Thin-Skinned and Angry

Whether anyone wants to admit it or not, all societies and all religions have faults. Now, for too many privileged individuals in any society, what this translates to is that every society and every faith but theirs has faults… and too many individuals take great offense when someone, especially an author, points out those flaws.

I do my best to be even-handed about this, pointing out the flaws and foibles on all sides. So far, my writing about faith and society in F&SF societies in cultures or worlds that aren’t our own or in a future or alternative Earth that’s markedly different usually hasn’t created too many outraged readers, but I have to say that I’m getting worried.

I see authors who portray traditional ( i.e., western European post-Victorian) social and sexual mores in their work being called out and labeled as unwilling to embrace diversity, but I also see them attacking writers and critics with a more liberal, PC, pan-sexual, and diverse outlook. I see publications and awards effectively ignoring writers whose views and works aren’t “flavour du jour,” and while that has always been true, it seems to me that this is the first time in my life that this tendency has been so pronounced… and too often vitriolic

More important than that, though, is that it’s becoming almost impossible in the United States to point out factual problems in society that are counter to beliefs. I fully understand the outrage when an innocent and unarmed person of color is murdered by police, but I have great difficulty when a national movement makes martyrs out of petty criminals.

Yes, when police over-react, especially abusively, they should be subject to the full force of the law, particularly because they’ve abused a position of trust and authority. But petty criminals are still criminals, not martyrs, and abusive police officers are also criminals, not the untarnished blue line, no matter what the right-wing law and order crowd thinks. Yet each “side” seems to think that “their” lawbreaking is minor or necessary, and what the other side does is beyond the pale.

I have the same difficulty when right-wing Republicans make a deity out of a lying, cheating, real-estate con man who assaults women and who has habitually stiffed contractors and workers out of their earnings, and who denies that he’s mismanaged the entire Covid-19 pandemic… and that’s just for starters.

And the abuses of religion, all types of religion, have been legion over history, and on all continents, including North America, and those abuses continue, often violently, but heaven help the person who points out a particular religion’s abuses, particularly if the religion, cult, or sect isn’t Christian.

That’s why attempting to point out such facts in life, or in fiction, risks creating violent anger, and, if you’re not careful, especially with the far right or far left, bodily harm.

8 thoughts on “Thin-Skinned and Angry”

  1. Postagoras says:

    I applaud your desire to be even-handed about the problems in society. But, claiming that “both sides do it” is often used in completely unequal situations to blunt a justified cause of anger.

    It’s just not a case of “police over-reaction” or bad apples. The bad apples and over-reactors are allowed to keep over-reacting with impunity, protected by the silence and aquiescence of the “good apples”. When one of the bad apples does something so egregious that they’re fired, they often simply move and get re-hired in another police department.

    The silence of the good cops and the deference of the judicial system to police testimony is in direct opposition to your premise that abusers “should be subject to the full force of the law”. Before the advent of cell phone video, they weren’t.

    When people see that the deck is stacked, is it any wonder that a petty criminal can be viewed as a martyr?

    Folks can claim that there are gray areas, but it seems pretty Black and White to me.

    1. Somehow… you seemed to miss the point of what I actually wrote. I said there were problems on both sides. I didn’t say they were equal. I said both sides were misrepresenting themselves and that they got upset when they were called on their faults.

      1. Postagoras says:

        Pardon me, I didn’t make my point very well.

        Your point is certainly valid, that more people are simply doubling down on beliefs when challenged, and getting angry.

        You didn’t say that the problems were equal. And I’m sure that you don’t think that they’re equal.

        But false equivalency and “what about”-ism are both real tactics used by those angry people to poison discussions. So it’s my personal belief that one must be explicit, when being even-handed, about apples and oranges, mountains and molehills.

        I probably haven’t said it any better this time around. But I appreciate your response!

  2. MRE says:

    Just to dip a toe in here (I only dare do so because Mr. Modesitt’s fans, which I count myself among, are way less prone to losing their minds in online flame wars than a lot of other authors’s fans!).

    I agree entirely with the idea that there is rising intolerance on both sides of the spectrum with respect to ideas and opinions, and that this is terrible! Especially in the realm of speculative fiction. I’m a big fan of all sorts of science fiction and fantasy, and some of my favorite authors have won Hugo awards, and some will likely never win any now, which is a sad state of affairs for everyone.

    A lot of the rhetorical conflict on these issues seems to be driven by the rise in True Believers (and I think one side DID start this tit for tat exchange, and he wears a toupee) and the counter rise on the other side as a kind of desperate rhetorical survival strategy.

