Should We Boycott Art Because of the Politics of the Artists?
Ender's Golden Tablets
The progress-o-sphere is all a-twitter this week reminding all and sundry that science fiction author Orson Scott Card, a practicing Mormon, believes in – wait for it – Mormonism.
Among the dozens of doctrines this implies is the idea that while Card, deeply involved in stage and drama for all of his adult life, has gay friends, he does not endorse gay marriage.
Therefore, goes the argument, we right thinking people who do endorse gay marriage (including, presumably, the version of Obama who ran for office in 2012, but not the version that ran for office in 2008, were he to time travel a handful of months into his future and join us here), should boycott the movie.
Some versions of the argument are more nuanced, and specify that it's not that we shouldn't watch a movie that has absolutely nothing to say, good or bad, about gays, but that we shouldn't pay to watch such a movie, because some fraction of the funds would end up in OSC's pocket.
I'm not a huge OSC fan myself – I read one or two of the Ender books and found them OK, read one or two of his Tales of Alvin Maker books and found them OK, and read a collection of his short stories which I thought were quite good. I don't think I've bought a book by him in over 15 years.
Which is to say, I post not in defense of OSC the man.
Nor do I post in defense of his anti-gay marriage stance (as an voluntaryist / anarchist, I'm against the state recognizing any marriage, because I'm in favor of the state – if it exists at all – defending the country from invasion and nothing else).
Release the Communist!
I lean culturally conservative, yet many (if not most) of my favorite authors are from the left, if not the far left. I regularly read – and even buy – fiction from self-declared Marxists (the most recent was
Kraken by China Mieville (a member of the International Socialist Organization and Socialist Workers Party) a week or so ago.
By buying Kraken (and then mentioning it here) did I culturally endorse Mieville and his views?
One presumes that of the $20 or so I spent on the book perhaps $2 ended up in Mieville's pocket, and if he donates 10% of his after tax income to political charities, perhaps 10 cents of my money ended up helping socialists print up broadsheets full of propaganda and lies to convince British voters to further infringe the rights of their countrymen.
Am I aiding and abetting evil?
On the one hand, the argument that I should never give a penny to any creator who might then donate a fraction of that penny to authoritarian political groups that seek to squash individual liberty seems airtight. I wouldn't voluntarily write a check to the KKK or Hezbollah or the US Federal Government for even ten cents.
And yet, on the other hand, should I deprive myself of art that might entertain or even enlighten? And then, on the gripping hand, is that not a weak aesthete's argument for enjoying himself in the moment, while ignoring his own contribution to the enslavement of others? Northern abolitionists refused to wear slave state cotton cloth, because the purchase supported a terrible institution.
Or, perhaps, on the one-beyond-the-gripping-hand, we should all be willing to consume art even when a minor fraction of the purchase price ends up in evil hands as an explicit endorsement of a Popperian Open Society.
On the fifth hand, maybe we should actively strive to consume art from those with whom we disagree, so that we are open to new ideas, avoid epistemological closure, and – if the art both has a memetic payload is convincing in its moral and message – perhaps allow ourselves to change and converge on ideas that are foreign to us now but are more correct.
Conclusion Closing Thoughts
I have no firm answers, but I have half baked thoughts and intuitions.
I dislike the idea of Index Librorum Prohibitorum, whether it is run by a Church, a State, or a decentralized Github-of-received-opinion.
I like the idea of actively challenging my preconceptions and tentatively held opinions with new viewpoints.
I dislike the snark, moral posturing, and self-satisfaction that is so deeply entwined with telling other people who is inside the circle of civilization (me, you, him) and who is outside (Orson Scott Card, practicing members of religion X and Y).
I like the inclusiveness that is implied and exercised by demonstrating our own commitments to reading and viewing widely.
I have no good response to the "this puts a nickel in the pocket of bad-group-X" other than, perhaps, donating a quarter to good-group-Y.
I may or may not see Ender's Game in the theater, because it looks like typical Joseph-Campbell-journey-of-the-young-hero-as-he-gathers-$150-million-of-special-effects fare.
Rebuttals? Agreements? Other?