Tuesday, June 11, 2013


So, I'm reading a new (for me) book by Orson Scott Card, and while I'm generally managing to enjoy the book just for itself, there's something that keeps popping up at the back of my mind, and it's pretty much this:

The short version of the above video (uploaded to YouTube just a few weeks ago but originally made and published elsewhere at the height of the Chick-fil-A anti-gay marriage controversy), which you don't need to watch to understand my point here despite being a very insightful video, is that Orson Scott Card is simultaneously one of today's finest and most popular science fiction writers and one of the more prominent critics of homosexuality and same-sex marriage. If you're not familiar with Card, I would say you're missing out on both/either some excellent writing and/or fascinating culture war. Lindsay Ellis, a.k.a. "Nostalgia Chick" is right that it's a bit overboard to think of Card's writing as fascistic, but I want to suggest that as polite and reasonable as she's being, there are some aspects of Card as a person that can stand being looked at both more deeply and kindly, and I think it's worth doing.

The thing is, I talked about this sort of thing before, but in that case I was only tangentially talking about things that were deeply and more explicitly evil, while here I want to get more in depth with the casually offensive. For the short version there, you can find the single sentence in the linked post that mentions Hitler; I'm going to compare Card to Hitler, but as weird as it sounds, I'm going to do it in a nice way.

So Card is homophobic. So what? A lot of people are, so why do people care so much about Card's homophobia? Hitler was homophobic, but it mattered very much because along with his racism, it led to the deaths of millions. Card isn't killing anyone, but his homophobia matters to people because as a famous person, the statements he makes in the public sphere have more influence than Joe Schmo who would tell the world how much the thought of two dudes kissing grosses him out if only anyone would bother to ask him his opinion on it.

Fame is definitely a part of it, and it's a funny two-edged sword. If you're famous, regardless of the reason, when you speak your opinion people listen. If they agree with you, then they say, "This famous person is terrific; everyone should be listening to this!" If they don't, they say, "This famous person is an idiot; why do famous people think that just because they're famous they get to tell others what to think?" I definitely believe that Card's fame is a big part of why he has a platform that allows so many to know what his opinion is, and since so many know, there is a sense in which the outrage over his homophobia is proportional to the size of his audience. But I don't think that's the whole story.

In the video, the homophobic* things that Card has said are labeled as "dumb shit" by Ellis. Okay, but what makes them "dumb"? I am of course making an assumption that may be taking her statements in as shallow a manner as I'm more or less accusing Card's detractors of taking his, but I assume that what makes them "dumb" is simply that she disagrees with them.

I can't speak for whether Card's views on homosexuality are smarter or stupider than anybody else's since I've never bothered to read them; I am one of those people who chooses to view art (visual, written, or musical) on its own merits rather than through the filter of what sort of a person the creator is, for better or for worse. What I think I can say is that there are a lot of stupid arguments against same-sex marriage, but that doesn't mean that every argument against same-sex marriage is stupid. For every dozen or so arguments on par with "legalizing same-sex marriage will lead to people having sex with ducks," there is somebody pointing out that same-sex couples being unable to procreate suggests something not quite in line with the natural order. Yeah, the latter argument has flaws, but at the very least it feels like there's a nugget of logic in there, you know?

But this is the thing, and in my mind, it's the real central issue of the problem that fans of Card's writing have with Card himself: Card is not stupid. His books almost invariably contain protagonists that are incredible geniuses, and while of course being able to reason your way out of a sticky situation is potentially less impressive when both the problem and the solution come from the same mind (Card's, that is), there is still the strong feeling that the person writing the story has got to be pretty darn clever. Why is this a problem? Because people who denounce things like racism, sexism, and homophobia have the unfortunate (in my opinion) tendency to label those things as "ignorance".

So this is where it all ties back to Hitler, and try and follow me on this because it is weird. In the post I linked to above, I pointed out that as much as people like to label him a "monster", Hitler was a human being, just like you and me. Sometimes you hear people say of politicians these days that "He's the sort of guy you could hang out and have a beer with!" I have no doubt that Hitler was a guy that you could hang out and have a beer with--so long as you weren't a member of one of the groups that the Third Reich tried to exterminate. And what's more, who could really think that Hitler was an idiot? He nearly took over the whole world, which doesn't sound to me like the sort of thing that idiots tend to do. No, Hitler wasn't ignorant; he had an oddly well-informed hatred.

