Truth as a Vehicle for Enhancing Fiction, Fiction as a Vehicle for Discovering Truth
(Speech, with minor edits, delivered at Philcon, Saturday November 17. 2018)
First of all, thank you to the committee for inviting me here. It is an honor and a pleasure. And while I’m required to say something like that out of courtesy, as it happens, I also mean it. While I do use words to lie for a living, a subject we’ll be coming back to, I do so in order to lay truth before the reader. So please believe me when I say that being here really is a pleasure, and an honor.
Before I get into the meat the subject—or some other protein for you vegetarians out there—I want to preface this by saying that from here on a lot of this will be aimed mostly at writers, at people who are working on this stuff. But I believe that reading is unlike sausage and law: knowing something of how it happens, about what works and what doesn’t and why, makes reading a more rewarding experience, and so hearing about it will be interesting. If, after I get into things, you discover that you don’t agree with me, please try to snore quietly.
Historian Gordon Wood, in his outstanding work, The Radicalism of the American Revolution, traces the changes in thinking of Americans from before the signing of the Declaration of Independence to some time after the ratification of the Constitution. It was a remarkable time for thought, because whenever there are vast social upheavals, these upheavals always generate changes in people’s thinking—sometimes astonishingly broad changes in a very short time. These changes in thinking can generate further upheavals. Carried to an extreme, this results in social revolution, producing another step toward human equality, or counter-revolution, another step back from it. I don’t think I’m at risk of embarrassing myself if I point out that we’re living in such a time right now.
One of the ways in which the thinking of many Americans changed—starting with the propertied classes, mostly white and exclusively male, many of whom were slave owners—and on down to the propertyless, the poor, the toilers—was a replacement of Republicanism in favor of Democracy as a goal to strive for. That is, whatever was inscribed in the Constitution, Democracy became more and more the accepted model for society, in history books, tavern conversations, wisdom to be passed on to one’s children. In other words, a virtuous society came to be seen less as one with virtuous leaders who made the important decisions than as one with a virtuous populace who were all responsible for those decisions.
The consequences of this change, happening within a couple of generations, are vast, but there is one in particular I want to talk about. The rejection of Republicanism in favor of Democracy was reflected, not only in politics, but in the realm of thought. That is to say, Americans became suspicious of experts, and suspicious of the well-educated, and became convinced that anyone’s opinion is as good as another’s. Here we have the origin of what we’ve all noticed: a broad streak of anti-intellectualism running through American society. The downside, if you will, of democracy. And let me add, so there is no confusion, that I’m a big fan of democracy. But, the way it developed in the US, it does have that downside.
There is a lot of variety in all of this, and degrees. In the most extreme form you have politicians—I won’t name names—who attack opponents for being too smart, a tactic that works often enough that it should frighten us. Other things go along with it, such as the emphasis on personal feelings. That is, “When you make that argument, I feel bad, therefore you must be wrong.” If you listen closely, you will find exactly that method underlying a lot of political opinions you hear.
This development in the thinking of Americans has two effects I want to talk about in relation to fiction: One is a deliberate attempt to write fiction for “the people,” that is, fiction that doesn’t challenge, or at least looks like it doesn’t challenge. Fiction for the common man. The pulps, and the categories of fiction that emerged from them, such as our own fields. This is one of the things that has led to the bizarre notion that there are two sorts of fiction: literature for the elite, storytelling for the unwashed masses, which has also led to the idea, in some circles, that you can tell how good a book is by where it’s shelved in the bookstore. Others have spoken at length, and better than I could, about the effects of this stupid and artificial separation of fiction, and how it has hurt, and arguably occasionally helped, the creation of good writing. The other effect—and this, too, has had a profound effect on fiction—is a broad contempt for philosophy, the ultimate, perfect target for the anti-intellectual.
For the most part, Americans fall into two groups with regard to philosophy: those who dismiss it as being pointless navel-gazing, and those who study it, and find it fascinating, but do not see how it has any relation to day-to-day life.
