Scattered Blastiness From A Past

The Bugger-cat has started on kitty-chemo, which is helping to reduce the… erm… liquidity of his indiscretions. The frequency remains kind of variable (but still “too high”) but at least he’s not in imminent danger of immediate dehydration.

That said, I’m reaching levels of nasal paranoia and possibly hallucination which have me thinking I smell feline indiscretion regardless of whether there actually are any fresh deposits or not. I also get paranoid about scratchy noises because it could mean he’s got the urge and is getting ready to drop another stink bomb.

So, since my brain and my olfactory glands are pretty much equally fried, have a blast from a past that’s not quite 4 years back and still just as relevant as it was then.

Quis Custodiet Ipsos Custodes

Who will guard the guards themselves? It’s a question that’s never asked by those who want to prevent the “wrong” people from being published, or protect people from reading something that will upset them (as in the case of the idiot fad for “warnings” on everything – although in at least some of the fanfic communities I frequent… well, intermit, because I’m not there that often… it’s being turned into a joke because as often as not canon characters get included in the warnings. I’ve yet to figure out if that’s serious or not, but it’s funny as hell).

Sharon Lee has some good comments about the whole question, although she looks at it rather differently than I do (and let’s just ignore some of the rather political things she clearly hasn’t realized aren’t things everyone thinks). Her points about the many different things people can get out of fiction and the fact that there is a reader who is interpreting every word in the light of his own experiences and potentially putting his “bad thinks” into what he’s seeing (not to mention – hopefully – many many readers per author, all of them doing this… it rather limits the amount of bad-thinkness a given author can slide in there to be overridden by the reader bad-thinks).

I’m completely in agreement that no author should be prevented from writing because of her opinion. Why? Times change. Every author will reflect at least some factors from her time because she can’t help being a creature of her time. She, like the rest of us, is not isolated. Her perspective is affected by her life, by all the people she’s known, and by her experiences. All of that is affected by the time in which she lives. We have to look at the common beliefs of her time and her culture before we can say whether or not she was bound by those beliefs or reached beyond them – and we also have to realize that in her time and culture things that we consider normal may well have been unthinkable. Literally unthinkable because there was nothing providing the scaffolding that would allow those thoughts to exist (Orwellian touch, but quite true: if someone has no concept of freedom, he can’t think about it. He can only think about changes to his state of servitude that will make it more or less bearable).

Similarly, I totally agree about the whole warnings thing being idiotic. We already have a de facto ratings system for fiction. If they’re in the children’s section they’re probably about things that kids will enjoy reading about, and they’re probably using language that’s appropriate to a young child. The teen section will have different topics, and more sophisticated language (just don’t get too close to the teen paranormal romance section. The vampires there sparkle). Some places split even further when they categorize books, and of course, the rest of the store or library categorizes by subject so if the thought of romance gives you hives you can always avoid that part of the store. Or library (honestly, I’m still mourning the bookstores deciding to move horror back into the general – or sometimes SFF section. I keep finding it when I don’t want it. When it had the nice big labeled section I could avoid it unless I was in the mood for being creeped out).

All of it comes back to the question of who guards the guardians. If certain people are to be prevented from being published because they’re horrible people or their writing is so wrong and icky as to justify this, who makes that decision and who verifies that the decision is not being made on the biases of the decision-maker? I’ve had arguments… erm… spirited discussions with people who could not understand that allowing someone to ban books they thought were horrible, evil, and wrong also allowed whoever was in that position to ban books they thought were wonderful and good. Because the power in question is “to ban books”. The decision on which books to ban is done by individual or committee (if committee the tendency is for that which offends nobody to proliferate, where individual you’ll get what the individual likes/approves of – even if all the censors are honest and doing their best to be unbiased).

Of course, you can take the position of turtles – or guards – all the way down, and have someone to watch the person who’s watching the guard. And someone else to watch that person. And so on. It gets unwieldy fast, and the result is a kind of giant circle-jerk where everyone is watching everyone else for missteps – and that’s the good scenario. The bad one is more like your Communist regime with informers making up between a fifth and a quarter of the population and filling the secret police archives with reports of how Johnny’s mom makes him capitalist lunches with – horrors! – bananas.

