The Millions Interview

Politics, Art, and the Practice of Writing: A Conversation with Orson Scott Card

By posted at 6:00 am on May 29, 2013 37

coverWho is Orson Scott Card? Until recently most people knew him as the author of Ender’s Game, a beloved modern science fiction classic. Prolific and highly decorated, Card has written in nearly every genre, from video game scripts to comic books to movie novelizations. Of late, however, Card’s opposition to gay marriage has led to widespread media excoriation and intense scrutiny of his politics, revisiting issues that have dogged him in the past.

In an effort to nuance current coverage of Card, I chose to ask him questions about writing and his identity as a writer. He provided detailed answers by e-mail — what follows is an edited version of his replies.

(My own discussion of the gay marriage controversy is here.)

1. The practice of writing

The Millions: What does your workspace look like?

Orson Scott Card: I’m in an attic room, with walls that quickly turn into slanting ceiling. Very little room for art on the walls, but books completely lining the walls up to where the ceiling starts. These are my research books — history, daily life, archeology, language, reference works. A few old things that I never use but haven’t had time to purge — old software disks that no machine could read now, outdated almanacs.

My desk is against the north gable. From my window I can see the top of the neighbor’s house, the tops of trees, the sky. Nothing too distracting. Doesn’t matter — the computers have plenty of distractions. Both the desktop in front of me and the laptop on a table behind me have constantly changing wallpaper that cycles through thousands of images I’ve collected over the years. My private art gallery.

All around me are stacked CDs I mean to rip one of these days, to join the thousands of MP3s already on my computer. (My first hard drive had ten megabytes — if MP3s had existed then, my computer would have held exactly two songs, plus the software to play them.) Art books and magazines I mean to scan. Old bits of hardware. Books I intend to review. And notes about things I need to do Right Now (some of them two or three years old). Chaos. But I can get to the keyboard, the mouse, the screen. I can work.

TM: What are the main problems with creative writing education today? How do you address those problems at your writing “boot camp”?

OSC: Such a long, long list. Pre-college creative writing seems to be a sort of group therapy — gush out your feelings and nobody can criticize them because you’re being “creative.” Nobody teaches you the bones of the language. Nobody teaches you forms. Imagine trying to learn to play violin if no one taught you pitch and fingering, if you never practiced. But that’s what we do to children.

Then they get to college, where the ones whose native language abilities survived the uselessness of primary and secondary education begin to think they might become writers. Then they become the captives of the elitists, who teach them to write in such a way that their work can only have meaning to those who do not so much read as decode. Their symbols are obvious because they’re the only thing going on. They “shock” their readers — but only if their readers are still living in 1915. They learn to be “experimental” in exactly the way the Modernists were experimental. They are all style, no substance; all code, no message. I hear them doing their readings and it makes me sad, because some of them really are talented, but if they ever get an audience, it will be because they did not follow what they were taught by their writing teachers.

Specifics? First person present tense — a convention that makes sense in French, which hates its preterite, but none in English, where our real present is present progressive: Not “I pick up the envelope from the table” but “I am picking up the envelope from the table.” Who could bear to read a story, let alone a novel, in the true present tense of natural spoken English? So we get stories written in this artificial, impossible voice. The voice we use for jokes and anecdotes — “A guy walks into a bar, see” — but not the voice we use for truth — “No, he really did.” As soon as we want to be believed, we move to the past tense. But our most pretentious fiction is in the language of jokes.

coverRegular readers generally know they’re being excluded when present tense is used for narrative. It’s a shibboleth for the overeducated, the true believers.

The sad thing is that because young readers don’t yet recognize the shibboleths, overtaught but underskilled writers of YA fiction often get away with first person present tense. It worked for Hunger Games because the story was so powerful; but the choice hampered the sequels. It’s simply not a natural narrative choice in English; most writers confess that they are faking it because they use pluperfect for the narrative past when the past of present-tense narrative is the simple preterite or present perfect.

coverTM: In your How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy you talk at length about the “wise reader.” In brief: What characterizes the wise reader and how can writers find one to critique their work?

OSC: I warn my writing students not to submit their work to English majors, who are likely to be true believers in the anti-communication school of literature, unless they plan to do the opposite of whatever such readers suggest. Nor should they keep showing their work to the same writing group — after a year, you’ve learned everything they have to teach you, and you have nothing of value left to offer them.

Most such critiquers are like doctors who walk into the patient’s room, and without asking a question, glance at the sufferer and prescribe something in Latin and then move on.

The wise reader, on the other hand, prescribes nothing — ever. The wise reader merely reports to the writer on the experience of reading, which boils down to three questions: So what? Oh yeah? Huh?

When the wise reader catches her mind wandering, thinking about something else, she puts a line in the margin at the point in the text where she noticed she was thinking of something else. It means she lost interest — so what?

