Books are Dangerous

Books can be dangerous. They can infiltrate your mind with some else’s ideas. Books can disrupt your sense of certainty, warp your sense of the universe as a well-ordered place. Books can upend your previously held convictions. Books can instigate a full or partial code switch on your moral code. It happened to me.

I read two books recently that are having a profound effect on the way I think about myself and my relationship with the world: Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Harari and A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn. I think about them both through out my day. This post is not reviews of those two books. I’ll write that soon. This is just quick capture of a few things I’ve been working through since reading these two books.

From Sapiens: an understanding of storytelling and narrative as mankind’s most powerful technology. Narrative shapes our perceptions and beliefs. Narrative helps define us for each other what is possible. Narrative is the operating system. Religious belief, national identity, racial identity is the software running on the system. The software adapts and changes to suit the needs of the time. We think humans are the fixed apex of the evolutionary chain but everything that lives evolves. Our species continues to evolve. We aren’t fixed. There’s likely to be species after us. After reading Sapiens, I am captured in wonder at how much different our world might be if, as individuals, we could learn to see ourselves as part of  a larger species that comes before us and continues after us rather than isolated individuals crowding together in communities. And that species-conscious individuals might be driven to consider more carefully the true consequences of our actions and behaviors, how everything we do either helps or hinders the continuation of the species.

And from A People’s History of the United States, the understanding that — even more than liberty, more than equality, more than justice — the American system prefers stability and status quo to keep business operations moving smoothly. Elections and wars are used to channel unrest and dissent away from vulnerable politicians and institutions. Voting is great but only goes so far. In general, we tend to elect the same kinds of people to office and, once voted in, the office holder and voters work together to protect and celebrate the status quo. Direct action is the real work of democracy.

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