Close observation of human behavior can lead to severe depression, but it’s also a never-exhausted source of inspiration for stories if you can keep yourself from giving up on everything, including writing. The same psychological patterns repeat themselves on all scales, from the behavior that leads to wars to discussions on the internet. I wish I were smart enough to illustrate this in a novel or short story, but I’m not.
A ubiquitous pattern, maybe the most important one that keeps people at arm’s length from each other and provides a basis for hatred of the other and justification for wars, is the emotional response to topics that desperately need to be met with reason. A comparatively harmless example of this is currently underway on a forum for writers, in a thread that is now 10 pages long and still going, and becoming ever more acrimonious.
What was the innocent firecracker that turned into a bomb? Someone asked why the site didn’t have a women’s fiction category for submissions. This is a critiquing site, and like any such site, it can be difficult to find the just-right category for your work. Without going into the gory details, I’ll just say that it took less than a page of responses to turn into a gender war. As a woman with no interest in women’s fiction, either reading it or writing it, I’d appreciate such a label. I don’t have a lot of time for critiquing, and the label would make it unnecessary to read the introductory blurb for something that’s only listed as fiction or short story, and that I’m not interested in reading or critiquing. If categories for children and young adults are acceptable, why not women — or men, for that matter?
But no. Clutching their rigid variety of feminism to their breasts, some women found that disgusting and degrading, and a way of warning off potential male readers. Not to mention that it would serve to stereotype anything written by women. I was among the few who tried to keep the discussion on track. Women’s fiction is a standard publishing category. It’s a tool to help people narrow down their search for reading material. There’s no requirement that a writer use it, or that a reader pays attention to it. It’s purely descriptive, not prescriptive.
But the one thing you can always count on, no matter the topic, or how seemingly uncontroversial, any topic can be blindsided by emotional responses that require all-out defense rather than reasoned argument. An emotional response comes from a place that is highly personal and must therefore be defended as if it were the person themself being attacked. Once emotion takes over, rational discussion is impossible.
We see this on every level — politics, national pride, and religion at the highest, and at the lowest, arguments about who is entitled, or permitted, to do what. There was a brief moment when PC thinking (political correctness) seemed to be on the wane, but it is now in full swing again, running wild in away that’s barely short of insane. What you eat, what you wear, doing yoga, what music you listen to — all are being dragged into the black hole of emotionally based PC.
My last comment on the thread was something that had occurred to me while reading it. People’s lives are no longer under their own control, a frightening fact of life that can’t be tolerated for very long. Attempting to define and limit what others are allowed to do is one way of regaining control, even if it’s only an illusion. But the illusion must be maintained if it is to be effective, thus the emotional responses that are incapable of responding to reason.
Welcome to 2017. It’s a mad, mad world.