Saturday, May 19, 2018

Munkying about, part II


As if I haven’t give the bugger enough space, there are just a couple more things I have to get off my chest.

            During the Munk debate of May 18, 2018, Jordan Peterson identified his evil trinity of the extreme left as diversity, inclusivity, and equality (of outcomes, as opposed to opportunities).

            I have to take issue with these benchmarks one by one.

            1) Diversity. He had the nerve to proclaim this in a great big hall in Toronto, one of the most diverse cities in the world. People from all over the world living side by side in complete peace. On what planet could this be considered a bad thing? But never mind ethnic diversity – diversity of anything, of language, of opinion, of dress, cuisine, art, tends to be an incredibly enriching, positive thing. How could this be considered an extremist or totalitarian situation?

            2) Inclusivity. Are we to take from this that “exclusivity” must be a reasonable state of affairs? We taught in Kindergarten not to exclude anyone, not to exile little Johnny to the corner because we think he’s weird. We take this lesson into adulthood as we try to build (or at least idealize) a society where everyone is welcome. Sorry Jordan, not giving that up.

            3) Equality. Peterson took pains to differentiate equality of outcomes with equality of opportunity, which he admitted was “laudable”. He didn’t seem to notice that equality of opportunity was exactly what his debating opponents, Michelle Goldberg and Michael Eric Dyson, were clamouring for. What most movements are clamouring for. How can he call something a “laudable goal” then denounce anyone trying to achieve it?

            But let’s look at equality of outcomes, which he insists is how equality is defined. My first question is “by whom”? Who made that declaration? I didn’t. Did you?  Let’s grant for a moment that this is how it’s defined, my second questions is: so what?

            Equality of outcomes may be impossible, impractical or dangerous, but I don’t think it’s the mark of extremism. Why not? Because it’s largely an abstraction. It doesn’t refer to any particular policy or program. Are we talking economic outcomes? Physical? Emotional? Sexual? It feels more like a charicature of an idea than an idea anybody seriously pushes for. It is something we can discuss, debate, and abandon drunk and happy afterwards. A person pushing for such a thing may be deluded or mistaken, but not necessarily an extremist.

            To determine if a person is an extremist, you don’t ask whether that person believes in equality of outcomes. You ask by what means they wish to achieve it. There is the acid test. A person pamphleting their neighbourhood trying to win it over to equality of outcomes may be a kook, but hardly a extremist. A person willing to bomb, assassinate, torture and kill is. A person who would suspend habius corpus. A person who would burn books. These, I think, are much more useful warning signs than Peterson’s unholy triumvirate.    I can hardly believe I’m the first person to suggest them.

            More likely, Peterson has heard them and doesn’t like them. They’re not all-encompassing enough. They alone would not allow him to portray himself as a hard-done by martyr. They would have no cache with internet trolls. The problem is not that the left won’t lay down parameters for tyranny. It’s that it won’t accept his parameters.

            What would adjusting them cost him?

 

Friday, May 18, 2018

A letter to Thanos (because life has just been too serious lately)


Dear Sir,


I wish to discourage you most vigorously from your stated plan to destroy approximately half the living things in the galaxy. I think this is a badly short-sighted plan and bound to cause more harm than good.



Before I begin, I must assure you that I am not entirely unsympathetic to your concerns. Indeed, anyone who has been recently stuck in 401 traffic, or struggled to find a seat on the GO-Train would probably find themselves tempted by your plan. Yet at times like this it is important not to let our emotions get the better of us, and not do anything rash.



 To begin with, it is not your decision who lives and who dies. Every person has an equal right to live, and it is not up to you to decide which is which. You can decide for your fate, but not anyone else’s – if you’re concerned about overcrowding, you may start with yourself.



More importantly, you cannot be sure who you will be eliminating. There will be no guarantee that you would get the right half. You could be getting rid of some of the world’s best people, doctors and scientists and artists, and people who could do great good.



