It is my goal to engage with literature, philosophy, science, books. I would argue that reading is always important, because it gives us a range of ideas to work with and apply to real life. It is a space to think about things. I feel a lot of the great philosophers and writers were able to help their readers achieve this. This includes the importance of contemporary literature and research. There is so much to learn.
But in the age of Facebook, sometimes it seems as though ideas, and the importance of good ideas, has been emphasized less and less. Many people have left and are leaving Facebook, and I think that it’s partly because of a deep dissatisfaction, the failing of social media to enrich our lives. I hope that those people that leave are certainly staying off the grid, and reading good books.
We know that there have been political implications to Facebook. We know that Facebook is a political tool, just as any, and it would seem to me, that Facebook has changed the way that we disseminate ideas. Especially with the fake news phenomena and clickbait, it is easy to believe things that aren’t true, because they are so readily available. You could say this about the Internet in general, but I think with the rise of social media, this issue has increased in severity.
I would argue that Facebook can still be useful, of course. I would describe it as useful for writers, expressing their ideas in a specific medium. This is what I have learned, and it is why I use Facebook still, though I use it for different reasons, than people that just want to post memes and fake political news.
So the irony for me, is that I think Facebook is useful for conveying ideas. We may not always know how those ideas are disseminated and spread, because of the very specific algorithms that Facebook uses, but there is a potential to discuss important ideas on Facebook, in the most concise way possible, via creative writing.
But of course, I would have to argue, that Facebook is not an alternative to reading. We still need to read good books, whether classics or contemporary literature. We need to be able to engage with the great texts of civilization writ large, including the East and other provinces, and we need to know what is going on in the world of publishing today.
Another subject that might seem unrelated but is not, due to its impact on culture, is the strange elitism of analytic philosophy, and that paradigm. Analytic philosophy, as I understand it, is the dominant mode of discourse in philosophy academies.
I don’t think that there is anything wrong with analytic philosophy in a broad sense. I think analytic philosophy is important for providing a different perspective. But often, analytic philosophy is technical and specific and exclusive, and while you get this in Continental philosophy as well, it seems more pronounced in the analytic tradition, because they aren’t generally focusing on the immediate questions of humanity.
Maybe this is my bias, but I would argue that if you want to be a philosopher, you have to read all texts in philosophy, the way that many podcasts that focus on philosophy have been able to do. This includes reading texts on pragmatism, structuralism, semiotics, phenomenology, existentialism, and many other texts and movements.
In the age of analytic philosophy, it’s easy to provide too much attention to what could potentially be seen as smaller problems due to their technical nature, because they do not deal with the immediacy of human life and the human condition. Even Derrida, with all the frustrating jargon that he uses, is still writing about language, and how language affects us. I think this is important, even if we are not always aware of it. And being aware of this is political.
I learned from Bret Weinstein that the political landscape today is complicated, due to our evolutionary background, but also due to what could be called, political insurgencies. The way that I understand it, people in 2016 did not vote for the candidate that best represented their values, but rather, a candidate that would help the voters confront the political system. This was a gamble, and we have certainly seen the consequences.
I wanted to be concise and call my article, Reading in the Age of Donald Trump. I wanted to call it this, so it could help me focus on my many grievances of our current system of government. I am always hesitant to talk about politics, because it’s so emotionally charged and there is so much at stake, and though I think it’s important to speak out, I also want to be reasonable in the things that I say. But what we saw with Donald Trump was very problematic, especially when we think about how the whole movement was predicated on anti-intellectualism and promoting falsehoods.
I would say that it is very important to read in a political climate that is so very chaotic, that doesn’t make sense, and that skews our understanding of human nature and human society. I think any book that you read would be infinitely better than watching Fox News. It’s obvious that, like Facebook and other platforms, people were only talking about things that would reinforce their biases.
While I would say that biases are not always bad, I would have to say that they can still be misleading. I don’t think that it’s bad to dislike or even hate our president, but I do think that it is problematic to predicate your entire worldview on what one system of government does. This is because my general thesis about reality is that it’s open ended, that we are creative, and that we can endlessly problem solve if we are willing to.
All that said, I do think that reading is an alternative to being inundated by the callousness and cruelty of our current president. But the irony is that what you find out while reading, whether learning about Chris Hedges, or reading a history of political philosophy compiled by Leo Strauss, or reading Howard Zinn, is that the world is indeed a very complicated place, and there have always been nearly insurmountable problems.
