Sunset, 9/11/18

And if you look closely, you can see the new crescent moon.

1998/2018: Whatever 20/20, Day Eleven: Personal Politics

In the past twenty years, I’m not sure my personal set of politics have changed all that much. I’m pretty sure what has changed is how people view them.

And what would I say my politics are? Well, at the base of everything I believe that the goal of society should be to develop independently acting and thinking individuals who see as their “highest life crisis” — their overall philosophical and ethical guiding star, basically — service to their community. Or to put it simply and even more inexactly: Society creates individuals; individuals return the favor.

In simple US (and I suspect generally Western) political terms, this emphasis on the development of the individual skews generally “right” — individualism, independence, the need and desire to chart one’s own course regardless of how others may think, and whether they approve. Conversely, the emphasis on the individual realizing that their service, participation and actions should improve the community in which they live (and that “community” being more than the immediate 150 people they know personally) skews generally “left.” In a way, and to the extent that we insist on everything being plotted on a “right -left” spectrum, I suppose it’s accurate to say I’m to the right when you’re up close and go to the left the further you go out.

But of course that’s not actually very accurate either. There is not just a “right – left” axis; political tendencies and leanings exist in a multidimensional space and include a range of factors. We are politically shaped by the communities we are born and raised in. Our political positions are influenced by current events (a fact obvious on 9/11 more than most days). They are dictated by one’s personal belief in exceptionalism (best negatively exemplified by the observation that “rules are for little people”). The impact of the law on the people we love makes a difference. There are people whose politics are expressly based on the momentary joy of arguing with someone and making them upset. And so on.

The current political era makes a difference as well. I’m fond of noting that 40 years ago I might be seen as a “Rockefeller Republican,” someone who is socially liberal and who also might ask “well, okay, but how are we going to pay for that all?” These days we live in an era where Lou Dobbs just rather ridiculously attempted to brand George W. Bush as a “radical liberal,” so a “Rockefeller Republican” is even further to the left of that, a fact I find rather weird and troublesome.

Aside from the overall philosophy above, my personal politics generally follow a few overarching maxims. I won’t go into them in detail at the moment, but here are a couple of big ones:

1. Everyone should have the rights, benefits and privileges I would arrogate to myself.

2. Politics that don’t understand the world exists downstream of one’s own actions are bad politics.

Seems simple enough! And the more I live, the more I realize how much is encompassed by these maxims.

Also, here’s a thing which has general application to life, but especially to politics, and it’s a thing that did in fact take me time to understand more than just intellectually:

There’s more to life than your own life. 

Which is a statement that works on many different levels, doesn’t it. And on each of those levels it has something useful to say.

I have been writing for public consumption for 30 years, and I’ve been writing about politics since the beginning, so it’s not accurate to say that my politics were ever really private. It is accurate to say that in 1998, I was not as publicly notable as I am now, and there was not as much discussion about who I am as a political being. Most of that has happened in the last few years, both with the rise of my profile as a writer, and because of the machinations of a group of right-wing folks, largely in the science fiction and fantasy genre, who decided for their own purposes that I was a convenient whipping boy for politics they couldn’t stand, and that was (they argued) taking over science fiction. So for a while there and to some extent even now I’m lofted about as a marxist “Social Justice Warrior” type.

This confused and continues to confuse a number of people on the left, who look at me and see me as, at best, a mildly capitalistic centrist who doesn’t go out of his way to be a dick. Why you? I have been asked, quite a lot. In SF/F, at least, the short answer is twofold: one, I annoyed a couple of the ringmasters of the Sad/Rabid Puppy movement at various points in their lives, and their personal antipathy made them decide to roll up on me. So with me it wasn’t ever really about politics, it was junior high school-grade revenge tactics, with politics as a cover. Two, others decided to opportunistically jump on the bandwagon because they were under the impression that performatively being a dickhead to me and others and using “politics” as an excuse for that was somehow a useful career move. Turns out it wasn’t, oddly.

(Mind you, the Puppy movement in SF/F was about politics exactly to the extent that GamerGate was about ethics in video game journalism, which is to say it wasn’t at all, but the people doing it used it as an excuse. It was started because a dude was mad he didn’t get an award, and then was taken over by a toxic racist who that same dude foolishly invited to the party, who just wanted to shit on everything because he’s an awful person, and convinced other trolls to go along. They will tell you differently, of course; like GamerGaters, the former Puppy partisans are frustrated that no one aside from them ever bought their cover story. But here in the real world we don’t have to pretend. I’m glad it’s dead!)

