To my regular readers who wonder what got into me yesterday, I apologize.
While yesterday’s post was no more “political” than most of my posts are – I tend to analyze the psychological and psycho-social underpinnings of a situation, and I stay away from telling you who to vote for – it went RIGHT into the middle of a “slogan campaign” that has been driving me batty on Facebook. To the extent that that slogan campaign is being pushed by a political party, my post was therefore political.
This is a break with not only my rule, but with the way we brought up our kids, since we raised them by the Heinlein dictum that only a fool or a sadist tells the absolute truth in social situations. We also raised them with the dictum that gentlemen (and in this family the one woman – me – aspires to be a gentleman too by living by rules of fair play and social grace) do not discuss politics, religion and coitus in social situations.
So I feel guilty for coming out with the boxing gloves on in the middle of a social occasion which a blog – or face book – are.
I maintain however, that analyzing the deep underlying psycho-social underpinnings of people’s beliefs and of movements is part of my job, particularly the science fiction writing, with its component of future history. I maintain too that any party or social movement that relies on endlessly repeated memes does not deserve your trust, and deserves to have its *ss analyzed and its motives investigated.
Also, the endless repetition of this one phrase (and a few others) is ringing my alarms.
To understand where I’m coming from you have to understand that I’m intensely – INTENSELY – political. Not in the sense of swearing allegiance to a party – I don’t trust any large group of people – but in the sense of having a profound interest in political theory, political technique and what results from both.
I keep – or try to keep – those separate from my writing, except to the extent that what the author believes comes through in the book, particularly in the science fiction in my case. I try to keep it separate because I don’t believe in slogans or in sloganising. I believe insofar as science fiction writing has a function – as any literature has a function – beyond amusing the reader, it is to make the reader think. Honestly, I don’t care if you read my books – and enjoy them, which I do care about, because I want you to buy more – but come to the diametrically opposite conclusions from mine. Heck, sometimes (particularly with the early books which had heavy editorial influence) the openly expressed opinions are not my own, just bait to make you think. Also often opinions expressed in books fit the time/the character/the morals. (This is how I managed to be accused of homophobia because a regency lady doesn’t squee with joy at the thought of a potential suitor being gay. Time and place, people. Time and place.)
However, it would be nearly impossible for me NOT to be political. You see, I was 11 in 74, when the Portuguese revolution happened.
I’m not going to defend the previous regime in Portugal. Calling it fascist is a little simplistic. Not because it WASN’T. By definition it was a “state capitalist” system with a strong emphasis on the paternalism of the state, and therefore fascist. However, fascism has become something else. It has come to mean racial purity (which in Portugal would be a laugh. Also, the leader of the regime had a converso family name) and swastikas and siding with Hitler. (For those who went to American public school, no Portugal didn’t. Like the sainted Swedes, Portugal was neutral. With a little more justification perhaps, since in WWI it had sent barefoot soldiers with no weapons to die in the maw of the German war machine and at the beginning of WWII Portugal was even poorer and in greater disarray.)
It’s perhaps easier if you think of Portugal’s “old regime” as FDR’s if he’d succeeded in packing the courts and held power for forty years or so. It had social security from cradle to grave and it was strongly, violently, anti-communist. (That second, think on, was also time and place. Spain, next door, was engulfed in civil war for much of the regime’s establishing years and Portugal’s existential fear is ALWAYS being engulfed by Spain.)
[Yes, it also had colonies, but anyone coming in and bleating about colonies and racism will get kicked hard where it hurts. Both race and colonies in Portuguese history are “different” enough to make anyone’s head hurt and they don’t conform to any of the stereotypes you’ve heard. Also, likely your perception of it came about through the media and was distorted because the colonies were coveted by the Soviets who brought their agit prop machine to bear on the situation. They won too – for a long time the ex-Portuguese-colonies became Cuba’s farms. And the population there suffered greatly. Never mind, that’s all secondary.]
A lot of my family had secret “liberal” sympathies, even those who seemed to defend the regime. I remember being very young and hearing my mom and dad making jokes about how “uncertain” the election was, since it was, of course, a one party thing with a “dummy” Loyal Opposition.
