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John C. Wright is recoiling in craven fear and trembling, and I don’t feel so good myself.

Actually, I don’t know that he’s necessarily recoiling in craven fear and trembling. But: he has taken down his storied post, “More Diversity and More Perversity in the Future!” in which he excoriated the SyFy [sic] channel for “recoil[ing] in fear and trembling when lectured by homosex activists,” after said post received 800+ lecturing, hectoring comments; and besides, I can never pass up an obscure joke.

I’ve been going by his LiveJournal every night now, ever since I caught a link to that rant (via the Mump), and I figured out this was that guy who wrote those books I’ve never quite gotten around to picking up—and now I can’t tell whether I’m glad I dodged a bullet, or whether I wish I hadn’t.

Tonight, after nuking the aforementioned storied post, he (in the course of defending his apology) posted the following:

First let us clarify who the enemy is. It is not the homosexuals. The enemy is the homosexual lobby (who for the most part are happily married heterosexuals) that are devoted to a Leftwing antinomian agenda, and willing and eager to use pressure tactics to enforce the doctrinal conformity so near and dear to the heart of the Left.

Which is me giving you the full context of the paragraph, and not the experience of reading it; the experience of reading it was rather more like—

The enemy is the homosexual lobby (who for the most part are happily married heterosexuals) that bleep! does not compute

When I found my jaw and resettled it on my face I found myself nodding along—well, yes, in a world in which the homosexual lobby is for the most part comprised of happily married heterosexuals, well, sure, perhaps there might very well be something sinister about their devotion to an antinomian agenda. —That our world, the world in which both I and John C. Wright unarguably exist, does not in any way resemble this world does not in any way invalidate the logic; merely the premise.

Sorry. Jaw’s still a little loose. —There.

I tried to post a comment. I was going to quote the bit about the homosexual lobby (who for the most part are happily married heterosexuals) and I was going to ask whether I might ask how he came by this particular fact. But he’s locked down comments to his LiveJournal; only those he’s added as friends are allowed to comment at all. The rest of us are banned.

Can’t say I blame him. The shitstorm was mighty. Battening the hatches is only rational.

MacAllister and I have not exactly been arguing or even discussing but more like honing points off each other. I’m going to quote hers first because it’s my blog and I get the last word, and I’ll grab hers from this tor.com thread:

I think we cannot conflate the art and the artist.
Actually, what I think is more vehement than the above statement.
In 1953, Isaac Asimov called SF “that branch of literature which is concerned with the impact of scientific advance upon human beings” and I find that description compelling precisely because so much of the impact of science upon human beings has precisely to do with issues that, once upon a time, were dictated to us by shamans, holy men, or chicken entrails.
I think it’s damaging to conflate the art with the artist. The writer is not the book. When we’re talking about the literature of ideas, especially, I think it’s damaging to us as thinkers, readers, and writers to artificially and arbitrarily shield ourselves from ideas we disagree with, find unpleasant, or even repugnant.

And there is nothing in that I do not agree with, but—and I’m going to grab mine from a whiles back when the Islets of Bloggerhans were talking about Orson Scott Card again because, you know, not inappropriate:

Science fiction is largely a fiction of setting: the bulk of the iceberg that’s unseen, underwater, is the act of world-building, and in that act, politics is paramount. (One is building a polis, after all.) —Therefore, it’s all-too-appropriate to keep in mind an author’s politics when considering their science fiction: an author who, say, considers homosexuality to be an aberration, is un- (or perhaps less) likely to build a world that would appeal to a reader who does not. There’s an assumption clash: one of his fundamental, foundational bedrocks is abhorrent to me, and vice-versa.
One can respond: well, yes, but there’s nothing about aberrant homosexuality in Ender’s Game, so how can it clash? Heck, there’s nothing in that book about homosexuality at all! And I will resist the urge to say oh, you think so? and I will even resist the urge to say precisely! —Instead, I’ll allow as how there’s frequently large gaps in the jerry-rigged polis left as exercises for the reader: one can hardly describe every kitchen sink, after all; one must make assumptions, and count on the reader doing likewise (which among other reasons is why fan fiction [and slash fiction] is so popular in science fiction). But that’s precisely why when those assumptions suddenly clash, it’s unsettling, even violently dissonant.

