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Over-thinking, or legit issue (regarding social awareness in my writing) (2 Viewers)

ehbowen

Senior Member
At the risk of pushing someone's hot buttons, I'll say that at least in my own mind the critical issue is not the conquest and colonization of the continent; right of conquest has been recognized for all of human history. The critical issue to me is the unilateral breaking of treaties which we entered into and ratified, legally, which should have been scrupulously upheld by our government. That part of history truly is a blot on our society.
 

Taylor

Friends of WF
At the risk of pushing someone's hot buttons, I'll say that at least in my own mind the critical issue is not the conquest and colonization of the continent; right of conquest has been recognized for all of human history. The critical issue to me is the unilateral breaking of treaties which we entered into and ratified, legally, which should have been scrupulously upheld by our government. That part of history truly is a blot on our society.

I agree! I had originally expressed that in my post, but then deleted it for fear it would push the same buttons. One has to wonder if there was a genuine intent to follow through at the time they were signed. But what if anything can done now to reconcile? No need to respond we may be wandering off the OP.
 

Theglasshouse

WF Veterans
As promised for anyone interested in reading a small history of the personal essay the book I bought a while ago is called: the art of the personal essay: an anthology from the classical era to present(selected and with an introduction by) Philip Lopate a teacher's and writer's collaborative book. It also covers memoirs, letters, newspaper column, diary/journal entry, lecture, diatribe, consolation, prose poem and reverie, reportage, valediction. It also has a bunch of essays on such topics such as ambition, disability, and classical essayists if you can't find them it is here (Montaigne among others). Ask away and maybe I can name an essay on a topic if it is here such as disability. If you find these kinds of resources easily it could be worth it to find it on the topic you are researching.

On race and ethnicity:
In praise of shadows by Junichiro Tanizaki
How I started to write by Carlos Fuentes
Meatless days by Sara Suleri
Alas, Poor Richard by James Baldwin (I found this one on a website but I won't link it here)
Notes of a native son by James Baldwin
Split at the Root by Adrienne Rich
Do he have your number, Mr. Jeffrey by Gayle Pemberton.

Maybe some are on the web.
 
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ehbowen

Senior Member
I agree! I had originally expressed that in my post, but then deleted it for fear it would push the same buttons. One has to wonder if there was a genuine intent to follow through at the time they were signed. But what if anything can done now to reconcile? No need to respond we may be wandering off the OP.

My take is that western society works when it is based upon the Rule of Law, and when that law is applied equally to all, small and great. You don't get a pass on drug or gun laws because your last name is Biden, you don't get a "wink-wink-nod-nod" on antitrust law because you happen to be a pharmaceutical or hospital executive, you don't get special treatment because you wear a badge and a blue suit...the obligation rests upon all, small and great. Otherwise you end up with cronyism, "pull" (from Atlas Shrugged), and basically hell on earth.

The fundamental law of our land (yes, this is U.S. specific and many of you are under different systems) states that any treaty which is negotiated and signed by the President and then formally ratified by the U.S. Senate becomes the law of the land. Period. Full stop. If there is a provision in your law which you dislike then there are ways to change it, but just brushing it aside and ignoring it opens the doorway to hell. For a treaty this would mean renegotiating, but the negotiations would have to be mutual..."Sign this at gunpoint" is not a negotiation.

The one which really sticks in my craw is the Black Hills treaty. Maybe it's a pipe dream, but I like to think that perhaps the tribal councils might be willing to accept non-Indian ownership of property inside legally chartered cities and towns, and possibly to grandfather individual ownership of rural property to settlers as long as it is passed down within a family and not resold. But I think that any corporately owned property within the treaty boundaries should immediately revert to Indian ownership, possibly with a 20 year lease to amortize and write off the value of existing improvements. But those are the sorts of things which can (and should) be negotiated. Give and take, both ways. I can't blame the Native Americans for being skeptical, but we can't even hope to reconcile the matter until those who run the United States government accept responsibility and admit wrongdoing.
 

vranger

Staff member
Board Moderator
I think we've talked more about how to regard various social issues and less about the crux of this question, and I think the crux of the question revolves around two thoughts.