Furthermore, people are needed to run the world and organize the planet. It will fall into chaos if half of everyone just disappears. Schoolboards in Ontario are already having a devil of a time finding qualified French teachers as is. It is already next to impossible to get a human being on the phone when you ring any customer service department, and I am having a great deal of trouble finding a qualified electrician to rewire my home. Following your plan, there will be an even more acute shortage of supermarket cashiers, and I shudder to think what it may do to local garbage collection. Furthermore, there is currently an election going on in Ontario, and my party needs all the votes that it can.

I also suggest that you could not guarantee that your purge would not include my neighbour before he returns my rake, which he has had now since November.


You have probably not considered either, that your plan would place nearly impossible demands on this community’s funeral parlours, and lengthen their waiting lists intolerably.

But ultimately, it shouldn’t matter who is chosen for culling, as every person has a right to live out their lives and waste them in the manner they see fit. It would be an act of unspeakable barbarity and cruelty to simply murder every second man, woman, and child on the planet, especially before they’ve seen the new season of Doctor Who.



In hope that you will reconsider, I remain humbly yours,  



Steve AJ Dylan

Munkying around. . .

So. . .
I tried to sit down and watch the latest Munk debates:

https://www.munkdebates.com/The-Debates/Political-Correctness

I couldn't get farther than half way. It was too. . .hostile. I'm afraid it very much turned into what I was afraid it would: a no holds barred grudge match between four people arguing four different things. With the moderator egging them all on.

Perhaps, things transpired later that would change my take, or throw it out the window completely, but here's what I too from what I saw:

At no point was the supposed subject of the evening actually defined: what did any of them mean by "political correctness"? What was actually being debated?
Of the four speakers, I think Fry was closest to my own temperament and philosophy. But even he refused to explain what it was he was railing against, and how it differed from what the other speakers were discussing.
But I think Fry, Dyson and Goldberg could have had a civilized discussion if not for:
Jordan Peterson.
So this is what the fuss is all about. This is the cult leader commanding the hearts and minds of millions (no exaggeration). I'd never heard him speak at this length before. 
At first, it's not hard to understand his appeal. He's a captivating speaker, almost hypnotic. He speaks softly, effortlessly and rhythmically, unfolding philosophical points like musical notes. Like a gentle piece of orchestral music, it almost lulls you in. . .until he gets to his point. Then like a sour note in the middle of the symphony, he dumps a cold bucket of water on the whole illusion.
Here's the thing: he says the right and the left are capable of tyranny. True. He says the parameters of right tyranny are fairly well demarcated. True. He says the parameters of left tyranny need to be demarcated. Also True. He says the left refuse to demarcate such parametres. Uhm. . .debatable. He says that Equality, Inclusivity, and Diversity are what demarcate that parameter. . .
Uhm. . .what???
Here the whole edifice comes down. He's set the bar for leftist tyranny so low that anyone of even mildly liberal sentiment is no better than a Laventiy Beria. In Peterson's worldview, there's apparently no distinction.
Whatever point you thought he was going to make, or wanted him to make, as you were lulled along by the pulse of his words, melts like a snowflake. It's not going to be a universal argument after all, but a strictly partisan one.
"If not diversity, inclusivity, and equality, how do we demarcate the too extreme left?" he asks. And then goes on to insist no one will answer him.
Oh for God's sake Peterson, can you be serious? It's when they refuse to recognize the sanctity of human life! When they're willing to torture and kill for the cause! When they use the end to justify any and all means, including brutality. When they refuse to condemn murder. When the reserve the right to cause harm and inflict pain. Surely these are demarcations any reasonable person can agree to, and surely I can't be the first person to mention them.
The problem is not that the left won't demarcate; it's that they won't accept Peterson's demarcations. And doesn't he just hate that!
Then he loses his professorial demeanour and starts pouting about his "white privilege", a phrase nobody else invoked up 'till then. The whole of Michael Dyson's eloquent denunciations of slavery and police violence went straight over his head: "never mind all that, what about my white privilege?"
As if it was all about him.
Michelle Goldberg of the New York Times spoke of "category creep", whereby (I think) categories become too broad and encompass too many people. It's a charge leveled against the left, whereby moderate conservatives are held to be no better than the Grand Marshal of the KKK. Some people fail to make this distinction, fair enough. But isn't it just as bad if not worse on the right, especially in the US, where calling for a health care system is a call for the GUlag? And doesn't it show up in Peterson, who's definition of the "sensible left" doesn't include anyone to his own left?
Peterson claims to be of the centre, but his venom is mainly for the left and his category of "excessive left" includes just about everybody on the left, so his message will be (and has been) most comforting to those on the right. You don't need to be a Bolshevik to refuse to buy it.
Meanwhile, the sleazy moderator egged and prodded everyone on so that the audience could have its bloodbath.
Peterson started smooth and elegant, but soon got shrill and petulant, like a whiny teenager. He may have picked apart the rather timid and nervous Goldberg (she got better), but he was no match for the majestic Michael Eric Dyson, who, frankly, tore him to shreds.
Still though, it was Fry I most related to. Despite his throwing away his decorum too early on (why Fry, when you were doing fine?). Make of that what thou wilst.

