Rant: An assumption that damages the most vulnerable new artists

I saw the following two tweets go by yesterday:

If a marginalized group criticizes a problematic book, you should be listening. You should believe them and actively work not to undermine.


If you aren’t a member of a marginalized group, you can’t decide what they find problematic. Period. When they say something is, listen.

The term “marginalized group” is the first problem. Can we please be careful? Yes, indeed, there are groups who are in many important ways stuck in the margins of U.S. society in general and fantasy fiction in particular, and this hurts both them and the field as a whole, which means it hurts me because I like reading good stuff.  But when an unemployed black auto-worker in Flint, who is having his heating and electrical cut off while his kids are drinking poisoned water, is put into the same group as President Obama, who is arguably the most powerful individual in the world, then we may need to consider exactly how we’re grouping people, don’t you think?

Another issue is the supreme, colossal arrogance of saying, “If a marginalized group criticizes…” as if the entire group got together to attack a book.  You’re saying, “As a member of this group, I am speaking for all members of this group.”  Was there an election or something?  I still remember how furious I was when, about 20 years ago, a certain now-deceased Jewish writer objected to a certain book, claiming it was antisemitic.  As it happens, I thought the main character was, and the book was not, but that is a subject we could disagree about.  I did not object to his opinion, but the way he expressed it made it sound as if he were speaking for all Jews, and it was insulting to have someone I disagreed with claiming to express my opinion.  And, no, you don’t get to just assume that, “People in my group who differ with me are complicit in their own oppression.”  You can make the case, but when you make the assumption you are being offensive, dismissive, and pompous.

But the big problem, and the reason for this rant, is the belief that somehow criticism that focuses on certain issues is subject to different and special rules: if some random person says of a book, “it was boring,” or, “it was predictable,” or, “I didn’t care about the characters,” most writers know enough, or should know enough, not to listen unless it comes from one of those she or he relies on for judgment: editors, beta readers, trusted friends, and so on.  Being told, “I was bothered because there were no members of this group,” or, “I was bothered bothered by your depiction of this group,” is absolutely no different.  Writers need to find those whose judgment they trust, listen to them, and ignore everyone else.  Of course, these are valid subjects, and anyone reviewing the work or discussing it has a right and even a duty to mention anything he or she sees as a problem.  But expecting—demanding—the writer pay special attention to this sort of criticism, or, as the tweet says, “you should be listening…when they say something, listen” is going to inhibit, stifle, and maybe even kill the work of the most insecure new writers. Unfortunately, there is no relationship that I’ve found between the power of a new writer’s voice, and the self-confidence of that writer.  By filling social media with this sort of insistence, you are hurting new writers, you are hurting art.  You are making our field less vibrant, less exciting, less creative.  Stop it.


The Worker and the Liberal

Let me tell you a story. The individual family farmer, because of his precarious position in capitalist society, will of necessity develop a very careful attitude toward money—those who fail to develop this attitude don’t last long as farmers. This attitude easily becomes part of the farmer’s character, with the result that, often, they are relatively poor tippers. No one who understands their conditions can blame them for this, but, justified or not, it becomes an assumption. Back when I was working at the Minnesota Renaissance Festival, it was simply accepted wisdom, and, because performers often survive on tips, farmers were generally spoken of scornfully.

One day, sitting around with a few people, a band-mate made an insulting remark about farmers, and my friend Maria promptly said, “Just don’t say that with food in your mouth.” Zing.

Now I’m going to change the subject.

40 years ago, a conversation like this was not uncommon:
“Yes, I’m prejudiced against black men. I’m a white woman, and if you’d been harassed by black men as often as I have, you’d be prejudiced too.”

Or perhaps you’d have heard this:
“Mexicans are lazy. You can argue as much as you want, but I’ve worked with them, and I know.”

Or maybe this:
“You just can’t count on women in high-pressure jobs. They get emotional and make bad decisions. I’m basing this on my own experience.”

Today, hearing things like that makes the bile rise in our throats. We understand, at least more than we did, the way personal experience can be warped by confirmation bias, by prejudice picked up from media and popular culture, and perhaps we even understand how statements like that both reflect and sustain ignorance and bigotry and oppression. Anyone saying those things today would be liable to get, at a minimum, a cold glare by most of us. And rightly so.

“Blue collar workers are bigots and sexists. I know, I’ve worked with them.”

