Many of you are probably tired of reading about the Great Cultural Appropriation Debate, at least for this round; you can only take it for so long before your brain gives up. But this post is less about the debate’s focus than its execution: namely, one possible source for the difficulty of communication that I think we can all agree plagues any attempt to move forward. Based on my peripheral encounters with theories of communication, I think tablesaw is right about the ways in which the conduit metaphor shuts down the possibility of effective progress, and Reddy’s alternate metaphor of the toolmakers with their blueprints and the evil magician coming along to mess with them sounds like a pretty apt description of the situation we find ourselves in. (Not just here, either; just poke your nose into politics and watch it play out.)
But I have one big question for the “Becoming Toolmakers” portion of the essay. To quote:
In the toolmakers paradigm, to become a better one-on-one communicator, I must learn more about the person with whom I wish to communicate and communicate to that person in mind. In the toolmakers paradigm, to become a better writer and address a universal audience, I must learn more about everyone by learning about multiple, intersecting cultural contexts different from my own, and I must write with all of them in mind.
On the one hand, this is more or less how I think about communication: that you must always bear your audience in mind, and try to craft your ideas into a shape that will work within that audience’s context. On the other hand — sweet Pentecost on a pita cracker, how am I supposed to speak mindfully to everyone at once? I don’t even know who all my readers ARE! Even if we agree to leave out everybody who isn’t moderately fluent in English, according to this “solution,” in order to communicate effectively, I must learn about inner-city Chicago blacks and Pakistani immigrants in London and American-born Israeli Jews and nisei Japanese college students at Stanford and affluent Hispanic teens in Dallas and everybody else I haven’t named and then write with ALL OF THEM IN MIND.
And that’s before we even get to the possibility that the communication strategy which is effective with one group may be actively detrimental with another, and vice versa.
Dude. There is little in the world I love more than learning about multiple, intersecting cultural contexts different from my own. I spent ten years in school majoring in just that, and I’ll keep doing it on my own from now until you pry my library out of my cold, dead fingers. But the “solution” as framed above is not a solution; it’s a godlike ideal no human will ever be able to live up to. Is it sufficient if I try? Or if I decide, okay, there’s a black character in this story, so I will focus my efforts on trying to speak to the myriad of possible black perspectives (because there is no single “black perspective”) and not worry about what the Hispanics or Asians or whoever think? How do I account for all the perspectives in the world that aren’t mine, and speak to all of them at once?
I don’t have an answer to that. I think tablesaw raised some great points in that post, but I hit that bit at the end and my eyes bugged out of my head. It’s kind of like the rule we kept returning to, during the panel discussions at VeriCon: how do you do [thing X]? Be a genius! It’s the solution to everything. Except that I can’t just wave a magic wand and turn myself into a genius. I can take little baby steps toward this utopia, but will they be enough?