Freedom of Writing

Is Writing Dying

  • by Michael DiMatteo

What is the essence of good writing? There isn’t one “essence” as good writing is simply, well, good writing. The author is able to pull you in to anything he or she is crafting, and the story or setting or subject is made compelling by said author to the point that the pages turn themselves and there’s nothing you can do about it. That is the essence of good writing. However….

As I peruse the social media pages of budding authors, wander the forests of Facebook, or peer through the lens of Instagram, I’m struck by a few things that are causing me to think writing—true writing—is dying a slow, painful, almost imperceptible death.

I see more and more people asking for permission to write on certain topics, topics that one would deem today to be triggering, a term I’ve come to loathe. Have we become so sensitive that we now need a warning of some sort before sensitive ears or eyes see something they may not like or might find offensive? The very idea of asking for permission to write anything is, to my mind, against everything our society stands for. So what if someone is offended, put off, or is bothered by your chosen topic. That’s their problem, and their burden to overcome, not the writer’s.

Case in point—on one writer’s group on Facebook, a person began their question to the group thus: “I’m sorry if this is triggering for some of you but my question is about my story which involves a cop. Is it hard to sell a story with a heroic cop?”

That alone isn’t the icing on the cake, but the responses were. One said, “Trying to find a hero among state issued killers is a tough sell…” Another said, “It’s harder to make believable now than 37 years ago” I still can’t figure out the 37 years ago thought.

The question alone bears examining. Why is someone is asking a question about selling a book involving any topic? I get it, if you’re writing for profit, as we all try to, but…write your book. If it doesn’t sell, so what? For some reason, that book was pushing to come out of your head and needed to be birthed, so write it and let the chips fall where they may.

I can’t imagine Voltaire, the great French writer, playwright, and social observer dithering over whether or not to write the Philosophical Dictionary or Candide. Did Erasmus ask around if he should write The Praise of Folly, a rather controversial yet humorous story poking fun at the Catholic Church in the 16th century?

I wonder, did Thomas Paine ask for permission as he penned his masterpiece Common Sense which actually advocated for revolution? Luther—well—he wrote critical works on the Popes that almost guaranteed his death, yet he not only survived but thrived in an age where papal criticism was truly a death sentence. I’d say Luther triggered a number of people, and we know he did—but pressed on despite said triggering.

Laura Cereta, the great 15th century feminist writer wrote and wrote and wrote, all the while being vilified for doing so as it was not a woman’s place during that historical period. Dante Alighieri penned the scathing The Divine Comedy, skewering with extreme prejudice his political enemies and causing a rather significant uproar during his lifetime. I’m sure triggering anyone was the last thing he was concerned with.

So, too, one must one take into account historical context. Without getting to philosophical here, dangers in previous centuries meant danger to life and limb, not cancelling. Those men and women were not deterred in their quest to write, so why are we in our time?

The very notion that some are actually parsing their words, thoughts, ideas, and notions of what is right and wrong in the world of literature is not only troubling, but disturbing. It would seem that we’ve reached the point where sensitivity by others is dictating to the rest what subjects are taboo and what are not. Those who’ve decided to act as judge, jury, and executioner in the world of literature if said writing does not satisfy their insecurities and insensitivities do worse…they silence…the death knell of any writer.

Furthermore, writers are becoming less bold, less willing to challenge those restrictions for fear of being removed from the libraries of thought; their words relegated to the cobwebbed basements of the unread, banished for all time because they refused to acquiesce to the over-sensitive voices who tremble at the very mention of just about anything.

It would seem we’ve reached the point of know return…and many willingly embrace it, intentionally silencing their own voices that otherwise would announce their presence with grand gestures and loud huzzahs, laying their stories out for all to see no matter their acceptance or rejection.

What have we become, this once open stage for the creative? What are we becoming and where are we going? To silence anyone is not to deny free speech, but rather to deny one’s ability to listen—to anything—the first step toward self-imposed totalitarianism. It is a slow creep, almost imperceptible in its movements, but moving just the same. It will be the death of true writing—just as cancer spreads silently throughout one’s body until too late.

So, write, write, and write again. Continue to write whatever it is that pleases you. It may sell, it may not and in the end, who cares? As so many have said more than once, it is the process of writing wherein the joy lies, not in the publication. Immanuel Kant, in his most famous essay What is Enlightenment? said it best: Sapere Aude—Dare to Know. The way to know? Write.