Saturday, March 24, 2018




Not long ago, I was given a whole set of Piers Anthony’s Space Tyrant books by a well-meaning friend who thought my recently-decimated library could use a boost. (He cannot have read them). Being unacquainted with Piers Anthony as a writer, and ever a sucker for space-opera, I eagerly dove into the first volume, Refugee.  

Ye Gods. . .Where do I begin?

To pilfer a passage from Roger Ebert, I hated this book. Hated, hated, hated it. It is the worst book I have read in quite some time.  Worse than The Residential Tenancies Act. It is depraved. It is despicable. It is, at times, laughably amateurish. For all this, its author is highly successful, and continues to sell books to a devoted fanbase. This to me, is astonishing.

I was actually moved to write an Amazon review for it. Here’s what I put:

“What we have here is a character who: watches his sister raped, watches his mother raped, watches his father disemboweled, and only towards the end remembers that he has a laser pistol in his possession?

This is a book in which the plot largely depends on the idiocy of its characters. Whose staggering ineptitude and incompetence, painstakingly conveyed in three hundred pages of the most clumsy, leaden prose I've ever read, has one screaming at the pages in exasperation.  The only plotting Anthony seems to care about is piling miseries upon his characters, contriving ever worse ways for them to suffer and sadistically depriving them of any agency. It becomes apparent early on there will be no pay-off, no redemption, not even sensible action.

Don't read this expecting fun space-opera: what you get rather is a kind of pulp torture porn, replete with rape, cannibalism, incest, pedophilia, bestiality and necrophilia references.”   


I’m not joking – each of those show up. Not all are portrayed as graphically as the near constant rapes, but they are alluded to, in passages so brief and so pointless, yet no less stomach-churningly nasty for it, one wonders why the author bothered with them, unless churning the reader’s stomach was exactly what Anthony wanted. Was it? To heap violence and depravity on the reader until they cry “Uncle”? I shudder to think what Anthony’s horror fiction must be like…

To be clear, the problem here is not that Anthony is sexually explicit, nor that he wants to bring up certain topics (though to no apparent purpose). For serious writers, no topic is out of bounds. But subjects like rape need to be handled with incredible sensitivity. Rape is real, and ruins who-knows how many millions of lives. It is not something to be trifled with. It is not a plot device. It is not motivation for vengeful characters. It is not a short-cut to gravitas, and it is most certainly not a subject of titillation.  It is not to be handled lightly.

Even if I grant Anthony the benefit of the doubt, and assume he wanted to write a serious book about a serious subject (albeit very misleadingly marketed by the publisher), an author who includes lines like “I’m here to keep you from getting raped – unless you want to” rather seems to lack the requisite sensitivity. Any male writer who presumes to speculate on the female reaction to the experience of rape – not just an individual character but the generalized universal experience – is taking upon himsel on an almost impossibly delicate task. Does this sound delicate to you?  The sheer ineptitude of this work keeps it from sounding anything but sleazy.

