|In Beyond Civilization, Daniel Quinn says:
People will listen when they’re ready to listen and not before. Probably, once upon a time, you weren’t ready to listen to an idea than now seems to you obvious, even urgent. Let people come to it in their own time. Nagging or bullying will only alienate them. Don’t preach. Don’t waste time with people who want to argue. They’ll keep you immobilized forever. Look for people who are already open to something new.
When presenting a new idea, you don’t have to have all the answers. It’s better to say ‘I don’t know’ than to fake it. Make people formulate their own questions. Don’t take on the responsibility of figuring out what their difficulty is. We each internalize information differently. If you don’t understand a question, keep insisting they explain it until it’s clear. Nine times out of ten they’ll supply the answer themselves.
Above all, listen. Your close attention is sometimes more important than your articulateness in winning converts. And learning is always a good thing.
When I’ve talked to people about the ideas I’ve presented in this blog, I get the sense that maybe 10% really understand and appreciate what I’m saying. Perhaps another 40% are ready to listen and want to believe, but either my inarticulateness or their internalization mechanism garbles the message. After all, saving the world (or, as one recent commenter ‘geo’ put it more accurately “changing how humans live so we as a species can continue to survive”) is not easy or obvious, or we’d all be busy doing it. This reading list is for that 40%, in the hope that better writers than I can convey more clearly and compellingly what we need to do and why. The remaining 50%, I suspect, are not ready. Five years ago someone gave me The Spell of the Sensuous and I gave up after five pages — I just wasn’t ready.
Here’s the list — 56 books and articles that forever changed my worldview, and my purpose for living::
What Life was Really Like Before Civilization: Revisionist History
- Full House, by the late Stephen J. Gould. The presence of man on Earth was a random occurrence, and after the next Extinction Event life on the planet is likely to evolve differently. We are not the Crown of Creation.
- The Wealth of Man by Peter Jay. The life of pre-historic man was easy, idyllic, and very pleasant. Hunt big slow game an hour a day, relax and enjoy the rest.
- The Worst Mistake in the History of the Human Race, (online) essay by Jared Diamond Why the adoption of agriculture was ‘a catastrophe from which we have never recovered’.
- Original Affluence, by Marshall Sahlins. If you wanted to defend a new society that featured rigid hierarchy, agonizingly hard work, suffering, frequent starvation and slavery, wouldn’t you try to portray the alternative life as ‘short, nasty and brutish’?
- Extinction, by Michael Boulter. Our planet’s history is one of cycles punctuated by massive extinctions and new beginnings. Our only choice is whether to end this one sooner (a century) or later (several millennia).
- The Axemaker’s Gift by James Burke and Robert Ornstein. How innovativeness has been increasingly corrupted to concentrate and retain power, instead of making the world better.
What’s Going On Under our Noses: The Real News
- The Unconscious Civilization, by John Ralston Saul. How and why we’ve become helpless slaves of the political and economic system we built.
- Ockham’s Razor, by Wade Rowland. What’s wrong with our modern values, and where to look for new ones.
- People Before Profit, by Charles Derber — How rampant corporatism ravaged the vast majority of people worldwide in the 1800s, and is doing so again.
- State of the World, by WorldWatch Institute, The 7 trends that most threaten eco-collapse: population growth, rising temperature, falling water tables, shrinking cropland per person, collapsing fisheries, shrinking forests, and the extinction of plant and animal species.
- World Scientists’ Warning (online), by the Union of Concerned Scientists. “Human beings and the natural world are on a collision course. No more than one or a few decades remain before the chance to avert the threats we now confront will be lost and the prospects for humanity immeasurably diminished. A great change in our stewardship of the Earth and life on it is required if vast human misery is to be avoided and our global home on this planet is not to be irretrievably mutilated.”
- Dream of the Earth by Thomas Berry. “We are in trouble just now because we do not have a good story. We are in between stories. The old story, the account of how we fit into it, is no longer effective. Yet we have not learned the new story.”
- The Future of Freedom, by Fareed Zakaria Why we can’t change another country’s culture from outside it.
- The New Rules of the World, by John Pilger An accurate, devastating portrait of the world in 2003.
- The Demon in the Freezer, by Richard Preston. How vulnerable we all are to individual acts of terror, chaos and sabotage.
- Against the Grain, by Richard Manning. How grain monoculture evolved, and how it’s ruining the Earth.
- Population Projections, by US Census Bureau. They’re no longer assuring us that US and Global Population will level out at 300 million and 9 billion. Would you believe 1 billion and 12 billion by the end of the century, and still rising?
- Global Warming, by NOAA. An online synopsis of US scientists’ consensus on the causes and consequences of global warming.
- This Overheating World – Worried? Us? (online essay) by Bill McKibben. Article in the UK journal Granta explaining the psychology, and cynical political expediency, of denial.