Joan Didion famously said, “I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.” What better motivation than those words?

The only way to know is to flesh it out…to write…and let the critics and now, the oversensitive, be damned.

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48 thoughts on “Is Writing Dying

  1. An excellent, timely, and necessary blog, Mike. Thank you!
    You are exactly right, censorship also denies the right to listen. There is a reason a judge listens to all sides before reaching a conclusion.

    Liked by 4 people

  2. Some can not distinguish between social justice and freedom of speech. They think that speaking freely of “certain things” is the same as condoning. They would ban speech they fear as if there were actual magic in words, an old and debunked notion from ancient times that prevents authors from accurately conveying reality.

    There is no “a priori” censorship permitted under the U.S. Constitution. But once uttered, speech is subject to law. And to criticism. It is then fair game to social justice warriors. But American authors cannot legally be prevented from speaking freely by anyone but themselves.

    And speaking of SMJs / social justice warriors, those fools are nothing but trolls who found a hobby horse to ride.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Thoughtful and well written post!
    I have gone back and forth internally on the book I’m writing now, knowing for some it may feel too religious and for others not religious enough, but I have decided to forge ahead anyway. Even if you manage to write a book without any “triggers,” it still won’t be for everyone.

    Liked by 5 people

    • “Even if you manage to write a book without any “triggers,” it still won’t be for everyone.”
      Excellent point. There are many reasons why someone may not like a book. For all practical purposes, none is more important than any other.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I’ll respond in detail later this week. In the meantime (from elsewhere on the web):

    “Censorship is telling a man he can’t have a steak just because a baby can’t chew it” is a quotation often attributed to Mark Twain (1835-1910), but he never said it. The quotation is cited in print since only 2002 and appeared on T-shirts in 2005.

    The quotation—in slightly different form, without the word “censorship”—appears in Robert A. Heinlein’s “The Man Who Sold the Moon,” published in 1950: “The whole principle is wrong; it’s like demanding that grown men live on skim milk because the baby can’t eat steak.”

    Liked by 3 people

    • Oops. Mike didn’t choose that graphic, I did.
      So did the Cornell University Library as “the perfect sentiment for Banned Books Week!” in 2014. Albeit with the proviso, “This quote is often attributed to Twain, but it’s unverified.”
      I chose it because it labels social whiners as those unable to cope with the world as it is.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. MamaSquid says:

    Well – written essay with some valuable insights, but unfortunately lacking a critical perspective – that of the supposedly self-censoring writers. As a writer who carefully considers the impact of my words, I’d be happy to provide a rebuttal of sorts. In blog form.

    Liked by 4 people

  6. You’ve given us a lot to unpack here, Mike. I applaud, in the main, the thrust of your contention (censorship = bad), but am puzzled by . . . well, let’s get into it.

    As I peruse the social media pages of budding authors, wander the forests of Facebook, or peer through the lens of Instagram, I’m struck by a few things that are causing me to think writing—true writing—is dying a slow, painful, almost imperceptible death.

    Carl: What is “true writing”? You’ve got to define that term to make a cogent argument. As to “writing is dying”—is it? Look at us! And the million, myriad other writers churning out stories, novels, poems, blog posts, etc. here in the good ’ole USA. (Getting paid, however—that’s another matter.)

    I see more and more people asking for permission to write on certain topics, topics that one would deem today to be triggering, a term I’ve come to loathe. Have we become so sensitive that we now need a warning of some sort before sensitive ears or eyes see something they may not like or might find offensive? The very idea of asking for permission to write anything is, to my mind, against everything our society stands for. So what if someone is offended, put off, or is bothered by your chosen topic. That’s their problem, and their burden to overcome, not the writer’s.

    Carl: I share your loathing re: the term “triggering”—life is triggering—yet would not want someone who had suffered abuse to wander blindly into one of my more, err . . . “triggering” stories. I support content ratings and warnings on intense material.

    Case in point—on one writer’s group on Facebook . . .

    Carl: You can find someone saying anything on the internet. I wouldn’t let a couple of muddle-headed blatherings by someone, somewhere dishearten you unduly. Plus trolls abound.

    What is the essence of good writing? There isn’t one “essence” as good writing is simply, well, good writing. The author is able to pull you in to anything he or she is crafting, and the story or setting or subject is made compelling by said author to the point that the pages turn themselves and there’s nothing you can do about it. That is the essence of good writing. However….

