Yesterday, I was talking to some friends about how these days if you’re not explicit in your politics, in your books, people go reading tea leaves to determine which side you’re on.
The results can be absolutely hilarious, particularly when you WERE being politically explicit, or so you thought, but your point was apparently too subtle for the reader. Remember the guy who thought A Few Good Men was about straight guy bashing? And who refused to believe it when I told him that didn’t even stand up to mere reading? Yeah, I do too.
That is the dark side of this new tendency. Do you have a woman who (for reasons explained in the text, mind, not just because) is a kick ass warrior? Well, then you must be a brain dead feminist.
Did you happen to write a fantasy which rather conventionally uses the link between land and king? Well, then, EVERYONE KNOWS you’re a closet statist no matter how many lumps you’ve taken in the cause of liberty.
This is a problem for me and others like me, sometimes. Being what I call “gateway writers”, ie. the gateway-in-the-head opens and novel pours out, you aren’t entirely in control of all the elements in your book. The thing has a life of its own. It goes by itself. the sticking points can be such stupid things as names — I couldn’t write Draw One In the Dark AT ALL until I gave up and called Kyrie Kyrie. I mean, I tried Chris, I tried Kailie, I tried everything under the sun, but I couldn’t write it till she was Kyrie — or something like the character’s orientation, or even some point of world building, like little anti gravity wands called brooms.
Other details are more flexible. And sometimes, while writing the book, you realize the chapter in the middle is blank. It needs to be there, you know what it needs to accomplish, but it’s bloody blank, unlike the other ones which are being dictated to you word per word. So you have to reconstruct it from first principles, but that’s okay because you did learn first principles and the writing craft (right?) because the gateway goes by itself, but it doesn’t mean it does everything for you. Heck, if you’re inexperienced, the first books it pours out are often devoid of plot, and you need to know the craft to see what it just dropped in your lap and clean it up/insert plot so it’s interesting to someone else who doesn’t know every eructation of your mind is pure gold (the fools.)
But it’s not just gateway writers, not fully in control of details who get bitten by the new “read the tea leaves, find the writers’ politics and proceed accordingly.” There are also near-apolitical people, like my husband. He’s not apolitical, mind you. Not anymore. The last eight years have got him wound up and definitely on the right. Not that he was ever on the left, understand. He just hasn’t spent a lot of time in his life thinking about political principles, political organization or the various plays in the game of political inside baseball. He grew up believing our system of government granted you that right to ignore things, and not have your freedom stolen from you in an instant. Yes, it was wrong, but it was the way he was brought up.
Most people are like that, I think. We’re the ones who are broken, who have been bitten once too many and are now vigilant, every minute, and don’t trust ANYONE in power or authority. (More on that later.)
Because my husband believed mostly in being left alone, his voting decisions usually came up against the left, but the thing is he didn’t think of politics at all between elections and it was only when a re-election approached that he started looking at what the guy elected had done.
I suspect there’s more of him than of me, when it comes to politics. I also suspect that many of them, not just him, are newly engaged and worried, and realizing they have to fight to keep what they have, because the left is behaving like we’re occupied territory and trying to strip us of Western civilization in favor of multi-culti Marxism which doesn’t work: doesn’t work socially doesn’t work economically, just plain doesn’t work.
This is, btw, part of the reason the left has gone so fricking unhinged. They pitched the best standard bearer of their camp, someone steeped in their values and skilled at selling it to the masses against their PICKED OPPONENT, a reality TV star whose blurtings (if not his appointments, thank heavens) were often a caricature of what leftists think the right believes (and therefore inherently repulsive to the left, the right, and to a vast portion of upright, breathing human beings, or perhaps apes.) And she still lost.
At some level (most of us weren’t really quiet about it) they have to know what put Trump over the top wasn’t the true believers, but the nose holders. The people who were voting not for Trump but against Hillary. And since she’d made no secret of being the carrier of the leftist project, the attempts at progressive utopia, that means Trump’s election was the masses standing in front of the liberal project going “Hit the road Jack, and don’t you come back no more.”
They know this, I think, even if they wouldn’t admit it under ministrations to include thumbscrews and iron maiden. And that’s what is driving them insane, because they are a cult who believe in the tenets of Marxism as the OBVIOUS be all and end all definition of good.
What just happened is the majority of the country (except California, and pal, their process is so screwy we don’t even know how many of those voters could legally vote, exist, or even are still alive) saying “No, we don’t want your nirvana. And we’re going to pull down the temple, too.”
You’d be unhinged, too.
Which brings us to people who aren’t particularly aware of politics writing fiction. It’s very easy to stumble on something. Say your world has a planned economy, because it’s easier to write. Boom, the right will decide you’re straight up communist and revile you and throw the book against the wall.
Say that your enemy (true story bro. Coming up) the big bad engaged in committing genocide in your world is a polygamous, misogynistic society whose names sound vaguely middle-eastern. The left will decide you’re the world’s worst person (not, me, I’m only half of the world’s worst person) who’s clearly Islamophobic and want to tear hijabs from teenagers in the subway. And they will character assassinate you, talk trash about you at parties and generally make your possibilities of a traditional career nil, unless you want to join me and the other reprobates at Baen. (Which in my case would make no difference at all, of course.)
This is for largely apolitical books.
And this is the thing that is bad about being this divided.
Now for the good thing: we’re this divided because half the country isn’t powerless, and isn’t sitting down and taking it meekly anymore.
What? You weren’t aware we were doing it before?
