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Just walk it off down Highway 61.

I was thinking as I wrote the below of comfort zones and how far my daily round tests mine, and I don’t think it’s to my credit that the writer on my feeds most likely to make me roll my eyes is Radley Balko. —For all that I fiercely agree with the work he’s done and the fight he fights, there’s still that fundamental assumption clash, and when he starts to talk about say health care I find I’m biting my tongue.

The point that’s missed in the Bob Dylan story, as a less inflammatory for-instance. —Dylan goes for a walk before a concert in Long Branch, New Jersey; somebody sees an old man in a jacket wandering around in the rain, looking at houses, and calls the police; the young whippersnappers don’t realize they’re dealing with, y’know, Bob Dylan, and take this old man who has no ID back to where he says he came from, where he’s vouched for, and exeunt. —I saw it as a charming little anecdote about how celebrity somehow still doesn’t always guarantee special treatment, with a grace note re: the ineffable charms of Long Branch’s run-down, once-glorious Shore-side neighborhoods; Balko, well

I don’t know. I find it pretty depressing. There was a time when we condescendingly used the term “your papers, please” to distinguish ourselves from Eastern Block countries and other authoritarian states. Post-Hibbel, America has become a place where a harmless, 68-year-old man out on a stroll can be stopped, interrogated, detained, and forced to produce proof of identification to state authorities, despite having committed no crime.
I guess I just don’t see the punchline.

Joe Strummer in the comments makes the obvious point:

How is it that it’s suddenly the “end of America” when a 68 year old white guy gets stopped by cops and asked where he is? Hasn’t this been a feature of the African-American experience since… whenever? Welcome to the party, folks.

And I don’t know about you, but I’m instead thinking of “The Pedestrian.”

“Your name?” said the police car in a metallic whisper. He couldn’t see the men in it for the bright light in his eyes.
“Leonard Mead,” he said.
“Speak up!”
“Leonard Mead!”
“Business or profession?”
“I guess you’d call me a writer.”
“No profession,” said the police car, as if talking to itself. The light held him fixed, like a museum specimen, needle thrust through chest.
“You might say that,” said Mr Mead.
He hadn’t written in years. Magazines and books didn’t sell anymore. Everything went on in the tomb-like houses at night now, he thought, continuing his fancy. The tombs, ill-lit by television light, where the people sat like the dead, the gray or multi-colored lights touching their faces, but never really touching them.
“No profession,” said the phonograph voice, hissing. “What are you doing out?”
“Walking,” said Leonard Mead.
“Just walking,” he said simply, but his face felt cold.
“Walking, just walking, walking?”
“Yes, sir.”
“Walking where? For what?”
“Walking for air. Walking to see.”

Balko dates our fall from grace to the Supreme Court’s decision in Hibbel, from 2004. Bradbury wrote “The Pedestrian” in 1951, after getting stopped by the police while walking with a friend down Wilshire Boulevard

Bradbury answered “Well, we’re putting one foot in front of the other.” The policeman didn’t appreciate Ray’s humor and he became suspicious of Bradbury and his friend for walking in an area where there were no pedestrians. After some arguing the policeman told them to go home and to not walk any more. Bradbury said “Yes, sir, I’ll never walk again.”

The Dylan story, and the Bradbury story, are measures of how we still aren’t living up to an ideal, not how far we’ve fallen from some idyllic past. To pretend otherwise is to mistake one’s rhetoric for the real—the same error in kind if not degree as fighting off a homosexual lobby comprised mostly of happily married heterosexual couples. It may well fit the narrative of one’s current fierce fight—Hibbel is a nasty little watermark in the constant erosion of the Fourth Amendment—but it seems as if you’re seriously arguing that there was ever an America where the cops wouldn’t stop a 68-year-old man out on a stroll, or any of the rest of us who looked to someone like we didn’t belong. And that makes you seem (charmingly, frustratingly, dangerously) out of touch.

One way of course to avoid or at least curtail these assumptions, these privileges, these rhetorical irrealities, is to read outside one’s comfort zone, and I’m in no way trying to imply Balko doesn’t. Nothing’s a guarantee some asshole on the internet won’t find some nit to pick. I’m just trying to bring it back home, you know? Here is this boat in which we all find ourselves. —Anyway, with the addition of Userinfo.johncwright as noted below, I think it’s safe to say Balko’s no longer anywhere near the person I read most likely to make me roll my eyes, a distinction anyway of dubious merit for all concerned.

John C. Wright is recoiling in craven fear and trembling, and I don’t feel so good myself.

Actually, I don’t know that he’s necessarily recoiling in craven fear and trembling. But: he has taken down his storied post, “More Diversity and More Perversity in the Future!” in which he excoriated the SyFy [sic] channel for “recoil[ing] in fear and trembling when lectured by homosex activists,” after said post received 800+ lecturing, hectoring comments; and besides, I can never pass up an obscure joke.

I’ve been going by his LiveJournal every night now, ever since I caught a link to that rant (via the Mump), and I figured out this was that guy who wrote those books I’ve never quite gotten around to picking up—and now I can’t tell whether I’m glad I dodged a bullet, or whether I wish I hadn’t.