When the wise reader finds herself doubting — oh, would he really do that? — then she puts another mark in the margin. It means she cannot suspend her disbelief at this point — oh yeah?

When the wise reader finds herself confused, having to read a paragraph again, or look back through the text to see how she missed some fact now taken for granted (when did that happen?), then there is a flaw in clarity of narrative. Huh?

These boil down to belief, concern, and clarity — or, to help readers of the Pauline epistles remember it, faith, hope, and clarity. And the greatest of these, as Paul said, is clarity.

The wise reader then points out these marginal marks to the writer and says, Here I didn’t believe; there I was confused; in this spot I found I was thinking of grocery shopping. It is the writer’s job to figure out what in the text caused these poor responses, and then to figure out how to fix the problems. Foolish writers argue with the wise reader, pointing out how it’s perfectly clear, or this really happened once so it’s definitely believable, or how can you not care! Such writers don’t deserve a wise reader. The good writer thanks the wise reader and then reinvents the story so belief and concern are not lost, and edits the language so that the narrative is perfectly clear and never, never, never confusing.

2. The meaning of your work

TM: Some readers have understood the Ender saga and the Homecoming saga as “feminist.” Would you agree with that characterization?

OSC: As the child of a working mother, I thought of myself as feminist until the word took on a narrow political meaning that bore no relation to the reality of the human species. I have no program of “feminism,” though I do treat my female and male characters as equally human and equally interesting.

coverTM: In Xenocide, the godspoken on Path are actually victims of government genetic modification meant to control them. When I was young, I read this as a powerful critique of the origins of religious belief. Was that your intention? Are doubt and self-reflective questioning an important part of faith?

OSC: No one has any answers until they’ve asked the questions. No one knows anything until they have taken into account their own needs and drives and hungers, and those of the culture around them. What people often miss in Xenocide is that the young heroine responds to the drives built into her genes in order to control her by becoming obsessively and perfectly obedient to them. Not everyone responds that way. Even when we are genetically modified (and we all are; it simply is nature rather than government that usually does the modifying), our self is distinguished by what we choose to do about our drives and impulses, our weaknesses and strengths.

There is no human being without religion. I am amused by those who consider themselves post-religious, who sneer at religions or religious people. All they are really saying is, “What you believe is ‘religion’; what I believe is truth.” This is the way all fanatics think. And see how they behave, trying to silence those who don’t share their unbelief! We live in an age of inquisitions and puritanism, and the inquisitors and puritans all believe themselves to be “above” religion even as they try to enforce their ignorant faith using the power of the state.

All knowledge that we believe so firmly that we act upon it is faith, and almost none of it is based on our personal experience. We believe what others have told us, and consider “sane” those who agree with the people we agree with. I have watched with amusement, then sadness, as “education” has become indoctrination; as students are taught that conformity to a set of received ideas is the same as being “smart,” and nonconformity is “stupidity.” Yet it is those who receive these “smart” ideas without question who are most stupid. This kind of stupidity is common in religious communities; it is equally common in universities. So many idiotic ideas are believed without question — and without evidence — while anyone who questions them is ridiculed, their arguments answered with character assassination.

So yes, Xenocide is a critique of unquestioning faith — but not of “religion” as it is normally spoken of. Since “religion” is an artifact of all human communities, and there are no human beings without it, I am no more anti-religious than I am anti-oxygen. I only suggest that perhaps we will do better if we earn our beliefs by rigorous examination of our beliefs and a constant process of holding our belief in abeyance, acting on that which we believe to be true, but always ready to change our minds when better information is available.

TM: You have written that “good artists do their best to sustain that which is good though their art, and call for the correction of that which is destructive of happiness.” Can you give examples of how your work tries to accomplish that mission?

OSC: I don’t consciously attempt to do any such thing. I’m not prescribing in that statement, I’m merely describing. Without any conscious thought at all, artists select the subject and the medium, the matter and the manner of their art. The very choices they make declare what they value and believe to be important. Artists are at their least effective when they try to make conscious statements through their art (they’re always free to write essays to make their case); the conscious statements are as obvious and empty and ineffective as “Rosebud,” while the unconscious statements are powerful because they are rarely noticed by the audience even as they have their effects.

Every work of art is an attempt to create a community; any artist who claims to create only for himself is a liar, unless he never showed his work to another soul. Every work of art is mostly a reflection of the artist’s culture, unconsciously passed along because the artist has never thought the world could work any other way; yet every work of art, even the most conformist, is still different from any other’s work, and so it challenges the status quo to some degree, however minuscule.

