Note: This is the second part of this essay. Part one can be found by clicking here.
“It was just him and me. He fought with honor. If it weren’t for his honor, he and the others would have beaten me together. They might have killed me, then. His sense of honor saved my life. I didn’t fight with honor… I fought to win.”
“Somebody with that much compassion could never be the killer we needed. Could never go into battle willing to win at all costs. If you knew, you couldn’t do it. If you were the kind of person who would do it even if you knew, you could never have understood [them] well enough.”
Perhaps one of the most troubling things to me about the whole Ender’s Game boycott is the chill and fear it creates not only for those who, on personal, religious or ethical grounds, oppose gay marriage, but also to those who choose to work and associate with them. In these scenarios, all tainted parties are punished, even those who happen to be supportive with the gay rights movement. It’s a modern McCarthyism, creating a feeling that all people who do not pass that sociopolitical litmus test must be shunned and, if you do not shun them as well, you’re suspect as well. Thus, in the case Ender’s Game, Lionsgate, Harrison Ford, Gavin Hood, Asa Butterfield, and the rest of the cast and crew of the film would be punished by this kind of attitude, even though they have all come out staunchly in the favor of gay rights, and insist the story of Ender’s Game is a story about compassion and empathy, so has nothing to do with Card’s stance on gay marriage.
Fortunately, a lot of the more level headed members of the liberal community see the implications of such actions. Juliet Lapados at the New York Times, even though she hardly agrees with Card’s more extreme views, called out this sort of action:
Generally, boycotts are used to pressure companies or governments to end objectionable activities; consider the boycott of Chick-fil-A to protest the chain’s financial support of antigay organizations. What Geeks Out has in mind is closer to blacklisting. The group wants to “send a clear and serious message to Card and those that do business with his brand of antigay activism — whatever he’s selling, we’re not buying.” This isn’t about stopping the dissemination of antigay sentiments; it’s about isolating Mr. Card and shaming his business partners, thus cutting into their profits.
If Mr. Card belongs in quarantine, who’s next?
David Ulin at the LA Times also found the style of the particular kind of boycott troubling:
In a free society, Card is entitled to his opinion, as are all of us. That’s the nature of democracy, to discuss issues in a public setting, to engage rather than avoid. Such a point was eloquently argued last week by Dustin Lance Black, the Oscar-winning screenwriter of “Milk,” who told the New York Times, “No way am I boycotting.” For Black, a boycott is a throwback to the politics of silence: “We haven’t been getting the numbers we’ve seen,” he said of the seismic shift in attitudes toward gay equality, “by disengaging.”
And this boycott isn’t merely an isolated incident, targeting only Mr. Card. In the aftermath of Proposition 8, similar situations rose when a website called “antigayblacklist.com” published a list of people who had contributed over $1000 to Prop 8. As a result, gay activist groups targeted many of these individuals, including Scott Eckern, the artistic director of the California Musical Theatre. A boycott of the theater was called for as long as Eckern, who had been with the theater for 25 years, was still working there. As a result, Eckern was pressured to stand down and resign.
Now Orson Scott Card will be just fine whether Ender’s Game does well at the cinemas or not. But people like Eckern lost his livelihood and an investment of 25 years in the professional passion of his life, all due to a single $1000 political contribution that personally validated his own beliefs. Whether one agrees with Eckern’s support of Prop 8 or not, it is a severe punishment to say the least, especially for the kind of man who stated:
“I understand that my choice of supporting Proposition 8 has been the cause of many hurt feelings, maybe even betrayal. It was not my intent. I honestly had no idea that this would be the reaction. I chose to act upon my belief that the traditional definition of marriage should be preserved. I support each individual to have rights and access and I understood that in California domestic partnerships come with the same rights that come with marriage. My sister is a lesbian and in a committed domestic partnership relationship. I am loving and supportive of her and her family, and she is loving and supportive of me and my family…This is a highly emotional issue and the accusations that have been made against me are simply not true. I have now had many conversations with friends and colleagues, and I am deeply saddened that my personal beliefs and convictions have offended others. My choice to support the proposition was personal, and does not represent the views and opinions of California Musical Theatre or the many people associated with the organization.”
