Attended a writers conference this week: several readings and several workshops. The conference was local to me, so no expenses. The central topic was military culture, active duty personnel and veterans and dependents' unique lives. With my DD-214, my admission was free for all events. An interest area for me, besides military culture, was how writers cope with and manage the pushmi-pullya undertows of patriotic and dissenting political propaganda and criticisms of writing that is political preaching to the choir and its manifold political oppositions. Each presenter was veteran or military dependent, some active.
A writing culture belief holds that expression should be apolitical, though is political nonetheless. Liberalism is often associated with writing culture, and is intended to be apolitically construed, meaning public opinions generally posit that all creative self-expression is liberally political, as if expression is a liberal art and is therefore politically liberal and not otherwise overtly political, at least in principle. Noteworthy, a sea change mid '90s fostered considerable politically conservative participation and contributions to writing and expression culture overall.
Background above, so to speak, to a contentious political culture war that intensified from some past time through to this day. I do not intend this above as any kind of political rhetoric, nor this to be a Hatrack rules'-proscribed political discussion, only that avoidance of political expression is as impossible as denying a rhetoric: another will substitute in its place. Hence, the Hatrack rule that all discussion must be substantively and accessibly related to writing.
What I took away from the conference:
Politics are subjective (personal and individual); therefore, an actual political position of an individual is secondary, or tertiary or more, to subjective expression. Okay to take a stand, so long as the position is subjective.
Overt political propaganda stinks and alienates. Often, the propaganda is emotionally charged, such that an argument's logic and reason are obfuscated. The actual political agenda is expressed from a parroted mimicry, the ideology and philosophy of which the expressor probably doesn't fully, if at all, appreciate or understand in the first place.
Creative political expression, albeit emotionally charged, expresses profound and sublime questions for public consideration and discussion, if not thought or transformation. Many creative political expressions use a variety of ironies: verbal irony, situational irony, comic irony, courtly irony, cosmic irony, dramatic irony. One approach, for example, glorifies misguided behavior and condemns socially responsible behavior through all the former above irony types.
That, no, I'm not mistaken: military culture exacerbates social and family dysfunction. Okay, yeah, the conference was also somewhat a military culture support and network group.
For me, now, a consideration for how these revelations suit my writing is what I can make of them. One revelation was unanimous; that is, a struggle to make sense of, meaning out of, and shared meaning is at a root of military culture expression, expression generally.
==== Anyway, a general consensus here and elsewhere is expression best not overtly preach political or any systemic propaganda. Yet writing demands some kind of a stand for or against some kind of responsible behavior or irresponsible misbehavior. A question then is what substitutes instead of propaganda. ====
==== What ways do you express a political position covertly? ====
One way for me is to acknowledge and appreciate human moral conditions entail degrees of shared social values; some are universal. Spiritual beliefs, family culture beliefs, community culture beliefs, and governance beliefs, to mean social cooperation values specifically, are peculiarly universal and at the same time unique to any given cohort's insular society. The reconciling of the cognitive dissonance of no overt yet unavoidable maybe covert propaganda or preaching, for me, is to focus on individual portraits of highly specific, vivid, lively, and personal struggles with a human condition, and that result in a transformative outcome. To mean specific to an excruciating degree such that a narrative expansively transcends its narrowed focus and becomes exponentially relevant and appealing to a near-universal, certainly at least amply numerous audience.
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Why must any writing fit within, or be assigned to, a Ďpoliticalí label; be it left, right, liberal, conservative, or humanist? In incorporating one, some, or many elements of the human condition, why is it assumed the writer is making some political statement? True, human moral and ethical beliefs and behaviours can be shaped, moulded, and even manipulated by a societyís political structures. And, military society is predicated on the deconstruction of the personality and its reconstruction into one that is more suited to its needs, the willingness to do what most of us would consider unthinkable: to deliberately set out to kill another human being. However, does that mean all writings must be viewed and weighed against the prevailing counterbalancing forces of, so called, political movements and cultures? My answer is a resounding no.
Yes, some political advocates use fiction, and even fantasy fiction, to trumpet their views on the course society should embrace now, and into the future. I find this usually makes for dull reading. Do I consciously propound any form of political or moral point of view? Not that Iím aware of. But I do like to try and construct a story that may, and I do mean, may, incite the readers to question their own assumptions about existence from time to time. I try and write for the Ďeverymaní among us.
If a writer wishes to preach to their audience, no mater how large, or how small, that is their absolute right. Whether they are pushing a political, moral, philosophical, or religious wheelbarrow, who are we to say they canít, or they shouldnít? If I demand the right to write what I want to, on whatever subject pleases me, who am I to deny others the same right? However, there are some vocal people and groups who would try and deny me my rights to publish while they advocate for their own. That type of behaviour I regard as intolerable and unconscionable.
So, I guess in answer to the question: What ways do you express a political position covertly? My answer is: I donít.
I've come to the conclusion that if you want politics in your story, if you want someone giving political speeches and presenting an argument for the audience to wrestle with, while at the same time you don't want to alienate readers, then keep the politics limited to your villains.
I've read plenty of stories where the author obviously had a low opinion of my politics; the story was suffused with showing all the bad things that could possibly happen if my favored political system was ascendant. Yet, I enjoyed the read, because the heroes never came out and said "There is a better way, and this is it!" Instead, the heroes were just trying to survive and navigate the dystopian world. All the political arguments were given to the villains. And I mean all. The heroes never presented an alternative view aside from some generic variation of "this is messed up." Naturally, I found the presented arguments to be twisted versions of what I considered the "true" political position they were supposedly representing, but then, these were the villains. They were supposed to be twisted. So in the end it didn't bug me in the least, and I got great enjoyment out of them.
