Books to Watch | April 6, 2021
April 06, 2021
This week, our choices are:
High Conflict: Why We Get Trapped and How We Get Out by Amanda Ripley, Simon & Schuster
Conflict is a healthy part of our lives and debates. To live in a world devoid of conflict would be to live without progress and growth. But there is a difference between a vigorous honest debate—and even ongoing disagreement—and the kind of unending, seemingly unbridgeable conflict that seems so prevalent today. Amanda Ripley explains the difference in her new book, High Conflict:
We need healthy conflict in order to defend ourselves, to understand each other and to improve. These days, we need much more of it, not less.
High conflict, by contrast, is what happens when conflict clarifies into a good-versus-evil kind of feud, the kind with anus and a them.
If I could take an oversimplified stab at defining the difference, I would say that healthy conflict is what we need to overcome the historic divisions that have been constructed in our society, while high conflict is what perpetuates them. But it goes beyond that, because what Ripley shows so clearly in her book is that high conflict perpetuates itself. It goes beyond any honest and reasonable policy difference between two sides, because it becomes unattached to policy differences. It becomes a self-perpetuating system of its own, in which you’d rather see the other side fail even if it means everybody loses, even if it means the things you believe in are sacrificed along the way. Again, from Ripley:
As we’ll see, we can get so mesmerized by high conflict that we don’t realize we have somehow started fighting on the wrong side—against our own cause. We can end up sacrificing what we most treasure.
We live in a world of immense complexity but tend to believe our choices are binary—between one side or the other. There are many culprits for this, ranging from relatively new partisan cable news networks and newfangled algorithms that boost the most sensational stories online to deep and centuries-old divisions that have been constructed and perpetuated in communities and societies all over the world. But if we can become curious about the other side, we can step back from the brink of high conflict and listen. If we do, we may realize that there isn’t really an other side, at all, but many facets of a whole, and rather than an us versus them divide, we can all, in Ripley’s words, “expand us to include them.” And don’t worry, we’ll still disagree and argue with each other on the other side of that understanding. (DJJS)
Huddle: How Women Unlock Their Collective Power by Brooke Baldwin, Harper Business
I think about this proverb whenever I feel overwhelmingly drawn to my anti-social tendencies: If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together. It's very normal to feel alone in our fights against larger and more complex systems and issues like oppression. What makes the fighting more lucrative and more bearable long-term is the support of others.
Journalist Brooke Baldwin had been a news anchor for 12 years, reporting on major people and events around the world, and seeing first-hand how women were left out of the spotlight. In the year leading up to the COVID-19 outbreak (which she would be bedridden with only a few months later), Baldwin was making connections around the country, interviewing bold and inspiring women for her book, gathering examples of how female support systems are essential for our own as well as society's benefit. It can be argued, also, that we need that "huddle" especially so today, when women have experienced more job loss than men due to the Pandemic.
I realized the process of witnessing so much vulnerability, so much leaning and convening, had truly been contagious. It had helped me tighten my own bonds with my friends.
We join Baldwin for her experiences both inside and outside of her journalism career: through President Trump's Inauguration to the next day's Women's March protest, a uniquely healing fitness class she loves to an "infamous yellow chair moment" in her mother's room during her loneliest summer as a 20-something. We get both a good view of her life and inner- dialogue as well as an overview of various women's efforts to connect with and include other women of all backgrounds. She looks to women leaders, nurses, mothers, professors, athletes, artists, and authors like Kayleen Schaefer, Megan Rapinoe, Ava DuVernay, and Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman (whose book was longlisted in last year's Porchlight Business Book Awards!), proving that women's support systems—both digitally and in-person—are important parts of society's progress toward equality. (GMC)
Hype: How Scammers, Grifters, and Con Artists Are Taking Over the Internet—and Why We're Following by Gabrielle Bluestone, Hanover Square Press
In a genre somewhere between true crime and AI/computers/technology is Hype: How Scammers, Grifters, and Con Artists Are Taking Over the Internet--and Why We're Following. For those who were intrigued by Tori Telfer's February 2021 release, Confident Women, you're going to want this book on your radar.
Author Gabrielle Bluestone is best known for executive producing Netflix's documentary Fyre about the music festival that was actually just a scam. This debacle led Bluestone to bigger questions of humans' reliance on and comfort in emotions over facts.
... I learned a whole lot about how scams are thriving in the age of social media—and how often we've collectively agreed as a society to treat hype as the real thing.
Hype highlights humans' social-media-altered psychology: we can believe anything we hear, because somewhere on the internet there is a website, a comment, a blog, or a Reddit thread that proves us right. We just have to ignore all the other sources that prove us wrong. (GMC)
Why We Are Restless: On the Modern Quest for Contentment by Benjamin Storey & Jenna Silber Storey, Princeton University Press
In a book with the word “modern” in its subtitle, you might not imagine finding yourself spending the bulk of your time in the company of four long-dead French philosophers, but such are the delights of academic presses—in particular, Benjamin and Jenna Silber Storey’s Why We Are Restless. And speaking of high conflict, Michel de Montaigne (the first of Storey’s four, which also includes Pascal, Rousseau, and Tocqueville) lived through a time in which it was not an uncommon desire or occurrence to, as the authors put it, “have one’s neighbors roasted alive over just how literally we should take that syllable” hoc. It was the word Montaigne wryly expressed was at the crux of the theological debate between Protestants and Catholics that led to literal massacres in his day. In response to such religious disputes and concerns of the immortal soul, Montaigne suggested the most pressing human problem was a concern for how to live. As the Storeys put it:
He challenged us to stay chez nous, to learn to be at home within ourselves and within our world, and to cease measuring our lives against any transcendent goal or standard. He challenges us to practice the art of immanent contentment.
It is this philosophical trajectory that set us in motion toward the right to the pursuit of happiness enshrined in our own constitution and led to the rise of the modern market and modern politics. It is all an anthropological and modern extension of the quest for contentment. Indeed, it seems as if the one transcendent worry young people have (especially those with ample education and opportunity) is that there are so many potential paths to it, and that they must convert that “potential into any particular course of life, converting a hazy but infinitely promising might be into a definite and limited is.” With the lessons from Pascal and the others, by learning from the past, and by choosing to start down our own paths with purpose, we can learn not only “to be at home within ourselves and within our world,” but how to shape both. (DJJS)