I believe it not only has an effect on day-to-day life, but it most certainly has an effect on fiction in general and fantastical fiction in particular.
First of all, when speaking of philosophy, I’m talking about ontology and epistemology: the doctrine of being, and theory of knowledge. That is, is there an objective reality, and how do we know what we know. Especially the second. Or, for a handy way of telling them apart, all Christians share an ontology, all fundamentalists share an epistemology. That is, Christianity requires the belief in a world ultimately determined by a conscious, unknowable, supernatural entity; fundamentalism requires the belief that we know truth because it’s what’s written in scripture. The German materialist Feurbach said, “To theology, only what is sacred is true. To philosophy, only what holds true is sacred.”
As far as ontology goes, that is, the doctrine of being, or what is reality, it is possible to go through life with the attitude, “I don’t know if there’s any reality, but I’m going to act as if there is, and that has the same result.” Well, no it doesn’t, but that’s an argument for another time. I want to focus on the epistemology, and how it affects the creation and the reading of fiction.
I want to emphasize this: You have an epistemology. You have a method. Even if you’re one of those who laughs at philosophy, or makes dismissive remarks about people who believe in “isms” you still have a method by which you understand the world and determine truth. Some say, “that’s fake news,” without knowing why they believe that, some say, “check your sources,” some say, “all we can know are facts” (and most of those who say that don’t know what a fact is, but that, too, is for another time), some say, “truth is whatever makes you happy.” If you’ve never studied philosophy, all that means is, you haven’t examined your method; you haven’t tested it, given it conscious thought, and decided if it’s something you agree with.
This ignorance of and hostility to philosophy, to examining our method, has obvious consequences in the field of politics: when you say to yourself, “How can anyone think that way?” the answer is probably a poor philosophical method. And as you’re saying that about someone else, chances are I’m saying that about you because I’m kind of a snide asshole.
I would like to state clearly that I believe there is an objective reality, and that it is knowable. I believe we can know theory by making deductions from facts, and that we can then test our theories. Proof of our thinking is not found in our heads, but by the changes we make in the world. That is to say, the answer to the question, “But how do I know everything I see isn’t a virtual reality simulation” is not, “It doesn’t matter,” but rather, “you’re looking for proof in the wrong place, it isn’t in our heads.” You cannot prove the truth of your thoughts by thinking. We find our proof in the changes we, socially, collectively, have made in the world.
All of which has a profound effect on my approach to storytelling, which is, in fact, why I bring it up. It also has a profound effect on my political ideology, which I’m happy to discuss if you put a glass of whiskey in my hand, but that isn’t what I’m doing here. All of that discussion of philosophy was to point out how my approach to truth, to the nature of reality, to how we know the nature of reality, makes a huge difference in how I write fantasy. If you’re a writer, it has a profound effect on your writing, too.
Now, take that thought, and put it in your pocket; we’re going to come back to it in a minute.
You’ve all heard the comment about how writers are professional liars. Usually, we tell lies in the service of truth, which is something I’ll get to in a second, but just for fun, let’s start at the opposite end: the way we use truth in the service of our lies.
One way to consider the fantastical elements in fantastical fiction is to think of it like a bank, except that it won’t get bailed out if it goes broke. What I mean is this: you make deposits of realism and withdrawals of the fantastical, and if you try to withdraw more than you’ve put in you get an overdraft notice in the form of your book flying across the room and hitting the wall. This is especially a problem for those using an ebook.
We increase our account by injecting reality. That is, by showing something the reader knows, and describing it in such a way that the reader nods and says, “Yeah, that’s right. I’ve felt that.” If you can pull that off, you’ve built up a nice supply of trust that you can spend with stuff the reader knows isn’t true. The opposite, of course, is also the case: if you do a bad job with something the reader is familiar with, you’ve got no chance with the other stuff. As I remarked to myself when reading one story I won’t name, “Why should I believe your faster-than-light drive when you obviously don’t know how to handle a firearm?”