Outside of the antics that happened in science fiction and fantasy fandom, my political notability comes from Twitter and this blog, and in both cases a) when I do write about politics it’s very often critical of the right, b) I don’t tolerate the infantile posturing that passes for argumentation for so many right-leaning Internet users, and will mute/block/Mallet them at will, and that makes them pissy. I’m critical of the right because in the last 20 years in particular the “right” is increasingly bigoted, intolerant, anti-democratic and authoritarian, and I don’t tolerate infantile posturing because my time here on the planet is short. I choose not to spend any more of it than absolutely necessary dealing with mentally adolescent edgelords who think that their shitty, pre-fab opinions merit anything more than a punting.

(“But your unwillingness to engage is how you got Trump!” Oh, hell, no, my sweet summer child. On the list of Things Responsible For Trump’s Election, “Not tolerating shitty trolls wasting your time” is maybe number 513, just below “The Cut of Hillary Clinton’s Pantsuits” and just above “Squirrels eating automobile ignition wires keeping people from the polls.”)

(And also, while we’re continuing the parentheticals, yes, there are terrible people and policies on the left, too, but if you think that the ratio for either approaches anything close to 50/50 at the moment, lol no, and you’re also willfully ignoring that in the US at least one party is in power at the moment, and it’s the one that’s spent the last 40 years cultivating a political philosophy that boils down to “Let’s trade sensible gun laws and womens’ right to control their own body in exchange for giving rich people all the money ever.” I’m pretty content aiming my fire in the direction it’s going. I am sorry for the conservatives/Republicans who are not awful in this awful moment; it’s not a great time to be them.)

So you’re not a Social Justice Warrior, Scalzi? I mean, it’s not a label I would give myself, no. But I’m not uncomfortable with it. I’m reasonably social! I like justice! I’m not generally considered a “warrior” but I’m pretty stubborn about the things I think are important. And also, as far as I can see, “Social Justice Warrior” also essentially means that you are comfortable standing up for other people having the same rights you get to have, and you know what? I am! So, sure, call me an SJW all you want, if that’s a thing you want to do. The fact there are people who somehow think being being called that is an insult gives one a little bit of insight into their soul. Here’s a hot tip: If you think calling someone a social justice warrior is an insult, you might be a horrible person. And before you get there, yes, I’m aware of the argument that the insult started on the left, to identify people who are performatively “woke.” Even if that’s accurate however, that’s not how it is currently used.

I’m comfortable being public about my politics, but I’m also aware that some people will use my public statements to shove me into the boxes that make sense to them, and I’m also aware that my personal politics — and how I chose to show and act upon them — will inevitably disappoint people, whoever they are. Right now I draw a whole bunch of fire from the right, in part because the “right” these days is awfully extreme. But I have before and will again draw fire from the left, and from other directions as well. My politics are my own, and sometimes they will diverge from yours, and sometimes even if they don’t, how I chose to act on them will. From a political point of view, I will inevitably disappoint you one day. This is not a promise, mind you; just an observation.

Be that as it may, my general philosophy of politics has worked well for me for most of my adult life: Be an individual. Serve your community. Get for others the rights you want for yourself. Remember the world is affected by the things you do. There’s more to your life than your own life. These are relatively simple things, but building a political life around them is not always the easiest way to do things. At the end of the day, though, you have to live with yourself and your choices. Most of these last 20 years, I have been content with my political choices. There are places I could have done better, of course, and places I still have to work to do. But I’m getting there.

The Big Idea: Susan Forest and Lucas K. Law

Today’s Big Idea is a two-fer: editors Susan Forest and Lucas K. Law bring your their own — and their highly divergent — paths to co-editing Shades Within Us, a collection of short stories about migration.

SUSAN FOREST:

I am a fraud.

I’ve never had the guts to move away from my hometown; yet as a writer of science fiction and fantasy, I scribble constantly about journeys: space exploration, interplanetary colonization, fantasy kinship groups displaced by war, climate refugees. So what do I know?

But migration is a huge idea in speculative fiction. Whether borders be physical or internal; whether the voyage is forced or embraced; whether people move for political, economic, climate-related, or other reasons, speculative fiction is a fiction about crossing boundaries and becoming immigrants to a new way of living or thinking. So the exploration of this body of fiction through reading, writing—and yes, editing—requires an acquisition of knowledge. Research.

My research has probed limited experience (through travel), primary sources, secondary texts, and personal imagination. When Mars One was announced in 2012, I asked a group of science fiction writer friends, “Seriously: would you go on a one-way voyage to Mars?” OMG, YES! some of them responded. This was a tough concept for me to get my head around. Let alone the fear I would have of all the risks and loneliness and cultural disorientation, contemplating leaving my family and everything I know behind is a non-starter.

But then, I suppose it would be for many people who find themselves crossing these borders. My mother’s mother, at the age of 23, came to Canada with her husband and two small daughters just after World War I to a distant cousin’s prairie homestead, knowing full well she would never see her birth home or family again. And unlike Mars, Western Canada at least has air.

