Well, this was a surprise.
John says most of my objections are “answered” here but I’m not so sure.
For the record, I stand by everything I said before. I don’t think any of his responses prove anything except that he had in mind a lot of the critiques that said before he wrote his piece and that he wasn’t aiming to be judgmental as I thought.
I’ll sum up the the link of reactions and responses to his article for my fellow slackers:
- Unadulterated praise
- Adulterated praise
- A long conversation between him and a conspiracy theorist (which I skimmed to be honest)
And that’s about it.
There’s some good stuff in there and John makes some great qualifications throughout and even repeats them a few times just for good measure. I appreciate that and I also appreciate John’s quick and polite response given that (in retrospect) I think I was a little too harsh on him and his essay.
I mean I still stand by what I wrote, but I could’ve stood to also wrote it a little nicer.
Anyways I’ll try not to repeat that mistake.
I’ll go over this briefly, but basically most of my problems with Johns’ responses can be summed up by this:
I really wanted to make my point strongly so I included as few qualifications as possible. Basically I didn’t want to pull my punches.
This is in response to the nearly ubiquitous point that I made: John’s original essay seems blind to a rather alarming degree about the nature of social privilege in not having kids being able-bodied, being white, being male, etc.
John’s frequent response is to:
- Admit that it’s true
- Say he knew this before but
- Declined to include it for [insert writing related reason here]
So since John didn’t want to pull his punches, I won’t pull mine either.
That’s not how writing works.
To be clear, I don’t think John is a bad writer and I think the article is finely crafted and it’s obviously sparked a lot of response from a lot of people. Unlike other things I’ve reviewed on this site it isn’t boring or mediocre and for someone who shares John’s values (as I do, at least in part) it can certainly hold practical value.
And there’s a lot of good things to be said about all of that!
But when literally most of your audience says, “Hey man, this is a problem.”
The correct response isn’t, “Yeah, I know and I knew that beforehand. But I just wanted to have my article be as inflammatory as possible.”
The correct response is, “Yeah, I knew that and you’re right that maybe I should have included that. Maybe if I had, a lot of people would’ve felt better about my essay, would’ve understood I had taken that issue into account and this would’ve felt more comfortable sharing this around or publishing this on their site. Which would’ve given me more exposure!”
For example, I would’ve happily republished this article on my site (not that I’m some sort of mega star or whatever, I don’t think that) if that point had been included. Adding qualifications doesn’t make your writing weaker it makes your audience’s understanding of your understanding deeper and thus allows them to connect on deeper levels with you.
Which, I feel is the general point of writing as well.
My point is, if I saw some white dude talking about how great eating out of dumpsters and telling their boss to go fuck themselves, I am going to presume they really have no idea what they’re talking about. But if they qualify it and say something like, “Well as a white person I know it’s easy for me to say but…” then maybe I’ll still think it’s not a great thing to say (why flaunt your privilege?) but at least I know you’re cognizant of external constraints on other folks.
Everyone knows that there’s a lot of places I love laziness but to be blunt, writing isn’t one of them.
If you’ve got some problems or objections you think folks might make of your piece then you should do your best to include it, this way people can focus more on the good than the bad. And speaking from my experience with John’s essays, I probably would’ve liked it enough to not only publish it on here but to speak some level of moderate praise.
I mean, it’s competently written, it has some great ideas within it and it touches on some themes that are (obviously) near and dear to my heart. There’s a lot of winning ingredients in John’s essay, but a level of humility in terms of privilege analysis isn’t one of them. So it just makes John come off as as really naive when it comes to folks struggles.
In reality John isn’t naive to these struggle and I don’t even disagree that people of color, lower-class folks, disabled folks, trans folks and other people in dis-privileged groups could do what John is talking about. But the problem with solely focusing on class politics (as everyone from state-socialists to anarcho-socialists are guilty of) is you tend to exclude issues of race, gender, disability and other issues.
This is why intersectionality is so crucial to a lot of my own analysis.
There’s a few passages John says that are worth highlighting to drive home my points:
As you and others have said this lifestyle isn’t really practical if children are involved. And the essay is really geared toward people who have not yet come into that kind of obligation. I’m not trying to convince everyone who reads this to live like me. I’m just trying to point it out as a feasible option for people who are considering their options.
The problem here is that a lot of people didn’t find this clear but instead of saying, “Well maybe I should have included these points in my essay so folks could understand I had this knowledge.” John just clarifies his beliefs after the fact, which seems like a very inconvenient and time-consuming process, honestly.
Wouldn’t it just make more sense to include these disclaimers in the essay somehow? If that means you have to “pull your punches” then I think that’s a sacrifice worth making. Because writing isn’t about being as “punchy” as possible (save that for the title!) it’s about being as clear, precise and thoughtful as possible. And all of these things are constrained when we don’t share our frames of references, our limitations and base of knowledge.
One of my favorite parts of studies is the limitations part because it’s basically the researchers saying,
“Yeah, we’re only human. Here’s some stuff we probably didn’t do as well as we should have but here’s also why it may not be a big deal. But on the off chance that it is a big deal then we’ve got some recommendations for y’all so you can improve on our work!”
I wish John had done that more, may have saved him some time.
That said, I think the principles of the essay can stand to a degree even if you have children. One does not have to drive a really expensive car just because one can afford one. One does not have to live in La Jolla even they can afford it. One can drive an old Honda and save a lot of money. And there are nice less expensive places in Chula Vista where I lived for a couple years. Living there saves a lot of money. With that money one saves one would have more time to be a human being, or….more time for their kids.
I totally agree with this and John makes this point fairly eloquently.
But then…why didn’t he say this from the beginning?
I know this is easier said by me than done by parents. And I will be the first to admit there may be some naivete in this because I’m not a parent and I haven’t felt the pressures parents feel. One guy sent me back a description of one set of parents who were actually trying to live like me, with a child. It sounded pretty harrowing.
Right, this is why it’s important to check your privilege.
You raise another important point at the end of your response when you mention workaholics.
In my initial message to you I tried to make it clear that I’m not judging other people’s choices, and I want to reiterate that. I want to be a writer. That’s my art. For me to write I have to live like this. There are other people, however, who’s art is actually a lucrative occupation. Say medicine or something. When they practice their art they are going to make a lot of money. I have no problem with that. And I have no problem with them working 70 hours a week.
This is awesome and it’s something I’ve been saying for a while. Wanna work 70 hours a week curing cancer and love doing it? Go for it. And make sure that you’re doing it because you want to and not because you have few options.
Again though, John makes this point in a great and informal sense and it hardly takes a passage.
You know what I’m going to say next so let’s just move on…
The essay is really talking about people who work that much in jobs they hate. I’m just saying they don’t have to work that way. I’m just saying they can probably live more cheaply and find time for their soul. I actually clock quite a few hours a week if you add up the time I spend working as a janitor and the time I spend on my writing.
And that’s awesome, John!
…But next time could you try to pull your punches a bit more?
Also, my point about staying away from romantic fiction writing holds no matter what.
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$1 or $5 is plenty to help me pull my punches (or not)!
Thanks to John for his article and follow-up!