This is hardly the extreme kind of rhetoric that Card was guilty of in his Mormon Times piece. But even if Eckern was saying those sort of things, would that matter? Would it not be the same sort of deplorable “justice” issued against Shylock in the anti-Semitic world of Merchant of Venice? Should people not instead use mercy, even against their previous abusers? Do we want even our most hated enemies stripped of their beliefs and livelihood, simply for following their conscience, even if we felt it was misguided? Even if Card were a Mormon Shylock, will we still demand that pound of flesh, even if Card had once demanded flesh of his own? “The quality of mercy is not strained… It is twice blessed: It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.”
“‘In the moment when I truly understand my enemy, understand him well enough to defeat him, then in that very moment I also love him.”
But, as we all know, there is a problem with Shakespeare’s portrayal of Shylock. Whether he was meant to be an ironic commentary by Shakespeare, or a literal anti-Semitic indictment, stereotypes like the caricatured Shylock had lasting implications and devastating consequences for the Jewish community, probably much more severe than Shakespeare himself had ever intended.
Like Shakespeare, Charles Dickens was writing similarly stereotypical, anti-Semitic characters in his work, with Oliver Twist’s Fagin being the prime offender (although some have even seen some such touches in Ebenezer Scrooge, the miserly Jewish man who is redeemed by Christmas). The Victorian Jewish community understandably had issues with these portrayals, and Eliza Davis, who was Jewish, wrote a letter to Dickens which began a correspondence, as reported in this excellent essay by James D. Mardock:
The letter [by Eliza Davis] is a solicitation of funds for a “Convalescent Home for the Jewish poor” and appeals to the novelist’s social conscience, suggesting politely that a donation would atone for the slight to the Jewish community that he had committed in drawing Fagin as a Jew:
Dickens responded quickly to both the solicitation and the criticism, defending his portrayal of Fagin by pointing out (incorrectly) that all the other villains in the novel are Christians, by asserting that his description of Fagin as “the Jew” referred to his race, not his religion and by the rather circular explanation that Fagin is a Jew “because it unfortunately was true of the time to which that story refers, that that class of criminal invariably was a Jew” (Dickens 1998, 269-70). This weak defense did not satisfy Eliza Davis, who reiterated her complaint more strongly:
Does any one designate Mr. D’Israeli as “the Jew”? I cannot dispute the fact that at the time to which Oliver Twist refers there were some Jews, receivers of stolen goods, and although in my own mind it is a distinction without a difference, I do not think it could at all be proved that there was one so base as to train thieves in the manner described in that work. If, as you remark, “all must observe that the other Criminals were Christians,” they at least contrasted with characters of good Christians; this poor, wretched Fagin stands alone — “The Jew.” (Davis, quoted in “Fagin and Riah” 1921, 147)
Fortunately, Dickens was thoughtful and soul searching about these accusations brought against him by Davis and the Jewish community, which led him to include the character of the saintly Jewish character Mr. Riah in his last completed novel Our Mutual Friend. He tried to make amends with the community that had felt so wronged by making an “anti-Shylock,” as Mardock calls him, a Jewish character who, although perhaps caricatured to the other extreme with a Jewish cloak of virtue, became a kind of counter balance when weighed against the villainous Fagin.
Although Card’s concession of defeat on the gay marriage issue is hardly this same kind of olive branch, I think it is helpful to see Card on both sides of this equation, being in the same vein as Dickens, a popular writer whose hurtful rhetoric is wronging a whole community, as well as the “Mormon Shylock,” who is often reversely being stereotyped as a two-dimensional Mormon bigot.
