How About Returning to Modesty?

Young pop stars have figured out that the most extreme, bizarre behavior leads to stardom through notoriety.

Young men, finding their inflated self-images don’t match the way their peers and teachers see them, choose to go out in a blaze of glory, substituting personal infamy – and fame – for personal responsibility.

Another young man, indulged and taught to listen to himself instead of authority his whole life, betrays his oath and walks away from military responsibility, becoming a captive and pawn in an international game. Another man, indulged and praised for his entire life, trades dangerous terrorists purchased for more than fifty American lives for this single dishonorable prisoner.

Things are upside-down. American leaders and schoolchildren alike don’t seem to understand values or the importance of personal integrity. The public story becomes all about random individuals – lumping the non-starring individuals into a sort of Greek chorus, disposable and replaceable. Never mind that they could just as easily have been chosen in the lottery of public esteem.

We have gone from the “Me Generation” to the “Look At Me Generation.” A combination of factors from overly permissive parenting that regards those singleton children as “special snowflakes” to the rise of reality television, a phenomenon in which the most trite and ordinary and even unpleasant person can be a star, have driven a perfect storm of selfishness. While not every young person today regards the world as an audience for his or her special “me” show, far too many of them do.

The symptoms of the disease of selfishness are everywhere. Everyone wants to be the special one, the standout, even though the reality is that most people are ordinary inside, and this has led to an obsession with being extreme in appearance or action. Trying to be an iconoclast, unfortunately, results for most people in just being weird, not exceptional or admirable. Blend this drive with normal teenage impulsiveness, and you get a lot of young people engaging in risky behaviors or endangering others – the knockout game, dangerous selfies, sexual experimentation that goes overboard.

This has deeper consequences for the community as a whole. People who turn inward for meaning are less likely to be fully invested in their communities – selfishness becomes the norm. We end up without enough ordinary people, people with modest goals of having a home and children and love, quiet fulfilling lives. When everyone’s a special snowflake, there is no one left to keep the world running.

“Look at Me” kids make terrible soldiers, teachers, entrepreneurs, parents. They choose goals that are unattainable for their level of talent or expertise. When they aren’t successful right away, they break, self-medicating or finding other extreme ways of getting attention. They no longer understand that losing is part of the game too, that you learn more from mistakes than from doing things right. And they want far more from their communities than they are willing to give.

The odd contradiction in special-snowflakism is that, in making everything all about the self, the individual cedes power over his or her happiness to everyone else. Each snowflake must have an audience, and like a spoiled child, they’ll get that audience by being bad if they can’t get it by being good. Thuggishness becomes acceptable, pointless risk-taking becomes something to be strived for.

Instead of striving for true happiness in their lives, the Look-at-Mes are settling for a shallow sort of iconoclasm, being different on the surface from everyone else – just like everyone else. Like Fruity Pebbles, they all look different but taste exactly the same.

There’s not much we can do to redeem today’s world from special-snowflakization, other than hoping it is rejected because it has become ordinary and boring. But we can work to preventing this next generation from settling for that hollow, brittle self-satisfaction. We can tell stories featuring characters celebrating ordinariness, showing the strength and power in finding and being one’s authentic self instead of an artificial construct designed to get attention.

Look back at the classical heroes, for instance. One way of identifying the guy who’s going to kill the monster and become the kind is by the fact that he’s ordinary. Bilbo and Frodo Baggins drew from that powerful tradition. King Arthur was a fosterling of unknown parentage, and Lancelot was an orphan. Oedipus was abandoned, the million Jacks and Ivans of fairy tales were foolish or the youngest brother or weak. None were special – except through their choices and courage.

We can inoculate our children and audiences against special-snowflakism by giving them heroes like this to look up to, or heroes that go out, do special and brave things – then choose to return to an ordinary life. This once was the attraction of superheroes, the idea that Superman could be this ordinary Clark Kent guy on the outside but have the big red S underneath all his clothes. (Today’s snowflakes are the opposite, Superman on the outside but Kent on the inside.)

At the same time, we need to express that there is nothing WRONG with being unique – if it is authentic. Specialness isn’t a virtue – it is only a trait, one of many that makes a person who they are. When you settle for being different just like everyone else, you are not being courageous – you are cheating yourself of learning who you are, of seeking out and using the qualities and achievements that make you unique and ordinary at the same time.

Humility, modesty, ordinariness – these quaint old virtues have become special by dint of being rejected. It is time to rediscover and embrace them.

Conservatism, Writing Programs, and Changing the Culture

Mark Goldblatt, in NRO, asks where all the conservative novelists are. It’s a great question, and a large part of his conclusion is that the heavy liberal skew of MFA programs has created a generation of liberal novelists, an atmosphere that is nearly poison to a young conservative writer.

