Writing is le hard. I know, Wow Much insights Many profound Very amaze. It’s true, though. I often put several hours a day into this blog, all too often at the expense of my health. The intense focus gets in the way of exercise. I forget to work out, or leave the computer too exhausted to do anything but zone out or fall asleep. Almost every time I finish an essay, I’m mentally depolarized. Even though I rarely do more than minimal editing on the fly and often write very quickly, I have an ongoing backlog of maybe half a dozen topics that I’ve been meaning to tackle, the spirit willing but the mind weak. Dulcolax doesn’t work on mental constipation, but hypomania sometimes does. Not that I recommend it: it’s hell, especially for those not personally experiencing it. It can be quite productive, though, unless you spend it repeatedly throwing a bouncy ball at the ceiling and then breaking down in tears for unclear reasons. Adderall allowed me to have that experience, and I’ve never really trusted psychotherapists since.
That said, a more important question than why writing is so difficult is why so much of it is such fucking garbage. I’m not referring to situations where you have to turn in the term paper or you won’t be able to graduate from college; that’s the professor’s problem for assigning the bullshit, actually reading the bullshit results, and then taking out his unhappiness with the sorry state of his career on his students. I’m referring to material that is published, usually under for-profit auspices, with the expectation that more than one sorry-ass academic going through an extended midlife crisis (or his TA) will read it and draw from it something presented as wisdom or truth. I’m also excluding writing that had to be clunky and workmanlike due to tight deadlines or a need for technical exactitude. That’s unfortunate, and a more thoughtful, coherent, eloquent rewrite would be in order, but it’s acceptable. For one thing, it’s rarely as bad as the negligently shitty stuff. The good faith, diligence, intelligence, and general sense of responsibility come through in writing that is inadvertently crappy; the perfect being the enemy of the good, the result is still good enough, and a lot better than nothing. The garbage I’m trying to describe is the fruit of bad faith, sloppiness, stupidity, willful irresponsibility, and low-rent venality.
Or, as they call it at the Eugene Register-Guard, journalism.
That’s just one nasty floater in a brimful cesspool. Publishers of legacy newspapers wring their hands over the Red Queen’s Race of bottomfeeding provoked by free-content upstarts, heap opprobrium on these competitors for being unethical, and then turn their own papers into content farms, transcription services for corporate news releases, and affiliate marketing rackets. Diving into the gutter in hot pursuit of more nimbly amoral outlets kind of defeats the purpose of reputable journalism, unless the real purpose of these newspapers is something else, and if a paper has recently been bought by Sheldon Adelson, it probably is. Good luck getting credible news about Las Vegas from the LA Times, which can’t even reliably cover local governments in the Gateway Cities.
Rent extraction explains a huge amount of this pathology. It’s a category error to divide publishers into new and old media, as if a publishing entity’s age and the precise medium it uses for primary publication are the key distinctions. They aren’t. The same circle-jerk of amoral, insatiable, rapacious, anti-intellectual robber barons is hellbent on domineering Gawker and the Washington Post. They will not rest until they have control over everything. If I’m not mistaken, this is a manifestation of what High Arka calls antilife. These shitstains don’t care about truth. They care about their own obscene, ever-increasing personal profits, to which the truth shall be conformed. Our boy Adelson has a four-hour erection for Israel, too, but he is no mere nationalist or religious zealot.
These guys pervert their writers. People who are sincerely interested in writing do what they can to improve their craft so that it stops being shitty. This is a manageable enough goal for a truly independent writer, but an impossible one for a mercenary operating in most parts of today’s paid writing market. For this reason, many writers debase themselves in pursuit of a meager living and the ego boost of being writers, not just baristas. If this fallen crowd isn’t numerous enough, the rentiers will do more to recruit congenitally amoral intellectual perverts to their staffs. The latter are probably more to their liking anyway, since they’re unlikely to harbor guilty consciences about their immoral careers and end up doing something treacherous, like ratting out scumbags in management to reporters at competing outlets or turning state’s evidence.
