Thanks for taking some time to talk with us! For our audience, could you tell us who you are and what you do?
My name is Ronin Heck. I’m a professor of philosophy from Minnesota. I’ve been working on several fiction books over the last ten years and I’m so grateful Uncle B. Publications has been kind of enough to publish (at least) two of them.
The pleasure is ours! Your first book, Crowmouth, has been compared to, among other works, Stephen King’s Carrie. What do you think of such a comparison?
Well, again, it’s an honor. When I started teaching in 1979, my peers ridiculed me for reading King’s novels. I always felt horror and science fiction were heavily dependent on philosophical investigations, particularly the most basic of them all—what’s the meaning of life? Horror demands you address this question while you still have the opportunity.
Did you see a lot of philosophical investigations in King’s work back then?
That’s a good question. I suppose the most important thing Stephen King did for me was introduce me to the horror genre. It was through his book Danse Macabre that I learned of some past masters including, of course, H.P. Lovecraft. Now, Lovecraft, there’s a philosopher. A socially flawed philosopher, but he certainly explored the question of the meaning of life.
Oh, jeez. Lovecraft positions ‘man’ as insignificant in the universe. We all know he famously claims ‘man’ would go mad were he to have the slightest clue about what’s really going on. This leads us rather nicely to a stoic position in which we can safely posit that a.) since we are not privileged to understanding anything beyond our immediate perception(s), b.) we are free to live our lives as we choose, as we can be certain there are no consequences once we surpass the parameters of mortality. Is there something beyond this life? It is a waste of our brief time here to worry over it.
Some would say that sort of thinking would rationalize what others might call immoral behavior.
But humans have demonstrated, by and large, that they are not interested in tampering with the existence of another human being and risking mortal damage to themselves. In simpler terms, this is where the Golden Rule comes into play—if my behavior harms others, I risk retaliation, and, thus, harm to myself. Were it not for a few rebels, I would say, written laws and law enforcement would not be necessary.
Speaking of retaliation, your book Crowmouth, written a few years before the #metoo movement, deals with this very subject. In the book, you depict the very real situation where an employee has been (falsely) accused of harassment and warned not to retaliate. Why was it important for you to tackle this subject?
I always like to go to American football when describing this bizarre problem humans have; We are often asked to be Christians, i.e., to turn the other cheek, when confronted by a great insult from another. So, in football, in the bottom of a pile up, someone might punch another player in the stomach, let’s say. When the refs unpile the players, the offended player might shove the player who punched him. The initial victim is penalized, always. And this seems to be how it is in life. Someone says something unbelievably egregious to another, and the target of their insult is expected to keep quiet. Why? This is an inherent violation of the Golden Rule, is it not? It’s an astonishing flaw in human behavior I’ve witnessed countless times. I feel it’s a conversation that needs to be had, so I include it in my fiction when I can.
In both Crowmouth and your upcoming dystopian novella, Same Song, Different Beat, you spotlight the issue of freely speaking and how that behavior is punished. Some believe free speech in the west and in the United States, in particular, is under attack. Would you agree?
Look, we who are old enough to remember when freedom of speech in the United States was an inherent right, far beyond any Constitutional amendment, need to understand something: Most of the world has never enjoyed the levels of freedom Americans once did. As globalization turns us into a massive collective, we must come to grips with the fact that most people in the world do not understand or value freedom of speech. We saw the danger signs in Europe when radical Muslims murdered a filmmaker and later a staff of satirists in France. Now, I call them extremists, but the truth is, their point of view very well may be the majority point of view in the world. Freedom is a scary thing. Actual freedom, that is. Most people want a Mommy and Daddy to guide them throughout their entire lives. Once upon a time, psychologists would have accurately denounced this tendency as infantile, a refusal to grow up, as it were. But even psychology is now playing along with this drive toward everyone convincing themselves they are helpless and need the guidance of a government or someone with equal power. The truth is, people who believe in absolute speech are an overwhelming minority. Most of humanity has lived under tyranny and rarely complained. We briefly saw an occidental drift away from this addiction, particularly in the late 1960s and well into the 1990s. The corrosion of this value began when the phenomenon known as “political correctness” blossomed in the United States and used the very underhanded tactic of suggesting one must speak in a certain way or risk being called rude. The perpetrators of this particular brand of tyranny have weaseled into places of power and are actively legislating politeness. This is nothing less than Thought Control, per Orwell’s warning, but it flies under the radar of common sense because it is enforced in the name of manners.
