Why I Don’t Comment on Everything

As most of you know, I comment here not infrequently about social and political issues, and from time to time I even make stands on things, a good recent example of this being my convention harassment policy pledge. As a result, people will often send me (via e-mail and social media) updates on social/political things they believe are of interest to me. This is generally appreciated, since there are things I will miss. There are only so many hours of the day.

In addition to this, some folks will also occasionally suggest to me (in varying degrees of urgency and/or politeness) that I should make a public statement about the things the bring to my attention, because they believe my voice carries. In the last 24 hours alone, for example, these things have included Barilla pasta, a rather less-than-perfect convention harassment policy, literature professor David Gilmour stuffing both feet into his mouth, and Orson Scott Card. Some of these topics have been noted to me more than once. Not all of the people pointing them out are suggesting I leap to the keyboard, but some of them strongly hint in that direction.

A couple of thoughts here. The big one is to let people know I’m actually kind of not good at being a proxy for whatever things you are concerned about. One obvious reason is that I might not feel as strongly about the subject as you do, or indeed might not agree with you about it. Another, less obvious reason: I do try to know at least a little about the things I might want to write about, which means me making at least a token effort at research, which will take time — time I might not have if, say, I’m in the middle of writing a book.

Beyond this, other factors come into play. Sometimes I’ll decide I don’t have anything useful to say on a subject, and so won’t. Sometimes I will see other people saying things about it better than I would, in a way that is already getting (or has gotten) substantial play, so I’ll either just point to that other commentary or assume the people who visit here will have already seen it. Sometimes I’m fatigued regarding the particular subject and won’t feel like talking about it for a while. Sometimes I’m tired and don’t want to write a blog post. Sometimes I may just be cranky and not in the mood to acquiesce to the suggestion I make a fuss over whatever particular topic people want me to make a fuss about.

Sometimes I will decide that me butting into a particular discussion will look more like me wanting to get attention for being on the right side of the subject than me actually wanting to be on the right side of the discussion (this correlates highly with things I am unfamiliar with and which don’t directly involve my own personal interests). Sometimes I’ll decide that I’ve expended on other things the attention capital I’ve accrued, and that it’s time for me to be quiet for a bit so that the next time I have something that I want to say, it’ll have more of an impact. Sometimes there will be other reasons, not touched on here, for me not to make the fuss someone else wants me to. Sometimes I just don’t wanna.

The short version of this is that while I really do appreciate it when folks bring things to my attention, I can’t (and shouldn’t) be expected to comment on every thing, even when you think it’s something that’s right up my alley — and even when, from time to time, I’d agree that it is. I have only so much bandwidth, both in time and attention.

I realize that this is bound to be disappointing to some folks, and may make me seem unreliable or mercurial or such. This assessment is both reasonable and accurate — fact is, that only thing that can be relied on with regard to me making comment on political or social topics is that I will do it when I think it’s right for me to do it, independent of what anyone else thinks on the matter.

In a larger sense, I don’t think this should be too surprising. I’ve never been coy about the fact that this site is about what I want to write about, when I want to. But I do think it’s worth reminding people: Just because you think I should write about something you think is important, doesn’t mean I will. It doesn’t mean you were wrong to bring that thing to my attention, merely that I keep my own counsel regarding the topics I write about. I do hope you understand. But even if you don’t, it’s how it works.


45 Comments on “Why I Don’t Comment on Everything”

  1. Sure, that’s all reasonable, John, BUT HOW CAN THE PASTA OUTRAGE LEAVE YOU UNMOVED!?

    I’m afraid to google Barilla Pasta now. Probably being made from live kittens and now I’ve gone and made fun if it. *sigh*

  2. That seems eminently fair and reasonable. One of the most important lessons anyone can learn in trying to do social justice stuff is that you really, really, have to be willing to look after your self-care. And that means sometimes you don’t do things, and that has to always be okay, or you wear yourself to a nothing.