So when the revolution happened, the first reaction was guarded hope. But in those early heady days, while watching the speeches, I remember my dad pointing out a guy in the “revolutionary generals” group and saying “He’s a committed communist. In a year they’ll all be like him.” I was puzzled at the time, because, well… There were many of them and only one of him. Then dad explained that when a bunch of people are vaguely uncommited, or committed only to “changing” things, it is the one with the plan that always prevails. I’ve since seen this in action EVERYWHERE, including in business meetings in corporations.
He was right too. Within a year the most extreme elements were in control. And here I have to remind you this was a time without blogs. What you’ve read in the media here was not only wrong, but very wrong. Hell, even in Portugal, unless you paid close attention and/or if you happened to be in a calm area, you might have no clue.
I came here in 1980 and was surprised to find that Portugal was considered an idyllic place where the revolution had happened without a single shot, and where people gave each other flowers or something equally stupid.
The reality on the ground was quite different. There were firebombings of any party headquarters that wasn’t far left (How far left? At one point the socialists were forbidden. They were running dogs of imperialism, or something. I, may G-d have mercy on my soul, marched in their support, because it was the only way to oppose the communists.) There were cars and people attacked on the street. There were peaceful demonstrations fired on from an upper story window (I KNOW. I was at one of those. No, it wasn’t reported in any papers.) There were tanks on the streets of Lisbon, not once but more than once. And – though this came out only after I’d left and I don’t know all the details, there were rumors beforehand – eventually there were mass graves found of people we thought had run off to Brazil or people who had simply disappeared. Now, none of this compares – not even close – to places where communism got full hold of the population. It never did, in Portugal, you see. At most Portugal settled for a slightly redder form of euro-socialism, and it was saved from itself by the fact that AT HEART every Portuguese thinks that laws are made for “those other people.” So Portugal lurches from bankruptcy to disaster, but is never very good at full totalitarianism.
What I mean to say is that between the local ferment of revolution and counterrevolution, the bigger spectre of the Cold War hanging over my head (in Europe, where all this seemed more serious than here) I didn’t have the option of picking one of two parties and treating it like belonging to a club, accepting everything from above.
The only knee jerk position I have is of rejecting both fascism and the red fascism we call communism. Both of them are not only the way back to feudalism, but to a feudalism informed by an anti-human religion (which for all its faults medieval Christianity never was) which wants to make men into perfect creatures. The end of that road is always mass death, misery and tyranny. There is no appeal.
All my other positions are carefully thought out and painfully arrived at – which is the other reason I don’t talk about them much in social situations. It is impossible to make clear how I got at things unless I use pages and pages. Or I take you through the process in books, in the middle of stories.
I have at various times been accused of believing this or that because of my religion. That was very funny, since in religion as in everything else, I have to think through things – I am a woman of very little faith – which means I’m at least evenly divided between two major religions (we chose one to bring the kids up in. It remains to be seen if they’ll stay in that one. They seem to have the same issues I have) and even then I have minor and major quibbles with BOTH of them.
In fact, this long circuitous route is to explain to you why I mistrust all slogans. It’s because first I saw how people could repeat slogans and memes and surrender their capacity for thought. Take “Equality” – is that equality before the law? Because if it’s any other type of equality, it can’t be achieved, and it leads to death. But people will repeat it, and assume it’s a good. (In its more hilarious manifestations, it involved the class voting on one’s grade, because, duh, why should the teacher have more power than any ignorant middle schooler?) And second, it’s because, as other revolutions happened through the seventies, I saw the same slogans and often the same symbols (red carnations were a symbol of the revolution in Iran, as well) appear around the world, almost every time in a revolution that benefitted the Soviet Union.
By that time, from personal observation, I’d come to the conclusion that both communism and its less forceful cousins in the socialism end of the spectrum, were REALLY good at slogans and propaganda (right until the end even our own CIA thought that the Soviets were far more prosperous and stable than they were) that bypass people’s minds. What they were REALLY bad at was actually governing and that was because their principles could not and would not lead to a prosperous or peaceful society. Not in the real world. (I won’t go into that. Read Animal Farm. The process of their sloganizing and of their lack of ability to govern without creating “enemies” is very well documented there.)
