Rescuing Art from Ideology

The Orson Example: I think most people who have read a lot of Orson Scott Card’s work and have also spent time in social media are aware that there are years’ long campaigns going on to punish Card for his opposition to gay marriage (which is forbidden in his religion), comments he’s made in opposition to homosexuality (which is forbidden in his religion), and his participation in conservative organizations (which most prominent people in his religion do). It’s nothing that’s not common among Mormons in general, evangelical Christians, conservatives, and indeed half of the United States – but what really pisses people off is that his books are so good, too. In fact, if he wrote lousy books or was less popular, there wouldn’t be an issue. That’s how common his views are and how good his books are – the backlash underscores both. Let’s be honest about that.

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Starving the artist: Backlash is a nice word, too. In some ways it’s more of a witch hunt and an Inquisition. There are groups who don’t really care so much about art, or whether it’s good art – they care about ideology first and foremost – and they’re actively trying to put Card out of work, deprive him of a livelihood, ruin his film career, and stop him from actually making more art. Ironically, they want to silence the good stuff because of the ‘bad’ stuff.

I’d like to explain why I think that’s insane and why I think artists everywhere, of every viewpoint on subjects related to homosexuality, including those deeply opposed to Card’s, should band together and support him and other artists like him – or, at the very least, resist what’s being done to him.

First, we’re artists, and there are no thought crimes among artists. In the 1950s, artists were blacklisted because of their ideology or supposed ideology, and this is just a different dogma Card has transgressed, but no less polarizing even if one prefers to think it’s the *only* enlighted attitude, or even if one is right. The moment we start saying ‘yeah, but there are some thought crimes that really really are thought crimes’, now we’re just disagreeing over what are the acceptable thoughts. We’re blacklisters in principle, and bickering over the criteria. It’s also simply a matter of time before different orthodoxies are in vogue, and then they’re coming for each of us too. We’re helping ensure the survival of the blacklist system, because right now it seems to be on our side. Lift the sheets on your own art, mine, or anyone’s, though, and we’re likely to find some thought sins according to some people. Do we really all have to share one acceptable belief system to make beautiful things? It’s a zero-sum escalation game – sooner or later, it robs all of us of the very diversity of creation we claim to support. If we’re saying there’s no room to disagree, then we’re saying you have to think x. That’s the very definition of intolerance. We’re no longer talking about the freedom of conscience that artists must have in order to create – we’re not even talking about art anymore – we’re converting art to ideology. And the only reason you and I are getting away with making art right now, is because our crowd is on top, or our art isn’t selling as much, or we’re just not that f-ing good yet. I’m sorry, but it’s hypocrisy, and I don’t respect it. It’s the argument of power, ad populum, and it’s beneath artists to behave in that way. It’s an ad hominem against art.

Second, let’s be consistent. Where does it end? Do we raid the Louvre and burn paintings, or get them pulled down and shoved back into the basement, because half the artists were fascists and the other half communists? Do we try to get Wagner pulled from classical performances, because the stuff is deeply occult and he was Hitler’s favorite and it helped inspire the Thule Society which gave us… drumroll… the Nazis? Really? Do you really want to go into the composers whose chief patrons were tyrannical royalty or genocidal regimes? Because the list is long. Don’t dodge. Don’t “yeah but”. Have some integrity and be honest about it. You yank my Wagner, and I get to go after your Shostakovich, and it’s not going to stop there. At what point do we stop burning the books, ripping the paintings, and censoring the scores? Ideology of this type is savagery, barbarism – and it’s not what artists do. Artists are the victims of it. Artists band together and resist. Remember Fahrenheit 451? Do we really think it stops with just the books *we* don’t like?

