Seeking a Paradigm Shift
May 28, 2021 6:11 PM   Subscribe

What is an article or essay that you have read that caused a dramatic change in your thinking / perspective / life?

I want to read something intellectual / philisophical / academic that might blow my mind or give me amazing new insight into some aspect of humanity.

An article or essay or interview rather than a book.

Preferably contemporary (last 10 years) but open to any time.

Some of the things I am interested in are: radical left politics, cultural theory, critical theory, sociology, philosophy... I'm a psychologist by trade so I've read a LOT of psych related material. I also read a lot generally.

Fellow thinkers and readers - I would love to hear what you've read that has blown your mind :)

(Nothing too hard-sciencey please.)
posted by beccyjoe to Society & Culture (47 answers total) 172 users marked this as a favorite
Saidiya Hartman's Scenes of Subjection. She has newer books that are also great but this is the one that properly BLEW MY MIND.

Runners up: Michel de Certeau's The Practice of Everyday Life; Jane Bennett's Vibrant Matter; Jose Munoz' Disidentifications, Susan Bordo's Unbearable Weight, Jacques Ranciere's Dissent; Judith Butler's Giving an Account of Oneself
posted by athirstforsalt at 6:26 PM on May 28, 2021 [6 favorites]

Best answer: What is it like to be a bat?

It broke my brain the first time I read it, and I think it made me a better person once I incorporated the philosophical concepts into my worldview.
posted by BuddhaInABucket at 6:28 PM on May 28, 2021 [13 favorites]

Ugh you said no books. Close reading fail. I spend a lot of time thinking about this unassumingly brilliant essay.
posted by athirstforsalt at 6:29 PM on May 28, 2021 [3 favorites]

This isn’t an article, but there was an episode of On the Media (a radio show/podcast) about natural gas that completely flipped my views about it upside down.
posted by jeoc at 6:42 PM on May 28, 2021 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: @athirstforsalt - thats ok! I will take note of the book recs too :)
posted by beccyjoe at 6:53 PM on May 28, 2021 [1 favorite]

Is DFW’s This Is Water too obvious?
posted by kevinbelt at 6:54 PM on May 28, 2021 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: @kevinbelt nope!! never read it. I've really missed the whole DFW train, never too late tho. thanks.
posted by beccyjoe at 7:00 PM on May 28, 2021

I asked a similar question a while back. Some of the answers might be what you're looking for.
posted by xenization at 7:09 PM on May 28, 2021 [4 favorites]

The Spoon Theory.
For both those that need to count their spoons - and even more, for everyone else.
posted by stormyteal at 7:27 PM on May 28, 2021 [16 favorites]

Yeah, a book, but rather slim (and you can find it online if you look): Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind. It's such a calm read that it sneaks up on you.

Do Easy is a video but adapted from a 'story'.
posted by zengargoyle at 8:12 PM on May 28, 2021 [6 favorites]

I'm generally not a science guy but I recently found The Fractalist: The Memoir of Benoit Mandelbrot surprisingly easy to grasp and an ultimately inspiring read.

Long story short: it takes a Jewish kid who gets separated from his parents during WW2 and ultimately ends up at IBM in the early 1960s to finally capture the thumbprint of God.
posted by philip-random at 8:31 PM on May 28, 2021 [2 favorites]

Literacy Privilege: How I Learned to Check Mine Instead of Making Fun of People’s Grammar on the Internet

Part two

Part three
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 8:39 PM on May 28, 2021 [8 favorites]

Economic reasoning and the ethics of policy. Schelling is the clearest deep thinker I've read. I can't summarize, but try the first 5 pages; that's enough to know if it's right for you.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 9:36 PM on May 28, 2021 [3 favorites]

I asked a similar-ish question a while ago as well, take a look at those answers too!
posted by carlypennylane at 9:48 PM on May 28, 2021 [1 favorite]

Toni Cade Bambara, "The Pill: Genocide or Liberation" (1970). It's not that easy to find, from memory it didn't appear in later editions of The Black Woman: An Anthology, but it's worth tracking down.
posted by trotzdem_kunst at 9:57 PM on May 28, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Silvia Federici's Wages Against Housework (1974).
posted by spamandkimchi at 10:32 PM on May 28, 2021 [7 favorites]

Donna Haraway's book Staying with the Trouble has an early chapter (Ch 2) where she writes about grief and the need to “cultivate ongoingness” that I think about all the time: “Grief is a path to understanding entangled shared living and dying; human beings must grieve with, because we are in and of this fabric of undoing. Without sustained remembrance, we cannot learn to live with ghosts and so cannot think."

