The “I don’t owe you shit” consumerist ethic can go away right now

I’ve been noticing an unfortunate trend in blogging: the “I don’t owe you shit” takeaway. First of all, since when did this become something to say at all, let alone said in this way? We don’t all live in prison or belong to gangs, so why do we insist on talking or writing like we do?

Starting to sound like a priss, there I am.

But seriously, since when did being assertive or setting limits on entitlements require such bald vulgarity and rudeness? “I’m sorry, but I can’t give you that.” or “I’m sorry, you’re not entitled to that.” is actually different than “I don’t owe you shit.” The former recognizes the humanity of the other and maintains civility; the latter does not.

I worry that it’s a sign of our transforming society where the Randians have won and we all get to ignore the inconvenient obligations that communities place on us. You do, in fact, owe people shit. You owe people many things, in fact, like the observance of their basic rights. And some respect and decency when we debate entitlements and the norms governing a community for its own benefit if you wish to belong to a community, or you wish to have a community to belong to.

Yeah, it’s a bore and a chore and all that. But it’s still kind of required to some baseline degree. And by that, I mean somewhere between a) being deeply, deeply, time-consumingly involved in every single discussion and b)flouncing around rejecting any notion of group obligation when presented with a group claim on your allegiance. There is such a thing called “polite silence” in deliberation. But then what would bloggers blog about?

A particularly unfortunate usage of the “I don’t owe you shit” throwaway occurred on Book Riot by one of my favorite contributors there, Brenda Clark Gray, as she writes about how as a reader, she doesn’t owe writers or indie bookstore owners ‘shit’:

But I won’t (a) not use the library, (b) not buy used books, (c) not borrow books from friends. If I choose to do any of those things, I don’t (a) owe a tweet, (b) owe a blog review, (c) owe a word of mouth review. I am not betraying bookish culture if I (a) buy from Amazon or Chapters or Barnes and Noble, (b) wait to buy the paperback, (c) don’t buy at all. None of the above things are unethical or amoral or indicative of my deep failings as a reader or blogger or member of the bookish community.

To be honest, I strongly suspect that much of this writing is reacting personally to a discussion that isn’t really about them, like the original essay from some blogger named Picky Girl who went off on a writer for a tweet, for God’s sake, a tweet that rather stated the obvious–quite politely, too, for a tweet–pointing out that authors really don’t make much money off of library sales. OMG. How dare that author!

The upshod of Brenna Clarke Gray’s argument–I don’t owe you your dream career writing or selling books–is fine as far as it goes, but…that is a long way from “I don’t you *anything*.” The former is a reasonable, if somewhat silly straw man argument. She’s not a fairy godmother; no one reader can grant anybody a dream career, and as far as I can see, nobody is expecting her to deliver a dream career. People are saying that if you want particular stores and authors to say around, you as an individual can try to help make that possible by actually purchasing their stuff. Oh, the people that say that are practically WELFARE QUEENS feeding Pepsi to their grubby babies with one hand while their other hand is grabbing towards our wallets! For shame! Readers owe them NOTHING BUT DERISION I SAY.

Yeah, it’s possible to over-dramatize just about any point

In the end, both this Picky Girl person and Gray react with equally entitled arguments about their consumer sovereignty and the unfettered liberty that assumes–the default setting in a global, corporate culture becoming more and more dominated by market logic and market ethics. Markets govern the relationship; you writers and suppliers get out there and compete. It’ll do you good; the cream will rise to the top.
The response in the comments to this reasoning will be a chorus of “Amens” because if there is one thing people hate, it’s the idea that they have to think about people other than themselves.

No, in the end, book bloggers, buyers, and readers may not owe tweets, hardcover booksales, patronage, or much else. But they also are not entitled to take offense if somebody does suggest that they have obligations at all.
When your conclusion is that “I don’t owe you shit”…you have said a lot more about yourself than you have about the validity of the other person’s claims on community. You’ve said you don’t recognize that there IS a community.