Third, its stupid diplomacy. If we really believe a person’s ideology is evil, and they’re making stellar art, we should do the opposite from boycotting, banning, blacklisting, book burning, defunding, and petitioning for removal, no matter how heinous we think their ideas are. We should overwhelmingly support the wonderful art they’re making. Buy even more of it, because rewarding that art rewards their addition of beauty to the world, their contribution of wonder, and it lets people know what we do want from them. Denying even their wonderful things, simply because they’re an ideological opponent, locks them in a ghetto where all their behavior is treated as equal – without differentiation. It’s not only unwise, it’s unethical. Encourage your enemies when they are doing good things. This is basic diplomacy (not to mention elementary behavioral psych).

Simple example from diplomatic science: When a North Korea or an Iran stops sabre rattling and starts letting families connect over the border and starts sitting down to talks, it’s the warmongers, the ideologues who respond “No, we’re not going to reward or encourage that, because we don’t like them, they’re enemies. Deny. Deny.” Sane diplomacy responds by getting involved, encouraging the good actions, praising them, rewarding them. Idiots back them into a corner and keep trying to maintain the polarity over dogma. This is why Nixon’s trip to China was so important. Fools create *more* animosity and evil in the world, not less, by associating it with persons rather than actions. When they see good actions by “bad” people, they become obstinate and actually punish for that too. You can’t claim to support good over bad, and then block both because of a bias against the perpetrator.

Again, we’re artists, and that means being above this: And no, being an artist sure as Hell doesn’t just mean anyone who makes a bit of this or that now and then. I’m sorry, but a writer isn’t just someone who occasionally scribbles a poem. There’s a discipline involved, just as there is with painting, music, and everything else. And the discipline breeds and thrives in a community of wise tolerance, openness, and diversity – not narrow tolerance that says “I’ll tolerate you as long as you are tolerant” (tit for tat, which is getting paid for your tolerance), but an actual tolerance that distinguishes between liking a person and whether their art is actually any good. Artists are welcoming to art, responsive to beauty for its own sake. They don’t levy ad hominems against it because they begrudge the artist, or attack the artist because he got our attention with his crazy-good art and we’re disappointed that he’s not orthodox enough in his thinking, or that he’s across the aisle from us on issues we think are really important.

Art will save the world: What’s killing us more than climate change, more than war, more than poverty, and even more than a particular bigotry for one group or another, is the thing that underlies these and underlies our inability to foment a meaningful and united or concerted approach to them – that is our own insistence on converting absolutely everything into ideology, so it can be polarized and processed for dogmatic consumption – right, wrong, good, bad, evil, pure. And we’re just as guilty as everyone else, and all our worst enemies, if we’re preserving, creating, and fostering the attitudes that feed them, thinking it’s OK when we do it, because we’re “right”. Artists don’t actually think that way – and while we do, we’re not artists. We’re not being artists, when we think that way. It’s antithetical to art. It makes us frauds. We might succeed in making some art, but we’re not thinking like artists – and I’ll bet our minds aren’t consistently caught up in all those categories when we’re really in our zone creating our art in our own particular element. We can’t be – it doesn’t really work that way. Art actually creates the community that ideology destroys.

Conclusion: So I’m going to say what I’ve said in social media. Give Card a f*cking break. Let it go. And stop feeding the machine that’s trying to devour him, which isn’t driven by artists but by ideologues. Because if you are feeding it, encouraging it, praising it, then you’re the kind of person that sacrifices other artists to the prevalent orthodoxy – you’re that kind of person – a blacklister – a book burner – an ideologue – and you’re just getting away with looking righteous and feeling justified because your orthodoxy seems good and true at the moment. And it may well be – it might even be holy, sanctified and the word of Jehovah from on high – it might be ‘the truth’ – but your methodology is still ethically corrupt. Sacrifice is always in purity’s back pocket, isn’t it? Frankly, I think it’s also jealousy. I think also it’s ironic and unwitting praise for Card and also some pretty dimwitted strategy. But more importantly, it’s making those who do it lousier artists and encouraging continual fragmentation and atomization among us – us – the people who *have* to hold it together, or the world is doomed – and it’s discouraging closer understanding and community, in a world that ultimately strives to consume and destroy every kind of art. It’s selling out, in the name of standing up. I hope, regardless of what you think, you’ll consider whether you’re adding to the world’s misery in the name of sparing it from someone else’s wrong – whether deciding who to starve (but it’s OK when we do it, because we’re right) is just another brand of imperialism, fundamentalism, or whatever you want to call it.

