A reading resolution for the second half of 2013 | Bleader

A reading resolution for the second half of 2013


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  • "We speak for free markets and free people."
The second half of 2013 is beginning, offering a chance for second-half resolutions—ones we didn't make on New Year's Day, or made but failed to keep.

I'm going to try the resolution proposed by Ross Douthat, the New York Times columnist, at the end of last year: reading against type. Douthat noted that 2013 would be as far from a presidential election as could be, and also would be without midterms. We should use the political respite to free ourselves from the "toils of partisanship," letting our minds "rove more widely and freely," he wrote. Conservatives should read liberals, and liberals should read conservatives.

Since I'm not afflicted with the conservative condition, it's the latter advice that applies to me.

"Whenever you’re tempted to hurl away an article in disgust, that’s exactly when you should turn the page or swipe the screen and keep on reading, to see what else the other side might have to say," Douthat went on.

He also recommended that we read "outside existing partisan categories entirely," seeking out "marginal and idiosyncratic voices, whose views are often worth pondering precisely because they have no real purchase on our political debates." Try the libertarians at Reason magazine, Douthat suggested, and the neo-Marxists at Jacobin and The New Inquiry.

A conservative columnist like Douthat, in a newspaper with a liberal audience, has a vested interest in a read-against-type proposal, but it makes sense to me. I write often about racial and economic segregation, but there also seems to be a growing political segregation, in which we hang only with our political bedfellows, and read mainly that which confirms our biases.

A commenter on Douthat's article noted that it's not just what we read but what frame of mind we read it in: "An even more critical issue is to drop our deeply imbedded points of view which don't allow us to really hear the other side. I find myself reading articles on both sides of the fence and only using the information to support my existing opinions."

Another commenter pointed to recent research indicating that "instantaneous and (relatively) cost-free access to countless sources has made American news consumers narrower, not broader, readers. Faced with choices about what to read, people tend to seek out information that already fits with their political preferences." This commenter went on: "Imagine what consensus we might achieve if only Americans 'read across the aisle' more frequently! Alas, what [Douthat] suggests is quite difficult for most people."

This also makes sense to me. Recently I've glanced at some of the conservative publications Douthat suggested for liberals—National Review, Weekly Standard, National Affairs. I've started perusing the Wall Street Journal's opinion columns. I see this is going to be tough. But I've managed to floss every night so far this year, so I'm thinking that anything's possible.

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