Supporting Indie Writers

Over at Amatopia, Alex writes about an interesting problem: supporting indie writers. Specifically, from the perspective of supporting indie writers who are on the conservative side of the culture war, relating to the goal of trying to rehabilitate our culture into a healthy one.

It starts with a comment which Alex found on another blog, which I think encapsulates some of the problems inherent in the issue:

Given that I have limited means, and thus cannot simply give donations but can buy only for my personal consumption, what exactly is my OBLIGATION here? The simple fact is that I have never liked the culture I live in, and the older I get the stronger that is. I know it speaks ill of my character, but I find myself ever more drawn to Evelyn Waugh as a kindred spirit. I started rejecting Boomer culture in the 60s, and I’ve seen nothing to tempt me to change. So, why should I, when I’d rather read older books, have to read the stuff they come out with now? This is especially so given that a lot of the energy seems to be in sci-fi, which is not my thing, and from what I have tried, I find mysteries are just worse.

Alex essentially proposes two solutions, though I’m paraphrasing heavily:

  1. Doing something is better than nothing, and it may be worth occasionally making the sacrifice of reading something which is not really to your taste in order to help fight the good fight.
  2. If the books aren’t really your cup of tea, they might be the cup of tea of someone you know, and social media makes it really easy to tell them about it these days.

I agree wholeheartedly with Alex on the second point, and do my best to let people know about the works of other authors who think that good is better than evil. There is a proviso here, though, in that a person’s ability to do this is limited before his passing on of the word about books becomes like the advertisements in a magazine—annoying and ignored—but all things done by men have their limitations. What each of us is given to do is finite and often less than we might like. To quote the Venerable Pierre Toussaint, we must take it as God sends it.

On the former point, I must, however, give a qualified disagreement. For two reasons: one particular to the man and one more general.

The particular reason is that the man who left the comment is almost certainly in his sixties and quite possibly in his seventies. It’s easy to forget, but as I write this in 2019, 1960 was 59 years ago—and presumably he didn’t start disagreeing with boomer culture while still in diapers. Fighting the culture war, like fighting all wars, is really the province of younger men like, for the time being, Alex and me. The commenter has, presumably, put in many decades fighting the culture war when he was a younger man, and I think is entitled, at long last, to some rest. Fighting for too long is bad for a man’s soul. It may well be time for him to devote most of his attention to those immediately around him, and save his strength for them.

The more general objection is a highly practical one. In my experience as an indie author, people who don’t normally read the sort of book you wrote don’t really do you any good by buying it. (This will, of course, not be true of famous people with large audiences; Oprah finding your book boring and not worth reading would probably still be good for selling 1,000 copies.)

The problem is two-fold. First, they have all the wrong graphs in big-data sites like Amazon; either because they’re not normally a reader or because they are but not of the books that you buy. In the first case, their lack of reading means that the Amazon algorithms have no one to recommend your book to. In the second case, your book just looks like noise to the algorithm.

And it doesn’t work to say “but if lots of people did this” because they won’t have the same reading graphs and so you’ll just get lots of noise. If you don’t believe me, take a look at “the Castalia ghetto”. That is, go to one of the Castalia House books on amazon and start looking at the recommended books. They’re all Castalia house books. But good luck finding links to Castalia books from other, non-Castalia books (books with sales ranks in the hundreds of thousands or worse don’t count, since basically that means that they don’t sell). You basically won’t find them, and the reason is that outside of books published by Castalia House, the readers of Castalia House books don’t really have tastes in common. So their dedication to Castalia House is good for Castalia house, because there are clearly a lot of these people (relative to the number of people who bought my self-published books, say), but it doesn’t attract attention past the money that they give.

Amazon is the clearest case of this, but you get similar things on less important social platforms, too. People acting atypically simple don’t produce results with algorithms that work off of statistical trends.

And this is a reflection of how human social interaction works. A few oddballs simply don’t have enough influence to move anything.

Unless they’re rich.