    It’s like the airplane warning about putting on your own oxygen mask before your kids’ masks, because you being conscious to help them is more important than the reverse. And given you’re also willing to let people self-promote using your platform from time to time, honestly more than fair, and more than many blogs are able or willing to offer.

  3. @Adam Don’t google Barilla pasta, I just read the headlines and I just sighed.

    I am totally okay with you not having an opinion on everything. I just really want you to write books, everything else is a bonus. :)

  4. Actually, thank you for not commenting on everything. I appreciate hearing from you on topics your are familiar with and impassioned about, and really appreciate the fact that you don’t feel the need to say something about everything.

  5. Ditto fullmetalfeminist on self care.

    As you pointed out recently, no one is obliged to have a conversation with you.

    The circumstances under which people are owed our opinions are pretty narrow, and I can’t think of any that apply to random folks on the internet.

    Your voice does carry, and I appreciate that you use your platform to stand up for people with less privilege than you. But it’s still your voice. It belongs to you. You’re the boss of when you share it.

  6. But the WORLD needs to know your opinion on the horse_ebooks controversy… and the Kanye West/Jimmy Kimmel feud… and if you don’t have a statement Monday Morning about the Breaking Bad finale, your reputation as an opinionator (is that a word?) will be shot and you’ll have to go back to taping things to your cat to keep your blog relevant (but not sandwiches, please, that’s a whole ‘nother controversy). Also, no tweaking videos PLEASE.

  7. I think John’s correct about the David Gilmour thing, in that everything snarky he might say about it has already been said pretty well. I would like to add that this guy is bringing that name into disrepute, after so many years of it being thought of as positive.

  8. John, perhaps some simple guidelines for an e-mail to you would help. Something along the lines of –

    “John, have you seen this article re. xxx?” in the title, then a link and/or short description in the body of the letter.

    Might help sort through the potential information overload. So much neat & crazy stuff, so little time!

  9. If John does not demonstrate “twerking,” how will I know what it is? I heard someone mention it once, but I have not seen anyone go into the subject at length. What is this oddly named phenomenon and what does it mean for society? Help me, Scalzi, you’re my only hope.

  10. I like being surprised by what the blog is going to talk about. If it is something I am concerned about, so much the better. It is also good to bring new stuff to my attention, until today David Gilmour was just a great guitarist.

  11. I have only been reading this blog for a short time but what keeps my interest is the thoughtful, engaging, and sometimes humourous analysis on a wide range of topics, some (a lot) of which I knew nothing about. It is worth my time to read this site. I equally appreciate the initial posts and the thoughtful replies.

    As to the Gilmour kerfuffle, it is overblown. He is actually a very reasonable and interesting speaker. He is very thoughtful and open to discussions. The backdrop here in Toronto is that it is a very nervous place. There is a lot of pressure on people in the workplace and generally in their lives. People are worried about their jobs, stagnating wages, unaffordable housing, extremely high debt levels, and hellish commutes. When something like this emerges (his remarks), it acts like a trigger for the release of a lot of pent up frustration. It is like a scene out of George Orwell’s novel 1984 where everyone engages in a two minute hate.

    Quote: Within thirty seconds any pretence was always unnecessary. A hideous ecstasy of fear and vindictiveness, a desire to kill, to torture, to smash faces in with a sledge hammer, seemed to flow through the whole group of people like an electric current, turning one even against one’s will into a grimacing, screaming lunatic. And yet the rage that one felt was an abstract, undirected emotion which could be switched from one object to another like the flame of a blowlamp.

  12. I generally assume that someone will let you know about various things I wish you’d write about. But this is the same (to me) as wishing you’d write more about certain characters in the OMW universe, or hoping (I call it no more than that) that certain events will come about in that ongoing saga; I will wait and see what you decide to do. (Not quite as bad, because plotline suggestions often cause lawsuit fear in writers, so in fiction suggesting a plotline actually makes it LESS likely to appear.)

