Cancel Culture is Seductive

I’ve come to the uneasy realization that “cancel culture” is seductive. It’s easy to get caught up in it. Although I consider myself to be highly empathetic and a hyper-liberal social justice crusader, for the most part, I think that cancel culture has gone too far. There’s a difference between calling someone out for their unacceptable acts or opinions versus getting high on the power that you can destroy someone’s career by zealously defending someone who might not take the level of offense that you take.

I recently read two science fiction stories that triggered my liberal sensibilities and found me taking offense on behalf of a group of which I’m not a part. One of the things I dislike most about cancel culture is this false offense. While it’s okay to speak out and support minorities or other people who are the targets of unacceptable speech and behavior, there are times when you have to realize, “This isn’t my fight.” It belittles the target of the offense implying that they need me to come to their rescue.

Here is a brief synopsis of the two stories that offended my liberal sensitivities. Spoilers abound.

The first of the two stories appeared in the July/August 2021 The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. The short story titled “Perdition” by Rowan Wren is the story of a daughter of Satan who is sent to earth on a mission and falls in love with a woman. That woman who is essentially a decent person sells her soul to be reunited with her demon lover. According to the introduction to the story, the author wrote the story “… as a rejection of the need for perceived goodness/purity as it relates to queer love.” It certainly achieves its goal. But why would you want to do such a thing? The world is full of people who believe that anyone who isn’t pure straight heterosexual deserves to be in hell. A story such as this would only confirm their prejudice.

The second story appeared in the following September/November 2021 issue of F&SF. “The Abomination” by Nuzo Onoh is a supernatural fantasy story set in an African village. The title character is an intersex woman. Although she appears mostly female and identifies as such, she has a penis in addition to her female organs. Nearly murdered by her father at birth she is instead entrusted to the care of a widow who lost her husband and children to a plague. Her entire life she is ostracized by the entire community and eventually opinion forms that a famine is her fault. While we sympathize with the character who is treated horribly by the community, at one point she engages in a bizarre reproductive act with a demon. The end result is that she lays 40 eggs. On the night of a blood moon, she is led to believe that the village has decided to accept her after some ritual of purification. In fact, is a ruse to lure her into a trap where they intend to kill her in a ritual sacrifice to appease the gods. At that moment, her 40 eggs hatch into huge winged beasts which reign death and destruction on the village.

Presumably, we should cheer that she got her revenge on those who mistreated her over her entire life. On the other hand from the perspective of the villagers, she fornicated with the devil and unleashed devastating destruction of a large portion of the village. Their only recourse was to worship her as a god in hopes that she would not again unleash her wrath upon them. In the end, she was as evil as they unjustifiably originally believed her to be.

From one perspective, the moral to the story is, intersex individuals are indeed abominations to be feared. The village would’ve been better off if they had killed her at birth. That’s not exactly the LGBT+ positive message that one presumes the author intended.

My level of offense at the stories doesn’t rise to the point where I want to organize a Twitter campaign to have these authors silenced or to boycott the magazine which published them in back-to-back issues. But I find it impossible to resist the need to comment that these stories have some serious issues. Either they really are intended to portray LGBT+ individuals as evil, or they seriously damage the reputation of such people giving fuel to those who see such people as abominations here in the real world.

In our legal system, we have the principle that one has to have legal standing in order to charge someone. You have to show that you somehow suffered damage or are in some way aggrieved by the offending actions or speech. However, in the court of public opinion, no such requirement exists. While it is incumbent upon us as good citizens to call out and object to abhorrent behavior and speech, there’s something disingenuous when the outrage of the hyper empathetic otherwise uninvolved third parties exceeds the outrage of the target of the offensive acts.

As a straight, cisgender, white male… I don’t have legal standing to be offended by these stories. Far be it from me to impose my opinion on the LGBT+ community what they should or should not be offended by.

This article from The Atlantic opens with the paragraph…

Pity the fiction writers trying to make art in the era of social-media mobs. Start with one in particular, “a nonbinary human … who loves to dream and create.” Last week, this young writer asked on Twitter, “You know how there are sensitivity readers, courses, and guidelines for writing outside your own experience? Can there be courses and advice for writing one’s own experience?” This young writer used to believe that “writing about my marginalizations and my own personal experience will be okay”—no more. “I have learned that is not the case!” this young person observed, fretting that, without meaning to do harm, “I might be writing my gender wrong.”

