There is no writeup category labeled "advice". This is probably a good thing. I might have titled this writeup "broadening your horizons" and called it a how-to, but that didn't seem right either.

But, enough metacommentary, and let me get to the point: Read things that piss people off. There's nothing quite like proof through repeated assertion, so let me run this by you again at least one more time.


Read things that piss people off:
Expand your thoughts with material that others would rather deny you.

There is a long and studied history of censorship across the whole of human history. Sometimes social, sometimes legal, sometimes secular, sometimes religious, the end goal is always to control the spread of information that is contrary to the goals of those advocating the censorship. And while the word "censorship" generally conjures images of a black room, or Chinese bureaucrats enforcing harmony, or even Anthony Comstock riding the rails with a badge and a gun on the lookout for burlesque postcards, it is my utterly unevidenced, but oddly right-feeling, speculation that censorship probably followed right on the heels of the first transmissions of complex thought by whichever of our lucky ancestors developed the necessary vocalizations.

It needn't be something as cut and dried as, say, banned books. Here's an anecdotal example. Keep in mind, this is not intended to be evangelism of any sort: The Tibetan Book of the Dead, most frequently encountered in English as a fragmentary translation of one particular component, was once described to me as "... literally a manual of Satanic composition meant to summon spirits and invoke the name of The Enemy." This was the description given to me by a teaching graduate student of religious studies at a particular university in the Southeastern United States. He was advocating that certain religious texts and concepts be eliminated entirely from Comparative Religions curricula. I thought it was interesting that someone who was supposedly devoting a great deal of their life's work to the study of religion would so openly work to banish even some of it to obscurity.

I filed that away until fairly recently, when I came across a complete English translation of the entire work (the first and to my knowledge only such translation) that was completed after years of work by several of the modern masters and lineage holders of the tradition in question. Hell, it even got the blessing and a lengthy foreword by HH Dalai Lama XIV. Upon reading it, I realized that there is an enormously interesting corner of the Buddhist philosophy with a deep mystical tradition that I have never even heard of except in passing. The prose is intensely beautiful, perhaps even surpassing the Book of Revelation; the concepts and even the history of the document itself are interesting, and it occasioned some serious thought on the way I perceive certain parts of my subjective world.

So. This is not "how I became a Buddhist", because I didn't. It's about reading something that forced me to think, and grew my brain, and perhaps not coincidentally, was both blatantly misrepresented and recommended for the burn pile by someone with an intentionally rigid, limited, and Draconian world view.

There are generally two reasons something is censored (hark back to my broad definition of censorship); because it is considered by the censors to be obscene, or because it challenges the censors' beliefs. I, and others, take issue with censorship for either of these reasons. Let's tackle them in that order.

"Ho ho," you say, rubbing your hands together. "The Supreme Court can't even define obscenity. And so how will you, without the benefit of a college degree or legal standing?" My reply is so simple as to induce fury in some of those who hear it: I do not believe in the concept of obscenity. One woman's obscenity is another woman's livelihood. This is not a descent into the tired argument of moral relativism; this is not about passing judgment. In fact, it is about recognizing that passing judgment on what is obscene is like getting into a fistfight over whether or not that particular fluffy white cloud looks more like a deer or a running shoe. The analogy is as exact as it is possible to be. In fact, Justice Potter Stewart agrees with me, whether he knows it or not. You will recognize his definition of obscenity, of course: "I know it when I see it."

So, is it a deer, or a running shoe? Censorship is trying to keep anybody from looking at the cloud and either insisting it's one or the other, or that it doesn't even exist.

And now onto the possibly more contentious assertion that censorship is used as a short-circuit to halt a potential challenge of faith. This is not necessarily religious faith, either, and here's some more anecdote for you. I was in one of my favorite haunts and my ears were perked up by the shrill voice of an outraged true believer clamoring for answers. She was holding a book and spewing hate at the man behind the counter, who happened to be the owner. The book she was holding was called Climate Confusion, and she was demanding that it be removed from the shelf where she had found it, and "put where it belongs - in the trash! This is unacceptable, do you even know what this is? This is propaganda from DENIERS!" She was referring, of course, to "Global warming deniers". The book was written by a man named Roy W. Spencer, a climatologist and former NASA scientist who developed much of the basic technique and mathematics for some of the space based climate measurement platforms in use today. When the owner stared at her blankly and suggested that if she didn't like it, she didn't have to buy it, the woman's jaw dropped. She slapped the book down on the counter and threatened to report him to the BBB. I picked the book up and bought it on the spot. She was outraged and the owner was tickled. I spent an afternoon reading it, and although I was not ultimately or even partially convinced by most of the arguments, an examination and internalization of the premise and especially the assertions was good food for thought.

What is this anecdote getting at? The anecdote illustrates, or at least I think it illustrates, my primary opposition to faith-based censorship of any sort: If whatever you put your faith in can't stand up to an opposing viewpoint no matter how weak; if your primary concern is to convert or hold others at the expense of allowing them to make an informed choice; if you are so unable to muster a defense in response to a challenge, and would rather dismiss without consideration any dissent; if any of these things are true, you are so biased as to be removed from any informed discussion, let alone be allowed to shape the information available to others.

So here's the deal; make it a point to read things that other people don't want you to read. Get to the information that other people feel like you shouldn't have, because more often than not, it's because they're trying to control the resources you have with which to think. Most importantly, actively think while you're reading them. What is contentious here? Why aren't you supposed to be reading them? What information is here that is considered objectionable, and what places does it take you that you're not supposed to go? It doesn't matter if you agree with what you're reading or not, or if it convinces you or not. Apply your brain and either result is to your benefit.

The homeless man selling anti-satellite hat liners at the Omaha Greyhound station summed up this entire essay nicely when being escorted away by the police: "If you want to bury your head in the sand and ignore it, that's fine, but don't deny others the choice you refuse to make for yourself."



Postscript, disclaimers, and clarifications:

nosce makes an interesting point - it would have been a good idea to also be clearer, that is, to advocate more than by inference, the suggestion that you should also read things that piss you off. I'm not saying put money in the pockets of causes you don't care for through book sales or conference seats, but put into real practice the concept that one should be familiar enough with the arguments and evidence of the opposing view so as to be absolutely sure of one's opposition.

In pgph. 9, Beginning with "What is this anecdote...", "you" is used generically - if you (the non-generic reader) take offense to those particular statements, it's likely that YOU (the non-generic reader) are part of the problem I'm outlining, so feel free to downvote.

"Read" should be taken to mean "access information" whether by reading, viewing, hearing, touching, direct neural interface, etc. whichever may apply.

If you're interested in either of the titles I mentioned for whatever reason, they are ISBN 978-0-14-310494-0 for the Book of the Dead and 978-1-59-403210-3 for Climate Confusion.

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