So like I said, I'm drawing some parallels here between people of varying levels of tolerance. I would probably enjoy sharing a beer with Adolph Hitler, Orson Scott Card, or Lindsay Ellis, (although I surely won't because one is dead, one's a Mormon, and the last I'm unlikely to ever meet in person) but that's not necessarily a reflection on their value as a person, nor the value of their personal beliefs. What it is a reflection on is that I have no doubt any of them would be an interesting person to have a conversation with.

My belief--and this doesn't necessarily make me a better or more tolerant person than anyone else--is that when you dismiss anyone's viewpoint as stupid, you're the one who has closed yourself off to learning and growing. This is one of the reasons why I blog, and wish I was more diligent in responding to comments: I want to reach out to people who have opinions that differ from my own, because even if neither of us changes our position, I believe we can learn from each other.

So if you don't like Card's stance on same-sex marriage, you might consider reading more of his writing if only to understand why someone would have the stance he has. In the meantime, it's a free country, so write all the Wiggin/Delphiki slash fic your heart desires.

*I'd like to say that I've never liked the term "homophobic" as a blanket term for anything anti-GLBT. It seems to imply that a "homophobe" is afraid of people in the GLBT community, when often that is not the case. There were times in the past (and maybe even now, depending on how you feel about this post) that I've held and even expressed attitudes that would be labeled as "homophobic", but I don't have any fear of homosexuals. I've always felt that there ought to be term along the lines of "racist" or "sexist" in order to reflect somewhat more accurately the more general concept, such as "orientationist" perhaps? Oh well.

Monday, June 03, 2013

The Tale of the Paper-Wizard, an economic fable

There once was a man who was hard-working and kindly, and because of this, even though he lived alone he had everything in the world he felt he could possibly want, and was happy. One day, after an afternoon's labor of watering fields and chopping firewood, he sat down for an evening's meal of a freshly-cooked bowl of rice. As he was about to eat, a wizard emerged from the forest and stood before him.

"Hello, sir," the wizard said to him with a sly smile, "and good evening."

"Good evening, stranger," the man replied. "I was about to enjoy my evening meal, but as I see you are travelling and seem to have no food, I feel I should offer to share it with you!"

The wizard bowed to the man and said, "That is very kind of you, good sir. While I do appreciate your offer, I am glad to say that I would like to offer you an even more generous kindness!"

Although the man had entertained unexpected guests before, this was new to him. He asked the wizard what he meant.

The wizard reached into his pocket and took out a small object. "I was wondering if you would give me the entire bowl of rice, as I am quite hungry from my travel. In return I would give you this," he extended the object to the man, "a piece of magical paper."

The man examined the paper. Indeed, it did look magical. The whole of the paper was filled on both sides with fancy writing and images of elderly, wise men. "What does it do?" the man asked.

The wizard smiled even wider. "That is the great generosity of this paper; you see, while in appearance it is merely a piece of paper, with the great value imbued upon it by the writing, the owner of this paper may exchange it for twenty kilos of rice!" The wizard pressed the paper into the man's hand and closed his fingers over it. "I know twenty kilos is much more rice than you have in your bowl, but I insist that you take it."

The man was impressed, and he accepted the offer, giving the wizard his bowl of rice.

Well the next evening, the man had done less work than usual and yet felt far more fatigued and hungry. He figured that somehow, as light as it seemed, the twenty kilos of rice in his pocket must be weighing him down. As he sat to his evening meal, the wizard appeared before his house once more. There was an exchange of greetings, a discussion of the weather, and in the end, the wizard left with a belly full of rice, and the man had another twenty kilos of rice in magic paper.

This went on for several days. Finally, the day came when at the time of the evening meal, the man was lying in bed having been too weak to work that day. When the wizard arrived, he entered the house and asked the man what was wrong.

When the man explained how he found himself with no more energy to rise, and made to apologize, the wizard smiled his sly smile again and motioned for the man to be silent. "Sir, you are a very hard worker, and no doubt you have worn yourself ragged with labor. Do not worry about me; instead think of yourself. With all of the magic paper I have given you in the time I have known you, you surely have all the food you will ever need for the rest of your life. So sleep for now, and I am sure tomorrow you will be fine as you will no longer need to labor for your sustenance."

With that, the man closed his eyes and drifted off to sleep. His pockets were full of hundreds of kilos magical rice he would never eat, for he never woke from that slumber again.