Yes, I realize this is somewhat of a weird post. After all, Jungle came out just two weeks ago. If anything, I should be pushing you to read that.
And, well, I still am. Today’s post doesn’t really take away from that. The title I’m recommending today, for instance, is non-fiction. As opposed to Jungle, which is fiction. It does, however, discuss some issues that Jungle explores and even addresses, elements that were underlying themes even in Colony.
But before we get too into that, what is Why You Should Read …? Pretty simple, actually. It’s a recommendation post. Something I’ve always been a big proponent of, both on this site and in person, is that people should read more. Read as much as possible. It’s a vital part of being a good writer yourself, exposing yourself to other ideas and approaches. Even outside of writing, it’s good for the mind to introduce yourself to new concepts, ideas, or perspectives that you may not have thought about.
So, with offering that mindset I also have to live it, and one thing I enjoy doing a lot of when I’m not working is reading. Usually Sci-Fi or Fantasy (you can learn from those too) or the occasional non-fiction book when I get curious about something. Occasionally, I’ll come across a book that I think is worth recommending for one reason or another, and so I’ll bring it up and do one of these posts on it.
Now, before we move on, I want to make something clear: I get nothing out of recommending this book. No compensation, no ad revenue, no under-the-table wads of dollar bills or public/private recognition. I found this book, read it, and decided there was something in it worth gaining that made it worth recommending. I don’t get any compensation from talking about this book.
The only exception being if you, as a wanderer of the web, wend your way over to my books page and buy one of my own titles. But that’s one of my own books, and not in any way affiliated with the title I’ll be discussing today. If you grab one of those, you’re just grabbing one of those. If you go out of your way to pick up a copy of The War on Normal people, I don’t see a penny, because that’s not the point of these posts. There’s no compensation anywhere for me talking about why you should read it.
That said, I’ve talked enough about what this post is. How about we dive right in and talk about why I believe you should read The War on Normal People, by Andrew Yang.
Oh, and no worries about spoilers. This isn’t the type of book to have a spoiler warning.
Believe it or not, I couldn’t find a good cover picture for this one. Normally it’d go right here, but maybe because this book wasn’t written by a career writer, the only cover shots out there I could find were actually from stores like Amazon and Wal-mart, and clearly their own shots of the cover. So, I’m not about to borrow pictures they made and might get litigious for.
So here, have a link to one of their pictures for the cover (I no longer have a copy on hand, or I’d take one myself). That’s not the only cover for the book out there, but it’s the one that speaks the most, personally.
Okay, so why should you read The War on Normal People? You may recognize the name of the author as a current presidential nominee candidate for the Democratic Party (don’t run away, shelve your biases for a minute), but this book was written before he’d announced his candidacy. In addition, his candidacy is less about winning (which he really doesn’t seem to have a prayer of) and more about getting people talking about some very big issues we’re ignoring.
Which, as you might gather, is what the book is all about. No, it’s not a conspiracy novel (though yeah, it does kind of sound like it). This book isn’t about convincing you that some shadowy cabal exists and is waging a secretive war on society. Shadowrun this isn’t. So if that’s what you expected, sideline those expectations now.
In fact, the book isn’t as much about convincing either, which sounds weird, but bear with me for a moment. I mean that as a sort of deterrent to the advance warning a lot of readers have with any non-fiction book. A lot of non-fiction books are written to convince you of the author’s opinion on something. Here’s the “truth” and if you don’t believe it, you’re a fool, and we’re not going to offer or look at any evidence that damages that case.
The War on Normal People doesn’t do that. Not the way you’d expect. It is very declarative with the problems it presents, but it backs them with a lot of peer-reviewed data. Mountains of it. In fact, the last seventy pages of the book are nothing but references to all the various sources quoted in the book.
Even better, the way these sources are presented isn’t just “Here’s a source, and now let me tell you what to believe.” It’s “Here’s a source. Here’s two more from other groups backing it up with their own findings. Here’s the peer review. Here’s what I, the author, believe this means. Here are what others believe it means. Draw your own conclusion. Oh, and here are some other sources you can check out if you want to dig in deeper to this topic.”
Which, honestly, I really prefer. The author, Yang, makes his own opinions known. But he also makes it clear that these are his opinions, and that the reader needs to come up with their own. Nowhere is this more relevant than the last quarter of the book. Which I’m talking about first because in talking about this book, it’s the biggest reasons I’ve heard offered for why someone refused to read it.
