1. EdFromNY

    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    The Enemies of Writing

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by EdFromNY, Jan 30, 2020.

    A Facebook friend of mine who organizes several writing conferences and shares my distaste for such notions as "cultural appropriation" shared this, and I found it riveting, particularly as I find myself, despite being a lifelong optimist, fretting a great deal about the future of liberal democracy.

    I post it here in the hope that it will help to stem the tide against writing unpopular ideas.

    https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/01/packer-hitchens/605365/
     
  2. Xoic

    Xoic Member

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    A powerful article, thanks for posting it.
     
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  3. Cephus

    Cephus Senior Member

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    Excellent points. Too bad a lot of people will never be able to accept how true it is.
     
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  4. Kallisto

    Kallisto Ruler of the world... somewhere... Contributor

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    That is one of the most thought provoking articles I have ever read. I have been trying, without much success, to understand the current writing culture. While it's still not clear to me, this article has brought just a little more enlightenment on something that has both concerned and baffled me. It's gotten so bad that writers have even turned on each other and prevented other writers from actually being published. One example was Blood Heir because someone decided that it didn't depict slavery "right." You can't just black list people because you don't like what they have to say.

    Then there's the "write your own experiences" movement. According to its doctrine, only blacks can write about civil rights, women can write about woman's suffrage, and the list goes on and on.

    The problem with that is first the obvious. While I am a woman, why would that mean that I automatically have more insight on the subject than say a male historian who has studied the history of voting rights? I never lived in a country or during a time when women didn't have the right to vote! And honestly, I only really know the cliff notes version of the woman's suffrage movement.

    The second issue with that idea is that it places that the "inside" perspective is automatically superior. This is not necessarily true. I have said this before and I will say it again: I am a Latter Day Saint and the best, most authentic depiction of Latter Day Saints I have ever seen was in a video game, and it was definitely not written by other Latter Day Saints. This is because we Latter Day Saints (hate to say it for any of the brethren and sisters here, but it's true) we can have a pretty pretentious view of ourselves in our works of literature.

    Those who are on the "inside" can be just as biased and distorted in the view of themselves as those who don't belong to a particular group. Just as the outsiders can ignore some traits in favor of others, insiders can do the same for themselves. And if neither side does any research and gets any insight, they will fail, whether they are on the inside or outside.
     
    Last edited: Jan 31, 2020
  5. EdFromNY

    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Very well put, @Kallisto - although I shouldn't say so since I am Roman Catholic and so must regard everything you say as...no, only kidding.

    This is all of a piece, in my view. It comes from being able to choose your own personal flavor of the news, your own personal menu for selecting which truths you will accept, based on how they align with your preconceived notions. It's what has led us to colleges and universities having "safe rooms" to "protect" students from that which they don't wish to hear (when I was in college, the whole idea was to hear and consider opposing viewpoints; in 1979, while a doctoral student, my term paper assignment was to present an analysis of the Iran Hostage Crisis from the Iranian perspective). The written word is the last bastion against this nonsensical thinking, which can only have one final conclusion: the destruction of all things.
     
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  6. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    Isn't the real problem here that writers will self-censor themselves? I've run into this. I've written things that I've felt nervous about publishing. The last piece I had published really struck a nerve with some people and ended a long-term friendship. I did not write about my friend, but she had problems with what I wrote about the current state of America and the trickling effects that have reached my daily life. I sold the piece to a good publisher and worked hard on it, knowing that when it was published some people would probably have something to say. I posted a link to it when it was published. I had to delete comments left by some friends that really weren't friends if they couldn't except what was going on in my world and why. It's an important time for writers to be courageous and not worry about the backlash. This can be a very hard thing.

    It's nothing new that breaking into the business is hard. It's always been hard. It's always seemed exclusive and like some sort of club that's not really interested in new members. But I have broken in at a level where my stories and essays have many, many more readers than I have friends on Facebook. I believe my voice is important when it comes to both fiction and nonfiction. Yes, I get rejected a lot, but I also sell my writing to some amazing places. The only way to do that is to be fearless with our worlds. Today's literature is a timestamp on society. It's important.
     
