A few days ago I read a post on Facebook asking a similar question. Many would then answer that ‘No. Writers should stay off politics for their own sake. People will be turned off from your books if you’re political.’ I often wonder that myself. A few years ago I was severely criticized by a consulting client of mine for being political: not that I was politicizing the work I did for her – not in the slightest – but still she complained about the political posts I would publish on my personal Facebook page. She even said that she cut me off a project because her client researched my Facebook page and disliked some of my political posts. ‘Not professional’, I was told. And I guess I wonder as well if I would have more followers to this blog if I didn’t take any political stance at all in some of the posts. If I was famous and very successful, I’d probably wouldn’t need to think about these things (or would I?), but as I’m still making my name, maybe a political stance is disadvantageous and turns away some parts of the market. So let me speak a little bit about what I think about that, please bear with me.
As you may know by reading this blog, I’m a fan of Hannah Arendt. And even if you believe with Weber that the bureaucracies and the System actually protect us and prevent the savagery of the wild, I would still argue that you should believe with Arendt that the System itself is absolutely dependent on the people that operate it and on the Ethics of these people. The Evil in the System, tyrannies and autocracies, come from banal ignorance, superficial opportunism and fear of investment. Let me explain what I mean by this and why I speak of this.
A few months back I wrote here a four-post series about the MATRIX TRILOGY. It shows how those movies inspired me and had a great impact on me. In those posts, I explained how I believe we develop as people and how we can mature into solid, ethical and free individuals. I also say that I believe there are three kinds of people: 1) The submissive slaves; 2) the rebels and radicals; and 3) the Thinking People.
So, in the beginning, we are taught conformity. Even though as babies and children we feel we are the center of the world, we are taught since the get-go that we need to conform to norms and other people. And it’s important that we learn the lesson, otherwise we will be unable to relate with other people and even ourselves, as we face the frustration of reality. Conformity to norms enables us to live with others and thrive. Remember, it seems the Neanderthals had a bigger brain and were stronger than Homo Sapiens, but our species knew how to work together and face the challenges of the elements by socializing. However, if conformity goes unchecked, we become submissive slaves, unable to make our own minds about what surrounds us, maybe hiding our more honest opinions deep inside ourselves so not to offend the Other or from fear of retaliation. Still, submissive slaves are de pillars of what Arendt calls: ‘the banality of Evil’. People who will do anything the System will ask of them without much question allow the most catastrophic wrong-doing to happen. They even support this wrong-doing, as we have seen in Nazi Germany.
To overcome the entrapment of conformity, we can rebel and break the rules, even becoming radicals. Well, I do believe that this rebellion is very much necessary and enables us to innovate and become better as individuals and as a society. But breaking the rules and rebelling is nothing more than allowing the ‘wild’ to return within ourselves. It’s releasing our inner Neanderthal. But a sustainable System, needing balance, is usually able to counter this rebellion: madhouses and prisons and medications are made for that. I also do not believe that our most wild ‘self’ is our ‘real’ self, as some would argue. Breaking the rules for the sake of breaking the rules brings us nothing but violence and extreme behavior. It’s just another way of conformity, another way of being a slave. Just think of some of the things we are ‘supposed’ to do: in Universities, we are supposed to ‘experiment’, we are supposed to ‘try drugs’, we are supposed to ‘get drunk in parties’ ‘get wild at Spring Break’, etc. Are really all those things ‘breaking the rules’ or just another form of conformity? And how about cops and lawyers that aren’t supposed to ‘snitch’ on each other? Or CEO’s that should be allowed ‘to bend the laws’ to save the bottom line? Or flat-earthers? Or ‘jihadists’? Aren’t all these people another kind of ‘slaves’ to the System, in some kind of illusion of liberty for being ‘radicals’ and ‘rebels’?
An Ethical, whole Human Being, a free person, should be able to rise above both these kinds of conformity and be able to live according to the Reality Principle: understanding that choice is a complex ethical thing, that you have to deal with consequences when you choose freely, but that sometimes the only way to do that is to break the rules, and sometimes it is important to obey the rules. This is the core of what makes us Human. Our ability to think in a complex way – taking into account feelings and emotions, other people, principles and laws, ethical standards, etc.
What does all this have to do with politics? Arendt found out in the 20th Century that the origins of totalitarianism reside in the abnegation of political life from a considerable portion of the population. Meaning: when a considerable portion of the population starts to detach itself from politics and focus on their own narrow lives, political stupidity rises to the center. Populists with charismatic traits and easy stupid ideas that merely sound good become able to move the masses of submissive and rebel slaves alike. As people stop thinking deeply about complicated things it is easy to mislead them by going against what’s uncomfortable or unpleasant. Submissive slaves want nothing more than being comfortable; rebellious slaves want nothing more than being pleased. And yet, most important issues are complex, and most useful and effective solutions are uncomfortable or unpleasant. Populists just need easy answers to raise the crowds, and populism is the first step towards totalitarianism.
How can we counter this? We can counter this by becoming Thinking People. People who can make complex and intelligent choices. And then, we must become engaged people. We must count in a political world. We must be heard. And it will become uncomfortable for us, and it will become unpleasant. But if we are engaged we can change things, and we can prevent something horrible or disastrous to happen – just by being engaged along with many others we engage and inspire. Our opinions matter.
Fiction exists to educate. Since the beginning of storytelling, this is so. All I am as a writer is because of what I read, what I watched, and what I heard. And what I thought. Could I be more successful if I avoid politics altogether? It may seem so at first glance, but it would be a perversion of all that I believe in. I believe we must get engaged. And what I believe in constitutes my Voice. And before I knew my own Voice, my writing sucked. Read about it here.
Am I wrong? Even wrong opinions are important and should be voiced – I would love to talk to you some more about ON LIBERTY by John Stuart Mill and freedom of expression, but I’ll do that another time. See you around the next campfire, fellow warriors.