When I’ve seen the above statement on social media, it has generally gone by without a challenge. Think about that for a minute.  If you pat yourself on the back for “calling out” racism and sexism, but either say or permit statements like the above, think about whose work you’re doing by accepting and perpetuating these stereotypes.  Ever seen “All In The Family?” It was one of the first efforts in popular culture to create this image of the working class, and it was a lie then, and it is a lie now, and when that show came out it was never challenged by liberalism, because it fit in with their agenda. Workers are stupid and bigoted, so it is perfectly okay to continue rising in society by stepping on them, and we can also cheerfully mock them as their living standards are slashed and their children are sent off to die in imperialist wars.

But if you really do have to make an insulting and degrading remark about workers, just don’t do so while you’re using anything that was created by human labor.

Heads Up: People are not stupid, and they don’t suck

Rant on

I am utterly out of patience with these, “humans suck” “people are stupid” sorts of comments. The very kindest thing to be said is that they’re shallow and unscientific. Humans are resourceful in problem solving, self-sacrificing in disaster, passionate in creating art, ingenious in developing technology, determined in fighting injustice. For every government you show me that is refusing refugees, I’ll show you thousands of their people in the street protesting against it. For every backward comment from a Trump supporter, I’ll show you dozens of outraged responses. For every child murdered by drones, I’ll show you scores of people who are appalled.

Even in this ugly, degenerated capitalist system that builds greed and selfishness into every aspect of life, that forces every relationship between people to be mediated by relationships between things, that turns the struggle for existence into a zero sum game, human beings have never stopped fighting to make things better, to expand basic rights, and to increase equality. Cynicism is the result of ignorance, cowardice, or knavery.

Rant off

I Wonder Where They Get The Idea

Problem: Someone on foreign soil is suspected of terrorist activities.
Solution: Kill him with a drone.

Problem: Foreign government acting against US interests.
Solution: Arrange a military coup.

Problem: Anti US activities in a foreign country.
Solution: Bomb it (if a few innocent civilians get killed, so what).

Problem: Major organized activity that interferes with profits of US corporations.
Solution: Military invasion, mass casualties, martial law.

Problem: Someone low on the social scale fails to give a cop proper “respect.”
Solution: Shoot him a dozen or so times.

Problem: I got fired from my job, I don’t like how my classmates treat me, I oppose abortion, I’ve been rejected by a lady.
Solution: ????

No, I Won’t Engage With You

Dear bigoted, reactionary asshole:

No, I won’t engage with you.  Save yourself some carpal tunnel and quit asking.

You say you want to have a reasoned, logical debate about whether the police are right to brutally murder unarmed people. You say you want to have a reasoned, logical debate about whether it’s okay for millions of people to be without health care. You say you want to have a reasoned, logical debate about whether those capitalism has deemed unnecessary should be left on the refuse heap of poverty, violence, disease, and hopelessness. You say you want to have a reasoned, logical debate about whether a government that murders the innocent and bombs cities has any responsibility for the refugees their wars produce.

Maybe—I doubt it, but maybe—you are sincere in wanting to debate these things. But you know something? The families of those murdered by thugs in blue uniforms aren’t ideas, they’re people. So are those without health care, jobs, or hope. The system you defend has done that to those people, and when you reduce them to mere ideas, to data points we can use to play idealistic logic games, you make me throw up in my mouth a little.

I do not stand apart from and above this world, I am in it. And I am a partisan. I am on the side of the working class, of the oppressed, of the exploited. If you tell me that the exploitation and oppression of those who produce all of the value in this world (as well as those who would be producing value if they hadn’t been scrapped like an old CRT) is wrong, is a problem, and must be addressed, then okay. Now we can talk about ideas. Now we can talk about how to solve the problem, and what attempts will make it worse, and work together to find a way forward. Because then you’re on my side.

But you haven’t done that. You have shown, again and again, that you believe personal profit is more important than human lives. By doing so, you have taken the side of the oppressors, of the enemy. I don’t debate the enemy, I debate with my comrades about how to defeat the enemy. And when you ask for a reasoned, logical debate, you just show that, in addition to having no heart, you have not the least understanding of what is actually at stake.  Someday, maybe, the world will educate you if you let it, but I have no interest in trying.

So, to put it as politely as I can, bugger off.