The alternative is one that’s already happening in fanfic communities around the Internets: authors typically try to make their description/blurb as accurate as possible, try to give the piece an accurate rating ( has ratings from G through M and discourages explicit material, other places allow it but give it a separate rating), and an accurate “genre” (trust me, fanfic “genre” is quite a different beastie from what bookstores and libraries use). Between that, the number of reviews (because people tend not to review a piece they don’t like, they just drop it and go on – I don’t think I’ve seen more than a handful of negative reviews but there are loads of positive ones), pieces people want to read bubble to the top of lists quite quickly and the rest… don’t.

Which, while pretty much uncontrolled (the admins periodically go through the site deleting explicit material and anything else they think is against the terms of service), makes it fairly easy for people to find things they want to read and avoid things they don’t. Coincidentally enough, this also answers the complaints of those who lament the absence of gatekeepers in indie publishing: any system like this (which isn’t that different from Amazon’s rankings and tags) allows the pieces that readers like to become visible and effectively buries the pieces readers don’t want to touch with a ten foot iPhone holder – and at the same time, turns the whole issue with guarding the guards on its head: you don’t need to appoint special guards if everyone watches out for their own turf by ranking the things they like.

Scary thought, yes? Someone should write a book about that…


  1. Is it calling for illegal activities? Is it encouraging illegal activities (like pedophilia, or murdering members of a certain faith [whatever faith that might be])? Does it glorify illegal activities? And by this I mean things that are illegal in our here-and-now real world, not story world.

    If so, then perhaps restricting it is worth considering – like why it is illegal to falsely shout “Fire!” in a crowded theater, or to whip up a mob and send them to go burn down homes or murder people. Otherwise? I might strongly dislike it, but I just won’t buy it.*

    *Having adult material in a book labeled as “beginning reader” is a who ‘nother thing, and I’ve stated my opinions and actions on that before.

    1. My problem there is that when you put restrictions on written material because they encourage or glorify illegal activities, you open the door for someone to insist that every fictional car chase be carried out at speeds no greater than the posted speed limit because otherwise it’s encouraging or glorifying an illegal activity.

      Even if you insist that the illegal activity be a felony, you can still run into insanity: IIRC it’s technically a felony to open your spouse’s or kids mail. It’s also technically a felony to reply to or forward an email with the original text intact (thanks to some of the most idiotic copyright protection laws in existence).

      Worse, by trying to ban books that encourage or glorify illegal activities, there’s a massive chilling effect on fiction that pokes fun at really bad laws. And even worse, as soon as word gets around that something has been banned, there’s a whole lot of people who’ll want to look at it because it’s been banned. Better to have it out there where it can be used as a bad example, in my view.

      The case of falsely shouting “Fire!” in a crowded theater or firing up a riot and pointing it at someone is, I believe, not actually an exception to free speech so much as committing crimes by way of actions a reasonable person could predict would cause injury or death (don’t remember the references, sorry).

      The only place I’d want to see adult material in a book labeled as “beginning reader” would be a book intended for adults learning to read (or learning English as a second language), but that would imply that the book in question was properly categorized. That said, nobody is marching me into the bookstore, forcing me to buy the thing, or forcing me to read it.

      Which goes for anything else obnoxious, for that matter. If I’m not being forced to buy it or read it, I don’t really care how disgusting it is. If I get tricked into buying it by shady marketing, I’ll make known just what I think of said marketing and rate the thing down.

    2. There goes Treasure Island

      Or, as Chesterton described penny dreadfuls:

      Among these stories there are a certain number which deal sympathetically with the adventures of robbers, outlaws and pirates, which present in a dignified and romantic light thieves and murderers like Dick Turpin and Claude Duval. That is to say, they do precisely the same thing as Scott’s ‘Ivanhoe,’ Scott’s ‘Rob Roy,’ Scott’s ‘Lady of the Lake,’ Byron’s ‘Corsair,’ Wordsworth’s ‘Rob Roy’s Grave,’ Stevenson’s ‘Macaire,’ Mr. Max Pemberton’s ‘Iron Pirate,’ and a thousand more works distributed systematically as prizes and Christmas presents.

  2. Still very timely, since our socialist, er, social media platforms are actively punishing people for having opinions, all in the name of fighting hate,

Comments are closed.