Why I’m not keeping my mouth shut about politics

There’s an unspoken (or sometimes clearly articulated) rule among up-and-coming writers, where discussion so often revolves around brand-formation and audience building: it’s probably not a good idea to talk about politics.

The logic behind this is simple enough. Put your political views up on your blog or social media, and you risk alienating members of your audience who don’t, as it happens, agree with your point of view.

It’s far safer (so this unspoken story goes) to simply limit one’s commentary to unobjectionable topics like “the struggles of being an up-and-coming writer” or “things my cat did today”.

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(Sartre with cat.)

Restrict your online presence to inspirational quotes or photographs of your dinner, and you’ll never need to worry about offending someone to the point where they refuse to pick up one of your books again (unless they have a deep prejudice against Asian fusion tacos or Winston Churchill).

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I went along with this for a while, putting my political thoughts (which, as it happens, I have in plenty) onto my personal social media accounts and leaving my professional presence smilingly neutral.

I have decided this was an error.

It should not be a surprise to anyone that writers have opinions. We are, after all, more than just robots tied to keyboards. The same brains that put together the elaborate worlds our readers love to escape in are also living and working in the real world. We have jobs and families, faiths and principles. We are aware of the madness happening around us and we are not indifferent to it.

More importantly, I believe that the very fact that we are storytellers – writers of fiction – means that we have a special obligation to weigh in on the world we and our readers inhabit. It is our job to research, to analyze, to deconstruct and to imagine how things might be better… or worse. We are, by our nature, thinkers and speakers. Being a writer does not make one an expert on public policy, but I do think it makes one something of an expert on humanity and on the broader implications of events.

(There is also, as it happens, something of a fine tradition of writers boldly swinging in to political discourse, such as Ursula Le Guin, Kurt Vonnegut, George Orwell, Mark Twain, and Stephen King – to name a few.)

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When we see danger in the world around us, or hatred, or beauty, or hope –why shouldn’t we point it out? Why shouldn’t we argue for right or spotlight injustice? We are, after all, more than just a brand. At the risk of sounding desperately nerdy, we are citizens and democracy doesn’t work very well if those afraid of offending someone remain silent.

What’s more, I’m afraid that my politics quite consciously informs how I structure my stories. So if you’re reading me at all, I am most likely insidiously sliding my views into your brain. In which case you should be grateful when I air my opinions in public. At least then you’ll know what you’re secretly being indoctrinated with.

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