Enemies, and the making of same

I notice that author Elizabeth Bear was recently facerailed (again) for daring to use words. Shocking, I know, that an author should use words, right? What those words were is not as important as the fact that most people who advocate — loudly, annoyingly, churlishly — for Correctness, often do so in a, ‘for thee, not for me,’ sort of way. Ergo, most people who lash you for being un-Correct almost always reserve for themselves the right (by God!) to say and print any damned thing they want. Especially if it’s at your expense — you the unwashed target of the assault. It’s your language they want to dictate. But their language? Hands off, buddy!

All of this makes me think of the early years in grade school, when we all ran to the nearest adult and screamed, with self-righteous indignation, “Teeeeeeeacher, Johnny said a bad word!” As if Johnny had somehow become a subhuman figure merely by the fact that he had used a word to “hurt” us, and we wanted to strike back at Johnny — and if Johnny was not “harmed” by our own use of “hurting” words (because Johnny’s skin was thicker than ours) we appealed to authority for the win.

Thankfully, most of us realize somewhere in our maturation that words cannot actually hurt us. No person has ever been physically harmed by having a word said to them, nor by reading it on a piece of paper, nor a computer screen. Yet the very foundation of Correctness is that certain words — arbitrarily chosen — are dangerous words, and need to be controlled. Regulated. Policed. And offenders who use these words without authorization deserve to be punished. Just like in grade school.

I’m a staunch Carlinist — the late comedian George Carlin himself being a staunch advocate of “open source” language use. I think whatever harm a word poses, is purely in the perception of the person reading or hearing the word. I grew up in a very religious, conservative environment, where cussing and curse words and “dirty language” were frowned upon, and great effort was expended by adults to police the use of such language. These days we have a new set of self-assigned word police, determined to prevent a new set of words from being used. To me, it’s pretty much one and the same. And I frankly do not like having myself externally censored by a third party, especially if that party appears to be operating according to a purely arbitrary, ever-shifting, self-serving set of shibbolethic rules.

On that note, I am reminded that it’s been a just a little over a year since I became the object of facerailing; making an enemy or three in the process — because I don’t repent for being un-Correct.

I also recently had an e-mail exchange with a long-time pro author whom I respect a great deal, and he revealed to me that he’s probably got hundreds of such enemies in the publishing business. Hundreds? How in the world does somebody earn that many enemies, especially when I know the fellow in question to be a rather nice fellow who, while blunt about certain subjects, is not a mean-spirited or otherwise deliberately combative guy?

He figured between agents and publishers and writers, he’d pissed off hundreds of people, to the point that some of them still badmouth him openly and behind closed doors. Often, for some of the most minor, most unbelievably trivial reasons.

Is there just something about creative people that makes us into thin-skinned, whining little bitches? Or is humanity as a whole composed of nothing but thin-skinned, whining little bitches? I can remember when I was much younger and less experienced and more sheltered than I am now, and I hate to admit it: I was a thin-skinned, whining little bitch. It made much of my school experience hell, until I learned the magic trick of a) laughing at myself and b) flatly ignoring the jerks who were out to deliberately taunt or abuse me. The former helped me earn and keep a lot of worthwhile friends, while the latter allowed me a sense of freedom I’d not enjoyed up to that point. In a very actual sense, my reality shifted.

Unfortunately, for many in these bizarre writerly-publisherly waters, their reality has not shifted. They have not, in fact, grown up. Oh sure, everybody gets mad sometimes, when they read or hear something bombastic or otherwise offensive. The key there is to understand that the offense is an internal reaction predicated solely on the makeup of the individual doing the reading or the hearing. What offends one person deeply, might make another person laugh out loud with delight. This is why the United States — thankfully — has a First Amendment designed to protect our ability as citizens to more or less say and write what we want. Libel notwithstanding.

