Monday, June 2, 2014

Monday Musings on Civility

Hi folks, Mark here with a bit of a rant. I’ve reached a point where my frustrations take precedence over tact. I’m a small player in the publishing industry, a new voice in the fantasy genre, and I don’t have that extensive network of connection yet that many other more established authors have. And yet I find myself reacting strongly to some of the flame wars and controversies that have energized the arena since the spring.  It seems like everywhere I look I see argument and accusation, insinuation and supposition.  From the internecine squabbles in the SFWA, contested toast-master choices, fringe groups agitating against commencement speakers on college campuses, publishing fights between Amazon and just about everybody else, corporate types pontificating, political dupes excoriating, pumped up nobodies mugging a microphone trying to be a somebody…

I’ll take “Pictures of Kitties” for $2000, Alex. 

I’m not seeing enough civility, people, anywhere.  What happened to our ability to engage in intelligent discourse without stooping to character assassination? What happened to telling a story to tell a story? It seems we have fallen into a deconstructionist pattern where every tale, essay, novel, film, speech or blog post is immediately set upon and examined from multiple perspectives by folks with pre-set agendas. This writer is a misogynist. That writer is a racist. This series doesn’t have enough people of color. That trilogy doesn’t have enough strong female characters. Not enough gay, not enough straight, not enough love, not enough blood, not enough real, not enough myth.  And so on…

What we really lack is enough patience not to judge too quickly. The world we live in demands instant reaction to every stimulus.  Folks don’t even bother to breathe; stuff just comes out in a constant stream of non-information laced with praise or invective depending on the speaker/writer’s preconception.

To paraphrase Bilbo, “It puts me off my breakfast, it does!”

I posted the stuff below on Facebook awhile back, and I thought I would trot it out once again to finish this entry off.  

                           Pay attention, Mephistopholes!

I stand in the middle of a muddle with proportions gargantuan
Beset by nuances of half-formed decision
Ridiculed by voices raised in derision
That emanate from my own subconscious…

And then, clarity:

There are those that conspire to foment conspiracies dire.
They act on us like the rope around the condemned man’s neck.
And the fanatics on the right, and the egotistic socialists on the left
Swing about on their lines as if in play
Like some dance macabre from the Cirque d’Soleil,
Making wild rhetorical slashes in their pendulum passes
While the noose ever tightens, choking off
Freedom of movement
Freedom of design
Freedom of thought
Speech, or belief in the divine;
A slow asphyxiation of will
Made more tragic because we are aware of the loss
Even as our sight dims
To that point of candle-slight truth
Where wisdom speaks to us.
And yet that is the tragedy of these days
Because we come to KNOW
But cannot tell.
Man is always seeking thus. We are a race of
Intuitives doomed, like Sysiphus, to push our
Rocks uphill,
Distracted from our course by contradictions
Presented as answers
That are, in reality, only definitions of symptoms
Of the diseases that make the slope we ascend
More challenging than it needs
To be
In our quest for cures…

And so we come to it.
Despair is too easy
And too easily used by those that choose
To follow the politics of greed
And wear their wealth as insulation from the real,
Protected by their binary codes and cash
From the effects of their solipsistic mantras.
And who benefits when the pundits turn
All questions into colors in conflict
And discourse caustic becomes the stagnant
Credo of the hyper-informed but unenlightened?

Pay attention, Mephistopholes!
For all promises made to the dark have their payment come due
In the dark:
A horizon limitless…
And we loiter on our collective gibbets
While the shadow rises like a metaphor
Consuming everything
But that single candle-flame
Where hope still lives…

I, for one, refuse to accept defeat,
And choose to be the flame rather than the victim.
There is no wind
Real or imagined
That can extinguish me.

mtn 2/10/14-5/31/14


Have a great week and keep it civil! J

Mark Nelson


Terri-Lynne said...

Do you ever watch Last Week tonight with John Oliver? Last night he did a segment about internet neutrality, and at the end of it gave outlet to all these commentors who love to fight, to send nasty ANONYMOUS comments to everything and anything.

It was hilarious. Had me snickering loudly. It's anonymity that fuels the fighters in such large numbers. It used to be only those with a likewise "anonymous" platform--newspapers, magazines, books, letters to the editor, Dear Abby--could rant without presenting themselves to the public they're ranting at. Now, ANYONE can, and they do.

Part of me says, HUZZAH! Voices otherwise silenced can now be heard! And another part of me says, "Some voices should shut the hell up." But with the good you get the bad, so--honestly, I'd rather take the bad so that the good can still be heard.

Courtesy would be nice, but assholery is better than silence, IMO.

Karin Rita Gastreich said...

Mark, thanks for another thought-provoking post.

We must be on the same wavelength, as I've been thinking about this very issue with the recent blow-up over the submission guide lines for World Encounters. I see good intentions and clear errors on both sides of that argument; what I haven't seen is the sort of dialogue that could lead to consensus, resolution, and a little bit of peace making. (Maybe that dialogue is there, and I just haven't come across it yet.)

Polarization seems the fashion nowadays; "Either you're with us or you're against us" is the ruling mantra, no matter what side of the argument you choose.

I agree with Terri that it is great to have more voices heard through new and engaging tools. But what good is a voice heard when that voice has no impact, beyond entrenching all the other voices in their already ossified opinions?

We've forgotten about the power of dialogue.

We've also lost sight of the importance the quiet example; showing the strength of one's own path, rather than engaging in vociferous criticism dedicated to tearing down the the "other".

Lots of food for thought here, Mark, and I'm grateful for it. As always. :)

Unknown said...

Nicely put, Mark! I've been watching all this business unfolding in the world of SF and Fantasy while nursing a sense of quiet relief that I can seek refuge in the detached ivory tower that appears to be historical fiction!! Mind you, this whole demoncratisation of opinion thing that the internet has brought us does sometimes seem to be epitomising a more general view that while everyone's opinion is valid, the opinions of those who scream louder than others are more valid than others. I'm shuffling back to the ivory tower now, thank you. Let me know when the dust settles!!