Which brings us to the laser-pistol. This is not a small detail. When fictional characters consistently, even insistently, fail to follow the most obvious course of action or even attempt the most basic solution to their problems, or when an author has them simply forget the options available to them. . .at some point you can’t suspend your disbelief anymore, you can’t believe in the characters anymore, you can’t give the author any more free passes.

In a bazaar reversal of Chekov’s law, Anthony’s protagonist is provided with a laser pistol, which, despite constant threats to him and his loved ones, it never occurs to him use. It’s not like he forgets about it either. On something like seven different occasions (I lost count) after each successive family member is raped, killed or mutilated, he laments “if only I had my pistol”. By which point the reader can only scream at the page:

“Well why the fuck don’t you???”    
 
Anthony provides no reason. There are any number of narrative devices he could have invoked – the charge was low, the kid was a bad shot, the pirates shot first – but he doesn’t bother. I can’t help thinking he’s just taking the piss; setting up audience expectation in a painfully obvious way, only to violate it. It’s all fine and good to violate audience expectation, except when it makes no fucking sense. It erases empathy for a character who won’t even attempt to defend his family. It’s a massive distraction. And, if it is a piss-take, then it’s not taking this most serious of subjects seriously is it?

How seriously can the author be taking things when he has the protagonist announce the death of thirty people with “there’s good news, and there’s bad news”. Could this line be anything other than a joke?

Or are we to believe that a small community of widows and orphans, having lost thirty of their adults on a dangerous alien planet, would send thirty more out after them? Really? Really???

Or when the protagonists mother goes missing on this alien world: does he really wait to refurbish his spaceship before going to search for her? (he has a skiff by this time – again, it doesn’t occur to this idiot to use the technology at his disposal).

 I could go on and on. Are there really no such things as radios in this world? Why can’t they lock their spaceship doors again? What the hell was the point of that fake but not really fake hijacking at the end? Just about nothing makes sense. Those are just the plot points – I haven’t even started on the prose style yet. I don’t to know how a hoverboard works, I only need to know if the bad guy fell off. . .

Bad plotting, bad prose and impossibly problematic subject matter form a kind of unholy trinity, feeding off and enforcing each other until it all snowballs into an avalanche of “yuck”. It’s not that good writing would have saved the book, but I can’t help thinking that a better writer might not have been quite so ham-fisted with it. The prose certainly makes it all the more cringe-worthy.  The plotting and sheer implausible idiocy of the characters makes it impossible to take anything within it seriously. And this fixation on rape and pedophilia only ever comes across as creepy.

There’s another thing too. Piers Anthony is not a nobody. He is (or was) a very big selling writer. And a significant part of his audience appear to be young people. I remember Piers Anthony’s Xanth books prominently displayed in my Grade 7 library, and eagerly devoured by the 12 and 13 year girls in my class.  So. . .an eager young reader relishes the fantasies of Xanth, spots this title in the bookstore, with an astronaut on the cover and her favourite author’s name in exciting Buck Rogers front. . . you see where I’m going here? There’s no reason writers who’ve written for children can’t cross-over into adult fiction, or vice-versa.   (Roald Dahl comes to mind). But when a book is marketed as space opera, a genre widely believed to be harmless and kid friendly, and there’s no attempt to represent the contents of this book accurately, it does feel like something sinister has gone down. A trojan horse if you will.

Perhaps Anthony can’t help how his books are marketed. But he did write the damn thing. . .

To what extent are we bound to artist intent when we adapt their work? 

I am inclined to think that our freedom here is not unlimited. It is very very broad of course, and we want to avoid slavish imitation, and of course we need to take modern sensibilities into account. But I do not think we can ignore context completely. It behooves us to understand what a work meant to it's own time and place, before we force our own tastes and values upon it. 

Context matters. Realism is all fine and good, but I'm not convinced a graphic gang-rape scene really enriched "the William Tell Overture". I think Rossini's intention here should have been more carefully considered. 