    Once that happens, the nuance of most arguments goes out the window. The debate on race and policing seems to particularly depend on the complexity of the issues and suffers from the demands of media sound bites. And the old two handed economist’s device of saying each side has valid arguments has been used by right wing media as a cudgel to destroy and reduce ALL arguments to the equivalent of two children flinging equally dirty mud at each other. Meaning whenever someone is genuinely trying to be even handed, both sides immediately suspect a skunk!

    With respect to policing and the African American community, this can be especially difficult to treat evenhandedly. Corrupt policing is bad, and criminals (petty or otherwise) are bad. That isn’t, or shouldn’t be, controversial.

    But then things instantly get complicated once both sides of the argument admit ugly truths. (1) Black people suffer disproportionately from bad policing. (2) This is *partly* because black people commit more crimes proportional to their share of the population (Bureau of Justice stats is my source). Because of the link between poverty and crime, I have little doubt this is due to past (and present) economic oppression of African Americans in US society. But that has left black Americans in an ugly bind. If some percentage of police are corrupt (hopefully a small percentage), then more run-ins with police will mean more interaction with corrupt police. The second order effects are just as destructive. Police respond to incentives too, and they often tailor their behavior and policing in response to their past experiences. Call it profiling or whatever, but anecdotally at least, I know several police officers that admit privately they are far more wary of approaching black suspects than white. So police might be predisposed to overreact, or at least the potential for dangerous outcomes is higher even than the number of bad apples among police might suggest when dealing with black suspects.

    Given recent events, comparing a century’s worth of systematic bad policing of the black community to the valid concerns of police that they are being judged on only a small subset of disastrous incidents is problematic. I think that the black community probably has the weight of the argument on their side, since, through no fault of their own, they have been locked into a vicious cycle of poverty that leads to an ocean of other problems, of which run-ins with police are just one of many.

    That said, the answer can’t be not to acknowledge the facts on both sides (bad policing is huge problem, and high crime rates in the black community is also a huge problem), even if one of the problems is a much greater concern for society than the other.

    Anyhow, I drank too much coffee with breakfast when I read this post and thought I’d add my two cents!

    PS: Mr. Modesitt, just reread Flash and the Octagonal Raven and loved them all over again! Any chance of getting them on audio book?

    1. It’s been difficult to get much of my SF backlist titles in audiobook format, since the SF sales don’t usually cover the costs of production. At least, that’s what several audio book companies have told me.

    2. Hanneke says:

      Though both bad policing and high crime rates are both bad, that latter point needs one more qualifier. High crime rates go hand in hand with poverty and lack of positive future prospects, as you said; but laws and ordinances written especially to target black people, poor people, and homeless people also play a part in higher crime rates compared to groups not targeted this way.
      From the days of Jim Crow the goal in parts of the USA has been to get a lot of black people put in prison so their voting rights can be taken away and they can be made to work for a dollar a day, originally in part to replace the lost slave labour, but still continuing as a way to disenfranchise people who are less likely to vote Republican.
      If creating a high crime rate among minority groups is an unstated part of local/state legislature and judiciary, it seems a bit abrupt to place all the blame for that high crime rate on the minority group in question.

      This does not exculpate individuals who commit serious crimes, but it does mean that a black person will be labeled a minor criminal for the kinds of offences (jaywalking, shoplifting a candybar as a kid, etc.) that would not even have been noticed and prosecuted, and certainly not considered enough to label them a minor criminal, had they been committed by reasonably affluent white people. A lot of the hosts on Fox News have minor convictions, like Laura Ingraham for shoplifting, but they aren’t labeled, and dismissed, as criminals if something bad happens to them.

      That is one reason to be a bit wary of discounting the bad things that happen to people in the out-group who can be labelled as petty criminals by the in-group.
      I know you didn’t discount the harm done, but you do say you “have great difficulty when a national movement makes martyrs out of petty criminals” – and that is exactly why a lot of the media go to great pains to dig up any possible reason, no matter how old or how many mitigating circumstances there were, to be able to label anyone killed or maimed by the police as such.

  3. Doug Archerd says:

    A very good point, Hanneke!

  4. Don’t blame MRE for the comment about petty criminals. Those were my words in the original post, and I still have a problem, particularly when there are so many totally innocent POC victims of police brutality, abuse, and incompetence. The BLM movement seems to emphasize male victims, often of less than stellar character, because of the horrifying circumstances of their deaths. While all deaths from abusive police behavior [that would quickly land anyone else in jail] count and are inexcusable, I don’t think that the outcry over petty criminals is helping the cause much, but merely hardens positions on both sides.

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