Most of you know me. If you're just a fan, you can still probably guess from my writing where my political and ideological predilections lie. I even post here on the blog every now and again a liiiiittle something political, but usually couched enough in the silliness of the internet at large not to be too much of a flamewar inducer.
As a general rule, though, I eschew politics, religion, and third-rail issues here and in other social media. The reason was always one of pragmatism. Like most people over the age of 12 I have strong opinions about a lot of subjects, but I just don't feel a need to splash it like acid in the faces of the various Harvey Dents of the world. (In that metaphor I was Sal Maroni.)
Janet Reid finally put my attitude into an excellent set of words in this piece earlier this week. We all have a right to free speech, but in exercising that right you agree to the consequences. In my case, potentially turning off readers. And I don't want to turn anybody off because of my online persona. Let them be turned on or off by my writing. Let them decide whether that's something they want to pay for, not whether I'm going to turn around and donate all their money to the NRA or Greenpeace or [insert your preferred partisan charity here.]
I and, I think all Americans (and, yes, citizens of the rest of the right-thinking world where speech is free) have always tacitly understood this. Along with rights comes responsibilities. (If only Spider-Man had come up with a clever bon mot to better express that concept...) If you say something dumb you open yourself up to criticism, perhaps even boycott. Perhaps even ostracism. There's a reason the KKK wears masks, you know, and a reason Edward Snowden fled the country. Free speech comes with consequences. Sure, you can call the boss an asshole, but don't be surprised if he fires you.
And yet it seems like in just the last few years this has sort of been flopped on its head. There's a new assumption that speech should be consequence-free, rather than simply free. As though when you call the boss a dick he has no right to fire you because, hey, free speech. There's a sort of bristling about consequences, as though somehow it's unconstitutional to boycott someone for being racist or whatever. Counter-speech, you see, is also free speech.
I'm thinking of examples here, but, of course, I don't want to be accused of being a partisan hack by bringing them up. It's all part and parcel of my loose policy of not getting involved with flamewars on the internet. But still, I don't really care for the "just sayin'" mentality that has cropped up in recent years, that is, that by tacking "just sayin'" onto the end of a sentence, this absolves you from the content of that sentence. "I didn't really do anything, I'm just saying words!" Yeah, well, the power of words is the reason that the First Amendment is such a potent right. Words are action, the pen is mightier than the sword, and all that hoo-ha.
I'll actually give you all an example. I was sitting on a panel at a convention once when an audience member stood up and all but called me out. This person said something to the effect of, "I like all horror. I think it's all great. Except zombies. I don't understand zombies. I think they're stupid. Maybe one of you on the panel can explain?"
It doesn't really matter what my response was. I made a game response. You've all read me go on ad nauseum about the living dead before. But then the audience member repeated the question a second time. A bit more belligerently this time. And I ground my teeth and answered again. And then a third time. By this point, a couple of my fans in the audience had their hands high up in the air, all armed and ready with answers.
I'll be honest, gentle readers. I didn't much care for being called out once. But by the third time I knew that this person either wanted me to admit that what I do for a (sort of) living is stupid or just make it clear to all present that I am an asshole. Conventions being as they are, discussing topics there is a lot like the real-life version of the internet. Some people feel that they can change your mind by being insulting because they're just so damned convinced. Others just have no social skills. Some topics are fruitfully explored, others less so.
So I was sitting there at this panel which I had volunteered my time for just to, you know, entertain other human beings, and one of them was standing there insistently calling me an asshole to my face. There were several options that went through my mind at that moment. (And trust me, I've come up with dozens more since then, mostly in the shower, and along the lines of George Costanza's legendary Jerk Store quip.) But here are a few things I might reasonably have said in the heat of that moment:
"And what do you do for a living? Oh. I always thought that was fucking stupid, too."
"Is there an answer that will satisfy you or do you just want me to admit that I'm an asshole?"
"You're being damn rude. You've asked and I've answered the same question three times, so I can only guess that you're deliberately trying to be rude."
And other variations. But I didn't. You know why? Because even in the heat of that moment I knew there was no value in calling out an audience member. Of course in my head I played out the triumphal montage, where my rejoinder was so sizzling it scorched the air, and everyone erupted in applause and the rude person slunk out into the night, tail tucked firmly between legs. And then I immediately played out the opposite, where I was kicked off the panel for treating an audience member that way, and not just an audience member but a wounded veteran and an orphan, too, and my name got whispered around the con as "that guy who thinks he's too good for his fans" and suddenly my whole reputation is sullied and I'm a pariah.
Consequences. I considered the consequences of my responses. And I opted to shut up and take the abuse with good humor. Because...consequences. Plus I knew I could always put it on my blog and get sympathy that way, without having to call anybody out to their face. Yay, passive aggression!
"Manuscripts don't burn"
- Mikhail Bulgakov
Hi, I'm horror and science fiction author Steve Kozeniewski (pronounced: "causin' ooze key.") Welcome to my blog! You can also find me on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and Amazon. You can e-mail me here, join my mailing list here, or request an e-autograph here. Free on this site you can listen to me recite one of my own short works, "The Thing Under the Bed."
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