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<   No. 3340   2014-07-13   >

Comic #3340

1 {photo of a blackboard advertising muffins}
1 Caption: Thoughts on a Blackboard

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I love bacon
Happy thoughts.
A few days ago (as I write this), Dante Shepherd posted strip #2149 in his webcomic, Surviving the World. He preceded this a few hours earlier with a tweet, saying that he expected his latest strip to generate lots of hate mail. The strip in question was a scathing criticism of the inaction and failure of US legislators to deal sensibly with the problem of gun crime and school shootings in particular in the USA.

Many times in the past I have been tempted to include my own socio-political views in Irregular Webcomic!, but I have always strongly tried to resist the urge. That resistance has been for a number of reasons.

Firstly, I have never wanted IWC to become preachy. I know from experience that it can be annoying when some creative work that you enjoy starts to be used as a vehicle for the author to express or push their views in an overt way. The comic B.C. used to be an amusing gag strip before author Johnny Hart started using it as an organ for delivering his Christian message. Some creative works start out as soapboxes, and that's fine, because the audience knows what it's getting from day one. But slowly converting a non-political, non-issues-based work into one that pushes the author's views is another matter. And if this sort of thing annoys me, then I don't want to inflict it upon anyone else.

Secondly, I hate arguing. Some people seem to enjoy the cut and thrust of verbal jousting, debating contentious points with people, or even having a jolly good shouting match. I am not one of them. I can frame an argument and write a description of why I think something, but I do not enjoy it when other people start trying to pick it to pieces and demand that I respond to their comments.

I have a friend who is very much the opposite. Sometimes I will say something, and he will say something contrary or start to pick holes in my logic - not necessarily because he thinks I'm wrong, but just because he relishes a good debate and is happy to play the Devil's advocate just so we can have a jolly good argument. I've learnt to stop the discussion at this point and ask him directly, "Do you actually think that or are you just arguing for the sake of arguing?" Often his answer will be, "Actually, I completely agree with you. I was just pointing out that someone who disagreed might say that." At which point we can stop and continue the conversation in a way which is more mutually acceptable.

I fear that if I started to make social or political points, readers would attempt to start arguing against the points I have put forward, either in email or in the forums. If this were to happen, my preferred response would be to completely ignore it - however I also feel duty bound to respond to people who take the time and effort to write to me about my work. I try to make a point of responding to any direct questions put to me, as I feel that it's nice for a creator to be responsive to readers. Dealing with people trying to argue with me by ignoring them or refusing to respond goes counter to this desire.

Valentine be mine
More happy thoughts.
Thirdly, as Shepherd makes us painfully aware, taking a stance on contentious topics in a web publication with many readers is a great way to generate hate mail, and honestly I don't want to deal with hate mail. I have a certain thickness of skin related to artistic criticism of my work, which is somewhat necessary if you're going to publish even the most innocuous webcomic, but I'm not sure I have the thickness of skin necessary to deal with a barrage of hate mail directed at me over my political or social opinions. So I haven't been willing to test it.

The closest I've come so far was the annotation I wrote about how atheists can have morals without the need for a moral code to be imposed by a god. I wrote it because I was feeling impassioned about the issue at the time when I sat down to write something for that comic. I thought it was politically safe enough and stated in positive enough language to not attract hate mail - but I was wrong. A few people actually wrote to me saying that as an atheist I was a blight on humanity and how dare I claim to have morals when obviously that was impossible without believing in their particular god. I did not sacrifice my time to respond to that hate mail, but I certainly did not enjoy receiving it.

Since that time, I have been even more conscious and wary of making any sort of overt socio-political statements here. Some of my views surely come across in more subtle ways. It's not too hard to figure out that I'm a proponent of scientific inquiry and of the conservation efforts of people like Jane Goodall. And that I'm a fan of board and tabletop roleplaying games (except for Monopoly). But it might be more difficult to work out what my views are on taxation, public transport, health care, education funding, etc., without extrapolating from skimpy evidence.

Sometimes I've been tempted to speak out, because certain actions by leaders, politicians, and populations, both in Australia and overseas, occasionally make me feel that we, humanity, are treading the wrong course, and there are better options available to us which for some reason those in power choose not to follow. I guess many people, no matter their views, feel the same way about some issues. But it's one thing to feel that way and another thing completely to express your views openly in a public forum, where others will likely disagree.

276/365: Cake is Good for you!
Can't argue with that.
Occasionally I feel like I should be doing more to fight injustices and address the world's problems. I've questioned myself: am I being hypocritical by having these opinions but not actively doing anything about them? Should I be joining protest marches and starting online campaigns for the things I believe in? Should I be using this publication and this audience which comes here for amusing comics to get my views across and argue for what I think is right?

This question returns to something I wrote about a few weeks ago, the concept of personal strengths. For some people, activism is a strength. They can take on hostile opinion and campaign for what they believe in. Some of my friends are like this. In contrast, I don't think activism is one of my strengths. It's not something I like or am good at. I had to recognise this to stop feeling guilty about not taking a more active role in issues which I think are important.

I haven't abandoned activism completely though. My approach is much more along the lines of setting an example. I live by my ideals, and hope that some of the people who read my work will absorb that somehow. For example, I think that creators of artistic works should be credited and their copyrights should not be violated. Rather than rant about the evils of piracy, I make sure to use only images with Creative Commons or similar licences and to credit them properly (or images I've created myself). Rather than campaign for increased funding of science, I joined a program to visit a school and talk directly to children about science and try to inspire them so that more of them will grow up passionate about science.

When I read Shepherd's comic about school shootings, I wanted to make some sort of comment about it. I really, really wanted to write an annotation here about what I think about the matter. But I stalled, and ending up writing this instead. It is most definitely not because I don't have an opinion. It is because I don't want to get into any arguments.

I'm not sure I have a conclusion today. Except maybe that you shouldn't feel guilty for not doing more to save the world. It's a hard job, and it's not for everyone. The people who get in the trenches and fight (and publish political webcomics without caring about the hate mail) are doing their bit, because they're the ones whose mental attitude is up to the task. But you can still do something about the things you believe in too, by living your life by your ideals and seeking other ways to spread your good deeds.


Post scriptum: I'm happy to discuss the topic of this annotation as usual. The topic is not guns. If you send me hate mail about guns, or advocacy about guns, or opinions on guns, I will delete it as soon as I determine that that's what it is, without reading any further, and you will not get a response. I will also delete any and every post to the IWC forums about guns. Save your time and energy.

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Last Modified: Sunday, 13 July 2014; 03:09:00 PST.
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