Much has happened in the two months since I last published an article on this blog.
My wife and I moved ourselves and our seven children from Sidney, Montana to Greeley, Colorado. I started a new job. We made lots of new friends and acquaintances.
My mother-in-law passed away, prompting a trip to Ohio for our whole family to attend her funeral. And my paternal grandmother also departed – though for that funeral, only my younger brother and I drove back to Montana.
In any event, a great deal of life has been happening. And as more life happens in the space of time since I last wrote, I feel less like I have time to write. What’s more, as more time passes since I last wrote, I feel rustier and more pent up, and more anxious at the thought I may never return to writing.
Now perhaps that sounds silly. Two months is hardly forever unless you’re being a child about things. And perhaps I am. But here I will confess that I have honestly considered what would happen if I never wrote again.
Moving provides an opportunity to reinvent ourselves. This is a new state, with new work, scenery, and friendships. We can decide anew who we want to be and what we want to be about. So is writing what I want to be about, and is a writer who I want to be?
There are at least a couple of reasons to ask, and I don’t feel ashamed to consider the question rather than dismissing it out of hand. For starters, writing about the kinds of things I prefer to write about seems a risky business these days.
Consider something that happened to me this week.
In lieu of writing my own articles these months, I have contented myself sharing content from outlets I find to be trustworthy, insightful, or interesting. One such was Intellectual Takeout’s piece titled “‘Boys Are Stupid; Girls Are Awesome’ – Most TV Shows & Movies Today.” And so I shared this article to the Facebook page for this blog.
The big idea of this piece, if you can’t tell from the title, is that quite a lot of today’s entertainment media is written, acted, directed, and produced in such a way as to elevate female leads to an almost mythical ideal of strength, competence, and wisdom. Meanwhile, male leads are often presented as bumbling, reckless, foolish, oafish, always needing to be bailed out and told what to do by the female leads.
Why, you may ask, would this become the trend? In a word, ‘feminism.’ To make up for supposed oppression of women by the patriarchy for all human history up to this point, men must now be brought low and women elevated. It’ll even out eventually, but women must get some revenge before we can have real and equal justice.
Having observed this trend myself, I posted a link to this article to the Facebook page for the blog, then thought no more about it. Imagine my surprise when I received a notification from Facebook saying this post “goes against our Community Standards on hate speech and inferiority.”
Perplexed, I could only assume the line “boys are stupid” in the title had triggered someone accidentally; that, or some hyper-vigilant algorithm had flagged this post by mistake while scanning the site for offensive content.
I appealed the decision, took a screenshot and posted that as a photo to my personal Facebook page. Again, however, I was told the content would not be visible to others because it went against Community Standards for “hate speech.”
And then the photo I had taken – the screenshot – was also flagged just like the actual article on this blog’s Facebook page. So I appealed both decisions. The picture on my personal page was not put back up, but Facebook ended up relenting on the Intellectual Takeout link on the blog’s Facebook page. So that is now visible again.
After discussing this situation with several friends and family members, it seems increasingly implausible that an algorithm flagged my post. If it had, other people who had also shared the article would presumably have had their posts taken down as well. And they would presumably also receive notifications from Facebook saying said content went against Community Standards regarding “hate speech.” I know other people who shared the article, however. And those people did not have the same experience.
This leads us to assume that someone somewhere decided to pick on the Facebook page for this blog, reporting or flagging an article which someone would have to be silly to conclude was hate speech against boys. And yet perhaps they did conclude that, even so.
Harassment or Careless Readers
But on that point, you might ask, why would someone pick on this blog specifically in such a silly way? I can think of a few possibilities.
Perhaps they saw other things we had written and published, and very much disliked them. Or perhaps they loathed the Intellectual Takeout article for being anti-feminist. In reporting this specific content as hate speech, they might have hoped to punish whoever had provoked their angry, frustrated, or embarrassed feelings.
Another possibility is that someone really did mistake the point of the article as denigrating boys. The phrase “boys are stupid” would be hate speech, I suppose, if it were being spoken as a statement of fact instead of characterizing a perilous, toxic undercurrent in popular culture.
But in this latter scenario, I cannot imagine the person reporting us to Facebook having actually read the article itself. In fact, I have doubts they even finished reading the title of it.
