Why do I write? That is the question I found myself asking, as the calendar turned over this month. Is it all an exercise in ego inflation? Am I fatally addicted to blowhardery? Or is there some higher purpose behind all these words?
The answer came to me like a revelation. I write to persuade. And if I write to persuade, I'm writing for people who disagree with me.
I don't write so I can get a lot of hits online and nice letters from fans who agree with my ideas. I write to persuade those who don't. But written argument is a tricky business; the temptation to exaggerate, to be hurtful and cruel, is very strong in print and it's even worse online. I know; I've succumbed to it many times.
I think I'm a pretty good writer, but I know I'm not a perfect one. Sometimes my aim isn't true. Sometimes a Predator Missile of satire hits some innocent civilians. It doesn't even have to be satire--there is always a danger of collateral damage when one shoots off his mouth in print.
As writers, we don't often stop to think about the regular folks who might be hurt or offended while we're tossing bombs at some big target. I know I haven't. But this is a new year, and I'm thinking about them now.
We've all heard, and been put off by, the mealy-mouthed apologies of politicians, media personalities and sports stars when they forget, for a moment, that their every foolish word will be broadcast on YouTube from here to eternity.
"To anyone who might have been offended by my words, I apologize." Which is tantamount to saying, "It's not really my fault, it's yours. But since you're mad at me, I had my legal team come up with this no-fault apology, because I make too much money being famous to put my endorsements at risk."
I don't have those excuses; I'm neither rich nor famous, so I'll try to be more generous with my apology.
"Dear readers, forgive me. I wasn't aiming for you when I shot at Dick Cheney or Julian Assange. When I blasted you Tea Partiers, I was shooting at your ideas, not your souls. When I make religious jokes my target is never your sincere, benevolent belief, it's the hateful twisting of the divine for malevolent purposes.
"When passion and frustration ruin my accuracy, when my attempts to persuade you crash, and anger you instead, I have failed us both.
"I apologize. Forgive me."
But I make no apologies for what I'm attempting to do with my writing. There is nothing wrong with strong opinion, powerfully expressed. And when one is a satirist like your humble servant, one has even more latitude. For the sake of the joke, nearly all things are permissible.
Besides, taking the high and the mighty down a peg is good, clean fun. They don't mind, they don't even read it. That's what interns are for.
But I do myself, and you, no favors when I alienate the very people I most want to reach.
I'm an old hippie. I believe in peace and love. Ideals that are as unattainable now as they were back in the sixties, and twice as corny.
But what else is there? War and hate? Anger and ignorance? Conflict and hostility? For the life of me, I can't think of a better set of values to strive for.