On the other hand, living in Portugal during the seventies left me very leery of discussing politics with anyone. This is because I learned that otherwise decent people – by dint of repetition – believed the most appalling things, and that trying to reason with them about these things just led them to cut you off. In that, they behaved like a religious cult, where the belief must be protected above all else: above family, above friendship, above love.
If I wanted to have a social life – and I did – I had to not talk about politics. Of COURSE the path to power was to, instead, talk the “right” politics (which for most of my life meant the “left” politics), but having seen the naked evil that easy pap led to, I couldn’t. I’m not absolutely sure – despite being religious, yes, I SAID I was a woman of little faith – there is life after death, but I am sure humans owe it to themselves not to KNOWINGLY ally themselves with evil. There is something – if nothing else the ideal of being HUMAN – which should stop you from knowingly committing evil. You still have to sleep with yourself. It was fine for those who didn’t realize how evil evil was to just mouth the words, but I couldn’t. Not and remain myself. I’ve made my choice on that, and paid my price in career and in money. I lament my choice only insofar as it makes my kids’ life more difficult and I can’t give them the things I wish I could give them. On the other hand, it was the only choice I could make – I’m not complaining.
What shocked me when I came to the States was to find out the easy path to power here was the same as in Portugal. If I mouthed slogans about women’s freedom, or about equality or about the evils of the rich, I would be lionized by those who had power in the areas where I could climb and achieve honors and riches through: academics, writing, the sphere of opinion-making.
Blame it on my contrary nature. Blame it on having a conscience. I could not. Again, I knew where that led. The best I could do was shut up. And I shut up. I wrote fluffy books. I avoided public discussions. And as a result we have friends – good friends, I always thought – from both ends of the political spectrum.
Again, there is often a vast gulf between the monstrous things people believe, and how they behave in private life. In private life most of our friends were kind, generous, almost painfully loyal. So I learned the gentle art of turning off politics (and occasionally religion) with a joke. And we went on.
Until 9/11. I still maintain this caused some sort of psychological split in our society. Suddenly my friends on the left – it was always those on the left, yes. The right can be appallingly crude, particularly in jokes about sexual preference, but they will let me turn it off. Or they apologize and shut up when I tell them “no more.” – didn’t want me to change the subject and demanded I endorse their ideas on the EVIL US that had brought this about. (I believe thinking you’re responsible for the bad things that happen to you makes you feel safer. That’s why abused children believe this too. I wonder if people who believe that realize that they’re believing in US power more than any US apologist ever did.)
I lost some friends there. Our writers’ group split up. Not because I opposed them, but because I wouldn’t ENDORSE what they were saying. And then things calmed down a little, and I learned to turn politics off, again.
I still have friends from every possible political color. I have friends from every possible religious bend. I love them for the people they are, and ignore their often nutty opinions. IF they want to debate this or that, without the slogans but at a deeper level, we do, and often we find we agree. They don’t seem to see that their slogans are in contradiction with their reasoned opinions, and I’m not their mother.
If you go into FB friends, I have an even greater variety, though most of my field is knee-jerk to-the-left-of-Lenin, formed by reading, by the media and by universities, which all inhabited that spectrum in their formative years. (Also because misfits are ALWAYS attracted to totalitarianism. I think out of some misguided idea that a sufficiently powerful government can make everyone accept you. I’d like to remind all my misfit friends that the first thing totalitarian regimes do is destroy any type of minority.)
Because I’ve learned there’s no point in trying to argue with the semi-incantational quality of their slogans, I mostly just page past their political posts. I don’t get in fights because there’s no point, and I don’t get in fights because I berserk. (Curse you, Viking pirates on Portuguese coasts, who left behind your genes.) This means that if I can’t take immediate, violent action and don’t have time to avert the anger before it starts, I make myself ill stopping the berserker fit. I had the shakes late into the night last night and I am still halfway-wired and bruised-feeling.
But lately things have got worse. Much worse. My largely apolitical husband who is, furthermore, and has always been – as I have – a supporter of what we’ll call “marriage equality” (if you need an explanation of why, go here, and let me assure you I’m friends with people who vehemently disagree with me on this. Some of them gay. their points are cogent. I just think they’re wrong.) got himself baited into the middle of a kerfuffle over, of all things, a proposed boycott of chic-fillet, based on accusations that its owner donates to anti-gay organizations. I know at least one of the organizations that this man donates to have put out some rather vile pseudo studies claiming that all gay males are pedophiles.