The downside to these little Eichmann psychopaths is that they’re soulless mercenaries. They don’t have that fire in the belly. Nothing inspires any particular passion in them. They’re great for PR copy, press conferences, and internet sock puppetry, but they’re terrible at producing the sort of hot mess clickbait that launches flame wars for profit. For that, the rentiers need useful idiots who fancy themselves professional writers, a subset of the former debased contingent.
These useful idiots are the ones who keep popping up like whack-a-moles with sloppy hot takes that pass for scandals in the recursive, self-referential parts of the press. They’re the ones who get paid to complain about manspreading, catcalling, campus rape, Gamergate, white cis-het privilege, and similar tempest-in-a-teapot nonsense. They’re the ones who bitch and moan about bias against women in STEM while other women successfully hold down jobs as engineers, research scientists, physicians, nurses, and professional geologists, often without significant incident. They’re the ones who present their debilitating, or even morbid, obesity as a principled counterpoint to body-shaming thin privilege, while I frankly admit that I’m fat because I eat too much and spend too much time holed up indoors, then go to the fridge for another helping of the Midwestern marshmallow-fruit-nut salad with the Cool-Whip dressing that my dad makes every Christmas, this year because he said he had some grapes that were about to spoil. Most thick bitches don’t try to make a living by complaining that other assholes don’t sufficiently appreciate them as thick bitches; many are far too Amish or FLDS to do a thing like that. (Come to think of it, if Kody what’s-his-name and his four wives stopped by for dinner, I’d be freed of the duty to finish up that deadly delicious marshmallow salad, and the food would go more equitably to waist.) These useful idiot writers are the dipshits who accept $200 as fair payment for incest confessionals. (It must be more spacious to commit incest somewhere other than the confessional, but that’s not my scene.) Pedophilia is the latest frontier, apparently. I try not to follow it too closely, because yuck, but that’s the word on the street.
Few people spontaneously get the idea that it makes sense to spend their free time independently publishing such garbage, and if they do, no one else gives a shit, except for nosy employers or school administrators, if they’re unlucky. These losers don’t start becoming cultural touchstones until they’re brought onto prominent, well capitalized, influential platforms, where they absolutely do not call the shots. Jerry Springer and Maury Povich have no difficulty finding dysfunctional hotheads who are eager to beclown themselves on national television for a modest fee, so it should come as no surprise that ostensibly intellectual blogs with venture capital backing are able to find equally dysfunctional people from an international English-speaking readership to write what should be deeply embarrassing confessionals, self-justifications, and the like, often for a pittance.
There’s obviously a labor relations problem here, one closely related to the rampant illegal use of unpaid interns to do for-profit work. Labor has no meaningful leverage over management, and again and again the peons who do the actual writing and editing (if any) for these outlets choose not to exercise what leverage they do have or try to achieve more leverage because they conceive of themselves as transcendent artists of the written word, not as employees getting screwed over by shyster bosses. It’s like, oh, but I’m SWPL, a beautiful combination of narcissism and insecurity, perfectly calibrated to give management a neverending rim job.
The whinging little milquetoasts who submit to this sort of exploitation are reprehensible, but I’ve done the same thing time and time again in agriculture, so I might not want to throw stones. Maybe I can teabag them instead; that’s a kind of stone, too. Yuck, but it ain’t incest. And let’s not forget that labor debases itself so because there’s a market for this wretchedness. Shitty, solipsistic writers would at least demand payment commensurate to their own jackassery and effort if the entire regime governing these “new paradigm,” “free content,” and “sharing economy” racketeers were not devoted to enabling the open wholesale violation of labor laws.
How will we ever get there from here? I guess it starts with living in truth and being true to ourselves and our values and having the courage to speak the truth as we see it, and maybe keeping a mop bucket handy in case these bromides are too much to keep down. It sounds vapid, but it’s true, and I don’t know what else to say. That’s why I keep putting in a good word for sex workers and the huge help they’ve been to me, no matter how gross or scandalous some censorious concern troll may find them. It’s a little something, anyway. What the truth that must be proclaimed is for someone else who is indifferent to hookers, I can’t say, except that I very much hope it’s more worthwhile than I want to be a writer when I grow up. That right there is the pathetic happy horseshit that keeps dragging us back into this mess.