This first is censorship. The basis of the OP is self-censorship, something an author might not consider if not concerned about being vilified, or at least sternly criticized, for the inclusion of certain material.

I find it appalling that after decades of work to protect free speech and curb censorship, we're reverting to the point where any author should be concerned about including any cultural or societal references in their work. It's not a pressure we should cave to. We should try to get it right, but if we make a mistake we learn from it.

The second thought is the self-correcting marketplace. If an author gets something grossly wrong, word gets out. The news will pop up in reviews, and if the bulk of reviews are critical for that reason, potential future readers become aware. If the work is hateful, the writer will circle a well-deserved drain. If not, they get more chances.

This is not a new phenomenon in the world of creative effort. On the mild side, Brits didn't much like Dick Van Dyke's portrayal in Mary Poppins. I've seen dozens of Brits try to sound American and get it just as wrong. Getting it wrong can be innocent and very forgivable.

Or, it can be egregious and insulting. That's why as writers, we should try to get it right. We use our worldly experience and research tools before we commit to publish. But we should never, NEVER skirt a subject because "we're not that". What we do is find out what "that" is all about, then we write about it.

As writers, our work often places ourselves in other people's shoes. It's what we do. The better we get at it, the better material we produce.

The essence of the question would be something like, "Should Harper Lee have never written To Kill a Mockingbird?" Ludicrous on its face.

Never stretch? Then we'll never broaden our scope or improve.
 
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EternalGreen

Senior Member
The difference is that British people aren't oppressed and Asian people are.

I wouldn't be violating free speech unless I joined the government, kicked down your door, and dragged you to prison. Free speech is not an excuse to silence criticism. Categorizing people as ignorant and harmful is not a violation of free speech. Not even close. Not by a long shot. If you want people to enjoy, promote, or even condone your work, then "be concerned."

The entire point of art is caring what other people feel. Sometimes, stepping on people's toes is just mean.
 

vranger

Staff member
Board Moderator
The difference is that British people aren't oppressed and Asian people are.

I wouldn't be violating free speech unless I joined the government, kicked down your door, and dragged you to prison. Free speech is not an excuse to silence criticism. Categorizing people as ignorant and harmful is not a violation of free speech. Not even close. Not by a long shot. If you want people to enjoy, promote, or even condone your work, then "be concerned."

The entire point of art is caring what other people feel. Sometimes, stepping on people's toes is just mean.

I think you missed the point. When speech is chilled before someone can even speak, that is an infringement of free speech. When speech is condemned not because of what is said, but because of who said it, that's an infringement of free speech, plus overt bigotry.

It doesn't have to be the government doing it. There's a supposition at play that some people aren't entitled to speak about some things. That's a slippery slope. Caving to it will eventually stifle ALL creative and editorial expression which doesn't comply with whoever is "on top". It's already in play. Blackballing and Cancel Culture are alive and well.

Plus, I'd dispute that "the entire point of art is caring what other people feel". It's one option, but very often the point of art is to challenge what other people feel. An important part of art can be to make people uncomfortable about what they feel. It can be vital to make the readers care about how you feel, regardless of how they feel. Only "caring what other people feel" provides no catalyst.
 
Here's a consideration, more about self-censorship in general: self-censorship out of fear of pushback is an entirely different thing than self-censorship out of discernment and care. I would argue that all writers, recognizing the value and power of their words, should practice discernment-based self-censorship. Saying anything just because you can, or writing solely based on what makes you feel good, is a bad artistic ethic. We should aim to write truth, beauty, and goodness.

Various social and political movements hit society; all sorts of different conflicting ideas about what you can and can't write are thrown around. Trying to please everyone or fulfill all the current Good Person checkboxes is fruitless, but so is responding with a "you can't tell me what to do." I'm for self-censorship, but on the basis of what is right, not on the basis of what may offend. "It's your story" -- well, yes, but that's not an argument for saying whatever the heck you want; that's an argument for taking moral responsibility for your ​words.
 