I totally get this point. What do you do when some third-party thought police who is not a member of your own group takes more offense at something than you do yourself? Such activity can cause you to wonder, “Why am I not as offended as I ought to be?” Am I not being loyal to my own people when others are outraged over something that doesn’t necessarily bother me?” In some instances, what is labeled abhorrent by these third-party advocates is in no way offensive to the groups which they claim to be defending.

I see this most in debates over what is or is not “ableism”. I’ve lived my life of 66 years with Spinal Muscular Atrophy — a severe genetic neuromuscular disease. I’ve never walked. I’ve used a wheelchair since my parents purchased the first one when I was age five. While I’ve never been someone who wallows in self-pity and I certainly have never sought pity from others, the stark reality is living with a lifelong disability is for the most part an undesirable situation. If I could push a magic button and eliminate my disability I would do so in a heartbeat. On the other hand, there are those who claim that any desire to be free of the disability or to cast disability in ANY negative light is “ableism”.

The desire to be free of my disability doesn’t mean I see my life as worthless or in fact worth any less than able-bodied people. I don’t hate my life. But to suggest that there is anything negative about my situation could brand me as a traitor to my own people.

Thus, my feeling is that while empathetic third parties can and should support those who are the targets of unacceptable speech and behavior, that outrage, that need to cancel the offender, needs to be in proportion to the actual offense to the offended parties. The hyper-liberal hypersensitive devotees of cancellation need to take their cues from those who actually have a stake in the situation and not set themselves up as the arbitrators not only of what is or is not acceptable but the extent to which such unacceptable opinions and acts deserve to be canceled.

Thought I’ve Something More to Say

While I’m on the topic of cancel culture, I might as well speak out about other reasons that I dislike the phenomena even though it’s a bit off-topic from the reason I was inspired to write this blog post in the first place.

When I speak out in opposition to canceling people, I’m not talking about the people who deserve to be canceled like Weinstein or Cosby. No one is arguing that there should not be consequences for people who abuse their positions of authority on who exploit anyone for personal pleasure or gain. They deserve not only to be tried in the court of public opinion, but they’ve also faced criminal charges, and rightly so.

Even if the offensive acts or positions don’t rise to the level of criminality, there are individuals whose behavior is sufficiently unacceptable that public outrage and withdrawal of support for them as artists or politicians is clearly appropriate.

It’s one thing to speak out against people who act inappropriately and who hold inappropriate positions such as racism, sexism, homophobia, etc. however not everyone who has acted inappropriately or expressed unacceptable views deserves to have their lives or careers ruined by an overzealous court of public opinion.

Cancel culture doesn’t allow for people to evolve. It doesn’t allow for forgiveness. It doesn’t accept apologies. In many instances, the trolls dig deep into a person’s past and attempt to crucify them for positions or behavior which at the time were not necessarily contrary to what was acceptable at the time.

Just because you enjoyed watching “The Dukes of Hazard of doesn’t make you racist because they had a Confederate flag atop a vehicle named Gen. Lee. Nor does being a white actor who at one point did a comedy routine in blackface make you racist. Public standards about what is or is not acceptable have evolved as they should. Cancel culture doesn’t seem to account for this and it holds people to standards that did not exist at the time of the alleged offense.

Consider the case involving legendary sportscaster Bob Lamey and race driver Derek Daly. In 2018, Lamey suddenly announced his retirement as a broadcaster for the Indianapolis Colts Radio Network. Soon after it was revealed that he had used the N-word in front of an African-American woman in a discussion about his history as a broadcaster. Lamey did not use the word to describe anyone or a group of people rather, he was telling the story of Irish race driver Derek Daly who once on a live radio interview early in his career also dropped the N-word. Daly claims that not being from America he had no idea how offensive the word was. He had not called someone by that name rather he used a euphemism that included the word. More details about what Daly actually said can be found in this article from the Indianapolis Star. The event had happened nearly 40 years ago. When his faux pas was pointed out to him by race journalist Robin Miller, Daly was appalled and ashamed at his own ignorance and apologized.

As a result of the controversy, Daly was fired as a race analyst for Indianapolis TV station WISH-TV and his son Connor Daly a race driver in his own right, lost his sponsorship. Derek Daly denies any accusation of racism citing the fact that he had championed the cause of driver Willy T. Ribbs the first African-American to compete in the Indianapolis 500. Ribbs defended Daly citing their years of friendship and saying he would not have invited a racist to be part of his wedding party when he was married.