This brings us to the fun part, which is combining them: That is, when you take something fantastical and make it feel real. I would like to now read you a brief quote that I keep coming across on the internet: “Don’t explain how it works, explain how you use it.” – Steven Brust. There are several interesting things about that quote, starting with the fact that I never said it. It is a summary of something I said summarizing something my friend Will Shetterly said summarizing something Ursula LeGuin said, and I have no idea how I keep getting the credit for it. But I’ll take it.
Anyway, here is the point that Ms. LeGuin was getting at: you don’t convince the reader that your faster-than-light drive works by throwing a bunch of fake science out there, although that by itself can be cool if you do it well. You convince the reader of your ftl drive by showing how it feels to be pressed back into the acceleration couch, by how the lights change, what’s happening on your viewscreen when the shift comes, how the ship shakes, or whatever happens. You’re describing things that the reader has actually felt, and if you do it right, it doesn’t matter to the reader that the setting for these familiar things is impossible; that part slips right by, and the next thing you know you’re at another star system where the next set of cool things is about to happen, and the reader is right there with you. I don’t think I need to remind you of seeing the Millennium Falcon go into hyperspace the first time; those of you as old as I am remember just how cool that was, and how we instantly bought into it.
As for the explanation itself, remember that a few drops of handwavium go a long way. Too much and it reduces itself to headeskium, which, as we all know, immediately upon contact with air becomes bookthrowium.
Above all, at least for me, is the reality of human interaction, of character, of personality. Nothing pulls me out of a story faster than the feeling, “Huh? What? Why is he doing that? That’s just stupid.” The feeling, on the other hand, of, “Hey, she’s just as smart as I am, that’s what I’d do,” pulls you deeper into the work.
Point being, reality can make your fantastical fiction work better.
So now we turn it around, because yeah, we really can can discover truth, understand reality better, through fiction, and that’s how we create fiction that hits hard, that punches, that stays with us. But now the question is, what sort of truth do we find in our made-up worlds?
I call a book successful insofar as people who read it are glad they did. But that’s only because I’ve learned that it’s easier to meet my standards if I set them low. In other words, “a good story well told,” as the saying goes, is worthwhile, but not all that challenging. We all know a story can do more than that. We’ve all read books that gave us new ideas to play with, or made us reconsider things we thought we knew.
I like to call us epiphanizers, at least in intention. What I mean is, the highest goal, the thing to shoot for, is to give the reader that moment of, “Oh my god, that’s true, and I’d never realized it.” To put it in more formal terms, it means to reveal contradictions that are concealed in everyday life.
So how do you do that? It isn’t simply a matter of standing up there and saying, “Hey, here’s this truth I’ve learned about life.” The ones who do that are called either philosophers or stand-up comedians. With a novel, it isn’t like you’re trying to find a slick or clever way to deliver some message, and concealing it in 100,000 words. If there were a shorter way to get your point across, you’d do that. Let me hit that harder: there’s an old chestnut, I don’t know where it’s from, that says “Until a writer can express the theme of his novel in a single declarative sentence, he shouldn’t set pen to paper.” I believe that if you can express your theme in a single declarative sentence, you should write that single declarative sentence, then make your novel about something interesting.
One element, maybe the most important, is: there’s no substitute for doing the work. That is, for studying, for learning, for getting a solid base on your subject. Our job as writers is to take truth and cast it as images; we hope as images that will stay with the reader. You can’t do that from a base of ignorance.
A key element of stage magic is simply that the audience can’t conceive of someone going through all of that work for such a tiny effect. I once saw a performance by Penn and Teller in which they actually built a clock with a second hand that moved maybe twenty percent fast just to increase the tension while one of them was underwater. That’s the sort of thing I mean about doing the work, about a lot of work for what seems to be a tiny effect. The first step in laying truth before the reader is a thorough understanding of what you’re writing about.