- Are Cities Changing Local and Global Climates?, (online) by NASA. Studies of urban microclimates and how they contribute to local climate change and instability.
- Restoring Scientific Integrity (online) by Union of Concerned Scientists. The Bush regime’s distortion of scientific research to forward its own political agenda.
- Climate Collapse, by David Stipp (online article) from Fortune Magazine. The possibility and chilling implications of global warming producing sudden drastic climate shifts.
- Conservative Myths on Global Warming (online) by Blogger Carpe Datum. A brief but thorough explanation of the science behind global warming, and the reasoning behind scientists’ connecting it to human activity and worrying about the risks of resultant instability
- The Empire Strikes Out, by Kenny Ausubel. Corporatism and acquisitiveness run amok are ruining our world, but nature always bats last.
- The Tragedy of the Commons, by Garry Harding. The commons, that which belongs in common to all of us, is disappearing — Why nobody really cares.
- Elizabeth Costello, by JM Coetzee. Why we tolerate a holocaust against our fellow creatures on Earth.
- The Machine in Our Heads, by Glenn Parton. How the ecological crisis is rooted in a human psychological crisis.
About Gaia: What Nature is Really About
- When Elephants Weep, by Jeff Masson. Compelling scientific evidence that animals feel deep emotions.
- Mind of the Raven, by Bernd Heinrich. Compelling scientific evidence that animals are intelligent, complex, rational and communicative.
- The Sacred Balance by David Suzuki. A passionate explanation of James Lovelock’s Gaia Hypothesis, the need to redesign how we live, and the importance of spending more time in nature.
- The Hidden Dimension, by Edward Hall. We need space and a natural environment to be healthy and human. When we’re deprived of them, we get mentally ill.
- The Spell of the Sensuous, by David Abram. How to reconnect with nature, and rediscover wonder.
Radical Analysis, Radical Solutions (these are the most important readings, but you probably won’t ‘buy’ their arguments unless you’ve first read much of the material above)
- Ishmael, The Story of B, and Beyond Civilization by Daniel Quinn. Also the IshCon discussion forum. The first two of these three books are fictionalized stories about human history from a different, anti-civilization perspective, with penetrating, astounding analysis and insight. Ishmael is more popular but I prefer The Story of B which recapitulates the entire theses in a series of ‘lectures’. The two critical lectures are online here. Beyond Civilization is about what we should do about all this.
- A Language Older Than Words, by Derrick Jensen. A profound and disturbing argument for why moderate answers to our current predicament won’t work.
- The World We Want, by Mark Kingwell. Why we are best served by trusting our instincts rather than what we are persuaded is moral or rational.
Toolkit for Change: Knowledge We Can Use to Save the World
- Freeman Dyson’s Brain (online interview), in Wired Magazine. The twin keys to building a better world are (a) establishing viable self-sufficient local communities to replace big centralized states and governments, and (b) selective more-with-less technologies like solar/wind energy coops and biotech medicines.
- The Developing Ideas Interview (online) with economist Herman Daly. An economic and tax program that favours communities and commons instead of corporations, and a ‘contract’ to reduce our population and ecological footprint.
- The Unconquerable World, by Jon Schell. Why non-violence and consensus-building are the only viable way forward.
- The Support Economy, by Shoshana Zuboff A model for a post-capitalist economy.
- Unequal Protection, by Thom Hartmann. The case for denying ‘personhood’ to corporations.
- When Corporations Rule the World, by David Korten. The need to get corporations out of politics and create localized economies that empower communities within a system of global cooperation, overcoming the myths about economic growth and the sanctification of greed, and focusing instead on overconsumption, poverty, overpopulation, and reining in untrammelled corporate power.
- Radical Simplicity, by Jim Merkel. How to free yourself from possessions and wage slavery without sacrifice.
- The Tipping Point, by Malcolm Gladwell. What makes things change.
- Ten Ways to Make a Difference, by Peter Singer. A pragmatic recipe for change.
- The Truth About Stories, by Thomas King. The truth about stories is that that’s all we are. Want a new society? Write a new story.
- The Boycott List, by Responsible Shopper, and Good Stuff, by the WorldWatch Institute. What not to buy, and what to buy instead.
- The Corporation, by Joel Bakan. An action plan for undermining corporatism.
- Humans in the Wilderness, by Glenn Parton. How we might reintroduce humans, well-spaced-out, into a primarily wilderness Earth.
- At Home in the Universe, by Stuart Kauffman. How self-organizing, self-managing systems work.
- EarthDance (entire book online), by Elisabet Sahtouris. Eleven steps to cultural metamorphosis (my summary is here)
- eGaia (entire book online), by Gary Alexander. How to achieve of peace, cooperation and sustainability (replacing war, competition and growth, the fuels of our current culture) and a future state vision with vignettes from individuals’ lives in a balanced and harmonious future world.