While one can argue that Lamey’s use of the N-word off the air in what he believed to be was a private conversation was inappropriate despite the fact he was not using the word himself but merely quoting someone else, it might’ve been more judicious to use “N-word” rather than substitute the actual word itself while recounting the incident. Did Lamey deserve to be retired over the incident? Was it that horrific?

Daly on the other hand had long ago apologized for his ignorance. Certainly, cultural differences, a statute of limitations, and the possibility of redemption or forgiveness were not taken into account when Daly was fired. Furthermore, why are the sins of the father laid upon his son who is totally innocent of even unintentional offense?

Of course, my abhorrence of cancel culture, even in the face of such ridiculous extremes as the Lamey/Daly incident, will open me up to criticism. If I was anyone of importance, I could be canceled for opposing cancel culture.

I find myself having zero-tolerance for zero-tolerance policies. So cancel me.

My Book is Finished

This is the seventh in a continuing series of posts about my experience (limited as it is) as an author. Click here for a complete index of all the stories in this series.

I finished writing my book.

What? You are asking. What book?

It’s a book of my collected failures as a fiction writer. Let me explain…

On August 23, 2020, I decided to try my hand at writing science fiction. As I’ve explained in previous installments of my Author’s Journal, I’ve done some technical writing and I was able to publish two autobiographical essays in Indianapolis Monthly Magazine in the late 1980s. However, with the exception of one or two stories for high school English classes, I’ve never completed a work of fiction. Even though my autobiographical essay “The Reunion” was awarded Best Magazine Feature of 1987 by the Indiana Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, that doesn’t mean I’m capable of writing publishable fiction. I’ve always said, “Just because I know how to tell a story doesn’t mean that I know how to make one up.”

Have I also had a lifelong dislike for doing research although I discovered that these days with Google, Wikipedia, and YouTube research can be quite fun.

I did have a few ideas for science fiction stories that had been rattling around in my head linearly for decades. Admittedly some of the stories originated as fantasies that would occupy my mind on sleepless nights. What if I was a famous inventor? What if I could be an astronaut? What would my life have been like if I did not have a disability? Perhaps these fantasies could be the basis of some interesting stories.

In the spring of 2020, I resubscribed to some of my favorite science fiction magazines that I had not read since the late 1970s. My worsening disability had made it impossible for me to handle books and magazines. But these days the major science fiction magazines are available through Amazon Kindle and other online sources that I could read on my iPad using the Kindle app. After reading several issues, I convinced myself that although I wasn’t up to the standards of my beloved Golden Age Masters like Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, or Robert A. Heinlein perhaps I could write well enough to be published.

Since then I’ve written seven science fiction stories, one general fiction story, and a science fact article related to science fiction technology. I have submitted stories to 11 different print and online publications. I have collected 25 rejection emails as of today, January 16, 2022. Two of my science fiction stories and my science fact article are currently under review at three venues. According to a chart I’m keeping, I have just most seven more opportunities to publish my stories unless I can discover additional markets.

My Plan B has always been that if I could not publish a story, I can put my rejections together into an anthology e-book and sell it via Amazon for a dollar or two. I didn’t really think I could get rich off of this. I’m doing it just for and to please myself.

Along the way I decided to write an introduction to each story and then after the story write an essay explaining how and why I wrote the story the way I did. My stories are often filled with Easter eggs relating to real events of my personal life. A professional author who had read one of my blog posts said that I had a strong ability to make my life interesting to total strangers. It seems that in many cases, the story behind the story is going to be more interesting than the story itself.

Perhaps this confirms the adage that it’s all about the journey and not necessarily about the destination.

I have completely run out of ideas. I don’t think this is already an ordinary case of writer’s block. Most of these stories have been rattling around in my head for many, many years. I’ve heard that the best way to become a writer is to write continuously to hone your craft. Well, I don’t know how to do that without ideas for stories. The well has completely run dry. Unless I find my muse somewhere along the way, this is the end. There are potential sequels to my stories to be written but I don’t have any reasonable plot lines remotely figured out. I haven’t given up completely but realistically it’s going to be a long time until more ideas appear at the rate I’m going.

As my submission spreadsheet has approached being completely filled in, I have been putting the final touches on the essays and preparing my anthology for self-publication. Today I did a semifinal proofread of the entire collection of both stories and essays. I cannot release the book until all of my potential markets are exhausted.

None of the professional markets allow you to submit stories to two different markets at the same time and most of them require that you only submit to them one story at a time. So it could still be many months until the chart is completely filled.

The title of the book is “You can’t do that… But what if you could?”