In that same chapter, Haraway quotes from the book Flight Ways by ecological philosopher Thom van Dooren on how mourning is intrinsic to cultivating response-ability. van Dooren is worth reading too, but I think Haraway excerpted the most powerful paragraph.
Mourning is about dwelling with a loss and so coming to appreciate what it means, how the world has changed, and how we must ourselves change and renew our relationships if we are to move forward from here. In this context, genuine mourning should open us into an awareness of our dependence on and relationships with those countless others being driven over the edge of extinction . . . The reality, however, is that there is no avoiding the necessity of the difficult cultural work of reflection and mourning. This work is not opposed to practical action, rather it is the foundation of any sustainable and informed response.
posted by spamandkimchi at 10:44 PM on May 28, 2021 [3 favorites]

What a fun question. I mostly have books. Rilke's Letters to a Young poet is incredibly brief but will push a curve. Murakami's confessions of a Shinagawa monkey pushed a curve (a short, not a book). Revolution of Everyday Life, Raoul Vaneigem. But complete shift in perspective in less than a book?

posted by firstdaffodils at 11:27 PM on May 28, 2021 [1 favorite]

On changing your mind you might like the 2008 Edge Annual Question What have you changed your mind about? Why? 166 responses, sciencey but the respondents can't get too hard in a few paragraphs. There may be some unknown unknowns grist to your mill.
posted by BobTheScientist at 12:47 AM on May 29, 2021 [1 favorite]

Considering your interests, it's possible you've encountered Mark Fisher and responsibilisation and/or The BuzzFeedification of Mental Health. Also: Sexism in the Academy, Jia Tolentino: No Offense. This Burial interview has stuck with me, he has a thoughtful approach to cultivating one's own creative world.
posted by TayBridge at 12:56 AM on May 29, 2021 [7 favorites]

I'm not sure this is exactly what you're looking for, but it's helped me a lot: Bonita Friedman's 1989 NYT essay 'Envy, The Writer's Disease'.

I've struggled a lot with creative envy over the years, and have read a lot of bland, platitude-laden blog posts about how one shouldn't compare oneself with others, but the Friedman essay is the only thing that's really stuck or helped my shift my envious tendencies.

What particularly helped was the specific examples Friedman gives of talented writers she's known who gave up too easily in the face of rejection, even the best kind of rejection where the editor praises your work in some way and asks to see more. As a writer who struggles with resilience more than skill, time or effort, this essay has helped me stay on course during times when I might have otherwise ended up dejected enough to quit altogether.
posted by terretu at 2:19 AM on May 29, 2021 [5 favorites]


Essays (Emerson).

I really liked Emerson. I remember my high school freshman english teacher Miss English (truly) telling me that I would like the transcendentalists.
posted by zengargoyle at 4:43 AM on May 29, 2021 [2 favorites]

A couple of bang for your buck recommendations. Neither is recent, or anything approaching the last word in the debates they engage in, but both make arguments about knowledge and meaning (to some extent respectively) that opened up ways for me to think with a degree of rigour both about uncertainty and in acknowledgement of it.

Louis Althusser's Contradiction and Overdetermination (pdf, 21 pages, ~9,000 words, trans. Ben Brewster but linked version seems to be revised from the original translation) greatly changed the way I think about the historicity of models of historical change, the historical and structural issues complicating all conceptual maps of reality's shifting terrain, and the involvement of those maps, and the forces they guide, in changing that terrain and our relationships to it.

W.V.O. Quine's Two Dogmas of Empiricism (website containing text ~11,000 words including tables of amendments, ~20 pages printed) is probably still the paper that most affected the way I think about what our claims about meaning amount to, as opposed to what they purport to amount to.