    Carl: In attempting to define the term “good writing”, you’ve perpetrated a tautology: “good writing is . . . good writing”. I’m sympathetic to the point you are attempting to make here, but you haven’t made it.

    The very notion that some are actually parsing their words, thoughts, ideas, and notions of what is right and wrong in the world of literature is not only troubling, but disturbing. It would seem that we’ve reached the point where sensitivity by others is dictating to the rest what subjects are taboo and what are not. Those who’ve decided to act as judge, jury, and executioner in the world of literature if said writing does not satisfy their insecurities and insensitivities do worse…they silence…the death knell of any writer.

    Carl: What does this mean? I have no idea. I sense you dancing around something that would become clearer if only you would cite some concrete examples of what has gotten you so up in arms.

    Furthermore, writers are becoming less bold, less willing to challenge those restrictions for fear of being removed from the libraries of thought; their words relegated to the cobwebbed basements of the unread, banished for all time because they refused to acquiesce to the over-sensitive voices who tremble at the very mention of just about anything.

    Carl: What writers are becoming “less bold”? Where? How? For that matter: “over sensitive voices who tremble”—surely you mean “over-sensitive people”? And how can a writer’s works be removed from “the libraries of thought” if they haven’t written them yet?! I feel like I’m swimming in a dense gray fog of vague, foundering metaphor here. Sorry. I don’t mean to be a jerk; I’m working through your words in real time.

    So, write, write, and write again. Continue to write whatever it is that pleases you. It may sell, it may not and in the end, who cares? As so many have said more than once, it is the process of writing wherein the joy lies, not in the publication. Immanuel Kant, in his most famous essay What is Enlightenment? said it best: Sapere Aude—Dare to Know. The way to know? Write.

    Joan Didion famously said, “I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.” What better motivation than those words?

    Carl: Hear-hear! I heartily applaud these concluding sentiments. We’d have more to chew on and chew over if you just came right out and stated what it is you wish more writers had the courage to say nowadays, Mike.

    Liked by 4 people

  7. Mike says:

    Carl,
    Thank you for reading and for your analysis. A few things:
    First, I constantly see people asking for permissions as I stated, and others unwilling to write what they want for fear of offending, well, anyone. The case I cited is an example, and there are others such as fear of writing about the absurdity of CRT, asking for/checking for permission to write about strong male characters (which I’ve seen numerous times), or being told they cannot write a character because “you don’t know our struggle—fill in any group you’d like here. It’s maddening and, to my mind, political correctness run amok, which, then engenders fears of reprisal or….”gasp”…cancellation of some sort.

    Some are willing to brave the waters but I see, and have spoken to, so many others who simply will not write because of that fear. They have good stories but don’t want to wade into the muck, so to speak. I fear we live in an age we could entitle Tyranny of the Minority, the minority being any small group “of” who become offended and force a narrative, any narrative, to be quashed.

    Second, I do believe I have made the point of what good writing is—and defined it. The problem, and maybe I didn’t make this clear, is that in the course of creating that good writing, again, some get scared off because of the fear of offending anyone, someone, the mob. Hence, the writing becomes stilted, incomplete and therefore “in good” all because of being afraid to let fly out of fear.

    Third, oversensitive people display their oversensitive “voices” when they write, therefore parsing their words, again, in order to not offend when in so many cases, offending, or at least being willing to say what you mean without fear (as I demonstrated via examples) is the purpose of writing, yes? Hence, “good writing”. Now, this doesn’t mean to say that everything has to be accepted…that would be ridiculous, but it does mean that in my view, today, so many are being scared off and, yes, intimidated because they don’t want to offend someone.

    Deliberately doing so (offending someone just to do it) is not what I’m speaking of, but I am advocating for writers, budding or otherwise, to write as they choose and not worry about the mob mentality that is so pervasive today—especially in the world of education (my field—but that is a story for another time). There is a legitimate fear for those that are chasing being published, and I get that, but I say, write, write, and write again, staying true to what you wish to say.

    I’m sure I didn’t answer everything, but I’m boarding a plane for home. At any rate, thank you again, Carl, for your analysis and most importantly, respectful tone. You seem to be a gentleman of careful thought…much appreciated.

    Liked by 5 people

  8. Thanks for the clarifications, Mike! If any writer is asking (whom are they asking, I wonder?) if it’s “okay” to write strong male characters I would advise them to set the pen down now: This job is not for you. If, on the other hand, they are asking “How do I make a strong male character both believable and empathetic w/o resorting to toxic masculinity tropes–monosyllabic communication, stoicism, a hair-trigger predilection for violence”–that is another question entirely.

