I’ve just been chastised by my ever loving wife for a recent rating I gave to the sci-fi classic “Ender’s Game” on Goodreads. But my reprimand had been delivered and the rage had subsided a tad we got to having an in-depth discussion which I believe needs some airing.
She maintains that, as a reader, one must divorce the work from the author. And sure enough there is a long list of conflicted writers out there who, blessed by whatever god they worshiped, we’re able to achieve some level of notoriety and renowned because of their talent at crafting a tail. I cherry picked Robert A. Heinlein because he illustrates so very well, both in his personal life and in his writing, these flaws of character.
So we compared and contrasted for a while, but what I’ve come to realize as the thoughts simmer on the back burner of my brain pan is that there is a very fine line between what I’m willing to tolerate in the way of bad behavior from an artist and the quality of that person’s collected works.
Robert A. Heinlein and his Wackadoodle Tails of Earth
Heinlein’s works were a positive influence for me as a kid. Recently I’ve gone back and re-read some of it and what I’ve come to realize is that the guy was sexist in a way that is unrivaled in contemporary society. At the time he might have been considered a moderate amongst sexists, but its difficult for me, having no experience for those times let alone nostalgia for the rolls relegated to fifty percent of society, to judge amongst the degrees of misogyny.
But, and its important to point this out, despite the topics of his novels and stories, his views on women and their place in the world are very evident in his works. As an adult, hoping to leave the world a better place than the one I encountered for the sole sake of my two children, I find it difficult to recommend some of these works because they carry the baggage of if not hatred toward women, at least an unrepentant view which dismisses their worth as people.
But why would I tolerate Heinlein’s world view (or rate his stories better than Orson Scott Card’s) an better than anyone else’s wackadoodle world view? Well to start with Heinlein ended in 1988. There were a couple of posthumous publications, but even so, its arguable the the man has had a difficult time adapting to new cultural and social norms.
So its reasonable to say that temporal context and an ability to adapt are elements I consider when judging another artist’s work these days. We’re not talking about political correctness here folks, what is normal changes and this is an important part of how humanity deals with new challenges that the universe seems happy to toss our direction. At least, that is a key component of my soup sandwich of a personal philosophy, and I’m standing by it.
In other words, I’m willing to separate your work and your words if you dead and unable to change with the times. And here before us exists that a fine line.
Another point Heinlein and I may have crossed swords over is the idea that opportunities are not equally sprinkled over the surface of humanity. He was an individualist who believed, as a matter of course, that self-determination was the key if not only factor in achievement or success under any measure. If you want it, then all things being equal, all you need do is put in the effort.
Anyone else see the conflict here? Sexism is a form of prejudice that diminishes the ability of some compared to that of others. If everyone is in a race, than the women need to start further back from the line. And hey, if you’re happy with that roll in life than good on ya, but if you’re not then perhaps you should seek pharmacological assistance because that’s the only way you’re ever going to manage that endless pile of dirty laundry.
What I’m trying to say here is that its ok to be an individualist and make believe that you have ultimate powers of self-determination, but ultimately, without equality its a meaningless gesture more often than not reserved for those who have ample imaginations. For those who can remain locked up within those imaginations and segregated from the world around them.
Because the world around us, if we let it, will quickly remind us that things aren’t equitable or just. That people do shitty things to one another whether its in an office or across some border.
But since I was a kid I can recall thinking that things should be more fair. That if things were more equitable than all of us would have a better shot at being truly self-deterministic. And so, perhaps with an amount of demented naivety that I’ve been unable to shake, I persist in the ridiculous. I desire more equality.
Gay marriage, in my book, is just another part of society looking for the same sorts of things we all want. We want them because we’re humans. And as humans we want to love someone, and be loved. We want someone to make us dinner from time to time and maybe someone to walk with while the sun sets. I know I need someone to argue with about book ratings and that same someone to read what I write and tell me honestly how much crap it is.
Denying someone else this opportunity that I have have gained seems to me ludicrous. Worse, it is not fair. It is the same sort of bigotry that says because you’re a woman you’re allowed to be a nurse, teacher, typist or homemaker.
The nut-case DOMA crowd might insist that gay marriage will bring an end to traditional marriage and they would be completely correct. If, within their doctrine of traditional marriage there is some clause or homily which demands inequality. But I prefer to maintain my distance from those sorts of doctrines, in fact, as much distance as I can put between myself and anyone else’s ultimatums.
DOMA is wrong, its not equitable.
Orson Scott Card and Gay Marriage
My introduction to OSC’s bigotry happened back in 2008 when John Scalzi wrote about it on his blog Whatever.
Orson Scott Card brings the economy-sized jug of crazy sauce to the same-sex marriage discussion with this gem of a column. Whether he’s declaring that same-sex marriage marks the end of democracy in America, or hinting that married heterosexuals should overthrow the government because now gay people can marry, or just flat-out declaring that “biological imperatives trump laws” — I think I’ll call this the “forcible insemination get-out-of-jail-free card” hypothesis, because, hey, men got imperatives – this is OSC at his most foamy, and you really don’t want to miss it. As much as I admire OSC as a writer, and I really do, as a social thinker he’s far deep into my “oh, bless his heart” territory, and it seems unlikely he’ll be making a run for that border any time soon.