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  7. Cephus

    Cephus Senior Member

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    It's not a problem that people will self-censor themselves. We all choose what we want to write about and what we don't. The problem comes when people want to censor other people. When they try to tell writers that they are not allowed to write certain things because it hurts their feelings.

    As far as I'm concerned, too bad. Nobody has to make you happy. If you don't like what I write, then by all means, don't read it. I am not here to entertain everyone, I am here to entertain my fans. So long as they like it, I'm happy. If you don't, then I wish you well finding something that you enjoy. The one thing I don't accept is anyone trying to tell me that, based on their own subjective views and opinions, I have to change what I do because they don't like it.

    And no, I don't and I won't. Please feel free to find the nearest short pier and take a very long walk off the end of it. Thank you very much.
     
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  8. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    But you self publish, right? You can do anything you want. My editors are very supportive of my writing and push me a little in the right direction. No one is telling me I can't write something. But I find myself hesitant when it comes to some stuff. I think that's what the guy was talking about in this article. I think what's selling now is pieces that push those boundaries and that's something important right now, but it requires a writer to really put him or herself out there. There is a sense of vulnerability even with fiction. I don't think the literary world has lost it's mind even if many people seem to have. The guy in the article talks about the changing climate in society. That's something very important to take note of. Our words have power. Publishing in promenade places gives them more power because more people are going to see it. I'm not being censored in anyway except for my own second guessing. I felt like I really connected with this piece. A slipping democracy does affect writing and the arts. I think we're trying to push against that as writers, but it is hard. Good writing whether it be fiction or nonfiction requires honesty and an honest look at humanity. That can be a lot for a writer. I'm just saying I understand where the author of the article is coming from.

    I have published several things in the last year that made me nervous. I still wrote them and submitted them. And those pieces that made me nervous sold. Can literature save democracy? It can and should take note of changes in society and our world.
     
  9. Cephus

    Cephus Senior Member

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    Yes, I do, but self-published authors have to put up with this crap all the time as well. There are lots of cases of whiny children screaming that their feelings were hurt by some book on Amazon and how dare anyone put up anything that they don't agree with. Writer forums are choked with people asking if white people are allowed to write black characters, or how can they write things that won't offend some pathetic little snowflake out there.

    Sorry, but I don't care. And if you notice, most of the people who complain, and I agree that it is a small, but very vocal minority, they aren't even paying fans of the writer. They just heard that someone was violating sacred orthodoxy and therefore, that person has to pay. So they go crazy, scream and jump up and down until either the author, the publisher or the platform takes the work down, then they just go off to look for something else to be offended about.

    The fact that you feel that you have to second guess your own decisions says a lot. I am personally accountable to my existing customer base. If I make a bad decision and drive away people who already read my books, that's my fault. I take the blame. But if I pay attention to people who whine for the sake of whining, who complain even though they have never read one of my books and certainly have never paid for one, then I'm betraying the expectations of people who already enjoy my work and know what they expect of it. I am not concerned with the baying mobs and anyone who gives in, or pays them any mind at all, is just doing themselves and the reading world a terrible disservice. Write what you want to write. Don't let other people dictate what you're allowed to write. Leave that to the book-buying public to decide which side is correct.
     
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  10. Not the Territory

    Not the Territory Member

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    https://kotaku.com/dungeons-dragons-stumbles-with-its-revision-of-the-ga-1819657235

    A demonstration of the mindset, w/re: encouraging self-censorship of others.

    The article is about a "problematic" adventure module for Dungeons and Dragons that has window dressing inspired from African culture. Aside from the entire premise of the article being flawed, the de grace was this:
    Oh you really got them, detective.o_O He may as well have asked if any of the writers liked jellybeans or had red hair.


    It's not the extreme left and impotent 'intellectuals' that scare me. It's that they're paving the way for an opposite, unified extreme.