I love to work in science fiction and fantasy because we deliberately rewrite the rules of reality. Sadly, of course, even in our field we tend to converge on consensus realities, as Bruce Sterling once pointed out before he himself joined a new consensus reality. So even we keep searching for new writers to re-envision the world around our characters. Yet even in the most relentlessly conformist of the just-like-every-other-post-modernist fiction, there are glimmers of individuality — even creative writing programs can’t stamp out every vestige of it, try as they might. Whether you are openly reinventing reality, you reinvent it; whether you are deliberately championing certain cultural values, you champion at least the ones you have not yet thought to question.

I have learned to trust my unconscious mind. In my many years at this trade, I have had a chance to see what many readers have found in all my stories, and I am sometimes astonished at the personal and cultural meanings they found in them. Yet I cannot, and would not wish to, challenge their readings as long as they conform to the text

3. Art and society

TM: Last year Christopher Tolkien decried the commercialization of his father’s work, saying that it has “reduced the aesthetic and philosophical impact of the creation to nothing.” You are a fan (albeit with some misgivings) of Peter Jackson’s films. Do you think commercialization can have a negative impact on art? Do you fear it with your own work?

OSC: Commercialization does not erase one word of the original work. Lord of the Rings is still available in its entirety — and with wonderful commentaries by superb scholars like Tom Shippey. All adaptations and translations will leave out or overemphasize things in ways that others will resent or regret; this is true when you translate LOTR into German or Japanese, just as when you translate it into film. I once adapted LOTR (with permission) into a public reading script, three hours per volume, and performed it once at NorWesCon in Seattle and again at MythCon at Pepperdine University. Perforce I left out things that others loved; I left in things that Peter Jackson left out of the movie. I think all my choices were right and where he differed with me, he was wrong. But his movie got made and showed us many wonderful things, even though he also added several foolish things and left out what I think of as the heart of the movie. He obviously considers my view wrong.

So what? The book is still there. Let’s remember that most people don’t read books. So the commercialization brings a translation of the story to an audience that would otherwise never receive it. Some of them will go on to read the book, which they might not otherwise have done. Most will not. But in our culture, though film is the highest-prestige medium (“That story was so good they oughta make it a movie!”), the text of the novel has the highest authority. Where the two disagree, nobody will ever say that the film shows what really happened; that will only be said of the book.

All readings, all viewing, all hearings of art are edited by the listener anyway. No two members of the audience receive or remember the same work. Yet with repetition we converge on the most authoritative source, which should be, and usually is, the original. Christopher Tolkien has nothing to fear. Commercialization is a symptom of success; it does not harm anyone’s ability to receive the original.

For that matter, even the written text of LOTR is an inferior way to receive it, because readers almost invariably skim over the songs and poems which were so important to Tolkien and which show so much of his mastery of language and cultures. So for me, the supreme way of receiving LOTR is the audiobook. It gives you every word of every song and poem, right along; you cannot easily skip it. It is the most complete way to experience Tolkien’s original. Yet one might also think of the audiobook as part of the commercialization of LOTR.

Ender’s Game is an unfilmable book. Yet it is being filmed. All such translations are inadequate. But the film, if it is a good film, and regardless of its degree of faithfulness to the book, will bring new readers to the book; they will then discover the authoritative version of the story. Some will prefer the movie. So what? That group would never have read the book without having seen the movie, so Ender’s Game will have lost no part of its natural audience.

Decrying the commercialization of a successful work of art is like famous actors complaining about the annoyances of fame. The annoyances are real enough, but they are also a symptom of success. Which would you rather have? Less annoyance and less success? Or the greater success with the greater annoyance?

TM: You’ve long been interested in video games and have even written for some. Recently you expressed frustration with the unreflective and poorly researched blaming of violent video games for social ills. Is there any kind of art you do think is dangerous?

OSC: All art both affirms and critiques the artist’s culture and community, whether she intends either outcome or not. Art that negates the strengths of a good community is bad; but art that negates the strengths of a bad community would be good. It gets very complicated, and few people are able to agree on the goodness or badness of any long list of attributes of a culture, or their relative weight. We might say, yes, this that you attack is bad, but not as bad as that, which you do not mention. As if every artist should observe the same things, and share the same values!

Yet that is precisely what many people insist on. They are sure that art they do not like causes harm, while art they enjoy is harmless. They are always partly wrong and partly right. But which part, and to what degree?

We promote freedom of speech and expression precisely so that we can openly disagree about what our culture should be and should value. We vote by admitting certain works to our memory and insisting that our friends also read, listen to, or look at it. Works that are beloved by many have a proportionate effect on the culture; works that are loved by fewer, but with greater intensity, may have an equal or greater effect. It is impossible to measure.

A work may indeed be dangerous, but the counter is not often to censor it, it is to offer an alternative. Yet puritans of one stripe or another invariably insist on censorship. Just as the Puritans of Political Correctness ban any speech by their opponents on most American university campuses merely because they do not agree with them, so also the Puritans of anti-violence would ban videogames merely because they do not enjoy them.