But there are plenty of people in the country who’d be peachy-happy to see many words banned. In fact, those of us in the workforce are well aware of the fact that our jobs depend on us being “sensitive” and not using words which have already been deemed workplace-inappropriate. Which has nothing to do with decorum or decency or words being bad, as much as it has to do with our employers not wanting to be sued by whining bitches. In fact, many employers now look askance at certain Humanities degrees because it’s been statistically proven that these degree programs turn out whining bitches who like to sue, or otherwise become HR problems due to perpetual complaining and carping about other employees, company policies, and so forth.

It’s my opinion that the few people I know for certain I’ve pissed off in my ever-so-new career as a writer, are of the whining bitch variety. People who have turned being a whining bitch into a second job for themselves. People who go out of their way to be assholes to other people, because they feel entitled to do so on Correct grounds: it’s the whining bitches in the gradeschool classroom all over again. Teeeeeeaaacher!

I can’t remember if I’ve said this before, but I’ve reached a point in my life where I’ve realized you can’t really control whether or not someone is going to hate you. People are prepared to hate other people for a million different reasons, and trying to placate those who are determined to hate you is an exercise in futility. Thus the only real course of action — knowing that you are going to be hated regardless of what you do — is to try and make sure that you’re hated for the right reasons.

Last year I stood up in this space and did some tongue-in-cheek Gutfeld-style anti-bitch opinionating, for which I was singled out and got a ration of ass-tanning at the hands of the Correctors. I did it because I felt like it needed to be done — perhaps in the same way that the Correctors often feel like it’s necessary for them to be whining bitches. Someone’s got to do it, and in the case of last year’s tsunami-in-a-fishbowl I felt like there was a degree of principle at stake: publications being able to publish how and what they want without the howling winds of Correctness flattening them to the ground.

And yes, I do often find myself very much offended by what I hear, and what I see, and what I read. I am not going to pretend that I am somehow immune from experiencing the sort of whip-snap rage that results when, for example, I hear someone trash-talk the military or call soldiers “killers.” You bet I’m pissed at that kind of stuff. What I don’t do is run to teacher and begin demanding that the offender(s) be silenced. In fact my natural reaction has been to fight fire with fire.

When I worked in Seattle there was a quasi-activist military-hating goon who blanketed whole blocks where I worked with anti-military flour-paste posters on every light and utility pole, from cement to six feet up. I counter-postered, beginning my own campaign using smaller, more colorful, and in my opinion more thoughtful and witty posters; in contrast to the shock-jock shit the goon was putting up. And when the city finally said enough is enough, guys, please take it all down, I was out there for a few days with my putty knife, shaking hands with the city crews who were likewise engaged in cleaning the poles.

Goon, naturally, was nowhere to be found, and in fact fled the city altogether. He never cleaned up his mess he made.

Which is, of course, standard operating procedure for whining bitches. But I am getting off my point.

The lesson I took from the long-time pro with the many enemies, was that enemies are almost an inevitability in any long-term project where ideas are being handled as commodity. Especially if this creates a marketplace where creative people wind up competing for limited money, fame, exposure, etc. The creative mind is a jealous mind, and when one creative person succeeds, a host of other creative people will automatically feel as if that success takes away from their own worth. Or opportunity. Or place in the sun. What have you. Moreover, creative people hate to be critiqued or criticized. Or challenged. Especially after nearly three decades of “self-esteemism” in the public schools has created hordes of tender souls who believe that every nugget that slides from their ass-cracks is made of platinum.

Given this reality, the object is not to avoid making enemies as much as it’s to try and make sure that the enemies you do have, are enemies for a good reason. Define your principles. What do you think is important to you? Who in your chosen field of creative combat stands in opposition to those principles? Pick your battles. Melee when the melee seems worth it, and try — if you can — to not be the whining bitch who runs to teacher every time someone says something he doesn’t like.

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8 thoughts on “Enemies, and the making of same

  1. Great post, Brad. I have only two quick comments, just quotes really:

    1) I’ve always loved the saying “You can tell the character of a man by the quality of his enemies.”

