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Why writers should talk politics

When writers discuss politics, there's always a certain class of people who get hot under the collar.  What qualifications do you have to talk about something so important, they say.  Stick to what you know - making stuff up.

Apart from revealing a basic ignorance about the craft of writing, that statement also defines a mode of thinking that is both outdated, in the digital age, and supremely elitist.  Let's forget the fact that 'professional' politicians, who move straight from university into a political career, have a tendency to talk and act like aliens, with an often-breathtaking disconnect from normal folk (so much so that they have to down shots publicly to prove they're just like you and me).  Let's forget that many other successful politicians are 'ordinary' people - teachers, accountants, business people - who seem to be given a free pass to talk about politics instead of what they know.

Let's consider why writers *should* talk politics.

Our job is to understand the human mind, the deep psychology, the dreams, aspirations and fears that drive people to do what they do, and to map how that connects with the outer world.  That in itself sounds like a good qualification for a political thinker.

Our job is to be new.  To think novel things, and to challenge the established order.  To document society's changes, and to imagine what could be achieved, or warn against what might happen.  Politics.

Our job shapes the world.  Nobody likes a person filled with self-importance about what they do.  But writers are the opposite, generally.  As a group, we're beyond humble.  'We just write stories'.  No, we don't.  We have a tremendous power that alters the real world on a daily basis.

The scientist Richard Dawkins defined the theory of memes - ideas which act like viruses.  A notion is passed on by word of mouth - or a book, or an article - 'infecting' another person, changing their way of thinking, and is in turn passed  on to another.  If you Google, you'll come across an academic study that shows how New York policemen changed their way of acting after viewing the TV series Hill Street Blues.  Their real-life actions were altered by imaginary constructs.  The show's creator, Steven Bochco, changed reality with his meme.

We all do this every day with everything we write.  Most of us will hear from a reader at some point about how they have been touched by our words, often in ways that could adjust their emotional responses.

That creates a tremendous obligation.  We need to think very carefully about what we say in our work, and what it might do.  But it also creates an opportunity because, by definition, we do have something to say.  We're not in it for the political accolades or the backhanders.  We can influence and debate and shape the discussion on a whole range of issues.  In fact, I'd go as far as to say we have an obligation to talk politics.  Because if we don't, we leave it to the politicians.

And look where that's got us.

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I agree with you, Mark. We are all responsible, and everything we do, matters. I did a little putting my money where my mouth is yesterday.

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All points well taken...with a few additions

I chose to write scientific fiction (I specifically refer to it as scientific fiction to distinguish it from sci-fi, whic my writing definitely is NOT!) for the express reason that science and physics transcends politics.  A Muslim or a Christian will achieve exactly the same results in a laboratory setting.  Scientific truth is not subject to the whims of opinion or fashion.  The universe was around long before we were. :)


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Good point, however...

You must agree that politics impacts on science in a big way, in terms of funding, say, or what can and cannot be researched.  It's impossible to detach from the system completely.  So is it not important for scientists to stake out their political arena to ensure they can carry on doing the things they do?

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Big vs Small science

Although this is true when it comes to "Big Science," it's amazing how much science is done in small private laboratories, garages, and kitchen tables all around the world. If there is an underlying theme to my Plasma Dreams series, it would be "Try this at home."

Einstein did his most profound research with a piece of chalk and a blackboard....and I think some of the best science yet to be discovered will be done just this way. Of course it can take some big bucks to PROVE some of these theories, but nothing beats the old wetware.

Plasma physics is probably what one would call "medium science." You can still do a lot of it in your garage, but most of the really interesting plasma research is in the ionospheric realm....still a far cry from high energy partical physics. A lot of ionospheric physics is still carried out by radio amateurs.

While supporting big science, we need to be careful not to scare away potential scientists by only exposing them to the big research path.