Theglasshouse

WF Veterans
It is not about what is morally right or wrong but that with research makes for a more complex and interesting character since you have sympathy for the mc or other character. You can please both crowds. The source I quoted is from a creative nonfiction program that is taught to students at Columbia university which is second in the USA on creative writing ( this is part of creative writing). That is the point that can be taken. Some essays are free to see I listed on the web or also are in the public domain. Incidents in the life of a slave girl for example ( racism or race) or by the titles of James Baldwin's essays I posted. Sympathy can be learned by reading about other people's lives. Read the feedback page on the life of the incidents of a life of a slave girl on amazon. Another point is that there are free resources of different types. He even has an essay saying it is wrong morally and explains how to do it. I own two books by him. Why look at a character as a individual who isn't respected and can be interpreted as a different person? Sympathy for different problems exist. Humans are poor mind readers. I could list disability nonfiction works. There is a point that he argues. If you know how to do it why do it?
 
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Kyle R

WF Veterans
If you're writing from the POV of a different culture/ethnicity, then the best thing to do is research, research, research. Do your best to get it right.

That also means getting reader feedback from people who identify with the characters that you're portraying. They'd be able to tell you, better than anyone else, whether or not you're on the right path.

Otherwise, if your story allows, you can go a "softer" route, and have your characters be of a fictional or undefined origin. Think of James Cameron's "Na'vi" in Avatar, for example. In terms of the narrative, it's obvious that the Na'vi are meant to represent Indigenous people.

But Cameron dodged that specificity by making them an alien race, with their own made-up language. It's just one way to avoid the whole slippery slope of cultural appropriation. :encouragement:
 

Foxee

Patron
Patron
Sometimes art and writing can be difficult work because I think the thing that resounds the most loudly is truth. However, in our world, the truth is often murky, hidden, denied, painted over, or warred over. That's probably not as new a problem as we'd like to think.

Is it important to produce a warm feeling of acceptance in the reader? I'd say that a major reason for the arts (and one reason that tyrannical governments rarely like artists and writers and journalists) is because we polish our lens, bring it in close, and get a look at the human condition.

The human condition is sad, it's hilarious, it's cruel, it's beautiful, it's ugly, it's oppressive, it takes wing on freedom, it sets others free, it blinds, it heals, it...well, you get the picture.

I submit Francisco Goya's painting The Third of May, 1808 for consideration. This painting caught my attention in a big way in an art history course as did Saturn Devouring His Son, which is downright horrifying. Why on earth would an artist spend their time on such depressing subjects? Probably because someone needed to shine light on dark subjects.

If racism, sexism, or whatever is chapping your ass and burning your brain then don't sit around telling other artists how to handle it. Get into the actual work of producing something that shines light on what you think. That's MUCH harder than blowing smoke uselessly and telling others what they should do.

So stop complaining and get to work. If racism is the thing you're angry about, pour your anger into your work and let's see a piece of writing or art that blows the lid off.
 
It is not about what is morally right or wrong but that with research makes for a more complex and interesting character since you have sympathy for the mc or other character.

In the OP's particular case, yes, I agree. I was thinking more about self-censorship in general.

Otherwise, if your story allows, you can go a "softer" route, and have your characters be of a fictional or undefined origin. Think of James Cameron's "Na'vi" in Avatar, for example. In terms of the narrative, it's obvious that the Na'vi are meant to represent Indigenous people.

But Cameron dodged that specificity by making them an alien race, with their own made-up language. It's just one way to avoid the whole slippery slope of cultural appropriation. :encouragement:

I think that's essentially what the OP is doing. He's not writing fictional Asia, but using Asian names as an aesthetic in a fictional society.
 

