No Excuses, No Regrets
I was talking to Charlie yesterday about the problem of “social justice writing.” By which we mean writing that is more concerned with conveying the “right message” delivered by the “approved group” writer than with telling an entertaining/uplifting or otherwise interesting story-that-earns-its-own-keep.
First of all, of course, there is the fact that a story that relies on “right think” to justify its right to exist might not bother with less glamorous bits of craft such as making sure your reasoning makes sense throughout, or that you have established the character’s traits to evoke an emotional response from the reader and catharsis at the end of the story.
In fact, in this “writing to effect social change” shares the exact same drawbacks as writing fan fiction. As a former fan fiction writer (Jane Austen fanfic. Yeah, I know. Exciting. Shud up.) I’m just glad I was a professional before I started playing in fanfic. It is all too easy to acquire bad habits from writing fanfic. For instance, if you’re writing Pride and Prejudice fanfic, all you have to do is name the character Lizzie, even if you set it in modern day, and the reader immediately imbues it with every characteristic of the Jane Austen character, without your having to do any heavy lifting. In the same way if you name a character Whickam, everyone knows he’s a cad or worse and never mind making his faults believable or foreshadowing them.
Writing the politically correct story is much the same thing: introduce a minority character, be it racial, sexual or religious, in one of the approved “categories” and the readership, which are “fans” of social justice will immediately imbue that “victim character” with all the characteristics of noble victims ever penned since Jean Jacques Rosseau rode the noble savage into the sunset.
Because of that, “message writing” will always be inferior to “entertainment writing” when viewed in the dispassionate cold light of day.
Change how fashionable the message is (and frankly the left seems to do that every few years, as a matter of course) and today’s “masterpiece” becomes a story only of interest to historians of passe modes of thinking, if not an outright heresy to the people trying to pretend that we’ve always been at war with Eurasia.
But there is more moral peril to “message writing” because of the very mode of thought it encourages amid its practitioners; a mode of thought best described as “seeing oppressors under every bed.”
I’ll illustrate by admitting that when I first came to the US, within the first three years, I fell in with a group of people who were generally minorities (racial, sexual, cultural.) Nothing strange about this. A lot of my friends (perhaps a majority) still fall in those categories. However, my group these days is mostly conservative or libertarian or yes, which makes them a completely different type of creature.
You see, the first few friends I made were people who obsessed over what today would be called “micro-aggressions.” Oh, macro too. And there was some reason behind their paranoia (and mine, at the time.) Where I was at the time, and the faux-pas I committed as I tried to adapt to living in the US did cause a lot of very strange reactions, and some of them outright hostile. Some of my friends at the time had similar causes of complaint.
I mean, just because you’re paranoid, it doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get you.
For instance in my first (retail) job every guy (including the ex con) and every “white” (mostly blond) woman was taught how to open the safe and trusted with it, but myself and the black woman (who had an MBA and was only working retail due to a recent divorce, while looking for another job) were not. However, when money went missing, we were the only two people questioned. (Turned out the ex-con was taking money out of the safe whenever he felt like going out to dinner. I know you’re shocked.) This was definitely outrageous, but instead of taking from it that one should strive not to work for *ssholes, we took from it that everyone was bigoted against poor little us.
Anyway, at some point, it hit me that we were getting together to share grievances, and that most of our conversation, not to say most of our thoughts revolved around injustices done to us and how unfair the world was.
And then it occurred to me that more than a few of my friends, and to an extent I, myself, were using these ‘injustices’ inherent in the system (so to put it) to justify not doing anything, not trying anything and not making any efforts to improve our (relatively invidious position.)
Now, I want you to know that yes, there were injustices against us. It wasn’t all in our head. And yes, we were in a relatively difficult position.
But that wasn’t the point. Having realized the effect it was having on me; realizing that my resentment and my feeling of being victimized were holding me captive, I decided to set myself free.