    As for the thornier question of who has the right to write another’s story: Anyone, about anyone. (Or what is the point of literature–if one can only write about “their people and/or experience”? Gods save us from the anti-art, anti-humanist zealots who would hammer us all into our individual balkanized, identitarian silos.) Having said that, the intelligent woke (allow me, please, the unironic use of this triggering word–a two-fer!–“woke”, “triggering”–heh!) writer has the responsibility to get the details right and not scribble-scritch nonsense re: another race, culture, gender, religion, sexual orientation, etc. Please note that this does not mean, in my view, that every minority character created by a white male writer need be a paragon of virtue. It does mean that casually racist, homophobic, and/or sexist caricatures are going to raise an eyebrow if you are writing fiction in the early part of this 21st century–as well they should.

    Liked by 4 people

  9. MamaSquid says:

    While I have already crafted my blog response, I also would like to add that new writers ask permission for everything because they are deeply insecure about taking that first step. That one would ask for permission to write about a heroic police officer is not particularly remarkable. I once saw a writer ask a panelist if he was allowed to write a trilogy. Another who said, “I have this idea for a fantasy book about wizards… is that okay?” They just want to be told that they’re okay. And they are okay. The best advice for a new writer is just write. They can work out the thorny issues of social impact – if in fact they care about that – once they have more practice.

    I would like to add, respectfully, as a person who has lived with PTSD for over 20 years, I am tired of seeing people mock the clinical term “triggered” and imply that those of us who have suffered from this psychological disorder are oversensitive and weak. Presumably you wouldn’t mock a physically disabled person, so I’m not sure why people with mental health conditions are fair game. I don’t expect anyone to modify their content because of my trauma – that’s actually counterproductive to healing – but I do hope they would acknowledge the reality of it without the compelling need to mock me for reacting the way I do to certain stimuli. It’s just the way my brain is wired. I may be sensitive, but that sensitivity has been the catalyst for the development of a host of strengths, wisdom and insight that I would not otherwise have.

    Those two points aside, this article definitely brought out the feisty in me, so if your intent was to provoke a response, it worked! I had a lot of fun writing my thoughts.

    Take care!

    Christy Moceri

    Liked by 6 people

  10. Mike says:

    Hi Christy!

    Thank you for reading. Let me try to address (off the plane now) a few items.

    First, I totally agree on your “new writers” take, and that is to be expected by anyone in any field of endeavor. My concern, and it is a significant one, is soliciting permission before one writes for any reason. My point is that permission is always granted…just write what you honestly feel. Contrived “stuff” simply to be an ass or a gratuitous jerk is not what I’m saying. If you have a subject you’d like to write about, even if it isn’t politically correct…who cares. Write it. This blog post is a tiny example…written honestly but also with expected pushback. Good. Not because I was seeking it but because it was honest – as was/is your response.

    We’re rapidly approaching, especially for new writers, a time in which many are being cowed by the triggered (only word that fits)/politically correct police/we-are-the-moral-arbiters crowd…and I think that’s dangerous. Books are being banned (again), taken of shelves, and contracts being cancelled. History proves over and over that when a tyranny takes power, be they the tyranny of the minority or majority, good things don’t happen. Be free to write what you will, without fear of cancellation, censorship, or permission. You live one time—and that’s it (unless your religion provides otherwise), so write what you will. Maybe no one reads it, maybe they do – it doesn’t matter. Write.

    Regarding your second point…

    I’m just going to say it. I sympathize with PTSD as I had a now deceased uncle who served as a forward observer during the Korean war come home and suffer with that affliction. No, you’re right, I wouldn’t mock anyone…but there is no way to know if a person has something like PTSD as it typically isn’t visible. All of us carry our scars and battle wounds, some more quietly than others, preferring to deal with them on their own. You are right to not expect one to modify their content – BUT many do…and insist on it quite vociferously, going so far as to threaten and silence others. I stand by my comment and assume you know that for those such as you, it was not directed your way.

    Thanks again, and so glad your thoughts are on “paper”. Be well.