But I may well have to get my head around my own migration. In my dedication to this book, I wrote: “To Heather, who helped me to see how the concerns of migration are close to home,” because we can no longer depend on the assumption that our safe, known worlds will always be with us. Tipping points come suddenly. Though we can all see the collapse of worldwide systems coming—humans have been living far beyond the means of this planet to support our species for a long time—like death, it will come abruptly, and as a surprise. No one will be prepared. Not me.

I think seriously about this. It informs my writing. So when the chance came for me to edit Shades Within Us, the proposal offered me a perfect opportunity for research. These stories of crossing borders, both literal and metaphorical, were not only a joy for me to read and to work with to bring closer to fruition, they offer an incredible range of experiences of moving across, through and within our fractured world. Because these stories brought me into the thinking, experiences, and lives of the characters choosing—or forced—to make those transitions.

 

LUCAS K LAW:

The Big Idea for Shades Within Us was conceived five years ago—along with the themes for the other anthologies we did for Laksa Media. We did not have the current migrant crisis or anti-immigration events in mind at the time. It never occurred to us because the seed for this anthology came from my own history and interest. “Migration” comes from the Latin word migrāre, which means “to move from one place to another.” Unfortunately, these days, there is a quick tendency to associate migrations with refugees and illegal immigrants. There lies the danger.

My maternal grandfather and his brother left China with his father in 1916. They left their sister and family behind to gain opportunities in Malaysia. Later, during the Chinese civil war in the late 1940s, he lost all family ties in China. My grandfather spent most of his life in rural plantations and fishing villages, as a shopkeeper, a farmer, and a small business owner, before he retired. When he could no longer care for himself, he moved again, to the city to live with his son and family.

So often, physical movement is the focus of a migration story when it first unfolds. But each move is more than a simple relocation. It is a transformation of time, place, and being. Each decision affects a multiplicity of others.

It is difficult for those who have never faced such decisions to truly comprehend the complexity and conflict that takes place in body, mind, and spirit—what my grandfather and so many others have gone through in such transitions, responding to economic challenges, employment and new opportunities, and finally, to failing health. And these are only a few of the myriad factors affecting the reasons people migrate or relocate.

With such complexity, what are the commonalities? Transition and change. Boundaries, visible or invisible, voluntary or involuntary, internal or external. And the attainment of a new life, a new world, a new reality, for good or ill, for better or worse.

Migrants are much more than just refugees and illegal immigrants.

In Shades Within Us, twenty-one authors explore the struggles and sacrifices, survival and redemption, losses and gains in their Tales of Migrations and Fractured Borders. These are not stories of despair, anger, and revenge; these are stories of facing those adversities and challenges with equal determination, resiliency, and humility.

Their stories ask us to open our eyes to see, our ears to hear, and our hearts to understand that each of us may be impacted somewhere along the journeys. Only by sharing our own stories of relocation and by listening to others about their stories, then we might reach a deeper understanding of the word “migration” and its history—its role, impact, and potential opportunity for us and the future generations.

—-

Shades Within Us: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Visit Forest’s site and follow her on Twitter. Vist Law’s site and follow him on Twitter.

The Whatever Digest 9/11/18

Good morning! I slept in a bit and I feel pretty good about it. Let’s get to it.

***

I debuted my new author photo on Twitter yesterday and it got the expected responses, including “tell the hairy guy in front to move so we can see the cat.” I remember taking the picture and sending it in to Patrick Nielsen Hayden, by editor at Tor; he replied, “That’s on-brand for you” and sent it along to production. And of course he is correct, it is on brand. And also, I’m grateful that both Tor and Subterranean Press, my other frequent print publisher, have no problem with me offering up somewhat goofy author photos. The one before this was me only half in the frame; the one before that was me jumping around with a guitar. This may make it seem like I plan these things. I don’t. But I take a lot of picture, and a lot of pictures of myself. Some goofy ones happen as a matter of course. And then they end up on my books. I think it’s close to me than a straight up would be, in any event.

***

In a refreshing change from the usual, I understand yesterday’s biggest political scandal, aside from all the ongoing ones, was that New York gubernatorial candidate ordered a bagel with lox, except the bagel was cinnamon raisin. People freaked out about the flavor profile. How quaint! That’s right up there with Obama wearing a tan suit in terms of “politicians doing things we really shouldn’t actually care about.” But since it was a big news story, let me just say that while lox is not what I would put on a cinnamon bagel, a) I’m not the one eating it, she is, b) I’m hardly someone to criticize people on their food choices. Also, it’s a minor food crime at best. It’s not, like, eating New York style pizza with a fork.

***

Follow up to yesterday: My fantasy football team did indeed win its game. The Churro Unicorns are undefeated! And, uh, 1-0. And now I’ll have pick up a QB from waivers just in case Aaron Rodgers doesn’t play next week against the Vikings. This is more thinking about my fantasy football team than I thought I would be required to do.

***

And honestly, this is all I have for today. I barely paid attention to the world yesterday! I regret nothing!