The Year of Reading Dangerously


There’s been a recent kerfluffle about an article by KT Bradford on her experiment of reading “no straight, cis, white males” for a year.   It seemed a perfectly reasonable thought experiment in broadening horizons through temporary shifting of focus.  The responses I read in several threads and forums were so hostile, so accusing her of discrimination and unfairness, that it seemed worthy of note.


Then I noticed that several of the commenters made a fundamental logical/conceptual error: they claimed that their reading was governed by “quality”, such that if most of it was straight white male writers, so what?


And that was such an amusing error I had to comment.    The idea that art has some objective quality separate from our perceptions, prejudices, experiences, emotional anchors, beliefs and values is suspect at best.


Compose a panel exclusively of any group, racial, genderic, whatever, and ask them to make a list of the best authors, directors, or whatever.  Invariably that list will lean more in their direction than if the panel was composed differently: males will tend to think males are better, women will tend to include more women, blacks will mention black artists, gays will list more gays.


Just the way it is.  And if one group has had the bully pulpit long enough, and with enough dominance, they will simply take the position that they are right, and smile condescendingly that the other groups “err” or are “being political” when they add “their own” to the list.


It’s a joke, and often a nasty one.   To present your subjective opinions as objective reality is a level of privilege reserved for those who control the system.   It is a dream of being central to human experience, and it is childish.   ALL healthy children think they are the center of the universe–and so they are if they have been loved and protected.  It is a part of maturation to remember that, yes, it feels that way to you…and others have exactly the same right to feel that way about themselves.  Hypocrisy and delusion fester in the belief that others should agree with you that the world revolves around you.


And you can take that belief all the way to adulthood.   It is one thing to cheer for the home team, and another to believe others are wrong to cheer for theirs.  To believe your country is best, but that others are wrong to believe theirs is.   To believe your religion is not just the best for you, but the only way up the spiritual mountain.


Real differences.   So Bradford noticed that, disproportionately, she was reading the art of a single group, and  tried an experiment to broaden her perspective.    It was interesting to see who agreed and decided to try it, who thought it was interesting but weren’t interested, and who reacted with anger and perceived threat.


It is hard to wake up from a good dream, a dream that your group is actually primary, superior, that your preferences for them are based on objective standards of quality.  We’re just…you know…better.  Not politically correct to say  it straight out, but, it’s not my fault if we’re just a bit superior…


There’s not much wrong with simply saying you want to remain within comfortable boundaries.  That you like your prejudices…as long as you allow others the right to enjoy theirs as well.


But anyone who really feels uncomfortable with her suggestions, I suspect, is asleep to some distasteful realities, either afraid of losing power or honestly deluded into thinking that there is only one way of looking at the world, and they’ve got it.   Which made it all the more important for the suggestion to be made.


One is welcome to whatever preferences one wishes to have.  But it is critical to be able to separate them from the illusion that because you dislike sushi, it is bad.


Too many cannot do that.  And boy, are they grumpy if you wake them up from that delicious dream.




(oh, and no, I’m not trying the experiment.  But it is interesting)

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