Sci-Ence! Justice Leak! The first review… and a spot of crowdsourcing

I’ll be doing a proper post tonight, I hope – I apologise to my regular readers for the lack of them while the book’s been being put together. The book should be out very soon now – I’ve heard back from David Allison, Holly and Plok will both be getting their thoughts to me sometime today, and I don’t know if or when my fourth previewer will be able to get back to me (his involvement was conditional on other things, and he’s been extraordinarily busy). It’s days rather than weeks now.

Anyway, David has let me post some of his comments here, to give people an idea of what someone who’s actually read the book thinks:

I found the format a little frustrating for the first few chapters – I wanted more on each of the topics that you were writing about but you just kept pressing on. Still, better to leave people wanting more than to batter them into disinterest, eh? Since you DO return to most of your subjects more than once, this doesn’t end up being a problem, and as you well know the form suits your themes well.

Now I’ve always been a big fan of stories that express their themes in form as well as in content, and you’ve done that brilliantly here – the Best Man Fall/Mister Miracle chapter, which felt fun but slight on your blog, works perfectly as a culmination of what’s gone before. And then, typically, it turned out not to be the end of the book, but…. I genuinely think that if I hadn’t been “in” on this project in a couple of ways, if I was coming to it cold, then I would have probably went straight back to the start of your book and started reading it again when I got to that chapter. Please note: this is a feature, not a bug!

Make no mistake, I will read it again. I know I’m laying on the praise a bit thick here, but it’s well deserved. Like I said on That Twitter, these articles gain something by being collected in this way, which is important! There’s an implicit irony here, in that what they gain is a sense of cohesion, of authority even, but that doesn’t run contrary to what you’re trying to do – this is your story, and maybe it intersects with our own individual stories at points, but even when it doesn’t it’s good to know that it’s still going on without us…

Now, onto the crowdsourcing question. One of the articles in the book is this one, on Liberalism and Cybernetics. Now this is absolutely essential to the themes of my book, but it talks about the Lib Dems and was written pre-Coalition. I’ve attempted to address this with a footnote:

This essay was written before the Liberal Democrats joined a coalition government led by the Conservatives in 2010. This government has slightly less of this micro-managing tendency, though it has more than its fair share of other problems.

but I’m not sure this is enough. Put simply, the Lib Dems have such an image problem right now that two different people have told me (one of my proofreaders plus someone else on Twitter) that they’d had a visceral, gut reaction against seeing mention of the party in this context.

Now, I obviously don’t think that image problem is entirely justified, or I wouldn’t be a member of the party, but I do suspect that this means I might have to do some work on this essay, to separate Liberalism as a philosophy from the Lib Dems as a party from the Lib Dem/Conservative coalition government. As I see it, there are the following options:

1) Leave it as it is. It’s an accurate description of Liberalism and the Lib Dems. It’s not an accurate description of the current government, but it probably does a reasonable job of describing the Lib Dems’ role within that government, and the government is a temporary thing while the book will (hopefully) be permanent. And in some ways giving some readers that stumbling block might make them think more. Plus, the book is aimed at readers worldwide, and the image problems of the third-largest party in a small European country are not relevant to the vast majority of potential readers.

2) Replace it with What I Mean When I Call Myself A Liberal, which is a much more literal piece, and would work less well in the context of the book, but was written post-coalition so takes recent developments into account.

3) Put both the above pieces in. There’s duplication of material, but there’s also two articles about Darkseid, and two on Superman. Plus a longer book makes for better value. But do I really want to hit the readers over the head with my political views?

4) Write an entirely new piece containing elements of both the above, and run the risk of falling between two stools and being worse than either.

5) Other? (Suggestions welcome).

Note that removing the chapter is not an option. It’s not included to make readers sit through a party political broadcast about my own political views, or to win converts, but because it’s a cornerstone of the whole thing. Without that piece, the stuff I have to say about Batman comics, or Doctor Who spin-off novels, or fanfic, makes no sense.

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12 Responses to Sci-Ence! Justice Leak! The first review… and a spot of crowdsourcing

  1. In my experience, the only way to deal with people having a visceral reaction is to come at it head on. If you try to minimize things then people will continue having their opinions without realising that there are those who believe differently.

    If you think that there are things in the article that aren’t true at the moment then change the article to make them true. But for goodness sake don’t avoid saying something true just because some people will find it unpalatable.

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      I agree, and I certainly wouldn’t want to water down anything I’m saying. The problem is (as you know, but some readers won’t and I’m trying to remain comprehensible in my replies) that while I am still a Liberal, still think the Liberal Democrats are the best vehicle in British politics for Liberalism, and still think the coalition was the best of a set of horribly bad options, the current leadership have made such a hash of things from the PR perspective that we now look rather like the Paedophile Dog-Rapist Party.