Incidentally, the link to the opinion piece in question no longer works. In fact, my light weight web searching yields little to nothing of the actual crazy sauce in question. Appears OSC has a clean up crew dusting the mantels and cleaning the blood off the floor of the internet in advance of the release of the blockbuster edition of “Ender’s Game“.
It turns out that OSC’s doctrinally motived views about same-sex-marriage and thus social equality are a writing exercise for the guy. He routinely writes for the Desert News and their faith segment The Mormon Times. Or he did write for them, seems a movie deal may reduce anyone’s deep seeded urge to dish out such gems as this.
I have opinions on everything, whether I have any information on the subject or not.
As I pointed out in my last column, having really cool ideas all the time is part of what I do for a living.
This could be dangerous, if I had a position of authority, where my decisions might affect the lives of other people.
But the oddest thing happens when I actually do have the authority to make decisions: The Lord blesses me with “stupor of thought” (Doctrine and Covenants 9:9). All those cool ideas dry up and I become keenly aware of my own hopeless ignorance.
Meanwhile, though, my spectacular talent for coming up with ideas about everything is a vast resource that usually goes to waste, because people in authority pay no attention to me whatsoever.
OSC laments his ability to affect those privileged with authority yet, at the same time, proclaims his “spectacular talent for coming up with ideas”. Those “cool ideas” that sell off bookshelves, get tucked into backpacks and then read by millions? Yeah, no influence whatsoever. None.
My problem with OSC is that OSC has a body of work. I can’t read one piece and think to myself this guy has a really interesting and compelling view of the world and then move on to the next only to be disenchanted completely of this notion. When I look at an author’s work I’m also looking at the author’s opinions — their philosophy, often in practice if out of context — regardless.
On this single topic I’m sure I have more than enough evidence to feel disgruntled with this author. And unlike Heinlein, OSC has every opportunity to reconsider not just the unpopularity of his viewpoint, but also the root cause of other people’s dissatisfaction with his opinions. Instead, he demands my tolerance of his intolerance. Meh.
Not to bring another author into this mess, but Terry Pratchett wrote an exchange that has stuck with me for ages between Granny Weatherwax and The Quite Reverend Mightily-Praiseworthy-Are-Ye-Who-Exalteth-Om Oats in Carpe Jugulum. I think it might show where that two came from.
“A bit judgmental my grand mother.”
“Nothing wrong with that. Judging is human.”
“We prefer to leave it ultimately to Om,” said Oats. And out here in the dark that statement sounded lost and all alone.
“Being human means judging all the time” said the voice behind him. “This and that, good and bad, making choices everyday, that’s human.”
“And are you so sure you make the right decisions?”
“No but I do the best I can.”
“And hope for mercy, humm?”
A bony finger prodded him in the back. “Mercy is a fine thing, but judging comes first. Otherwise you don’t know what you’re being merciful about. Anyway I always heard you Omnians were keen on smiting and crushing.”
“Those were um, different days. We use crushing arguments now.”
“And long pointed debates, I suppose.”
“Well there are two sides to every question.”
“What do you do when one of ’em is wrong?” The reply came back like an arrow.
“I meant that we are enjoined to see things from the other person’s point of view,” said Oats patiently.
“You mean that from the point of view of a torturer, torture is alright?”
“Mistress Weatherwax you are a natural disputant.”
“No I ain’t”
This River Runs Deep
And when I read “Ender’s Game” with an eye for the critical I think there are a couple of criticism that can be made of the work independently of the author. Let’s set aside the movie and the hype machine that has been turned to prop up the story for a moment. I find it difficult to discuss the qualities of anything that has millions of dollars of other people’s creative efforts generating an augmentation haze around it. I mean, good grief, the movie poster has the following printed on it “This is not a game” and then under that “Ender’s Game” as if a kid in a cool looking motorcycle suit and helmet will magically distract us from this dissonance.
The book, as a narrative, lacks this sort of pretense. The medium lacks the flashing lights and special effects that turn most of our minds into grey matter puddles. And, because of this, it gives me an opportunity to really examine what might be going on here.
Yes, there are some neato ideas in here, but there is a theme I have difficulty believing. I can buy orbital space cities with zero gravity games. The hint of eugenics which might have been used to create Ender (and certainly was involved in the generation of Bean) I will even buy. But I’m going to have to draw the line with the sort of hero worship that OSC expects us to swallow when it comes to Ender’s prodigy. Ask yourself this question how much more can a wiz kid achieve than I?
Philosophically, it is my opinion that OSC was reading too much Nietzsche prior to penning “Ender’s Game”. Ender is Übermensch without a doubt, transcendent from humanity to save it. This is the character who only rolls the loaded D20 and he’s worse than Batman. Add to this that there is a strong current of predictive speculation within the story which only serves to underline what everyone knows, in or out of the story, is true about Ender. That he, and only he can save humanity for the Bugger’s next invasion.
If I were to remove the really “cool” idea of the overlord Ender from the story and set you to examine the other characters you’re sort of left despairing for the future of humanity.
The one good piece of news I get from all of this is that if OSC can make it in this business, despite the impediment of his constant intolerance and poor taste, I can probably make a go of it too. Better, he has plenty of opportunities left to change as a character, and evolve some compassion.