We know a tremendous amount about how the world works, but not nearly enough. Our knowledge is amazing; our ignorance even more so.
Great wisdom from the late Donella Meadows, from her book Thinking in Systems. Like Donella, who I never had the pleasure of meeting before her untimely death, I love learning, and for years have been on a quest to better understand the deep roots of today’s social and environmental quandaries. I list some of my favorite books below, all of which have helped me formulate my understanding of how things came to be the way they are and how we might plot a useful course forward from here. I hope you find them useful. All links lead to the publishers’ websites, or elsewhere on my website. I will add more books and other media to this list as time permits. Check back every now and again to see how things progress.
Columbus and Other Cannibals, by Jack D. Forbes. In this book Forbes describes Wetiko, a mental disease that compels people to prey upon one another in pursuit of self-enrichment and self-aggrandizement. This mental illness was known to people native to the North American continent but was, and remains, epidemic among European settler-colonists and is now being exported around the world. Of all the books on this list, read this one first if you have not already.
My Grandmother’s Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Path to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies, by Resmaa Menakem. A beautifully written book that explores how histories of oppression are carried through generations as trauma locked within the human body. Menakem’s book ties so much together, and explains ‘white fragility’ as well as the origins and transmission of Wetiko. It also suggests practices that can release accumulated trauma and allow people to heal.
Sacred Instructions: Indigenous Wisdom for Living Spirit-Based Change, by Sherri Mitchell. I finished this book more recently. It is a fierce, heartfelt book that helped me connect the outward behavior of consumerism to its roots in trauma, and also inspired me to rethink how I engage with people whose opinions differ from my own on these issues. I interviewed Sherri in episode 43 of my podcast.
The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism, by Edward E. Baptist. If you are of European descent and want some pleasant reading that leaves you feeling warm and fuzzy, stay away from this book. It is brutal. I had to put it down at several points and take crying breaks. As a white-bodied person, it is impossible for me to understand the impact slavery had on black- and brown-bodied people, but this book offers a hint.
An Indigenous People’s History of the United States, by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz. If you hold dear the myth that the settling of the United States was a fair and non-violent endeavor, this book will cure you of such fantasies. Not quite as brutal as Baptist’s above, Dunbar-Ortiz lays waste to the noble foundations of this country. Beyond that, her scholarly analysis of the ideological underpinnings of the European colonial urge is solid.
Come of Age: A Case for Elderhood in a Time of Trouble, by Stephen Jenkinson. This book explores the roots of many social and ecological ills while also pondering the question: Where have all the elders gone? Not elders in the sense of old people, of which there are plenty, but rather the aged folk with the power and prescience to speak deep, undeniable truth at a time when people have no patience for such things. Listen to me interview Stephen in episodes 1 and 26 of my podcast.
Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Cause of Depression, by Johann Hari. This book was powerful for me as a suicide survivor who struggled with depression growing up. Hari explores the many social factors that contribute to the list of symptoms we pathologize as depression and anxiety, and acknowledges the only real cure for these mental ailments is to build a better society. Not gonna medicate our way outta this predicament, it seems.