Conversely, I've read stories where the author was very sympathetic with my views, but the throw away lines from the protagonists intended to validate those ideas just pulled me right out.
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An argument can easily be made all expression is political, though not necessarily what "politics" is often construed to mean. Not the political party faction electioneering, per se, the social politics of everyday life: a myriad of social situations from which individuals draw their cooperation cues, like sexual politics, workplace politics, the politics of queueing, of roadways, ad infinitum.
Readers and writers take for granted many of their political situations. Thieves are thieves in any group's prespective; however, some groups approve theft targeted at the "other," whichever other that may be. Some groups disapprove any violence no matter who is targeted, while others follow a formal or informal code for when violence is acceptable and unacceptable. These are politics.
Many groups disapprove of any individual drawing attention to exceptional acts: this is peer pressure politics. The opposite is celebration of exceptional distinction, albeit sometimes, perhaps usually, to steal a coattail ride into the limelight. Everyone gets their fifteen minutes of fame every now and then and someone will always try to take away a piece of the fame. This is politics.
Politics is pervasive and unavoidable, though often covert, in social being interaction.
Interesting that a political alignment with a narrative's views is disruptive. Huh, maybe that suggests the view espoused is too overtly construed. Or, contrarily, is flawed at its core. Probably is at least lacking persuasive influence. Maybe a narrative's irony of such a discourse's flaw could express a view that covertly asks for revelation of the view's flaws. That's interesting.
Upton Sinclair's The Jungle, its socialist political diatribes are about as dreary-boring and flawed as the capitalist diatribes of Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged. Neither especially artfully, persuasively construe political arguments. No irony, no implication; they are straightforward commonplaces and simple plots which presuppose their conclusions (beg the question) -- unpersuasive packages for their political view expressions.
Commonplace to mean a common narrative type commonly seen, not common to mean beautiful as in comely. In rhetorical exercises, a commonplace is a composition that amplifies inherent social vices, certainly social politics, not individual character vices or politics -- villains of a piece posed as socially, politically flawed, not nobly heroic protagonists, though -- social vices and politics on the whole, like greed, gluttony, wrath, sloth, pride, envy, and lust. Each vice plays central roles in the above novels' dramatic actions.
The Jungle, though, transcended its political intent and changed the world for a common good. Atlas shrugged preached to its choir and changed nothing.
quote:An argument can easily be made all expression is political . . .
If you wish to be so generic, I suppose I would agree. With qualifications.
What you term politics in the above quote is simply the exercise of power. Those who have it, force those who donít, to comply, or else. In that, nothing has changed since Gronk got a club and took over the tribe. As the tribe got bigger, Gronk got others who thought the same way he did to help him enforce his ideas. Oppose him, and you got belted in the head. Itís only when others formed their own group, with a similar capacity for violence, that brute force gave way to negotiated outcomes: Politics.
There isnít any negotiation in queuing, jump the que and youíll get pushed back out. Itís the exercise of power, not negotiation, unless your desire to get closer to the front is negotiated with the rest of the group. The same goes for roadways, sex, workplaces, and laws. If you donít obey the rules, you will be punished -- unless you engage in political negotiations to get them changed.
Politics is the art of gaining consensus through negotiated compromise. But at its heart, itís still the exercise of power backed by the threat of violence.
Cooperation politics is largely subtle. Yes, for example, queue politics assumes misbehavior will be controlled, corrected, and castigated. However, if predicated upon correction, etc., avoidance outcomes, social enforcement by force majeur is uncooperative and hence likewise antisocial. The social politics of cooperation depends upon socially responsible conduct.
Queue politics, for example, cooperation is based upon the first to come, first to be served principle. Line cutting, though, takes many forms, some socially anticipated and grudgingly accepted. A prearranged reservation takes priority over walk-in consumers. VIPs demand special courtesy and are accommodated. Demanded courtesy -- at a roadway intersection or entrance, for example, a car barges into and insists upon its turn to enter a line of traffic.
Also, a considerate driver may wave a car or two into line ahead of those that patiently wait their turns. That is a demanded courtesy the considerate driver imposes upon the line. Of course, perhaps the line-cutting driver waited an unendurable amount of time and the courtesy is warranted at least for safety's sake, or the line-cutting driver was immediately afforded a premature and unwarranted cut out of misplaced consideration. Safety and cooperation responsibly expect some discrepancies and variations.
My thoughts on the matter are, okay, someone presupposes a more pressing mission than mine, patiently and timely and strategically planned so I'm not anxious about traffic snarls. Those misguided folks who believe they do a random courtesy for strangers, if albeit agenda oriented, assume line standers behind them share their value systems and approve of their courtesy, and may not.
Anyway, road rage may ensue, hopefully, peaceably and unexpressed though, for further responsible cooperation. Cooler and wiser heads will prevail. The others: I know time wounds all heels. It is not my responsibility to correct trivial matters; they are eventually, if not sooner, self-correcting. However, for prose, from such trivial matters are insights into how mole hill misunderstandings causally become contesting mountains -- step by step, from a breakdown of shared social cooperation to a violent conflagration. The violent or other height of dispute is a climax turn.
I'll tell you how you can have politics in your work and not turn me off. Just don't beat me over the head with it (and that applies whether I find the politics agreeable or disagreeable). I don't especially care if the heroes or villains have their own notions of politics, if that's natural to the story. But don't repeatedly express how stupid everyone is who doesn't subscribe to your protagonist's beliefs (I'm lookin' at you, Iain Banks) and don't make your political screed the story's reason for being.
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