    Sometimes it’s really hard, but it does no good to noodge. I’ll ask you what you think about XYZ topic when I see you in person, if I can do so without harshing your mellow!

  13. Hmm, are topics you raised as ones you didn’t feel like discussing On Topic for this thread? Because I really want to engage JSG on Gilmour, but I don’t want to derail.

  14. Thank you, John.

    JSG, I believe you are male, and probably straight. Gilmour’s sexism and homophobia would not impact you directly. Of course he would seem like a nice guy to you.

    I was talking to someone a couple of weeks back who was perfectly friendly and affable, and then suddenly the N-word dropped from his lips. I let him know I was offended, but it’s perfectly possible his prejudice would not ever have revealed itself to me, since I’m white.

    Even a gay person might not notice a literature professor specifically excluding gay (or not entirely macho) writers. (I mean Baldwin? Gide?) But when he declares that only straight male writers are worthy of his time, he’s also declaring himself to be a sexist homophobe.

  15. Been watching Whatever for a couple of years now, and I have noticed an increase in this sort of meta-commentary–commenting about what you (John) will or will not comment about. There is frequently a sense that it serves as an “I’m gonna say this once so I don’t have to address all these requests individually”, much like the “post here to refer to later” posts about specific policies.

    Aside from the increasing awareness of you as a commentator, what are some other reasons you see for the uptick in people clamoring for a piece of your “attention capital”? I have a sense that there is an increasing number of people who feel a sense of ownership about people they follow on the internet, or an entitlement to “representation” by someone with a louder voice than them.

    If you have time to comment about commenting on your willingness to comment, do you have any comments?

  16. I think it’s a sound policy to only discuss matters about which your opinion is informed and/or meaningful.

    A blog like yours, with an active and dedicated community of readers, creates a subtle form of moral hazard for the blogger — if you become more invested in demonstrating your allegiance to the tribe by saying the “proper” things, rather than risk offending the group by taking an unpopular stand.

    People who ask you to “speak out” on an issue are basically telling you “show you believe the Right Things or we won’t like you any more.” You have a right, if not an actual duty, to say the hell with them.

  17. As I’m sure my poorly thought out venting was at least partially responsible for this post, I thought it appropriate to say publicly I completely and totally respect that this is your blog, your voice, and your prerogative. And I probably wouldn’t read it if it were otherwise, as I find your voice an interesting one. Sorry for inflicting my vent on you.

    Now, your thoughts on the splintering within Iraq’s Shiite coalition in parliament? Especially the friction between the Dawa party and the Sadrists in Diwahniyah?

  18. Now, your thoughts on the splintering within Iraq’s Shiite coalition in parliament? Especially the friction between the Dawa party and the Sadrists in Diwahniyah?

    They need to hug it out then blob out in front of the TV and eat ice cream?

  19. Jerome O’Neil:

    It’s not that, especially since no one is flat out demanding I do anything. It’s that it’s an important subject to them and they want it brought to the attention of others, and I am good at that. It’s something akin to a celebrity spokesperson. I don’t take offense to it; I just need people to know that I can’t take on every request.

    JJ Sutherland:

    No worries. It wasn’t just you.


    “People who ask you to ‘speak out’ on an issue are basically telling you ‘show you believe the Right Things or we won’t like you any more.’ You have a right, if not an actual duty, to say the hell with them.”

    Sure, and it goes the other way too — when I do speak out on something, some people believe I should shut up about it, otherwise they won’t like me anymore, either. In both cases, the correct answer (for me, anyway) is: I say what I want to say, when I want to say it. If you don’t like it, there’s the door.


    “I have a sense that there is an increasing number of people who feel a sense of ownership about people they follow on the internet, or an entitlement to ‘representation’ by someone with a louder voice than them.”

    I don’t think that there is an increasing number of people so much as the online dynamic is changing in terms of how people are responding when they see someone saying thing they see as particularly thoughtless or offensive. There’s more of a desire to punch back, and I do have a reputation for punching, as it were.