In fact we have actual data about the effects of videogames; even the most harmful are relatively harmless, in terms of any direct cause and effect on real-world violence. Pornography, on the other hand, has been proven to be a rehearsal for real-world acting-out of the scripts thus depicted. Yet the very people who would ban videogames are often the ones most insistent on protecting the freedom of pornographers. Research makes no difference to them; actual facts rarely influence people’s visceral decisions.

My problem is that I understand the arguments for and against censorship. There are things that I believe damage society — pornography among them — but I’m not absolutely sure that I’m right, or that a ban, if once instituted, would be limited to what I would call “pornography.” Once we admit censorship, the definition of the thing censored will always be expanded to include unintended objects.

It is best, in a free society, if one view never absolutely prevails. In a perpetual struggle between freedom and protection, and between this and that set of values, we have our best likelihood of achieving reasonable balances. Alas that we live in a time when no group can stay in business while accepting reasonable balances. You only get donations for extreme positions.

We’d be better off if, instead of banning censorship, we constantly argued about the definitions of what is or is not censorable, with the boundary constantly shifting back and forth. It is when the boundary is moved all the way to one extreme and stays there that we are endangered.

But that is only my opinion. I might be wrong. So even in my absolutely correct moderation I am not sure that I ought to prevail…

TM: According to your website, our society is becoming less free in matters of speech, press, and religion. You also say “art which is destructive of the values of a decent society is deserving of no special privilege or protection.” Should a society interested in free speech also protect art that it considers destructive?

OSC: It’s in the definition of a “decent society” that the monster hides.

That said, I think it’s more than slightly ridiculous to put “art” on a pedestal as if it existed above the realm of ordinary commerce and conversation. Freedom of the press and of speech and of belief are vital to a free society, for political reasons. But art?

What makes the whole argument ludicrous is that the very people who would protect works that some consider obscene, are perfectly happy to ban works that they consider to be racist. Everybody seems to accept censorship — they just disagree about the list of people-never-to-be-offended. Most people who champion the use of “fuck” would crucify you for saying “nigger” — they are no more in favor of “free speech” than those who believe the reverse, or who would ban both. And those who would ban neither invariably have their own private list of forbidden words. If we did not have such a list locked away in our brains, how would Tourette’s Syndrome even be possible?

Where I find the whole argument becomes offensive is when artists demand public funding for work that is deliberately offensive to taxpayers. Take your artistic freedom as you can — but pay for it yourself. When you expect the public to pay for it with money taken by threat of force, you are demanding that your art become a sort of established religion; and to oppose public funding for your art is not censorship; it is not even like censorship. When you take money from a sponsor, you surrender your freedom; if you want the freedom to be offensive, don’t dip into the pockets of unwilling people who are not free to resist your taking.





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37 Responses to “Politics, Art, and the Practice of Writing: A Conversation with Orson Scott Card”

  1. Ezra
    at 11:42 am on May 29, 2013

    I don’t think refraining from believing in things for which there is no evidence qualifies as “fanaticism.”

  2. Jack M
    at 12:03 pm on May 29, 2013

    I had no idea one could “nuance current coverage” of someone (is “nuance” even used correctly as a verb?). If Card espouses his social and political views in public, he is open to questioning on those views. This interview takes the easy way out.

  3. Nick
    at 12:11 pm on May 29, 2013

    At times he just comes across as a more rhetorically sophisticated version of Glenn Beck. “Universities are full of close-minded elites out to brainwash you! No one else is actually weighing all the evidence except for me! Everyone is religious, they just don’t know it!, etc.” Not that I disagree with everything he says, like Glenn Beck there is a small kernel of truth buried beneath the mountains of self-interested scaffolding. Oh, and his “Wise Reader” sounds horrible. If every writer changed every part in which a reader said “Huh?” then the whole of many great novels would be expunged. Nonsense.

  4. Josh
    at 6:33 am on May 30, 2013

    Same sex marriage only is only part of Card’s bigotry.

    Card went on record as being in favor of sodomy laws. He spoke in favor of corrective jail time to cow out homosexuals back into he closet. He also engages in the usual comparisons of LGBT people to child molesters ofte. His opposition to same sex marriage has gone as far as to suggest armed rebellion is a reasonable response to changes in marriage laws.

    But by all means, water this hatred down to a simple “opposition to gay marriage”. It makes him sound like a reasonable human being you could have a soda with and disagree politely. Those of us who’ve watched his behavior in public know better.

  5. Karl
    at 6:41 am on May 30, 2013

    How neatly this interview avoids questioning Card on the most well-known and despicable aspect of his politics — kind of like interviewing a noted neo-nazi without mentioning Jews or racism. Was that by prior agreement with Card, or did you just decide on your own to be a complete coward?