The last quarter of the book is about Universal Basic Income, or UBI. Some people seem to find this utterly morally reprehensible even to name. Though personally, I’ve found that those people can’t even explain what a UBI is, so you know … grain of salt?
Anyway, if you know what UBI is, you know that there are a lot of differing ideas out there on implementation. The last quarter of The War on Normal People is about Yang’s. The first three-quarters of the book are a report on the current status and future directions of the US economy and job market, the last quarter “and that’s why I think we need UBI.”
But hold on. Like the rest of the book, Yang does not present his solution as the end-all solution. Instead, he offers it as his attempt at a possible solution. The first three-quarters of the book? “Look, we have a problem, here are the numbers on it.” If you’re 35 and under and in the job market, you probably have some good ideas on those numbers, and the issue they represent.
But the point of the book isn’t to convince you that his “solution” is the one we must take. Or the only solution. The point is to get the audience thinking about possible solutions. Yes, Yang discusses UBI. He states that he believes that it is the best way forward, and makes his case for that. But he leaves it up to the reader and encourages them to think about the problems that led him to that conclusion and for the reader to reach their own.
Which … is pretty unique for a non-fiction book on such a polarizing topic. A lot of people? Articles? Blogs? They’ll tell you what to think. If someone else had written The War on Normal People I have no doubt it would be a very different book telling readers why its way was the only way forward, and why they needed to think about it and no other way.
I didn’t walk away from The War on Normal People with that result at all (if I had, I’d not be recommending it). Instead, Yang acknowledges that while he believes in his solution (and is more than willing to back up his belief with numbers and research) it can’t be the only solution, and really shouldn’t be.
Come up with your own. Get thinking about it. Talking about it. Do your own research. Come up with your own ideas. Don’t just hitch yourself to whatever figure comes along and says “This is the idea. Embrace the idea. It is now the status quo.”
Yes, the last quarter of the book talks about UBI. But it’s not a manifesto on why the author’s ideas are the only way forward. It’s a suggestion of “Hey, I think this would work …” but with the further bit of “… but that’s my idea, what do you think we could try?”
Which, again, is where the book worked with me. The book is all about presenting an issue, with a lot of data to back it (and again, one that if you’re 35 or under and in the job market, you’ll most likely have seen in your own life) and then asking people to come up with a solution.
It offers one of its own, but admits it’s merely an idea. The author believes in it, but convincing you of it? That’s not the point of the book. The point of the book is like the first step of an intervention: To get people talking about an uncomfortable problem a lot of people would really rather avoid discussing (but is already well established in the US) and thinking “How can we fix this?”
Don’t like Yang’s solution? That’s fine. Come up with your own. Discuss them with others, Vote in favor of the people you believe have the best solutions, or run for office yourself (something he actually indirectly suggests a number of times in the book).
The War on Normal People, despite devoting a quarter of its length to discussing Yang’s thoughts and ideas for a UBI system, isn’t about how that’s the “only way forward” (as many opposed to reading the book suggest). Instead, it’s about our current path forward and the widening cracks that have grown in it over the last decade (yes, not growing, but grown, as in already there). This is a book that’s goal is you get you thinking “Well, how can we do something about this? What’s the solution I believe in?”
Now, a second addendum (only with politics would I need to say this). When I mentioned to people that I was reading the book, one of the other first reactions I got was “Well, communism and socialism are bad” followed by a refusal to ever discuss anything to do with the book.
Which is probably why one of the first chapters in the book is the author straight-up explaining that he’s an ardent capitalist, believes in capitalism, and that communism and socialism have been huge mistakes, lambasting both for their failings across history. He also helpfully offers a few definitions of the few, including having a discussion on the various types of capitalism the US has worked under over its history.
The guy quotes Thomas Paine (Yeah, from Wealth of Nations) and a bunch of other famous economists, all in favor of capitalism. He’s not a commie. Which I can’t believe is something I had to write, but … here we are. America in 2019, everyone. YUCK.
Okay, those two explanations aside, we can at last get to the root of The War on Normal People. Why do I recommend it, and what is it about?
Well, I kind of gave it away above. The War on Normal People is about the widening cracks in America’s economic system. Cracks that have existed for over a decade now, but are now expanding at greater rates than ever before. Why?
