Thursday, December 27, 2007

La Tempesta di Polvere Riguardo á Vox Day

In seeming innocence, d asks:
Why the furore over Vox?
The short answer is: because Vox likes to create a furor. He enjoys tossing off outrageous rhetorical overstatements just to get the munchkins riled up. And he is very, very good at doing so.

There's nothing intrinsically wrong with this, I suppose. Heinlein did it all the time. Robert Adams, of Horseclans fame, used to spout some of the most rage-provoking things you ever heard, although he generally did so in the context of SFWA business meetings or private parties. John W. Campbell Jr. pretty much made a career out of floating outrageous ideas in his Astounding editorials.

Vox, on the other hand, has the bad luck to live in the Internet age, when even the slightest and most offhand rhetorical fillip can fall into the infinite echo chamber and be picked up, amplified, recycled, cited, disputed, endorsed, discarded, and fished out of the trash and reposted again for years afterwards. Further, early on he chose to make some singularly humorless enemies, who have since proven inclined to neither forgive nor forget.

(Further still, Vox has the bad luck to be neither a bestselling author nor the editor of the most influential magazine in the market, so those who disagree with him feel no need to kiss his — er, ring — in order to further their own careers.)

I call it the Mother Night problem. Quoting Vonnegut, "We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be." In Vox's case, I don't feel he should be surprised when people he's chosen to shake up and outrage have chosen to remain shaken and outraged, and yet from time to time, he is. Underneath that brassy exterior there is a very intelligent and thoughtful man, who once in a while comes up with an idea he really would like to see discussed soberly, calmly, and dispassionately, and on those occasions he seems genuinely taken aback to find that the people he would like to discuss his idea with are still holding a grudge over something he wrote years ago.

That, in brief, is Vox's problem.

My problem is that I get it from both sides. From the parting on the left, I continue to be asked, "How can you still be friends with that knuckle-dragging Neanderthal?" My answer is that I'm friends with lots of people, of all different stripes and political persuasions, and if you associate only with people who always agree with you you'll never be exposed to any new ideas.

It's the parting on the right that's somewhat more problematic. Vox has a fan club that follows him around from blog to blog, defending his honor (as if he's incapable of defending it himself), and while most of them are quite intelligent and pretty reasonable, there are a noisy few who are best described as touchingly loyal but tragically dim. Ergo, whenever I say anything about Vox that is not even critical, but merely insufficiently laudatory, I get it in the back with both barrels from them.

And that is the lesson for today. Politics is a contact sport, and as we've discussed before, the two things that always get a sporting crowd on its feet are sex and violence. Political discourse in the talk radio and Internet age, in particular, has become a blood sport, and thousands of people checks blogs or tune in every day to a Michael Savage or an Al Franken, not to learn anything new, but to read or listen as their chosen hero administers a thumping good beat-down to today's specified enemy. Ergo, if you want to write political commentary, and you want to develop a large audience, this is the experience you must deliver to your readers.

As Vox consistently does.

But if you do so, be mindful of the Mother Night problem, and remember that if you choose to compete in this arena, you are also by default crafting a public image of yourself. Therefore you'd better really believe in every word you write, because you will be held accountable for each and every one of those words, perhaps for years to come.

Here endeth the lesson.