9
May

When to Speak Up

20 Comments

What do China Mieville, Orson Scott Card and Frank Miller have in common?

They are all amazing writers whose work has fun­da­men­tally changed my life.  The Scar, Ender’s Game, and The Dark Knight Returns are some of the most impor­tant books in my memory. They’ve shaped me as an artist and a person. They are always at the back of my mind when­ever I sit down to write.

But Mieville, Card and Miller are also vocal about their pol­i­tics and reli­gious views. They aren’t shy about step­ping out in public and taking a hard line, con­scious of the feathers it will ruffle and not caring (at least on the surface).

In a per­fect world, art would be judged strictly on its artistic merits. I firmly believe that’s how it *should* be. But that isn’t how it *is*. The fact remains that the per­sonal views of these three writers have col­ored my impres­sion of their work. I cannot pick up a work by any of these artists without remem­bering who they are *as people* and what they believe. This taints my expe­ri­ence, inter­feres with it. It makes me wish I’d never gotten to know them.

There are so many momen­tous changes in this country right now. I want to talk about them. Hell, I want to shout about them. The words are burning a hole in my palette.

But I won’t.

Well, that’s not entirely true. I won’t *here*. You can bet your ass my friends will get their ears chewed. And should you catch up to me at a con hotel bar and share a drink with me, I promise you’ll get an earful. But I’m not going to take to social media to express myself on this issue.

It’s tempting. I’ve said many times in the past that I’m no Emily Dick­enson. I got into writing because I’m an extro­vert. I want to com­mu­ni­cate. I want to influ­ence. I want to have impact.

But I keep coming back to an old thought. I’ve said this before in inter­views: when you go on a job inter­view, you gen­er­ally wear a suit and tie. Why? Not every­body looks their best in that outfit. You do it because, in our cul­tural mileu, that clothing is invis­ible. The inter­viewer sees it, makes a mental note that you are dressed appro­pri­ately, and then focuses on what’s impor­tant: your qual­i­fi­ca­tions. I want the same for my writing. I don’t ever want people to read me (or not read me) because I am lib­eral, or con­ser­v­a­tive, or cham­pion a par­tic­ular cause.

I want them to read my work because it’s *good* and for no other reason. I want my sto­ries to be judged on their merit, and not based on the per­sonal posi­tions of the man who wrote them. I try really, REALLY hard to do this with Mieville, Card and Miller, with lim­ited suc­cess. I don’t want to risk doing that to others who read my own work.

I have a fur­ther com­pli­ca­tion: I am a uni­formed rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the United States gov­ern­ment. That means that *everyone,* no matter what their polit­ical views, has to feel like they can trust me to rep­re­sent their inter­ests. I can’t have a con­ser­v­a­tive feeling I’m not going to dive into the water to save him because of some­thing I said on my blog. I can’t have a lib­eral be afraid to comply with me when I try to enforce mar­itime law because of a polit­ical tweet. My sub­or­di­nates and supe­riors alike have to have full con­fi­dence that I will ful­fill my duties without prej­u­dice of any kind, at risk of my own life, if nec­es­sary. I can still vote (and by god I WILL), but I am sub­ject to limits on free speech imposed by the UCMJ. There’s article 88. There’s the Hatch Act.

I read the blogs of John Scalzi, Chuck Wendig, Charles Stross and Cory Doc­torow pretty reg­u­larly. Those folks have never been shy about expressing their polit­ical views, and almost always come across as real rea­soned, even when they’re snarky. They’re bril­liant. I admire the hell out of them. I pretty much always agree with them.

But I doubt I could do it as well. I think I’d come across cack-handed, sowing more dis­cord than I resolved.

Part of me won­ders, am I a coward? Am I abro­gating my respon­si­bility to speak out against injus­tice, to use my one ability (writing, com­mu­ni­cating) to improve the world? Maybe I am. I wrestle with that ques­tion all the time.

But in the end, the pri­mary pur­pose of my bully pulpit is to tell sto­ries. Fic­tion. I don’t want to dilute that expe­ri­ence, espe­cially when I see the John Scalzis of the world doing it far better than I ever could.  I am trained as a life­saver and a warfighter, and I have stood in the gap twice since I first donned the uni­form, drop­ping my life and heading off to handle a major oil spill and a major hur­ri­cane. I under­stand that’s a very *dif­ferent* way to help people than wading into a public debate, but it’s still a way, and I com­fort myself with the thought of doing that much.

