“I could not move to warn all the younger soldiers
That we had been betrayed from above” Leonard Cohen
So, I get it, I do. I get pulling for the underdog. I get flipping stereotypes on their head. I even get subverting cultural assumptions.
There is something very powerful in taking a story where you least expect it. The first time it’s done.
I even understand the attraction of “nostalgie de la boue” back in the 20s, when people ripped into the Victorian culture with a fascination for anti-heroes, for losers, for the seamy underbelly of a society that had lost self-confidence, a society whom its icons had prepared for glory and who got instead the death and the rot of world war one.
In a way too, it was the fascination of all artists for the people who DO things, even if the things their characters were doing were mostly despicable.
I confess that to me Miss Marple, based on Agatha Christie’s grandmother, always sounded more real than the jaded, underworld, seamy characters written by “serious” authors of the time.
In fact, I even get the fascination with “evil” or at least bad characters, with the idea that no one is clean, with the idea that “society is to blame for everything.” They are ideas that seem very serious to the increasingly more adolescent artists of our society. All adolescents think unhappiness and pouting is the most serious thing ever, and that their parents, and their parents values are “Hypocritical”. Because they can’t live up to what they’d like to be, they assume no one does.
But here’s the problem: at this point none of those “trope exploding ideas” are actually revolutionary. They’re not shocking. They’re not strange.
The counterculture has become the culture. It has lost surprise. It has lost shock. And it has never acquired authenticity.
Look, if any businessman in a novel turns out to be clean and honorable, I am genuinely surprised. Ditto if any middle aged couple is faithful and NOT child molesters/murderers. Other things that shock me are homeless people who are genuinely unpleasant, evil or who brought their situation on themselves through drug or alcohol abuse.
In science fiction I’m amazed if an alien species is not superior to humans. I’m shocked if other species aren’t destroyed by the fell hand of humanity.
You know what else surprises me? When good wins. When there’s a happy ending. When characters work hard and attain their objective. One of my favorite re-reads is Patricia Wentworth’s The Case of William Smith. It is hokey and full of strange coincidences. But it is also a “Cream rises” type of book. And that’s so rare and refreshing, in anything from WWI on.
We have lived to see the strange spectacle of elites screaming against the culture they dominate, and calling it evil and marginalizing.
The very gatekeepers who control publishing and the movies tell us how racist and sexist and alienating those industries are, seemingly unable to realize that they are the ones with all the power in it.
Oh, I get it. I understand it. In a culture that cherishes the underdog, they want to sound like they’re perpetual underdogs. The weird thing is that they manage it. They manage it only because they also control all newsmedia and education, but they manage it. Most people, at least in fields they’re informed about, take what these people say for granted. Thus they assume that yes, science fiction is a closed shop where women aren’t welcome, without ever noticing most writers and editors and agents ARE women. Or that this complaint comes from people with all the power in the field. When I grew up reading SF authors older than I — Le Guin, MacCaffrey, and others — and when the books both by males and females often deal with definitely non-binary species.
One of the most bizarre posts on facebook, last week, on the whole situation in science fiction went on and on about the “Sad Puppies” being gatekeepers and not letting people write what they want. Saying this about a collection of people where most are authors and about half indie is mind boggling. Even leaving aside the fact we never said people couldn’t write whatever they wanted, or even shouldn’t writing whatever they wanted, but that the gatekeepers (and awards) tended to concentrate on a certain type of story which had less than universal appeal.
It illustrated for me what we’re faced with.
We’re faced with “cultural elites” who have got hold of the institutions, and who are merrily destroying them, convinced that the institutions are somehow “the other.” We’re faced with people who are in charge of society saying society is to blame for everything and trying to disassemble it, in ways that only make the problems worse. We’re faced with people who say the powerful are to blame, and then seeking to get more power for themselves, at the head of the most powerful political institutions ever created.