As a bonus, as not as brief, Derrida's White Mythology (link goes to page with link to pdf, ~70 pages, trans. F.C.T. Moore) is probably the best introduction to his thought on the group of issues the two papers above are related to, which you may find thrilling and illuminating, annoying and confusing, or all of these in varying measure. If you find the Althusser paper interesting and sufficiently readable, you might give it a go.
posted by howfar at 5:10 AM on May 29, 2021 [2 favorites]

Baltasar Gracián, The Art of Worldly Wisdom, The Art of Worldly Wisdom Index.
i Everything is at its Acme;

especially the art of making one's way in the world. There is more required nowadays to make a single wise man than formerly to make Seven Sages, and more is needed nowadays to deal with a single person than was required with a whole people in former times.

ii Character and Intellect:

the two poles of our capacity; one without the other is but halfway to happiness. Intellect sufficeth not, character is also needed. On the other hand, it is the fool's misfortune, to fail in obtaining the position, the employment, the neighbourhood, and the circle of friends that suit him.

iii Keep Matters for a Time in Suspense.

Admiration at their novelty heightens the value of your achievements, It is both useless and insipid to play with the cards on the table. If you do not declare yourself immediately, you arouse expectation, especially when the importance of your position makes you the object of general attention. Mix a little mystery with everything, and the very mystery arouses veneration. And when you explain, be not too explicit, just as you do not expose your inmost thoughts in ordinary intercourse. Cautious silence is the holy of holies of worldly wisdom. A resolution declared is never highly thought of; it only leaves room for criticism. And if it happens to fail, you are doubly unfortunate. Besides you imitate the Divine way when you cause men to wonder and watch.
There are a bunch of essay-like like collections that make good fortune files, a bit of odd wisdom here and there. Tao Te Ching, The Art of War, The Book of Five Rings.

Even other acerbic Burroughs Words of Advice for Young People, William S. Burroughs - A Thanksgiving Prayer.

(one of my time-travel regrets-but-actually-no was to try dropping in on Burroughs when I lived nearby. Figured the old crazy coot would probably shoot me if I rang his doorbell.)
posted by zengargoyle at 5:15 AM on May 29, 2021 [2 favorites]

Geoffrey B. West's work on scaling laws and human structures was an important one for me. I learned about it first from a Long Now seminar, which remains a very good introduction, but many of the papers are pretty readable without any specific training except a familiarity with interpreting quantitative plots, significance, and such.

(Note that I think he's probably wrong about several things. But, he's wrong in interesting ways.)
posted by eotvos at 6:06 AM on May 29, 2021 [1 favorite]

The Future of Knowing by Andrew Abbott
posted by Morpeth at 7:02 AM on May 29, 2021 [1 favorite]

This isn't very academic at all, but this line in Always Go The Funeral made me a better person.

In my humdrum life, the daily battle hasn't been good versus evil. It's hardly so epic. Most days, my real battle is doing good versus doing nothing.
posted by kimberussell at 8:09 AM on May 29, 2021 [18 favorites]

On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs by the late David Graeber. This was turned into an equally good and expansive book.
posted by panhopticon at 8:19 AM on May 29, 2021 [6 favorites]

I find the best way to get a new perspective is to switch topics, so to NOT read topics you already care about. Instead read, say, Rich Dad, Poor Dad (a book on personal finance that's often cited as life changing. That said, I haven't personally read it).

But my real answer is Caliban and the Witch, or listen to the discussion of it in the Book on Fire podcast. I'm only on Chapter 2, but it's really changing how I see things.
posted by slidell at 8:30 AM on May 29, 2021 [2 favorites]

"The Futile Pursuit of Happiness" really changed the way I look at... well, happiness. It's a New York Times article from 2003, but I think it holds up well.

Gary Francione is a law professor at Rutgers University Law School. His main interest is animal rights. When I encountered his work about 20 years ago, it totally changed the way I look at animal-related issues. See this transcript and this one for a great overview of Francione's philosophy. Note that these are not essays, per se, but rather transcripts of interviews. Still, they're well-organized, engaging, and easy to read.
posted by alex1965 at 8:30 AM on May 29, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Autistic Disruptions - this is still sinking in and changing how I think about a lot of things.
posted by latkes at 9:41 AM on May 29, 2021 [4 favorites]

Best answer: War Making and State Making as Organised Crime by Charles Tilly
posted by crocomancer at 9:48 AM on May 29, 2021

Best answer: A favorite very short "Spiritual Mind Blown" of mine is the "Reverse Rapture" by Peter Rollins (I'm assuming religion is a subset of philosophy).
posted by forthright at 10:21 AM on May 29, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Noam Chomsky's 1971 takedown of B F Skinner, The Case Against B F Skinner, is an enduring monument of english invective prose among many other things.

