In publishing and academia, you see people at a great remove from reality. They frequently have no idea what purpose is, what hardship is, what suffering is, what real work is, what it is like to try and press on in hardship, without hope, or little hope. They live lives of ease, for no stakes, with little risk. They've always been provided for, had whatever they needed--and often not what they earned--given to them. I'll give you an example of a typical academic who is in the publishing community. I saw this on Facebook. A young woman posts a news item of a police station being set on fire in Minneapolis. Now, if you look at this woman's Facebook page, you're not going to see a single black person. She has no black friends. If you comb through the things she likes, you're not going to see Billie Holiday there. You will see the token Roxane Gay book, because people like this view buying such a book as proof of how virtuous they are. This woman--she's young--has a PhD in poetry, as meaningless a thing as one might have in this world. You look at all of the money that went into her so-called education--expensive prep school, expensive Ivy League college, expensive grad school. You look at how damn basic she is, how sheltered her whole life has been. You look at some of her meaningless poems (which were published by her former "mentor"), which are obviously about her, and reading Sylvia Plath, and you fight the urge not to giggle over how cliched they are, the degree of navel-gazing over the inconsequential. They write hardly ever. But they post on Facebook thirty times a day. They don't post anything original, thoughtful, anything that could add any value to someone else's life, make you think. This particular woman, posts her news article about the police station being set on fire, and writes, "Fuck them up." That's typical. I'm seeing it over and over again.
You have to realize--that's the kind of person I deal with. Versions of that person. It is remarkable how similar these people are. There is very little actual identity in publishing and academia. There is little reality, little perspective. There are people who are not things at all, pretending to be so concerned, all so that they can, what? Self-medicate less? Curry favor with each other? It's vapid, simple stuff. They want to kill all cops. That's great. That's a super solution. That will help fix society. And these are people who will whine for six months because they got a hangnail. But they want a society without cops?
This other woman gets on Facebook to say that here is no such thing as a good cop, that every cop is by definition evil. Do you see how stupid these people are? You come along, you have your great work, your accomplishments, you're not from their echo chamber, their sycophantic bubble, their lunch table, and you're a guy, and you're self-made, and you are cooked before you begin. It's bigotry. From these same people who pose as caring people on social media--they give none of this a single thought anywhere else in their lives--and tell you how un-bigoted they are.
There are good people and there are bad people in everything. In some professions, I am sure there are fewer good people than in others. Like publishing, where there are almost none. But there are some. That's called how life works. How humans are. How reality is. Part of the problem with publishing is that you're dealing, often, with people who have no clue how life works or people are or how reality is. That is reflected in their own work, their reaction to work containing any truths, with the echo-chamber idiocy and grandstanding that is the sum total of their Facebook posts, which is commonly the sum total of what they call an identity. You could change anything--if enough of these people were told that drinking all day was how you show the world how great and loving you are, they'd post about drinking all day. The specific cause is meaningless to them. They just need a cause to grab onto. And this is a key--the cause has to have the backing of what constitutes their mob. They could never have a cause on their own. They do not have that in them.
One simple person after another. They had a cough once, on a day in January, and now they're on social media, saying what if it was COVID-19, this is so scary, so dangerous, they fear for their life because of the time they coughed on a Tuesday just after the first of the year. Imagine if any of these people had to go through something truly difficult? They couldn't do it. I don't think they could endure a single week of anything that was not pretty easy.
And you want buildings set on fire? What if your mother had a business on that block and it went up in flames? You're cool with that? What if she was working late and was killed? That's cool, too? For the cause? Look: humans are largely base. Some are not, and sometimes, we find it within ourselves to rise to another level worthy of our humanity. We can do that by how we grow, how we help another to grow--how we truly help another person. But if you believe that groups of people who set things on fire, who destroy, who attack, who hurt, who steal, are not doing these things because they are able to run amuck and do them, if you really think most of those people care about a cause or justice, you don't know how humans work. There is something brutish in many people, and they will get away with what they can get away with.
Putting lives in danger, getting people killed, destroying property, is not a solution. People in their academic sinecures can beat their breasts all they wish with their rah-rah nonsense, but these are often people who nearly fainted at the thought of having to go to gym class. There are ways to take hard lines and do hard things, and do them with aggressiveness, thoroughness, relentless force, that do not involve murder, brutality, arson. That does not make you some Revolutionary War-type hero. What happened in Minnesota was tragic, it was evil. It was murder. I'm also going to say what I said the other day--you don't know. You don't know if a white person could have been murdered on that day, the same way. Because that also happens. Because people can be evil. They can also be racists. Are many of these academics who took about African Americans like they are simple, stupid pets, not racist? Because I find their language offensive and belittling. They often do not speak of people of color as though they were also just people. They condescend. And they also stay in their lily-white worlds, save to buy that Roxane Gay book.
I'm scrolling through the "fuck them up" woman's page--she's probably thirty--and there is nothing here but the cliches and sloganeering. And I think, "Do you ever actually write anything? You're supposed to be this artist, so what are you contributing as an artist to change any of this? What the hell do you do?" This is what she does. And it's all she does, all she ever will do. That's not being a person. It's not being a writer. It's not being one who educates. It's not being someone who helps others. It's not being an artist.
What this kind of person does not know--and they could never accept it; it'd kill them--is that they represent as big a problem in America, in the world, as anyone. They preach one thing, and they live another way. I experience that firsthand. And then I see it, time and again, in thousands and thousands of examples.
You know when I might have said something along those lines of "fuck them up"? When I was a child. When I was fifteen. And stupid. And trying to be edgy. And not really caring about people as much as caring about how I looked. I said stupid things like that. And then I grew up, I tried to be a better person, a smarter person, a wiser person, a person who experienced life in ways that caused me to be honest with who I was, my shortcomings, my failings as a human.
Do you think a great person like Abraham Lincoln, Orson Welles, Billie Holiday, would take to social media right now, if they were alive, and just parrot cliches? Or do you think they'd do something totally different? Do you think they'd be on there saying "fuck them up"? They'd actually be out doing things, in their writings, their work, their art, in their lives.
It's interesting how quickly something changes if someone knows someone. Shows how awful we are at empathy. Let me give you a hypothetical. Let's say this woman had a beloved uncle. Maybe her parents were divorced early, maybe her dad died. And the uncle was a father figure in her life. Meant a lot to her. Gave her away at her wedding. And the uncle is on the police force. His station house is the one that was set on fire in the news item. Do you think there's any way that this woman wouldn't think the exact opposite of what she claims to be thinking now? Of course not. Because she would know and love her uncle. You don't think that there are people like that--maybe not a lot, but some--who hold this particular job? Of course there are. But what someone like this is incapable of is empathy. All they can see is what is between their very narrow blinders. For their very narrow, selfish needs.
There is right and there is wrong in this life. You don't murder people. You don't set buildings on fire. You use your mind, your effort, your time, your energy, you true constancy to what you believe in, to find a better way. Maybe it takes you forty years. Maybe you have to quit your job and get a new one and that makes a dent in the thing. Maybe you set aside marriage and having kids because you are devoted to your cause, and that takes all you have right now. That is how you make change. But that's not easy, is it? That's daunting, isn't it? And maybe, who knows, it happens fast, but you're not even thinking about the clock as much as you are doing what needs to be done. It's not from stupid little bromides on social media, from people who absolute abhor work and rolling up the sleeves and toiling at something for a decade, making headway, never giving up. It's amazing that you can spend half a million dollars on a so-called education, and never have a clue that any of this is true.