Yet as ridiculous as it sounds, I have too much experience writing content which received criticisms demonstrating total ignorance of the actual claims, arguments, and evidence laid out in the work itself. It does happen.
I will tell you more. Such experiences of both kinds – irrational hostility because my writing offended someone, and a failure to even engage the material before criticizing it based on the title alone – these do not reward the time and attention one must invest to produce good writing. In other words, it’s very discouraging to pour yourself into a piece only to have people abuse and dismiss you, apparently without even considering what you were saying.
This fact alone has a time or two turned me off writing, at least for a span. But there is more now.
Principles and Practicality
When my wife and I began telling people we were moving to Colorado, particularly in conservative Eastern Montana, many people asked if we were worried about how liberal the state is. We certainly were but would take our chances.
That said, we have been somewhat cautious – or I have been for me – to not overshare opinions and positions on controversial social and political topics. If someone else brings them up and I have some idea where they’re coming from and what their principles are, then I will show my hand too.
We are still establishing ourselves, though. And social and political positions stated directly can earn you enemies. And when they don’t do that, they can at least create distance as other people realize you and they are not on the same page. And being without support in a foreign land, when you already have some idea that its politics are not your politics – that’s risky business.
On the other hand, it’s even riskier business to stand for nothing, having no principles, and keeping what you believe is good and true quiet indefinitely because you’re afraid of being penalized for it. Everyone behaving that way guarantees the failure and defeat of what is good and true by what is base, false, and malicious.
In a moral dilemma of whether to live according to principle or pragmatism, we must at a certain point realize the impracticality of creating a moral vacuum.
The gist of Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals is that the real radical doesn’t declare openly all his ultimate goals. He doesn’t dress trashy, or let his hair grow long, or stop bathing as a way of telling society how little he cares for its expectations. No, the real radical cuts his hair, keeps his face shaved, dresses real nice, and keeps it on the down-low while he builds credibility for himself and his cause. He pursues change incrementally and methodically.
“If you give a mouse a cookie, he’ll ask for a glass of milk,” as the saying goes.
Now as much as Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals turned my stomach, and still does, there is a kind of wisdom to what he says. And we are called to “be wise as serpents and harmless as doves,” as Jesus said.
Additionally, Rules for Radicals calls to mind that Sun Tzu tells us famously in The Art of War that “All warfare is deception.”
This begs a question, though. Is it right to behave this way? Is it proper and virtuous and good to accomplish change by what seems like deception?
By way of answer, I am reminded of what wise King Solomon left us in Ecclesiastes 7:16 – “Be not overly righteous, and do not make yourself too wise. Why should you destroy yourself?”
Perhaps this kind of scenario is what Solomon had in mind. And perhaps this is what Jesus meant about serpents and doves, and by teaching in parables. Sometimes it is wiser and better to be subtler, quieter, more cautious, and to play the long game rather than martyring yourself in the short-term to no discernible benefit.
The Long Game
And here I will reveal what my long game looks like. My writing is not the end unto itself. Rather, my writing is a means to the end of accomplishing change. And the change I want to see is first spiritual, then personal, social, and political.
And when I say I want to see change along those lines, I do not mean that any change will do. Rather, I want to see us individually and collectively transformed into a people who honor God in word and deed, and in the thoughts and feelings and meditations of our internal worlds.
That is, I want to see us pursuing righteousness with pure hearts and clean hands, and with lips that don’t speak corruptly, maliciously, or dishonestly.
Toward this end, I write.
But more importantly, I pursue this end also by means of living – or at least aspiring to live – according to the same principles I’m espousing.
As the coffee mug I picked up at the Denver International Airport some years ago puts it: “Be the change you want to see in the world.”
So I moved my wife and children from Sidney, Montana to Greeley, Colorado. Here we will find doctors to solve my wife’s health problems, and will pursue more robust and diverse educational opportunities for our seven children. And here, God willing, I will continue to advance my career, establishing my brand to secure a good future for myself and my posterity for decades to come.
But I must also continue to write, or else what kind of world will my children and wife and myself find ourselves inhabiting in future decades?
Perhaps it would be wiser in some sense to forgo writing amidst other concerns. Yet I must listen to Solomon and not make myself too wise.