Monday, November 21, 2011

The Way the World Really Works

One bookshelf in my office is the one I think of as "The Way the World Really Works". This is a collection of books that exposed me to radically different thinking than anything I had seen in traditional education or traditional media. I think of these books as correcting some knowledge deficiency or inadequacy that exists in most of us in western culture.

I started thinking about this bookshelf after reading Dave Pollard's How to Save the World Reading List (via Rebecca's Pocket). There are many similarities between Dave's list and my bookshelf, but one key difference is that my bookshelf seems to contain a large number of spiritual (not religious) books, especially on the concept of the power of our thinking to affect reality.

So read on for Will's The Way the World Really Works Reading List:

  • Ishmael by Daniel Quinn: This is the book that started it all for me. I read it when I joined a book club. Written in the socratic method, this book really helps you critically think about the story that "mother culture" tells us. We all believe the world works a certain way because that's all we or anyone in our modern society has known. But if you look to certain "primitive" or tribal cultures for inspiration, you might learn something different. [ Buy or Borrow (PDX) ]
  • My Ishmael by Daniel Quinn: A sequel to Ishmael, this book continues the socratic exploration of the first. [ Buy or Borrow (PDX) ]
  • Cows, Pigs, Wars and Witches: The Riddles of Culture by Marvin Harris: This fun book introduced the concept of the gift economy to me. Many common explanations of the gift economy (including the one at Wikipedia) neglect the ability of the gift economy to deal with conditions of scarcity by creating the conditions for a meritocracy to develop based upon the ability to of individuals to enhance quality of life for the community . [ Buy or Borrow (PDX) ]
  • Our kind : who we are, where we came from, where we are going by Marvin Harris: This also excellent and entertaining book has a very interested section on power and authority. Traditional tribal leadership is not absolutely, and people are free to accept or reject the authority of would be leaders. In some cases, leaders attempt to enforce their power through control of resources (i.e. food), and though the use of a warrior citizen class that enforces rules through might. Let's call these authoritarian leaders, since I don't remember the language that Mr. Harris used. It turns out that historically, in every civilization, in every situation, the only time when these kinds of leaders came to power was when a natural barrier (such as a desert, ocean, mountain range) existed that made it impossible for the members of the tribe to voluntarily leave. In other words, in no case in history have people under voluntarily submitted to the authoritative power of leaders. (In modern culture, for example, it is impossible to us to simply reject the rules of society because we can't wander off into the woods and live off the land: the land is all owned and controlled by private individuals or government. [ Buy or Borrow (PDX) ]
  • Beyond Civilization: Humanity's Next Great Adventure by Daniel Quinn: In this book Daniel Quinn explores alternatives to the options that mother culture offers us. I particularly value one concept from this book: the idea of a tribal organization applied to a business. The idea is that you can mix a traditional roles and responsibilities business organization with a tribal leadership approach. Day to day, everyone works within their role, even down to traditional hierarchical relationships. But on a weekly basis, everyone comes together as equals to drive the leadership of the organization. [ Buy or Borrow (PDX) ]
  • People of the Deer: Death of a People by Farley Mowat: This book helped me understand the destructive nature of the relationship between financially rich and financially poor cultures. In the People of the Deer, wealthy cultures repeatedly using compelling barter offers to lure the indigenous Ihalmiut people away from their traditional and long-lived practices of living off the land. But years later, when the wealthy culture terminates the relationship, a new generation of indigenous people who now lack the necessary skills to survive are forced back to living off the land. This cycle tragically repeats three times over the course of the book, culminating in a culturally deficient and resource deprived people. Over the course of sixty years, the Ihalmiut are reduced from 7,000 people to 40 people. [ Buy or Borrow (PDX) ]
  • Qigong : Essence of the Healing Dance by Garri Garripoli: This book, and the corresponding videotape by Garri Garripoli were my introduction to qi gong. One of the first times I practiced qi gong after watching the videotape, I could immediately feel my qi moving through my body. I was also in tears that I could be thirty years old and have had eighteen years of education, but had never be taught about or exposed to something so powerful and such a basic part of existence to people on the other side of the world. [ Book: Buy. DVD: Buy. ]
  • The Fifth Sacred Thing by Starhawk: This awesome science-fiction/fantasy novel introduced the concept of purposeful and focused intention as a powerful force for change. As a result of reading this book, I was compelled to give it a try. At a time when I was bored with my job, I used the techniques in the book to ask for a change in my job and exposure to new opportunities. Less than 24 hours later my job was eliminated, and I was given three paid months to find a new job. A few months later, as my partner and I grew concerned over the fact that I hadn't found a new job yet, I decided to use the techniques again to bring closure and narrow the universe of opportunities down to the single best opportunity for me. Within the next 24 hours, I had the best job interview of my life and was offered the job a few days later, for a position that has been a fantastic and fun growth opportunity for me. [ Buy or Borrow (PDX) ] 
  • When Corporations Rule the World by David C. Korten: This well documented book convinced me of the environmentally and socially destructive potential in publicly owned corporations. The problem is not the people within the corporation, but the very structure of the corporation itself. Two particular facets stick out in my mind: 1) Through a legal fiction, corporations are entities having rights equivalent to people (such as free speech), even though they are not subject to the penalties that can affect people (such as being arrested and jailed). 2) Publicly held companies are legally obligated to maximize profits at the expense of the environment and people, and can be sued by their shareholders when they do not behave in those financially profitable but environmentally and culturally destructive ways. [ Buy or Borrow (PDX) ] 
  • The New Rulers of the World by John Pilger: This compilation of four essays by John Pilger covers four topics: (1) the return of imperialism and colonialism and its impact on third world nations wherein state power protects western markets while allowing western corporations to intervene where they like in the world; (2) the impact of the first Gulf war and resulting embargo forced on Iraq by the United States; (3) the story of how the 'global economy' in Asia was spawned in the bloodbath that brought General Suharto to power in Indonesia; and (4) the story of the struggle of the Aborginal people in Australia. In particular, I read this book for the chapter on U.S. influence in Iraq and elsewhere. When U.S. policy and actions has directly caused the deaths of over a million Iraqi children and adults, and trained over 60,000 foreign military troops and terrorists (on American soil) that have subsequently gone to innumerable human rights violations and genocides, as citizens I feel it is our unfortunate but necessary duty to understand the history and actions our government has taken. An article by Howard Zinn further explores the idea of American's lack of context and historical knowledge as it relates to the activity of our government around the world, and the role that it played in our acceptance of the second invasion of Iraq. [ Buy or Borrow (PDX) ] 

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