But that isn’t the only thing. Now take those remarks I made about philosophy out of your pockets and put them here. First, it’s harder to lay truth before the reader if you don’t believe there is any such thing. But beyond that, my point is fiction as exploration, as journey by the writer in an attempt to discover something true, that carries the reader along for the ride. Once you’ve done the research, the study, if you then set as a theme a question, something you honestly don’t know the answer to but are fascinated by, you can then use the book as a vehicle to explore it. If you do it right, you probably won’t come up with an answer to your question, but you’ll understand it better, and, here’s the fun part, the reader will be engaged with you at a deeper level, probably unaware of why that is.
I no longer remember the questions I was exploring with most of my books; only a few stand out that way. But there is always a question that, either I start with, or that I discover partway through. I remember that in Brokedown Palace, for example, I was exploring the relationship between creation and destruction, asking myself just how necessary is the latter to the former. Jhereg was about professionalism, and what it means. To Reign In Hell, really my only political book, was about a hesitant leadership in a revolutionary epoch. The Phoenix Guards was about just what does friendship mean? And so on.
I should add that the meaning of the book, what it is about to me, the author, becomes something else entirely as soon as it goes out into the world. The reader might discover meaning that has nothing to do with my idea of what I was looking at. The meaning a reader finds is every bit as legitimate as what I had in mind. By making this exploration, whether the reader is aware of it or not, there will be a deeper, a more profound experience for the reader. The book is more likely to remain with the reader. The images we use to carry out this examination are more likely to be images that become a part of the reader’s life, which I would have to call the victory condition of writing. This is also how you write a book that rewards re-reading, because the deeper you go deliberately, the more depth the reader will discover, even if I had intended those depths to lead to a subaquatic cave and the reader finds nothing but a giant squid.
Though not really the point, there is an additional benefit to this approach to writing: it helps keep you honest. That is, if you don’t know the answer to the question that is underlying your story, you have less worry about forcing your characters into actions that feel false and contrived.
I should add that this is not an argument either for or against outlining. What I’m talking about can happen if you start out with no idea where you’re going except a vague direction, or if you’ve mapped out every detail. Either way, there is room in the book for you to ask a question you don’t know the answer to.
And underpinning all of these questions is my belief that, yes, there is an objective reality, and that the fact that we’ll never fully know it does not relieve us of the responsibility to try, and that the role of the novelist, although I might never have succeeded in this, is to discover what is true and lay it before the reader.
Thank you for your patience. I’ll now take questions on this, or on anything else except particle physics. I don’t know anything about particle physics, so don’t ask.
MSS for Sale, or Rent
UPDATE AGAIN: We have listed the remaining items (so far unearthed, I guess there could be more but I’m pretty sure I don’t have ’em.) which are four Vlad novel MSS. I think Athyra is the pick of the litter, here, but they all look pretty good to me. At any rate, information is now being deciminated from a new page on this site. Please check there for current information.
This page is left as a reminder of our ways, long ago.
UPDATE: Last updated noon US/Central Friday Morning, August 29th, 2014.
|Item||Via||Sale Price||Time of Bid||Auction Ends||COUNTDOWN|
|MS, Paths of the Dead||$287.00||8/29/2014 8:55:00||8/30/2014 1:55:00||13:58:34|
|MS, Lord of Castle Black||$300.00||8/29/2014 11:26:00||8/30/2014 4:26:00||16:29:34|
|Gaimen, Punch (2 drafts)||$300.00||8/29/2014 7:45:00||8/30/2014 0:45:00||12:48:34|
|Hobb, Assassin’s Apprentice, Signed MS||$128.00||8/29/2014 11:50:00||8/30/2014 4:50:00||16:53:34|
I am getting to have quite a number of manuscripts to sell for Steven Brust. The majority of the profits of these auction sales will go directly to him. With respect to any given item I am offering, we have not made any effort to digitize or photograph and will commit to do or not do this per the wishes of whomever buyer.