  6. Alan Levinovitz
    at 7:18 am on May 30, 2013

    @Jack, Josh and Karl:

    Read my essay on Card’s politics (it’s linked at the top of the interview) before saying I avoid the issue. His hatred certainly isn’t watered down there.

    In regards to the interview: As you say, Karl, Card’s stance on homosexuality is already well-known. If you want to read about it, you can click on any of the links up top, or go to Card’s website. By bringing up the issue I don’t contribute any new information. Asking someone who opposes homosexuality “Why?” is rarely illuminating. You think Card has some new, interesting reason for his opposition? He doesn’t. It’s the same tired: “Sociology says X, my religion says Y, I have gay friends…” So why ask? To force him to justify himself? I’m not an interrogator, I’m an interviewer.

    The easy way out is to fuel my own outrage by asking him obvious questions. This has nothing to do with being a coward. It has to do with wanting to learn something new, instead of engaging in bias-confirmation.

  7. Karl
    at 7:36 am on May 30, 2013

    @Alan,
    Your response just doesn’t wash with me. The fact remains that you interviewed Card without bringing up the single most notorious issue about him, without touching on the reason why the man is reviled by multitudes. “The information is already out there” is nothing more than a coward’s excuse.

    As for being an “interviewer,” not an “interrogator”: When a person’s beliefs are despicable, he deserves to be interrogated on those beliefs, to be forced to make what attempt he can to justify them. By failing to do that, you failed as an interviewer, and became an apologist.

  8. BTR
    at 2:46 pm on May 30, 2013

    Karl,

    You are out of line. There is no requirement in any interview to discuss a particular issue. Alan does not owe anyone a discussion about Card’s stance on gay marriage or homosexuality. Why you would think he does escapes me completely.

    Second, and as a consequence of the above, the interviewer does not become an apologist simply by avoiding certain issues. If I interviewed Stalin about his fashion tastes, that is hardly the work of an apologist because the idea that “interview=expose on hot-button issues” is simply wrong. Interviews seek to provide information on a given person in the person’s own words (at least, this is the most common purpose). If the interview has provided new information, it has accomplished its purpose.

    It is also not a given that Card would have provided unsatisfactory answers. Furthermore, pressing him and receiving the response of “My conception of humanity and natural order prohibits gay marriage” is not a stupid or nonsensical response, even if you disagree with it. It is not a given that Card’s supposed bigotry or mindlessness would have been on display even if “interrogated.”

    You are also closed-minded. While it may seem obvious to you that Card is a bigot, his position is not uncommon, and despicable only to individuals who make their own assumptions that lead to the conclusion that gay marriage is permissible at a moral level. To say that his views are despicable while your own are not is to deny yourself any intellectual growth. This is exactly what Card is protesting on other fronts in this interview. It makes me sad that it is wasted on you.

  9. Karl
    at 3:41 pm on May 30, 2013

    @BTR,

    An interviewer may not have “requirements,” but to the thinking of some people, he does have certain moral responsibilities. To hide from a moral issue that is prominent in any discussion of an interviewee — to give that interviewee a “get out of jail free” card — is to shirk that responsibility. Your example of interviewing Stalin on his fashion tastes is spot-on, though it leads to the opposite conclusion from what you intended. Any thinking person would consider such an interview — one where the interviewer asks about trivialities and avoids any mention of Stalin’s slaughter of millions — not only the act of an apologist, but an outright obscenity. So thanks for bringing up that analogy; it’s rather an extreme one, but perfectly apt.

    “It is also not a given that Card would have provided unsatisfactory answers.” Well, we’ll never know, will we; at least not in the context of this interview.

    And to your last point: To speak out against that which is hateful and evil is not being “close-minded,” and it is not denying oneself “intellectual growth.” It is behaving like a moral being. I think Mr. Card would agree with me on that point.

  10. BTR
    at 4:31 pm on May 30, 2013

    @Karl,

    That you feel interviewers have moral responsibilities is clear. My question is why you feel that they do and why “hiding from a moral issue” is shirking that responsibility. You are arguing from a premise that not everyone accepts, so please support it. Alan and I, for example, disagree. Is this part of some larger and more coherent ideology, or is it merely the ill-thought-out gut reaction of someone who is incapable of stepping outside himself? It seems to be the latter.

    The Stalin example illustrates our difference in perspectives. To me, the interviewer has no other moral responsibility than to communicate factual information (i.e., not lie or mislead). I am obviously a thinking person since I am writing this post and it involves cognitive function. A reasonable person should not be offended at an interview that accomplishes its purpose. Interviews fundamentally have no single purpose other than to provide information. If information is provided, the purpose has been accomplished. It is not a requirement of any interview with any individual ever to provide information on a specific topic. Your designation of the hypothetical interview as an “obscenity” reveals your shrill, manic, and ultimately unsupported and narrow-minded conception of interviews.

