Thursday, 6 August 2020
A Possibly Ill-Advised Post about George RR Martin
First things first - I'm going to pay what used to be called the "Joesky tax":
And here, as a bonus, is a d100 table of ways to open secret doors.
Now, on with GRRM. You may have heard about this (there is more detail here). It is a complete non-event of a story, or at least should be (it has the feel of a publicity stunt more than anything), and I hesitate to give it any oxygen at all, but in the end I feel like it is such an absurd tale, and so symbolic of the madness of our current moment, that it cannot pass without comment.
We'll leave aside the fact that apparently making a bad and peurile joke about the Oscar statue being a eunuch is now deemed offensive. (To who? Eunuchs?) We'll also leave aside the fact that mispronouncing somebody's name is now considered racist. (As somebody who lived in Japan for almost a decade and has both a first and last name that are unpronounceable to the overwhelming majority of Japanese people because they contain non-Japanese phonemes, let me clear this up for you: it isn't racist.) It seems to me that in both those circumstances George can at the absolute worst be accused of having been the slightly inept and socially awkward nerd that he undoubtedly is, and which anybody who has seen him being interviewed will immediately recognise. I don't know at what point it was that it became a legitimate activity to hound socially awkward people for being socially awkward, and I don't find it remotely acceptable. But I suppose at least his accusers are on a wafer of solid ground in that it's probably his own responsibility that he said those things.
But much of the vitriol levelled at him seems to be to do with him saying complimentary things about HP Lovecraft and John W Campbell. Now, I could understand this, perhaps, if for some reason George had turned up to MC the awards show and started ranting about Lovecraft and lauding his views about race off the cuff. That would have been a strange thing to do. But that was not what he was doing. He was in fact (here's the punchline if you haven't read the story properly) presenting Lovecraft and Campbell with posthumous awards, because they were both chosen by the people who vote for Hugos. What exactly was he supposed to do in such circumstances, other than explain to the audience why they were both significant figures in the history of the SF genre and why they were considered by many to have been deserving of their awards? "Now, the next two award-winners were both proto-fascists and had appalling views and should never have been voted for by the people who were balloted, who by the way should all be thoroughly ashamed of themselves, but nevertheless, it gives me great pleasure to announce..."
It takes a special kind of disingenuousness for "journalists" (I use the term loosely) to present the facts in this way. But it speaks to one of the great problems of the age: the unwillingness to extend to anybody the common courtesy that should be available to all human beings, which assumes good faith in the absence of compelling evidence.
I am not a great fan of Sam Harris. But one thing I like about him is his (ironically, surprisingly Christian) emphasis on forgiveness. The great psychological insight of Christianity is that nobody should have their sins held against them, because nobody can help sinning. We're original sinners, not because of having eaten some fruit on the recommendation of a sketchy snake, but because our sins are all committed at the end of a long chain of causal events, none of which are attributable to our own volition. We say and do things because we are led to say and do them by our experience, our genes, our social context, our characters - in other words, nothing that we have ourselves chosen ab initio. Maybe you disagree with my position on the substance of what George said, but surely you can agree with me on the context: that he probably meant no malice whatsoever. In that case, why all the mudslinging? Why is the default to assume bad faith rather than good?
Until we can remedy that problem, the frayed fabric of our societies will not be repaired.
[You're free to comment but I will not be replying to comments on this entry.]
Posted by noisms at 21:14