    I predict a failed 1984-esque attack on language (stemming from people not even in the groups, and happening already, really). The chink is in this new power hierarchy: group exclusivity and perceived oppression. Each group is in constant threat from the other. Autocannibalism results, meaning no cells can remain united to form a body.

    The power vacuum will be immense, and no one contentious will remain to balance the pressure. When a generation is ignorant of the actual cases of intolerance and bigotry (both in our past and happening now, all of which will be stricken from record), when a generation has been inadvertantly taught that racism, anti-gay, sexism etc... are all meaningless terms propelled as mud, we will see unification behind a great foe of progress. That will be our dark ages. This is the prelude.
     
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  11. Kallisto

    Kallisto Ruler of the world... somewhere... Contributor

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    @Not the Territory That article was painful to read. They just wouldn't get to the point and not sure exactly what's so offensive and what should have been done different. It's pretty mich a useless rant.

    But your point was clear though. And that is right. The ideology isn't the issue. It's when we fail to objectively look at art because we don't like its message. Even worse is when we create authoritarians.
     
  12. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    I think you pay have missed the point the guy was trying to make here. Where things are headed are different than the way things have always been. There is a strong link between democracy and free expression, and perhaps a bigger link between democracy and free thinking. This isn't about upsetting potential readers or fear of banned books. It's about how changes in society affect everyone, writers included. When I know an essay or story I write that is being published is going to reach a large readership, I think it's important to really think about what I'm saying. So far, I would say I've been pretty brave with the work I've put out, but there are things I've written that I've also decided not to send out for publication and things I've not written that I know would most likely sell. I think we're at a stage where publishers want profound works that make an impact or strong statement. We don't want to lose that and I do get a strong sense that the publishing world doesn't want to lose that either. This is the time to put out writing that is important. I think that's something everyone is thinking.

    I do believe some or many writers will continue to be fearless. That's great and important. But without democracy and the protection of free expression the next thing to go is free thinking. It might seemed far fetched to think all that could happen, but these fears are real and grounded in what we are collectively experiencing.
     
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  13. Cephus

    Cephus Senior Member

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    Except they're not. The problem we're having right now is that one side of the political spectrum, at least a vocal part of it, seems to think that they get to determine, on their own, what is acceptable and what is not for everyone. They don't want freedom of thought, they want mental orthodoxy. You are not allowed to harbor thoughts that vary from their strict ideology and if you do, then they reserve the right to try to destroy you, not only your writing, but get you fired from your job, announce your location and make you a target for violence, cost you your friends and family, etc. It is a very real danger today and you're damn right people need to stand up against it. Absolutely EVERYONE should. Giving these people ANY power AT ALL is completely unacceptable.
     
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  14. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    @Cephus -- I'm not at all arguing that we should hold onto the power and that everyone should should stand up against what is wrong. That's kind of what I got from the piece. It kind of seemed like a warning about how drastic a society without democracy would be. He put out a warning of such on how it will trickle down to affecting the arts, heaps starting with the artists.

    I have been a journalist in former communist countries where I have written about art and expression breaking through. I in no way want to discuss politics. I'm just saying I've talked to people who referred to themselves as the first generation allowed free expression when it came to certain arts. So, whether we agree with writing changing, I do think there is a danger because I've talked to artist and writers breaking free of something that was "just politics." I think this piece calls for the importance writing can have right now. I don't see what's wrong with that. I'm not sure if we got the same take away from the piece. This isn't the easiest time to be a writer, but it's important.
     
    Last edited: Feb 2, 2020
  15. Kallisto

    Kallisto Ruler of the world... somewhere... Contributor

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    I think the point that is being missed is that there's a difference between reactions of writing something being proportional and being disproportional.

    For example, if I wrote something that heavily criticizes green energy for example, a proportional response to what I wrote would be my inbox being flooded with supporters of green energy saying, "Hey, I don't agree with you. I think you've missed the mark." Maybe at, worst, get called a few names by Green Peace. If it leads to poor sales for the firm that published the piece. the firm and I might have to sit down and discuss whether they'll accept another piece like that. Based on what they think, I have to decide if I want to keep writing for them.

