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Reading lists, ego traps, metaphysical apostasy: it's a real case of the Mondays
As usual, I have several manifestos at various stages of unfinished-ness that I keep ego-trapping my way out of publishing here, and once enough time goes by on them they get tossed on the ash heap of forever-unfinished-manifestos. I get very irritated with other people when they do the same thing, but trust me when I say this comes from a place of immobilizing perfectionism rather than derelict sloth.
In an attempt to reclaim at least some creative energy from the jaws of the ego trap, I’m going to post shorter observations/links etc here, in part as an alternative to other social media which has me hopelessly shadowbanned.
Today in that spirit I thought I’d share some of my current reading list, which draws from an entirely different metaphysics than that of evopsych, so it might be of limited interest to most of you. But when you find yourself unexpectedly contemplating, as I am (and apparently Naomi Wolf also is, among many others) the nature of evil in our current politics, the most obvious curriculum is one that begins where Dostoyevsky ends (“Without God, all things are permitted.”)
I have been consumed by the same question that consumed him, namely: is there any “natural” corrective to human expediency and malevolence in the absence of religion? Not in the invisible-sky-daddy-shall-smite-you-for-being-bad sense, but in the sense that only with religion are reality and truth objective, not subjective; only with religion can there be enduring shared definitions of good and evil that allow society to check itself before it wrecks itself. I am increasingly convinced that it’s one thing for hunter-gatherer tribal communities to naturally correct and contain bad actors in the absence of a shared cosmology (although they certainly had that, anyway.) It’s another matter altogether at the level of civilization. The relentless encroachment of nihilism and therefore short-term (and therefore generally Very Bad) decision-making seems to guarantee eventual collapse (i.e., a return to a pre-modern condition). I’m pretty sure, at this point, that it’s just baked into the cake. It’s okay. We had a pretty good run.
Anyway, when you spend a lot of time thinking in an abstract philosophical way about all of this stuff, as I do—eventually if you want to get some kind of epistemic grip on the collapse of western civilization, you necessarily start reading Christian apologetics. I think so much of our failure to understand “why is everything so crazy right now” comes from a lack of understanding of what has actually been lost. And the essence of what is lost is, I think, a shared (and essentially Christian) worldview that meaningfully constrained and virtuously incentivized individual choices. I know this all all makes me sound like a fuddy-duddy. But I think it’s basically the correct way to look at things. So here are some of the books on that general theme I’m currently working through (or have finished very recently).
Lord of the Rings (a very good primer—perhaps the best—on the very deceptive nature of evil, and especially the high costs of resisting and defeating it.) I’m re-reading it for the first time since I was about 10.)
The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis (Lewis and Tolkien were very close friends and colleagues and influenced each other’s thinking quite a lot, and I’m intentionally reading them together for that reason.) This is a short but quite poignant little allegory about some passengers who catch a bus out of hell on a day trip to higher realms.)
Demons (aka “The Possessed”) by Dostoyevsky. It’s…uh…very relevant.
The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, by Max Weber. I’m revisiting this after first reading it eons ago as an undergrad. I am most interested in it now for his discussion of the so-called “Iron Cage”—post-Calvinist capitalism. What happens to the system and individuals within it once that whole eternal salvation thing is out of the picture?
Decline of the West, Oswald Spengler. Much to ponder here.
Inverted Totalitarianism, by Sheldon Wolin, a natural sequel to the Managerial Revolution. Again I read this in grad school, but I see it in new context now. Both Wolin and Burnham are pointing out (as Weber is as well) that the “impersonal” and hyper-rational efficiency of a morally-neutral and ethically expedient “managerial” system works really, really well….until it doesn’t.
The Bodies of Others, Naomi Wolf. Her Covid “journey” has tracked mine nearly precisely, and this book is an important time capsule. The pandemic is fading from awareness for a lot of people, but the (extremely chaotic and unstable) global coup it facilitated has just begun. 2020 was Year Zero.
That’s just a sampling of what is in current rotation…I’m always reading about 20 things at once, and tend to not read everything straight through but skip around as guided by what Michael Hoffman calls the “library angel.”
What are other people reading? What should we talk about? What are people interested in?