The OF Blog: Hate the writing and not the writer, or hate the writer and not the writing, or just dismiss them both?

Friday, September 17, 2010

Hate the writing and not the writer, or hate the writer and not the writing, or just dismiss them both?

This week, I started a long-term substitute teaching gig at a local drug rehab center.  I live pretty much in the buckle of the Bible Belt and rarely does a week (or even a day) go by where someone that I would consider to be, on the whole, a "good person" says something really stupid or ignorant about issues such as immigration, religion, or politics.  Since I know these people and know that they generally are caring people despite these unfortunate "blind spots" (or character flaws, if you want to be less charitable than I try to be with most people), I can be forgiving (or at least try) to the person, if not to their particular beliefs or acts which I find to be harmful.

But when the personal factor is removed, it is much easier to conflate the person with their particular beliefs and actions.  After all, 99.99% of the people who read this article have never met me in person.  All I have for those people are my words, transmitted electronically.  It is nowhere near the totality of me and sometimes, there are things said and done that might give people the impression that I am not the nicest of persons, to say the least.  I understand and accept that, although I'd hope that there would be some that would be willing to be charitable despite some irritable comments I've said.

Since I've been very busy with my new teaching job (enjoying it greatly so far, by the way), I have not had the time until now to blog about the uproar that Elizabeth Moon's post about citizenship that referenced US Muslims in a rather caustic and unfair fashion.  As someone who has worked with Muslims and who has had several Muslim students over the years, I found her statements to be silly and wrong-headed.  I viewed it as being no better nor no worse than what I hear almost every week from people in my exurb.  It is a post that should be condemned for perpetuating certain prejudices.

However, just because an author speaks from ignorance and states certain things that are odious to several readers does not mean that vitriol should be flung back.  It is understandable that some would be loathe to read some of her works so soon after learning of those comments, but are the stories necessarily extensions of their writers?  I am saddened by her post, in part because of her excellent novel about autism, The Speed of Dark, which moved me, in part because I have worked with a few autistic children over the years.  I am having a hard time reconciling the author of that book with the writer of that post.  Maybe it's just that even basically decent and compassionate people can have truck-wide holes in their goodness that prevent people from seeing the good and only considering the evil that they have wrought.  Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, anyone?

Perhaps the reason why this weighs on me is hearing of those who want to reconsider all of Moon's works on the basis of this misguided post or even those (thankfully rare) who wish to inflict bodily damage on her.  The irony of this intolerance seems to be lost on a few.  I wonder if authors should even weigh in on social issues, considering how quick readers are to rush to a summary judgment, regardless of whether or not a single post reflects accurately the entire corpus of that author's public comments or private beliefs.  I also wonder if some of those responding are responding out of charity, an attempt to persuade the offending author to reconsider his/her views, or if they are being judgmental in return and have the intent to castigate without trying also to correct.

All I know is that this entire affair makes me sad.  Sometimes, people whom you believe have good overall traits just say and do stupid shit and that shit splatters all over them, ruining the perspective of their good traits.

18 comments:

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

People are quick to judge those they do not know, and the impersonal nature of the Internet has only encouraged this behavior.
I am very careful what I say and do online. I'm just an author, not a leader or an expert.

S.M.D. said...

Well, it's hard to find the comments to the thread, since she deleted them all, but of the ones I have been able to read from the few screencaps I have seen, the reactions have been a mixture between:

1) You are Satan and I hate you.
2) You are completely wrong about this, and I'm disgusted by what you're said.
3) You're completely wrong and here's why.
4) You're wrong and you should really reconsider what you've said.
5) I see what you're trying to say, but regardless of what you think you're saying in your head, what you've actually said to everyone else is something that sounds awful.

Most are upset by the post, obviously. I do agree that there's a problem with trying to read her public comments into her fiction work. Sometimes that is important, but sometimes it's not.

That said, I completely understand the reactions against her, particularly those in which people have said they will no longer buy or read her works. It's sad, but she did bring it on herself with those comments. There are consequences for the things we say, especially in communities like ours (I mean SF/F).

Larry said...

Alex,

I think that's a smarter approach than what so many of us, readers and authors alike, do.

Shaun,

I agree to a point, but only to a point. I can understand the frustration and I do agree with those who tried explain calmly why she was so wrongheaded with her post, but the namecalling and threats that I heard about from others who read the comments before they were deleted, that's just crossing a line that borders hate speech. The irony of that is so sad.

