I’ve been influenced by dozens of sources, but some books have exerted unusual influence.
This does not mean I’ve become a disciple of the authors of these books. Nor does it even mean I interpreted or used these works in a way the authors would have ever intended. Nor does it mean that they would in any way approve of my views.
The important thing is that they propose models of reality that make sense.
1) Diplomacy – Henry Kissinger
If you want to learn how a shepherd of the human herd sees the world, this book is a useful resource.
Kissinger not only gives us an entertaining history of the powerful men who drew all the lines on maps in grand conferences, his role as one of these men makes his narrative resonate on another level.
His envy for the truly powerful monarchs and nobles of Napoleon’s day is transparent – as are his own frustrations with having to placate the public while negotiating with North Vietnam.
Whatever we may think of Kissinger, his ideas boil down to one coherent concept: Power.
Kissinger cuts right through the veneer of diplomatic ceremony and tells us exactly what each side seeks to gain with every cordially worded dispatch.
One of the most important lessons that this book can teach is how even the herders are mere slaves to the macro trends. In a three hundred year slice of European history we repeatedly see how the rulers are impotent as their kingdoms careen toward a tragedy of the commons.
The balance of power determines outcomes far more than kings.
He contrasts the conference of Vienna that changed Europe by decisively altering the balance of power to the treaty at Versailles that failed to make any fundamental changes.
Many of us tend to blame the troubles of the world on an omnipotent cadre of elites. This book is a primer on just how small elites are next to much larger forces.
2) The Culture Code – Clotaire Rapaille
By gathering randomly selected sample groups and asking them questions, Rapaille distills their collective concept of anything down to a single word.
He asks them how they feel about a certain topic or he might ask them for childhood memories about it.
For instance, he might ask a group to brainstorm whatever words come to mind about ‘luxury’ or ‘peanut butter.’
There are patterns that are consistent throughout samples of hundreds of people from the same cultural bloc.
If you talk to hundreds of Americans from all ages and both genders you will find that:
Food = FUEL
Money = PROOF
The key is not in asking any single person what they want, but in learning what is in the mind of the collective.
Products that give this collective subconscious what it wants are the products that sell. They are ‘on code.’
Reading this book, I realize that I’ve never quite been ‘on code’ with the collective will. Many of the difficulties I’ve had in life make a lot more sense. It has little to do with individuals I’ve met. It’s about the collective.
This book explains how the American hive mind sees the human body as a machine and cares mostly about status climbing.
He spells out everything I’ve always felt down in my gut. I’d always felt a deep contempt in my birth culture for the needs of the flesh and perceived that no matter what people say, income is the truest measure of our worth.
This book is potentially an excellent survival guide for a heretic. It allows one to consciously avoid ‘off code’ opinions and behaviors in public.
One can predict with remarkable accuracy how people will really judge in their heart of hearts and who can really be trusted:
-If you don’t have a ‘career’, the ‘on code’ person will see you as a loser no matter what they tell you.
-If you eat a delicious goat cheese instead of a bland plateful of spaghetti, they will secretly hate you. Food is fuel! Expressing more than contempt for our bodies breaks a powerful taboo.
If you look inside someone’s pantry and see Jif or Skippy peanut butter, the dissident ought to tread lightly. This mass market gooey peanut butter is the ambrosia of those with warm and fuzzy feelings for mainstream American culture.
3) Class – Paul Fussell
Fussell exactly predicted most of the decorations in my maternal grandmother’s house – apparently she was a textbook example of a high prole.
It became painfully apparent as I read this book that both my parents began as high proles and spent a lifetime trying to be middle class.
Thus growing up, I got a double dose of the stifling anxiety that defines all things middle class. My life practically stood explained and there was nothing cool or extraordinary about it. In many ways, between nature and nurture I was set up to be a prime candidate for heresy.
This book really strips away illusions and reveals the truth about your place in society in its full banality.
It’s also hilarious. The author includes illustrations of the stereotypical dwellings, dress, facial features, and facial expressions of each class.
He associates furry toilet seat covers and garden gnomes with proles.
He sets forth airports as high temples to middle class mediocrity, pointing out how terms like ‘flotation device’ cater to ridiculous middle class notions of gentrified language.
Most importantly, Class is a manual for escaping the class rat race.
No matter how much one might want out, one inevitably repeats patterns of behavior learned early in life.
This brutally honest look at the class structure can help us break the cycle.
I would of course invite readers to suggest books that shaped their own world view.