It's Monday, I'm working on proposals, and I am seriously tired and and underslept... so a philosophical post. My sympathies.
One of the advantages of being a self-confessed monkey and idiot, is that makes it so difficult for people to come up with insults for me that I don't eagerly agree with. So I get to pontificate on bizarre and uncomfortable things things that upset people because I brachiate and happily engage in social grooming. Most of the human race part of the population of the planet find this demeaning and degrading and never invite me to dinner, because I will point out that in evolutionary terms they're pretty close to monkeys, especially in terms of social behavior.
Now, baboon troops - I've spent a fair amount of time watching and being fascinated by - have complex heirarchies... but basically to translate into layers of wanna-be-top. Imitation and brown-nosing the top is pretty slavish, with the Beta males trying to be just like the alpha, but clearly lesser so they don't threaten Alpha (despite the fact that this is what they dream of doing, or possibly starting a troop of their own as a plan B) Beneath them you have yet another tier who cling to each of the Betas (unless of course the Alpha turns on the Beta.). If the Alpha as much as wonders who will rid him of this turbulent priest, a few Betas will do it. If a Beta decided he dislikes a young pre-fertile female - well, she'd better find shelter with another Beta, or the Beta's camp-followers will kill her, usually in a mob and cruelly, rather like a Pogrom-behavior pattern. Which is an intrinsically conservative situation, which tends to focus on keeping the current status quo, both in heirarchy and what the troop does. And of course the bottom of the pyramid just keeps its head down and tries to stay alive. And the troop continues. Every now and again the Alpha gets too old... and it all starts all over again. Except of course there is a purge of the blood kin and those who supported the old Alpha. Nothing the old Alpha did or favored is possibly good, even though in actual fact nothing changes except the leadership.
But there are one other group in the troop who are mostly un-noticed but actually shape the destiny of that troop. Often in baboon circles they're post-reproductive females, but not always. I call them the Weird Aunts. You have the male equivalent too, sometimes, but they don't mind if you call them Weird Aunts too. I asked. The Weird Aunts do a lot in the troop, often child-care (which is pretty important allowing lactating mothers to feed), or have other skills. Finding termites, or tubers that others just don't. They don't fit neatly into the layers of heirarchy. They do different things because they can, and because they're different. They're the agents of change and social evolution. They're to a large extent outside the heirachy. But they walk a thin line between being useful and tolerated, and pissing off the Powers-that-Be. They're not usually, as genes go, terribly successful at passing on theirs (and that's a key measure of success in troop, rather like money in humans), but, because troops are interelated, and troops don't have them, fail, Weird Aunts crop up, again and again. They undoubtably irritate the Alpha. But he's a little hamstrung because many of the troop would turn on him if he got too shirty with the Weird Aunts (or uncles). Besides that the Weird Aunts are capable of a nasty bite. Occassionally he'll try the turbulent priest technique to get rid of them. It's a risky strategy, though.
It's quite a metaphor for human societies too - whether you're talking about countries or scientists or businesses or knitting-circles. You've got the Alpha's the Beta's and the Beta's camp followers and then the rest(okay oversimplified. This is a post not a thesis). While the Alpha may change or may superficially be different - call it Mein Kampf or Das Kapital, Daily Kos or Fox News - it's still the same heirarchy. The same dissing of the others and the predecessor. The same turbulent priest techniques. And the same Weird Aunts.
Which is where this comes back to writing. You see some writers are Weird Aunts - somewhat outside the rules and brown-nosing, writing outside current trends and fashions. Others are Alphas, or Betas or Beta camp followers. When it gets really interesting is when a Weird Aunt is (or becomes) an Alpha (this doesn't happen that often. Weird Aunts don't care enough about status to persue it, and it needs to be persued. Weird Aunts already know they are valuable... RAH was my idea of a 'Weird Aunt' who ended up as an Alpha. (which is why some of the current Alphas are whispering to their Betas about how bad he was, and Betas are whipping their camp followers into the fray). Jack Vance, and Sir Terry Pratchett (although he may become a postumous Alpha, when he's not around to kick the idea into touch. He is one of the great satirists of the last 100 years) are my idea of Weird Aunts. As Kate pointed out, they make readers think for themselves, and do not push pre-digested current alpha-pap down their throats (I might point out though, that having travelled the world and speaking 13 languages can still leave you a Beta camp-follower, and living out your days in Kansas might make you a free-thinking great weird aunt though. Or a Weird Great Aunt). That pap can be tasty, possibly nourishing and if you're Beta or Beta camp-follower you will tell us it's delicious and try to produce the same.
At the bottom of pyramid you get whatever they're handing out, or go without. Or get something odd from the Weird Aunts.
It's my ambition to be a Weird Aunt. No, I'll never be RAH or TP. Or Jack Vance... I told you I am a monkey and an idiot to boot. But I do wonder how one stays useful enough to be immune from Alpha rage, and of course what makes a good writer Weird Aunt? I think writing things which require reader input helps for the latter, as does questioning everything (which are things I do), but I am blowed if I know how to evade the former. I must admit to no vast desire to be one, if that helps. I'd just like to write and make a living.
Do you think I'd look good with a violet rinse? Pearls? twinset? Tea in little bone-china cups? or am I kind of weird Aunt who wears a stained painting smock, Doc Martins, festoons of beads from Marrakesh and smokes small cigars?
What do you want to be?