Home > Books, politics, Reflections > my playlist

my playlist

I’ve been building and rebuilding a playlist in my mind the last couple of weeks. I’ll write about it someday, I’m sure, I thought. When I’ve finally gotten it right-enough.

Without pressure or hurry, it could have been months before I solidified the playlist. But then I read a post that got me fired up, and I found my playlist.

The post bemoaned how everything is a competition now: singing, playing instruments, sports, politics. Everyone’s in it to win it. Period.

Wait, what?! I thought. Did this post just liken politics to sports and music? As if “winning” politics is equivalent to winning a basketball game or a neat prize, instead of a set of decisions that influences who lives and dies, and how well they get to do either?

My husband patiently listened to my subsequent rant, which could best be summed up, “This is what’s wrong with America! People–the kind who have lots of resources, that is, and assume they’ve achieved them mostly by their individual merit–who don’t really follow politics think it’s like a game-show, instead of the very serious, very consequential process of apportioning resources.”

By getting all that out of my system, I was then able to move to critical assessment. To considering how I could explain what was horribly, fatally-to-many wrong with this acontextual politics-as-theater perspective.

What does any of this have to do with a playlist, exactly?

The playlist I’ve been putting together is a page-playlist. It’s the books-that-fundamentally-changed-my-world one, and an I-wish-others-would-read-these-so-we-could-talk-about-them-instead-of-my-typing-all-lonely-about-them playlist.

My question after reading the post described above was: Would Winner-Take-All Politics: How Washington Made the Rich Richer–And Turned Its Back on the Middle Class have a spot on my page-playlist? Page by page, the book tears apart the status quo-maintaining delusion that American politics is mostly theater. It elucidates exactly what disastrous, life-crushing change is wrought while American voters focus on the theater (elections) instead of the reality (policy with real, harsh, enduring impacts on resource allocation):

The answer ended up being neither simply “yes” nor “no.”

A playlist isn’t just about separate songs but about how they fit together. Winner-Take-All Politics didn’t quite fit with my others.

And what were the others, on a playlist of five books?

First on the playlist would be Noam Chomsky’s Requiem for the American Dream. A lot of political books are dry and at least a little tedious, but this short book is written plainly, presented beautifully, and interspersed with reference texts that show how deeply yesterday has shaped today.

Second would be Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy. A book about equality, justice, and mercy, this shows–with tenderness and compassion–who bears the brunt of American’s profoundly unequal policies, and just how heavy is the burden they bear. This book turns the invisible into people, who will not be treated as people as long as they’re individually ignored (and systemically subjugated), by the millions, in the margins.

Next I’d play The Shock Doctrine. This book ripped my heart apart with its myriad, meticulously researched details about what it means when the U.S. “brings democracy” to other nations. I don’t think I’ve ever cried harder reading a book, but the crying was a necessary part of my seeing … not only what has been and is being done, outside corporate media coverage, in my name as an American, but also how it need not be this way. There is possibility for better, and Klein nudged my heart toward acknowledging that it is in each other.

Fourth on my page-playlist is Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st Century Economist. Where Klein provided wisps of hope, Raworth brought it by the bucketsful. To decades of destructive economic theory presented as fact, Raworth says a loving, ebullient, nah. She celebrates the possibility of us building a global economy that’s sustainable for everyone, instead of universally destructive to habitat and human life. Reading Raworth, my heart soared. Just soared.

Last but oh-so-far from least is Teaching as a Subversive Activity. It’s hard to choose one Neil Postman book over any other (especially when 1985’s Amusing Ourselves to Death explains so damn much about where we’re at in 2017 America), but choosing this 1969 one is, quite simply, a choice for survival.

In it, Postman and co-author Weingartner challenge the way Americans are taught: “The schools [and thus we] stare fixedly into the past as we hurtle pell-mell into the future.” Beyond that, they emphasize the tools that are needed to face the future: flexibility, curiosity, and creativity, among them, in lieu of yesteryear’s rigid, linear thinking that always demands one correct answer.

Here is my playlist. Make a copy of it, if you like; I’d sure be glad if you did, and more hopeful for our children’s prospects. Only with you and I gazing eyes-wide-open upon what is happening and how can we begin shaping a world hospitable–or habitable–to younger generations.

Even if you don’t have room for five more books on your shelf, I suggest making room for at least one.

Winner-Take-All Politics doesn’t make it onto my playlist. That’s not because it’s not essential reading for Americans. Indeed, it’s perhaps so essential that instead of including it on my playlist … I’d simply recommend it for what it is, as it is, alone. More than any other single book I’ve read so far, this explains with nuance and (sometimes) even humor exactly what corporations and politicians do while we focus on what they’re wearing as they do so:

Once we see policy, rather than electoral victory, as the grand prize of political conflict, we see politics for what it is: a contest with big and often enduring stakes–a contest more like the one that gladiators played in the Roman Colosseum than the one the Celtics and Lakers play in the Staples Center … This notion of politics as a contest of personalities and teams, coupled with dwindling resources for investigative work and the growth of more aggressive partisan monitoring of the news, has helped feed a style of political journalism that leans heavily on giving each “side” (all stories having exactly two) a platform for saying their piece. Even hard news consists mostly of dueling sound bites.

“Winning” politics is not like winning basketball. Right now, America’s winners are the 0.01%; the harder they win, the more the losers die.

But it doesn’t need to be this way. And, oh! I see this clearer with almost every new page I read.

For too many of us the political equality we once had was meaningless in the face of economic inequality. A small group had concentrated in their own hands an almost complete control over other people’s property, other people’s money, other people’s labor–other people’s lives. For too many of us life was no longer free; liberty no longer real; men could no longer follow the pursuit of happiness.

Against economic tyranny such as this, the American citizen could appeal only to the organized power of Government. The collapse of 1929 showed up the despotism for what it was. The election of 1932 was the people’s mandate to end it. Under that mandate it is being ended.

— Franklin D. Roosevelt, accepting nomination in 1936

  1. June 17, 2017 at 11:06 am

    Thanks for the suggestions! 🙂 It’s coincidental that you ended your post with a quote from FDR. Just an hour ago I finished the Ken Burns documentary series on the Roosevelts–on Netflix. I very highly recommend it, if you haven’t already viewed it. I hope you and your beautiful family have a peaceful weekend! xox

  2. July 9, 2017 at 2:53 pm

    Thank you for the list! I saw the Documentary version of Noam Chomsky’s book, it was what initially sparked my interest for him (I’m a fan of his linguistic work especially). Excited to check out a few of these books, especially whatever I can find by Naomi Klein. She sounds fascinating and amazing. (I just realized that Noam and Naomi are so similarly spelt… random)

    • July 9, 2017 at 3:39 pm

      I soooooo recommend Klein! I just read her No Logo 5-6 weeks ago. It explained a lot, but really made me wish I’d been paying attention when it was published 17 years ago. There’s only one book of hers I haven’t managed to read because it causes such a visceral panic each time I do. Fortunately, my husband just downloaded the audiobook for me, so I can listen to it and feel I am sharing it versus carrying that heaviness alone. So looking forward to experiencing it, and was so glad to see Klein live a couple weeks back! I aspire to maintain her calm in situations where calm is very, very hard to come by!

      (Also, I’ve listened to Requiem probably a dozen times. So much love behind the grimness he narrates, and how.)

  1. July 3, 2017 at 4:50 pm
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