“So he believed. Believed, but the seed of doubt was there, and it stayed, and every now and then sent out a little root. It changed everything, to have that seed growing. It made [him] listen more carefully to what people meant, instead of what they said. It made him wise.” –Ender’s Game
Card claims that a lot of the more extreme money quotes being used by are being taken out of their original context, thus making him seem more extreme than he actually is. Concerning the oft quoted section of his Sunstone essay that says that anti-sodomy laws should stay on the books, he says:
The Supreme Court had declared in 1986 (Bowers vs. Hardwick) that a Georgia law prohibiting sodomy even in the privacy of one’s own home was constitutional. OSC wrote an essay in 1990 (23 years ago) to a conservative Mormon audience that, at the time, would have felt no interest in decriminalizing homosexual acts. In that context, his call to “leave the laws on the books” was simply recognizing the law at the time. In the same article he called for them not to be enforced. Within that context this was the liberal and tolerant view – for which OSC was criticized in conservation Mormon circles as being “pro-gay.” The law was not overturned by the Supreme Court until 2003. Now that the law has changed, OSC has no interest in criminalizing homosexual acts and would never call for such a thing, any more than he wanted such laws enforced back when they were still on the books.
Even the previously quoted New York Times article recognizes that, as bad as the statement was, this statement in the context of its place, culture, and time, wasn’t particularly surprising:
His views were fairly mainstream when the Sunstone article appeared and, unfortunately, are not unusual today. Just 10 years ago, Justice Antonin Scalia wrote in his inflammatory Lawrence v. Texas dissent that Americans have every right to enforce “the moral opprobrium that has traditionally attached to homosexual conduct” in order to protect themselves “from a lifestyle that they believe to be immoral and destructive.”
In response to his Mormon Times quote crying for the overthrow of the government, Card said:
OSC, a long-time student of history, was warning what could happen when change is forced too quickly – a warning about how human society has always worked and will continue to work. OSC is more concerned about living in a society of the Puritan back-lash than in the society that agrees together, after much civil discussion, how to change their society.
The quote used is from the same article “State job is not to redefine marriage” from July 24, 2008. Notice that the “call for revolution” is put in the mouth of a fictional, future citizen – not OSC.
What these dictator-judges do not seem to understand is that their authority extends only as far as people choose to obey them.
How long before married people answer the dictators thus: Regardless of law, marriage has only one definition, and any government that attempts to change it is my mortal enemy. I will act to destroy that government and bring it down, so it can be replaced with a government that will respect and support marriage, and help me raise my children in a society where they will expect to marry in their turn.
Now Card’s rationale here is very strained. Sure, he says “How long before married people answer the dictators thus,” but he has made no effort to distance himself from this collective of mob-like “married people.” Rather, it seems a natural progression of what he was saying before in the article. A lot of writers try to abscond responsibility for their words by creating a more extreme alter ego, which works in fiction, but especially in non-fiction articles like Card does for the Deseret News, this is not a good choice, especially since he gave no such clarification that he was using a literary device like that. Even with that device, though, the tagline in the article belongs to him and he set himself up for a huge fall when he let those incendiary words go under his name. I am very surprised this article was given the green light, even from a conservative newspaper like the Deseret News. The rhetoric is wildly inflammatory, whether coming from a “fictional, future citizen” or not.
“Perhaps it’s impossible to wear an identity without becoming what you pretend to be.”
“Human beings may be miserable specimens, in the main, but we can learn, and, through learning, become decent people.”