    “And to your last point: To speak out against that which is hateful and evil is not being “close-minded,” and it is not denying oneself “intellectual growth.” It is behaving like a moral being. I think Mr. Card would agree with me on that point.”

    Speaking out against what is hateful and evil is indeed not being closed-minded. Yet part of speaking out against what is hateful and evil involves explaining why it is so and understanding what would compel someone to hold those beliefs. This comments section is not an appropriate or sufficient medium to discuss these issues, and thus your mention of them and your a priori assumption that Card’s views are despicable, etc. are merely empty demagoguery.

  11. Karl
    at 4:55 pm on May 30, 2013

    @BTR,

    Happily, the logical flaws in your latest points are too self-evident to require any response from me. Thank you for bringing this discussion to an end.

  12. BTR
    at 7:41 pm on May 30, 2013

    @Kyle,

    Happily, your inability to actually justify anything you say is so manifest that no further response is required from me. Thank you for recognizing the end of the discussion, brought on by yourself, of course!

  13. MRP
    at 8:18 pm on May 30, 2013

    “First person present tense — a convention that makes sense in French, which hates its preterite, but none in English, where our real present is present progressive: Not “I pick up the envelope from the table” but “I am picking up the envelope from the table.” Who could bear to read a story, let alone a novel, in the true present tense of natural spoken English? … It worked for Hunger Games because the story was so powerful…”

    so, first person present tense doesn’t work and who would want to read it… besides the millions of people around the world who have in over 26 languages which spawned a movie franchise.

    clearly no one does and it is a bad choice.

  14. Matt
    at 10:32 am on May 31, 2013

    @BTR,

    While I agree with you that this isn’t the place where an interviewer is required to adhere to a certain line of questioning — regardless of how wicked or evil and ignorant and awful a person might be (and Card is all those things, in his person and in his writing) — this line rubbed me the wrong way:

    ” ‘My conception of humanity and natural order prohibits gay marriage’ is not a stupid or nonsensical response, even if you disagree with it. ”

    Because it is.

    I mean, what outdated and outmoded method of thinking allows this and how can we not, as I assume, reasonably intelligent people who know how to read and research and, like, pivot our heads to look around, not call someone out on their ignorance?

    The subject never came up, so it shouldn’t have been shoehorned in, I agree, and obviously Levinotz wasn’t interested in asking those questions.

    My biggest complaint though is: why give Card attention at all? He reminds me of the demon Gachnar in Buffy, playing up all these awful things, but in reality is a tiny, bite-sized idiot.

  15. Alan Levinovitz
    at 11:36 am on May 31, 2013

    @Matt “Why give Card attention at all?”

    In a certain sense I agree. On the issues of homosexuality, or climate change, I think his opinions deserve no attention. That’s why I ignore them. Nevertheless, he’s an extremely successful sci-fi/fantasy author. Ender’s Game is one of the most famous sci-fi books ever (whether or not one likes it personally), and it’s coming out as a giant Hollywood blockbuster. To hear his opinions on writing, the meaning of his writing, and how he conceives of art as relating to society is, at least for me, interesting in virtue of who he is.

    In other words–if Gachnar had written Ender’s Game, I’d ask him about it. But I’d ignore his opinions on homosexuality (unless I wanted to feed the little fear demon).

  16. Karl
    at 2:47 pm on May 31, 2013

    @ Alan:

    Here’s another way of looking at the issue, and in particular at the question “Why give Card any attention at all?”:

    To interview Card as a writer, to ask him to impart his writerly wisdom upon you and your readers, is to honor him. It is to treat him as a respected personage.

    Well, Card does not deserve any such honor. He is a hateful bigot, he has worked hard to let the world know that he is a hateful bigot, and he deserves to be treated like a hateful bigot. His success at selling books is no reason to put on blinders and “ignore” (your word) that hateful side of him.

    You want to interview a writer? There are other writers out there. Plenty of writers who are as good or better than Card, and plenty who don’t carry the stink of filth with them that Card does.

  17. Lorean
    at 12:11 am on June 1, 2013

    What a joke.
    Make a good interview next time with a good writer and a less hypocrite cinic human being.

  18. BTR
    at 12:18 am on June 1, 2013

    @Matt,

    Thank you for your response.

    “Because it is.

    I mean, what outdated and outmoded method of thinking allows this and how can we not, as I assume, reasonably intelligent people who know how to read and research and, like, pivot our heads to look around, not call someone out on their ignorance?”

    Exactly. Your reaction is very telling — although you may be well-educated and intelligent and reasonable, you dismiss the possibility that there are well-educated and intelligent and reasonable persons who believe differently than you do on this issue (or any other). This is empirically false.