      Some of the unpopularity is justified – the coalition government is doing some stuff that is at best a necessary evil – that’s what happens when Tories are in power, even moderated by Lib Dems – and it is right that the Lib Dems should lose some popularity over that. But if we had competent PR we’d also be *gaining* popularity for all the things we’ve done to mitigate that evil and to reverse other evils – in the last week alone we’ve got rid of 28 day detention without trial and ID cards, and made the UK that much better as a result.

      But while unpopularity is justified at the moment, what I’m seeing from some people is a visceral *disgust* – even when, intellectually, they actually agree. The two people who mentioned this aren’t (obviously) Lib Dems, but they *are* both people who have read my blog since it started and who I’ve never had a substantial political disagreement with.

      Right now, being a Lib Dem is giving me some idea of how necrophiles must feel. I can absolutely understand the intellectual justification for allowing necrophilia, but at the same time if someone told me they *were* one I’d feel a little funny about it. What I want to do is find a way of getting past that yuk factor and make the point.

      Because the people who had that factor are people who, as far as I know, agree with me on every substantial political issue. They are friends of mine, they have been exposed to all my arguments, and even agree with many of them. But they’re still put off.

      Now it may well be that there’s nothing I can do about that – and in fact I suspect there isn’t – that I’ll just have to trust my readers to get over the yuk factor and accept the arguments. But I really, *really* hope not, because if that’s the case then God knows what the party can do to turn that round…

      • Without wanting to get massively off topic, the best thing the party can do at the moment is to keep pressing forward, not panic over the first year of what will hopefully be a five year stay in government, and shout loudly for the next four years about their achievements.

        The political game is a long one, for which I do not have the right temperament. The only thing to do is to keep battering on in the direction you believe to be right, and telling people what you do (and don’t) believe.

      • Andrew Hickey says:

        (Please note, I’m *NOT* saying here that my friends are only not Lib Dems because of this yuk factor. We agree on many issues, but the priority we give to issues may well be different and they live in a different area with different local problems. I’m not trying to convert them or say “If only they understood me they’d agree with me”. I’m saying “these people are precisely the kind of people who would normally at very least be neutral on the subject, not anti, so what’s my book going to do to those who ‘should’ be anti?”)

        • David says:

          What you mean to say is that we’re narky Scottish bastards who start howling any time we have to think about the Tories!

          Just kidding.

          Well… mostly!

  2. David says:

    I would definitely argue *against* removing the chapter. As I’ve said before, I think it’s an essential part of the story you’re telling here, certainly moreso than that What I Mean When I Call Myself A Liberal post would be.

    My reactions to this section weren’t so much to do with finding true things upalatable as with finding the associations Andrew call up in this chapter to have been *complicated* by association with the current coalition covernment.

    As such, I’m not sure what the best approach would be. The addition of an extra chapter on Liberalism might underline what Andrew’s talking about, but that specific essay, good as it is, doesn’t quite reflect the whole of the book as much as most of the individual parts do.

    A hybrid essay doesn’t seem entirely satisfactory to me either – the overall shape of the argument in Liberalism and Cybernetics is great, and I’ve already suggested a structural change that might play very nicely with the chapter as is…

    So, predictably, I don’t know that there is a “good” solution here, at least not so far as my reactions go. If I’d had one, I would of suggested it earlier, I guess!

    You lay out what you’re for and against quite clearly in the chapter in question Andrew, so maybe it’s just best to just hope that’s enough. It was for me, after all…

  3. Jim says:

    I’d argue for including both; if only because more content can only result in a fuller picture of your political views and perspectives on the current situation. Plus, you’re a very good writer and more articles from you is always good value!

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      Well thank you!
      But the aim isn’t to give a picture of my political views – this isn’t a political book as such, except tangentially – but to provide a coherent reading experience (or at least one with the *right kind* of incoherence). I’ve structured this rather like a long piece of music, with themes I return to and others that are left hanging or return in altered form. To include both, while an option, would significantly weaken that structure.
      But I appreciate the compliment – thanks again.

      • Jim says:

        Ah, I understand – I thought the issue was about clarifying the perspective on the LibDems post-coalition. But, go with whatever fits the book best.

  4. davy says:

    As an American reader, I don’t understand the details of British politics enough to be bothered by anything in the Lib/Cybernetics piece, so I personally don’t even need the footnote. Your second essay (“Why I’m a…”) just doesn’t seem to fit with the tone of the other pieces you seem to be including here, so that one would feel more like a political non sequitor than anything else.

    I’d suggest including the Lib/Cybernetics piece as is. But if you feel the need for more explanation, how about writing something new about your whole dilemma regarding this piece, specifically about how shifting political perceptions complicated its inclusion here. Reality and perception are more than related — they might as well be the same thing since perceptions are how we interface with whatever reality is. In fact, haven’t you written something like that before?

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