In 2019, the equivalency of knowledge and power is not just an adage, but a warning. However, an American public that stays defiantly informed can also turn knowledge into hope.
Author Isaac Asimov once said, "There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been.
The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge." In 2019, the equivalency of knowledge and power is not just an adage, but a warning. However, an American public that stays defiantly informed can also turn knowledge into hope.
Here are 10 books every (informed) American should read:
Travels with Charley: In Search of America by John Steinbeck
If you don't read the Steinbeck classics, The Grapes of Wrath and Of Mice and Men, you're doing yourself a disservice. But, if there's only one Steinbeck book you do make time for, make sure it's his autobiographical travel memoir of taking his lumbering RV and charismatic dog across America. He makes due with whatever conversation and company he finds, not driven by any great American ambition other than finding moments of connection in a diverse landscape.
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
One of America's most loved authors, Heller's humor and biting observations capture the precarity of individualism in the face of war. The foundations of American cynicism and anti-war sentiment are encapsulated in the eponymous bureaucratic rule of Catch-22: "a man is considered insane if he willingly continues to fly dangerous combat missions, but if he makes a formal request to be removed from duty, he is proven sane and therefore ineligible to be relieved."
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
As much as the movie adaptations of Frankenstein's monster are icons in America cinema, the philosophical depths of the novel are sadly lost. Individuality and personal responsibility are two major burdens that neither creator nor creation are capable of managing well. There's also something to be said about the element of spectatorship that Shelley frames the novel with, as the story unfolds through a series of letters and switches narration like a mind-bending Black Mirror episode.
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Coates manages to capture both the history and enduring tension of race relations in modern America in what Toni Morrison calls "required reading." Written as a letter to his son, Coates' writing is an alchemy of memoir, oral history, and calls to action. He aims to explore how "Americans have built an empire on the idea of 'Rae,' a falsehood that damages us all but falls most heavily on the bodies of black women and men...What is it like to inhabit a black body and find a way to live in it?"
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
This classic fantasy adventure isn't a political science essay or a philosophical treatise, but the payoff is just as strong–if not stronger. Alienation, otherness, nihilism, and, above all, personal resilience take Arthur Dent through the galaxy after his home (along with the rest of earth) is destroyed one casual morning.
Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card
In the same vein, this sci-fi novel is like Machiavelli's The Prince retold as a dystopian space saga. The value of individual innocence in the face of the greater good is challenged. The series explores the moral boundaries of powerful men using innocents as weapons in a war they can't understand.
Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay
Gray's book of essays explores the contradictions inherent in what we understand modern "feminism" to mean. Mixing humor with sharp observation, Gay targets issues as banal as choosing pink as her favorite color as well as timelessly complex matters such as domestic abuse and abortion.
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
This one also gets named on every list of "books you need to read" because of its plain and eerie predictions of how dependent society will become on media for its opinions and worldview, as well as entertainment.
The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
If you can't read the entire canons of solipsism, emotional psychology, and the art of satire, you can absorb the whimsical explorations of The Little Prince. Put simply, a boy prince journeys from planet to planet, each populated by a single adult. His conversations with each one create "a heartfelt exposition of sadness and solitude." Originally written in French, it's universally poetic.
1984 by George Orwell
Knowing the references isn't enough with this classic; again, you have to read it for yourself in order to see dystopian America in your mind's eye. From the cognitive dissonance of war crimes to the contradictions of government propaganda, you need to come to your own conclusions about what an Orwellian future looks like.
Gone at 81, his legacy will live on
Thoughts and prayers are ringing in with harmony at the news that Senator John McCain lost his brave battle with brain cancer. A life well-lived, filled with strength and struggle, wins and losses, and ups and downs, McCain's 81 years on Earth have left a mighty legacy, one that his family will forever cherish, politicians from both sides of the aisle appreciate, and Americans admire.
Political affiliations aside, most agree that McCain was a true hero – in every sense of the word. Be it his unimaginable imprisonment in Vietnam, his devotion to his family, his thoughtful approach to politics, or his courage against cancer, McCain made a difference, created conversation, and gifted us with values and integrity that seem to be otherwise slipping away.
McCain once wrote, "I made a small place for myself in the story of America and the history of my times." But many would argue his place was far more profound. His life as a warrior, an independent voice among the Republican party, and a true leader among colleagues and candidates, McCain's drive, determination, and duty to our country never waned and was welcomed by those who subscribed to his sensibilities, wanted something better to believe in, and a future to look forward to.
On the campaign trailuselectionatlas.org
As reported by NBC News, "'With the senator when he passed were his wife, Cindy, and their family. At his death, he had served the United States of America faithfully for 60 years,' McCain's office said in (a) statement."
Known for his wit as much as his work on Capitol Hill, McCain's fair and balanced take on issues gained him well-deserved recognition and camaraderie. As NBC News eloquently explains, "In his 36 years in Congress, McCain became one of the country's most respected and influential politicians, challenging his fellow lawmakers to reach across the aisle for the good of the country. On a variety of issues — torture, immigration, campaign finance, the Iraq War — McCain was often known as the moral center of the Senate and of the Republican Party."