HOWEVER I’m fairly sure the reason the man donated to them is because the organization is Southern Baptist and so is he. People tend to donate that way. At any rate, the reason the guy on face book was posting was based on a supposed flyer supposedly distributed at NYU and saying the sort of things extreme liberals BELIEVE it’s how religious/conservative people talk among themselves. (You can see this when depicting religious or conservative people on TV. The echo-chamber writers can’t imagine anyoen disagreeing with them for principled reasons. No, it has to be that the other side are evil moustache-twirlers.)
I’ll point out my husband is a mathematician. He’s way smarter than I am. HOWEVER each of our groups of friends think each of us married beneath himself. This is because Dan – being largely apolitical – doesn’t get the whole slogan or demonizing thing. He doesn’t GET irrationality or using emotion to manipulate people. So, I’m sure he said some painful and weird-sounding things in that argument. I didn’t go look, because I know he did. He will just say the logical thing, and not realize he used some code word or other that will send the other person over the edge. As I understand it, he decided the guy making a big fuss over the whole chicfillet thing was engaging in hate speech. I don’t know what Dan thought the definition of hate speech was. I guarantee it wasn’t the generally accepted, sloganized one.
What Dan was picking up on AND reacting against was this poster’s unreasoning hatred against someone who believes what he believes as a package deal in his religion. That religion is not my path, and I can argue against this particular tenet of it but I (And Dan, in this case) don’t propose to BOYCOTT them just because of that. Not unless the politics are an integral part of the business. (Mind you, neither of us eats fast food, so this is ALL academic.)
But something struck me, as Dan was relating this insanity to me. Apparently the man posting this kept saying “If you love gay people, boycott chicfillet.”
And I think that puts its finger on the center of it, on the reason people get so upset if their slogans are countered, on why people love the slogans to begin with – none of this is rational. Those slogans, most of them insane, or at best inane, soothe some inner need – some inner lack. Women who are convinced there is a war on women get to feel purposeful and not to examine what they’re doing to the men in their lives and what they – collectively – are doing to the relationship between men and women. Gay people get to feel they’re on the side of angels, and soothe whatever ache they have, from being a minority that sticks out and whom many people condemn.
The people repeating these incantations and getting all defensive over them want to be loved. They want to be reassured they’re loved. A phrase from Bill Patterson’s bio of Heinlein came back to me, how Heinlein taught the moral fundamentals to “a generation of children from fractured families.” My parents stayed together, I grew up in a village. But insofar as both my parents were career people and worked too much, insofar as the mechanics of education took me away from my grandmother, there is a lot I found I didn’t know about the simple basics of “how to go along in life” that Western civilization has passed along until just after WWII, when it all came unglued. And I suppose it is worse for other people.
So we’re looking for validation – and family – in all the wrong places. Worse, in a world where we can no longer hold on to tribal affiliations of any kind, and where religion is iffy, we’re clinging to political sub-groups, to ethnic groups, to … sexual-preference groups? As tribe, as religion, as the normative rudder of our lives.
This is not just wrong, this is insane. You can’t find community there. Not long term. These groups are formed ONLY on a shared hatred or a shared fear. That doesn’t build any society. Any society that works that way ends in blood. After the blood comes the tyranny which ruthlessly suppresses all minorities and anyone who is “Weird” which – for those of you who are science fiction fans – pretty much includes ALL of our community, writers and readers. And I don’t care if the totalitarianism is red or black, and neither should you. Dead is dead and in the silence of the mass grave no one cares if it was “the Fatherland” or “the People” who killed you.
