Books about society as an irrational enterprise
September 12, 2021 9:42 AM   Subscribe

Looking for books or articles that, either broadly or through examining a specific instance or phenomenon, illustrate or argue that society is governed primarily by subconscious, irrational or logically flawed forces: myth, superstition, dreams, deep cultural archetypes, mass hysteria, biological drives, viral ideas, closed circuit reference primarily to simulacra, etc.

I'm not interested in arguing this idea, just reading what well-informed others have to say about it.
posted by ryanshepard to Society & Culture (12 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
Think anything by Baudrillard might meet this req, particularly his book on Simulacra.
posted by BAKERSFIELD! at 9:47 AM on September 12, 2021 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Texts that come to mind, all provocative but dubious IMO:

Bataille, The Accursed Share
Canetti, Crowds and Power
Girard, Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World
posted by Wobbuffet at 10:04 AM on September 12, 2021

Well, there is Freud. Totem and Taboo especially.
posted by nantucket at 10:13 AM on September 12, 2021 [1 favorite]

John Zerzan is a rabbit hole you can fall down towards "anarcho primitivism" and related critiques of post-agriculture civilization. I thought of him in this question because he tried to do some history about popular resistance to technologies like timekeeping and land enclosure.
posted by panhopticon at 10:21 AM on September 12, 2021

Best answer: One good overview of apocalyptic belief is Apocalypses by Eugen Weber.

I enjoyed Society Against the State by Pierre Clastres. It questions how the State came to be the dominating mode of societal organization.

Richard Sennet's The Uses of Disorder is a great critique on how orderly cities have a negative impact on society.

From Folk Psychology to Cognitive Science takes on the notion of belief itself.

Bitter Carnival by Michael Bernstein focuses on the "abject hero" in literature and society.

The Evolution of Evil by Timothy Anders is a layperson's look into the downsides of the evolution of human consciousness.

I'll also second Bataille's The Accursed Share.
posted by perhapses at 10:22 AM on September 12, 2021 [1 favorite]

The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K LeGuin is a fictional novel about this.
posted by ewok_academy at 10:32 AM on September 12, 2021

Response by poster: Some spot-on suggestions so far - please keep them coming.
posted by ryanshepard at 11:24 AM on September 12, 2021

Best answer: We Have Never Been Modern (Bruno Latour)
posted by migurski at 11:38 AM on September 12, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The framing of the question makes me think mostly of the psychoanalysis tradition. Freud's Civilization and its Discontents is the first to come to mind. I found The Denial of Death by Ernest Becker to be a compelling updating. Pretty much anything by Slavoj Zizek fits the bill (I would start with The Sublime Object of Ideology). If you want to go back further, Nietzsche.

More broadly, it sounds like what you're interested in is "counter-enlightenment" thinking, or even Romanticism. Isaiah Berlin's Three Critics of the Enlightenment: Vico, Hamann, Herder might be helpful.
posted by demonic winged headgear at 11:39 AM on September 12, 2021

Sapiens by Yuval Harari
posted by thereader at 12:34 PM on September 12, 2021

Your question reminded me of a joke about the writings of Jean-Paul Sartre (drawn from a 2016-02-08 AskReddit post):

Jean-Paul Sartre is sitting at a French cafe, revising his draft of Being and Nothingness. He says to the waitress, "I'd like a cup of coffee, please, with no cream." The waitress replies: "I'm sorry, Monsieur, but we're out of cream. How about with no milk?"

One of the responses to the joke explained that it alludes to Sartre's distinction between the appearance of choice vs. genuine choice. He couldn't choose to have coffee with no cream, but he could choose to have it with no milk.

Although I quoted a joke, I seriously believe that this flaw underlies most modern societies.
posted by forthright at 2:08 PM on September 12, 2021 [9 favorites]

« Older Recommend some blogs please like it's 2007   |   Why can’t I dance? Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments