Assorted Opinions: With Malice Towards None (part three)
To Whom Do You Refer
(With Malice Towards None: part three)
One future day, a rumor will rise, spread by the older people, that some new use of language, or type of conduct, some new formula of joking, or article of fashion, is offensive. An accused performer or a politician will insist on his innocence, and the punditry will call forth an expert.
The expert will attest: “I have an advanced degree in Relational Cultural Synthesis Studies, from Yale Online; also, I hold three virtual chairs at various Input Centres of the European Unified Resources Complex. The claim is utterly unsupported. I have browsed all the records listed under this, and other, key topics, and there is no framework of chronological signifiers to indicate these rumors ever to have had a basis in fact.”
This will be the era when History has been eliminated, due to its general unpleasantness and backwards-looking nature.
While measures may be needed to expand the scope of human knowledge, and while some subjects, given their lack of successful community participation, are thought more suited to assist with these measures, it is demonstrable that no one in the Human Chronicle has ever been experimented on without informed consent. The truth of this assertion can readily be verified, if the curious wish to apply for permission to access the Allied Nations International Database.
Professional Information Aggregators will insist there cannot have been such a thing as slavery (a suggestive term not wholly excised from the speech habits of the elderly), for, if that were so, one would not read so many happy stories of property owners and their staff interacting with such respectful and appropriate dialogue, during that very distant epoch in which these events were alleged to have occurred.
Equally, other suspect terms which must die with the generations once employing them, such as “racism”, “sexism”, “ageism”, “religious bigotry”, are simply not based on “issues” proven to have resulted from actual events. The record speaks to the contrary, all workplace and neighborhood relationships being described, by qualified researchers, as entirely harmonious, from well before that century formerly designated the “20th”
Though the above is satire, the news today tells us that big entities—the University of California; the National Enquirer, with its “catch and kill” tactic, any corporation or celebrity that hires a publicity firm specializing in “reputational cleanup”—have both a will and a way for excising information from the public mind. And should alterations to our shared legacy, in quarantine-and-eradicate ruthlessness, come about, this may not result from totalitarianism, but from progressives’ weak equivalency. The person who offends has responsibilities, and the offended one has them too. When a thing cannot be spoken of at all, where does it exist?
Words are only words, not the oft-mentioned sticks and stones, but they are the things that come out of our faces when we interact socially. Or, from our keyboards when we write for publication.
In every type of non-fiction, when a person is quoted, or closely paraphrased, and uses a particular word or expression…so be it. Expletives and slurs may be asterisked, or replaced with an editor’s bracketing:
Smith then referred to the protestors as [racial epithet].
(One might question whether soliciting readers’ own suggestions is really for the best.)
In fiction, which includes poetry, a character’s speech, a character’s quoted thoughts, a narrative that follows a character’s train of thought, has an imperative to be true to the character’s voice.
If the story takes place in the early to mid-20th, 19th, or any earlier century, men will not be supernaturally feminist in their outlook, white “believers in equality” will congratulate themselves on their perceptivity and fairness, while being sturdily blind to their condescension, their control of social standards, money, and permissions. Few in small towns (or insular city boroughs) will have personal friends who are not as they are, or will have met many not like themselves. The average citizen goes to a church or synagogue, or other place of worship; most college educated ones don’t find it more fashionable to be atheists (although spiritual seeking has become popular).
People attribute their luck to God’s special providence. Politicians’ victories are in their eyes endorsed by God; the dead are called home to God…and this is the ordinary way for everyone to speak to one another.
We don’t need big reasons, big theory, to write history. We can make these novels just because we like to read them. But our heroes and heroines shouldn’t be created to “correct” history, to cater to present-day standards.
If you’re a woman, you have (likely) easy access to channeling this idea of training, education, background, being so strong that to know better than to express a thing isn’t enough to defeat the impulse. You know you shouldn’t—really, must not—care what you look like…whether your clothes make you frumpy, your face is too old, you aren’t thin enough, your hair won’t agree to look decent. You know that when you beat yourself up, you do your part to perpetuate the inequality in our society, the judging of women on their appearance, the wanting to retire them while they’re still strong workers, or in myriad ways valuing them as less capable, a half of humanity whose existence is less about doing, and more about being done up.
But every time you have these insecurities about yourself, your environment is taking over your mind. Consulting that perspective, you can get inside your characters’ minds. Some of them won’t know what’s right; some won’t be able to overcome the pressures around them.
(more to come)
With Malice Towards None
(2019, Stephanie Foster)