Performers of operas and plays do indeed need to try new things, and do indeed have a difficult task in making old works relevant to modern audiences, but I'm not sure they have tabula rasa. It can only be made so relateable. Let's face it: Opera, and Symphonic music, and ELizabethan drama are not immediately relateable to modern audiences. If they were, they would be filled with pop music, and spoken in modern English. At some point it needs to be acknowledged that these are older forms, created in different times for different audiences. Good art is eternal, but it is also of its time, and we ignore it at our peril. 

I suppose the issue comes up most often in adaptations of Shakespeare. Most productions these days I would wager (though it'd be a dangerous wager to make considering how often they're performed) opt for some kind of anachronistic performance, setting them in recognizably modern, or at least much more recent settings. I'm not sure exactly why - every director and set designer probably has a different idea, but I suspect it has something to do with Shakespeare's perceived universality (that, and the extreme ugliness of Elizabethan fashions). 

This raises all kind of issues. Some interpretations work, and some do not. I enjoyed Baz Lehrman's "Romeo and Juliet" but despised Julie Taymar's "Titus". I felt one respected the subject matter and the other did not.I had no trouble with the introduction of guns into a tale of gang-violence, but saw no point in the addition of arcade machines and disco balls in the latter. It would be absurd to suggest that every future production should be just like the Globe Theatre's strictly historical enactments (an argument applied by some Baroque musicians to their own art), but does that mean we can do absolutely anything we want with the text? Could Romeo and Juliet work in an age of texting? Could Henry V be set in Paschendale, Normandy, or Falujah, or the Star Wars universe? (Let's try it and find out!)

I suppose it depends. Let's look at two plays. "Hamlet" is almost always modernized. "Macbeth" far less so. (And don't be a smart alec and go on about some indie college production you just got back from. . .). I think it's because many people recognize that time and place is important to "Macbeth" in a way that it isn't for "Hamlet". Nobody cares that Hamlet is set in Medieval Denmark; it is generally understood that the core of the play lies elsewhere, in the psychology of the character. So Hamlet can be adapted to just about any setting imaginable and lose none of its power.

Macbeth though. . . I saw one updated Machbeth, (with Patrick Stewart) set in what looked like Soviet Russia. In grim bunkers and military hospitals. It looked like one of the "Hostel" movies. It didn't work. For one thing, the Soviet setting imposes on it a whole set of associations that aren't really supported by the text. I think that matters. 

Akira Kurosawa moved the action to feudal Japan in "Throne of Blood", and it was brilliant. THe Scottish play worked ideally amongst the samurai. So the "place" is clearly not what matters, but the "time" - it was still very much an ancient, historical, mysterious setting. 

Macbeth needs to take place in a world where ghosts exist, and where witch's prophesies are taken seriously. Hamlet saw ghosts as well, but Hamlet spends most of the play pretending to be insane, and is widely suspected to not have been pretending. Hamlet has been performed as a one act monologue by the schizophrenic inmate of a lunatic asylum. It's a modern interpretation, but the text does support this interpretation. Hamlet is so much about psychology and inner struggle that its ghosts can be easily brought into the modern era. But Macbeth's ghosts are actually ghosts, and need an age fit for ghosts. If psychology lay at the heart of Hamlet, superstition is the core of Macbeth, and does not lend itself to more enlightened ages. The Dark Age is the proper home for Macbeth. It could be Scotland's or Japan's, but either way should be in a time where such a tale could be believed, when the social constraints of civilization were that much weaker, and race memories of the caves and trees that much fresher. If it can be set in dark, misty forests, so much the better. You could never set Macbeth in a discotheque. Or, you shouldn't anyway.

When we we adapt a text, we submit ourselves to the will of the text, not the other way around. Hubris will not serve us well.

(Of course, the moment I post all this, no fewer than two major anachronistic Macbeths pop up in London, and I found yet a third in my local library. Well, I never said it never happened. . .)