Skinner's reputation sank faster than the Titanic after its encounter with Chomsky's cold and implacable fury, and left fewer survivors. Behaviorism itself went the way of the big steam powered liners soon thereafter, and I don't think Harvard's Department of Psychology has ever truly recovered.
posted by jamjam at 12:20 PM on May 29, 2021 [5 favorites]

Eckhart Tolle's "A New Earth" - dramatically and lastingly altered my perception of relationships, societal problems and personal states of being.
posted by mrmarley at 12:58 PM on May 29, 2021 [1 favorite]

Albert Camus, "Reflections on the Guillotine" - published in 1957. Remarkably powerful essay against the death penalty, along with a more wide-ranging consideration of justice and the state. Still quite relevant sixty years later.

Ronald Wright's "A Short History of Progress" is a series of lectures transcribed into a ~200 page book. As far as literature that changed my point of view on human society, this one is near the top of the list. It pushes the limit of the "no books" rule, but it is interesting and profoundly discomfiting.
posted by cubeb at 1:28 PM on May 29, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Author and journalist Robert Whitaker has forever changed the way that I look at psychiatric drugs. He's written several books on this subject, but I know you (the OP) are looking for shorter pieces. Check out this interview published in Street Spirit. It's a nice summary of Whitaker's work (or at least an introduction to it).

Another essay that influenced me is "Beware the man of one study", written by Scott Alexander on his blog, Slate Star Codex (now renamed Astral Codex Ten).
posted by alex1965 at 1:30 PM on May 29, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: The late Mark Fisher's Capitalist Realism made me reconsider protest, possibility, and the seeming imperviousness of current society to change. (Link is to PDF).
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 5:22 PM on May 29, 2021 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks so much everyone for your suggestions!

There are some great looking texts here, I really appreciate it. I've encountered a few of them already, but the others I have opened on separate tabs and will take my time checking them out, but looking forward to it.

Many thanks, hive mind.
posted by beccyjoe at 9:19 PM on May 29, 2021 [2 favorites]

Eli Clare's book Brilliant Imperfection: Grappling With Cure, about disability justice. Here's an interview.
posted by ecs104 at 11:27 PM on May 29, 2021 [1 favorite]

Robert Cover's Violence and the Word [pdf], an essay written in 1986, just before his untimely death of a heart attack at age 42. In it he lays bare the essential fact that the act of legal interpretation is an act of violence. Although legal scholarship and argumentation may be dressed up as a philosophical exercise or as gentle civil discourse, its ultimate end is the removal of property, freedom, or even lives. I strongly recommend it for anyone with an interest in the law, professionally or as a wider institution.
posted by jedicus at 9:10 AM on May 30, 2021 [3 favorites]

The short piece that's recently packed the greatest conceptual punch per word, for me, is Frank Wilhoit's pithy summary of the state of play in political philosophy.

Puts his finger right on the nub of the thing.
posted by flabdablet at 9:35 AM on May 30, 2021 [3 favorites]

John Hersey's Hiroshima is arguably one of the best essays published in the 20th century (it took up an entire issue of the New Yorker) and has haunted me ever since I read it.
posted by mostly vowels at 9:50 AM on May 31, 2021

Movement Matters by Katy Bowman. Technically a book, but it's a series of essays about how truly sedentary our culture is compared to how our bodies evolved to move. Really changed my worldview and makes me more aware of the tiny ways we reduce movement under a guise of "comfort" and "efficiency"
posted by theRussian at 8:19 PM on June 1, 2021 [1 favorite]

I found and continue to find Hazlitt's "On The Love Of The Country" very affecting, and it was a good perspective-fixer for me as a young man.

For my money Hazlitt is one of the best essayists in the business, but not all of them are exactly revelatory - merely pleasurable.
posted by turbid dahlia at 3:36 PM on June 2, 2021

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