A society at war with itself might survive. Some countries seem to make civil war their culture. But a society delusional about reality will not survive. And a society where the elites wish only to fight the shadows of a past that objectively never existed is in a state of collapse.
Western culture is a derelict, on the corner, who having snorted too much Marx, keeps stabbing itself in the face with a pen and widdling its pants.
This is not a good strategy for survival. Sooner or later the real bad boys in the global block are going to come over, steal its money and shoot it. In fact, the only reason this hasn’t happened yet is that the spectacle is so sickening it shocks even the truly evil.
Or put it another way: Western society right now is like a splendid banquet hall, into which the young people with bright ideas gained access in the twenties or so. But they never adjusted their vision of the culture in relation to the rest of the world, never did anything but continue to rage. And they hired the people who were interested in exactly the same raging, even though those people had the best the culture had to offer, and were pampered beyond belief. This resulted in the dominance in that splendid banquet hall of people who, ignoring the food laid out for them, prefer to write obscenities on the floor with their own excrement and demolish the walls in the belief that the roof will still remain up and protect them.
I have never, ever, in history or legend, heard of an elite that so utterly HATED the culture that spawned them. Oh, sure affecting that hatred has been fashionable before. But not the actual hatred, nor the belief that what they’re fighting is not controlled by them and those like them.
I can’t even understand how any culture, any civilization survives that.
Except for two things: the internet which has given us the opportunity to know we’re not alone, and also to fight the massive amount of disinformation rained down on our heads every day. And us.
Most of us don’t want to be a true counterculture.
Heavens above, most of us just want to do our thing. I would have been perfectly happy writing of dragons and spaceships and leaving my politics only in those places where they can’t help showing, because every creator puts a bit of him/herself into the creation.
But the times are such I can’t do that. Even if all I want is to create in peace, I found myself having to fight the calumnies, the politics of personal destruction, the attacks on friends and acquaintances.
For instance, the other day, on facebook, on a post that had nothing to do with writing, a woman whose name I did not recognize told me I was horrible for repeating things and that she was relieved she no longer had to work with me professionally.
Curious, because I’m bad with names, but not THAT bad, and assuming she’d been one of the revolving undersecretaries to one of my agents or editors and might have had to deal with a manuscript being late or something (her implication of course was that I was both political at work — I’m not — and somehow a termagant. No, I’m also not. Not professionally.) So I asked. It came out she was the typesetter for Baen, and from the period she worked for them AT MOST she could have typeset Draw One In The Dark. (I don’t think she did.) IF she did that, I had NO contact with her. At the time page proofs were physical copies, and I sent them back to my EDITOR marked. (Now they are electronic, and I usually send corrections to both my editor and the typesetter.)
Meaning this woman had no opportunity to find it a great trial to work for me. But on a thread about something else, she was willing to impugn my professionalism and make it seem like no one should work with me… for the crime of disagreeing with her.
This is what they are. This is what they do. If you dare voice a contrary opinion, they will come after you with the maximum force at their disposal which at this point is just career-killing.
If they do this in the light of day, what else do they do behind people’s backs.
It is fashionable to accuse people to the right of Lenin of believing in conspiracies. But it doesn’t take a conspiracy. It takes an ideology that has identified hatred for its own home and culture as a supreme good, and who views any attempts to stop it as evil. Any believer in this ideology will do what it can to stop “evil” and because they believe they’re “powerless” they don’t balk at abuses of power.
You’ve heard of “practice acts of random kindness”? This is the same but with “practice acts of random sabotage and character assassination.” Most of them are small and stupid enough like the idiot’s attack on me on FB. But if there is an accumulation of them, it begins to have an effect.
And it puts another layer of corrosion on the culture and society.
And this, ladies and gentlemen, is why the Culture wars are important. And why I fight.
Because though no culture is perfect, western culture has achieved the highest standard of living for the most people in history.
And I believe that is worth preserving.
Lest darkness fall.