Part of this is the gatekeeping issue: liberal professors are less likely to be friendly to conservative students, and those students are more likely to have trouble in MFA programs and drop out. But another part of it is the PR side: liberal writing professors are the recognized arbiters of what is great in literary fiction. They nearly always choose liberal works by liberal writers, people who reflect rather than challenge their worldview. Those lists of great works or promising writers are further spread by liberal journalists. Conservative writers are shut out and ignored by publishers looking for the next profitable book. Of conservatives, only genre writers are likely to get through this narrow gate.

I’m working here to alleviate some of this unfairness through a variety of means: this blog, a private writers list for networking, a planned annual writers retreat for conservatives only, the forum, and a developing writers workshop to help train up good writers who can go on to create wonderful books conservatives will love to read. You, dear reader, can help.

Go to my list of conservative writers and buy some of their books. If you have more writers you’d like to recommend, tell me about them in the comments here, or go to the forum and talk about them. Let’s all work together to support conservative writers and change our culture.

Book Review: Michael Isenberg’s Full Asylum


It’s hard to know quite what to say about this book. Was it good? No, it was outstanding. What genre is it? Um, comedy/suspense/satire/men’s action/political commentary, if you must nail me down. Oh, and romance. And, as we Southerners call it, rasslin’, the performance-art version of wrestling. Michael Isenberg’s Full Asylum is, like many independent books, in a genre of its own and must be read to be appreciated.

Gimbel O’Hare is Everyman, a brilliant programmer and out-of-the-box thinker who has been trapped by the accident of his sex in the slow lane of corporate advancement. He’s also, like most men, thoroughly confused by women, particularly women in this day of Third Wave Feminism. Because of an unfortunate comment referencing his obsession, the debonair secret-agent character John Dunn, he finds himself inveigled in a sexual harassment case at work that nearly costs his job. Because he goes over the head of his brown-nosing Peter Principle boss to suggest a cost-saving measure that would eliminate his entire department, he finds himself in an escalating battle to keep his job, his sanity, and his life.

I don’t want to say too much more about the book because the surprises Isenberg tosses out left and right are just so much fun. I’m a sucker for eccentric characters, and there are some real gems in this book, particularly Brownie, the old hippie with a surprising love for dangerous technological tinkering, and Cheri Tarte, an absolutely priceless and gorgeous caricature of an Amazonian wrestler-chick with a very sharp mind. Some of the story structure is modern epistolarian, including excerpts of television, movies, and notes to move the plot forward, and these parallel tales enhance the main story very nicely. Perhaps the best thing I can say about this story is there’s not one moment in the book that I can recall skipping over or getting distracted. It’s a rather long novel, and I literally could not put it down.

The single flaw was the tendency of some characters for, to use a TV Tropes concept, author filibuster.  Isenberg does it rarely, and it’s always from the mouth of Cheri or O’Hare, but it did throw me out of the story a bit. The mini-lecture was always conservative libertarian in nature, so I glossed over them, but a liberal might have a different opinion! This flaw was more than made up for, however, by the plot content before and after each; the lectures seemed almost to be a means to slow a plot down that was careening nearly out of control.

I think every single conservative and libertarian out there with a shred of humor would love this book. If you love James Bond, Kurt Vonnegut, and Douglas Adams and would love to see the three blended together in a slightly-dystopian, completely-hilarious book, you MUST read Full Asylum. I’m not kidding – get it.

(Disclaimer: I received a free review copy of this book but no other compensation.)

Liberty Island Magazine

If you want to see more conservative fiction outlets, consider checking this out and maybe even pledging them a little money. Liberty Island Magazine will eventually be publishing conservative- and liberty-leaning fiction. I like their philosophy.

You can read more about them at their crowdfunding pitch page. Spread it around; they only have a couple more days in their campaign, and a few bucks from a few people could make all the difference.

 

Update: The Liberty Island guys have started a second phase of crowdfunding, so if you’re interested, they still need assistance. By the way, I have no association with Liberty Island outside of a single email exchange. I just love the idea and want to support it however I can.

Fiction Books for Conservatives

I was trolling the web on a search for great conservative fiction books – or rather, lists of conservative fiction books that have been compiled by people more knowledgeable than me – and came across a gem. It’s an older list, dating back to 2009, curated from reader suggestions by author John J. Miller (The First Assassin, The Big Scrum). It was later published in NRO.

If Mr. Miller gives me permission, I’ll reproduce the list here in a later edit (that way it won’t be lost to the 404 monster); for now, check out the list, and the post that gave birth to it.

Michael Isenberg Asks, “Who Is Henry Galt?”

Over on his Full Asylum website, author Michael Isenberg posted an interesting review of Garet Garrett’s The Driver, published in 1922. He does a great job of linking the history recounted in this book with what we can all see happening around us today. An excerpt:

The Driver begins amid the economic Panic of 1893. While everyone else is convinced the country is bankrupt, Wall Street speculator Henry Galt is certain it’s rich. He takes advantage of the crisis to buy up shares of the Great Midwestern Railroad at bargain prices. Making himself chairman, he cuts costs, reforms a corrupt procurement system, and takes over other railroads. The resulting powerhouse makes Galt spectacularly wealthy and breathes new life into the American economy. But the pugnacious Galt makes enemies along the way. Unable to defeat him on the level playing field of the market, they turn to the government to take him down.

