That's the delusionary myth under which most writers labor.
I began to suspect that such wasn't the case in 2001 as the ULA circulated its Protest against the Guggenheim grant to rich guy Rick Moody (signed by 40 zeensters) to 300 of New York's literary finest-- puppets and demi-puppets alike. Not one of the esteemed 300 self-glorious people signed the Protest, though many agreed with it privately.
Writers afraid to make waves? That was the reality.
Last February a NY TIMES front page article about Amazon revealed the ULA had been attacked anonymously by a famed writer, while we were shown to be innocent. We were, as always, in the right-- yet few writers took our part. They cleared their throats and looked into their coffee cups.
The sad truth is that the vast majority of writers are sheep. It's programmed into their nature, the result I guess of their having to jump through so many hoops and play so many games to have even a chance of literary success.
The clinching piece of evidence is the non-reaction by writers to the Tom Bissell/HARPER'S plagiarism story. The only ones who seem to care about this clear-cut stain on writer ethics, this blatant blotch of disrespect for another's work are: the unknown person who initiated the story; the slightly wacked-out "Ranger West"; Tim Hall; and the ULA. The crime is nakedly obvious, standing out like a neon sign-- "PLAGIARISM"-- yet all the many puppet and demi-puppet writers walk past not seeing anything. "Plagiarism? What plagiarism? I don't see any plagiarism. See anything? Well certainly not. Not me!" But the large flashing plagiarism sign of gaudy colored lights is right behind them.
How can one respect these people? Even the biggest names in the field are consistently groveling jellyfish, entities without spines, full of red-faced bluster about their independence as they sample hors d'oeuvres at swanky exclusive PEN parties-- Mailer, Oates, Sontag, Updike-- but one can see the puppet strings on their arms and their wooden brains.
Picture the old "Thunderbirds" TV show and you'll get the idea.