BornForBurning

Senior Member
One question the evil postmodernist colleges have yet to tackle is that of whose cultural context we contextualize art within. Clearly, it is not necessarily the culture creating the art, as the interpreter is just as inalienably entangled in his context as the writer was in his. It is (theoretically) easy to argue that those in the past contextualized their work in the 'then', and that we contextualize their work in the 'now', but unfortunately, culture is not a monolith, and even in contemporary society, there are a plethora of divergent viewpoints and contexts. So for two humans to meet on a messageboard and argue over the meaning of, say, a Confederate statue, is essentially pointless. This is why the evil postmodernist colleges are actually not postmodern, and why standpoint theory and neo-marxism have become popular epistemologies. Standpoint theory will probably evolve into some kind of neo-fascism in the near future to solve the issue of problematic standpoints. There is of course the innate problem of texts losing all inherent meaning within this epistemology, thus implicitly excluding the value of texts. But regardless, the snake can be shown to devour its tail far earlier in the process.
 

ppsage

WF Veterans
I have a strong urge to call false dichotomy here. The scale from totally ignoring to completely obsessing isn't the same as the scale from bogus libtard issue to essential criterion. Different writing and different purpose will have different solutions but most I bet are in the gray areas. There will be additional difficulties for any artist trying to see-saw on any of the extremes. I've been listening to a bunch of pirated Heinlein audio-books on YouTube: ain't no writer wearing their morality on their sleeve like him, but there's still lots of times even he has to stop and justify. Or be censored by his editors on a few occasions.
 

Theglasshouse

WF Veterans
Here's a powerful quote that made me think about myself. It's a way to create a character's personalities (regardless of our position it helps to think if you agree to think about your own beliefs).

Consider arguments against your prejudices.

There’s considerable character dimensionality to be derived from expressing your opinions, prejudices, half-baked ideas, etc. provided you are willing to analyze flaws in your own thinking and to consider arguments against your fixations and not to be too solemn about it.

Someone’s actions speak louder that words. Give your I-character something to do. It’s fine to be privy to all I’s ruminations and cerebral nuances, but consciousness can take us so far into the illumination of character.

Ethnicity, gender, religion, social class, geography, and political affiliation: these are strong determinants of the development of character. But we must not be afraid to meditate our membership and to the degree it has formed or has not formed us.

So now sketched yourself to the reader as a person of a certain age, sex, ethnic, religious background, class, region, possessing a set of foibles, strengths, and peculiarities.

It’s an observable fact that most people don’t like themselves, in spite of being decent enough human beings-certainly not war criminals.

Using religious values I am describing myself in my own words. Religion may shape upbringing and make you create different opinions.

I think that is a very good quote of why it's more sympathetic and complex to analyze our beliefs and challenge them.
 
There’s considerable character dimensionality to be derived from expressing your opinions, prejudices, half-baked ideas, etc. provided you are willing to analyze flaws in your own thinking and to consider arguments against your fixations and not to be too solemn about it.

That's a very interesting thought, and I think it's probably true. Sometimes I stick an extreme version of something I kinda-sorta-maybe think in a story, as a character's vehemently held belief, then watch to see if it stands. And, half-baked ideas about the world are great fodder for wild characters.

I think fiction can be used both as an expression or enjoyment of truth, and means of discovering truth. This method may be a good example of using it to discover truth: pit some opinions against each other and see who's left standing. The problem with this approach is the way the ideas act out in the story-world is going to be colored by our worldview, so it may just end up solidifying our trust in what we already think, instead of showing us something new. But that doesn't mean it won't ever show us something new. In general, I'd say, fiction explores truth through imagination (while science and philosophy do so through reason). But reason still has a place in how we construct our fiction.
 

Theglasshouse

WF Veterans
That's a very interesting thought, and I think it's probably true. Sometimes I stick an extreme version of something I kinda-sorta-maybe think in a story, as a character's vehemently held belief, then watch to see if it stands. And, half-baked ideas about the world are great fodder for wild characters.

