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The Lost Cause by Cory Doctorow: Interview Part Five

Ammosexuals, Lina Khan, and contingency

The Lost Cause

The Lost Cause is Cory Doctorow’s new book about a near-future America where the Green New Deal has come to pass, but MAGA holdovers and crypto utopians are keeping the dreams of the far-right alive. Today’s post concludes our far-ranging interview, picking up a few more of The Lost Cause’s many themes (check out Part One, Two, Three, and Four) .

In the conclusion of the interview, we discuss the power of contingency, from ammosexuals to Lina Khan. And finally: buy the book!

MAGA supporters at the Stop the Steal rally

Musketfuckers in heat. Credit: Leah Millis

HILL HEAT: We’re not even slowing down production of fossil fuels right now. In The Lost Cause, you have a presidency that decides to actually take on dismantling the fossil fuel industry and gun ownership in this country. I’m interested in the connection between the Green New Deal policies and ending guns. Was that something that you decided is just what happens if a true leftist comes into power? Or if you decided, of course these come together, that you don’t get one without the other?

CORY DOCTOROW: I think the only reason that America has its current gun policy is corruption. And we can go into granular detail, but just look at the way the NRA has conducted its affairs. It is a corrupt enterprise that peddles influence.

The set of contingencies that in my mental backstory for this novel, that give rise to the Green New Deal, are about ending the practices that abet corruption. Piercing the veil of corporate secrecy and ending dark money and doing all those other things. And one of the assumptions that falls out of that is if you get rid of the ability of a small number of extremely rich people to distort policy that would otherwise be wildly unpopular and would collapse under its own weight, then a lot of the policies we have that are unpopular and are being sustained by this influx of dark money just go away.

That’s the gun story. I think that guns are another one of those things where we don’t know how to estimate its importance. It’s true that a small number of Americans own an awful lot of guns, and that they have deeply romantic feelings for them. They’re, to use Dan Savage’s [ed.: Bill Maher] term, ammosexuals. Although I like musketfuckers. And those people will not go easy. One of the things that they’re explicitly worried about is someone telling them they have to get rid of their guns. Clinton banned assault rifles. That happened in living memory. We act like it’s the politically unattainable, even though it was attained while I was an adult, not even my parents’ generation. It’s not some faded memory. Around the time they were inventing the web, they were also banning assault rifles. Web browsers are older than the last time we had a assault rifle ban. It’s not like we’ve forgotten how to do that.

HH: That’s one of the most important messages of this book. It’s entirely possible to win. It’s entirely possible to envision a better future and then have it come to pass. And that it doesn’t happen every time doesn’t mean that the answer is that it never happens.

The Example of Lina Khan

Lina Khan

Federal Trade Commission chair Lina Khan testifies before Congress, May 18, 2022. Credit: Tom Williams

DOCTOROW. Indeed. I think that we underestimate the importance of contingency. We’re living in a very contingent moment right now. One of the parallels that I think about when I think about this book is what’s happened with Lina Khan and Jonathan Kanter and others. But Khan, especially. You have this person who, the only reason she was in the running is because there was this intense horse trading between the Sanders-Warren wing and the corporatist wing of the Dems. And so the Sanders-Warren wing got to choose some FTC appointees. And so they put Khan’s name forward, which was a dark-horse candidate anyway. But then during confirmation, you had a bunch of Republicans who just wanted to send a big FU to big tech. They didn’t want any real reform. They just wanted to perform this bit of nonsense.

HH: Because they knew that she was mean to Amazon.

DOCTOROW: Yeah. So they just wanted to change the vibe for big tech, make big tech sad briefly, to bring them into line so that they would algorithmically boost conspiracy theories or whatever.  And that little petulant gesture, which came at this moment where just the right person was in the right place, against a backdrop of an enormous amount of public political will, that I think the political class completely underestimated, for corporate reform and and monopoly law reform, produced this generational leader, who has done more in her two-and-a-half, three-year tenure than her predecessors the last 40 years. Which is why the Wall Street Journal has run 80 editorials saying that she’s a useless do-nothing. You know, Rupert Murdoch does not allow his staff to write 80 editorials about someone to complain that they’re not doing anything. One suffices.

HH: That was one of the reasons that I knew that the Green New Deal was a big deal was that it’s the only thing that Fox News and the Wall Street Journal and the like talked about for months and months. Ideas matter, people matter.

And people should read this book!

DOCTOROW: Oh, well, thank you very much. I really appreciate that. That’s music to any writer’s ears.

Buy The Book!

HH: They can even buy it. I like the hardcover. I like having the physical copy. I think you read the audiobook?

DOCTOROW: Yeah, I do. I normally I get other people to read my audiobooks. Wil Wheaton is my go-to guy. He’s the one who’s reading my other series that I’ve got running right now, the Red Team Blues books. The next one of those comes out next week. But I had this policy book, The Internet Con, come out last September. I wrote nine books during lockdown, I just contracted to write a tenth. So, speaking of displacement activity I write when I’m anxious. So I have a very large amount of work coming out from 2022 to 2026.

And I decided with this Internet Con book, this nonfiction book, that I would read it because it’s all material that I worked out on the road giving speeches, and I knew that I could really sell the lines. And so I spoke to the director at the studio I use and I was like, I’m going to try and read this. And she was like, “Great, I’ll direct you.” So she directed me and then at the end of the four or five days with me to read it. She came into the booth and said, “I’ve never said this to a writer before, but you should read your next novel. Like we’d been working to find a voice for the next novel. It should be you. I don’t direct fiction anymore, except for Wil Wheaton and LeVar Burton, but I will direct you if you want to read the novel.”

And it came out great. And it was such a great learning experience to do that reading as well. You learn a lot about about this stuff working with a director, more so with fiction than with nonfiction, although the nonfiction experience was great too.

DOCTOROW: Next year? Yes.

HH: So yeah, so don’t wait until then.

DOCTOROW: There’s a year between between hardcover and paperback.

HH: Yeah, that’s right. All right. Thank you so much. This is a real pleasure. And there’s more I wanted to talk about, but we’ll have to wait for the next time.

DOCTOROW: Yeah, well, we can talk about the next book and the one after that. I mean, you should pick up The Bezzle and give it a read. I can send you an ebook if you’d like.

HH: I’m happy to.

DOCTOROW: I’ll send that along now.

Thanks for reading along — in the comments, let me know if you’d like more long-form interviews or book discussions like this from Hill Heat.

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