Sounds familiar, no? Go read it – he makes some very interesting points. History does repeat itself, but it’s amazing how plain this truism is in the circumstances we find ourselves in today.

Michael Isenberg is the author of  Full Asylum, a novel about politics, freedom, and hospital gowns. Check it out on Amazon.com.

Romance Novels as Conservative Fiction

Romance novels are commonly dismissed as trash, housewife porn, formula fiction, or bodice rippers. They are accused of committing purple prose, engendering female dissatisfaction, debasing literary values, and forcing men to live up to an impossible ideal. I, however, see most modern romance as positive conservative fiction.

Consider this: most modern romance novels feature a strong female protagonist and an equally strong male protagonist. They generally end in marriage or a commitment to marry; in most cases, the characters plan to have children within the confines of that marriage. I don’t think I’ve seen a single romance novel talk about abortion, let alone promote it as a reasonable alternative; in fact, a common plot device is the “secret baby,” in which the heroine gives birth to the hero’s child despite financial and social penalties, only to have her secret revealed to him later.

Let’s take social conservatism out of the bedroom and into the world at large: workers’ rights, women’s rights, and other large social movements are rarely topics in romance fiction, and in most cases where they are topics, they’re found in historicals. For the most part, though, while romance novels frequently have protagonists who express concern about groups in trouble (orphans, farmers, prostitutes, etc.), most of their solutions are not finding ways for the government to help but rather to find positive, creative ways for those people to move themselves forward (education, lowered taxes, work as seamstresses, etc.) Only a few lean on government solutions, possibly because that is less than heroic.

How about financial conservatism? Well, I’ve never seen a female protagonist on welfare, at least not as an adult. They nearly always fulfill Christopher Vogler’s heroic imperative of being good at their jobs. Common plot devices include saving the ranch or the family business, while others struggle with the problems of paying inheritance taxes. While you’re not going to see rants about paying taxes in romances, neither will you see rants about the proles deserving power over the evil landlords – well, not in most romances.

War. Lots of soldiers fill out romance novels, and you find quite a number of romance novels with wars as their backdrop (most prominently, Gone with the Wind). Most of these soldier-protagonists were heroic on the battlefield as well as off; none were cowards or draft-dodgers. They are nearly always patriotic, and even if they bear visible or emotional scars, they rarely rant about how wicked their countries were to make them fight.

Religion is rarely prominent in romance fiction except as a central element of the Christian romance – but it’s never discounted or bashed either. Even in paranormal romance using witches as protagonists, you won’t see a lot of criticism of Christians.

There are, of course, some problems with the wholesale classification of romance novels as conservative fiction. There’s the victim-as-female-protagonist problem, for instance. Conservative ideology is never about the victim, but rather about the hero, the person who rises above everything; there is a distressing amount of rape fiction still in romance, possibly because modern Western society has a tendency to fetishize victims, mistaking them for martyrs and raising them up as heroes. There’s a lot of sex in the steamier romances, which many conservatives (not me!) are uncomfortable with. Still, from the strong masculine hero to the committed relationship goals to the subtexts about saving the ranch and keeping the baby, there may be more conservatism in romance novels than either liberals or conservatives would like to admit.

Now, I don’t know if I’m right or wrong; I do know this is a question I’d like to see discussed. What do you folks think?

Andrew Klavan and the Search for Truth

I stumbled across this fantastic presentation by Andrew Klavan today. Klavan is perhaps one of the most prominent voices in conservative fiction today, though it is hard to tell since such voices are largely ignored by the media. Anyway, he makes a number of points defining the difference between American fiction and European fiction. At about 17 minutes, he gets to the core of the right/left matter: leftist literature, he says, is about ceasing the search for truth (because, you know, the debate is over and all that), while conservative fiction recognizes that the search for truth is never, ever over. Right now, he goes on to say, is the first time being both conservative and a writer really sets one apart from the rest of the literary world.

Anyway, watch the video. It’s long but enlightening.

Andrew Klavan – Conservative Fiction in American Literary Culture

What Is Conservative Fiction?

This is a difficult question to answer. Conservative fiction hails back to when quality fiction told stories with admirable heroes and identifiable villains. It reinforces traditional moral values, instead of trying to define a new morality. It values tradition, religion, and history. Its readers are varied, from all races and creeds and ethnicities, and men are as likely to read it as women.

Once upon a time, all fiction was like this. It did not try to create new forms, or jam identity politics into a story’s theme. It simply told good stories.

This form of fiction slipped from us like melting ice from a riverbank, softly and quickly. We did not notice until we suddenly could not find it.

I aim to get some of it back. Look forward to the introduction of a new fiction magazine here in the future, as well as regular book reviews and eventually a small-press publisher.