“I don’t agree with what you say and I will defend to the death the abuse and vitriol you receive for saying it.” — Godfrey Elfwick
Ten years ago I took a job teaching high school. And I can tell you, if you’re coming into that sort of thing through some kind of lateral entry program, you’re liable to have a very tough row to hoe. There were maybe ten of us “noobs” in the beginning. The guy across the hall from me that was particularly kind to me in those first couple of weeks? He’d neglected to mention to the administrators that he was an ex-con and just disappeared one day. Half of the doe-eyed idealists that came in with me were gone within six weeks. They just couldn’t take the stress. And that smart English teacher with a thing for Lobachevsky? Three-quarters through the year she ended up taking a better paying job at a non-profit. In the end, I think only two of us made it through the whole year.
The thing that really got to me about the experience was the knowledge that all it took was a single misstep and I would not only be fired, but I’d also be on the six o’clock news. I could grind through the day-to-day routine, but I never really came to grips with just how precarious my position was. Once when I asked the students to clear their desks for a test a young lady insisted on leaving her gigantic purse out. When a persistent request that she comply devolved into argument, every cell phone in the class was instantly out and recording my every move. And that in and of itself wouldn’t have been so bad if not for the fact that every interaction I’d had with the school administrators indicated that they not only didn’t have my back, but they’d gladly throw me to the wolves if I ever became inconvenient to them.
In light of this, it was not hard for me to move on to a career that required far less interaction with bureaucracies and/or the public. When I successfully landed a job that paid far more than what I would have made as a teacher, I thought I had gotten away from that strange social dynamic altogether. At any rate, I can’t remember anyone picking a fight with me and recording it on their cell phones since then. And when I chose to home school my kids, I figured I had gotten away from the Bizarro World mentality altogether. Life has been good on the whole.
But then I noticed that that pressurized dynamic was starting to permeate other industries. I don’t remember feeling much in the way of pity for Don Imus when there was an uproar over an off color remark that he’d made. However, the antics surrounding figures ranging from Brendan Eich to Matt Taylor and Tim Hunt were another matter. These were guys that were making real contributions to science and technology… and they were being subjected to witch hunts like something out of the McCarthy era over a campaign donation, a shirt, and a joke. In all cases, none of them had made the sort of mistakes I’d been afraid of making as a public school teacher. It didn’t make any sense.
But while most of us just want to do our jobs, take care of our families, and get a break from having to hear about the gory details of some of these culture war incidents, it’s another thing when this sort of thing begins to creep into your hobbies. The one refuge we have from this is under siege. Consultants to the latest edition of Dungeons & Dragons come under fire. Satirical games get banned from One Book Shelf. Apple pulls war games from their app store due to their use of the Confederate flag. Anything and everything is liable to be declared “problematic” at any moment and even creators that themselves have politically correct leanings are not immune to the mobs.
Which brings us to this book.
If you are not already concerned about the trends I highlight above, I can go ahead and tell you… this book will not change your mind. But if you want to know what the common denominator is between everything I’m talking about here, this book is the only game in town. If you want to know what you can do to protect yourself when your turn in the hot seat comes, this book is the best resource currently available. If you wonder just what exactly is wrong with the sort of people that seem to live for these bizarre puritanical crusades, this book will give you insight into just how they think. And if you are interested in pushing back against this sort of thing, this book contains a coherent strategy for exactly that.
Of course, if you are weary of hearing about the Scalzi/Day feud, Gamergate, and Sad Puppies… then yes, three of the ten chapters are going to be a bit tedious for you. But even if you’ve been following those skirmishes compulsively over the past few months you’re liable to pick up more than a few tidbits that never made it into the news stories about them. Even if you have no intentions of jumping into the culture wars yourself, this book is a good read. Check it out.
Disclosure: I have a column over at Castalia House. I also was included on the Sad Puppies slate.