Most of the stories I’ve written can be described by that sentence. And the science fiction stories I like to read fall into that category as well. Take something like the classic science fiction technologies such as a limitless, clean, cheap source of energy such as cold fusion. You can’t do that… But what if you could?

What about gravity control? Get in your shuttlecraft, push a button, and it silently floats off the ground and soars into outer space without using chemical rockets? You can’t do that… But what if you could?

In TV shows and movies there is a classic scene where a young girl says, “I got myself pregnant.” My response is always, “No you didn’t! It takes two people.” You can’t do that… But what if you could?

Here is the table of contents of my anthology of essays and stories that will be released as soon as I run out of markets. If by chance one of my stories does get published, I will delay the release of my book until my contract allows me to republish it in my anthology or I will simply remove it from the list.

You can’t do that… But what if you could?

Part 1

  • Forward to “You can’t do that… But what if you could?”
  • About the Author
  • Essay: How I Started Writing Science Fiction
    • Chapter 1 – Why I Don’t Write Fiction
    • Chapter 2 – I Hate Research
    • Chapter 3 – Why Science Fiction?
    • Chapter 4 – Why Start Now?
    • Chapter 5 – What to Write?
  • Essay: My Pet Peeve – Plot-Driven Technology

Part 2

  • Introduction to “Race to the Future”
  • Novella “Race to the Future” (21,000 words) The biography of orphan Edward Tillman who grew up in Chicago and Indianapolis and perfected cold nuclear fusion. It is a clean, inexpensive, safe energy source that makes electric cars self-charging. His wife Julie Hendrix invents a new branch of physics called “quantum resonance” which explains his breakthrough technology. The start of a planned trilogy titled “The Tillman Family Chronicles.”
    • Chapter 1 – A Tragic Start
    • Chapter 2 – A Winning Move
    • Chapter 3 – Dammit! Let Him Try.
    • Chapter 4 – The Paper Chase
    • Chapter 5 – Not Being A Fool Who Rushed In
    • Chapter 6 – A New World Order
    • Chapter 7 – Negotiating Mergers
    • Epilogue – The Checkered Flag
  • Essay: Making of “Race to the Future”
    • Chapter 1 – “This is Reality Stupid!”
    • Chapter 2 – Funding the Future
    • Chapter 3 – I Didn’t Know There Would Be Math Involved
    • Chapter 4 – Location, Location, Location
    • Chapter 5 – Family Tragedy
    • Chapter 6 – “Children’s Book of Saints”
    • Chapter 7 – The Chicago Years
    • Chapter 8 – Linear Versus Nonlinear
    • Chapter 9 – Eddie and Me
    • Chapter 10 – Indy Bound
    • Chapter 11 – Indianapolis as a Character
    • Chapter 12 – Educating Eddie
    • Chapter 13 – Eddie’s Mentors
    • Chapter 14 – Eddie’s Friends and Lovers
    • Chapter 15 – The Technology
    • Chapter 16 – The Real Story Behind Cold Fusion
    • Chapter 17 – Making Your Case Before God
    • Chapter 18 – The Ending and What’s Wrong with the Story

Part 3

  • Introduction to “The Rescue”
  • Novelette: “The Rescue” (16,600 words) The Tillman Family Chronicles continue with the story of Julie’s invention of the TED – a Thrust Emitting Device that turns electricity into thrust. Eddie and Julie’s 19-year-old genius astronaut daughter Teresa flies a daring rescue mission to save eight astronauts aboard the damaged International Space Station. (Note: No chapters in this story.)
  • Making of “The Rescue”
    • Chapter 1 – The Premise
    • Chapter 2 – The Opening
    • Chapter 3 – The Magic Show
    • Chapter 4 – What’s in a Name
    • Chapter 5 – Launch and Rendezvous
    • Chapter 6 – The International Space Station
    • Chapter 7 – The Actual Rescue
    • Chapter 8 – The Aftermath

Part 4

  • Essay: What Happened to Part 3 of the Tillman Family Chronicles – In the third part of the Chronicles, Teresa’s husband Thomas Linwood was going to invent a faster-the-light spaceship drive. This is the story of why that story didn’t work.
  • Essay: Saving the Tillman/Linwood N-Drive – I invented a unique FTL drive but could not come up with a workable story to go with it. It’s a shame my invention would go to waste. Wouldn’t it be cool if you could patent fictional technology?
  • Flash Fiction: “Literary Patents” (1300 words) A science fiction author is sued for patent infringement when he incorporates a piece of fictional technology invented by another author into one of his stories.
  • Making of “Literary Patents”
  • Science Fact Article: “Eliminating Einstein Doesn’t Help” – A review of various plot devices science fiction authors use to get around the fact that nothing can travel faster than the speed of light. Includes a mathematical examination of the physics of Star Trek warp drive which will shock you.

