It’s that time of year again where I make note of how little I have written, but at least I’ve made up for it by reading more. Particularly, reading books on topics to ensure that what I did write (mostly university essays) was as polished as possible – and given my grades, for the most part, were good this year, it paid off. So like previous years (linked below), here is the first part of my 2022 reading list. As usual, it is in the order that I completed reading them – so enjoy the jumps between topics.
Country: Future Fire, Future Farming – Bruce Pascoe | Bill Gammage
This is the third book in the First Knowledges series, a series of books (published between 2021-2023) on our (Australia’s) First Nations’ peoples’ knowledges over a number of different topics – all worth reading. This one focussed on Country, distinct from countries as states or a synonym of merely land – the idea of Country as a dynamic and living thing created and maintained by the custodians of it for tens of thousands of years. Because, contrary to the story I grew up with of hunter gatherers who ran around with boomerangs in a paradise they could not possibly understand or appreciate, and which the white man felt entitled to, the land itself was meticulously curated.
This is something we learn more about every time our emergency and rural fire services confirm what First Nations’ people have told us during intense fire seasons. As Gammage describes it, they were “farmers without fences”, responding to the land rather than exploiting or ignoring it. I have no inclination towards the spiritual aspects, but it is undeniable that our connection, animals as we are, to nature is deep. A more sustainable relationship to rediscover that is required, and is argued for in this book.
How We Became Human and Why We Need to Change – Tim Dean
Admittedly, I do not remember much about this book. It was quick to read, and there was not a whole lot in there I found particularly ground-breaking so unfortunately my brain has leaked most of it out. Whether that’s because I just got through it too fast or because it was just a simple, almost introductory kind of book to multiple large questions, who knows. I read it though, so it’s on the list.
A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes – Stephen Hawking
Given how old and popular this book is, I imagine anyone with even a passing interest in popular science will have read Hawking’s work. Despite its age, which in a field as broad and deep as physics necessarily means it is a little dated or lacking on certain details, it is still a fantastic introduction to concepts such as entropy, the “big bang”, grand unified theories (GUTs) and more. What books like this, written by someone with as brilliant a mind as Hawking, really teach however is how little we actually know. Since Hawking’s passing there has been a lot of discoveries and confirmations, such as Hawking radiation, the Higgs field, dark matter, and whatever it is they’re finding out about that – paraphrasing Einstein – spooky quantum shit.
Dateline Jerusalem: Journalism’s Toughest Assignment – John Lyons
A tiny book, part of the “National Interest” series by Melbourne University, it succinctly describes the various ways in which the Australian media has trouble properly reporting on Palestine. From paid media junkets to scare tactics and lobbying by Israeli organisations, there are very few outlets that honestly report on anything to do with the Israeli occupation and crimes against Palestinians. So wide is this reach that the phrase “progressive except for Palestine” has become a label of various “leftist” outlets and commentators.
It, unfortunately, must be mentioned that there is very much a difference between Israeli influence in Western discourse on Palestine and the anti-Semitic conspiracy theories about Jewish people controlling global events. The state of Israel, a settler-colonial country created after the violent expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians and looked after by the United States (despite numerous diplomatic and military incidents detrimental to them), is not synonymous with the Jewish people or religion, no matter how much their genocidal government or conspiracy theorists might claim. In fact, to conflate the two is arguably the anti-Semitic stance, implicating Jews with such destructive forces.
Perhaps the most interesting observation from a book like this is that Australia is a settler-colonial society as well, although (for the most part) we aren’t explicitly trying to genocide or displace the remaining First Nations’ peoples. The shared origins with countries like the US and Israel undoubtedly plays a role in how we approach the plight of Palestine – if we admit Israel is illegitimate, what would that say about our colonial sovereignty? It is telling too how Indigenous peoples here, like Nelson Mandela and supporters of South African liberation during and after apartheid there, for the most part support the Palestinians.
The Conservative Revolution – Cory Bernardi
Bernardi is an absolute crackpot. In government and since, he is our version of the religious far-right in the US with frankly insane views on climate change, the queer movement, women’s rights, and various other fun discussions. That being said, if you can look past the buzzwords and outright hostility towards anyone who isn’t on his side, Bernardi actually offers a really good explanation of what conservatism is. That is, it is not necessarily an ideology of its own (although there are many valid arguments to be made that it can be), but that it is a disposition. I even took this argument to the extreme after reading this book and posited the (mostly ridiculous but interesting) notion of a conservative anarchism. For that alone I’d actually recommend reading it, if at least to see how he twists it to argue his own interests.
Alas, Bernardi is so entrenched in religious, corporate, and patriotic circles that the justifiably cautious approach to change inherent to such a disposition gives way to a fierce defense of tradition and the status quo. Anyone who opposes the core tenets of faith, family, flag, and free enterprise are tearing society apart and must be stopped by, as the title states, a conservative revolution. I imagine the irony of the ruling hegemon declaring a revolution is required is lost on Bernardi and those who agree with his dangerous antics.
Why Do People Hate America? – Ziauddin Sardar | Merryl Wyn Davies
This book was published in 2002, post-9/11 but before the illegal and destructive invasion and occupation of Iraq (and everything else since). Even so, it is a decent book. It discusses the reasons for global “hatred” of America, from its foreign policy and interference to its cultural and institutional control of global trade and governance. Not only that, but is explores how Americans themselves perceive not only the world around them (primarily through media stereotypes and pro-Western news), but also how they perceive themselves and their place in the world.
