Tuesday, July 28, 2015

“Being a Very Serious Person is about occupying a structural position that tends to reinforce, rather than counter, one’s innate biases and prejudices.”

continuing, because it fits.

I covered this at the time, but I didn't go for comedy. Farrell in 2010
Jonah Lehrer has an interesting post on the heuristic benefits of mixing it up by making online social contact with complete strangers.
this is why we should all follow strangers on Twitter. We naturally lead manicured lives, so that our favorite blogs and writers and friends all look and think and sound a lot like us. (While waiting in line for my cappuccino this weekend, I was ready to punch myself in the face, as I realized that everyone in line was wearing the exact same uniform: artfully frayed jeans, quirky printed t-shirts, flannel shirts, messy hair, etc. And we were all staring at the same gadget, and probably reading the same damn website. In other words, our pose of idiosyncratic uniqueness was a big charade. Self-loathing alert!) While this strategy might make life a bit more comfortable – strangers can say such strange things – it also means that our cliches of free-association get reinforced. We start thinking in ever more constricted ways. And this is why following someone unexpected on Twitter can be a small step towards a more open mind. Because not everybody reacts to the same thing in the same way. Sometimes, it takes a confederate in an experiment to remind us of that. And sometimes, all it takes is a stranger on the internet, exposing us to a new way of thinking about God, Detroit and the Kardashians.
The beginning of Lehrer's post
Over at Gizmodo, Joel Johnson makes a convincing argument for adding random strangers to your twitter feed:
I realized most of my Twitter friends are like me: white dorks. So I picked out my new friend and started to pay attention.

She’s a Christian, but isn’t afraid of sex. She seems to have some problems trusting men, but she’s not afraid of them, either. She’s very proud of her fiscal responsibility. She looks lovely in her faux modeling shots, although I am surprised how much her style aligns with what I consider mall fashion when she’s a grown woman in her twenties. Her home is Detroit and she’s finding the process of buying a new car totally frustrating. She spends an embarrassing amount of time tweeting responses to the Kardashian family.

One of the best things about Twitter is that, once you’ve populated it with friends genuine or aspirational, it feels like a slow-burn house party you can pop into whenever you like. Yet even though adding random people on Twitter is just a one-click action, most of us prune our follow list very judiciously to prevent tedious or random tweets to pollute our streams. Understandable! But don’t discount the joy of discovery that can come by weaving a stranger’s life into your own.
a commenter on Farrell's post links, without realizing it, to criticism of the post at Gizmodo.
 A similar attempt at self-improvement gone patronizingly wrong.
Farrell
oh god – that is in fact the post that Lehrer links through to, which I had not read (stopping with Lehrer’s own argument). Don’t think it invalidates the underlying point (that it is good and enlightening to read people writing and thinking from very different perspectives), but it does point to the ways in which this can go horribly, horribly wrong if these people are treated as funny/quaint/weird inhabitants of some human zoo. 
"Don’t think it invalidates the underlying point"
The underlying point is that Jonah Lehrer read a post titled, Why I Stalk a Sexy Black Woman on Twitter (And Why You Should, Too) and then preceded to write about why it's good to talk to strangers. "We naturally lead manicured lives" Some of us refuse to. Most have no choice not to. The quote from Lehrer is almost painful.

Farrell: Weak Heterophily
Lehrer: Twitter Strangers
Joel Johnson: Why I Stalk a Sexy Black Woman on Twitter (And Why You Should, Too)
Shani: The Odd Habits And Foibles Of Sexy Black Women On The Internet.

Zadie Smith
But to live variously cannot simply be a gift, endowed by an accident of birth; it has to be a continual effort, continually renewed. I felt this with force the night of the election. I was at a lovely New York party, full of lovely people, almost all of whom were white, liberal, highly educated, and celebrating with one happy voice as the states turned blue. Just as they called Iowa my phone rang and a strident German voice said: “Zadie! Come to Harlem! It’s vild here. I’m in za middle of a crazy Reggae bar—it’s so vonderful! Vy not come now!”

I mention he was German only so we don’t run away with the idea that flexibility comes only to the beige, or gay, or otherwise marginalized. Flexibility is a choice, always open to all of us. (He was a writer, however. Make of that what you will.)

But wait: all the way uptown? A crazy reggae bar? For a minute I hesitated, because I was at a lovely party having a lovely time. Or was that it? There was something else. In truth I thought: but I’ll be ludicrous, in my silly dress, with this silly posh English voice, in a crowded bar of black New Yorkers celebrating. It’s amazing how many of our cross-cultural and cross-class encounters are limited not by hate or pride or shame, but by another equally insidious, less-discussed, emotion: embarrassment. A few minutes later, I was in a taxi and heading uptown with my Northern Irish husband and our half-Indian, half-English friend, but that initial hesitation was ominous; the first step on a typical British journey. A hesitation in the face of difference, which leads to caution before difference and ends in fear of it. Before long, the only voice you recognize, the only life you can empathize with, is your own. You will think that a novelist’s screwy leap of logic. Well, it’s my novelist credo and I believe it. I believe that flexibility of voice leads to a flexibility in all things.
The passage from Zadie Smith is a repeat. The link is at the bottom of the page, here. See also this. And this is appropriate as well. The aftertaste of gall.

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