Here are the items with which we are parting soonest:
- Two Paarfi (read: Steven Brust) Manuscripts including The Paths of the Dead with handwritten notes from at least two sets of eyeballs, one of which is Steve.
- Robin Hobb‘s first novel, signed. (ZOMG. I didn’t even consider keeping this. This is really why I’m selling stuff right away. Just found this. Feel a little guilt.)
- Two drafts of a novella by Neil Gaiman. (I’m pretty sure this is the foreword from Roger Zelazny, sitting here also. If the buyer doesn’t mind me taking a scan, I will. Not hand-signed that I recall.)
In the case of things handed to -rather than written by- him, all arrangements have been made by Steven in advance so please do not ask to me reach out directly to people for signatures or certificates of authenticity or anything like that.
Nope. Probably not. Oh, fine, I guess if you need photos or video of me lovingly caressing these objects you can let me know all about your fantasies.
Email will work best for you. Send me want you want to pay, with the subject line Auction Bid and the item you wish to bid on.
Twitter: dm me (or shout out to get me to follow, and then <–) with your bid @mplsCorwin, or @dragaera (which I co-run with Dad and the others who do Dreamcafe.com with him.)
Facebook: Join the Steven Brust Fan Club group (I can’t make it allow others to approve you, so you pretty much have to wait for me.)
G+: yup, I’m there. There’s a group called Dragaera. Anyway, share your plan with me. Any visibility you like is just fine so long as +Corwin Brust (mplsCorwin) can find it.
Sales are final after 17 hrs. Okay, I know, but it’s about the right amount of time for a uniformly spherical someone to work, sleep, notice and reply back to me while checking personal emails.
You have 17 hrs to make payment arrangements At least. I mean, I’ll work with you. If there has been a hot auction I’d move as fast as I could.
All items start at $100
You must beat the existing bid by $20.
Shipping Is My Problem(tm) – if you live far away from the middle of the North American continent, and you are planning to buy both Paarfi novels… be kind.
And A Few More Notes
If I get seriously flooded, you will have to watch twitter #SKZB_AUCTION if you hope to keep up minute by minute.
I’ll reply if you are winning (and also if you are beaten but maybe not as quick), and begin updating others who may be concerned via email, blogs and whatever other social media I am currently plugged into.
If you know Steven and find it easier to comment on his blog, email him, etc, as long as you actually confirm that you have successfully communicated with him, that is fine and well. That will get to me and things will happen.
Why Are You Doing It This Way
At the risk of starting the very meta discussion I hope to stifle, this is about putting money into Steven (and my) pockets because these things are just sitting in boxes about our homes.
With these factors combined, this approach provides for either the least amount to happen (without my actually shouting into a dark room), or alternately for me to personally arrange for as much as possible of the money trading hands to go to my father.
Probably my favorite Vlad book. So far, of course, but Phoenix is done and it probably won’t be so much more my favorite over time vs. when it came-out: time will tell, of course.
In Hawk, Vlad makes some decisions and we see lots of people that we like. Not all, maybe; I’m starting to accept that might not be possible in a single book in Vlad’s universe. Dad comes close with this one, though.
Our hero considers things that interests us, and doesn’t dwell overly on the many fine people who desire his especially permanent death. He also takes on more sorcerous power then we have noticed him to have done. He seems to have a pretty good time with that.
His next project as regards Vlad is Valista, something he may or may not be working on at this very minute. Even though it’s Saturday afternoon. He says his boss is a dick , as though that were an excuse. I won’t say I interviewed him, but I did get permission to run this review and may have attempted to collect facts overtly. Stalkings by sexy fangirls never came up. He is clearly having no fun at all.
Pre-orders available at Barnes & Noble and Amazon.
The Personal and the Political: A Dialogue
Not long ago, on Scalzi’s blog, I made a comment that was sharp, precise, well-worded, inarguable, and wrong. The point I addressed to the other fellow was: Who are you to tell other people how to feel? Now, who can argue with that? Since no one else can, I guess it’s up to me.