A father's love www.etonline.com
His daughter, Meghan McCain, shared, "All that I am is thanks to him. Now that he is gone, the task of my lifetime is to live up to his example, his expectations, and his love." Perhaps we can all take something from his example and use it to raise the bar, challenge ourselves, and show compassion when it counts.
I love you forever - my beloved father @SenJohnMcCain pic.twitter.com/Y50tVQvlVe
— Meghan McCain (@MeghanMcCain) August 26, 2018
A maverick, a man of honor, John McCain. Rest in peace.
The refugee crisis is becoming impossible to ignore.
There are currently 68.5 million people in the world who have been displaced because of war or racial/religious persecution. This is the highest this number has been since World War II, and as natural resources and access to clean water begin to dwindle, this number is projected to grow significantly. In response to this issue, the West has begun closing its borders in fear of mass migration. This fear however, is misguided. According to the U.N., most refugees don't go further than the countries neighboring their homelands. Still, the refugee crisis continues to grow unabated, so much so, that it threatens to be the defining marker of the 21st century. It's a multifaceted problem that's very difficult to solve, impossible if the following factors aren't properly addressed. Here's a look at the five major contributors to the world refugee crisis.
For the past century, the Middle East has been a warzone. Following the events of 9/11 the United States entered the region, getting embroiled in conflicts in both Afghanistan and Iraq. For the Afghans, war was nothing new. The country has been in a perpetual state of violence since the Saur revolution in 1978. After the civil war, the USSR invaded Afghanistan to help keep the the communist PDPA in power. The PDPA's ideologies didn't align particularly well with the more religious and rurally-based Afghan population. In true Cold War fashion, the U.S. armed the fundamentalist Mujahideen in their fight against the Soviets. The country has been at war ever since and the fighting has resulted in millions of deaths. As a direct result, Afghanistan has the largest refugee population in all of Asia at 2.6 million people.
Things aren't much better on the other side of Iran. Following the U.S. invasion of Iraq, the levant became increasingly destabilized, allowing militant groups like ISIS to proliferate throughout the region. This destabilization also poured into Syria, a country already in the midst of civil war that has left over 13 million in need of humanitarian assistance. Other countries currently in the midst of civil wars include Somalia and Yemen, both of which are dealing with an influx of Al Qaeda insurgents.
Despite the fact that genocide and crimes against humanity are forbidden by international law, ethnic and religious persecution persists all over the world. For years, the Sudanese government persecuted the Fur, Masalit, and Zaghawa ethnic groups, systematically killing hundreds of thousands and leaving over one million refugees. Myanmar is dealing with a similar issue, in which the Buddhist majority is attempting to push the Muslim majority out of the country by force. Thousands have been killed, and hundreds of thousands of people have poured over the border into Bangladesh and been forced to stay in overcrowded camps.
As of right now, the two greatest contributors to the refugee crisis are state sanctioned violence in the form of ethnic persecution and war. 55% of all refugees come from Afghanistan, South Sudan, and Syria. That said, over 1.1 billion people lack access water. Improper sanitation is a problem for 2.4 billion people, exposing them to all kinds of waterborne illnesses. Water scarcity may not play a huge role in today's refugee crisis, but it will almost certainly play a part in the near future. Scarcity, particularly scarcity of essential resources, breeds conflict and civil strife. While the eventual cause of this future refugee crisis will be either war or some sort of persecution, water will have been the catalyst.
As climate change intensifies, many are predicting that it will increase the size and scope of the refugee crisis significantly. The mediterranean region is currently in the midst of its worst drought in over 900 years. On top of this, if global warming continues at the same rate, more than 1 billion people will be living in places where the average temperature is 102˚F. Combine this with the future natural disasters global warming is nearly guaranteed to cause, and a perfect storm is created, leaving millions with no other option but to leave their homes in search of greener pastures. Hurricane Irma and Harvey were just the beginning. As massive ecological disasters become the norm, large swathes of the planet will become uninhabitable.
Throughout history, famines have caused mass migration and the levels of famine in South Sudan are currently at an unprecedented level. This past January, nearly half the population didn't have enough to eat. Nearby, in Somalia, they are suffering from a similar problem. The thing these two countries have in common is that they're both suffering from droughts, illustrating the ways in which a dwindling water supply can devastate a society's ability to feed itself. Huge amounts of people in the Horn of Africa, Nigeria, and Yemen are currently starving, and they'll probably be clamoring to leave their countries before long.
There are many who would argue that humanity has gotten less violent throughout history, but one look at the headlines and it's easy to prove that this isn't the case. The difference now is that violence doesn't typically occur between powerful nation states–that it's the poorer countries and factions who are left to fight over their limited resources. The death tolls from fighting alone are lower, but regimes are becoming more creative, weaponizing famine and hoarding resources as a means of oppression. These methods have created nearly 70 million refugees so far and when issues like climate change and water shortage come to a head in the next few decades, the refugee crisis is only going to get worse.
Matt Clibanoff is a writer and editor based in New York City who covers music, politics, sports and pop culture. His editorial work can be found in Inked Magazine, Pop Dust, The Liberty Project, and All Things Go. His fiction has been published in Forth Magazine. -- Find Matt at his website and on Twitter: @mattclibanoff