    That's part of discourse. And as a writer, I do have to consider if I'm okay with any of these consequences.

    What's happening now is that we're getting a disproportional response to what people write. It's where the consequences to what they write, are much more severe the than what they wrote warrants.

    A good example of this is Twilight. Twilight is unbelievably silly and brainless. But if you would hear what people say about it and about Stephanie Meyer in 2004, you would think that the book was promoting putting women in chains and forcing her serve grapes to her husband. Articles about how it was damaging our teenage girls and now they're going to aspire to be saved by a man their whole lives was ridiculous. It made me say, "Now, hold on a moment. It's dumb, but it's not that dumb!" Stephanie Meyer herself had been accused of being narcissistic, which how she handled 50 Shades of Grey literally plagiarizing her, how do you get to accusing her of being narcissistic? She pretty much shrugged her shoulders and wished EL James good luck. That's hardly a narcissistic behavior.

    The article above about the D&D expansion is another example. I get being disappointed that there wasn't as much thought put into the expansion as the fans would have hoped, but accusing it of being racist? That's a very severe accusation. I'm pretty sure minorities are not kept from graduating from college or starting a business because D&D didn't do a good job on an expansion.

    Unfortunately, disproportional responses really difficult to determine the consequences of what you're going to write. If you can pretty much reasonably determine that what you're going to write is going to lead to some criticism and a thumbs down here and there, okay. But if a poorly planned expansion now gets you the "racist" label, what else can it get you? It's a problem because over reaction tends to escalate.
     
  16. Not the Territory

    Not the Territory Member

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    @Kallisto, in fairness to the author of the article, D'Anastasio, she did not explicitly call the module racist. That said, she sourced passages that did use that word. Claiming that the creators were ignorant of colonial era African culture was a strange approach, because she finished by saying that it should have been "Black Atlantis" and that they should have chosen a consultant/writer based entirely on skin colour (Instead of, you know, knowledge of African history). That's why the article is hard to follow: she doesn't have an argument. Had she just wanted the writers to be more educated on the subject, the article would at least be reasonable.

    In keeping with the thread, the aspect of the article I was hoping to highlight was the desire to place highly irrational restrictions on the creators' work. It read more like a subtle threat: "This really tone deaf, you know. You wouldn't want people to think you're behind the times, would you? Might get cancelled." The problem is that creators listen and pay attention to this because, in some cases, their careers depend on it.

    If a group wants to be represented a certain way, they shouldn't bully other artists into doing so. The bar for entry is lower than ever, they should make their own content, and make it popular and mainstream.

    As for "appropriation of culture," it's apparently only bad if the victim is a "recently or currently oppressed" culture. This is not defined. Nor is it defined which members of the group can permit "appropriation" in the cases it is allowed. This reminds me of Atlas Shrugged, which I think the first book I read that had a dragon whose armour was mostly a lack of definition.

    Edited for clarity and so I don't sound like a jerk.
     
    Last edited: Feb 3, 2020
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  17. EdFromNY

    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    I think an example of what Packer was getting at in the posted piece is something I recently experienced. The novel I am currently pitching is a mystery in which the detective on a mass shooting has to cajole the sole eyewitness to come forward. The eyewitness is a transgender woman who is terrified of being outed. The detective comes under pressure from her superiors to threaten the witness, but, for her own reasons, she refuses. I recently had an agent get back to me and tell me that she liked the book but was "nervous" about the trans character, unless I was trans, myself. In other words, cultural appropriation. The lie here is the notion that only trans people can write about trans people, that a non-trans person cannot have sufficient empathy to understand what someone in that situation might go through. I would argue that with sufficient research, including interactions, it not only is possible, it's what good writers do well.
     
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  18. Cephus

    Cephus Senior Member

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    And that idea is asinine. But you have people out there who are, let's be honest, idiots, who think that only black people can write black people and trans people can write trans people and they are... morons. It's like the idea that only gay actors can play gay characters. Um... there's this little thing called ACTING! Maybe they've never heard of it. It really isn't that difficult to understand.
     
