Tomorrow is November 8th, a very important day for our nation: The International Day of Radiology.
No bones about it.
Oh, yeah, it’s also the day that a little less than half of a record 200 million registered voters will stay home.
I get it. Election fatigue is a real thing. It doesn’t help that, like retailers have done with Christmas, campaign season now starts far too early and is ubiquitous. No corner of the internet, television newscast, or print medium is immune to the consistent hype.
And, let’s just be honest, this has been one nasty slog of a election. The thin veneer of civility we Americans occasional wear has been ripped away and the wound of the raging culture wars has been exposed in all its grisly cringeworthiness. We may have to stop calling ourselves the United States of America without betraying the irony lying within.
I’m not optimistic that after the dust clears tomorrow we’ll be any better off. Matter of fact, I’m planning on boycotting social media Wednesday. Or maybe I’ll be occupied with rubbernecking the carnage splayed across.
Your candidate listens to Nickelback!
A couple of weeks ago Emma Green published an article in The Atlantic exhorting us to do the former. She suggests “reading is probably the best possible option—to get off the internet, pick up a book, and think about how the country has gotten here.”
What books, you might ask? Well, there’s a reason her article is titled “A Reading Guide for Those in Despair about American Politics.” It’s a pretty comprehensive list compiled by “people who have had a role in shaping the culture around this election, whether through advocacy, written work, commentary, or other means.” It includes “academics, comedians, political activists, and more,” and contains over thirty books.
I took great pleasure in perusing the list, though I admit it made me feel woefully under-read in a field I consider to be secondary only to my omnivorous devouring of fiction and criticism. 7 out of 33. 43.44%. Not good.
Wait. Did I get the formula right? I don’t math.
Maybe that’s the reason they didn’t ask me to chime in, despite my well-known passion for compiling lists. (Never mind that I’ve also had no role in “shaping the culture around this election.”)
But I now have a blog. Ha ha ha! I don’t need no stinkin’ invite from Ms. Green.
Therefore, even though no one asked for it, even though I’m not a genuine expert in the field of political science, and even though Dr. Harris-Perry already beat me to the punch by recommending Mo Willem’s classic Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus, I humbly suggest the following reading material.
Break out your monocles.
While not exclusively a political book–I thoroughly enjoy the Socratic discussions of the role of philosophy and poetry in civilization–it is one of the earliest analysis of differing forms of government: aristocracy, timocracy, oligarchy, democracy, and finally tyranny. His views are antiquated, undoubtedly irksome to we freedom-lovin’ Yanks. Nonetheless, his observations are salient. Particularly worth noting is his explanation of how a democracy can give way to tyranny. Think it couldn’t happen here? The founding fathers weren’t so sure.
The late Postman insisted that the “medium is the message.” In 1985, he feared that the rise of 24-hour news and substituting current affairs for entertainment would poison our society. Thirty years later, we have a plethora of nakedly partisan news outlets. Couple that with the rise of the digital world, and his vision becomes even scarier. The decontextualized, fragmented soundbytes we are now exposed to fail to ground us in the real world and remove us from viewing the history unfolding before us as part of a larger arc affecting generations to come.
For the first time this semester, I had the opportunity to teach Early American Lit. While cramming, I was again reminded of the intellectual vim our founders possessed. Today, by contrast, doling out metaphorical wedgies to the smart kids bleeds over to the adult world. This baffles Pierce as he traces our descent into celebrating ignorance. His “3 Great Premises” are as depressing as they are spot-on:
“· Any theory is valid if it sells books, soaks up ratings, or otherwise moves units
· Anything can be true if someone says it loudly enough
· Fact is that which enough people believe. Truth is determined by how fervently they believe it.”
It’s no secret that I have a love affair with our nation’s most venerable publication. Founded as an abolitionist rag in 1857, it has been a leading voice on American issues and culture since its inception. To this day, it is still one of the few remaining bastions of journalism that perseveres. In short, if you aren’t reading The Atlantic, you are not qualified to participate in the national conversation.
Their newest compilation shows the range of heavy hitters who have used them as a platform to discuss what is perhaps the biggest division we face. And these names are YUGE! Ralph Waldo Emerson, Frederick Douglass, Woodrow Wilson, Booker T. Washington, W. E. B. Du Bois, Jonathon Kozol, and contemporary society’s leading voice on the issue, Ta-Nehisi Coates. Oh yeah, you may have heard of a little piece of writing called “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” by a little-known reformer named Martin Luther King, Jr.
At 768 pages, it isn’t light reading. Full disclosure, I’m still pecking away at it. Nonetheless, it’s a wonderfully comprehensive overview of America’s great sin. In succession, it maps out the discourse from emancipation to Reconstruction to Jim Crow to the Civil Rights Era to mass incarceration.
None of these are what I would call a beach book, but now that the godawful relentless summer has–hopefully–given way in early November, who’s going to be soaking up sun on the beach? Likewise, you won’t finish them any time soon merely taking in a paragraph or two upon each session on the throne.
However, tomorrow you might at least get a start on one of them while waiting in line to do something very important: getting an X-ray. Wait…