    Mike

    Liked by 4 people

  11. A hard way to get PTSD is to survive D-day and earn a Bronze Star for Valor. My dad got it the hard way. My way was easier. I worked as a medic on the Intensive Care Unit of a war hospital in S.E. Asia for a year and nine days.
    My point is to echo what Mike said. All of us carry our scars and battle wounds.
    And what Christy said: They are the catalyst for the development of a host of strengths, wisdom and insight we would not otherwise have. (Thank you for that insight, Christy.)

    Liked by 3 people

  12. & GD: Yepper! I can’t imagine what you experienced in that war hospital. Perhaps one day you’ll tell us. (I know you are working on that memoir.)

    On a lesser, though related note, I once told a DI in Marine Corps boot camp (I enlisted at the age of 17, having lived on my own for a couple of years before that as an emancipated minor in a rotting floorboard, black mold basement apt with no electricity or working shower on the NW side of Chicago) “You think you’re scary? You should meet my foster mother. There are rules and regulations governing what you can do to me.”

    PS. I saw many “tough guy” marines–all rippling muscles, tattoos and testosterone–break down in unguarded moments (usually under the influence of alcohol or drugs) and sob brokenly to their buddies about (1) a young love affair gone bad which drove them to enlist, and/or (2) a family member who regularly mentally and physically abused them as children. Got the wheels turning back then . . .

    Liked by 4 people

    • Amazing, isn’t it? No matter what darkness we occasionally have to crawl out of in life, we end up happy and with an intact sense of humor. I think a writer needs it all: Darkness, happiness, and humor.

      Liked by 4 people

      • Jonathan Franzen wrote a great selection of essays on this topic “the unhappy child who becomes a writer/intense life-long reader”: How to Be Alone. (Italics doesn’t work in WordPress anymore. Huh.)

        Liked by 3 people

  13. My first thought was that I’d never ask permission for anything. Then I remembered that I’d worked on a novel in which the only black character was the murderer, so I asked a couple of friends what they thought and they said, ‘Don’t do it.’ I dare say they were right because it could be misconstrued as a message with a more general import, causing offence in some groups and unjustified satisfaction in others. So the culprit became someone else.
    One of my readers is gay, and he pulled me up on a similar issue, where a policeman speculated that the suspected culprit’s motive was homosexual jealousy. I made no alteration to that, arguing that it reflected more on the policeman than on the suspect.
    But overall, yes, I’ve become more sensitivee to these issues. There’s no clear cut line, but I think there’d need to be a narrative justification for something likely to cause offence. If there’s no particular reason for it, then it could be misinterpreted as the author’s intent rather than something springing from the story itself.
    At the same time, if we’re silenced by fear, something is clearly wrong. Unfortunately, when it comes to Islam for example, the killing of 12 journalists at Charlie Hebdo has undeniably fostered self-censorship. A sorry state of affairs and a blow to freedom of speech.

    Liked by 4 people

    • It is always a joy to read something that advocates a clear-eyed look at particular cases, rather than zealous adherence to an oversimplified rule of thumb.  While carving all of Curtis’ comment in stone might be too labor-intensive, there is much to be said for carving something like

      «There’s no clear cut line, but I think there’d need to be a narrative justification for something likely to cause offence.»

      rather than (depending on who is doing the carving) either

      «XI. Thou shalt not offend anybody.»

      or

      «XI. Thou shalt say whatever comes to mind.»

      Liked by 4 people

  14. mimispeike says:

    The idea of asking if a topic or storyline should be written on appalls me. You write what you feel compelled to write. I interpret this question as: Should I write about . . . does it have a chance of selling, making me some money?

    That’s a different worry and, for many, hoping to make an income from writing, a legitimate one.

    I never imagined that my pieces could be published, so that never bothered me. Many people will read my synopsis and say, that isn’t something I’d be interested in. Some will try it and find it’s very different from what they thought it was. A few (this has happened to me on medium.com) will be highly offended by the way I make fun of religion. (My husband jokes that the Pope will slap a Fatwa on me and we will have to go into hiding).

    If my story, Sly! is not shunned for that reason, it will be shunned for this: my character is a philosophical booger, and I load him down with merry inquisitions about his sixteenth-century world and his place in it.

    When I get back on Sly, I have marvelous new material to plow into my already well-turned field.

    I’m still glued to my couch, unable to walk without a lot of pain. I’m finally exploring the hundreds of dollar-or-two books I’ve bought over thirty-plus years at the library sales.

