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revealing a basic ignorance about the craft of writing, that statement also defines a mode of thinking that is both outdated, in the digital age, and supremely elitist.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.
Causes Mark Chadbourn Supports