Wanting to be a writer isn’t enough. I have to know the type of writer I want to be. Paul Krugman is a writer. So is Mark Steyn.

But polit­ical pun­ditry wasn’t what got me through child­hood and ado­les­cence. Reli­gious polemics didn’t show me the person I want to be.

Sci­ence fic­tion and fan­tasy did that.

  • http://twitter.com/LAGilman Laura Anne Gilman

    Thought­fully thought-out, and your mil­i­tary respon­si­bil­i­ties are cer­tainly always fore­most in your mind, as they should be.

    For some of us, though, pol­i­tics isn’t a choice (or a desire), it’s an oblig­a­tion.  As a woman, I can’t NOT speak up on polit­ical issues these days, because there is a por­tion of the pop­u­la­tion that is trying to reduce those rights, all the way back to sec­ondary vassal status (as per recent Fox com­men­tary, etc).  And, at the end of the day, if they have their way my legal status will be judged not as a writer, but as a female.

    This is my sur­vival at stake.  Silence is not an option.

    If it loses me readers… I accept that cost.

  • http://twitter.com/SheckyX Shecky X

    FWIW, Myke, there’s a huge dif­fer­ence between “safe” and “cow­ardly”. There’s just as much to respect about a person who with­holds their opin­ions out of respect for others as there is about one who goes to the wall in any and every public forum for their beliefs. Who decides which one is better? Answer: in my book, nobody. It’s nobody’s place to decide what other people should and should not say, when and where it should/shouldn’t be said, etc. That’s because there is NO ONE RIGHT ANSWER to the ques­tion of, “How should I live?” Anyone who claims they have the answer for everyone is full of it.

    … that being said, it’s hard not to give jack­holes verbal what-for. Because, in the end, in any rea­son­able world, some folks are just askin’ for it. But, in the end, just because Bill is a good example of a public cham­pion in jerk-jacking doesn’t mean that Bob is a poor excuse for a human being just because he chooses a qui­eter path out of respect for many others.

  • http://twitter.com/PrinceJvstin Paul Weimer

    No, Myke, you are no coward. You have very good rea­sons to hold fire on giving polit­ical opin­ions, and no one thinks less of you for doing so.

    Besides, such opin­ions are above and beyond, and not inte­gral to  your man­date as an author.

    One thing you didn’t quite men­tion but I point out–from an eco­nomic busi­ness sense, as a *new* writer, holding your fire on pol­i­tics is smart. You don’t want to alienate any poten­tial reader. You don’t yet have a large built audi­ence. Yet.

  • http://twitter.com/LeahPetersen Leah Petersen

    Myke,

    I don’t think there is a right or wrong answer to this. Hon­estly, it has to be acknowl­edged that it’s less of a pro­fes­sional risk for well known, best­selling authors to take a public stand on a polar­izing issue. They’re cer­tainly still brave to take the risk, but not as brave as those who are just starting out would have to be. And there’s a fine line between bravery and reck­less­ness. They have a plat­form because they’re already successful.

    I wouldn’t call it cow­ardly to keep polit­ical opin­ions out of your pro­fes­sional life. Prac­tical, really. Not to men­tion the other fac­tors you have as a member of the military.

    I don’t stay quiet on gay rights issues, but since my book itself goes there on that issue, it’s not some­thing that my readers are going to be offended by anyway. (Plus I’m a small fish.) It’s a cal­cu­lated deci­sion and a com­plex issue.  

    You go with your bad self. ;)

  • RichardPF

    Myke, 
    Though you may not share your full views on Social Media, some of your com­ments that you do share may pro­vide some illu­mi­na­tion into your deeper thoughts. And some people might judge you based on their inter­pre­ta­tions of your words. Others may judge you solely upon your career choices, from mer­ce­nary to the Coast Guard. Still others, who meet you in person, may learn much more about your polit­ical beliefs, and they could share that with others. Nowa­days, it is near impos­sible to com­pletely con­ceal one’s polit­ical leanings. 

    It is true that some readers judge an author by their polit­ical reviews, rather than the quality of their writing. I have been at SF con panels dis­cussing that very issue. Though those same people often make excep­tions for some classic authors, many who might be objec­tion­able for a variety of rea­sons, from racism to misogyny. 