Which is why it’s not an argument and hardly a discussion. I’m talking about why I’m no longer terribly interested in reading Card’s work, nor Wright’s; she’s talking about why such work must remain available to be read. —A book doesn’t always have to be an axe for the frozen sea within, for God’s sake, but one should never lose the ability or God forbid the inclination to read for the hacking. But when the only challenge a book’s likely to pose is the challenge not to throw it across the room—

Why’d this come up in the first place? —Most of the 800+ comments to that storied post were along the lines of “I’ll never read your books again, thanks for warning me off, you’ll never get dime one of my money.” (“Every time you bloviate offensively on the internet, a reader swears off your work for life,” says Catherynne Valente, in one of the many open letters to Wright that have sprung up of late.)

Now, there’s a difference between “I do not wish to read you, or support you with my money,” and “You should never be published ever again!” though I can appreciate how it might be a difficult distinction to make on the receiving end. Especially when it’s more overtly couched as a boycott: “I’m never buying a Tor book again so long as they keep publishing writers like you.” (I’m sure John Mackey can sympathize.) But there’s also a difference between “You should never be published again!” and “I’ve fucking had it with living in world where you and yours make the rules!” —And I think what it is is my Emma Goldman baseline’s not wanting to be part of a revolution that depends on shutting people up.

Even if one of the ways I try to keep my little corner of the world safe from them and theirs is to, you know, not bother to read works by this author or that.

Barry and I were emailing about Wright and Card and suchlike. “Ah!” I said at one point. “Sitting in judgment of other people with my morning coffee on a chilly day off from work with a baby in my lap. —Have I mentioned how glad I am she’ll grow up in a world where these moral monsters are marginalized? Have I mentioned how terrified I am I’m wrong?”

That initial, storied post is an ugly thing, a ham-handed attempt at excoriating the SyFy [sic] channel from an infantilely Manichean lex naturalis, full of the sneering braggadocio of a playground bully preening for his sycophants (says me, with a sneer). —His basic argument (expounded in a later comment to that post) was a syllogism in Camestres:

Odd as it sounds, I was fully loyal to the sexual revolution as an idea. Then someone tried to convince me that two lesbians licking each other in the crotch was the same in all ways, just as sacred, just as romantic, just as normal, just as beautiful as Romeo and Juliet, Tristan and Iseult, Micky and Minnie, Adam and Eve, Jove and Juno, Father Sky and Mother Earth, me and my wife.

(Or Ruth and Naomi? says me, preening.) —And yes, the premises fall apart in your hand when you gingerly try to pick them up, but yes, it’s a just-so story, and thus irremediable to them what believes. What’s striking is the ugliness of the language, the revulsion, the almost-desperate hodgepodge of totemic icons thrown up in defense, all in an argument that insists on the rigor of its logic, on the intractable ad hominemity of the other side. It seems to have struck Wright, too:

I think my posts were accurate but were not measured.
Let me give you a hypothetical:
Imagine standing in the waiting room of a hospital, and overhearing a doctor joking with a nurse about some patient about to die, and the doc uses gross slang to describe the patient’s bowels dissolving and so on—and you realize that patient is your loved one.
Now, the doctor said nothing untrue, and he was engaged in what actually he thought a private conversation (even if it was in a public spot). But you would be shocked, and he should be careful of your feelings.

And—well, yes, the analogy’s strained and rather terribly objectionable, but the basic sentiment, the apology itself, that’s sound enough, surely? Commendable, even, in an internet where no one ever walks anything back ever? (Though it’s with a poor and a threadbare, sketchy grace: “I had damn well better offer these people, enemies or not, the olive branch, and quickly. They will not accept it, if I am any judge of character: indeed, they will take it as a sign of weakness and redouble their efforts. But that is not my concern and not the orders I was given.”)

Except—the “you” above is a very particular, rather singular you, with a very particular and singular loved one who’s about to (figuratively) die:

There was one commenter whose feelings I actually hurt. His mother is a homosexual, and he was rightfully offended at the language I used to describe homosexuality. Him I apologized to privately, but I would also like to do it publicly. It is hard to tell, just from reading words, when people are being sincere, and when they are not, but I thought this one guy was sincere, and that most of the rest of you were engaged in rhetoric.
To him, wherever he is, I am sorry. I regret my words, and I regret my thoughtlessness. Please forgive me.

—And the queerly thrilling horror that’s been creeping over me the past few days comes sharply into focus, with all this talk of a monolithic Left and their antinomian agendas and a homosexual lobby filled with heterosexual couples and a straight Sappho and the evil space monkeys: he literally does not realize that every single person who snapped at him in the 800+ comments left on that storied post, every single one, was reacting out of anger that had come through grief, was just as rightfully offended by the language he’d used, was no matter how rude in response just as deserving of apologies both public and private, that each of them was or loved or knew someone whose life had been bent or broken or wrecked or deflected by the appallingly arbitrary rules he was defending, his dreadfully unnatural lex naturalis—

Yeah, but I wasn’t going to do, well, that.