    Last night I opened The Altar Fire, copyright 1907, a collection of stream-of-consciousness essays by one Arthur Christianson Benson, Fellow of Magdalene College, Cambridge. It is full of splendid musings that are right up Sly’s (a cat, by the way) alley. I’m underlining comments and scrawling notes in the margins of what use I see for various serious thoughts (they won’t be serious by the time I’m done with them) in my comic adventure.

    Does worry about offending . . . boring . . . hell, losing . . . from the wealth of historical detail that it is my delight to unearth and filter though my loopy point of view, persuade me not to dig a deeper hole than I’ve dug for myself already?

    An editor told me that my screwball approach says to a reader, I don’t care if you like this or not.

    She was certainly right about that. I don’t care. I write what I write.

    By the way, GD, the back matter includes promos for Benson’s other books, from the titles, of a similar nature. They all sold, all were in the third to tenth editions. The reviews are superlative, over the top, and highly amusing. I see many lines that will, with a few tweaks, do marvelously well for my (supposed) reviews of Bea Wanger’s lesbian romances. So I’ll be plugging some of Altar Fire into Maisie In Hollywood.

    I see from the list of Benson’s books that I have another of his works: From A College Window. I am going to look for it as soon as I can get around.

    Liked by 5 people

  15. You go, Mimi! You be you! (As Oscar Wilde noted: “Everyone else is taken.” That’s Oscar Wilde who said that: not Brando, Henny Youngman or Bugs Bunny. Sorry, GD–couldn’t resist a poke, heh!)

    Liked by 3 people

  16. mimispeike says:

    I was a little smug in my post. Most of you hope to sell books, develop a following, and make some money.

    Pardon me for being a brat. (My life-long tendency.)

    Liked by 4 people

  17. victoracquista says:

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Mike. Speaking of Voltaire, Evelyn Beatrice Hall commented upon his writing, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” I don’t think writing is dying but I do understand the reluctance some might feel when they write something that might be triggering. However, I attribute the reluctance less to having their thoughts challenged and more to to way those thoughts are challenged. There is a pervasive lack of civility and a lot of rude behavior on social media that impedes civil discourse. While I feel strongly about the importance of freedom of speech, I don’t think that should be construed as freedom to be disrespectful. People can disagree vigorously without being disagreeable. Words are weapons and writers such as Voltaire wielded them expertly in a dignified way. Nowadays, people use words as blunt instruments of crude destruction.

    Liked by 3 people

    • I couldn’t agree with you more, Victor. Some related thoughts sparked by your post:

      1.) One of the reasons I remain involved with this site is the respect shown to others–even when we vehemently disagree with each other. Somehow, we’ve found a way to disagree without becoming disagreeable. (To be sure, years of interaction helps. We know each other.)

      2.) I enjoy a scorching rant, jeremiad or cri de coeur as much as the next person whose loathed ox is being gored, but am always put off by “keyboard commandos” going out of their way to be rudely abrasive and confrontational to others. Hiding behind the anonymity of the internet, people dare to speak to others in a way they never would in person.

      3.) I wish others (elsewhere on “teh internets”) would keep in mind Aristotle’s definition for moral behavior: The right action, at the right time, with the right person, for the right reasons. Many times we take the right action for the right reasons, but with the wrong person at the wrong time. So–50% right are we (as Yoda might say)–and also 50% wrong. (Hair-triggered SJWs policing other’s speech ready to scorch and flay at the drop of a “wrong” pronoun or the infelicity of a currently-out-of-favor expression–please take note.)

      Liked by 2 people

      • victoracquista says:

        Keyboard Commandos is a designation I just might have to borrow; although, I might substitute Keyboard Cowards. It is refreshing to have a forum where opinions are aired with respect.

        Liked by 2 people

  18. It has been my experience that most people in the world are complicated. I once enjoyed dinner with a good person who explained, “It’s OK to cheat Americans because they have so much.” No one is one thing only.

    Recently, sitting with friends in a hospital waiting room while their daughter had a baby, the father suddenly glared at the door and told me, “I hate those people!” I looked. A black man had just come in. But my friends were black. The father explained, “They are so black!” No one is explainable in simple terms.

    As an author, I write what I know to be true: we are all more alike than not and that’s not a compliment.

    Liked by 2 people

  19. mimispeike says:

    This site feels like home. I enjoy coming here, and I hope chance visitors come to appreciate it too. Book Country had the same vibe for me, because of you guys.

    Anyone know what’s happening on Book Country now?