    No one is oblig­ated to espouse their polit­ical posi­tions on Social Media. There are many other out­lets for doing so. Thus, I don’t see it as cow­ardly in the least for you to not want to air your views on places like Twitter and Face­book.  Though don’t be sur­prised if a few still judge you anyways. 

    Polit­ical bick­ering & name calling online can get very tedious, and coun­ter­pro­duc­tive. Rational dis­cus­sion is dif­fi­cult to find. Maybe they need a Twitter just for polit­ical dis­cus­sion, PoliTwit.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=19800468 Dan Adler

    First off, no, you’re not a coward. You express your­self pub­licly in the way that works best for you as a person. That’s what we all do (or try to do) (or should do, in some cases).

    You acknowl­edge that pun­ditry didn’t get you through your early ears. Like you, for me it was Sci­ence fic­tion and Fan­tasy. That’s what I under­stand. It’s how I relate to many things in the world. It’s how you relate. So that’s what you do. And it works.

    I’ve met you in “real life” offline. We have cons in common. Does the expe­ri­ence of knowing you colour my per­cep­tion of your books? Prob­ably. That’s not nec­es­sarily a neg­a­tive. The same would hold if you were to turn to pun­ditry or polemics.

    But I kinda hope you don’t.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=19800468 Dan Adler

    First off, no, you’re not a coward. You express your­self pub­licly in the way that works best for you as a person. That’s what we all do (or try to do) (or should do, in some cases).

    You acknowl­edge that pun­ditry didn’t get you through your early ears. Like you, for me it was Sci­ence fic­tion and Fan­tasy. That’s what I under­stand. It’s how I relate to many things in the world. It’s how you relate. So that’s what you do. And it works.

    I’ve met you in “real life” offline. We have cons in common. Does the expe­ri­ence of knowing you colour my per­cep­tion of your books? Prob­ably. That’s not nec­es­sarily a neg­a­tive. The same would hold if you were to turn to pun­ditry or polemics.

    But I kinda hope you don’t.

  • http://profiles.google.com/griffin9111025 Griffin Barber

    Right there with you, on every single point.

  • Moses Siregar

    Ain

  • Moses Siregar

    Ain’t nuthin’ wrong with that, brother. And from a busi­ness stand­point, it’s prob­ably the right move.

  • KJ Kabza

    Okay. So the pri­mary pur­pose of your bully pulpit is to tell stories.

    But what does your fic­tion say, Myke?

    What kind of a person has fan­tasy and sci­ence fic­tion turned you into?

    Per­haps your cal­culus is cor­rect. Per­haps you’ve thought about it, and
    con­cluded that your fic­tion speaks louder than your actions, and pulling
    people from the sea bet­ters more lives than giving voice to the
    voiceless–because when all is said and done, these are simply your
    strengths, and you must play to your strengths if you want to do the
    most Good that you can in this world. And per­haps, because such weighing
    results in no easy, everyone-wins answers, you’re still tempted to
    doubt what you’ve decided, even if you know that the deci­sion you’ve
    made is the right one.

    But per­haps your cal­culus is not. Per­haps you have not con­sid­ered that
    wrestling with this dilemma is a luxury that many of us are denied–we
    have no choice, because if we don’t stand up for our­selves, then nobody
    else will–and making a post about how you are wrestling with this
    dilemma, only to con­clude that you can’t say any­thing, is a little…
    tasteless.

    *Are* you a coward? I can’t say either way. You’re the only one who knows what’s inside your heart.

    All I can say is: you had god­damn well better tell people in other
    con­texts what you think. Oth­er­wise, on the final, fateful ques­tion of
    integrity versus despair? You’ve lost.

  • SarahS

    I loved this blog, but I can not agree with it completely.

    I read Ender’s Game and thought it was okay. Then I read about his opin­ions and I will not be buying more of his books, simply because the issue he speaks out against is one really close to my heart. Should we drink coca-cola and never look at the cor­po­ra­tion behind the product? That is how I see authors as well. They are artists of course, but they are selling a product, and to me, they are the ‘cor­po­ra­tion’ behind the product. I will not sup­port the product and put money in the pockets of an organ­i­sa­tion that goes against my morals.