This was about—what, exactly? Grace, yes, and the koan; trying to get past the two-minute hate—I did say it was anger that came from the grief, and did allow as how the responses were rude (and got my own licks in: “Shorter Wright: My sexual peccadilloes are moral imperatives; your sexual peccadilloes are suspect; their sexual peccadilloes are disgusting”—hardly one of my finer moments)—but trying to make a point of how maybe one should listen to an objectionable author just as one might listen to their works, when really you’re more than ready to sit in judgment on a chilly August night over a splash of bourbon, is just as chary as offering up an olive branch you’re ready to snatch back at the first rebuff. —And there’s more than a little disaster tourism in all this, too, which I realize mucks up the clarity of that up there, but none of our motives are ever pure.

And maybe if I did get a chance to ask him directly how he came by the striking notion that the homosexual lobby are for the most part happily married heterosexuals, he’d just tell me that by “homosexual lobby” he meant, of course, the monolithic Left, and as homosexuals comprise a minority of the Left much as they do the population at large well QED, but maybe he wouldn’t; I don’t know. There’s a herky-jerky searching quality in all the self-serving bluster that, well. Doesn’t so much fill me with hope. But it’s certainly captured my attention the past few days.

Or maybe it’s just I have a weakness for pompous brio. —Whichever; anyway, tonight I added John C. Wright as a friend over to the LiveJournal.

(Oh, I added Catherynne Valente, too. After all, her baseline work for the bare minimum hit of the stuff she’s jonesing for, for which she’d forgive an artist just about any asshattery, is Mark Helprin’s Winter’s Tale—and what are the odds? So’s mine!)

  1. B. Zedan    Aug 15, 06:26 AM    #

    Well, god-damn. I’m glad I finished the trilogy for a second time before I learned what a bummer Wright is. Though, I read Heinlein and his dynamics can make my skin crawl, so. When you treat reading like alcoholism, you try not too look to hard at the label.

    I will say that I now understand why the ending was never fulfilling.

  2. Stella    Aug 16, 02:19 PM    #

    John’s delicate sensibilities have been cached for the internets forever, via this link;

  3. Nick Fagerlund    Aug 19, 11:23 PM    #

    NUTS, that’s him? I’d been looking forward to reading those books for like a year. >:[

    And yes, I feel ya, I feel the whole post. But I won’t lie, about six dozen things just jumped ahead of his place in my to-read queue.

  4. PG    Aug 24, 12:14 PM    #

    “The enemy is the homosexual lobby (who for the most part are happily married heterosexuals)”

    Ever heard of the “outside agitators” who would come south and stir up the perfectly happy, respectable negroes? White southerners liked black people just fine; heck, they interacted with them a lot more than Northerners who’d established de facto segregation in housing patterns did. All the problems really came from the interfering Yankees who would take those Freedom Rides and fill the negroes’ heads with a lot of nonsense about how they ought to be going to schools with whites and eating at the same lunch counters and voting. Sure, it might have looked like the water hoses and dogs were getting turned mostly on black people, but white Southerners regarded them as the innocent bystanders. The real troublemakers were white Northerners, evidently not having had their fill during Reconstruction, once again trying to tell Southerners how to live. (You don’t think a negro could have come up with such ideas on his own, do you? Obviously his poor nappy head was poisoned by those Yankees.)

    If you can’t tell, the preceding was in the voice of John C. Wright’s ideological forebear, who had no more idea of African Americans’ agency in seeking their rights than Wright does of homosexuals’ agency in seeking theirs, and was equally convinced that he’s the one who REALLY wants to help this benighted group.

  5. Kip Manley    Aug 24, 12:48 PM    #

    To be fair, there was A) the history of Reconstruction and B) the actual presence of “outside” agitators to not excuse but at least provide cover for white Southerners of that era who wished to deny the agency of their fellows. —I can’t think of any urban myth or legend which provides similar cover for terrified straights to accuse other straights of gender-preference-treason so as to deny the agency of their fellow queers; there’s no inside that puts these supposed agitators outside the queers Wright isn’t talking to anyway. It’s just fucken bizarre is what it is.

  6. Yonmei    Aug 25, 02:33 AM    #

    I dunno, Kip: I found it significant that, out of all the people whom Wright so viciously insulted, the only one he felt he ought to apologise to was the man who identified himself as the son of a lesbian mother. He didn’t feel any need to apologise to us queers for being insulting and abusive to us: he didn’t feel any need to apologise to any of the heterosexual “outside agitators”: only to a man who had (to Wright) a respectable, “family-orientated” reason for feeling hurt at Wright’s comments.

