Fear and courage and fear as a weapon to enforce comformity and obedience are part of the themes of Darkship Revenge [I knew it was a bad idea to have two R words in a row, ah well] whose tagline could be “it’s best to live on your feet.”
I normally have trouble telling you what the “point” of a book is even after I finish it until it rests for a while and I can think, and in fact I just realized the synopsis I sent in for Through Fire was at best incoherent, so I’ll need to redo it and also add a paragraph to the payoff page, because what I have there could be interpreted as what I mean. Or it could not. I’d rather clarify it. Not a moral, precisely, but tying the threads together. (The funny thing being that in conversation with Kate I told her exactly what the point of that book was, but it still wasn’t on that last page.)
This made me think of what Brad Torgersen (rightly) says “this field is soaked with fear.” Yesterday, I read a post, possibly linked from insty, talking about why fear works so well on the middle class who has career aspirations (we’ll talk more about that later) and who can’t afford to be seen with the wrong people, supporting the wrong ideas, talking to the wrong side of the fence.
As I’ve watched person after person “distance” themselves from Pamela Geller, a disgraceful and bizarre idea, because, let’s make this very clear: she had a contest for people to draw Mohammed in vile ways [This is what I’d heard. That is was the “most offensive” that would win. Apparently I was wrong — quelle surprise — it was just to DRAW Mohammed. Only offensive to devout Muslims of certain sects.]; two people tried to shoot her and everyone in there.
Let’s repeat that in case you don’t get it: lines on paper, which no one who potentially could be offended by it needed to see were responded to with an attempt at killing her.
If you don’t think that’s bizarre, substitute the contest to draw Mohammed with a contest to draw Christ in the most vile way possible [we already have that. It’s called the NEA-ed.] Imagine that two armed people showed up to shoot you for it. How many people who did the ritual “Geller made the poor Muslims do it” all over the media, including Fox News, would do the same? One? None?
Of course, Christians don’t do that. At most they would show up at pray at you. And THAT would be considered hateful and closed minded, and people would talk about being intimidated going into the art show [Every time another show comes up with a way to insult Christians this script plays out.] And then the police would show up to keep them separated, just like outside Planned Parenthood, the people who pray the rosary at you have to keep a certain distance or be arrested, because, well, they make people feel bad and it’s hate speech.
I have yet to hear a talking head say “Well, if people don’t want to be prayed at, they shouldn’t have abortions in a fixed place, in public. I mean, it’s like a trap for Catholics.” Or “if people don’t want those fundies to show up and shout Bible verses at them, they shouldn’t have [yet another] a play showing the Messiah of Christianity having gay sex.” Or… No, you don’t hear it, and for students of religion who wonder about things like the Crusades which, they keep telling us, have no Biblical support, it might be a good idea – as the good professor says – to think about the incentives you’re providing.
But people who are distancing themselves from Gellar in a hurry aren’t acting like they’re afraid of death: afraid of being blown up or shot or stabbed as so many people who spoke up against the religion of “peace” have been. No. They’re afraid of losing public face. Their “distancing from Geller” is not because they’re afraid the Jihadis will show up at their door, or stab then during their morning bicycling, no. They’re afraid their friends and neighbors will think they’re anti-Islamic which has been declared by those who command the heights of the culture to be bad. More so, they’re afraid their BOSSES will think they’re anti-Islamic or “hateful” (since the left is now determined to tell us “hate speech” which is ALWAYS defined by those in power over the culture “isn’t protected.” [Which is a lie. The protection of speech is ONLY needed for speech others hate. Otherwise, no need. No one has ever been told they can’t say they love mom and apple pie.]) and their career/employment/chances at recognition in their specialty will be over.
It’s easier to cow most humans (social animals) with social ostracism than with death threats. There’s something heroic in standing up against a death threat while merely standing up against losing your job because of a whisper campaign calling you a poopy head looks slightly silly. Worse, because it’s a whisper campaign you’re never absolutely sure it’s not all in your head.
This was brought to a head by the comments yesterday about my blast from the past. I said that (as I remember, I locked that post on LJ and d*mn if I remember the password eight years later) there had been a mass fit throwing (what we now call a twitter storm) and hints that I’d never work in this town again. When someone asked for them as proof that they’d threatened careers before, I tried to remember if there was anything specific enough from either editors or writers who were better known than I (which at the time was practically everyone, including Bob who mans the seven eleven and hand sells his novels from under the counter to late night junkies.)
I don’t know precisely anymore, but I doubt there was much more than “You’re not who I thought you were.” And “I thought you were on our side” and such things from people with career ending ability. Look, they don’t usually go around saying that in public.
But think about those two sentences in the context of being said by someone who can deny you employment, should you ever need it. Did they threaten your career? Well, no, but should you not fall into line, the ability to end it is there nonetheless.
Look, part of the problem with this is that the US is no longer a meritocracy. I don’t know when it happened here, because I wasn’t here, but I remember when my brother graduated college and was applying to his first job. It took him years to find an engineering job, partly because the job market for computer people sucked in Portugal at the time. So he applied to a lot of things, including American companies.