Tuesday, February 27, 2018


I mustn’t let another post go by before I say a few words about the passing of Ursula K. LeGuin. Though, like with the passing of any great writer, or indeed any great person, there is very little I can say that somebody smarter hasn’t already said better. Nevertheless, I will try.



                It would also be impossible to overuse the adjective “wise” here, for there’s really no other way to describe her work: wisdom suffused every word, every line, every paragraph. Reading a LeGuin book was like visiting a guru – a real one, at least the ideal of one, as opposed to the hosts of self-help charlatans clogging the shelves out there. I’ve always maintained there is more to be learned from one good novel than from a whole-shelf full of self-help tomes, and no one proved it better than LeGuin. You couldn’t read a LeGuin book without feeling you’d learned something. I confess The Telling was beyond my meager powers, but the Earthsea books, the Left Hand of Darkness, The Lathe of Heaven, and innumerable short stories and novellas spoke to what it was to be human. 



                That is incredibly vague, and arguably it is no more than what great books and great art are supposed to do. But when it came to dealing with the Big Questions, be it coming to terms with death, or navigating gender/sex differences[1], or the nature of reality vs. memory, LeGuin got closer than most. She was as wise as any great philosopher or spiritual teacher. That she did it mainly within speculative or fantasy settings should blunt many a book snob’s disdain for lowly “genre” fiction; that she could no less profound writing for young people exposes Martin Amis’ idiocy concerning such things: snobs and hypocrites all, LeGuin stood them on their head and beat them at their own game. 



                Now I do have a bit of a confession to make: I did not know what to make of the Earthsea books when I first read them in grade school. They weren’t quite Dungeons and Dragons enough for my pre-teen tastes. Only later did I come to realize that the psychological adventure could be just as exciting as the physical one, and the metaphorical battle as gripping as the literal one. For LeGuin, fantasy was not an escape from reality but an embrace of it – an opportunity to explore human beings in different surroundings. This is the purpose of myth-making: human desires and anxieties writ large and given form.



                In these ever more foolish times, the loss of wise minds is felt ever more keenly. When the world is governed by buffoons who could have been villains in any one of LeGuin’s novels, one laments that it was she and not they who had to go. But it’s not like she left us unprepared: a massive bibliography that even Wikipedia only selectively covers leaves us no excuse. The student can’t cling to the teacher forever. We have to find our own way. But we’re wiser now than we might have been.



                  







  









[1] She obviously had no patience for gender stereotyping, or the crushing social expectations based on them. I don’t think though she would support the notion that we’re all neuters deep down – the yin and yang model seemed more her style. Like so much, sex seemed a question of balance.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Margaret Atwood and the problematic feminists. . .



                So, I’m in the middle of a very good book by the Dutch journalist Frank Westerman, Engineers of the Soul: In the Footsteps of Stalin’s Writers. It is excellent. But I’m not done yet, so this blog will not be about that. There are two lessons – reminders really – that I can take from it:


1)      Novelists will always piss off ideologues.


2)      Revolutionaries often eat their own.


The most dedicated, idealistic and genuine Bolsheviks were the first to go in Stalin’s purges. Trotsky himself wasn’t safe. And even useful novelists were considered deadly enemies…


I thought about this while reading Margaret Atwood’s op-ed in the Globe and Mail, “Am I a Bad Feminist?” I was more than a little gobsmacked when I encountered the title. How could the author of The Handmaid’s Tale ask such a question? Well, see above. . .


Atwood you see, had the temerity to defend due process, the presumption of innocence, and her insistence on knowing the facts before making a judgement. (Specifically, in the case of UBC professor Steven Galloway, accused of a crime, exonerated by a judge, by dismissed by UBC anyway). Here’s what she says:




A couple days later the Globe carried a response co-written by Baily Reid, Erica Gee and Erica Iffil of the Bad and Bitchy podcast. Atwood is not necessarily a “bad feminist” they say, but a “problematic one”. Here’s what they wrote: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/well-are-you-a-bad-feminist/article37609948/