You see, in the bad old days of gatekeepers, the way to bet, to have a career in any literary field, was to be as far left as you could stand.
That meant if you were a communist, you were welcome to spout as loudly and crazily as you wanted. Our field, in fact, is full of more or less open communists in its ranks and historical roles, but our field are pikers compared to mystery.
If you were a conventional democrat, there was nothing wrong with dropping three or four paragraphs of right-wing-bashing in the middle of your book, because everyone knew anyone who voted for the right couldn’t read and were too busy screwing their siblings, anyway. (The occasion wasn’t even slightly unique when I walled a book I’d been enjoying — for a definition of enjoying that encompasses mysteries read once and never thought of again — because she had three pages of apropos-nothing Reagan bashing, explaining how he was crazy and was going to get us in a nuclear war. The fact I was reading this under the Clinton administration didn’t improve matters.) It was probably good for your career.
But if you were anywhere to the right of that, from “I actually kind of like democrats, but I think their economics are crazy” to where I stand, screaming “No kings, no queens, no lords, no ladies; we won’t be fooled again” then you were stunningly out of luck. You had to keep your mouth shut tighter than a bear trap in mid-winter.
And because the left was convinced (another reason they’re stunned) that there was no opposition, that everyone agreed with them and that all they had to do now was mop up the objections to the DETAILS of their program, as well as get people used to taking moral direction from the government, the line that was “safe” moved.
When I first started publishing, it was becoming so that you knew unless you were or were willing to pretend to be vocal left, you were watched ALL THE TIME. If they weren’t sure what political color you were, they read the tea leaves minutiously. I have several friends who are genuinely apolitical, and from where I stand mild-left, and who were as effectively blocked from any real promo and support as I was. Because the gatekeepers weren’t sure, and since their definition of good literature is “literature that serves our political goals” these people were never good enough.
(BTW, as a political movement, yeah, I know, you guys are statists, but a word of warning: if you make the penalty for SPEAKING against you stuff like losing any chance of a career; being destroyed socially; being marginalized from polite discourse, particularly if you do that for minor deviations from the orthodoxy, you aren’t actually eliminating opposition. You are simply eliminating the warning signs that it exists, and the ability to guess how large it is. You are, in fact, similar to a householder who disables his alarm system and rips out the sensors from doors and windows, in the firm belief he’s thereby eliminated thieves. Just a word to the wise.)
And then it moved to a more stringent standard, where the LEFT and the gatekeepers were reading the tea leaves. What? The writer had one throw away line about corrupt rulers? The rumor mill would start. “This is a right winger. Man the ramparts. Kill the witch.” Only it was more whispers at parties and meals, about how this wasn’t “one of the good people” and then in the game of telephone, further down, the normal “crimes” being accrued, by rumor, to the hapless critter “why my dear, I heard she’s guilty of -ism”, “He prefers his parsnips unbuttered, which means he’s an -ist.”
Since those can now be deduced from the fact that you don’t show any signs of them, this wasn’t exactly hard.
Things stood more or less there, when Indie came in and there was the possibility of making a living in Indie and I stepped out of the crazy train and said “I’ll work indie and Baen only, and say what I like, and own my own soul, and besides, these are my middle fingers.”
Which brings us to the GOOD side of tea leaf reading, as tiresome as I find it at times: it’s both sides doing it now.
This is good, just like boycotts, with which I disagree on principle, are now bi-partisan.
This is important, because for a long time there was a distinct reward to heads of a company, or employees of a company, or really anyone, virtue-signaling by spouting lefty stuff. What did you have to lose? The right would still read you/buy your products/ admire you, even as you bashed them and acted uber-left. Otoh the slightest sign of deviationist non-left thought, and the left boycotted you, slandered you, mau-maued you and shut you down. So your career/company/whatever could be destroyed by saying anything to the right of Lenin, but spouting leftist tripe at worst made no difference, and at best enriched you.
Which is how we got to the current state of every powerful institution dissing the country and system they live in, the one that created them, and enshrining a system that never worked, and which filled mass graves besides.
So, the fact the right is acquiring fangs, the fact that there are now, for big companies and institutions, equal rewards and punishment for saying anything political at all; the fact that they have to weigh “but the left will love me” with “but clearly the left is not a majority” is a GOOD thing. It’s the beginning of fighting back.
Mind you, most of the institutions haven’t figured it out yet. The dime hasn’t dropped. It’s starting to, but right now the result is mostly sheer confusion. It will drop though. They’re being spanked with an ax every time they think the ancien regime is still extant, and that type of lesson eventually takes hold.
Which in the long run favors apolitical behavior from institutions and large companies. And this is good. And in the arts, maybe it will foster “publishers whose politics we know” instead of a straight up left united front pretending to be neutral.
All these are good.
It’s just on the way there, people like me whose writing is a more or less autonomous being, and goes by itself, are going to offend both sides. Because in a complex world building, if you go reading tea-leaves, you’ll always find something that’s not COMPLETELY in tune with this week’s message.
Meh. I don’t care. My politics are fairly open, and most sane people will look at those instead. The ones that insist that despite what I know I meant I meant something completely different are just snowflakes. Left or right, snowflakes have to flake.
I’m not worried about divisiveness because in the end divisiveness is the sign of a healthy society.
It’s when society speaks with a unified voice that you have to wonder who is suppressing whose speech and who is being punished for speaking. (Something to keep in mind when dealing with unified voices from abroad.)
Liberty is fractious and loud, shouty and undisciplined. It’s what makes it Liberty. And it’s a glorious thing.