Writing and Politics: A Gordian Knot

No one encourages you to take action quite like the Lorax.

Image and quote retrieved from 10 Dr. Seuss Quotes Everyone Should Know

As you may have realized, I’m a liberal. It’s no offense to my conservative readers but I just have more liberal tendencies in my political and social views. All writers have very strong political stances, whether they’re liberal or conservative. More often than not, in one way or another, these views surface in their works. These works, in turn, offend people. Not everyone but people who don’t share the views the writer has expressed. It’s just how it is. You can’t please everyone. However, people usually take their displeasure out on the writer and their other works–even works that they (the readers) had enjoyed. Sometimes they even burn the books. With this alienation of readers, an important question rises for the writer: should writing and politics be separated?

The answer seems simple. If a writer doesn’t want to lose readers, he/she should stay out of politics, keep it out of their work. After all, the best solution is to make your writing accessible to everyone, right?

In reality it’s not that black-and-white.

A visual representation of the Gordian Knot, retrieved from ReaMedica

I liken this situation to the Gordian Knot. For those who aren’t familiar with the story, here’s a link to the Wikipedia entry. References to the Gordian Knot are used to indicate a simple solution to a complex problem, usually through a loophole or thinking out of the box.

What most people don’t think about is the effect that Alexander the Great’s “solution” had on the Gordian Knot. He destroyed it. A beautifully complex knot that had been there for ages, safeguarding the town’s prized possession, was utterly destroyed in a matter of seconds without any consideration to the work put into tying it. Alexander got what he wanted but sacrificed the town’s defining feature, a mark of their heritage.

I see a similar problem with the supposedly “simple” solution to writing and politics.

Writing and politics have a rich, elaborately intertwined history. Plato, Aristotle, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Mark Twain, Sui Sin Far, George Orwell, Margaret Atwood, Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison, J.K. Rowling, the list of “political” writers is endless. Even Dr. Seuss’s books have strong political influence. (Don’t believe me? Re-read The Lorax.) The written word has always been and will always be the strongest tool for swaying political beliefs, which is why so many people attempt to censor it.

Essays, nonfiction, fiction, and poetry have all been used to express someone’s political views. Even playwrights and screenwriters channel their inner politicians when writing. Why? Because politics are universal, something that we can’t escape even if we try.

No matter your gender or gender identity, sexuality, religion, nationality, ethnicity, race, age, income level, what have you, politics affect everyone’s life. Every part of human life, both public and private, is politicized: our jobs, our stations in life, our social lives, how we treat others, how others treat us, our religions, our cultures, whom we love and marry, the color of our skin, our bodies, our identities. Politics bombard us in print, on the radio, on TV, and in our everyday conversations. They make our lives better, they make our lives worse, they make our lives complicated. It’s no wonder politics worm their way into our writing, even subconsciously.

More importantly, politics are tangled with human morality. We claim that our political affiliations come from our stances on economics, labor, foreign policy, separation of church and state, or something similar, but the reasons all boil down to our morals. Our morals determine how we approach social and economic problems. Our individual senses of right and wrong tell us what we think the perfect society would be, a vision which tries to be realized in our politics.

Morality is an intricate part of writing and themes in writing, and so it’s only logical that politics play into them as well.

Our political beliefs influence every part of our stories. They change how we portray characters, which events we highlight, our endings, etc. As part of human relations, they serve as the perfect source of tension, even in fantasy and science fiction. They make the written word interesting. In turn, the written word spreads political beliefs. Separating writing and politics would only detract from the work.

Thanks to the current political environment in the U.S., Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale has become even more popular. People from all walks of life watch the TV show based on it. Rather than rejecting politics due to backlash, writers must embrace and nurture their messages.

Image retrieved from a review on One-elevenbooks.

If we can’t take politics out of writing, what should we do about the would-be book burners? The best thing is to remain calm. Don’t fan the flame. Instead, offer to explain your point of view to them. Open a friendly dialogue free of name-calling and hatred. The only way we can turn this world into a world for all people is to understand each other’s perspective. If things get too heated, walk away. Don’t let them drag you down to their level. Most importantly, take the time and read works created by people with views opposing yours. You will probably find yourself hating what they say, but at least you tried to understand their views. An informed argument is better than ignorant, hateful silence.

Don’t stop writing or remove political influence from your works because people criticize your views. If every writer were to remove politics from their work, we wouldn’t have any stories, poems, essays, plays, etc. At the very least we wouldn’t have anything worth reading.


Designed by Stephanie Hoogstad circa 2011

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