S.M.D. said...

I absolutely agree. I don't think name calling or any kind of ad hominem nonsense does anyone any good. I've said it elsewhere on this very thing. And I've been on the other end of that, where an SF-important individual used ad hominem to essentially discount my opinion, which wasn't one that was an actual disagreement, but a general criticism meant to be constructive. Ad hominem is, as I've said elsewhere, rarely anything more than a cowardly way to indicate that you've got nothing worthwhile to add to the conversation.

Larry said...

While I won't deny that I'll utilize parody to disparage ill-conceived posts (such as the one I did a few days ago), I just cannot muster up much invective and use ad hominems like some seem capable of doing. Maybe I just don't understand people enough, since I barely can grasp why they do it.

Greg said...

She doesn't necessarily have to be ignorant, I think it more sounds like she is wrong-headed and has just gone down an intellectual dead-end. She seems to make some decent points but in a very poor way, and it shouldn't be in relation to Islam, the central theme is more about misapprehension. At least how I (chose) to read it.

Anyway, I do think you can be overly twaty, but i still enjoy your blog, and you have encouraged me to read a number of authors I otherwise wouldn't have. So, keep your bite but try to be more directed to deserving targets, or rather to targets when they deserve it. I mean going at Pat does seem going for an easy target, and I never get your repeated anger at boards. They never were always deep discussions about the text, and most fantasy boards concentrate on second-world stuff, you know get over it and stuff making snobby/high-brow comments about it. It is the main reason for there existence, there still are threads about topics you will be interested in.

Larry said...

Well, at least you're honest about things ;) Much of what I say is meant to be taken as mild irritation and nothing too consuming, but I can see where it could be taken otherwise. It's a shame I really can't talk much about my professional life, as I think there's so much positivity on the whole that it more than counterbalances the sardonic tone of some of my posts.

S.M.D. said...

Larry: I call it the YouTube-ization of the world (specifically America). But I'm sure there's a better, more professional name for it.

Many of us have either grown up in or adapted to an Internet-heavy world, which allows us to remain relatively anonymous, if not truly, then at least by virtue of not ever having to meet the people we disparage face-to-face (in most cases). So, many of us simply allow our writing and spoken forms to become little more than illy conceived rhetoric meant to make others feel less about themselves. I'd say that this is a response to our own insecurities about our individual "uselessness" in global society, since most of us, individually, are essentially useless (the loss of all of us constitutes a negative, but the loss of one individual, in most cases, is just a standard everyday loss), but I might be reaching for some sort of higher, psychological understanding to an otherwise common practice (one that has probably been around for a while).

And I like that word: invective. I shall use it!

Amy said...

Well, I actually got some personal attacks on a recent post over on my blog from an author's friends after a less than positive review, so... timely post!

I find sometimes I love the book and dislike what the author says outside of that, and sometimes it is the opposite and I love the author but just really can't stand the books or writings. Or any combination.

I don't think we have to agree with all the points a person makes to like them or some of their work. I think diversity is a good thing. That being said, speaking about something you don't know enough about isn't ever a good thing either. But personal attacks are NEVER cool, in my mind!

IZ said...

Well, I haven't read a great deal of Moon, but what I have read (the Deed of Paksenarrion trilogy) was very problematic. Not because it was a generic Dungeons & Dragons fantasy (which only made it unimaginative and trite) but because in the narrative E. Moon had created, the good were good because they worshipped a "good" god, and the evil were evil because they worshipped "evil" gods. If I remember correctly, the titular hero as part of a "good" mercenary company commits wholesale slaughter when besieging a city (including women and children). The hero is uncomfortable with this, but it is presented as the sad but necessary thing to do when good fights evil.

Now this is indicative of a problematic (also misguided and simplistic) view of how the world works. And I will admit it did put me off reading more Moon - not in a "I'll never read her again" kind of way, but it did mean that her books dropped to the lower reaches of my tbr read pile.

Having read the piece you linked to, I certainly don't agree with what Ms. Moon is saying, but at the same time I don't think she is being extremely offensive (and I am a Muslim by the way.) To me her post confirms the suspicion I had that her view of how the world works is simplistic. And here is the thing - this fact cannot but have an impact on her work because her world-building and certain aspects of narrative will be affected by this reductionism. This does not mean that she can't tell humane, touching, exciting stories. She may still be able to do this, but it does indicate to me that she can never world-build or depict social or political forces at work in her fictional worlds on the level of say, Steven Erikson.

