I keep running into people who say that you should never, ever, ever mention your politics, because you’ll lose fans. I will grant you this is true, and when it comes to someone bringing their politics into a casual social occasion – say a dinner or a con party – particularly if they come completely from the “Uh?” side I’d say that’s true.
If politics is a sort of Tourette’s to you and you find the need to interject, in a conversation about how good the wings are or how tasty the peanuts “It reminds me of the house budget resolution” and then a crass comment that assumes everyone is on your side in this – let it be. You will lose readers. Of course, in my case the reason you will lose me is not because I agree or disagree with your politics, but because I dislike violations of social spaces and am appalled at your lack of social empathy in not figuring out in a group of ten/twenty strangers, some will disagree with you either completely or “yes but” type disagreement.
Of course there are a ton of ways you can go wrong after going wrong that way. For instance there’s the fact you’re repeating some media-created trope which has been exploded a million times by anyone who follows the subject more closely. Or the fact that – worse – you’re repeating some comedians joke in the belief it’s a factual analysis.
Note that all of these are first and foremost a violation of social decorum. But they also betray a certain type of mind that goes something like “all right thinking people agree with me” or even “I have to say this so they’ll know I’m one of the good people.” The idea of someone smart enough to make a living through ideas disagreeing with the person never occurs to these people.
Hence, when faced with this type of violation, I’ll be predisposed to not read them, because I expect a certain trend of conventional thinking and little originality.
Mind you, this is just an inclination not to read them. I.e., faced with shelves and shelves of new authors to try, I will avoid this one on the assumption that I’ll enjoy him/her less than the others. OTOH I have a lousy memory for names so unless you really get under my skin, sooner or later I’ll pick you up and I might even like your reading.
The amazing thing is that I have met more people who write with their hindbrain and are brilliant while being public life dolts than I care to mention. This is both a good thing and a humbling thing. When you do anything artistic and I have to reluctantly include writing, because I do other stuff also, and I know the process is similar, as hard as it is to admit, it must be accepted that it’s not quite under your control. Your subconscious can be way smarter than you allow yourself to be – or at least more plugged in. We had an acronym for this back in the eighties when it was a thing for artists to devote paeans to the Soviet Union and berate the US because they’d been given the VIP tour and made to feel like important opinion makers in the Sov Union: BAPI – brilliant artist. Political idiot. Most singers fell under this category.
I never had the illusion that I could cut loose at any party and have everyone agree with me. This is because my opinions are idiosyncratic and arrived at one by one, sometimes painfully. There are things I’d really prefer to believe, because I’d sleep better at night – such as that government agencies devoted to causes I approve of would never be corrupt – but though I approve of many things, like better education, I can guarantee any efforts made by government to improve it, like a follows b, will mean that it spirals down the drain harder and faster because the person in desk A is building a fiefdom on the current regulations, and the person in desk C won’t let go of them And the person in desk B starts empire building on the new ones. And in the end what you have is soup.
So I adhere to the Heinlein dictum that only a fool or a sadist tells the absolute truth at a social occasion. Social occasions are for the purpose of socializing. Unless you’re at a cocktail party thrown by your social action group, or you’re among friends whose opinions you know, you should assume that you can give offense with an ill considered jest. Heck, even friends whose opinions you know might not agree with you in everything. They just might never have rammed it down your throat at social occasions. You shouldn’t assume – particularly if one political opinion is prevalent among those who have power over your career (say, colleges) – that just because someone gives you a sickly smile and doesn’t say anything they agree with you. Maybe you just made the spicy wings curdle in their stomach and they want to beat you upside the head with the clue by four, but they’re too polite to mention it. Or they want to make sure there’s money when baby got to have shoes.
I’ve managed to be offended by what I call “whole politics buyers” on both sides of the isle, though in professional occasions mostly by the left. On personal occasions sometimes by the right. And on both occasions, I started avoiding the venue because I couldn’t talk and I didn’t want to be discomfited.
Then there’s the “don’t let it go.” I lost a friendship I valued and of some years standing because this person had recently become a political activist. She would initiate political discussions out of the blue, repeating talking points on topics in which sometimes I knew a lot more than her, but worse, on topics where no one sane could take her seriously. Let’s put it this way – if she’d been on the right, she’d have been screaming at me that any minute the black helicopters and Soros-funded mercenaries were going to come and take half the population to FEMA camps. The logistics didn’t work, the economics were cacked, and these were rumors that, in a form or another had been around since the seventies, and were just as loony.
I’d known, of course, through the ten years of our friendship, that we didn’t see eye to eye on most things. This was okay, because our friendship was funded on furniture refinishing, carpentry and writing. And on that level we agreed on most things. I highly disapproved of some of her opinions, but she’d proven resistant to change (you all know this. You point the facts, they agree with you. But next time it comes around their opinion has reset to where it was to begin with.) And what the heck I didn’t want to marry her – just to talk a couple of times a month and go to lumberyards/writers groups together.
Only suddenly she amped up her “activism” and suddenly she was full of talking points and wanted me to listen to them.
Now, I had engaged her in the past in philosophical discussions and others, but never political. And when she started politics, I made a joke and changed the subject.
Only now it didn’t work. She’d tell me I was disrespecting her for not listening to what she had to say. The “friendship” became an endurance test and I allowed it to lapse.
