Thursday, July 7, 2016

Perils of the Writer: Getting Your Politics into your SFF

I don't usually bring up real-world politics here.  I might be something of a rare bird in this industry, in that I'm on friendly terms with people with vastly varying political leaning.  People who I disagree with, even vehemently.  And don't get me wrong, I do love occasionally getting into it, politically speaking, as long as it's a good argument, and not just yelling, "You're wrong!" back and forth.
Partly, I don't bring up politics because-- especially within political things that cross with SFF writing-- by the time I know something is going on and people are talking about it, someone-- usually Scalzi, Wendig or Hines-- has more or less already said what I feel, and said it better than I would have.  We don't need another white guy going "Oh, me too, because my opinion is important!"  I stay out of it because you don't need me to weigh in on it.  I will if asked, but otherwise, I'll just listen.
However, I mostly don't talk about my personal politics here because it really doesn't reflect on what I write.  Even Way of the Shield, easily my most "political" work, doesn't necessarily reflect any specific political view as "right" or "wrong".  In fact, if any eventual reader does take a specific political message from it, that's more a reflection of their read than my intent.  But if they find something, great.  Subtext is best when it's unintentional.
But some writers aren't like that.  Some wear their politics right on their sleeves, especially in their work.  And that can be great.  Or it can be horrible.*  But I'm kind of the opinion, if you want to write that sort of thing, that's what opinion columns in the newspaper are for.  As fiction, it tends to be uninteresting.
And some wear their politics so proudly, it becomes their public persona.  That's your right, of course, but Freedom of Speech only prevents the government from shutting you up.  It doesn't stop people from thinking you're a jerk.
But let's not confuse politics for behavior.
Because there are plenty of people-- people on the far left and far right, frankly-- who gleefully act like assholes, and then when called on that behavior, use their political affiliation as a shield.  "Oh, you're coming after me because of my beliefs!"  Terms like "witch hunt" are used, because it's easier to hide behind that, make yourself a victim, instead of acknowledging: hey, I'm acting like an asshole.
It's so much easier to act like you're being persecuted.
But if you act like an asshole-- and believe me, I've been there: back in my twenties I'm sure I had some Grade A moments-- people will and should call you on it, and it's disingenuous to say it's because of your politics.  You know why?  Because I know people with the same political lean who aren't assholes, so it's clearly not some sort of obligatory behavior based on political opinion.
I am all for people wearing their politics on their sleeves.  And put it in your fiction.  Have your fiction be a full-on polemic; rip your political opinion off your sleeve and shove it down my throat.  Politics I agree with, politics I don't agree with.  Go full out.
So, without pointing fingers or getting into too many details, here's two things that have stood out to me:
1. I've noticed that the kind of people who are complaining that SF is "getting too political" and "politics shouldn't enter into it" are the very same people who can't seem to make a blog post or Facebook entry without being highly political, including actively attacking people who don't have the same politics.
2. People who complain about having to be "politically correct" tend to be people who want to be jerks.  Let me tell you a secret about "political correctness".  Do you know what it really is?  It's not calling people something they don't want to be called.  That's it.  If doing that is something you've got a real problem with, then you should take a look at yourself and decide what kind of person you want to be.  If the answer is, "I want to be a jerk and piss people off", then fine. Own that shit.  But also own the consequences.  Don't act like you can be that guy and also be surprised that you generate some ire for it.
So that's my main thing: talk the smack, if that's you want to do.  But don't be surprised if it smacks you back.
*- For the record, I've read fiction on both sides of the political spectrum that I've found eye-rollingly absurd.

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