Tolerance and Hypocrisy

Tolerance of the unjust, the unequal, and the discriminatory is anything but a virtue, nor is fiction that brings to light such problems in society a vice.  Yet among some readers and reviewers there seems to be a dislike of work that touches upon such issues. Some have even gone so far as to suggest such fiction, in portraying accurately patterns of intolerance, inequality, and gender discrimination that such fiction, actually reinforces support of such behaviors.  Over the past few years, I’ve seen reviews and comments about my fiction and that of other writers denigrated because we’ve portrayed patterns of discrimination, either on the basis of gender, race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation.  I certainly hope what I’ve seen are isolated incidences, but even if they are isolated incidences, I find them troubling, especially when readers or reviewers complain that illustrating in fiction what occurred either historically or continues to occur in present-day society constitutes some form of discrimination and showing how it operates is hateful and insulting.

Discrimination is hateful, insulting, and degrading, but pretending it doesn’t exist while preaching tolerance is merely a more tasteful way of discriminating while pretending not to do so… and that’s not only a form of discrimination, but also a form of hypocrisy. It somehow reminds me of those Victorians who exalted the noble virtues of family and morality and who avoided reading “unpleasant” books, while their “upstanding” life-style was supported at least in part by child-labor, union-breaking tactics that including brutality and firearms, and sweat-shop labor in which young women were grossly underpaid.

Are such conditions better than they were a century ago?  Of course they are – in the United States and much of the developed world.  But gender/sexual discrimination still exists even here – it’s just far more subtle – and it remains rampant in much of the developing and third world.  So… for a writer to bring up such issues, whether in historical or fantasy or futuristic science fiction is scarcely unrealistic, nor is it “preaching” anything.  To this day, Sheri Tepper’s Gate to Women’s Country is often violently criticized – if seldom in “respectable” print, but often in male-oriented discussion – because it postulates a quietly feministically-dominated future society and portrays men as dominated by excessive aggression and sexual conquest, yet a huge percentage of fantasy has in fact historically portrayed men almost “heroically” in such a light. Why the criticism of writers such as Tepper?  Might it just be that too many readers, largely male, don’t like reading and seeing historically accurate patterns of sexual discrimination reversed?  And how much easier it is to complain about Tepper and others than to consider the past and present in our world today.

There’s an old saying about what’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander…


9 thoughts on “Tolerance and Hypocrisy”

  1. Robert The Addled says:

    The KEY difference that those people are missing is that between the portrayal and promotion of these ‘values’.

    The very benefit of SF and Fantasy writing is that sociopolitical situations and ideologies can be placed in a different setting – where they can be more ‘safely’ questioned and dissected. Many ultraconservatives treat these genre as taboo – because such SF and Fantasy can encourage the development of a questioning attitude, or tolerance for values outside their own belief system.

    1. R. Hamilton says:

      I resist your use of “ultraconservative” except in the very literal sense of someone who is very resistant to clearly needed change. (change for its own sake, or when the consequences remain very poorly understood, is NOT always a good thing!)

      On social matters not related to “race” (a bogus concept itself) or gender relations or equality, I’m probably back in the 1800’s. I have a problem with requiring _private_ treatment of certain voluntary _conduct_ and associated lifestyle on an equal basis, although I see no point in giving the government power to police private consensual conduct, nor in tolerating violence against anyone for any such excuse, either – but rather than institutionalizing the to me repugnant notion of “equivalent alternative lifestyle”, I’d go all-out libertarian and ask if the government should be issuing marriage licenses to _anyone_. Somehow, family law seems to at least marginally muddle along even with much greater numbers of children being born out of wedlock; so I would suppose that getting government entirely out of the business of issuing marriage licenses wouldn’t result in any more breakdown of civil society than is happening anyway. To me, it would be more honest to entirely refrain from having government define the meaning of “marriage” than it would be to have government _redefine_ it in ways that alter the most basic elements of its long-established meaning. The one lets people choose the meaning that’s meets their own needs without compelling anyone else to agree with their choice; the other imposes a definition on everyone, in an attempt at coerced attitude modification, which is _always_ counterproductive (one can compel standards of conduct, but not attitudes).

