Seven Billion People.
Holy Shit, right?
As I sit here in the heart of one of the biggest cities in the world and contemplate the very idea of that number of human beings - of all stripes, colors, races, creeds - it's a bit staggering. The concept of seven billion people is kind of abstract and potentially awful/amazing.
One (of many, many) thought that sparks is that our tendency to generalize about one another is not simply a matter of pigeonholing each other into categories that promote the pre-judging of the various tribes and clans and racial groups but, perhaps, a matter of surviving that awesome number. Certainly, there are seven billion individual people with seven billion slightly (or vastly, depending on which two you sit together in the Lifeboat) different opinions on the Way of the World. Certainly, you often will be surprised by the book if you choose to ignore the cover but in a world with seven billion fucking books, the covers are sometimes the only thing your tiny mind can handle.
Imagine going into a bookstore or (heaven forbid, a library) with seven billion books. You walked in and wanted to grab a couple of interesting books. But the shelves are stuffed with seven fucking billion books - some with red bindings, others bound in leather, some fat, some slight - how do you judge which books will be the most interesting/edifying/enlightening/entertaining for you?
Judging by the color of the spine is fruitless. Judging by number of pages or book thickness is pointless. So we look at the shelves and find the Subject Headings for guidance. Fiction > Historical Fiction > American Authors. Non-fiction > World Politics > Asia. Self Help. Computers and Gaming. Graphic Novels. Cooking. News. Politics.
We turn to the categories. And our individual, one of seven billion, perspective on these categories is informed solely by our experiences with these categories in our past. I avoid Russian Literature because once I read a book from that shelf and found it to be hopelessly dull. I gravitate toward the Horror Fiction because, while I don't care too much for the works of Dean Koontz, I love the canon of Stephen King.
We all know that these past experiences cannot possibly define in any specific or accurate way the sum total of the categories. We all know that to limit the category to our individual experience with a handful of books from a shelf of millions is just steeped in ignorance.
And yet, we do define the shelves by our individual experience with one or two books from the stacks. Two of us can go to the Teen Literature section and I associate it with Harry Potter and you associate it with Twilight and we both have a slightly insufficient experience with the genre. The Southern Literature section contains both Deliverance and Gone With the Wind. One may classify the Bible as History, another as Religious Studies, another as Myths and Legends.
And with seven billion books to parse out, it is a matter of mental survival to rely on the categories. But I think that, as we wander around the library, it becomes essential to the grease of socialization and civilization that we take the time to rely on the categories and human stereotypes while still having a solid comprehension that those categories and stereotypes are flawed as a matter of course.
We can't help but judge each other by our covers. If that's all we do, however, we're missing out on some fucking excellent books.