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.