The first step in this was a test. Partly it was a competency test, partly a personality test. A lot of this was boogaboo. I remember after one test Alvarim called home to verify when he’d been weaned, just to know if he’d had it right in the test. Boogaboo. Nonsense. “Magic.” And full disclosure in 1981 I took one of these tests for employment in the largest newspaper in the city at the time, and I never got called back for an interview. I suspect it was the “world affairs” portion as I’d been in the states for a year and they had a different “narrative” than in Portugal. Or it could have been that there were 200 of us taking the test for two positions and I had a high school diploma with one or two Journalism AP classes. Frankly, I was shocked that on my resume I was called to take the TEST.
Anyway, the tests weren’t perfect, but it was within the rights of a company to administer the tests, and I understand (can’t swear. As I said, I wasn’t here) that it was once widely used here. In practicality this meant the graduate from Harvard and the guy who taught himself computers in his basement were co-equals. The highest test won.
I still had a test for my last “real” – translator – job, because when you need someone with seven languages, you’re not going to get them all in normal ways and some will be self-inflicted, so you need to test them. How they get away with it, I don’t know.
I know that the other tests, particularly given by large corporations, were ‘debunked’ as being (usually) ‘racist’ and such, and therefore discriminatory. I don’t know if they’re illegal, or if they simply aren’t “done.”
I do know that more and more as I’ve been here, your employment is likely to depend on whom you know and who can recommend you for a position. That means a whisper campaign can as effectively shut you out of making a living as it could do to a writer back in the days of five houses who all talked to each other and no other route to reach readers.
And that’s why the reaction to Sad Puppies and to Pam Geller. Because people must be seen not to be “bad”. They must appease the people who can destroy them, before the whisper campaign starts.
One of things that has amused me, but not really, through the Sad Puppies thing was watching people who’ve known me for years suddenly think I was “right wing” in the way the SJWs say I am – i.e. that I subscribe to theories of race or gender supremacy, or that I think women shouldn’t work (which would be mighty funny, considering I can’t remember an ancestress who didn’t have her own business, going as far back as I can go) or that I’m an homophobe, or whatever.
Whisper campaigns are scary effective, because they can get in behind your rational thought. If someone told you to your face that I was a white supremacist and you’d met me and (particularly) my kids, you’d probably pee yourself laughing. BUT if the same info came to you whispered, as “Well, you know, her opinions on race are just nuts” or worse “of course, I disagree with her thing on race” – incredibly effective because it leaves you to make up in your own head how bad my opinions must be for someone to say just that.
And this is why luminaries are publicly denouncing SP and Pam Geller and anyone else who steps out of line. Because behind their brain they know we’re pretty despicable, even if – particularly if – no one ever told them anything concrete about our despicableness.
So, have there been career threats? Not open, and nothing any of us could point to. Until recently. Recently – because we’re freed by the fact we can always go indie and have a truly closed pen name [and btw, to me the clear admission that they were manipulating things in secret came when my agent told me we couldn’t have a pen name that was secret from the publishers. And also when someone – a midlister – did have a secret pen name (I believe the book is The Seamstress but I don’t remember the author name. And the title could be wrong, though the sense is right) and got pushed to bestseller, and the publishers were furious about her having a secret pen name. Which doesn’t make any sense, unless they have a lot of control. But even having been in the field for years, I greeted that with relief. Because it confirmed what I suspected.]
The problem with whisper campaigns is that you can’t defend yourself, you can’t argue, and you can’t kill them once they start.
So when a whisper campaign starts against someone, the best way is to fall in line and denounce the person loudly and ritually. Which is why Brad is right, and my field (and a lot of society) is drenched, dripping and stinking with fear.
OTOH having been on the other side of this let me tell you, if enough of us refuse to live on our knees, then living on our feet becomes possible. Of course, for the first few this means metaphorically dying (or having your career and character – which is far less glamorous) on your feet.
Is it worth it? I think so. I sleep better at night, and trust me, this is very important. And I can see myself in the mirror without flinching. Also, I’m not jumping at shadows. (“You’re not the person I thought you were” might be completely inoffensive, even said by a publisher, but when you’re afraid they’ll kill your career, it becomes a threat, even if they didn’t mean it that way. So you’re jumping at shadows [and I don’t remember if there were more concrete threats, but to me those were clear enough. Then again I was drenched with fear.])
To me it is worth it. Would I have done it, if Indie weren’t a possibility? I doubt it. I’d probably have walked away from the field altogether.
But what this means is that in your very own field it is important to be on the lookout for opportunities for freedom, for the ability to work, to practice, to establish a career regardless of what people think of you. And then you can be free and stop the ritual denunciations and the crazycakes agreeing with insane people (“lady” is an insult! Totally.)
I know for a lot of you this isn’t possible yet. But I know, also, a lot of those drenched with fear in my own field are ignoring the wide open door. They’ve bought into narratives of less quality (and there’s a rant on that later.) So, don’t shy from the open door, look for it. Create it if you can.
Always look for a chance to live on your feet, or to quote Heinlein, to be a live lion.
Ça ira. Potentia vobiscum.
UPDATE: Welcome Instapundit readers, and thanks to Glenn Reynolds for the link.