    I do under­stand your view. But I don’t agree with ‘In a per­fect world, art would be judged strictly on its artistic merits.’ I think people should be held account­able for what they say or do, that is a per­fect world to me. Not one where someone can spout, what to me, is mean bs that hurts a lot of people, but hey, guy writes great books, so let’s just buy his products.

    It is also a matter of how vocal you are about it. If you choose to use your status as a plat­form to announce these views, then I feel I can reject your work, because that, in the end, is the plat­form you’re using.

  • Mazarkis Williams

    The ques­tion about whether you are abro­gating your respon­si­bil­i­ties in regard to injus­tice is one  I rec­og­nize. Last week in a fit of pique I posted my opin­ions. Since only 12 people follow my blog, it didn’t make that much of a splash, but I do feel better. It may be dif­ferent for you, espe­cially con­sid­ering your mil­i­tary duties.

    In turn our readers must rec­og­nize that writing gives us no spe­cial insight into politics.

  • Ben

    I’ve heard your name thrown around in com­par­ison to people I seri­ously respect, but this post is (per­haps iron­i­cally) what just con­vinced me to go sample (if not inevitably pur­chase) Shadow Ops: Con­trol Point. Regard­less of your views, the strength of your reason inspires way more con­fi­dence in the quality of what I’m about to start reading.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Justin-Watson/100001430719301 Justin Watson

    Myke,

    I don’t think there’s any­thing wrong with being cir­cum­spect with your opinion.  I think there’s a place for lit­er­a­ture with a clear par­tisan bent and a place for sto­ries that just don’t get into it.  I would say, how­ever, that per­haps you’re fighting a losing battle there.  You’re writing about the mil­i­tary and there­fore the gov­ern­ment.  Even in a fan­tasy set­ting, people are almost inevitably going to draw at least gen­eral con­clu­sions about your pol­i­tics by how you por­tray the system and the people in the system. 

    That being said, being an Army officer myself, I agree that it’s impor­tant we follow Article 88 and good sense in being impar­tial ser­vants of the country.  We’re going to have our opin­ions, but I agree we don’t need to beat people to death with them or express them in a way that’s guar­an­teed to plolarize.

    On a sep­a­rate note, I think it’s impor­tant to be able to read and per­haps even enjoy work from folks who dis­agree with you.  Pol­i­tics in this country are dan­ger­ously polar­ized and it takes real effort not to fall into the trap of dis­missing everyone who dis­agrees with you as stupid or trea­so­nous or big­oted or what­ever.  America’s place in the world, the role of gov­ern­ment in social wel­fare, edu­ca­tion, health care, etc, these are real and impor­tant issues but we shouldn’t allow the dis­cus­sion to degen­erate into the con­tempt and hatred that it so often spawns.   I think one of the most dan­gerous aspects of public dis­course today is that our most vocal and active cit­i­zens often only con­sume polit­ical mono­logue from pun­dits they agree with anyway.

    In which case, people with rea­soned and sane argu­ments, even ones with which I dis­agree, need to be more outspoken… 

  • mia

    Few people prac­tice restraint, tact, sen­si­tivity and thought­ful­ness these days. Many are quick to voice their beliefs and opin­ions, often unso­licited and without much thought.

    I don’t begrudge anyone their views. The sharing of informed opin­ions coher­ently and respect­fully is the lifeblood of dia­logue and progress. I will not stop reading a book simply because I dis­agree with an author. What I cannot abide is unin­formed, con­de­scending, judg­mental and vit­ri­olic speech.

    While some may reject a book for the author’s per­sonal views, others may read it for the same reason. Reader behavior is dif­fi­cult to pre­dict. Besides, the more you share of your­self, the more points of con­nec­tion others may find with you.

    Speak out or keep silent, that’s your deci­sion. Just don’t decide based on what readers may or may not do.

  • Cody

    Good stuff as always, Myke.  I really enjoy your pas­sion and thoughtfulness…it’s not always a fre­quent com­bi­na­tion.  When are we going to get you out here to New Mexico for Bubonicon?

  • Cody

    Good stuff as always, Myke.  I really enjoy your pas­sion and thoughtfulness…it’s not always a fre­quent com­bi­na­tion.  When are we going to get you out here to New Mexico for Bubonicon?

    • MykeCole

      Would love to go. Shoot me an email.

      • Cody

        Myke, just notice your response and have sent an email…hope to see you there (this year or in the future).