Okay – let’s just admit it. We all have our secret prejudices, and we all lie to ourselves about having them. We know that we lie to ourselves. And, at a certain age, one gets pretty good at lying to oneself.
In the last couple of weeks I’ve been troubled by the realization that I harbor / hold / believe / support / encourage any number of what can only be called prejudices and racial / class assumptions. The fact that I’m just becoming aware of these (perhaps not for the first time!) through the aegis of a Sound Studies course is astonishing. Yet astonishment does not lessen the sting of realization, nor does the realization cause less damage to my concept of myself.
But there is, I think, perhaps, a small degree of comfort (for lack of a better word) or maybe the ability to invoke “the devil made me do it” by embracing the concept of cultural prejudices that live on (and on and on) in what Dr. JSA describes as the “crucial and undertheorized relationship between listening and oppression” as at least one aspect of my self-defense.
I’m starting to realize more and more the truth that, as Dr. JSA writes, “listening and sound are always already enmeshed in power relations.” And given that we are “America” and feel free to bully every other nation on our planet in one way or another, power relations are something that are almost part of our DNA. Everybody wants power – and the consumer culture of our recent past has done nothing to abate that thirst. Immediate gratification was what we craved and what we rewarded – until the bill came due and the bottom dropped out of the wildly speculative and dangerously over-valued financial markets. Our thirst is merely blunted, not sated.
So these prejudices of the past – fueled by a rich and bloody history referred to as heroic and noble and other high-sounding words – live on in our soundscapes and our particularly power-driven culture. How could it be otherwise that these prejudices and assumptions permeate the American culture at all levels and in all areas? It seems to be part and parcel of American citizenship that one should not (perhaps cannot) trust those who speak “other” languages or those who have “other” skin colors or “other” religious beliefs. (I state yet again that Christian privilege in America is a real and viable threat to the Constitutional rights of all Americans.)
It strikes me that the most heroic aspect of American culture is our ability to ignore the cognitive dissonance between our high ideals and the reality of our prejudices. The official American god (should we get past that persnickety First Amendment thing) must be Irony.
I am – aside from the religious thing – one of the least prejudiced people that I know. And yet I also know that I, like all humans, deliberately turn a blind eye to those aspects of my character that I do not wish to scrutinize, those aspects for which I will not accept blame or criticism from myself or anyone else – regardless of how true or damning that blame or criticism might prove.
I don’t much care for these new realizations about myself, but I do like and value very much that they rise from a course in Sound Studies. As a composer, listening is of vital importance to me. As a composer, I need to be able to move past my ears’ prejudices for what I like to hear in my music and go forward to that sun-lighted intersection where what is “right” for the music’s sake is also “right” for my ears.
As for these uncomfortable realizations, I have a choice: Confront and try to correct on a personal level, or embrace the New Americanism – invoke the cognitive dissonance and look around for someone to bully.