One of the side topics that has been touched on through both the m/m imbroglio and the cover fail battle is the common theme of “does an author have a duty to their readers?” It’s an interesting question – but I don’t think it’s the right question.
A better question, I think, is do we have a “duty to others?”
And the answer is yes. Oh, not a legal duty. No-one will come around to your house and force you to acknowledge it except in limited legal terms. No-one should either for that matter.
But an ethical duty? A moral duty? Yes. I believe so.
I have a number of ethical and moral duties that aren’t FORCED upon me but I feel exist nevertheless.
I think I have a duty to the planet to do as little harm as possible and heal what I can.
I think I have a duty to my fellow human beings to cause them as little distress as possible.
I think I have a duty to my fellow human beings to alleviate distress when it is within my power to do so.
I think I have a duty to society to try and make it a little better before I die – or at least strive not to make it worse.
I think I have a duty, as a privileged person, to work through my privilege and do my best to limit the harm my privilege causes.
I think I have a duty, as a person born in a society stained by prejudice, to take steps to avoid perpetuating that prejudice and to expunge prejudice when I am capable of doing so.
I think I have a duty, as a thinking, feeling being, to recognise my actions and my words have consequences – and that I need to be aware of them, considerate of them and responsible for them.
I think I have several duties, this list is not even remotely conclusive, just some of many.
No-one is ever going to force me to uphold these duties. There are laws that will cover aspects of them, but few none that will cover them all – nor should the, for the harm such a law would cause would far outweigh the benefits it would bring. But these are, I feel, ethical duties I have.
So when I read someone say “I don’t have a duty to anyone but myself,” or a writer say “I don’t have a duty to anyone but my publisher” well, I can’t help but double-take. To only have a duty to that which benefits self and that which brings you money seems a very… limited ethical code as well as being rather self-absorbed.
I believe we have a duty to others. I believe we have a responsibility not to hurt or harm people when it is possible to avoid it. That doesn’t mean I’ll get it right (hey, look at my Light & Dark story. Shiny Sidhe from Britain that rule a vast world wide empire of fae they consider beneath them? The cluelessness abounds in that one) but it means I will try to think and consider and do the best I can.
And yes, I think that is a duty.