The 1990s are back, baby!
16-bit videogaming! Geroge Carlin, Sam Kinnison, and other politically incorrect comedy that could never be made today! Seinfeld! CRT TVs! Cell phones the size of bricks! Nu-metal! Shopping malls! I’ll meet you at the arcade by the Hot Topic and the Orange Julius! We can pump a bunch of quarters into Mortal Kombat II, listen to Pearl Jam or Blink-182 (and other music from back when music was music!) and not let the nanny state get us down before going over to Pizza Hut, the way it looked back when we were a PROPER country, and hang out with the black and Hispanic kids who don’t see color! Rodney King? OJ Simpson? Who cares! Bill Clinton had his Sister Soujah moment! We solved all of the world’s problems back then. Blue jeans and Coca-Cola brought down the Soviet Union. A few well-placed bombs during Easter helped NATO beat back the last vestiges of nationalism in that backwards realm called the Balkans. The world made sense back then, everything was wholesome and pure, and America was truly unified.
And all because we agreed to disagree and live and let live, man.
If we all just leave everybody free to be free and do whatever, then America will flourish. Because that’s what America is, bro. Freedom.
Freedom to what? you may ask?
And the answer to that, broheim, is yes. Just yes. Freedom . . .
* * *
The era of “live and let live,” to the extent that it ever existed and that this ethos was sincerely followed by all relevant parties, is over. The libertarian moment or whatever lasted about five minutes and was so flimsy that it’s an insult to houses built on a foundation of sand to imply that this is what such a philosophy is built on.
Don’t romanticize the 1990s. I was there. Seriously. Turning back the clock to the Clinton days would solve nothing. A big part of 19909s/Gen X philosophy, if you can call it such, was that we should all just be atomized individuals doing our own thing, man, and everything would just work itself out for the best.
A three-second view of current events will show the truth of the well-worn axiom that the group that wants to win will always defeat the group that wants to be left alone.
A corollary to that is the group that pushes a negative vision, i.e., of being against something, will be defeated by the group that pushes a positive vision, i.e., of being for something.
Ignoring things eating away at the foundation of your civilization is the reason why we are in the position we are in. You either nip problems in the bud before the flower into something monstrous and unmanageable or you get choked by the implacable, kudzu-like tendrils of wicked ideas and bad policy.
Wanting to be left alone consigns your fellow citizens to a terrible fate.
People want to know what they’re fighting for. And they want to win. Everybody likes winners. You don’t win by telling the people doing the treading not to tread on you, especially if you have shown zero inclination to ever fight back in any sort of meaningful way.
This requires a fundamental change in mindset form what a lot of us 80s and 90s kids were raised to believe, and that is: I WILL NEVER FIGHT FOR THE RIGHTS OF PEOPLE WHO HATE ME.
So what does this have to do with writing?
Two things, one practical and one artistic:
Thing the First
The tradpub business will never accept you if you don’t toe the line on certain socio-political viewpoints involving race, gender, sexuality, religion, partisanship, and general identity considerations. A part of why so few are reading their books—by one estimate, of 58,000 titles half sell fewer than twelve—is due to this monolithic viewpoint preponderance. Some might call this particular viewpoint “wokeness,” but I’m honestly sick of that term. Call it what you want—progressive, politically correct, left-leaning, one-sided, whatever. I just call it boring.
If a book is good, its politics can be overlooked or ignored, to the extent that they’re there, even if you disagree with them. If a book is not good, you’ll notice these things. Regardless of the quality of a book’s writing, you’ll especially notice its politics and message if it’s shoved in your face with the subtlety of a sledgehammer to the forehead. Or the nuts if you’re a man. Choose your metaphor.
But know this: that side will never, ever concede any point to you. They will never make a space for you. They will never fight to the death, or even to the minor inconvenience, for your right to express your viewpoint. They gleefully freeze you out and, in fact, wish you were dead an all traces of everything you believe in removed from humanity’s collective message. They do not care that you want to be left alone and that you want to leave them alone. They hate you, full stop.
Just hate them back.
Your willingness to go to bat for them is completely irrelevant. In fact, it’s a weakness on your part. The fact that you are honorable and living up to very laudable abstract principles of fairness mean nothing when the other side is totally honorless and will not reciprocate your good will. I’d argue that they have negative honor, meaning that they go out of their way to humiliate you, shove your principles in your face, and laugh as you handcuff yourself and tie yourself up on ever-more complicated contortions trying to live up to them, coming up with ever more ridiculous reasons why you should not fight back.
Stop putting on the mask and dancing for daddy. They will never live and let live. You shouldn’t either.
Thing the Second
Readers allow writers a certain suspension of disbelief, but at a certain point, the balance can get tipped in favor of the “improbable/impossible” side of the equation that they check out and stop trusting the writer. This often happens when characters act in very unrealistic ways given the circumstances.
I’m not referring to gritty realism or scientifically-accurate phenomena here. I’m talking to the messier but still somewhat predictable realm of human nature. If you have an antagonist who has shown themselves to have no honor or negative honor, why on Earth would you have a protagonist act like a goofy conservative or libertarian and continue to give them the benefit of the doubt in hopes that the protagonist’s honorable behavior will shame the antagonist into doing suddenly doing the right thing?
Let’s hold on for a second: This can work if you establish that the antagonist is not an honorless swine. But if you’re bad guy is a really nasty piece of work, just unrepentantly wicked who has double-crossed and betrayed others without feeling so much a mere scintilla of remorse or regret, why would they respond to kindness from your hero?
I mean, it could happen. But as we see so often in real-life on matters very often much pettier than those you’d encounter in some sort of action-packed novel with multiple lives and civilizations hanging in the balance, it doesn’t.
It just doesn’t.
This isn’t a blackpill or a grim rejoinder on the nasty, brutal, and short nature of human existence. It’s just a fact that when you are contending against an opponent who enjoys rejecting all fundamental notions of fair play, honor, duty, and the Golden Rule—and, let’s be real, the source of the golden rule to begin with—and you act in a way where you expect them to have an epiphany based on your good behavior, you’re dreaming.
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