Have you ever been in a tug of war? One with a fraying rope? Probably not. I suspect most tugs of war in the US would be supervised contexts, either at school or in other circumstances.
But I’ve had tugs of war with rotting rope. It looks fine, and suddenly it parts. And both sides fall. Hard. Sometimes there are injuries.
I wonder how many people out there are oblivious to the fact that we’re in a cold civil war.
I’d known it for over a decade, back when I was reading at Classical Values and saw the situation framed in that way.
But it became clearest to me over Sad Puppies.
Look, I’m not an infant. or a child. I knew the establishment in science fiction was hard left. I knew it well enough to keep my mouth shut till I couldn’t anymore.
I even knew there was a style of science fiction being pushed hard. “Literary.” And I know what Literary means these days.
Well, it means what it does every age, right? The prestige writing, the type the contemporary critics value is that which displays the marks of an excellent education and hews to that which professors of literature (or the gentry, mutatis, mutandis) say books/plays/poetry should do.
At one time, while reading about Shakespeare, I found the way that critics at the time thought plays should be written. For instance, critics of the time thought it was low and bad to have deaths happen on stage. Instead, there should be messengers who tell us the death happened, in the upper class way, off stage.
I laughed till I swallowed my tongue, because I have a degree in literature (and languages. The two went together.) One of the great play writers in Portugal, a luminary that I’ve heard floated as a possible “he was Shakespeare” whose play we studied had so many messengers announcing deaths that it was amazing they didn’t trip on each other on the approach. He’s considered great because he did everything the right way, the way the critics said he should. Of course he is not known in every country and there aren’t towns named after his characters.
Shakespeare, that commoner who just had people die (with buckets of blood) on the stage? He does.
Does that mean that I think that I can identify future Shakespeares? I wish. Because then I’d know exactly what I should write to be that big.
But I do know that there can be disagreement in tastes. And I know, as anyone should who has studied the history of any art that any “school” any “this is the good thing” can run itself off its legs. Which arguably our notion of “literary” has. Which is why each year books sell less. Which is why books that win awards and are taught as the next great thing are entirely forgettable while the old stuff sells.
So I thought that it was time for a turnover. Nothing political, right? And that is because I’m a great big, fat idiot.
Through more than fifty years of seeing slander perpetrated against anyone who disagreed with the establishment, particularly when the establishment was the result of the long march, I thought — like an idiot — that of course they would attack our taste, our intelligence, our writing. I never thought they’d go political. Much less that they’d accuse us of motives that made absolutely no sense whatsoever. Which of course they did, in the international press. (And btw US slander laws suck.)
And then it all became political. And the shock — and honestly a shock that broke something in me, because you don’t expect that. You just don’t — was that people who knew me, people I’d considered friends, people I’d have trusted, people who weren’t political, believed the slander. I lost friends over it. But more importantly, I lost trust in humanity as a whole.
Because people I knew chose to believe that I’d had some kind of bizarre racist/sexist/homophobic aims, rather than that I simply disagreed with them about what makes good literature and what should be promoted and get attention.
Sure, I knew a lot of these people disagreed with me politically. But I knew that didn’t make them bad people. And I thought they understood — despite the demonization of generic libertarians/conservatives/whatever — that I was not any of those things. Oh, yeah, and not stupid, either.
But they didn’t.
You see, we are social apes. And there is the problem. The serpent in the garden might as well have whispered “belonging.”
Which brings us to why I was shattered and why they needed to defend by bringing in the worst “sins” problem, and for that matter why people I liked and respected believed them: because not believing them meant being cast out. It meant not belonging. Because people they trusted and respected at least as myself, and possibly more, said these things. why not believe them? It was the sensible thing to do.
Someone the other day said that Sad Puppies was te beginning of the turn. She was wrong. There are many many turns in the road, and none of them are actually dispositive.
What they are is symptoms that … consensus reality was fraying.
Which is a good thing, because the way we were going, given the long march, was the primrose path to hell. Since all the news and entertainment and everything including education were hell bent in stampeding us into communism, we’d have ended up there. We were already halfway there in all but law.
But it frays the thing that connects us together. The consensus reality. The rope in the tug of war, if you prefer.
I’ve watched otherwise sane people — people I used to believe were sane — believe the most outrageous things. Yeah, and say the most outrageous things, in this year of our 3 of the Falling Masks.
I understand it. A lot of them are good people. But continuing to belong to the circles they belong requires them to believe certain things.
And it’s not conscious. None of it is conscious. It’s all trust in other people. Trust in the group. And frankly not having any idea that anyone could believe differently, because we all run in our own social circles. The trusted circles. And we trust them. That’s the whole point.
But the rest of us, outside those circles, those of us who thought we were alone and found out we weren’t, those who have been slandered in the press (and there’s a lot of us and growing) have our own circles. And we’re bunching up. And we’re hearing hells bells ring.
And the people going with the establishment don’t see it. They just don’t. They think they still have full control. They think they can regain it by stampeding it. They just want to belong. They want their circles to accept them and think they’re smart.
We’re pulling the rope, two ends.
But the rope is frayed. And if it breaks, both sides will go tail over tea-kettle.
While time remains, while we wait for Archduke Ferdinand to get shot — or hell, for Gavrilo Princip to go off and get a sandwich, because when the powder is packed this tight any spark will set it off — we must — MUST — fight with words. We must break those circles. We must break that certainty.
We must fight back with ideas and thoughts and words.
Or we’ll fight physically. And the rope will break. And the republic will fall. And with it the last best hope of mankind.
The fight might be hopeless, but what else are you going to do? We have to do the best we can.
Before the rope breaks.