    2) We have a saying in the South “If an asshole calls you an asshole, take it as a compliment.”

  2. Lately I’ve been playing the video game Left 4 Dead 2 a lot. One of the (all too common) experiences I have in that game is getting tripped up and falling and then being ganged up and wailed on by a bunch of snarling zombies. They render it very effectively, a very primal scene.

    Can’t imagine why the contretemps you refer to reminds me of that…

  3. Steve, I like #1 very much and believe it’s very apt. In my youth I spent lots of time and energy trying to get everyone to like me. I’ve grudgingly accepted the truth, that this will never be possible, so instead if people have to not like me, I try to make sure they don’t like me — and I don’t like them — for a good reason. And I LOL at #2. That is great, I will have to retain that for future reference.

    John, yes, zombie horror show, a very apt description — in that the victims of facerailing generally don’t see it coming, until suddenly the buggers are crawling up out of the floorboards and breaking through the windows. MOOORRRE BRAINSSSS!

  4. I agree whole-heartedly. Words only have the meaning we give them. As an amateur linguist, I love the study of word origins and meanings. Why does this word mean this thing? Well, because we say it does. Why are words offensive? Because some namby-pamby sissy doesn’t like it and thinks everyone else should just shut the hell up about it.

    I was taught at a young age, by a former army captain (my mother) how to swear and when it was appropriate at a very young age. She didn’t try to shush me or hide it. She wanted me to know what I was doing. My father used to say that swearing showed how uneducated you were, but I believe quite the contrary. Swearing, and not being offended shows a great deal of maturity and education. It means you know how to use the language and to what end.

    There will always be words that are considered foul or inappropriate, and I intend to acquaint myself with every single one of them. As a linguist, no word is taboo or off limits. It’s part of the language, now use it.

  5. All I can say is, “AMEN!” Yes, people who seem to be able to do nothing but curse, especially when they’re teenagers, come off looking a tad stupid. But some adults really have a style and finesse about cursing — Amanda, your mother probably had this. Many military people do. They can spin a tornado of four-letter foulness that sparkles in its ferocious majesty. I am always in awe of that, and can only shake my head at people who get their panties twisted as a result. C’mon, gang, it’s words! We need them all to make a full language: the good, the bad, and the ugly too.

  6. I remember a drill sergeant during basic who had a real gift. Yes, he used the f-word a lot, but in creative ways. Once on parade there was a guy at less than perfect attention, and the sarge admonished him: “Smith! You’re hunched over like a teddy bear fucking a football. Straighten up!” Of course it was all the rest of us could do to keep a straight face — but we damn well did.

  7. IMHO it’s really easy to piss and moan and name call behind a keyboard and a monitor.

    Over the years I’ve had my share of name calling directed at me.

    A couple of decades ago one of my first jobs was being a bus-boy at a nightclub (that mainly had bands playing). Whenever I had my ears assaulted by harsh words/name calling I used to roll out either one of the following –

    “I’ll let you in on a secret, you’re not the first to call me that and you ain’t gonna be the last either.”

    “You’re not telling me anything I don’t know already.”

    That took the wind of most sails in a flash.

    IMHO the whiners love whining because it doesn’t need the courage for one to actually put in the hard yards to achieve something.

    Cheers,

    Ben

  8. I think what’s wonderful about words is the power we give them. That being said, giving them unlimited power *over you* and your emotions isn’t a good idea, and that’s exactly what most people with a hair-triggers on their sensitivity let happen. I also think that people who don’t have a firm grasp on their own beliefs are more easily offended than otherwise. Someone else’s ideas are only dangerous if you fear you’ll be infected.

    As for “swear words” I subscribe to the idea that it is their rareness that gives them impact. Essentially they are filler words–use a filler word too often and it comes off as if you have nothing real to say.

    And I completely agree, Brad, on your brief comment about creative professional jealousy. I’ve noticed that writers in general (of course, there are exceptions) have large, fragile egos, and it’s funny to me how often they seem to see another’s success as their failure.

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