So, step back from the abyss. Stop looking for validation in putting up the same ridiculous slogans. The whole War On Women thing is a good one to start with. Women have never had it so good as in the US. Are there pockets of problems? Sure. But a lot of them are in individuals’ minds, and you can’t dictate how other people think. If a guy treats you badly, put him in his place, don’t try to get the government to do it for you. And at the same time beware how you’re treating men. Our children are innocent of the sins of history. Punishing them does nothing but setup the next swing of the pendulum. Remember women’s freedom ALWAYS exists at men’s sufferance. If it comes to a physical fight, in aggregate, they are bigger, they are stronger, and they can dominate us completely (look to the Middle East to see how.) If they’re willing to deal with us as equals, be gentlemen, ladies, and don’t take advantage of your situation of power. At least if you don’t want it to be temporary.
(Oh, one way you know the whole War on Women thing is phony, is that the initial reason for outrage was that the churches wouldn’t give women free contraceptives. When this didn’t fly – religious women! – it changed to things spewed from the ever uncontrolled mouth of Rick Santorum who manages to be both a moralist and a “social justice” economist. Then it went on to some minor legislative decision in some state court. Then… There is no there there. But by repeating the slogan and bringing up these ever more anedoctal justifications, they keep people repeating the slogan, till they believe is true. When you see this pattern, no matter how good the slogan sounds, EXAMINE it.)
Stop demanding that people agree that women are teh awesome and that vaginas are the bestest thing yet – you just come across as insecure. Stop whining that some man called one of you something or other. I’ve called “bastard” to some of my best men-friends, and none of them started a crusade to defend his good name. (This reminds me of when my blog was attacked by a middle-school class, who thought they could silence me by calling me a bitch. Honeys, I’ve been called worse by people I still talk to.)
The same goes for other minorities. I’m sorry, no, I don’t love gay people. I love my friends who happen to be gay. You know who you are. I love you as much as I love my straight friends. (And sometimes you make me want to scream, just like my straight friends do.) I don’t give friendship lightly, and once I give it I undertake its obligations seriously. If you’re my friend, I don’t particularly care who you sleep with (WHY should I, I’m monogamous and married!) or even who you fall in love with: you have a claim on my affection, my support, my aid in time of need and YES my (very platonic) love.
However, I also know gay people I wouldn’t cross the street to spit on. I’ll grant you there’s a lot fewer of those in my acquaintance than there are straight people, but that’s because there’s fewer gay people in the population in general.
Anyone, anyone, who says that I should love their group, or that if I don’t agree with some cutsey little slogan “War on Women” “Hate is not a family value” (what makes you think people who disapprove of you hate you?) or ANYTHING ELSE I can’t be their friend anymore, should stop and think. Do you agree with everything that slogan implies? Do you know where that slogan originated or why it was everywhere at once? (Like the “the people united shall never be defeated” appearing in both Portugal and Iran and every other revolution in between fully formed.) Ask yourself what will happen if the people who are pushing these memes get full control.
I enjoin you to contemplate “First they came for the Catholics. I didn’t say anything, because I wasn’t Catholic…” and where that leads. I enjoin you to wonder where the REAL power is right now, in government, in the media, in entertainment, and what opinions you have to espouse to get to the top, and then wonder what “power” you’re “speaking slogan” to. I enjoin you to CONSIDER what you’re endorsing, not just what you’re getting away from. And I enjoin to stop demanding tests of loyalty from your acquaintances.
I don’t love gay people. I don’t love straight people. I don’t love communists. I don’t love Catholics. I don’t love Southern Baptists. I don’t love men (except one) and I don’t love women.
What I love are individuals. I love my friends who belong to each of those groups (yes, even the communists. If it helps, I pray for them) and who are by and large as decent as they know how to be. And I like those other individuals in all groups who are decent, open, and fair-dealing, or at least try to be. We’re all human. We all have flaws. But we have the qualities of our flaws. The friend who loses his temper on a dime is the same one who will distort his entire life in a matter of hours to drive you halfway across the country in an emergency. Or at least, mine is.
IF we talk to each other without slogans, and don’t cut each other off in the name of slogans, perhaps we can forge a society all of us can live in, yes? It won’t be perfect, nothing human is. But we’ll live on, like the large, loud, fractious people we are.
Or perhaps you prefer to keep shouting past each other. Next comes the blood. And then the mass graves. And after that there is no more dissension. We will all be a great family. All the children who stuck out will be dead. And in the grave, no one disagrees with anyone else. The silence is absolute and very peaceful.
(Crossposted at Classical Values)