A rebel I came, and sure I’ll die the same, though my comrades’ ghosts march beside me.
Back Home in Derry, Bobby Sands
I’m anti-authoritarian to core. “You’re not the boss of me” could probably my motto, and, judging by the history, the motto particularly of my mother’s family, and the other side were trying to compete. Telling us ‘you can’t’ was a sure way to make us try, and telling us ‘you must’ didn’t work out well (for both sides, sometimes). A bit like wild cats, really, and about as herd-able.
That’s not to say I can’t accept authority or take orders… I can, and do so. But I need to accept that particular authority, and my ability to respect and comply is very much a limited one. I’ll take a Medical Doctor’s instruction on medical matters that he or she knows well. When they tell me how my taste in books or politics ought to be, I’m likely to tell the devil to be away with them.
I listen in blank amazement to people taking seriously what some actor or fashion-celebrity say about politics or world affairs or the environment. I might take the Celeb seriously if they were telling me about acting or how to strut on a catwalk, but frankly respecting their opinions on world affairs or biology comes over as the wrong side of daft to me. Yet people do it, and hang their entire lives on the utterances of people who as often as not can’t manage their own relationships or often, wardrobes.
If I have a wardrobe malfunction, it mostly involves the doors not closing…
Anyway, traditional publishing these days is very much authoritarian, and ‘thou shalt not stray’ lines, which become more hilarious by the day: ranging from the ‘count the tokens’ of all currently fashionable designated ‘victim-group’ whose role and heroism is entirely determined by their skin color or sexual preferences (They are universally to be the ‘good guys’. The twitter-mob will be dispatched if you dare make them some good, some bad and some in between… as most of us know people are from first-hand experience.) to the ludicrous ‘stay in your lane’ demands that you only write about your own group, or designated victim groups lower in the hierarchy than your own (but you still have to obey ‘count-the-tokens’ – work this out!). You many not disagree in the slightest with the currently prescribed doctrine: so, even if you are in perfect line with 98% of the doctrine, but you do something like question whether it is fair for xy gene ‘trans’ women to compete in sexually divided sport against xx ‘cis’ women, you will be cast into outer darkness.
I fit in to this like a bar of ivory soap in a coal-scuttle. Shrug. I am not convinced conformity is a good recipe for the human race, let alone for writing. After all, most of us know, from first-hand experience, that most of the hierarchy of saintliness is bullshit. In the real world, you can find villains or heroes and plenty in between, who are gay or black, or, for that matter heterosexual or white. There are probabilities of certain traits and certain behaviors from certain groups and cultures. That’s why stereotypes develop – but they’re never universal. If they appear to be: you can bet it’s by force and persecution – whether we talk of the cheering for the ‘Beloved Leader’ in North Korea, or NK Jemisin’s ‘Utopia’ where ‘social workers’ execute those who don’t fit their model.
The good news on this, from this writer’s point of view, and in terms of the species survival, is that we have millions of years of selection for at least some rebels in any society (I believe very common in new frontier societies, and more rare in dense urban old cities, but existent in both).
Obviously, anti-authoritarian non-conformity got you killed a lot of the time – but it must have been a survival trait enough for it still to be widespread despite every effort to suppress and destroy it (if you think the SJW are the first, think again. Their authoritarian streak come from a tradition that goes back as long as humans have been around.) At least some of us (the readers and writers) root for the outsider, the underdog, the anti-establishment figure. Of course, the traditional publishing establishment desperately tries to claim this mantle… but they ARE the establishment. They ARE the powers-that-be in publishing, and in the literary and academic world, and review and award world. If not, their shalt-not-stray lines would be the minority (or non-existent) in publications and awards – not 99% dominant. The numbers CAN’T lie, although the establishment does. They claim to be sticking it to the Man… but they ARE the Man (how dare we assume their gender), Speaking truth to Power – except they ARE the Power. If they weren’t… there’d be consequences. Exclusion, silencing, de-platforming slandering in the mass media etc… Who does that happen to?
In the last few years, of course, the rebels have gone from a few rag-tags to – via Indy actually ‘owning’ the support of a lot of readers. It’s a growing movement, and their narrow, doctrinaire church gets narrower and nastier and smaller by the year.
But don’t think trad publishing and its establishment are ready to give up or even cry truce and accept a reasonable share of the readership, proportional to their demographic support, and to win hearts and minds by great writing. Like all totalitarians, it’s all or nothing. I’ll sing you no lullaby. They’ll destroy us if they can, infiltrate and subvert our platforms, and banish us if they can. If possible we rebels will be killed or silenced or at very least driven out of business, our livelihoods and reputations destroyed, and our readers ‘re-educated’.
So we must go on. I continue to write books that do not conform. I hope you too will continue to write them and/or buy them.
And our comrades’ ghosts march beside us. From Mary Shelley to Robert Heinlein… They try to tarnish their achievement and banish and erase their names. But they still march on, while we do.