    Furthermore, it demonstrates your inability or unwillingness to place yourself outside of your own ideology, i.e. you are closed-minded. Morality is not an empirical concept. There are stances against gay marriage that do not rely on false empirical data. How can they then be labeled “outdated” or “outmoded?” What does it even mean for a non-empirical position to be outdated? How is this not merely a form of an ad numerum argument against a position losing popularity? You assume “ignorance” without explaining why it is ignorance.

    It is easy to revel in your superiority when you assume your opponents are all dim-witted, redneck bigots.

  19. BTR
    at 12:20 am on June 1, 2013

    @Karl:

    Again, no. To interview Card as a writer is to honor him as a writer, not a human. Even the most despicable humans still may be talented and are still human. Why dehumanize them and why forgo the knowledge that they can impart on particular subjects?

  20. Karl
    at 6:14 am on June 1, 2013

    @BTR:
    There are people in the world who believe that one should behave differently toward a person who is despicable, as opposed to a person who is not despicable.

    Perhaps this notion is a new idea to you, but I assure you it’s fairly commonplace in the world at large.

    Elsewhere you have argued that because “morality is not an empirical concept” and because there may be well-educated and intelligent people who disagree with us about what is evil, it therefor follows that it is “close-minded” to say that anything is evil, or to oppose any evil.

    I don’t have to argue against this point of view, because it isn’t something that you or anyone except a complete psychopath believes. It’s just an argument that you’re parroting without having thought about what you’re saying.

  21. Jay
    at 10:17 am on June 1, 2013

    I just wonder why The Millions seems intent on promoting bigots. I admit that I am not a fan of overwrought science fiction, but even if I were, I would find Card’s ugly and dehumanizing homophobia so gross as to make me deliberately avoid reading anything he writes.

  22. Gary
    at 10:58 am on June 1, 2013

    To me, the more important question is the following: did Card agree to this interview on the condition that discussion of his views on homosexuality be off the table? If so, then shame on the Millions. It’s not like this is a private view of Card’s; he serves on the board of the National Organization for Marriage and actively campaigns for his bigoted beliefs.

    Helping to promote a movie for a gross person while helping him dodge the hard questions is not in the mission statement for the Millions. Or it shouldn’t be.

  23. Alan Levinovitz
    at 12:08 pm on June 1, 2013

    @Jay @Gary,

    Thank you for your perspectives. Let me be clear: When I interviewed Card there were no conditions. I didn’t ask him about his opinion on homosexuality because that wasn’t what I was interested in learning discussing in this particular interview.

    (That said, I wrote a whole essay about it, and linked to it before the interview. Please read before judging me as someone who doesn’t care!)

    There is a reasonable discussion to be had here. Perhaps you are right–I might be a morally bankrupt person for conducting the interview the way I did. In that case, Harrison Ford and Ben Kingsley are also morally bankrupt for agreeing to star in a movie that has rocketed Card’s book back onto the NY Times bestseller list.

    These are difficult questions, and clearly I have a different perspective. When I teach Introduction to World Religions, I point out to my Christian students that Jesus never condemned homosexuality, and challenge them to rethink their positions. My hope is that this will advance the cause of gay rights. I also refrain from calling them bigots or cowards, gross or shameful, for the same reason. Calling people names may be satisfying, but it is rarely productive of positive change.

    The interaction between politics and art is complicated. I don’t think it requires me to ask Card about homosexuality. I don’t think it requires Harrison Ford to turn down his role in the Ender’s Game movie. You may disagree, and that’s a conservation to be had. Let’s have it civilly and with open minds.

  24. BTR
    at 12:19 pm on June 1, 2013

    @Karl,

    Thank you for your response.

    “There are people in the world who believe that one should behave differently toward a person who is despicable, as opposed to a person who is not despicable.”

    I am one of them, being a moral absolutist. Yet I would not call someone “despicable” because such terms are the weapons of mindless demagogues who engage in vagueries and character assassination rather, not a tool of the reasonable individual who fights for what is right with a level of specificity that becomes his reason.

    “Elsewhere you have argued that because “morality is not an empirical concept” and because there may be well-educated and intelligent people who disagree with us about what is evil, it therefor follows that it is “close-minded” to say that anything is evil, or to oppose any evil.”

    No, it does not. Your fallacious syllogism suppresses the premise that only empirical concepts may be fought for or considered correct. That premise is completely absent in any of my posts. I recognize that my morality system is based on non-empirical grounds, as is the morality system of anyone who is not a nihilist. I also impose my morality system on others. Yet I recognize that my idea of “evil” is not verifiable in the same way that heliocentrism is verifiable. Do you?

    If you remember, the idea of empirical verifiability was mentioned in the discussion of intelligence and rationality vis-a-vis views on gay marriage, not the morality system as a whole. I was simply pointing out that “Gay marriage is wrong” and “The Earth revolves around the Sun” are categorically different statements in terms of why they are correct or incorrect.