      (FWIW, I can see grounds for voluntary and private compassion for anyone, regardless of any lawful and responsibly carried out choices they make, so long as they refrain from imposing their ideas on others and refrain from harming or seeking to (whether individually or under color of government) increasingly confiscate another’s life, limb, liberty, or property. Leave me alone and the least I’ll do is return the favor; but try to impose either ideas or anything else, and I reserve the option to resist at least proportionately. I have no problem with people trying to _communicate_ their ideas, so long as they neither intrude nor attempt to coerce them on others.)

      I also have an extreme problem with anything that could remotely be construed as socialist. Were it not impossible to reconcile with the libertarian position that NOBODY should get to play at being thought police, I’d say that that socialism is a clear an present danger to all humanity everywhere, and should be extirpated accordingly, repeat as needed in every generation for as many eons as it takes to get the very concept eliminated at the genetic level.

      But regardless of attitudes that would entirely please neither staunch conservatives nor modern liberals (neither of which would find me sufficiently conformist for their liking), I have no trouble at all reading or watching a wide range of F&SF.

      Star Trek of course was (aside from action episodes) almost entirely a comment on ourselves, with regular non-humans like Spock, Data, or even 7of9 (altered human with alien experiences) providing an outsider’s perspective on us…and yet still with some of our own foibles, or near enough.

  2. R. Hamilton says:

    Consider that there are people trying to censor Huckleberry Finn…so you’re in good company! Certainly Twain (Clemens) wasn’t advocating the wrongs he described, quite the contrary…regardless of whether or not his mindset in such matters would fit modern standards (whether reasonable or PC).

  3. Joe says:

    Discrimination is a human trait. Give people red or blue pens, and you’ll find they’ll start forming groups of those with red pens and those with blue pens. Obviously you’d write about it, since it’s part of the human condition. And it’s not even a new idea.

    In science fiction, the original Star Trek had an episode where the 2 last people of two races (those who were black on the left side and white on the right, and vice-versa) wanted to battle it out.

    Even childrens’ stories include it. I remember a Dr Seuss story from my childhood: Some Sneetches had stars on their bellies, and some didn’t. Sylvester McMonkey McBean gets rich by adding or removing stars from Sneetches’ bellies.

  4. Frank says:

    “Discrimination is hateful, insulting, and degrading…” I can agree most certainly if we are using the common connotation of discrimination, which is the one with the negative context. As a simple action word, it is merely a cognitive function.

    But, in the spirit of the comments, I would add that some of the “PC” versions of avoiding discrimination don’t just go to the point of trying to ignore it, but actually make it worse because of the tendency to underappreciate differences.

    Some of the 70’s versions of feminism, for example, seemed to try to eliminate, or, at least ignore, the differences in the genders. While I whole heartedly accept the notion of equality as relates to opportunity, treatment and pay, I would hate to not be able to appreciate the differences.

    We should not strive to lose the cultural richness of our differences, whether it is nationality, religion, or race as a means to satisfy those elements that want to either enforce political correctness by control, or pretend that the evils of (negative) discrimination simply don’t exist.

    I guess I just don’t want to see the “American melting pot” give way to politically correct pabulum.

  5. Wayne Kernochan says:

    OK, I’ll bite. Thanks for a thoughtful, and, imho, on target criticism of reactions to the type of literature you describe, yours and others. I only diverge in one area: I no longer share your enthusiasm for Sheri Tepper.

    I was a fan from early on, when I thought I saw signs that her initial treatment of a “magic super-power” world from a scientific and environmental viewpoint would add insight and combine science and feeling effectively. When the science faded and she contorted her characters to make the woman the focus, it was still well worth it for her fresh take on, as you say, male chauvinism and its effects on a world that can fight back. I followed her then through variations on the theme of noxious males and seemingly beneficent but actually vicious aliens that still seemed fresh to me, especially because of her gifts for the memorable phrase. The theme of one — “Light comes, light comes. But first, night comes, night comes.” is to me quite wonderful stylistically.