Under what circumstances is it all right to tell someone, “You ought not to be feeling what you’re feeling”? At first glance, it’s hard to come up with any answer but, “Never.” But let’s expand it a bit from the case of someone upset about not being invited to a party, to the case of someone who says, “It makes me feel bad that black people are permitted to vote.” Okay, I hope there is no one reading this blog who would not react with some form of, “Sucks to be you. Asshole.”
Are those fair comparisons? Since I’m asking the questions, I get to answer them. Enter our Socratic Stooge (thanks Jonathon Adams) from stage right, crossing to center.
Stooge: Not the same thing at all, and you know it. The point of the latter example is not how the person feels, but about equality before the law.
Me: But are we not also willing to say to that person, “You shouldn’t feel that; something is wrong if you feel that. Get it fixed”?
Stooge: Actually, we don’t have anything to say to that person at all.
Me: Cop-out! I cry foul.
Stooge: Seriously, I wouldn’t talk to that person. But if I were to talk about him, I’d say something like, “That this person feels this indicates a severe illness in our society.”
Me: Fair enough. So then, it’s all right to believe that at least some feelings, under some circumstances, fall into the category of, “That you have those feelings indicates there are social problems.” The difference between that and, “those feelings are wrong,” seems to lack substance. Would you agree?
Me: Sorry, what was that?
Stooge: Okay, you’ve made you’re point. But–
Stooge: Fuck off. Okay, you’ve made your point. But in a practical, day-to-day sense, in the way it comes up it is nearly always wrong to say it.
Me: For example?
Stooge: Glad you asked. Remember the kurfuffle around Rebecca Watson? Well, those who are upset with her (over, really, an off-hand, “by the way” remark), are, in essence saying, “You were wrong to feel threatened.” How can you tell someone that? You can say, “You were not actually being threatened,” and I doubt she’d disagree. But to tell her she shouldn’t have felt threatened is to be an asshat. That is exactly the sort of situation where this sort of thing comes up in practice. So your reductio ad absurdum is absurd.
Me: Oh, Latin. Now I’m really impressed. But here’s the thing: Are those objecting to her video (and, for the record, I’m not one), objecting to her feeling threatened, or to her talking about feeling threatened?
Stooge: Oh, that’s sweet. If you feel threatened–more, if you are in a situation where any reasonable woman would feel threatened–you should just shut up, instead of casually mentioning, “Hey, guys, here’s a thing you ought to know so you can not do that”?
Me: Maybe they don’t agree that any reasonable woman would feel threatened.
Stooge: Let’s just skip over the idea that any reasonable woman in an elevator at 4am alone with a guy coming on to her wouldn’t feel threatened. Instead let’s get to the general point: Those who are saying she shouldn’t have felt threatened are almost 100% men; and men have no right to talk about under what circumstances women should feel threatened. The whole idea is obnoxious.
Me: Is it? Is it really the case that the sex of the person making the argument is relevant to the validity of the argument?
Stooge: Sometimes. A straight guy talking about how gays should feel under certain circumstances; a white guy talking about how a black guy ought to feel–how can those things not matter?
Me: Now I feel bad about my arguments not being relevant.
Stooge: Don’t be a dick.
Me: Okay. So, let me try this, then: The actual issue is feelings. That is, it is irrelevant who is making the argument when we are talking about objective conditions; it gets muddy when we concern ourselves with subjective feelings.
Stooge: Sure. I’m fine with that. Only the line between them is what’s muddy.
Me: Is it?
Stooge: It really is. That’s why feminists, in dealing with broad social issues, talk about mansp–
Me: Stop. If the word-like grouping of letters “mansplaining” comes out of your mouth, I swear to God I’ll sic Paarfi on you. And this post is already too long.
Stooge: Okay, okay. Settle down. The point is, personal feelings are the result social interactions, and underneath all of those social interactions, are objective social conditions.
Me: Now you sound like me. But we’re not talking about abstract, general, “social conditions.” We’re talking about a very specific set: we’re talking about capitalism in the US in 2012–
Stooge: Christ. I knew you’d bring up capitalism.