What we could use, instead, is more art, less ideology – more creation, less polarization – more encouragement of the good, less punishment of the ‘wrong’. Today, why not make something instead of take something? And tomorrow, too.

The Amanda Palmer Footnote: Lest one think this is some kind of personal defense of Orson Scott Card, let’s talk about Amanda “F*cking” Palmer. Someone brought up the other day that Amanda took millions from a crowdsourcing campaign, then invited fans to tour with her as bandmembers for free (which they gleefully did or asked to do in droves), and didn’t offer them any of the funds. First, let’s get the facts right. It was 1.2million dollars, most of it went for touring and production costs (not straight into Amanda’s pockets – so a LOT of people did get paid from it – you can bet the roadies and studios and camera people didn’t work free, and we can list a dozen other examples). Second, Amanda took the feedback seriously and to heart, gave a *public* apology, and offered to pay the musicians, most of whom refused payment. Here’s what I think: 1. slandering and witchhunting celebrities is the past time of people who are covering their own moral deficiencies, which is *exactly* the same reason reality TV does so well – watching other people make fools of themselves, suffer, get into scandals, etc. obscures what’s going on in your own trailer and your own screwed up conscience – it’s a form of detachment, and 2. when someone apologizes *and* offers to make amends, and that’s not good enough, and you can’t forgive, it’s you that is morally deficient, not them. You live in some quasi-Protestantized moral-philosophical framework that insists your cultural ‘leaders’ be perfect and not make mistakes – a standard you can’t live up to – which makes it hypocrisy. Artists don’t behave this way. Oh, I know there are people who make art that do. But you’re not an artist, if you do – not in the sense of having an artists’ ethos. Artists don’t hunt other artists and burn them at the public stake, let alone to cover their own lesser significance. That’s my take.

The Librarian Response: Here’s a question for you – how is trying to get books removed from the library because we don’t like the way they portray sex, blacks, Christians, Wiccans, language, human-animal relationships, political ideas, the government and military, oil companies, etc any different than trying to get the same literature out of the public eye by other means? Just because we’re not picketing and hurling tomatoes at a library, or meeting in the basement of the local church to figure out how to use leverage to do the same thing, doesn’t mean it’s morally superior to do it in other venues. Where does it end? Again, artists don’t do this – it’s not part of the artist ethos – we don’t blacklist, boycott, remove, ban, banish, or beat up other artists. Why? Because art is not ideology. In fact, here’s one: if you don’t like the way an artist acts, thinks, lives, writes, votes, or prays, go and make better art that does it differently and be a better artist. It seems to me this would be an artist’s response – this is why I think it’s jealousy. The world is a dangerous mixed blessing of diverse ideas – artists try to keep it that way (as do librarians).

PS. Not that anyone asked (because I’m just not as good an artist as Card, and might never be, nor have I dedicated as much hard work and decades of discipline, nor done enough of anything), but I don’t plan to say what I think about gay marriage, or the content of particular points that Card (and again half the other people in the U.S.) has made, for one simple reason – it’s none of anyone’s f*cking business. But if at some point I do, in some place somewhere, and it gets passed on to the thought police, and it happens to successfully pass some purity meter they’re operating, I ask them NOT to give me a pass. Do to me whatever you’d do to Card or any other artist who fails the test. Whatever it is, I want to burn with those martyrs to art, because I reject the fraud and the thought control and the fake pose at concern over art. And that’ll be true whether I starve as an artist or I sell more books than Stephen King some day. I’m not ever answering to any pack of rabid dogs, their ideological surrogate for a church, or the Social Media Committee on Unacceptable Activities for my thoughts in order to make and sell the work of my mind. And I hope to be in good company. Stick up for art – stick up for artists you don’t agree with as well as the ones you do – flip off the thought police – and matter more than mere ideology.

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