    I began to get uneasy, however, with the one in which the solution to male aggressiveness is to bring up a boy to dream of being a hero, and then to have him lead the males blindly into slaughter. Not that I objected to the originality of the idea; it just seemed to me that the boy is portrayed as a little too stupid, more like a vehicle for the plot than a real person, male or otherwise. And her follow-on novel, about the last bastion of male chauvinism in an otherwise sane universe, seemed recycled, with all the comical names for the villains and the plot twists a bit repetitive. Even so, I probably would have stuck with her, if it wasn’t for her next book.

    In it, she basically brings up a boy to be the sex object of the heroine — to give the heroine one sexual experience before the heroine gives up her life to save humanity and good. Yes, I know bad male writers do this; but if Ms. Tepper is going to be the female equivalent of those bad male writers, I find I have much better alternatives — like Patricia McKillip, or C.J. Cherryh, who make similar points in a much more sophisticated way.

    You may know books since then that would change my mind — although, from the jacket blurbs I’ve seen, it looks like Ms. Tepper is continuing down the same path. I would be glad if so; at her best, she was exceptional, imho.

  6. David Sims says:

    Discrimination is what you do when you choose healthy food and refuse to eat poison. There are good reasons for discrimination as well as poor ones. Racism involves mostly GOOD reasons for discrimination.

    Many will disagree with that, so let me explain why racist discrimination is, usually, a good thing.

    A summary conclusion about the nature or the quality of a race has a positive value. It’s vital knowledge for people who must decide where they will live, or which schools they should allow their children to attend.

    For example, a white person who chooses to live among blacks, or to send his children to predominantly black schools, can’t associate only with the good ones, whose behavior rises above a specified decency threshold. The net effect of their collective behavior is something that he must know in advance, for his safety.

    I’ll use a metaphor for illustration: Summary conclusions about races are similar to measurements of temperature.

    Consider, for example, metal canisters filled with nitrogen gas. You can measure their temperatures in order to learn whether they are inside a safe-handling range. If you forgo testing the temperature, or if you are informed about the temperature but choose to disregard any “too hot to handle” warnings, then you risk being burned.

    But temperature doesn’t predict the speed of any particular molecule in the canister. It only tells you what the average speed is. In other words, knowing the temperature of the gas won’t tell you the extent to which any individual molecule contributes the energy that burns your hands. But, if you pick up a hot canister, your hands will nevertheless be burned.

    Likewise, statistics on HIV infection rates, crime rates, IQ scores, and similarly important subjects, broken down by race, might tell us that a certain race is, in general, a rather nasty bunch of savages, even though we realize that there are bound to be exceptions. The existence of those exceptions does not justify or require our associating with them in such a way that we will be burned.

    Is this discrimination? Yes. Is it an immoral thing to do? No. It’s a smart thing to do.

  7. David Sims says:

    Like Wayne Kernochan, I own a number of Sherri Tepper’s novels. Unlike him, I haven’t read any of them yet. But I have read many of the Darkover stories by Marion Zimmer Bradley, and many of them area also in the feminist style of portraying men as being stupidly unreasonable brutes who cause all of the problems that innocent women must solve.

    Although Bradley’s early stories in the series aren’t all that bad (but not all that good either), the later ones are, at best, a waste of time to read, unless petty contempt and hatred for “males” is your special thrill. Marion Zimmer Bradley has been consigned to my Don’t Bother list.

  8. David Sims says:

    And, again, with Wayne Kernochan I must agree:

    C.J. Cherryh is a truly great science fiction writer. She’s as good as Heinlein was, and her stories have weathered time better owing to her stories depending less on the (dated) sexual moral issues that gave Heinlein so much of his capital.

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