I broke up with my comfortable/encouraging/justifying crowd overnight, and resolved that while I might be discriminated against, I didn’t have to let it define me. That is, while people might think I was less capable, I wouldn’t allow them to make me less capable.
For my own sake, not theirs, I would from then on ignore any discrimination against me (save for occasionally finding it very funny, like when the school was persuaded my younger son had a speech impediment because my husband and I spoke Russian at home. [Why Russian? And why poor Dan who was born and raised in New England and Ohio?]) and proceed to take no excuses for underperforming.
I might or might not be able to prove discrimination against me. I might or might not be in fact discriminated against in some particular. But the fact remained that I couldn’t control those who might or might not discriminate against me. I couldn’t even predict it, or the reason why.
Discrimination is not, as the left seems to believe, a rare thing or confined to minorities. Yes, I know, part of the reason they go crazy about white male “privilege” is that they assume there’s a hierarchy and that white males are the least discriminated against.
I suppose that is true if the white male is you know, one of the Norse gods with inherent superior looks and abilities. But even white males are never exactly what it says on the package. Any white male of less than say five feet six is going to be discriminated against. So is any over 300 lbs. So is any who is just Odd enough to have to back-engineer other people’s reactions to figure out how to react himself. So is any who is too smart or stupid for his own good.
In fact, once you figure out the various kinds of white male, there is no privilege left. And the same for every other “category” of human.
So, most of the time, the obvious form of discrimination against me comes in reaction to my accent. And it’s not even exactly unjustified. I find myself worrying, too, when talking to someone with an obvious accent. You’re not sure they can understand you, and you automatically dumb-down the talk.
But I’ve also been discriminated against because of culture. And I don’t mean Latin (though the boss in that first retail store being a dumb *ss did think I was Mexican. He also thought my name was Feliz (as in Feliz Navidad) – loooong story.) Many people (my inlaws included) just don’t “get” science fiction and fantasy. My mother in law thought and might still think that I invented “grown up stories with elves” and at one time told me I should write for children because ‘they’re the only ones with a mind as open as yours.’ She’s not alone, though most people in that position wouldn’t dare voice it to my face, so I don’t know most of them.
I was even discriminated against when I was young and slim and pretty for being young and slim and pretty and fairly well dressed. For instance, at a gathering of an unnamed high IQ society I was repeatedly asked whose date I was.
The truth is that people make judgments based not on social justice but on past experiences/what they’ve read and watched/the bottomless depths of their own weirdness. The good people revise them later, but almost every one of us has been discriminated against for something or other. And sometimes for nothing at all, but the idea in someone’s head when they first saw us.
Having realized this, I figured that if I became hung up in every time that someone didn’t treat me fairly I’d be paralyzed.
And so, in my head, I’ve decided I’ll ignore those who discriminate against me. (Save for occasionally pointing and making duck noises, because that’s only fair.)
If I let their oppression define me, I’ll be a captive of the impotence that their oppression engenders.
If I ignore it, pretend I’m the mistress of my own fate, and continue pushing to get better and to do what I want to do, then no one can stop me. Because it’s all dependent on me and how hard I’m willing to work.
And that is how I have avoided the moral hazard of victimhood. And why I feel sorry for all the writers entrapped into writing “socially relevant” fiction that enshrines and deifies victimhood.
The chains of defining yourself as a victim are a tourniquet wrapped around the soul.
The only way to stop it is to declare yourself free and ignore those you think are trying to limit you. The only way to break the chains is to believe you alone are responsible for your state of happiness and prosperity or lack thereof. Yes, other factors (including the animosity of strangers) might influence that state, but if you are willing to work hard enough you can overcome additional factors. And if you aren’t willing to work hard enough nothing, not even the most favorable of circumstances, can make you successful.
The chains of victimhood are insidious and will destroy your soul as well as your writing.
Fortunately the key to freedom is in your own hands.
Set yourself free.