Thursday, 14 June 2018

The Inevitability of Politics

I have always voted, and at the age of 17, even campaigned for Liberal candidate Mel Hurtig in Edmonton. He lost by a landslide to a career politician whose major claim to fame was the two months he spent as the House of Commons speaker who refused to allow an emergency debate on the American deployment of Bomarc missiles on Canadian soil - thus bringing the minority Conservative government crashing down. 
I lost respect for politics and most politicians, at around the time that Hurtig made his unmemorable exit - an attitude that my eight month stint working for the government in BC in the nineties failed to change. I remember two different Social Credit ministers during my short time there, and neither of them impressed me as people who cared about anything beyond getting elected and appointed to cabinet in the first place. I guess they wanted to be perceived by the electorate as doing a good job, but not enough to, you know, actually do a good job. They were surprisingly ignorant of the issues – leaving that sort of ‘detail’ to their Deputy Ministers and Communications departments. Once again, my light brush with politics left me disaffected and scornful. In a world run by big business, politicians tend to be ineffective at best, complicit or corrupt at worst.
In 2004, I started publishing a magazine to help newcomers settle in Canada. It was worthwhile venture that actually did help Canadian newcomers to find resources and get settled in Canada - and it was recognized as a good idea by a number of Liberal cabinet ministers. The Immigration Minister, Judy Sgro, was a good hearted, open-minded person who did her job well. The future Premier of Ontario, Kathleen Wynne, was doing a great job of representing one of the most ethnically diverse ridings in the country - which was just down the street from my magazine's office. Support and goodwill abounded, from all levels of government. But, despite my efforts to keep the publication studiously non-partisan, everything went to hell shortly after Stephen Harper’s PC’s took power in Ottawa.  Seeing first hand the ephemeral nature of politics did nothing to assuage my previous negative feelings.
All the while, my fiction remained completely unaffected by politics. I never had the urge to write a political science fiction story in the vein of 1984. I was never tempted to write anything didactic or allegorical like Animal Farm. I never ventured into imaginary politics as in fantasy books like The Goblin Emperor – or write works that were innately political, like most of Guy Gavriel Kay’s fiction.
But there comes a time when politics becomes – if not impossible – then, at least, unwise to ignore. Books written during the rise and and for quite awhile after the fall of the Nazi regime in Germany could not help but be aware of human rights and human rights abuses. Lots of allegorical books and stories were written. In a charged political climate, fiction can’t help but be effected by the pervading mood, tensions, and concerns of the times. During and after the rise and fall of the Third Reich, fiction tended to be deeply philosophical – examining the vagaries of human nature and the human condition. Wilder, Sartre,  Hemingway, Ayn Rand, Camus all wrote bestsellers at the start of that era. Much work of the time dealt, at least allegorically with issues affecting the world.  A great deal of the fiction dealt with the theme of overcoming adversity, and a few books, like John Steinbeck’s 1942 novel, The Moon is Down, offered a slight variation and commentary on real world events.
A similar effect happened during  the cold war, with a sense of paranoia and distrust running through many of the most popular books and movies of the time. The cold war went of for long enough that much of the fiction published at the end of the span dealt directly with themes like espionage, nuclear threat and other cold war issues.
With the modern swing toward instant news online and rampant self publishing, political preoccupations and issues start coming to  the fore almost as soon as incidents happen and political concerns take over public consciousness.
It was bad enough when the worst aspects of politics were weak kneed and corrupt politicians, but now that celebrity, notoriety and big business have slopped all over the political spectrum, we have politics driven by ego, personal profit and extreme narcissism. We see the rise of politicians who could potentially make Hitler look like a boy scout. All this at a time when the world is at a tipping point that there is no coming back from. This is, unavoidably, going to affect every aspect of current literature and preoccupy, or at least distract, every artist sharing in this reality. Anyone who cares and humanity or the state of the world – if not already political – is going to get that way.

So much for being non-political.

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