When I think of Howard Zinn, for instance, I think of what he described as the bipartisan consensus, which is basically the consolidation of power in government. What this means for me and for my understanding, is that it really doesn’t matter who is president, whether a Democrat or a Republican, because the voters are still out of touch with being able to affect change, because of the separation between members of society and the government officials. He describes how Jimmy Carter, a progressive, was not any more conservative in his policies than somebody like Ronald Reagan or George Bush. I think this is an important point not when thinking about somebody like Donald Trump, but when thinking about how politics often works.
I have been drenched in political theory, and I have learned a lot because of it. I have learned that establishing government is very complicated, because it changes so much, and there are so many differing views of important aspects of life such as human nature. Our view of human nature definitely affects the type of people we vote for.
Now with all of this said, I do think our political insurgency here in America, has highlighted some of the cruel practices that America has always had, from the very beginning. For instance, Obama, one of the most beloved Presidents of our time, repealed Habeas Corpus, and was violent with drones.
Donald Trump has been criticized as being a president that only cares about the rich and making the rich richer, and while this is very cruel and seemingly true, there is a sense in which when you are reading somebody like Howard Zinn, you realize that it’s much more complicated, because tax cuts, for instance, have always been given out to the rich, but not the poor. Howard Zinn describes how veterans who had shrapnel in their legs or were injured in the call of duty, were basically told by the government that they could go back to work and live without social security, not taking into account their service or their injuries and pain because of service.
I think at this point, you can see the importance of reading, and having a philosophical and literary basis for viewing the world. For me, the goal has always been to see more clearly. I think it’s important to have an opinion and a perspective, even if it is a strong one. But what you don’t want to do is let your perspective eat itself up and eat its own tail, because if that is what your perspective does, you cannot really affect change.
If you work hard to try to see the bigger picture and not just say the first thing that you think of, seeing clearly will allow you to establish your beliefs even stronger, because you have a specific framework from which to work from. Reading provides that basis, it allows you to work on facts and narrative, while also strengthening your opinions and perspective.
This is why reading is important to me. On a very personal and specific level, I am crushed by what I’ve seen happen politically over the past couple of years. I am heartbroken over the kids in cages, of the way that we treat immigrants in this country. Despite the fact that this is a very politically charged issue and that I am not fully educated on it, I still feel that what has happened in that specific case, is wrong and wicked.
But there is a lot that I have been unable to do or to say about it, some of which is because of our sharp left and right partisan distinctions. In politics, it’s hard to call an evil an evil, and actually be heard, because of all the noise.
That doesn’t mean that you can’t affect change through knowledge, and for me personally, I also do it through writing. Writing gives me a mechanism by which to express my ideas, and I can do that, because I read. So for instance, in the book I am writing called X, I narrate a character, a kid, who was in a kind of migrant camp. With a rich literary tradition to draw off of, I was able to write about this character, and provide nuance to what I am feeling and to what is happening politically in our landscape.
Of course, I know that choosing to be contemplative versus impulsive is very difficult. Impulsivity is not always bad. Sometimes you have to express your anger, you have to express your dissatisfaction, you have to express your hurt. I don’t want to take a moderate position politically, nor do I want to be pushed to the fringe. But I do want to express the value of reading in an age where it seems as though our opinion doesn’t matter, and that we can’t change things politically.
We know that ideas change things, and change society. While we may not be certain how ideas work, they do spread, and if we can express patience, gratitude for life, and a demonstration of knowledge, all of which comes from reading, we can help disseminate good ideas. Part of the academic life is refining your ideas, so that way they are more accurate and more humane, it has always been the importance of something like self-criticism, which reading allows.
So I would say: Facebook in and of itself may not be an evil, analytic philosophy in and of itself may not be elitist, and with our political insurgency, there may still be hope for the future. But you can come to a rich perspective, by reading books, and by thinking about these things.
It is important to read, as I see it, because it provides that nuance that I am talking about. In the world, there is a place for immediate action, but there is also a place for contemplation, and that is why, no matter how crazy the world gets or seems to us, we must continue to search for truth, and we can do that through reading good books.
Phoenix is a prolific writer, and has written over seventy books, and published more than fifteen. He actively engages with the world through his imagination, and seeks to inspire others with his writing, no matter how dark or raw it might be. He always hopes to make a connection with his readers. Also a musician, Phoenix lives in Salt Lake City, and engages with the world as fully and as passionately as he can. Find Phoenix at amazon.com/author/phoenix_rises