  20. Cats! People are taking advantage of cats’ general nature to react quckily to sudden movement by filming cats freaking out and then posting these videos for others to laugh at. People are hurting the dignity of cats!


    How’s the weather? Possibility of cool sunset/sunrise pics?

  21. Thanks John, that’s a useful insight.

    Offensiveness and thoughtlessness have a much bigger reach today, just like every other kind of speech, so it makes sense that many fair-minded people feel the need to speak up more loudly to counteract it.

    Still, I haven’t decided yet how I feel about the resulting punching back (and forth) dynamic that is becoming more and more frequent. I’m a big fan of speaking up for what one believes. On the other hand, the process that often occurs leaves me feeling vaguely uneasy in an “eye for an eye makes the whole world blind” sort of way, even when it feels important. I suppose we’ll reach some sort of equilibrium, eventually…hopefully with enough eyes still working to function!

  22. The thing is, people aren’t necessarily wholly good or wholly bad. NPR’s Planet Money had a show about how Barilla (okay, one of its managers, but he had free rein) turned around a seriously underperforming factory in Foggia, in southern Italy.

    The plant had an absentee rate of ten percent and the machinery was breaking down all the time; it was operating at half capacity, and it would have been shut down and all those jobs moved north, away from the “lazy Pugliese”. Through persuasion, medical supervision and peer pressure, he cut the absentee rate to three percent and made the plant the most efficient in Italy, saving all those jobs.

    That’s the kind of story that makes me want to buy Barilla pasta. Now I have all sorts of mixed feelings.

    Just saying.

  23. Though I’ve never sent an email to John, I do check Whatever (even more) frequently when something has happened that is of interest to me. But to be perfectly honest, it’s not that I want to know his opinion on the subject, per se. It’s that I want him to write something that will amuse me in the writing. Him choosing a topic relevant to my interests merely ups the odds that I will, in fact, be entertained.

    Yes, John, you are my dancing monkey. Have a peanut.

  24. I have often wondered what your thoughts were on OSC and have searched the internet before to see if you have ever made comments about him. But I would never ask you to do so (if you had an inclination to do so, you would have done so by now).

    When it comes right down to it, he has a right to believe what he wants and a forum to share those beliefs either through his own website or in interviews, and everyone else has every right to agree or disagree.

    I don’t need to like the artist to enjoy the art. If that were the case, I wouldn’t listen to have the music I enjoy or watch many of the movies/tv shows I enjoy.

    The Ender/Bean series, the Alvin Maker series, and the Homecoming series are all books I thoroughly enjoy, and I just tune out Mr. Card any time he speaks out about anything other than his books. While I will continue reading your books AND enjoying your Whatever posts.

  25. I for one usually shy away and skip over social/political comments made here or any other manner of deliver when it comes from an entertainer. For me, I look to entertainers to entertain me and not bother me with their opinions. Unfortunately I am one of those that might be turned off an author/actor etc when they become an ass over whatever cause they are interested in (Card, Ringo, Vox, Scalzi, etc).
    I come to blogs etc to hear about their craft or personal life etc,

  26. Here is the irony: No matter how many times you say “THIS IS MY SITE AND I DO WHAT I WANT” folks are still going to act like asses. I think it is because they do not get the concept that they are guests here in your living room. I believe it is because of the fact that they view this in their living room that they think that they have ownership. It is a lot like some of the stories from television actors and sports figures who have been harassed by fans because they don’t do what the fans think they should. After all, you (the entity on the other side of the page/glass tube/computer screen) are in their home and should do what they say. You as the personality are never going to get them to understand and comprehend that they are a guest in YOUR home/mind, sometimes all you can do is shut the door.
    I would say hang in there and continue to do what you want, but you are going to do that without any prodding from me. It is what I and many others find interesting about your site.

