The docu-mental holiday reading list

And the rationale behind it

Vol. 1 issue 48


Well, naturally I have a holiday list to share with you. Below is a list of books and other media I suggest is helpful for understanding the deeper currents at play in our nation as we head into the next decade. Hopefully during this holiday season, you will have time to investigate them, or perhaps you will consider giving them as gifts to people you think will appreciate them.

First, here’s my rationale for the list.

I try to read equally across the political spectrum, from far left to far right, and synthesize from my own perspective what I think we are facing in this country. As I pointed out to premium subscribers yesterday, I firmly believe we’re on the precipice of chaos, if not already immersed in it. I know that’s not jolly at all, but our societal problems and the messaging coming at us about them have outstripped our ability to govern and filter them.

I have observed that what used to be the “left” is now considered the status quo. I am not saying that the left is now the center. That is not the same thing. I am saying that what used to be considered a more left fringe perspective is more common, so it is in the ascendant as status quo. People who have a more centrist perspective are increasingly finding themselves out of step with the mainstream media. That is, unless they are persuaded to see things the way the mainstream media does, which is easy to do if that is the messaging you are constantly consuming.

Since the socialist point of view is essentially fixed on the continuum, it didn’t move, but the mainstream media has gotten closer to it. This is due to a number of reasons we have covered here in docu-mental, but a great review of social and economic forces causing this to happen is in this podcast with London economist, Grace Blakeley. In short, it is profitable for the media to lean left, in part because big media is big business, and business begets business. There are other factors, but that’s a valid generalization.

Ironically, as Blakeley and I discuss, the same political factors are also animating the far right. Social media has allowed this contingent to step up its noise. It hasn’t meant the far right has changed their point of view to be more mainstream, it just means that people whose views were formerly viewed as fringe and relatively unpopular are more in the mix because they are amplifying their messaging.

Their position is the same on the continuum, but the swell of people who are publicly sympathetic to it has bloomed from the middle toward the extreme right, which is fascism. They might have always felt the way they felt and thought, but now they are subject to the currents of mob rule. In a sense, it is the opposite of big business begetting big business, but with the same kind of effect to sway the masses.

Mainstream media is, for all the criticism we might have of it, largely subject to federal regulation, and so we aren’t going to be incited to riot by Lester Holt, or anyone else who might hold a prominent anchor position. Social media, by contrast, is a free-for-all. Aside from the First Amendment, the correct application of which is an area of constant debate, there are no meaningful federal laws regulating the kinds of content you, me, or any fundamental extremist terrorist of any stripe can disseminate. And anyway, social media is global, meaning not everyone will have the same response legally or politically to how it is used.

Not that it matters. There is already too much messaging to reign in, as YouTube makes clear: 500 hours of video are posted every minute, and viewership per hour is in the billions. Even if YouTube (a Google company) had the express wish of ensuring all that content is not harmful to society, where on earth will they ever find the manpower to review all that material? Not possible.

Also not possible is to view this all as a straight line where opposing voices move further away, never to meet again. The continuum, as my graphic here – however crudely rendered – shows, is more like a circle superimposed on a cross. As you can see, the result is that as we are engaged in a pitched battle of messaging, we are indeed moving further apart. Ample data prove this is the case.

But! As we become further polarized, we also find ourselves about to meet in the middle, which is, ta-da, authoritarianism.

If we are a nation, we have to have a common story. Without one, there is no ability for the government to keep us together. Stories have to have an element of “other” or “foe”, that the protagonist is protecting someone or something against. In the case of governments, as John Locke has said, their chief concern is to protect their people.

Whether or not we like each other, if we don’t understand that it is our individual minds that form the battleground for each side, we’re going to end up as equals in a non-democratic society anyway, because that is the only place where we will all at least have a common story that a government can use as its rationale for existence. Otherwise, what is the point of the government? There is none. And that is why I say we are on the brink of chaos.

That’s why you have to protect your mind, and then you have to act on what you think.  
So. I have put together the following list. It’s by no means thorough, just some resources I turn to when I think about these things. I purposefully am not linking to any bookseller, because I would like to think you will buy from a source you want to support.


The Passion of the Western Mind by Richard Tarnas: A history of how and why we think what we think in the West. It’s an elegant description of how one philosophy has evolved into another, what we have kept, what we have discarded, and where we might be headed. Helps to inform my internal debate, over whether we are fated or choose our destinies.

Stolen by Grace Blakeley: An easy-to-read, yet not dumbed down, narrative of why Socialism makes good sense to so many people, and a primer for the application of Social Democracy. It was helpful to me in understanding the how and why we got to where China could own so much US debt, Saudi Arabia and Russia could own so much US real estate, and big banks like Wells Fargo could nearly destroy my financial life through their fraudulent practices (but didn’t because I was too enraged to let them).

The Conservative Sensibility by George F. Will: Because he’s such a great thinker and writer, I will read anything he writes, although you can’t do so when you’re tired. He requires you to sit up and listen and think along with him. He is a polemic, but he is compassionate and honest in his logic. This book feels to me like Will also knows we are on the brink of social collapse and he is desperate for you to wake up. You might not agree with him, but I actually found much of what he writes to be exactly as marketed: sensible. He fears authoritarianism as much as I suspect you do, too.

Subscription newsletters:

docu-mental, of course. Because I believe apathy is abdication of your mind to authoritarianism, but extremism is another route to the same place. The only way through is to know and protect your own mind and to consciously participate in creating what story we will live by and how. This newsletter explores how to do that and gives insight into trends that left to continue unchecked, create anxiety, depression, suicidality, and hopelessness. My aim is to create “herd immunity” to these conditions™. You can read for free, or get more with a premium subscription.

BIG by Matt Stoller: Because he gets it. He understands why and how big data, big anything, can lead to oppression, and he documents how he is uncovering how government is either feckless about putting curbs on these big forces, or are actively abetting their power over us. It is a good way to understand economics and their impact on you personally. Currently, this is a free publication.

The Weekly List by Amy Siskind: A former Wall Street executive now runs this progressive organization that manages to spook me nearly every time I read it because it is fantastic at chronicling how much freedom we are losing daily. You can read it for free, or you can support it at your chosen level. Not for the faint hearted, but neither is docu-mental, I don’t think.

Politi-fact: The Poynter Institute’s way of keeping track of fraudulent claims, fallacies, and follies coming from the mouths of politicians anywhere on the spectrum. Again, you can read for free, but supporting it with your donation is what keeps it running. Easy to read, and nonpartisan.


Dolly Parton’s America: Because who wants to walk around all gloomy and blue?
Not me. Here’s a fun podcast series that anyone anywhere on the continuum can enjoy, I reckon.

Now, go eat your breakfast, lunch, or tea. And get back to me with your thoughts.


(Graphic: Original by Uwe Backes, re-configured by Whitney Fishburn)