Prejudice is good!

Man, I hope that title doesn’t get taken out of context….

I stand by my assertion, however, if only in the context of reading.  I want you to imagine for a moment a world where the reader holds no preconceived ideas or judgments about any author or work.  We’d better expand that, actually.  The reader should have no prior inclination towards any particular belief, theory, or ideology because these are the ideas with which literature concerns itself.  Each book could then be read in a vacuum, appreciated for its own artistic and intellectual merit without the shackles of comparison and perspective.

Now imagine what this ideal state would require.  As we are all bombarded by thousands of instances of stimuli each day which shape our judgement and perception, all that would have to be erased.  An amnesiac in a sensory deprivation chamber would be the ideal reader.  And, once having finished a book, that particular amnesiac would then have to immediately forget it’s entire contents because, by the very act of remembering, s/he would be recalling the content of previous works and thus tainting any future readings s/he intended on pursuing.

So, short of a near-constant state of amnesia, any reader is invariably prejudiced for or against a countless number of ideas, ideologies, ideals, styles and anything else that could possibly be written or thought of.

And this is good.  Prejudices are made to be shattered.  They are what allow us to be challenged by a book and, by being challenged, shape who we are and who we want to be.  I’m experiencing this now in very personal way.  Having been raised in a very pleasantly religious household, reading Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion is a direct challenge to my prejudices and beliefs.  While my beliefs and prejudices won’t change in precisely the way Dawkins and his ilk would hope, my personal worldview and philosophies will certainly be affected and I’ll come out of the experience a slightly different person.

It’s the tweaking, reshaping, and sometimes shattering and rebuilding of prejudices that make us human beings.  We should carry our prejudices into our readings if only so we can hold them up to challenges and attacks and see how they fare.  Whether they’re reinforced or destroyed, life-altering or trivial, these prejudices teach us about ourselves and enable us to grow.  And that is why they are a good thing.

(Post inspired by this weeks Literary Blog Hop at The Blue Bookcase.)

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17 comments

  1. I was raised in a household by my mother who changed her faiths etc with mundane regularity, flirting with most major belief systems & a good few minor ones, leaving me with the understanding that altho a faith, belief etc can enhance your life, It’s not a necessity.Along with Dawkins I can understand why on an individual level it can be a great experience, It’s the mass autocratic ideologies that scare the *¿#+! out of me. I enjoyed this book, found his questioning fairly reasoned & not the rabid Atheistic dog he’s been made out to be & I don’t think he expects to change peoples belief system, merely get people to question not adhere blindly.

    1. Hey Parrish, Im almost done with the book. Like you, I can agree with a lot of what he says, but there’s a lot about the book that annoys me as well. This one is a lot snarkier and more mean-spirited than The Greatest Show on Earth. Still, I’m glad I read it. Hopefully Ill get my thoughts together for a review sometime soon.

  2. This is a fantastic post. I feel like you got to the heart of the question asked, (which I thought was a little hidden) and you make some great points. I especially loved your line about “It’s the tweaking, reshaping, and sometimes shattering and rebuilding of prejudices that make us human beings. ” I look forward to your post on The God Delusion.

  3. Excellent post! You’re absolutely right that we can’t help but take all of our prejudices and beliefs into reading because we’re sort of package deals like that, but then that also doesn’t mean we can’t change our beliefs too. I really love the posts that this weeks hop is coming out with!

    1. It was a great topic last week. I think that reading is one of the primary ways in which I am constantly tweaking and redefining who I am. That’s the wonderful thing about books.

  4. Great-you articulated what I wanted to at the end of my post this week, which is how we use our own experiences and feelings to connect with characters and stories that are foreign to us. Nicely done!

  5. Lovely post! And I agree!…though I’d like to add something – sometimes (or perhaps often enough) prejudice can come in the way of appreciation of a work of art. I say this because I’ve experienced it.

    1. You’re absolutely right. I have too, I’m sure. No matter how much we try to keep an open mind, there are some things that we’re going to have a harder time dealing with than others. Thanks for coming by!

  6. Interesting post! I agree that prejudices are something we can’t live without. I think you couldn’t live with them, they are also the expectations you have about the world. So yes, definitely needed.

  7. And of course there are schools of criticism that try to make us read in a vacuum- I’m lookin’ at you New Criticism- and then schools that say we can’t divorce text from past or present context. As a reader, I know that I am influenced by my context and if I want to study literature in a vacuum, I have to put on a impartial critic hat, which I’m not sure anyone can really do.

    1. I really wonder how possible it is for anyone to put on an impartial hat. Of course, we can try and our evaluation will be different, but I’m unsure if anyone can really shed all their prejudices, especially at a subconscious level. Anyway, it’s an interesting thought experiment. I appreciate the thoughts, thanks for coming by!

  8. This was a really great post. We are so bombarded these days with media that it is nearly impossible to have an open mind about anything.

    I have frequently been surprised in the past by books I expected to hate but liked (and vice versa),and these experiences have helped me start most books with as open a mind as I can. I was so afraid to read Sophie’s Choice because I didn’t want to read about the horrors of the Holocaust…and ended up being so glad I did. It turned out to be one of the most profound, amazing books I’ve ever read. I expected to love the book I read a few months ago about the Tudor family, and couldn’t stand it. You never know how it’s going to go.

    1. It’s definitely harder these days than it was in the past. Although I wasn’t there, so I can’t say that for sure. But I imagine. I’ve never read “Sophie’s Choice” but I’ve been meaning to. What book about the Tudors are you talking about?

  9. It is called “The Tudors: The Complete Story of England’s Most Notorious Dynasty”. I reviewed it on my site if you want to take a look. Sophie’s Choice is totally worth it.

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