I’ve been in discussions with people who will advocate for noble ideals like democracy and human rights in some situations, but flip the roles to a different yet similar circumstance and suddenly the “rules-based international order” can be used to justify atrocities committed by our own side. One such example is those who (rightly) call for the cultural genocide (many omit the word cultural) and oppression against Uyghurs in Xinjiang by the Chinese government, yet ask “what genocide?” when it comes to Palestine. I had a fiery exchange with a university acquaintance that resulted in me cutting contact over this.
Obviously, hatred is not a productive means to solving the problems caused by the United States. In the two decades since the book was written, however, the rather optimistic call for policies and approaches by governments and individuals to reach a level of trust and cultural understanding seems rather quaint. Not that the authors were wrong to suggest it, but I’m sure the scale of the horrors of the 21st Century weren’t as easily predictable until after the invasion of Iraq.
The Cosmic Web: Mysterious Architecture of the Universe – John R. Gott
This was a really cool and fascinating book – if only I had any aptitude whatsoever to understand the mathematics behind it. You don’t really need it to understand the concepts, however, and for such a short looking book it packs a lot in. The cosmic web – the very structure of the visible universe and (most likely) beyond – is beautiful, on an incomprehensible scale. We can comprehend the numbers, and maybe even the size of our galaxy if you tried, but the web is titanic.
The book explores how the web formed as it did, and draws on various chains of evidence to show the inevitability of it. Not the inevitability that it formed exactly as it is (keep in mind chaos theory, the slightest of changes in initial conditions can cause drastically different outcomes), but just that the web structure itself happens in each simulation. One of the most fascinating lines of evidence, which is more inferred through observation than proved, is the cold dark matter model and the role of gravity. The universe is full of clusters, filaments and voids, and visible matter simply cannot explain the structure of our galaxy, let alone the cosmic web.
While the math terrifies me and some of the concepts can go over my head, books like this have really boosted my interest in cosmology and I would recommend it.
Future Histories – Lizzie O’Shea
This book is similar to Glimpses of Utopia by Jess Scully, on the list from last year, but with a more central focus on technological advances and history. O’Shea’s approach is to look to the future not with contemporary examples of liberatory ideas and movements, but to look through history to find insights that can help us shape the path forward. Like Scully’s work, the words socialism or communism are rarely, if at all, mentioned when discussing big ideas, but it is hard to miss the strong libertarian flavour of the book.
It goes through pretty typical topics like the bias of technology (such as AI, algorithms, facial recognition, etc.) and privacy, but isn’t afraid to dig deeper. The dream of the digital commons is revitalised, the idea of a more collaborative and equal approach to work is championed, and even the hope of automation leading to greater shared prosperity and more living than working is explored. This does, however, require a major shift not only in how technology is designed and utilised, but also how it is (collectively) governed. No easy task, but one that writers like O’Shea seem quite optimistic about.
Anarcho-Blackness: Notes Towards a Black Anarchism – Marquis Bey
This was a short but incredible book that I absolutely recommend – there’s not really much to say about it other than that it should be compulsory reading. For me, the most interesting and useful concept – which I have explicitly used in some of my own writing this year – is a focus on the anarchic, rather than simply the anarchist. There are countless liberatory groups and frameworks out there we can learn from and that will have unique and inspiring characteristics. Some anarchists, Bey says, are quite eager to label some of these as anarchist, even if the groups themselves do not use or even reject that label (think the Zapatistas in Mexico).
Instead, viewing these as anarchic, as moving in the direction of anarchy without definition or rigid pathways, not only ensures that they maintain their own autonomy and agency, but it opens up so many possibilities for liberation. Conditions and circumstances are different over time and place, including the future, so to try and label anything as “anarchist” (unless they explicitly label themselves as such) is a lose-lose and actually limits the liberatory potential.
The example I am most proud of this year is my essay of the role of the state in Indigenous affairs. As a white man who considers himself an anarchist, I certainly have my own views and ideas, but Indigenous liberation is something that must be determined by Indigenous peoples. I can bring an anarchic, if privileged, stance to Indigenous issues, but the moment I try and dictate that or attach the label of anarchist to such movements, it removes their agency to define themselves as they see fit. It should be a joy, not a hindrance, to meet people on their terms and share our ideas collectively rather than shove them inside boxes of our own making.
The Right to Sex – Amia Srinivasan
Another book I unfortunately can’t remember a huge amount about, but what I do remember is definitely enough to warrant recommending it. Srinivasan talks about feminism, sex, pornography, LGBT+ issues, patriarchy, consent, power and much more. As usual with a lot of feminist theory, or works discussing feminist theory, there is no real “right way” to go about it. Some women view porn as an evil, women as sex objects on a screen for the desires of men – others view it as a form of liberation, of speech, that they can use on their terms and under their control. Some consider motherhood and caring for a family to be the pinnacle of womanhood – others reject that in favour of careers, expressing themselves as an individual, or through their sexuality – still others contest the definitions of “womanhood” and “manhood”, as the social construct of gender is explored.
My take from this book, similar to my approach to Indigenous liberation following Bey’s ideas, is that there are a collective of views, and so long as the freedom and liberation of women to choose what they wish to do is maintained, then feminism is working in a positive direction.