‘I’m sorry to be the one to tell you,’ a friend of mine said when they rang me on a Monday morning ten days into lockdown. (I’m using the genderless pronoun not because this friend rejects binaries – lately they’ve begun to embrace binaries on steroids – but to foreground their generic mindset.)
When I started this blog 11 years ago, I envisioned a clearinghouse for ideas beyond the scope of my fiction. Since then, my fiction output has slowed, due to a mix of health issues, family responsibilities, and disenchantment with Oz publishing. I’ve also begun to identify awareness of the latter behind my self-censoring tendencies. Of course all writers self-edit in varying degrees – they need to consider their readers – but ideally it would occur later rather than earlier in the creative journey from conception to realisation.
Over the last several years I’ve written a trilogy of novellas, each one a little riskier than the last, which isn’t to say more risqué or hardcore. But I have begun to accept that not all of my narrative instincts comply with current standards of political correctness. Which doesn’t make my content racist, sexist, heterosexist etc. It just means that if any characters exhibit un-PC tendencies, I don’t feel obliged to flag my authorial censure. I just present them and leave readers freedom to question (or judge) as they feel the need.
So how’s that working out for me? Well, my words weren’t inciting a bidding war before, but as long as they didn’t transgress certain taboos, I could only guess my themes weren’t sufficiently topical, or typical (What authors/titles do you/yours most resemble?), or my web presence was too minimal, my social media influence nonexistent. Lately, though, my perspective on my exclusion has changed. I no longer care that my work is ignored. But I do care that I live in, or on the fringe of, a society where free speech (whether toxic or not) is increasingly getting censored, and that as we become more dependent on corporate-controlled platforms to air or share ideas and information, these platforms are becoming progressively narrower. For example, as technologically connected humanity confronts the crisis of a global pandemic, to which the corporate response has been impressively prompt (where’s a comparable effort to arrest global warming?), anyone contradicting government policy in the West (policy now inseparable from Big Pharma’s profit agenda) is swiftly suppressed, their content deplatformed, their cred (if they ever had any) attacked. Dissent is demonised. Because dissent is healthy only until we talk Public Health.
And the West, distracted in its quest for freedom (decadence? hedonism?) and chronically addicted to convenience, is ill equipped at best to resist totalitarianism. Dare I mention the V word? I’m sure you know what it is. Vaccine. There, I’ve written it (yes: I write, longhand, before typing these rants in Microsoft Word, which, with its basic US vocab and rules of syntax for dummies, tends to adorn my sentences with zigzagging red and green lines: so parental!). So, what does this emergent virulent online censorship tell us? Well, internet users are being led like lambs to the (metaphorical) slaughter; that so many seem to have lost the knack of independent thought, to the extent that they ever evinced it, isn’t the issue.
Which reminds me… What was my friend, the one who rang on a Monday, sorry to tell me? Had someone died? Not yet, but essentially we’re all doomed, and not because of climate change or war between superpowers. No, They – the ones who run the world – have fast-tracked their agenda. My friend has done months of ‘research’.
My research while at uni trained me to distinguish between scholarship and rumour/opinion. Anyone with half a brain can type a search term (or part of one) into Google or click on a link that leads to information. That’s why my friend leans heavily on recommendations via their networks to know which videos to watch in their quest to be across the big picture. Which means they’ve been sampling a range of alternative grand narratives – some preached by religious movements, others by autodidactic self-styled messiahs (like David Icke) – and they’ve constructed their own grand narrative, fortified with contradictions, but sorting wheat from chaff seems to be a key theme. My friend believes those who can keep up with the ‘quickening’ (a new-age concept likewise recycled from the Bible) will transcend the shitstorm this pandemic has unleashed.
Can I see evidence of humanity getting sorted into two camps – of higher and lower frequencies – due to some spiritual agency? No, just a media managing information in such a way that shades of grey disappear and all we hear about is, on the one hand, reassuring (even if subtly coerced and fearful) conformity and, on the other, violent extremism or religious nuttiness. Balanced or ambivalent perspectives fall through the cracks; their proponents threaten authority and those accustomed to trusting it, yet lack the scapegoat scope of outright wackos, as our government attempts to divide and conquer by promising gold stars for the jabbed and detention for the rest.
‘I’m sorry to be the one to tell you,’ my friend kept saying, despite my insistence that I’d been hearing about the New World Order for years (one world government, cashless society, microchipping, bye-bye privacy). It was as if they’d misplaced their ears. And subsequent if briefer contact suggests this is the new normal: allusions, in condescending tones, to spiritual forces, clued-up if undefined online sources, enhanced intuition – their faith in the lore of their own secret clique as resolute as the schemes of the evil elite they credit. I wish they could get it out of their system by reading some kick-arse dystopian fiction; I’m already missing them, but hey…
Surely the choice to get jabbed or not relates less to anyone’s spiritual state (or their sense, if you buy the hype, of social responsibility) than to their personal history? Bad early experiences with mainstream medicine set me on a road less travelled in my teens, so I’ve learned to support my immune system vs. resorting to vaccines. When a flu shot became a condition of seeing my mother, an aged-care resident, I made an exception, two years running. But if I decline to volunteer for a worldwide genetic experiment, with Buckley’s of compensation should unplanned/unpublicised side effects rear their heads later, it reflects my worries re government corruption, wariness of profit-driven Big Pharma, and weariness of asymmetrical fact reporting.
If the public could access more diverse and nuanced information, as is an option, relatively speaking, with climate change (if only because we’ve known of its existence for so long that the story has spun too far out of control to facilitate accord), would a return to the lost world of ‘normal’ be possible? Maybe not, but it might reorient our sinking ship towards the distant, mist-swathed shores of democracy.