    Liked by 3 people

  20. Peter Thomson says:

    I agree with Mike that one should write as one will. Whether one should publish is another matter. Publication is, after all, a contribution to the public discourse. Offending the powerful is one matter – Mike cites a lot of examples. Kicking the powerless is another. A lot of the writing criticised by the sjw’s is criticised as bad writing – as not true to life and lazily perpetuating stupid cliches – to the detriment of the usually powerless and often oppressed. And often they are right. Skimming Amazon, how many stories feature noble billionaires? Lots. How many fragile womenfolk? Also lots. Coloured side-kicks? Devious Asians?

    Ok, so there’s always been a lot of dreck. There’s also always been a lot of criticism. It goes with the turf. That the criticism is more visible does not give it more impact. The trend is the other way, in that publishers have much less hold on dissemination than they used to. So the noise of the outraged is both more salient and less effective.

    I would add that many of the people who complain most loudly about ‘woke’ culture are doing so through the mass media, so are hardly ‘silenced’.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thanks, Peter. Your comment “that publishers have much less hold on dissemination than they used to,” made me think of those old gatekeepers, TV sponsors. Once upon a time, presenting information of a type or in a manner that it upset viewers could cause a program to vanish. Not so, now. People just won’t shut up.

      But from the many public displays of ignorance, the blind rants, and the drizzle of banality on social media (the real publishers of today) I take away the same feeling as from a family dinner. It’s really OKAY. It’s OKAY that people may disagree on any damn thing you care to lay on the table. It’s always been so, just not so public.

      Writers reflect the world we live in, even when distancing us from it through fiction.

