Years back, in CS Lewis’ essay ‘On The Reading of Old Books,’ I encountered a suggestion that has stuck with me ever since. Lewis posited that each generation of humanity takes certain things for granted: assumptions that go unexamined and unquestioned because they are commonly held by all. It was Lewis’ opinion that reading books written by prior generations would help us to see around these generational blind spots.
In her new book, Monoculture: How One Story Is Changing Everything, FS Michaels suggests that just such a blind spot has, over the course of generations, come to dominate the narrative and values that our society lives by. From education and the arts to how we eat, think, and play, Michaels asserts that we have been steeped in a single point of view, the economic, where value is reduced to what can be sold and worth is determined by financial expediency. Michael’s writing is clear and sharp as she brings the impact of this pervasive global philosophy down to the personal level, showing how it affects our lives in the everyday.
Michaels spent years researching this book and it shows. This book is packed full of observations and opinions from a wide range of economists, artists, philosophers and scholars, and Michaels introduces each new section of the book with a concise historical context outlining how things once were, how they developed, and how we arrived where we are. Michaels presents a clear argument without resorting to soapboxing, emotional appeals, or badgering. There is no guilt trip here, just a careful deconstruction of philosophical assumptions that too often go unquestioned. And while it is intellectually satisfying, Monoculture is no overbearing academic tome. Michaels’ writing is engaging and accessible for readers with a wide range of ability and interest. This is not a pounded pulpit, but a door opening into a discussion that we as a society badly need to have.
In a time of seemingly constant budget cuts and belt-tightening, this book is a valuable tool in provoking thought and discussion about how we as a society value the arts, education, and health. This is a book I have found myself recommending and lending out time and again as I talk with friends about what constitutes quality of life and what we each seek to gain from life and the world around us. Regardless of your political or philosophical point of view, Monoculture is a valuable discussion-starter in considering the shape of our world.