Tonight, after nuking the aforementioned storied post, he (in the course of defending his apology) posted the following:

First let us clarify who the enemy is. It is not the homosexuals. The enemy is the homosexual lobby (who for the most part are happily married heterosexuals) that are devoted to a Leftwing antinomian agenda, and willing and eager to use pressure tactics to enforce the doctrinal conformity so near and dear to the heart of the Left.

Which is me giving you the full context of the paragraph, and not the experience of reading it; the experience of reading it was rather more like—

The enemy is the homosexual lobby (who for the most part are happily married heterosexuals) that bleep! does not compute

When I found my jaw and resettled it on my face I found myself nodding along—well, yes, in a world in which the homosexual lobby is for the most part comprised of happily married heterosexuals, well, sure, perhaps there might very well be something sinister about their devotion to an antinomian agenda. —That our world, the world in which both I and John C. Wright unarguably exist, does not in any way resemble this world does not in any way invalidate the logic; merely the premise.

Sorry. Jaw’s still a little loose. —There.

I tried to post a comment. I was going to quote the bit about the homosexual lobby (who for the most part are happily married heterosexuals) and I was going to ask whether I might ask how he came by this particular fact. But he’s locked down comments to his LiveJournal; only those he’s added as friends are allowed to comment at all. The rest of us are banned.

Can’t say I blame him. The shitstorm was mighty. Battening the hatches is only rational.

MacAllister and I have not exactly been arguing or even discussing but more like honing points off each other. I’m going to quote hers first because it’s my blog and I get the last word, and I’ll grab hers from this tor.com thread:

I think we cannot conflate the art and the artist.
Actually, what I think is more vehement than the above statement.
In 1953, Isaac Asimov called SF “that branch of literature which is concerned with the impact of scientific advance upon human beings” and I find that description compelling precisely because so much of the impact of science upon human beings has precisely to do with issues that, once upon a time, were dictated to us by shamans, holy men, or chicken entrails.
I think it’s damaging to conflate the art with the artist. The writer is not the book. When we’re talking about the literature of ideas, especially, I think it’s damaging to us as thinkers, readers, and writers to artificially and arbitrarily shield ourselves from ideas we disagree with, find unpleasant, or even repugnant.

And there is nothing in that I do not agree with, but—and I’m going to grab mine from a whiles back when the Islets of Bloggerhans were talking about Orson Scott Card again because, you know, not inappropriate:

Science fiction is largely a fiction of setting: the bulk of the iceberg that’s unseen, underwater, is the act of world-building, and in that act, politics is paramount. (One is building a polis, after all.) —Therefore, it’s all-too-appropriate to keep in mind an author’s politics when considering their science fiction: an author who, say, considers homosexuality to be an aberration, is un- (or perhaps less) likely to build a world that would appeal to a reader who does not. There’s an assumption clash: one of his fundamental, foundational bedrocks is abhorrent to me, and vice-versa.
One can respond: well, yes, but there’s nothing about aberrant homosexuality in Ender’s Game, so how can it clash? Heck, there’s nothing in that book about homosexuality at all! And I will resist the urge to say oh, you think so? and I will even resist the urge to say precisely! —Instead, I’ll allow as how there’s frequently large gaps in the jerry-rigged polis left as exercises for the reader: one can hardly describe every kitchen sink, after all; one must make assumptions, and count on the reader doing likewise (which among other reasons is why fan fiction [and slash fiction] is so popular in science fiction). But that’s precisely why when those assumptions suddenly clash, it’s unsettling, even violently dissonant.

Which is why it’s not an argument and hardly a discussion. I’m talking about why I’m no longer terribly interested in reading Card’s work, nor Wright’s; she’s talking about why such work must remain available to be read. —A book doesn’t always have to be an axe for the frozen sea within, for God’s sake, but one should never lose the ability or God forbid the inclination to read for the hacking. But when the only challenge a book’s likely to pose is the challenge not to throw it across the room—

Why’d this come up in the first place? —Most of the 800+ comments to that storied post were along the lines of “I’ll never read your books again, thanks for warning me off, you’ll never get dime one of my money.” (“Every time you bloviate offensively on the internet, a reader swears off your work for life,” says Catherynne Valente, in one of the many open letters to Wright that have sprung up of late.)

Now, there’s a difference between “I do not wish to read you, or support you with my money,” and “You should never be published ever again!” though I can appreciate how it might be a difficult distinction to make on the receiving end. Especially when it’s more overtly couched as a boycott: “I’m never buying a Tor book again so long as they keep publishing writers like you.” (I’m sure John Mackey can sympathize.) But there’s also a difference between “You should never be published again!” and “I’ve fucking had it with living in world where you and yours make the rules!” —And I think what it is is my Emma Goldman baseline’s not wanting to be part of a revolution that depends on shutting people up.

Even if one of the ways I try to keep my little corner of the world safe from them and theirs is to, you know, not bother to read works by this author or that.