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  19. EdFromNY

    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Exactly.
     
  20. Siena

    Siena Senior Member

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    Good article.
     
  21. Vaughan Quincey

    Vaughan Quincey New Member

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    First, I grew up and live in the EU. I'm not as saturated by this sort of thing as the US citizens. I lived in the US for a while, but I won't ever say that I understand fully your mix of wildly different cultures, north and south being the tip of the iceberg. There as many americas as americans...
    A few of my relatives are american citizens though, by own choice. They do love their country, I know this, and I also know what they voted for. Some of you might dislike their choices. I struggle to understand them.
    Tolerance and respect is a lesson I had to learn the hard way since I was a child. In spite of what is going on, I have not lost my faith on neither the US as people nor what your founding fathers stood for.

    Having defined myself for your benefit, and lost many, many readers on the process, I proceed...
    With my second point - allow me to quote from the article

    writers are now expected to identify with a community and to write as its representatives. In a way, this is the opposite of writing to reach other people. When we open a book or click on an article, the first thing we want to know is which group the writer belongs to. The group might be a political faction, an ethnicity or a sexuality, a literary clique. The answer makes reading a lot simpler. It tells us what to expect from the writer’s work, and even what to think of it. Groups save us a lot of trouble by doing our thinking for us.

    I must disagree this is a contemporary, new and unseen phenomenon. Right now this attitude might be changing for the best. The millenials seem to me more open minded than the generations born or raised on the 20th century. He is doing a good job by raising awareness , but the pesimistic tone doesn't resonate with me at all.

    Third... The PEN controversy.

    Theocratic Islam should be off-limits to satirists, the PEN writers argued, because French Muslims belonged to a “marginalized, embattled, and victimized” group. So do French Jews; so, at that moment, did French satirists.

    They were caught between the wall and the sword. I've been in France in several ocasions, know the french, and I have read Charlie Hebdo. To call the magazine's jokes juvenile would be a compliment. Do they have the right to publish it? Certainly. Did they deserved to get slaughtered for 'going too far'? Nobody deserves that, not even Hitler deserved to get slaughtered. On a democracy a trial and a jail sentence is the way to deal with it. If you don't agree with the Charlie Hebdo masacre, you shouldn't agree with death penalty or revenge.
    Now, do the french muslims belong to a marginalized, embattled and victimized group? I have eyes and I can confirm you that yes, this is true. If the PEN did not made that statement, they risked by their silence to make things worse for the french muslims. They had to make that statement for all the french muslims that are peaceful, some of them probably also bought, read and enjoyed Charlie Hebdo.
    To compare the situation of french muslims with french jews back in 2015, in France, is shocking, after all the french jews are not associated with certain towers that fell back on 2001, or with a religion that is still demonized. If you want more radicals, then by all means fuel the implicit narrative that they must be terrible because of their beliefs. Put them next to a group of perceived good guys. PEN was being brave, not wearing any sort of PC jacket for the show.
    Journalists in general are quite good at sparking controversy though.

    Fourth...

    Between my generation and that of my students is an entire cohort of writers in their 30s and 40s. I think they’ve suffered most from the climate I’m describing. They prepared for their trade in the traditional way, by reading literature, learning something about history or foreign countries, training as reporters, and developing the habit of thinking in complexity. And now that they’ve reached their prime, these writers must wonder: Who’s the audience for all this? Where did the broad and persuadable public that I always had in mind go? What’s the point of preparation and knowledge and painstaking craft, when what the internet wants is volume and speed and the loudest voices? Who still reads books?

