Caution: rant follows.
OK, not yelling. More staring at the computer screen in growing frustration, rereading to make certain that I was reading what I thought I’d read, and having a great desire to type something in return along the lines of (edited for more delicate readers) “Are you kidding me? That’s exactly why the problem exists that you are alluding to!!!” I didn’t. Instead I took a deep breath, sorted out some other things, went back to the manuscript and excised the entire scene, leaving a small summary in order to foreshadow something at the very end of the book. Then I moved on. But the comment and caution gnawed on me again the next day. It is very rare for one of my editors to recommend something that makes me react that strongly, but this certainly did.
You see, the problem bounces against free speech and laws outside the US, as well as marketing.
From a commercial standpoint, this editor has a valid point: the kind of controversial, potentially offensive and critical comment in the scene can turn readers off. And given the current political and social situation in western Europe, Great Britain, and Canada, it would be impolitic at best to come across as if a member of the military agrees with the “right wing,” at least the “right wing” as portrayed in government media. The suggestion made was 1) to eliminate the direct critique of a certain very common type of training and 2) have a different character respond, but not as aggressively, because that would be a little more OK.
That’s when I lost my cool. Without meaning to, the individual quoted a number of the tropes from the media that make me want to pull my hair out. And I suspect the majority of my readers would read the scene in the original and be nodding along, thinking “Yes, I can totally see that. Go for it, [character].” Part of me wanted to channel Kratman and J. Ringo*, mutter “You think THAT’s offensive? Watch this!” and go full bore offensive. Because I happen to think that cultural sensitivity training has done more harm than good in the last 15 years.
The two iterations I’ve sat through, and stories I’ve heard from other people, were more about how terrible my culture is and how much we need to do for everyone else in the world, than about “what you need to be aware of when working with and in [$CULTURE]” and how to deal with/work around it. I think the nadir was reading about a German immigrant-rights activist this spring who was sexually assaulted by an immigrant and who apologized to the attacker because obviously society had done something wrong, and people’s insensitivity to the traumas he had endured caused him to assault her. She too had failed him, and she apologized. http://www.breitbart.com/tech/2016/02/16/member-of-german-left-youth-party-apologizes-to-refugees-on-facebook-after-alleged-sexual-assault-by-migrant/
(Yes, the source is Breitbart, but it follows a dreary pattern of social workers, politicians, and others insisting that the “refugees” and “refugee children” are not really to blame for assaulting various people and burning down asylum center housing [see Sweden in January and March, 2016] because of their cultural background and traumatic past.)
The other thing that I started thinking about is the problem of speech laws, not for me but for people I work with and for my readers. In the next plus one Cat book, part of the plot line involves Islamists, aliens, and immigration policy. Depending on how hate-speech and defamation of religion laws develop in Britain, the EU, and Canada, I may have to make the book limited release so it is not available in those places. Why? Because I could be sued and I suspect so would the editor, especially if he or she (I work with both) lives in one of those places or has a business registered there. A large part of me flashes the proverbial Hawaiian Peace Sign and points out that when someone says “I want to kill you and destroy your society!” the best thing to do is believe them and make plans accordingly in case they act on that desire. And point out that for centuries, not-so-nice people have been using mobs to get their way. But since a certain ideology is involved, one that appears at the moment to be favored by various governments over their native traditions and practices, and governments have deep pockets when it comes to litigation, silence might be the better part of valor, or at least restricting access to the book to markets where the government has not restricted speech so heavily.
It’s something I thought about when the story went that way. But it’s one thing to make a mild mental note while I’m writing, and another to have to face the prospect that in a year or so, there may be even more things one cannot say in certain places, and that my readers in Britain and elsewhere might not be able to read what I write. It really does tempt one to go full-bore and turn out Oh-My-Gosh-Did-I-Just-Read-Aieeeee! stories, sort of like the scene in the second Crocodile Dundee film about “You call that a knife? This is a knife.”
* Not that I will ever write as well as Col. Kratman and J. Ringo and Mike Z. Williamson do, or have their experience and knowledge. They have a wee bit of a head start, among other advantages.