Tag Archives: politics

Exerting Fierce Power Without Spilling a Drop of Blood

I think I might have found my new, most favorite line, in all of literature. It is from a short story called “Gordon, the Self-made Cat,” by Peter S. Beagle.

It’s the story of a mouse who asks questions. He learns that cats eat mice, and mice are meant to be eaten. Thinking this is bullshit, he sets out to become a cat. The story explores the prejudice of the cats, the fear of the mice once they’ve heard that Gordon has ostensibly become a cat — and the kind of obstacles that arise when your reputation gets passed around by people who don’t understand what you’re trying to accomplish.

This story tackles intense themes of politics and prejudice, yet never loses its sense of wonder and curiosity. There is nothing gruesome or horrible about it. It is funny. It is charming. It is fascinating, inspiring, and at times heartbreaking. It is a master displaying his craft in a way that only he can, do deliver a message that so many of us need to hear.

Gordon does his thing, against all odds, and against all advice to the contrary. Gordon never gives up. He is always seeking the next level of mastery, and it all begins with this:

“They thought he was joking, but as soon as Gordon was old enough to go places by himself, he packed a clean shirt and some peanut butter, and started off for cat school.”

Is that not the best thing you have ever read? Our hero, armed with a clean shirt and some peanut butter.

I made that noise normally reserved for especially adorable kitten videos. I am so used to dark, cynical fiction that I forgot you can adventure, strive, suffer, and learn without ever lifting a weapon.

That line, that exact choice of necessary items at the beginning of the quest, is astounding. It’s whimsical and innocent, and also a giant FUCK YOU to a society that dictates mice must be hunted and can never amount to anything beyond their status of birth.

As if we needed more reasons to give Peter S. Beagle a giant hug and a fruit basket.

Check out the story for yourself, in text or podcast form, on Lightspeed.

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Damning Orson Scott Card

I’m a little late to the party with this issue. I wanted to wait until I had a solution rather than just a gripe.

There was some activity in the media a little while ago about Orson Scott Card’s conservative politics. He’s religious, and I’ve found that religion and conservative politics frequently go hand in hand, so I’m a little surprised that anyone was surprised.

Shortly after Card’s anti-gay sentiments became public, there was a call to boycott the film version of his most famous book, Ender’s Game this coming November. Good. Great. I applaud people for getting to know the artists, and also for taking a stand on issues they believe in.

I’d like to argue for the other side.

While hiking with another writer friend of mine, we stumbled across this issue and weren’t sure how to proceed. We both loved the book, the goodness of Ender, the subtle evil of Peter and the heartbreaking ending. We loved the moral ambiguity of the piece, and the harsh reality that children must own their responsibilities as they grow start to impact the world around them.

When I was a kid, I loved any story in which a child played an active role in the adults’ world, so I was very receptive to this tale and what it had to say about the different types of conflict from bullying to all-out war.

On the other hand, my friend and I are pretty liberal and don’t agree with Card’s lifestyle or politics. As we turned around and started back down the hill, we asked ourselves: can you love the art and not the artist?

It’s a tricky question, especially when money’s on the line. Presumably if we buy the product, we support the entity in its entirety. This is exactly how I feel about Nestle products, to name an example at random; but with art I feel it’s a little different. It’s easy to love artists who embody and express our own beliefs; but art, like life, won’t always work out that way.

The purpose of art is to express ideas. Uplifting ideas bring us together. Controversial ideas force us to debate, paring away at our perceptions of ourselves and the world we live in. Both forms of expression are valuable.

Do I support homophobia and religious conservatism?
No, I don’t.
Neither does US law, thankfully, which renders such opinions functionally private/moot.

Do I support the idea that kids will have to grapple with hard choices, and should be presented with stories that reflect that?
Yes, I do.

Do I think that in order to damn the man I must damn the art?

Is damning the man worth the loss of the art?

I heard something interesting while listening to the Pseudopod. Neil Gaiman had to grapple with a similar issue when his fans were distraught to find out that Gaiman, (a young, hip guy) listed Rudyard Kipling (a fascist) as one of his literary heroes. To paraphrase, Gaiman responded by saying that the point of the writing was exactly the opposite. The fans were missing out on Kipling’s inspiring work (rather than his uninspiring life) because they were probably told not to read him. Gaiman went on to say that he doesn’t agree with Kipling’s politics; but it would be a sad world if we never engaged with those who disagree with us.

I think we have a tendency to get too wrapped up in our ‘team,’ whatever that may be. From politics and religion to sports and comics, our obsessions have the capacity to destroy friendships, families, and lives and communities. “Destroy the opposition” hits the ear much more neatly than a call for harmony. It sucks. It’s a waste. We’re better than that. We have more common ground than we think. We might be better served – as artists and audiences – to show more sophistication when it comes to interacting with opposing ideas.

In fact, wouldn’t the opposition be more willing to hear us out if the discussion had its foundations in our common ground?

Even if the characters and authors fade from our memory, the lessons from the stories stay with us as we grow. Looking at context, understanding motivations and solving problems by thinking critically are all lessons taught in English classes and in Ender’s Game. Opposition and debate help us grow, help us think, and teach us how to recover when we’re wrong. If you don’t respect others’ autonomy, they will have no respect for yours. The results can be devastating.

Better to learn the lesson early, through a story, than to wait for that horrible moment when the game becomes real.

Know your enemy and know yourself, find naught in fear for 100 battles. Know yourself but not your enemy, find level of loss and victory. Know thy enemy but not yourself, wallow in defeat every time.”
― Sun Tzu

Literature is no one’s private ground, literature is common ground; let us trespass freely and fearlessly and find our own way for ourselves.”
― Virginia Woolf

Opposition flowing in and out of itself in harmony.

 

Addendum:  Card’s original statements on the subject of homosexuality can be found here.