This is where things are highly asymmetric between conservative and liberal. Rich degenerates have an enormous motivation to spend their money trying to wreck the culture, but rich decent people have a thousand worthy causes to spend their money on. Culture is important, but so is supporting the Church, so is supporting orphans, so is feeding the hungry, and on and on.

And, come to think of it, there is another problem with the scheme of supporting “conservatives”. There are a lot of different things that people want to conserve, and many of them aren’t worth conserving. As is sometimes noted, a great many conservatives are just liberals from 30 years ago. But it’s not really that much better when they’re liberals from 300 years ago.

The destruction of American culture, so widely noted, is not a recent thing. In truth, it’s the necessary outcome of the protestant reformation.

There is an asterisk I should put here, which is that there are really two types of protestants. One, which makes up probably the majority of individuals, is protestant because of historical reasons. Historically, most protestants were made not by protesting anything but by their prince seizing on a great excuse for stealing Church lands. (One of the great problems of the middle ages was that the Church owned about a third of Europe and could prevent princes from going to war whenever they wanted by permitting serfs to live on Church lands. This check on their rapacity and eagerness for war was not tolerable to a great many European princes, especially German ones. And then there were the princes who couldn’t abide restrictions on divorce…) These are people doing their best to follow the teachings of Christ, bereft of sacred tradition. My heart goes out to these people for the predicament that they’re in, and many of them are quite admirable.

The other kind of protestant wants to admire his own reflection on the glossy cover of his bible. This was the sort of protestant Martin Luther was; the origin of the protestant reformation was, basically, the cry ,”nolo servire!”

“I will not serve!”

You might have heard that before in one of the characters in a play by Dante.

This attempt to turn Christianity from a religion in which reason plays a key role—Christ is the word, that is, the logos, of God, not the feelings of God—into a religion of emotion is doomed to end in the Modern world. Or more properly in the Post-Modern world; Nietzsche is the inevitable outcome of Kant. It’s really not a coincidence that neither of the great fathers of the protestant reformation—Martin Luther and John Calvin—believed in free will. They disbelieved in it for different reasons, but both for bad reasons, and the results are equally bad. Lady Gaga’s song Born This Way is, fundamentally, a protestant song.

So it doesn’t really do any good to talk about supporting conservatives without talking about what they want to conserve. To they want to return to the living vine, or do they want to go back to the moment after the branch was severed from the vine but before the sap still in it gave out and it began to whither? It makes quite a difference.

And when you get specific enough about this, I think what you will find is that (fundamentally) protestant authors will find support among (fundamentally) protestant readers, Catholic and Orthodox authors among Catholic and Orthodox readers (Catholics and Orthodox are both orthodox, just not in communion), and so on. Not because we’re bigots, but because these identities describe our fundamental goals and beliefs about the world.

And I think that what Alex will find is that if you confine the idea of helping authors because they’re on the right side of the culture war to these groups who actually have consonant goals, people will be far more willing to support authors because of that. Or in other words, posting on a Greek Orthodox forum about supporting Greek Orthodox authors isn’t going to be met with the same sort of reticence. I know from experience that it’s not in Catholic fora.

This is a disappointing conclusion because it necessarily means shrinking one’s support base. The problem is that a “big tent” only works in politics where all of the goals are short-term, imprecise, and desirable for many different reasons. One can be in favor of free speech because one is a libertine, or because one does not trust men with power, or because one simply doesn’t have the power to be the censor. When it comes to votes for particular laws, the motivation doesn’t matter.

You can’t really build a big tent in the culture war because the culture war is long term, precise, and about principles rather than specific actions. There’s only one reason to consider divorce a sin—because one holds it to be sinful. There’s only one reason to consider charity a virtue—because one holds it to be virtuous. When it comes to ideals, it’s not enough to do the right thing—one must also do it for the right reason. A book which celebrates a man who, in the ancient tradition, is a hero only because he wants glory, is not a book I want my children to read. At the end of the day, it’s not really better than a book about a man who isn’t a hero because he prefers heroin.

They’re just two different ways to go to hell.