So far, this seems to be a storm in a teacup to me, perhaps raising a greater furore because of the topicality of the whole Ground Zero business. But there is one author who I used to enjoy whose books I now simply refuse to pay out money for and that is Dan Simmons. After all, financially rewarding someone who publicly advocates genocide against your family, friends, co-workers, countrymen and co-religionists is really taking things too far. I would feel like a Jew buying 'Mein Kampf' in late Weimar Germany. No thanks.

Kenny Cross said...

I seem to have missed the firestorm by a bit. I just finished reading Elizabeth Moon's post. I wasn't offended, completely the opposite, I was refreshed and inspired. If you disagree with her post that's one thing but for her comments to have caused some sort of internet firestorm seems silly.

Take into account she was a U.S. Marine Corps Officer, and prefacing her comments by an awesome take on the responsibility of being a citizen. If you are an American you can't help but be inspired by that part at least.

As for her novels I loved SASSINAK that she wrote with McCaffery and was kind of ho-hum about her Paksenarrion novels. I haven't read anything of her's since. I've never been a big fan.

Let me be clear: If I stopped reading novels by writers because I disagreed with their politics vehemently, if I stopped listening to music and musicians because of their politics or opinions, or refused to watch movies because of the same I'd own about 20 books, 3 CD's, and would have burned hundreds of DVD's.

At least Moon has the guts to come right out and say what she believes. Painting a big giant target on her chest for all authors in the field and fans to throw dung at her from the shadows, typing angrily from their dim lit rooms.

Either way - the hand wringing of those upset with her comments or Moon's post isn't going to change one thing about the truth of the situation. The truth is that this is a sideshow to distract us from the real problems with this country and the way we're headed.

Eric M. Edwards said...

Boycotting authors because of their politics, personalities, or foot-in-the-mouth statements *outside* their books, is misguided.

I can understand that for some readers the knowledge is enough to derail their sense of enjoyment.

When living authors show themselves to be racist, misogynistic or homophobic, or support climate change denial and the like, this can be a hard decision. Mostly, I'm only interested in the text, not the author. As long as such opinions are not in the books themselves at the expense of the story, I don't really care what sort of person the writer is in their private persona.

I do understand why people find Elizabeth Moon's ravings hard to take without comment (and apparently, she deleted that option for many by deleting their comments).

She's cloaking racism of a dangerous sort - one linked to her own illogical faith which hasn't a leg to stand on when it comes to intolerance, violence, and rubbing people the wrong way - with a flawed defense of an America that doesn't exist, based on American history that never was.

Fine for an alt history scifi novel, but not a reasonable argument. Clearly this is an emotive reaction on Moon's part based on a willful blindness to the facts.

"Americans" were not forced to assimilate themselves with native cultures, their beliefs, or societies when they got to the Americas. Instead, they systematically wiped them out and forced the few remainders on to reservations. They certainly didn't show "forbearance" for the wars and reprisals their brutal colonization efforts engendered.

Later settlers, despite predominantly from the same landmass (i.e. Europe) unless either slaves or disposable labour for the railways, did not find a smooth path. Nor did they leave their own cultures selflessly behind. These groups struggled for recognition; faced religious and racial discrimination. They often subjected the next wave which followed to much the same process in a man-kick-dog-bite-cat-claw-rat sort of progression.

In Mexico, Central and South America, assimilation was accomplished by means equally brutal - the breeding out of pure indigenous populations, conversion at the end of a musket, and a similar pattern of displacement by Europeans.

Caribbean and island populations have their own sad histories. The struggle to be treated as fellow humans along with the continent's trade in slaves, is well documented.

It's absolute nonsense to indicate that Muslims need to walk softly and apologize profusely for a list of conflicts with the nominal "Christian" population of America - most of which have nothing to do with 9/11 and happened long before the founding fathers were even a twinkle in the moist eyes of history.

The shrill demand for Muslim obsequiousness over the destruction of the Twin Towers which haunts Moon's diatribe shows a lack of historical perspective. It is, whatever people's emotive reaction, a drop in the bucket when it comes to human atrocities.

I'll never forget having a coworker the day after the planes hit the Trade Towers furiously exclaim, "Nothing like this has ever happened in the history of the world!" Which while technically correct, is such an obvious misunderstanding of this particular tragedy's place in the list of Really Bad Things Humans Have Done to Each Other, as to leave me speechless.