You may make up your own mind, but my personal sympathy is not with the bloggers. Atwood is a writer, and so her concern is the human condition in all it’s glorious imperfection and nuance. Reid, Gee, and Iffil are activists (bios here: https://badandbitchy.com/p/about-the-hosts-1493648798/), and their concern is their end-goal, which is change. Atwood’s piece is eloquent, sober, logical and thorough. Reid, Gee and Iffil’s piece is full of buzzwords and slogans. Tellingly, they don’t even try to address Atwood’s concerns (or even acknowledge what she says), and largely prove her own point for her: Galloway’s guilt is taken for granted – guilty because accused, as Atwood puts it. To Atwood's
""A fair-minded person would now withhold judgment as to guilt until the report and the evidence are available for us to see"
They dismiss:
This is the language of right-wing women who have co-opted feminist labels and fathers of accused rapists alike. 

So much for fair-mindedness then, or withholding judgement. Such concerns are only the Privilege of Power, as if Atwood inherited her influence and not earned it through a life-time of writing. But  Reid, Gee, and Iffil have no time for old books either:
"Your feminism is outdated. . .the fact that you, say, wrote dystopian feminist stories during the second wave of feminism may not still qualify you for your annual feminist membership."
In other words, "what have you done for us lately?"

You'll notice a few things implied: 
      a) Reid, Gee, and Iffil are now in charge of accepting, rejecting and revoking membership in the feminist club. 
      b) Margaret Atwood and her ilk have only been co-opting feminism all this time.  
      c) Basing one's opinion on evidence and waiting for evidence to form an opinion are now only right wing concerns. 

You will also notice the "you're with us or you're with the rapist" attitude, which does rather discourage dialogue. 

Atwood has been accused of waging “war” on less powerful women. And her piece has been bafflingly reported as a criticism of the #MeToo movement.  Here’s what she actually writes:

The #MeToo moment is a symptom of a broken legal system. All too frequently, women and other sexual-abuse complainants couldn't get a fair hearing through institutions – including corporate structures – so they used a new tool: the internet. Stars fell from the skies. This has been very effective, and has been seen as a massive wake-up call.


This doesn't sound like criticism to me. She does ask what the step might be, and does caution that there may be risks as well as rewards in the new way of doing things. I let her speak for herself:



 The legal system can be fixed, or our society could dispose of it. Institutions, corporations and workplaces can houseclean, or they can expect more stars to fall





A warning, no? Clearly, things must change – who said they shouldn’t? Certainly not Atwood. It is not wrong to ask what form this change may take, or warn of the possible pitfalls along the way. But in some circles, even asking the question is a form of treachery.
Arguably, I myself am not entitled to an opinion. If it’s any consolation, nobody reads these blogs anyway. Someone – somewhere - might ask why I never chose to address #MeToo until it was time to defend one of its critics. Well, again I maintain this piece was NOT a criticism. And I suppose I still belong to a world where supporting Margaret Atwood is not a misogynistic thing to do. I suppose my alarm bells naturally go off any time a writer is shouted down. Or when slogans are substituted for argument. Or when emotions are blackmailed. I can’t help wondering if Atwood’s most strident critics actually read her piece. Instead, there seems a whole lot of projection, and substitution of what she actually said with a whole lot of what she didn’t say (who, for instance, has been silenced by this piece? ). She did sound a note of caution, and insert a bit of nuance into the proceedings. She did insist on seeing the whole wide big complex picture of reality and the very messy -yes, “problematic” – role that people – mere humans, play in it. Which is exactly what writers are supposed to do.





Which brings me back to Westerman’s book. Ideologues don’t like novelists. They don’t see things the same way. They almost always end up clashing. If authoritarianism can creep up on us from the likes of Trump, it can also creep in from the opposite direction, from the well meaning and the good-intentioned, who, being right, quite logically assume all others to be wrong, and therefore, obstacles to be removed. A sure-fire warning sign is when they turn on writers.


I leave the last word to Atwood herself. 

“Fiction writers are particularly suspect because they write about human beings, and people are morally ambiguous. The aim of ideology is to eliminate ambiguity.