Which again is a lack of social decorum and a lack of understanding of time and place. Also, a lack of listening on ONE part. If she had been at all aware of facial expressions – as I said, I’ve discovered recently that I’m glass-fronted – she would have known that I didn’t agree with her in most things and that it was a disagreement of the sort she wasn’t likely to bridge. (I did tell her that what she told me was illogical and why, but she just kept on shouting talking points – it wasn’t a dialogue.) And if she valued our friendship she would have avoided those topics.
I still have any number of friends who disagree with me in varying degrees. In fact, if I had any who agreed with me completely I’d be confused, since most of my friends are as much independent cusses as I am.
But we either discuss the point and find out that our disagreement is of degree, not kind (or sometimes of words, not real) or we realize that for whatever reason our views of the world differ in ONE thing – and we agree not to talk about that one thing. Though for close friends, we sometimes tease each other about it!
So – why don’t I keep politics out of this blog?
Because I found it impossible. If I’m going to talk about things about which I care deeply, I will impinge on the political. Not because as it was common in the seventies “The personal is political” but because the side of the equation that views every facet of human life as likely to be improved by government regulation also tends to consider anything political. Over the years I’ve found that saying something like “I believe that public schools are doing a serious disservice to children” is political – even though it’s very personal and I experienced it. Or “I believe men get the wrong end of the stick in law and society these days” – political. Or “I like the old fashioned incandescent lightbulbs best” – political. Or “Low flush toilets are really multiple flush toilets” – political. Or “Animals are cute and tasty with mustard” – political. Or…
Given that, it’s impossible for me to have a blog without being political. Why? Because it’s impossible for me to have a blog without revealing something of how I think and feel, and if one side is determined to control how you think and feel, that makes blogging impossible.
Am I worried this will lose me readers? Meh. The sort of people who think in shouted slogans would probably have a heart attack at my books, or quit reading them within ten pages. And the ones who actually think about what they believe, even if, like me, they have the sort of political opinions that would get kicked out – with force – out of anything but a group of radical libertarians (where they would get shouted down by twenty discordant opinions but PROBABLY not kicked out, because they couldn’t organize enough collective action to kick me out) will roll their eyes at some of what I say, but will read my books for my books. They might avoid my blog, but they’ll enjoy my stories – even when a character now and then acts in a way that makes them urk – because the rest appeals to them.
None of the writers of the past were apolitical by our definition of political. Jane Austen had people eat meat. She had strong opinions on marriage, finances and even the equality of man. If she’d lived in our times, some people would want to set her on fire. And Shakespeare, within the confines of a society that had political censorship was more free to think and create than we are. So long as he bowed obeisance towards the Tudors, he could have his women characters marry or not marry, sleep around or not, disobey their parents, have children, all without someone getting in his face and screaming “The personal is political.”
And that’s because the personal is not political. Or it shouldn’t be. If you live in a society where the government thinks it has an overriding interest in whether you use incandescent or fluorescent light, the government is out of order.
The only system of belief that should intrude into every act of your life and how you do it is religion – and that should be a matter of individual choice.
Government is a creation of collective humanity, and I have yet to see a group of humans – outside specific situation like the army – know what each human should do best to his own advantage than the individual himself.
Just because an individual craves power over others it makes him neither smarter nor better informed about those others than he was before. The tendency to consider political leaders “very smart” is one of the most gaggingly stupid trends of modern life. Most politicians might be “socially smart” – i.e. know how to engage people – but that talent is rarely if ever united to a talent for administration or indeed a talent for anything else. Just like writers can be brilliant and total pants-on-head political idiots because the only thing that TRULY interests them is writing, and therefore they acquire their politics from the “Whole politics store.”
Now if – like me, and it is a form of deformity – you were bit by politics early and you have a sort of allergic reaction that keeps you interested in politics to make sure they don’t bite again, because there’s no epi-pen against stupid revolutions for instance, your politics will leak into your stories.
I try very hard not to make politics the point of my stories, though. Sometimes my characters have political opinions of their own, too, and express them loudly. It doesn’t mean I agree with them, and I try to show that by the events in the book. (This is very much a thing in Through Fire.)
However I’ve decided to let politics hang out. First, because my keeping them secret was always a forlorn hope. Apparently, as I said, my face shows all my thoughts. Second, because I spent years hiding and pretending to politics I didn’t believe in, and it gave me ulcers, made my hair fall out, and made it impossible to sleep at night. I’d reached the point I was going to stop it anyway, and Baen and indie just made it easy. Third, because when I don’t speak, or worse pretend to agree with positions that are morally repulsive to me, I’m lending credence to the idea that “All good people think this way.”
So, I say what I believe in this blog. (Forgive me, Heinlein for I am opinionated.) And if my political or any other opinions leak out in my books and fall outside the approved norm, too bad, so sad. If you’re the sort of person who reads for a recitation of cant, (or Kant) you have an embarrassment of offerings and probably would never get to me anyway.
But if you’re my friend and disagree with me, you need never be afraid I’ll ambush you at a cocktail party with “You know, it’s amazing that the red sauce for these wings works, because communism never does, ar ar ar ar ar.”
Because that’s neither the time, nor the place. And contrary to what the bien pensant would have us think, sometimes the political is personal.