As do Moon's comments about the forbearance of those “Christian” communities who haven't burnt down mosques or lynched any Muslims, -lately. No doubt the Japanese-Americans enjoyed a similar forbearance whilst holidaying in internment camps during WWII.

It's sad that Moon had this moment of madness, but she'd not alone. Hysteria and blindness to the facts have long since replaced intelligent discussion on this topic and are, only likely to prevail.

E.

Richard Morgan said...

In answer to your question, Larry:

Eviscerate the writing for its appalling shortcomings, criticise the writer for giving in to atavistic fears and frustrations and venting without the clarity of knowledge or analysis - and then acknowledge the very real causes for said fears and frustrations.

Moon is a modern emancipated woman. Modern Islam has not exactly covered itself with glory where gender rights are concerned. Ignoring this is like wondering wide-eyed why on Earth some black people have to go and get so uptight about that harmless old Confederate flag.....

And if intellectually respected Muslim-raised women like Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Irshad Manji can take their erstwhile faith to task for its failure to engage with modernity, then there's no reason Moon shouldn't either.

It's just a shame she didn't choose to apply some intelligent research and analysis to the matter before she hit the keyboard. There is a very real argument to be had - it's just this wasn't it.

IZ said...

I know this is slightly derailing the topic of this thread, but I have to say I'm quiet amused at Mr Morgan's "intellectual respect" for Ayann Ali Hirsi, whose current mantra for dealing with problems in Islamic society is enforcing conversion to Christianity. I thought Elizabeth Moon's post had far more intellectual depth and rigour!

Irshad Manji is in a different league altogether, though as a westerner speaking to a western audience I don't think she is going to have much of an impact on anything.

Mr Morgan writes: "It's just a shame she didn't choose to apply some intelligent research and analysis to the matter before she hit the keyboard."

Why not take the trouble to do some research on women from Muslim societies who are actually fighting to make a difference such as Shirin Ebadi of Iran, Asma Jahangir or Mukhtar Mai in Pakistan or Shukria Barakzai or Zoya in Afghanistan?

IZ said...

Oh and also, Mr Morgan: love your books! Really looking forward to the next one!

Richard Morgan said...

Well, many thanks for the kind words!

By all means add those women to the list - I named only those most likely to be generally known.

I confess I think Ali is misguided in her calls for conversion (though I don't believe that she calls for it to be enforced at any point). But it is not necessary to agree with someone 100% in order to respect their experience and intellectual position. Ali has a lifetime of experience of Islam and its impact on women, both from growing up with the faith as a parent culture and from working for many years as a professional at its interface with modern western culture. And her current precarious existence under death threat makes her a walking example of the extent to which we do have a serious problem here. You'd have to be insane not to hear her voice and give it due attention.

If you've read my stuff then you'll know very clearly what my own political leanings are, and that I have precious little love for the right wing, or western hegemonic tendency in general. Add to that the fact that I have lived and worked with Muslims of one stripe or another for much of my professional life. But the extent to which the politically correct left continues to stick its fingers in its ears and chant La-La-La, I'm not listening where Islamic excess is concerned drives me to distraction, just as blinkered old guard leftism's apologists for the Soviet Union and China always used to in my youth. It's the same brainless tribalism and it needs to be called. I don't agree with Moon at all - but I understand her frustration perfectly.

Richard Morgan said...

Forgot to mention:

Irshad Manji is in a different league altogether, though as a westerner speaking to a western audience I don't think she is going to have much of an impact on anything.

I think that's short-sighted, to be honest. If Islam is going to have any kind of meaningful modern future, it's going to happen in or through the western world. Take Shirin Abadi as a case in point - a Nobel Peace Prize winner, and where is she now? In the UK, on the run from her own (Islamic) nation. Where on the planet do you have women Muslims leading mixed gender congregations in prayer? Canada, the US, the UK, Spain, France......

This is the wave of change that's going to drag Islam into the twenty first century.

Ben said...

Complexity. There are many variables at work in the world. More than ever, probably.

It's misinformed to lump progressive American Muslims with those who commit honor killing and mutilation. Having overall liberal opinions does not make one part and parcel with the "politically correct left." This cuts both ways. Ms Moon is not a Stormfronter because some of her opinions can be challenged.

Richard, you mentioned dragging Islam into the 21st century. I guess if (Big If) I have a point it's that this is going to be done from within. There is some danger of the people who are trying to make their faith more modern and compassionate being stigmatized.

 
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