I recently submitted a response to one of Jason Howell‘s questions. Apparently he was inundated with good responses so he sweetly rejected my offering – I’m choosing to post my (edited) response myself.
Here are his questions:
Q1: What role do you feel fiction writers are called to play in terms of affecting the political weather, this moment? (including poets, essayists, in general or yourself in particular)
Q2: Does writing seem politically pointless?
Q3: Or do you feel called to action?
Q4: Is there an urge to write in service of amplifying a particular voice or agenda?
Q5: Is there an urge to write to try and diagnose the confusion overall—respecting even the “villains”?
Here’s my response:
First off – can writers truly affect the political weather? Well, yes they can, but, more crucially, do they? I feel Jason’s questions almost suggest the effect writers have on the political weather is slight, something akin to a flock of birds taking off from a lake – the water is disturbed, but only momentarily. However, what’s necessary to note is that during political discourse when we voters get to hear, literally, the politicians spouting on about what they will deliver when they are in power, behind these politicians are writers. Which means, in effect, writers are affecting the political weather, they are the workers who craft the words the politicians read and we hear.
That said, as a diverse group writers are generally interested in rational and open discourse about what constitutes good governance. For example, prior to the UK’s recent EU referendum, many writers added their voices to the Remain group. Their cogent and creative pleas were drowned out by the populist rhetoric of post-truth politics. I should imagine the situation was replicated in the USA. Likewise in India, where Modi and his many cronies seem intent on increasing their despotic tendencies, any dissenting voices are lambasted as unpatriotic and, similar to anti-Trump campaigners in the USA, targeted with death threats. Seemingly there is a growing reliance on lies to drown out rational discourse whether from writers or the many others across all the interested parties.
Perhaps as the increase in post-truth and fake news politics ascends, the need for rational-thinking writers to write about the truth behind the lies becomes greater, more urgent, more necessary. Perhaps. Because no matter how savvy you are with words no amount of writing will budge an unwilling person from their prejudices and bigotry – those attitudes are massive ego trips and require a very different tack to break them down to something more compassionate.
Nevertheless the urge to write – whether poet, essayist, reporter – is an endless call to action where the output can be many and varied and, depending on the writer’s perspective, borderless and without restriction. Therefore why not attempt to amplify a particular viewpoint? Why not try to unravel the confusion of political game-playing? Why not discover what villainy really is and who is being the villain?
For centuries writers have done just that and many been persecuted because of it, whether voicing a simple opinion or pointing to harsh truths. Writers, in all their various guises, have frequently been vilified as villains precisely because they have used words in response to atrocities, human rights abuses, vile and hateful regimes and political activities. Today’s writers are no less called upon to express their thoughts about these things, and we should do so because eventually when enough voices keep expressing the same truths the noise from the villains just might be revealed for what they are – divisive and destructive.
Now, as ever, adding words with the aim of expressing the truths that define our humanity and raise our individual and collective consciousness and kindness (rather than any kind of villainy) continues to be important. The urge to write about our current political situations will always remain. Thankfully good writers can expertly express the thoughts and feelings, the perspectives and real truths we all need to be reminded of during these times of fake news and post-truths because they can write about what must be said, what can be said and what others wish they could say. After all truth, rather than lies, even in fiction, is at the heart of good writing.
P.S. My header image is of the Gandhi statue on the beachfront at Puducherry, India – I have a notion that Gandhi was not only a politician, or a cotton spinner, but also a writer.