No, I’m not kidding, and no, this isn’t Science-Fiction, but fact. Automation is sweeping through the US economy. And as it does so, it’s reshaping how “work” works … and the fact that we’re not talking about it? That isn’t good. Because we should be talking about it. A lot.
Now, I know what some of you are thinking. “Oh, automation isn’t that big a deal. It’s just a few jobs, we’ll adapt.” And well, yeah, I thought that a decade ago. Before I started researching it on my own. I even wrote two different articles on it here on Unusual Things, both times exclaiming in shock that I had no idea how widespread the issue was already. It’s not “ten years from now.” It’s happening now. And has been happening. The War on Normal People? It’s about how much of it has already happened, the rate at which it is happening, and then what a wide array of experts across almost every market in America expect to happen based on these numbers.
And uh … it’s not good. It’s not looking too good. As one quote from the book puts it, people need work. But we’re moving into an era where work doesn’t need us. What do we do now?
That’s it. That’s the book. That sentence right there. Distilled and dulled down, but that’s it.
So why read it? Because that sentence doesn’t do it justice. The War on Normal People goes into detail. We’re talking government reports on every job market in the US for the past seven decades. Sometimes longer. Every job market. Medical. Agricultural. Finance. The War on Normal People delivers report after report, drops them in the reader’s lap, offers additional reports, graphs, charts, quotes from people in said industry, from the trenches to researchers (both private and federally funded) to executives.
If it sounds like a lot, well, it is. And reading it all is, as one commentator on the book put it, “like being punched in the face repeatedly.” Because it’s not good news.
And I think that’s one reason why the book takes the approach it does. Why it doesn’t just tell the reader what to think, but instead drops as much evidence, data, and quotes from experts as it can in the reader’s lap. If it just said “Hey, we’re in trouble” a lot of people would just scoff, roll their eyes, and continue to insist that “Everything is fine.” Remember that Sci-Fi author I brought up in my posts on automation who wrote a whole thing on how they didn’t believe automation was real, including that “self driving cars” could never be a thing? While Fedex already uses self-driving trucks?
Yeah, A lot of people already don’t want to believe a lot of the evidence the book drops. So the book just focuses on dropping as much of it as it can. And … it’s a ton.
Also, as previously stated, it’s a lot like being punched in the face repeatedly. It’s not good news. But if the reader wants to contest it, they’re welcome to try. There’s just a lot of evidence to debunk.
Looked at from another way, The War on Normal People is like the dream book you wish you had when in an argument with a flat-Earther: A pure collection of every single data point, study, and report on how the Earth is round. But The War on Normal People isn’t about how the Earth is round, it’s about the US economy and automation.
So why recommend it? After all, it does sound depressing. Truth is that it kind of is. But like an intervention, the point is to get readers thinking about it. Pondering on solutions. Or ways to make it work. Ways to figure things out.
Because here’s the thing. I was already convinced automation was an issue too few were talking about. And every time I’ve learned more about it, I’ve been shocked by how widespread it is already. The War on Normal People just added more research to what I already had found.
But if no one knows about it, we can’t change the course we’re on. Sort of like driving a car with a blindfold on. Does it really matter what you do if you don’t know what’s ahead of you or what direction you’re already on?
Which is why I recommend The War on Normal People. It’s about taking off the blindfold. It drops a massive amount of research in your lap, says “read this” and then hopes that you’ll think about it. Do we slow the car down? Do we speed up? Do we switch lanes? Take a side road? What direction are we even headed in?
That is what this book is about, and why I recommend it. The first step to any solution is identifying the problem. The War on Normal People is about identifying the problem, and backing up that it exists with so much research and data it’s staggering. Again, seventy pages of references.
More people need to be aware of this problem. Because if you’re not, to go back to out analogy it’s like driving blindfolded with no idea of the ditch we’re pointed at. Worse, not knowing puts those who don’t know at the mercy of those who do know … to be turned whatever way they wish. Left … right … or into the ditch. Maybe they think the ditch is a bunny field. Maybe it’s full of mines. You don’t know if you’re wearing a blindfold.
So start taking the blindfold off. Read The War on Normal People by Andrew Yang. Peruse its references. Look up additional data, research, and reports. Start building your own conclusions. Think about your own solutions.
Or be left at the whims of those who do … whether or not you agree with them.