Part 5

  • Making of “Denizens of My Dreams” – The story behind a 300 word piece of flash fiction that was inspired by a dream I had.
  • Flash Fiction: “Denizens of My Dream” (300 words) – A somewhat surreal reflection on the people who occupy your dreams.
  • Essay: Another Dream Inspired Story – The story behind the only non-science fiction piece of fiction in the book. Inspired by an actual dream I had.
  • Flash Fiction: “The Big Lie” (1500 words) – An overheard phone conversation at a food court leads to a political discussion between two strangers in wheelchairs.

Part 6

  • Making of “I Can’t Say” – I had an idea for a novel about a disabled man who is given an opportunity to live his life over again with all of his adult memories intact and to relive his life without his disability. After writing the first chapter, I realized that chapter might make an interesting short story.
  • Short Story: “I Can’t Say” (3500 words) – A mysterious voice makes an offer to a dying disabled man but refuses to divulge any information about who is making the offer or why it is being made.
  • Essay: How Reality Killed My Elaborate Fantasy – The plot outline of a novel to be titled “The Reboots” the first chapter of which is the short story “I Can’t Say”. Explores the reasons why current events ruined my clever idea for the novel.
    • Chapter 1 – Want to Get Rich? Become Bill Gates
    • Chapter 2 – Averting Disasters
    • Chapter 3 – Bring in the Love Interest
    • Chapter 4 – Reality Destroyed my Fantasy

Part 7

  • Essay: My Greatest Sci-fi Story May Be Unpublishable – I wrote a science fiction story that has science, genetics, courtroom drama, family drama, teenage pregnancy, LGBT+/gender identity issues, religion, politics, prejudice, romance, abortion rights, math, and ultimately the fate of the human race. Unfortunately in the current climate, my qualifications to write such a story will come into question any may be too controversial to publish. Ultimately I may not end up self-publishing the story I call “The Duosexual”
    • Chapter 1 – The Premise
    • Chapter 2 – Why the Story Right Never Be Published
    • Chapter 3 – I Need a Fuckin’ Expert
    • Chapter 4 – The Helicopter Story
  • Novella “The Duosexual” (17,000 words) – A pregnant intersex girl fights to prevent her parents from forcing her to have an abortion. Embarks on a lifelong course of action that has profound effects on her personally, society in general, and ultimately the fate of the human race as we know it. This story may be too controversial to be included in the book.
    • Chapter 1 – “In the beginning…”
    • Chapter 2 – “In the image of God He created them male and female”
    • Chapter 3 – “This one, at last, is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh”
    • Chapter 4 – “God said to them: Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it”
    • Chapter 5 – “The one who sits on the throne said, ‘Behold, I make all things new.'”
  • Making of “The Duosexual”
    • Chapter 1 – The Birds have the Bees
    • Chapter 2 – 23 and Me
    • Chapter 3 – “In the beginning…”
    • Chapter 4 – The Trial
    • Chapter 5 – Teen Sex
    • Chapter 6 – Self-Identity
    • Chapter 7 – Mystery Revealed
    • Chapter 8 – “God said to them: Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it”
    • Chapter 9 – This is the End
    • Chapter 10 – The Metaphor

Part 8

  • Introduction to “The Pope of the Apocalypse” – My fascination with post-apocalyptic stories leads me to fantasize about what it would be like to survive the apocalypse with a disability and how would the church survive if there were no more priests.
  • Novella: “The Pope of the Apocalypse” (13,000 words) – A 32-year-old man with cerebral palsy is one of the rare survivors of a deadly pandemic. When he finds a woman who came to help him survive, his face with a difficult choice of marrying her or being ordained as a Roman Catholic bishop to ensure the survival of the Church.
  • Making of “The Pope of the Apocalypse”
    • Chapter 1 – The Premise
    • Chapter 2 – Special Education
    • Chapter 3 – “The horror…”
    • Chapter 4 – Salvation and Matrimony
    • Chapter 5 – An Offer of French Fries Doesn’t Mean True Love
    • Chapter 6 – Discerning the will of God
    • Chapter 7 – Ordination
    • Chapter 8 – Being a Priest
    • Chapter 9 – Becoming Pope

Final Thoughts

    Stay tuned for further developments.