— Orson Scott Card, Ender’s Game Introduction
And yet, despite whatever disagreements I or other people may have against Card, he is not the Mormon Shylock, for such caricatures never truly exist. Anyone who has read his work (and I have read more than my fair share) knows that Card is a complex individual who is seeking a moral, yes, even compassionate, path for his life, and there are times where he strikes into wisdom, love, and genius in his books. Whether I agree or not with his ends and means, I have never seen his intent as anything but deeply sincere, even when that sincerity has led to zealousness. Yes, he can come off as cantankerous, even arrogant, in his opinions, and, yes, he often says inflammatory and contentious things. But he also said things like this in the very same Sunstone essay that many have used against him:
Given my personal feelings about the individual homosexuals I have known and, in some cases, have regarded and still regard as dear friends, and my religious beliefs about what God requires of those of us who take upon ourselves the commitment to be members of the Mormon Church, it is hardly likely that Songmaster would be either “for” or “against” homosexuals. What the novel offers is a treatment of characters who share, between them, a forbidden act that took place because of hunger on one side, compassion on the other, and genuine love and friendship on both parts. I was not trying to show that homosexuality was “beautiful” or “natural” — in fact, sex of any kind is likely to be “beautiful” only to the participants, and it is hard to make a case for the naturalness of such an obviously counter-evolutionary trend as same-sex mating. Those issues were irrelevant. The friendship between Ansset and Josef was the beautiful and natural thing, even if it eventually led them on a mutually self-destructive path. And both of them were cruelly used by the society around them, being regarded as expendable or exploitable…
In Songmaster (and also in the third Homecoming novel, The Ships of Earth, the only other place where I have dealt with homosexuality in my fiction) I attempt to create real and living characters. I find it nearly impossible to create a character that I do not end up understanding and sympathizing with to some degree. Thus it should surprise no one that I treat homosexuals in my fiction with understanding and sympathy. This does not mean that I don’t also regard homosexual behavior as inappropriate for those who purport to be Latter-day Saints. I see no contradiction between the two ideas; indeed, I fail to see how an uncompassionate person could be a good Christian, or a good Latter-day Saint in particular.
Now are there still some jibes and jabs in there, making clear his beliefs about homosexuality’s appropriateness, or rather the lack thereof? Yes, he’s still the same ol’ Card there. But in there is also a portrait of a man who believes in sympathy, kindess, and compassion. He believes in seeing people as complex sets of motivations, experience, and feelings. The gay characters in his fiction, even when he disagrees with their actions, are still painted as complex, layered, even at times deeply moral people. No Shylocks or Fagins there in characters like Zdorab, Ansset, or Josef.
And yet many people have not returned the favor, opting rather to paint Card in broad strokes by which quotes they choose and how they misrepresent him. A complex Card is not politically expedient, after all, and it is so much easier to attack and hate a demonized caricature than someone you truly understand. Of course, Card can learn more from his own characters as well, and concede where his actions and words can be seen as having done great harm and injury towards a community. Like the penitent Dickens towards the Jews, it would be wonderful to see that kind of humility.
It’s hard not to see so much of Card in his most famous character Ender. Like Ender, Card was trained to see an “alien threat” in the “Buggers,” the alien formic race. Culturally, he was formed by older forces outside of him, training him to see the Formics as objects, as a blanket threat in a video game to only be obliterated, not communicated with, nor understood.
As he has written about before, Card grew up with an aptitude for strategy and militaristic thinking, which plays out in many of his novels, especially in Ender’s Game and the Ender’s Shadow series. His love for the military game RISK caused him to even make his own rules for the game, so that it is “more strategic, and less dependent on chance.” With this sort of training and thinking, is it any surprise that when, Ender-like, Card saw a perceived cultural threat, he used his gifts and abilities to combat them, often using militaristic language to engage with his supposed enemy.
Unlike the novel, though, the gay community is not really a hive-mind like the Formics, as much as some people would like to believe that. And neither are the Mormons, the Evangelicals, the Democrats, the Republicans, the Hispanics, the Muslims, etc. As much as we tend to bunch up in groups, tend to want to adapt and assimilate, it’s all really an illusion. There is a deeply personal and private core to each of us that cannot be ignored. Ender, in the novel, comes to understand that his enemy, though initially foreign, had an identity that he would later need to come to understand. Card understands this to a degree, which explains how he can rationalize about loving the individual, while battling the group.
Yet, despite that firm individualism, we are still connected. Thus when we ignorantly battle “groups,” not truly understanding those who we are in conflict with, we may set off a chain of events that inadvertently does much more harm to many more people than we ever assumed possible. Ender commits xenocide through his ignorance and deeply regrets it, bitterly learning that his actions have repercussions that he would not have morally conceded to. Perhaps Card, too, then will someday see that his weapons of words were having a much more tragic, devastating effect than he had at first considered and will understand why his supposed enemies were swarming around him in an act of self-protection.