Shouldn’t manners be taught and enforced by parents?
Of course! But parents are not allowed to be parents anymore. Listen, we are dealing with a great paradox here—we see in Capitalism freedom, yet, in order for Capitalism to thrive, customers must become subjects of business. What does this mean? Well, it means the corporations, who, as we all know, buy and manipulate elected officials to do their bidding in the legal realm, want to be Mommy and Daddy. How is that relevant? I mentioned the anti-intellectualization of psychology; If you’ll recall, psychology and pharmaceutical companies began colluding in the 1980s to diagnose and treat basic human behaviors as diseases. This was one of the main methods parental control was ceded to an institution outside of the basic family unit. Teachers fed up with little boys unable to control themselves because, let’s be honest, little boys do not want to sit in a classroom all day, were able to turn to chemical lobotomies for their problematic little students. Lobotomies with alternate names, like Ritalin. They did it to little girls as well, though for girls, the diagnosis was often depression. The cure for this was provided by a lobotomy called Prozac. Now, I’m not belittling any adult suffering from depression. But an adult choosing to put a psychotropic drug into his or her system is radically different from a counselor demanding parents give such chemicals to children with undeveloped brains. Once you cede a little authority, the entity to which you have ceded this authority will generate a hunger. And, thus, here we are in 2022, with parents suddenly shocked by some of the more radical liberal arts conspiracy theories peddled to their children at public and even private schools. And what is the government’s response? To declare the parents domestic terrorists! My goodness, Orwell’s ghost must be tickled senseless by the inversions we’re asked to endure these days!
Well, what are you going to do? How long did it take authors in the 19th century to realize the flaws of utopian ideals? Five minutes? Two? Some, like H.G. Wells, wrote pro-utopian fiction only to turn right around and realize its flaws and then write a critique of their very own idealism. We have over one hundred years of fiction warning us about this and we have yet to listen. Again, I must return to my contention that human beings crave tyranny.
But ranting and raving about freedom is a clear sign of right-wing extremism. At least, that’s what the minions on social media believe.
Ah, yes, An ingenious inversion. Pardon me for saying so, but the levels of deceit the masses seem to have fallen for would give Mr. Orwell a philosophical erection! He says it right there in his book, ‘Freedom is slavery.’ That the left would be duped into believing this is astonishing. The left once represented the intellectual wing. As they resort more and more to name calling in effort to hide the lack of thought behind their policies and ideas, we who once identified as liberals must contend with the possibility that we simply have no ideology to call our own. Now, the cormorants on Twitter—that is the bird-themed social media, yes?—these vessels of imposed manners would have any and all of us who disagree shoved into the same category. But anyone can read my books and, if they are capable of critical inquiry, see that I am clearly not a conservative. But it doesn’t matter. Add up all the distractions corporations have thrown at the masses over the last three or four decades, plus the intentional eradication of anything resembling critical inquiry from the education system, and you, not surprisingly, arrive at the dumbest population in, possibly, human history. I hope to live long enough to see who it is who is bold and smart enough to lead modern human beings out of this dark age and into the next Enlightenment.
Well, on that up note, can you tell us what to expect in the future?
Thank you, yes. My book Same Song, Different Beat is scheduled for an August 2022 release. It details life in southern California after a civil war that breaks out around 2036. The tyranny brought on by COVID makes it difficult to scare readers anymore with dour predictions of the future, but I think, as always, this dystopian book will not serve as just a warning about the future, but a sharp criticism of the present, regardless of how awful our real world happens to get. I am also working on what is now referred to as a splatter western. We’ll see how that one turns out.
Ronin Heck is a professor of philosophy from the great state of Minnesota.