  7. Early Horse    Jan 28, 06:15 AM    #

    Maybe I’m coming to all this a little late. I just found out about the John C. Wright controversy. But I can’t help but feel very troubled by what I see.

    John C. Wright is a religious science fiction writer. He wrote a statement, motivated by his religion, about the science fiction channel. And yet, I see time and again people saying that we need to separate that from his “work.”

    Wright consistently writes extremely inflammatory and even abusive comments about everyone he doesn’t like, and I don’t see his most famous outburst as being all that different. That’s who he is. It’s what he does for a living: writing. What kind of writing is he known for? Highly opinionated typewriter pyrotechnics, guaranteed to offend liberals.

    Perhaps it’s a different thing to say, “I just heard a surreptitiously recorded phone conversation from Mel Gibson, but I don’t want it to ruin my enjoyment of the Road Warrior movies.” But why is everyone so quick to separate a writer’s writing from his “real” work? Are we going to apply the same standard to, say, Rush Limbaugh? “I don’t see why we have to let his Sandra Fluke comments distract from a serious consideration of Limbaugh’s body of work.”

    The same process is at work with regard to religion, here as in so many aspects of American life. Mitt Romney runs for President, assuring us he is a man of faith, but he also demands that we treat his faith as irrelevant to his qualifications- and for the most part, people go along with it.

    John C. Wright is a religious writer. It’s who he is. His swaggering Catholic triumphalism is the first thing you learn about him in his Wikipedia entry. He claims that he converted because he spoke to Jesus face-to-face. But when his religion draws negative attention, someone claiming to be John C. Wright shows up at the “talk” page of his Wikipedia entry, and declares that the mere fact that he happens to believe in the Catholic catechism is irrelevant to a serious consideration of his work. In effect, his face-to-face meeting with Jesus, at other times a cornerstone of his public persona, is, we are assured, merely an irrelevant personal pecadillo. And you know what? That ends the discussion. Nobody says hey, wait a minute, this can’t be John C. Wright. We take it for granted, in this day and age, that you can meet Jesus face-to-face and then go on to be a “serious writer” whose “real work” has nothing to do with religion.

    The inconsistencies are extremely illuminating. The homophobia controversy is gone from Wright’s page. There is, last I checked, no discussion of Wright’s actual views there. But the ad copy is all there: Wright is a Catholic, Catholicism is the religion of vulcans, etc., despite the fact that someone, accepted as being Wright himself, said it was all irrelevant. That’s what we have now: all sizzle, no steak. The world’s most popular encyclopedia throws out the convictions as irrelevant, and keeps the ballyhoo as essential information.

  8. Kip Manley    Jan 28, 07:46 AM    #

    It seems in my quest for nuance I once more neglected plain-speaking; my point, after all, was that while separating the fruits of artistic labor from the laborer can sometimes be a worthwhile and even a laudable goal, it is not always possible, nor even advisable, and in the case of someone like Mr. Wright rather detrimental.

    A book (unlike a manifesto, or the commentary of a radio talkshow host) is always larger than whoever it was who wrote it; each of us, after all, makes the book when we read it, and each of us can’t help but read differently, and the superposition of all those ghostly texts could never fit in any one head, and thank God for that. (Why else do we write, but to get the merest glimpses of just how big it all can get?) —So readers can sometimes bring enough to a book to undo what a writer thought to do; can sometimes find what the writer did in spite of trying so hard to do otherwise.

    Sometimes—often?—it just isn’t enough, and even a book inflated so far beyond its author’s wildest dreams end up a mean and stunted thing, foul and poisonous, or dull. Despite my o’erweening pride in my open-mindedness at following Mr. Wright on LiveJournal, I dropped him shortly thereafter; too much, too much. Life is short, and there are so many things to see.

    But four years on, this post remains one of the most popular on the blog, in terms of traffic.

  9. Theodore Seeber    Aug 17, 08:45 PM    #

    Consider this.

    We live in a democracy. According to the CDC, the LGBT population is 2%, not the 10% they claim. And yet, they’re winning elections with 51-70% of the vote, depending on the area.

    There is no way that they’d be able to do that without the MAJORITY of their support being happily married heterosexuals. The Math is on Wright’s side.

  10. Dave Larson    Apr 18, 12:39 PM    #

    Theodor: Two things -

    1. “Support”, as in “voting for a referendum” is hardly what Wright appears to have in mind, ie, an organised, militant lobby.

    2. If the math is on Wright’s side, he’s losing; badly.

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