    Being on my 30s, all I can say is that those assumptions don't apply to an entire generation. I keep reading brave writers from time to time. Some will try to join what is perceived as a trend or groupthink, some won't. Also those trends might be nothing but new genres with new rules and new followers. Defending freedom of expression implies by definition to defend also the right of others to associate and create whatever they like. The Lake poets were reading each other, writing leters to each other and meeting in places. They travelled together too. They would have shared selfies and created groups on social media. Imagine Lord Byron's twitter... So what? Did they all lost their originality?
    The Who still reads books? question has been around since at least the 1990s. I grew up with that question. Neil Gaiman mentioned that question on his The view from the cheap seats. Nowadays I've placed that question next to the Where did I put the other sock? question, after doing the washing. It seems to me that by asking that question he is attempting a revival or something. Naw...

    I'm not merely answering here to the article. I've been wondering about Lord Byron's tweets for long. The journalist has a point somehow, some writers might fall for vanity traps and their books might suffer, but all in all the whole sounds to me more of the bleak, depressing and negative worldview I read in most of US based media. Journalists expecting the worse from readers or writers, or mankind in general. Making broad assumptions. Barking at the moon.

    Good that it reminded me of all the cheap giggles I had imagining the selfies of Lord Byron and Keats...
     
    Last edited: Feb 14, 2020
  22. Not the Territory

    Not the Territory Member

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    @Vaughan Quincey. Foreword: I've noticed the following post might sound confrontational. It's not intended, just my two cents.

    I find it a little disturbing how you equate an institutional death sentence to a radical one.

    Specifically, in this passage:
    It would be an understatement to say I "don't agree" with the massacre

    More importantly, an institutional death sentence is different, typically followed by a fair trial. Whether that is right or wrong is simply an entirely different matter that is of course up to debate.

    There was nothing at all even remotely rational or justifiable about the Hebdo massacre. Not one iota. It was an obectively evil act. There is no debate to be had there, making it an wholly different matter.
     
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  23. Vaughan Quincey

    Vaughan Quincey New Member

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    I apologize if I'm being off-topic. To be honest, it even crossed my mind I'd get banned, or that someone here would suspect the unspeakable. I'm glad it hasn't happened. Your two cents are welcome.

    I have trouble accepting the legitimacy of a law that kills human beings, doesn't matter how humane you try to make it.

    As I understand democracy, one of its core principles is to find ways to resolve conflicts, to protect the well being of the community and to ensure the safety of everyone, and to do so without having to resort to violence. There is nothing more violent than killing another human being, the step that comes before being torture.
    Governments around the world struggle with this, since governments began. Each step forwards to less suffering and death should be at least considered on a regular basis.

    Besides of the moral aspect, the logical aspect comes to mind as well: The death penalty displaces the responsibility of personal revenge from an individual to the hands of a government. The implications for political prisioners can't be more clear.
    The damages done by a misscarriage of justice after aplying the death penalty are obvious. To pretend a mistake can't happen is called hubris.

    Only for those reasons alone is worth to consider what the death penalty really means.

    Not evil : Cruel, absurd and unjustifiable.
    Will it happen again? If we refuse to sit down together and talk honestly to each other, respecting each other in their differences and appreciating both those differences and the courage from those who reject fanaticism, such acts will definitely keep happening.

    Again my apologies, I don't want to monopolize this thread. This is a writers' forum, and besides I rarely do politics.
     
  24. Alan Aspie

    Alan Aspie Contributor Contributor

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    I love the start!

    "A writer who’s afraid to tell people what they don’t want to hear has chosen the wrong trade."

    So true, so true, so true...

    "If you haven’t got a community behind you, vouching for you, cheering you on, mobbing your adversaries and slaying them, then who are you?"

    Well... Then you are a hero!

    "...vulnerable to being punished for your independence by one group or another..."

    So true that it's impossible to tell how true!

    "Among the enemies of writing, belonging is closely related to fear."

    More than that!
     
    Last edited: Feb 15, 2020
    deadrats likes this.
  25. Not the Territory

    Not the Territory Member

    Joined:
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    Thanks for the clarification on your view. :)

    You're right this is going off topic, and that's my fault too. I have some contrasting thoughts on your remark re: personal revenge I hope to PM to you today if I get the chance (I don't want to burden this thread any further). It has to do with Seneca's essays. Interested in your take.
     

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