  27. A Barilla’s competitor, Buitoni, has announced “At Buitoni’s house, there’s a place for everyone.”

    So did Buitoni air commercials featuring gay couples before all of this happened? They just might decide to now that it gives them an opportunity to score off of Barilla. My guess is that there haven’t been a lot of ad agencies pitching such commercials. Are their policies actually any different from their competitors?

  28. What part of “I will write about whatever I feel like writing about when I feel like writing about it” do people not understand? As I recall that’s the explanation of the site name.

  29. @Xopher, what you said, except as a person possessing no Y chromosomes, I was even more incensed. He’s entitled to his opinions, but sounds like a very bad teacher, which does a great disservice to the students. There’s a nice takedown over at Jim Hines’ blog.

    @cranapia: same old bullshit in a slightly different box indeed — this box also comes with a disdain for their own countrymen for decoration

    I buy store-brand pasta, so I’ve no idea which conglomerate I’m supporting.

    People can utilize the search function to see when Whatever hashed out OSC a few months ago.

  30. Since generally Mr. Scalzi’s opinions tend to run in the same general direction as mine on many things, if he happens to touch on something of particular interest to me I consider that gravy. Frequently he brings up other things about which I was previously unaware but I find intriguing; more gravy. When I start paying him for his writing like a publisher, I consider that at that time I can start requesting him to write on specific subjects, and will still have no guarantee he will oblige.

  31. One of my friends has a saying: If it’s something I don’t want to be doing right now, it’s $125 an hour. Feel free to adjust that rate to your personal comfort level.

  32. I’m just glad you’re willing, when the spirit moves you, to take a stand on controversial issues. Such as your advocacy of Mexican seafood.

  33. I made a post on my own blog recently re: something similar. Gist: I’m kind of outsourcing my outrage and political wallowing to people I trust because I just don’t have the bandwidth for doing it myself right now. I have an 8-month-old son, a wordbaby that just made it to market, a ton of backlogged household business, and a handful of chronic illnesses to manage. I don’t have the bandwidth to do more than retweet or make short comments on stuff that really catches my eye/affects me personally. Doesn’t mean I don’t care. Just means I don’t express my caring in the depth and breadth I’ve been known to in the past. The airplane philosophy mentioned above is apt, and what I operate from these days: I have to secure my own mask before assisting others, or I’m no good to anyone. Martyrs make for shitty heroes.

    I try my best at least not to actively contribute to someone else’s oppression, but I only have so much time and energy to devote to raising hell about injustice. Some days, the best I can do is recycle and feed my kid organic formula, and I don’t think there’s necessarily any shame in that. If I burned out, I wouldn’t be able to do any hell-raising at all, so I pace myself as I must.

  34. It’s very basic. There are a lot of issues out there and no one can do it all. Pick one that your heart speaks to you about and do it. If you burn out, try something else. The big problem is when you don’t do anything. Play nice with others.

  35. Many years ago Harlan Ellison wrote an outstanding essay about this in one of his columns for, I think, The Glass Teat. His analogy was picking up the check at a restaurant: he didn’t mind doing it if he was flush, but that he hated to be told he had to do so.

  36. “I do try to know at least a little about the things I might want to write about,…”

    You do realize this puts you into a very rarefied category today? Far to many will pontificate on that which they do not know. Which is painfully obvious.

  37. JJ Sutherland: definitely wasn’t just you. I was the one on his case about the harassment policy.

    For which, Scalzi, I apologize for being rude. I’m mad at them, not you, and I shouldn’t have been short with you about it.

  38. I think people asking you to comment on things has more to do with your writing style and how you comment on things. There are plenty of people out there that have similiar political views that you do, but I think people like your voice. I don’t agree with alot of your politics. I like the way you word it.

    I like the posts on writing the best. Its pretty simple to me. You are a professional writer so you know about this profession.

  39. I felt good about myself for coming up with “You can’t do everything; you have to do something.” Then I found it was already in the Talmud: “R. Tarphon said . . . It is not for thee to finish the work, nor art thou free to desist therefrom.”
    You don’t have to do everything; you are doing plenty.
    no problem

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