      Liked by 1 person

  21. Hello All,
    I almost hate to get involved in this one, since once I get going, I know it will be hard for me to stop. So before I start rambling on, let me first offer an answer to Michael’s question about 37 years. That would take us back to roughly the mid-1980s. Republicans had been raising the specter of a crimewave tsunami at that point at least since Nixon started in 1968; heroic cop shows were all over the tube; and major anti-crime legislation was being pushed through Congress. Check out Pat Buchanan’s 1988 (or 1992, I forget which) primetime Republican convention speech in which he referred to police as the saviors of civilization against ravening minority hoards. The police were knights in shining armor.
    Also, let me add that when I mention trigger warnings, I’m referring to the more generalized use on college campuses, not the specific psychological use regarding PTSD. On campus we have to worry about ‘triggering’ any and all sorts of negative responses from students (more on that later).
    Anyway, while I agree with most of what’s been said, let me point out that we’re talking about a symptom, not a cause. I think the cause is the increased emphasis on individual rights which has grown over the last fifty or so years. This includes both the extreme right libertarianism (“If I want to open carry a loaded bazooka into a daycare center, that’s my 2nd amendment right!”) and the extreme left wokeness (“What you posted online in the 3rd grade fifteen years ago offends me! You’re damned to internet hell forever!)
    Let me explain (maybe someone can use this as the basis of a story). The first time I recall being struck by this was way back during the Vietnam War. One of the major networks hosted a debate featuring college students representing a broad range (right through left) of political groups. The only thing I remember is the representative of the SDS (Students for a Democratic Society, a far-left group) constantly emphasizing her rights. It soon struck me that she envisioned ‘her rights’ as a large circle, or sphere, around herself (kind of a psycho-political space) which no one should be able to infringe upon. The problem? She didn’t seem to realize that we’re not bubbles of ‘rights’ floating through space, but instead we’re a Venn diagram where people’s ‘rights spaces’ overlap (from the 70s: “It’s my right to smoke, if I want!” vs. “It’s my right not to get cancer from your side-stream smoke!”).
    I didn’t think much more about it until I started teaching, and at first (like most) I found the concept of ‘rights’ both helpful and just. At the college level it started with extended time testing for students with learning disabilities. Most faculty that I knew (but not all) were quite happy to go along with this — we were happy to help. But then things started to change. Suddenly we were told that we had to take it on faith that a student had a disability, but we were not allowed to know what it was, due to privacy rights (this came from FERPA [look it up] regulations which also told parents who were paying the tuition they had no right to know how their child was doing in a class unless the child agreed). Again, I kind of shrugged it off, although I did have a few phone conversations with parents who wanted to know how junior was doing and were not happy that I could tell them nothing. The worst part was (and is) the possibility of having a ticking timebomb in your class and not being able to know about it. I once had a student go hysterical because I caught her in a type of cheating, and when I informed her that a penalty was being invoked, she went to pieces and threatened suicide. I had no idea what I was dealing with (she had seemed somewhat odd at times, but after a while you just chalk that up to immaturity). It turned out she was known to the college as being bi-polar, but without knowing that, I treated her like anyone else (which is always right in a theoretical sense). Luckily, she just went home, and the last I heard she was in the hospital where they were trying to stabilize her with medication. She never returned to the college as far as I know.
    So where did we go from there? Well, I started to hear that we were supposed to put ‘trigger warnings’ into our syllabi. Apparently, some of my colleagues decided that students had the right to be protected from coming in contact with certain words or facts that could cause them to curl up into fetal positions in catatonic shock. “Huck’s friend, Jim was called what?” “Othello did what?” “Shylock wanted what?” “The Germans did what during WWII?” OMG! OMG! OMG! OMG!
    {Now a real ‘trigger’ that I was aware of followed 9/11. In one of my courses I showed the comet impact scene from the movie “Deep Impact”. Made in 1998, it shows the resultant tidal wave destroying NYC, including knocking down the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. For a number of years after 9/11 I announced to class that I was showing the scene next class, and if anyone found it distressing due to having lost a friend or relative in the Towers, they could take the day off.}
    As a result, having all these rights leads to a problem whenever someone decides their rights have been infringed upon. And boy, is that easy to do these days since everyone is so sensitive about everything. Invite a Republican to speak on campus and a protest ensues (I’m not a Republican and wouldn’t go, but I thought it was their right to speak). An administrator, addressing a group of incoming freshmen told all the males they were rapists (I kid you not), but wasn’t fired. Another staff member (being interviewed on NPR) said that faculty at the college I taught at were all racists and had Confederate battle flags on their office walls (I’d been there thirty-five years and had never seen one). That person was fired, but very quietly. The level of righteous rage at all things has entered the red zone, and all too many of my colleagues are all too happy to wrap themselves in the gloriously glowing cape of righteousness.
    Add that to the easy-to-generate mob mentality of the internet and is anyone really surprised about what’s happening in publishing? (see for instance: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/31/books/amelie-wen-zhao-blood-heir-ya-author-pulls-debut-accusations-racism.html?searchResultPosition=6 )
    Well, by means good and bad we’ve ended up here. As they say, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.
    Oh, last thought. For the morons who would cancel Abe Lincoln because he was a ‘racist’. Read volume one of Michael Burlingame’s “Lincoln, A Life” just to find out what type of country the man grew up in. Illinois was a ‘Free State’. What that meant was that you couldn’t own slaves in Illinois. But guess what? There was also a state law preventing any freed or escaped black people from settling in Illinois. Sure, Lincoln’s first idea was recolonization of blacks to Africa. The reason was he thought whites would never, ever, accept freed blacks as equals. It was the 1850s folks, not 2021.
    So write whatever you like, just be prepared for the coming Inquisition should you inadvertently offend someone (and you will).

    Liked by 4 people

    • Thanks for giving us a peek behind the college teacher’s curtain, Tom. I imagine you must feel you’re walking a tightrope in class every day.

      Re: “So write whatever you like, just be prepared for the coming Inquisition should you inadvertently offend someone (and you will).”

      Indeed. I am all but certain the only thing that has saved me so far is obscurity. Having said that, I know the battles are coming . . .

      Liked by 2 people

    • WoW Tom! Thank you! I had no idea.
      “The level of righteous rage at all things has entered the red zone, and all too many of my colleagues are all too happy to wrap themselves in the gloriously glowing cape of righteousness.” That sums it up quite nicely.

      Liked by 1 person

  22. Tom,
    My take is that keeping those with debilitating oversensitivity in the same classroom as students capable of learning more lowers the threshold of knowledge for everyone. (One effect of political correctness being to maintain the lowest common denominator.)

    To quote Heinlein,
    “Anybody who thinks of the world in terms of what it ought to be rather than what it is, isn’t ready for final examination.”

    Liked by 2 people

  23. mimispeike says:

    “I think the cause is the increased emphasis on individual rights.”

    I think that the source of the current problem is the yearning for social and legal justice, finally within reach, and the attempt of some rigid thinkers to deny the inevitable redress, combined with a perverted understanding of rights, both on the right and the left, but far more on the right.

    Ugly as it is, we are experiencing growing pains, to be endured, and hopefully contained, but not to be condemned.

    Liked by 1 person

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