I think fiction can be used both as an expression or enjoyment of truth, and means of discovering truth. This method may be a good example of using it to discover truth: pit some opinions against each other and see who's left standing. The problem with this approach is the way the ideas act out in the story-world is going to be colored by our worldview, so it may just end up solidifying our trust in what we already think, instead of showing us something new. But that doesn't mean it won't ever show us something new. In general, I'd say, fiction explores truth through imagination (while science and philosophy do so through reason). But reason still has a place in how we construct our fiction.
That's a very good interpretation on the quote.

Here's another one which means we must question our beliefs by being curious of our flaws imo by rethinking what these are based on our upbringing (mentioned in the previous post) and past (my take on this one and that one). To me this is the past, present, and future of a character's evolution of the self or ourselves. It's worth writing about. The book talks at length about personal essays. Of course when it refers to flaws something that seems like a flaw can appear as a strength. Our quirks, foibles, and flaws are our beliefs about our past upbringing. I think it makes me think of why sometimes I ran into trouble. It was because of the upbringing and the beliefs that it brought. Whatever he means today I stick to respecting people. So much some past things that happened to me thought I should be ignorant because it would do no harm. I can describe myself as inviting people who didn't seem as bad people as first as the people I would try to forgive later on. That I would figuratively speaking "invite them to my own house." When in fact it caused some harm. Thinking back on the past I think how it affected me for the present and is now what I want to seek because of these thoughts. My other flaw is too much self-indulgence. So much I don't feel responsible. This makes sense to me in this way.

The proper alternative to self-dislike is not being pleased with oneself- a smug complacency that comes across equally distasteful- bit being curious about oneself. Such self curiosity.

So to dislike we should not be pleased with who we are. Disliking is the same as thinking up of our flaws. Judging by previous quotes. It's a way to seeing oneself when one thinks they are too perfect. Everyone who knows themselves has to dislike something. This probably refers to being half-decent humans.
 
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Tomkat

Senior Member
I'd say... those characters in your book from where they get their names?
I mean, within their world, the fantasy realm you've created, where that name come from?

Albius Hak is fine. Albius, maybe is a Latin-sound-like name. So people in your world get Latin-sound-like names? Or perhaps all those from a specific area/culture of your map?

Although right now is more "international" (except asia, I guess) see it like this: if you were born in Italy, there are 80% chances that you had now an Italian name. If you were born in Japan... etc
Same goes for fictional worlds. You give a culture to your realm and natives from that realm are all subjected to that specific cultural heritage. If this realm has a Latin-sound-like naming system, that must be true and coherent with everyone. With exceptions, that's obvious, foreigners, immigrants etc. Someone who wanted to give his son a peculiar meaningful name.

Of course, you don't have to tell the reader about this. You're going to show it through the naming itself.

Hey, look at Tolkien. Hobbits have hobbit names, dwarves have theirs, elves, humans.. each ethnicity within his world has his own culture and, consequently, naming system.
 

indianroads

Staff member
Board Moderator
Sometimes art and writing can be difficult work because I think the thing that resounds the most loudly is truth. However, in our world, the truth is often murky, hidden, denied, painted over, or warred over. That's probably not as new a problem as we'd like to think.

Is it important to produce a warm feeling of acceptance in the reader? I'd say that a major reason for the arts (and one reason that tyrannical governments rarely like artists and writers and journalists) is because we polish our lens, bring it in close, and get a look at the human condition.

The human condition is sad, it's hilarious, it's cruel, it's beautiful, it's ugly, it's oppressive, it takes wing on freedom, it sets others free, it blinds, it heals, it...well, you get the picture.

I submit Francisco Goya's painting The Third of May, 1808 for consideration. This painting caught my attention in a big way in an art history course as did Saturn Devouring His Son, which is downright horrifying. Why on earth would an artist spend their time on such depressing subjects? Probably because someone needed to shine light on dark subjects.

If racism, sexism, or whatever is chapping your ass and burning your brain then don't sit around telling other artists how to handle it. Get into the actual work of producing something that shines light on what you think. That's MUCH harder than blowing smoke uselessly and telling others what they should do.

So stop complaining and get to work. If racism is the thing you're angry about, pour your anger into your work and let's see a piece of writing or art that blows the lid off.

very well said.
 

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