Barry and I were emailing about Wright and Card and suchlike. “Ah!” I said at one point. “Sitting in judgment of other people with my morning coffee on a chilly day off from work with a baby in my lap. —Have I mentioned how glad I am she’ll grow up in a world where these moral monsters are marginalized? Have I mentioned how terrified I am I’m wrong?”

That initial, storied post is an ugly thing, a ham-handed attempt at excoriating the SyFy [sic] channel from an infantilely Manichean lex naturalis, full of the sneering braggadocio of a playground bully preening for his sycophants (says me, with a sneer). —His basic argument (expounded in a later comment to that post) was a syllogism in Camestres:

Odd as it sounds, I was fully loyal to the sexual revolution as an idea. Then someone tried to convince me that two lesbians licking each other in the crotch was the same in all ways, just as sacred, just as romantic, just as normal, just as beautiful as Romeo and Juliet, Tristan and Iseult, Micky and Minnie, Adam and Eve, Jove and Juno, Father Sky and Mother Earth, me and my wife.

(Or Ruth and Naomi? says me, preening.) —And yes, the premises fall apart in your hand when you gingerly try to pick them up, but yes, it’s a just-so story, and thus irremediable to them what believes. What’s striking is the ugliness of the language, the revulsion, the almost-desperate hodgepodge of totemic icons thrown up in defense, all in an argument that insists on the rigor of its logic, on the intractable ad hominemity of the other side. It seems to have struck Wright, too:

I think my posts were accurate but were not measured.
Let me give you a hypothetical:
Imagine standing in the waiting room of a hospital, and overhearing a doctor joking with a nurse about some patient about to die, and the doc uses gross slang to describe the patient’s bowels dissolving and so on—and you realize that patient is your loved one.
Now, the doctor said nothing untrue, and he was engaged in what actually he thought a private conversation (even if it was in a public spot). But you would be shocked, and he should be careful of your feelings.

And—well, yes, the analogy’s strained and rather terribly objectionable, but the basic sentiment, the apology itself, that’s sound enough, surely? Commendable, even, in an internet where no one ever walks anything back ever? (Though it’s with a poor and a threadbare, sketchy grace: “I had damn well better offer these people, enemies or not, the olive branch, and quickly. They will not accept it, if I am any judge of character: indeed, they will take it as a sign of weakness and redouble their efforts. But that is not my concern and not the orders I was given.”)

Except—the “you” above is a very particular, rather singular you, with a very particular and singular loved one who’s about to (figuratively) die:

There was one commenter whose feelings I actually hurt. His mother is a homosexual, and he was rightfully offended at the language I used to describe homosexuality. Him I apologized to privately, but I would also like to do it publicly. It is hard to tell, just from reading words, when people are being sincere, and when they are not, but I thought this one guy was sincere, and that most of the rest of you were engaged in rhetoric.
To him, wherever he is, I am sorry. I regret my words, and I regret my thoughtlessness. Please forgive me.

—And the queerly thrilling horror that’s been creeping over me the past few days comes sharply into focus, with all this talk of a monolithic Left and their antinomian agendas and a homosexual lobby filled with heterosexual couples and a straight Sappho and the evil space monkeys: he literally does not realize that every single person who snapped at him in the 800+ comments left on that storied post, every single one, was reacting out of anger that had come through grief, was just as rightfully offended by the language he’d used, was no matter how rude in response just as deserving of apologies both public and private, that each of them was or loved or knew someone whose life had been bent or broken or wrecked or deflected by the appallingly arbitrary rules he was defending, his dreadfully unnatural lex naturalis—

Yeah, but I wasn’t going to do, well, that.

This was about—what, exactly? Grace, yes, and the koan; trying to get past the two-minute hate—I did say it was anger that came from the grief, and did allow as how the responses were rude (and got my own licks in: “Shorter Wright: My sexual peccadilloes are moral imperatives; your sexual peccadilloes are suspect; their sexual peccadilloes are disgusting”—hardly one of my finer moments)—but trying to make a point of how maybe one should listen to an objectionable author just as one might listen to their works, when really you’re more than ready to sit in judgment on a chilly August night over a splash of bourbon, is just as chary as offering up an olive branch you’re ready to snatch back at the first rebuff. —And there’s more than a little disaster tourism in all this, too, which I realize mucks up the clarity of that up there, but none of our motives are ever pure.

And maybe if I did get a chance to ask him directly how he came by the striking notion that the homosexual lobby are for the most part happily married heterosexuals, he’d just tell me that by “homosexual lobby” he meant, of course, the monolithic Left, and as homosexuals comprise a minority of the Left much as they do the population at large well QED, but maybe he wouldn’t; I don’t know. There’s a herky-jerky searching quality in all the self-serving bluster that, well. Doesn’t so much fill me with hope. But it’s certainly captured my attention the past few days.

Or maybe it’s just I have a weakness for pompous brio. —Whichever; anyway, tonight I added John C. Wright as a friend over to the LiveJournal.

(Oh, I added Catherynne Valente, too. After all, her baseline work for the bare minimum hit of the stuff she’s jonesing for, for which she’d forgive an artist just about any asshattery, is Mark Helprin’s Winter’s Tale—and what are the odds? So’s mine!)