I was raised in a village, so like Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple, I have one up on the rest of the world, since I know all kinds of evil and how evil works.
It’s not that there isn’t evil in cities, of course, but it’s more anonymous, less personal, and far more expected, so it doesn’t sucker punch you when you least expect it.
Which is why I prefer cities, preferably large cities, because it’s possible to be almost completely isolated there. I suspect for extreme introverts there are only two choices of residence, out in the middle of nowhere, or the center of a large city. In both cases, unless you’re ravishingly interesting to look at, or a celebrity, you’re like to meld with the landscape and matter to no one.
The most annoying evil of living in a village was the gossip.
I read enough regency and other fiction from historical eras to know it’s always been considered proper to take “a decent interest in your fellow man” by which they don’t mean that we should ogle good-looking guys (though by all means, good looking guys are a reason we know G-d loves women and wants them to be happy) but that it is important to be aware of those around you, their needs, their problems, or you know, if their younger son is listening to voices again and likely to try to kill you in the little alley that runs behind their garden, in which case you have no one to blame but yourself if you end up dead. (You only think I’m joking. It wasn’t death, but we did have a violent neighbor my age and it was totally my fault when I took the alley shortcut and got punched and bitten. And I’m not even disagreeing on that. I’d been told to be careful, but I was living in my own head as usual.)
But the thing I dreaded most about living in the village was rumor. Not only rumor about me — I am reliably informed I married a baker from the next village, I just SAID he was American — but rumor about anyone. Part of this was my living inside my head. I didn’t know half the names grandma rained down on me when giving me her reports. This was complicated all the more because grandma didn’t use the people’s names, or even their nicknames. Nine times out of ten she used references for which you’d have to know the gossip from her mother’s time, “Remember the people in the fields by x? The ones whose grandfather was said to be a pirate, and whose great grandmother was said to be way too attached to a billy goat? Well, SHE–”
However what truly appalled me was when someone — usually an old lady — made a reference to a village family of unexceptionable virtue and good behavior and said something like “Well, you know, their money comes from embezzling, so you know what they are.”
Often if you chased down that rumor, you’d find an ancestor in the late eighteenth century had made a fortune in the stock market and his fellows, either as a joke or because they really suspected him, SAID he’d embezzled the money. You might further find that not only hadn’t he embezzled, but he had, in his time, a reputation as a stickler for honesty. But the rumor, coming down the generations, gave it as a sure thing, and his descendants were tainted, often without being aware of it. (I did, without researching but by accident find this was the truth about a family whose ancestress was said to have got in the family way by a passing soldier — I think — and whose history was mentioned in a diary of the time which I read in another context, and the rumor was, of course, completely baseless, and known to people who had investigated it or were close to it at the time to be absurd. BUT it had grown in the telling, and subsequent generations “knew”.
We are living in an age of rumors, and I’ll be honest, my field is a village, one in which the left has masterfully controlled the gossip for decades.
For instance, when I broke in, I was told not to be publicly friends with people who had been “frozen out” of publishing. They might have been frozen out for reason (this could include things like threatening publishers, yes, but mostly it was “wrong and forbidden thoughts, or rumors of having such.”) Hanging out with them would tar me by association. Needless to say I’m too stupid to heed that advice, but most of the field does, with the odd result that if you were frozen out on suspicion of being persona non-grata, you then BECAME persona non-grata as your social circle made haste to be elsewhere. I experienced this in 2003, after the Shakespeare series failed, and experienced a “come back and we didn’t mean anything by it” in 2005 when I was selling again. By then I didn’t trust half of those people, because I’d seen their backsides as they ran away.
I was reminded of this as a fan — whom I’m not blaming — asked in a private group about one of the remaining legends of science fiction: was he racist? She’d heard somewhere that he was racist. Was that true? She couldn’t remember the circumstances.
As people answered, the circumstances turned out to be the usual and only slightly less ludicrous than when a fellow writer accused me of using a “racist epithet” when I was actually using a state department abbreviation for citizens of a certain country who happened to embrace a communist philosophy. This author, it seems, wrote an historical book in which racist characters use racist language.
The set that cannot think, but rather examines the entrails of language for signs of something other than what the text actually says, decided because he used the words, he was the racist. (Yeah, this is why you end up with things such as “African-Americans” who have never left Africa, or who left Africa for Europe. Because the left treats words as magical spells, not as significants for something real. My favorite was found in an article, recently: “She wore an African-American coat.” That better have been Kente cloth, or someone named Hannibal was involved.)
Yes, this is changing. It is changing, because people not-in-the-bubble are paying less and less attention to the serial melt downs of the bien pensant. OTOH I’m fairly sure there are people on the other side who think I’m fascist, racist, sexist and homophobic, as well as secretly Northern European (since that was one I actually caught.) And also that there is the effect I observed in the village: People quite far away from the precipitating incident for the ridiculous rumor don’t know any better and will assume there was something there, at the back. You know “No smoke without fire.”
So — when dealing in rumors, make sure you check. Even if it’s about someone you dislike intensely. Check what is actually happening, if you can with the person him/herself. And then spread the truth as loudly as you can.
The times they are achanging, and by killing one of the tools of social disgrace and ostracism for conservatives in mostly left professions, you can give them a push in the right direction.
When someone says a colleague is “well, you know” say you don’t know and ask. Nine times out of ten the “well, you know” will turn out to be conservative. (BTW heard twice in recent series which I don’t watch but listen to, as Dan is watching them and I’m doing stuff like cooking or cleaning or drawing “it’s not like he’s conservative/republican” as a “well, it could be worse.” Um…. they really thought they’d won. So much ink drunk they must pee blue.) In the remaining instance sometimes the rumor is just insane, like, you know “he once had a gay character as a villain in a story, so we know he’s homophobe.”
Deny rumor its power. Refuse to repeat it, investigate it, tell the truth.
The reputation and professional life you save may be your own. For the times, they are achanging.