has nothing to do with recorded history. Gives you a new perspective on the history of economics.

6. The Deficit Myth, Stephanie Kelton

Not quite as in depth as I'd like, but it's the perfect capstone to Debt, outlining what a more reasonable economic system could look like. Good for economic neophytes, and a well explained introduction to macroeconomic policy.

7. Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution, Peter Kropotkin

A great corrective to the Spencerian view of evolution as being driven by competition. Most species cooperate, and often cooperation is more productive than competition. This is now a well-respected view within evolutionary biology, but Kropotkin comes at it from a more humanistic than scientific viewpoint.

8. Friedrich Nietzsche, On The Genealogy of Morals

Nietzsche is a spicy one and guaranteed to offend, but Debt used this Nietzsche work to find important truths in the concept of debt, and it's a valuable work indeed. Like an explosive, it has a specific, particular purpose. A vicious attack on bourgeois Christian morality of 19th Century Europe, Nietzsche argues that the moral system of society is based on passive aggression and mediocrity rather than any concept of universal love or justice. One doesn't have to agree with the entire argument to see glimmers of truth, or just see how Nietzsche goes about his analysis. His way of thinking is often more valuable than his conclusions.

9. Sex at Dawn, Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jetha

The Dan Savage pull quote and subtitle about straying make this sound like a polyamory manifesto, but it's actually a blistering attack on patriarchy and its defenders in evolutionary biology. Patriarchy, monogamy, and sexual jealousy are all found to have no biological basis, and anthropological data are shown that demonstrate other ways to organize social sexuality. Further we've chosen the worst of all possible systems.

10. Lost Connections, Johann Hari

A look at how our modern society has been built, unintentionally, to make us all unhappy. We're like sickly zoo animals who have built their own zoo and wonder why they don't feel happy anymore. While many steps in this book require social change and aren't just steps you can take to help yourself, it does outline that the sense you have that things aren't quite right are scientifically true.

11. The Chalice and the Blade, Riane Eisler

So we know society now sucks, but wasn't it always like this? Not according to Eisler, who looks to archaeological evidence to suggest that there existed many societies in the past that weren't devoted to ideas of domination of conquest, and these values were only accepted slowly. Seeing how the process occurred gives us ideas on how to reverse it.

12. When God Was a Woman, Merlin Stone

A look at the near universal phenomenon of Goddess Worship and their gradual replacement by warrior gods over the course of history. A hidden level of history our standard histories do not examine.

13. When God Had a Wife, Lynn Pickett and Clive Price

Like Merlin Stone's book, but showing there was always a goddess religion present within the Judeo Christian tradition, slowly covered up throughout history.

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