Me: Shut up. I’m witnessing. All sorts of ugliness is being stirred up as if from the bottom of a barrel of muddy water–we’re seeing attacks on the teaching of evolution–ie, science–in the schools, we’re seeing legalized rape of women by doctors, we’re seeing open defense of homophobia, we’re seeing barely concealed racism in a national election. More, we’re seeing the concentration of wealth in fewer and fewer hands, the open use of military force to settle economic issues, the assault on habeas corpus expressed in the extra-judicial murder of US citizens, the utter prostration of the trade unions, attacks of the living standards of the working population.
Stooge: [Yawn] Sorry, did you say something?
Me: Asshole. The point I’m making is that these are spurred by capitalism in its death-agony.
Stooge: Even if that’s true, what’s your point?
Me: That by concentrating on subjective feelings, we are unable to scientifically evaluate objective conditions. And it is exactly by evaluating objective conditions that we can find the means to destroy capitalism, the root of all of the social ills under discussion. So the concentration by the pseudo-left on issues that are, in essence, subjective, does nothing but serve the cause of reaction.
Stooge: Your argument is specious. It comes down to: “the things you’re talking about have objective causes, so only talk about the objective, social side of it, because then I can argue with you.” But those things you dismiss as “subjective feelings” actually make a difference in people’s lives, and they have the right to talk about them, and to act upon them.
Me: Right? I didn’t say they don’t have the “right.” The guy in my first example has the “right” to be a racist prick. And I have the right to say that if we are going to actually solve these problems, then middle-class identity politics must go.
Stooge: Wait. Where did “middle-class identity politics” come into this?
Me: Just now. Weren’t you listening? No, in fact, that was there at the beginning, and is really what this is all about. Yes, there are class issues in all of this: the right of working-class women to reproductive freedom and equal pay; the right of workers to fair treatment regardless of affectional preference, and so on. But the very hallmark of middle-class politics is to conceal the class issues, or dismiss them as “another form of oppression.” What makes class issues so vital is not that the poor suffer more than other oppressed groups, it is that class society is at the heart of all of these problems, and that only the working class has the power to effect the revolutionary transformation of society. The essence of middle-class identity politics is to deny that. This is why those who concentrate on issues of feminism, racism, &c outside of their class content, are, in fact, harming the fight for equality.
Stooge: So Rebecca Watson should have just shut her mouth?
Me: Nope. She should have done just exactly what she did. She provided useful information to, well, among others, me. My point is not that there is no place in the world for discussions of subjective feelings, or of social ills that cause them. My point is simply this: If you actually wish to solve broad social problems, then what is necessary first is an understanding of the objective conditions that cause them; and understanding of objective conditions begins, not with a discussion of feelings, but with a scientific approach.
Stooge: You don’t think discussion of social conditions spurred by feelings can become a scientific discussion of objective social conditions?
Me: It can, I suppose. But what usually happens is that someone wants to talk about, say, racism from a middle-class, subjective viewpoint. When someone wants to move from there to a discussion of the broader, objective circumstances (eg, bringing up the class content of racism), what happens in practice is that he derails the conversation, pisses everyone off, and accomplishes exactly nothing.
Stooge: So what do you do when one of those discussions is going on? Ignore it? How does that change anyone’s understanding?
Me: It’s tough. I would say you pay very close attention, you see if it is possible to make some points in a way that will encourage a scientific approach, and you do your best to judge when it is time to shut up and go away.
Stooge: I’ll take that as a hint. But one thing: Admit that you were glad Obama won.
Me: Obama’s victory indicated that there’s some time before the ruling class has to pull out all of the stops and declare open class warfare, and we need more time, so, sure, I was glad Obama won.
Stooge: Bullshit. You were pleased he won. I was with you on election night, remember? Mr. Big Bad Hard-core Red was happy that the lesser of two evils–
Me: Go fuck yourself.