So rather than boycotting this insightful piece of art, I think it would be wise for people to point out these themes in the film and encourage people to see it with new eyes. Once a film, or book, or story is separated from its author (perhaps not completely, but certainly enough to allow for a conversation rather than a lecture), and the art is engaged with rather than attacked or ignored, then something rather magical happens. Your own experiences, your own mind, your own soul starts to communicate with it, inform it, interact with it, making for a deeply personal experience with it. Rather than discouraging this process, we should encourage it, and ask people what they see in Ender’s conflict with the Formics.
I think the actual story of Ender’s Game not only helps us understand Card better in this situation, but it also does much more to help cultivate the feeling of empathy, compassion, and understanding that so much of the gay community is calling out for… that the Mormon community is calling out for… that the Latino Immigrant community is calling out for… that the loner and outcast without a community is calling for… that all of us, in our myriad of supposed alienness, are calling out for. Perhaps the best thing to counter Card’s more contentious views is not a boycott, after all, but his own work. What cultural weapon, after all, is more effective than the mirror?
“In the moment when I truly understand my enemy, understand him well enough to defeat him, then in that very moment I also love him.”
I believe that there are times that boycotts can and ought to be used. But most boycotts are designed to encourage a certain action. The Montgomery bus boycotts during the Civil Rights movement, for example, were calling for desegregation and equal treatment in public transportation. Once desegregation happened, the boycott was lifted, and further consequences were not inflicted. This boycott, on the other hand, doesn’t seemed tied to a specific purposeful action.
There is a lot of chatter about not letting money feed into Card’s anti-gay activities. And yet Card has stepped down from being a chair member of the National Organization of Marriage and conceded defeat. As far as anyone can tell, he no longer will be working towards any political or personal action against gay marriage and the LGBTQ community. He’s in a place much like the one the LDS Church (that both Card and I belong to) is in. In the wake of the backlash the Church has faced because of the its involvement with the passage of Proposition 8, it’s being widely noted that the Church has been toning down the rhetoric, emphasizing compassion, disengaging on the political front, and has been trying to build bridges of understanding between the Mormon and gay communities. Message received, loud and clear. Once burned, twice shy. The encouraging healing, change, and progress is settling in, slowly but surely.
So if these changes are already happening, exactly what is the action the boycott hopes to effect? If it’s to make Card apologize for his beliefs, I find that morally problematic. It verges on an offense against the freedom of conscience and religion. I don’t think any morally aware person wants a sociopolitical Inquisition demanding that individuals recant their beliefs towards the cultural norm, lest they face the consequences. It wasn’t right when such tactics were employed against the gay community and it isn’t right now. So the only other reason I can see for the boycott is a measured, personal attack; the witch hunting “blacklist” against all former enemies and those who dare associate with them and pay them for their services. And, as the New York Times article asked, when does that stop? When is the cultural guillotine appeased?
Thus the need for the gracious, forgiving victor. I support much of what the gay community is trying to accomplish. Equal rights, equal treatment, equal protection under the law is a vital component of our democracy, and a key ingredient in love and tolerance. But if vengeful, misguided, purposeless acts continue, like the ones engaged against Orson Scott Card and victims of the “antigayblacklist.com” like Scott Eckern, then I’m afraid that we’re in for even more conflict and counter-revolutions. In this regard, Card may have not been wrong in his analysis of the actions extremists may take, and thus to avoid such a fate, he has given up his side of the fight rather than battling to the bitter end. Despite whatever he may have said or done, even despite what he may still may say or personally believe, he has shown progress and the ability to change by laying down his own sword and asking the other side to do the same. Ironic or not, self serving or not, convenient timing or not, it is still the right thing to do.
Thus when the gay community finalize their victories and gain their freedoms, which I believe and hope they will, I have great hopes that there are enough charitable and forgiving people in the gay community to reciprocate with love towards their former persecutors, having learned through heartbreaking experience what it is like to be on the other side of the power equation. Love encourages more love, peace encourages more peace, while acting out in retained anger or pain, as real as those are, encourages neither love nor peace. Malice towards none, charity for all.