    “I don’t have to argue against this point of view, because it isn’t something that you or anyone except a complete psychopath believes. It’s just an argument that you’re parroting without having thought about what you’re saying.”

    LOLOLOLOL. If you actually read and understood my posts, you would not be erecting straw men and then claiming that those straw men are simply products of empty statements.

    In other words, you are misrepresenting my argument completely and then dismissing it as near-psychopathic. Pray tell, whose argument am I parroting? Is your increasing mania reflective of your inability to actually understand and engage with what I am saying?

  25. BTR
    at 12:21 pm on June 1, 2013

    @Alan,

    I do not think you are being fair to your students unless you are really dealing with horribly uneducated Christians. Opposition to gay marriage for most denominations of Christianity is not based on “Jesus said so.” First, the Bible extends beyond the four Gospels. Second, many of the more intellectual denominations — Catholicism in particular — do not rely solely on the Bible for any moral position, making the line of reasoning mentioned completely irrelevant.

  26. Karl
    at 1:00 pm on June 1, 2013

    @BTR:

    So… words like “despicable” are “the weapons of mindless demagogues,” but calling someone a “mindless demagogue” (along with the various other insults you’ve thrown at me), is not?

    And…

    You berate people for taking moral stands that aren’t supportable on empirical grounds, and then _without_retracting_that_ you admit that all morality is based on non-empirical grounds.

    Please, let’s continue this discussion after all. I eagerly await your next self-contradition.

  27. BTR
    at 1:20 pm on June 1, 2013

    @Karl,

    “So… words like “despicable” are “the weapons of mindless demagogues,” but calling someone a “mindless demagogue” (along with the various other insults you’ve thrown at me), is not?”

    Precisely, because there is no question in my post what exactly is meant by a “mindless demagogue.” Not only did I provide a contrast that makes my point clear, my point is explicitly articulated even absent those terms. You, on the other hand, have simply called Card bigoted, despicable, etc. How does that advance any discussion? How does that illustrate any point?

    “You berate people for taking moral stands that aren’t supportable on empirical grounds, and then _without_retracting_that_ you admit that all morality is based on non-empirical grounds.”

    Can you please quote the section in which I berated individuals for taking stands that are not supportable on empirical grounds?

  28. Karl
    at 1:49 pm on June 1, 2013

    “Precisely, because there is no question in my post what exactly is meant by a “mindless demagogue.” ”

    That’s a little amusing, considering that you’ve been misusing the word “demagogue.” But leaving that aside, neither is there any question about what is meant by calling Card a bigot and despicable. It does not “Illustrate any point”; it is simply a statement of my moral position — my opinion of him. I’m sure that was perfectly clear to all readers, including you.

    “Can you please quote the section in which I berated individuals for taking stands that are not supportable on empirical grounds?”

    You’re right; you didn’t use “empirical” in that sense; I was hasty. You did, however, make this statement:
    “You are also closed-minded. While it may seem obvious to you that Card is a bigot, his position is not uncommon, and despicable only to individuals who make their own assumptions that lead to the conclusion that gay marriage is permissible at a moral level. To say that his views are despicable while your own are not is to deny yourself any intellectual growth.”

    To me, this appears to be saying that it’s wrong for me to take a moral position because there are people whose beliefs are different from mine — i.e. because I cannot empirically prove that my position is correct. But I admit that I’m not sure about that interpretation of your words. Perhaps you would care to clarify them for me.

  29. BTR
    at 5:40 pm on June 1, 2013

    “That’s a little amusing, considering that you’ve been misusing the word “demagogue.””

    Not really. I am using the broader, more modern definition; not the specific Greco-Roman one.

    “But leaving that aside, neither is there any question about what is meant by calling Card a bigot and despicable.”

    Yes, there is, because “despicable” has no value in this context. Does it clarify an argument? Actually explain any position? No. It is merely an attack on Card’s person that, in a reasoned debate, should be predicated on actual evidence. That evidence should be produced instead of such a vague derogatory word.

    “To me, this appears to be saying that it’s wrong for me to take a moral position because there are people whose beliefs are different from mine — i.e. because I cannot empirically prove that my position is correct.”

    Then the appearance was deceiving. I am simply stating that it can be valuable intellectually to understand why a person believes what he does, especially in situations where there is no empirically correct answer. Whether your basic assumptions change or not, another perspective has been added. Perhaps the Geth have something to teach us. Card’s justification may be empirically incorrect or demonstrably false. It may be internally inconsistent. It may, however, be neither of those things, arising in a syllogistic and reasonable way from other basic assumptions that are themselves not empirically falsifiable either. In what way is this “despicable?” At worst, he is wrong.

  30. Karl
    at 6:40 pm on June 1, 2013

    “Yes, there is, because “despicable” has no value in this context….”
    It has the value, as I stated, of helping to make my moral position clear.

    “evidence should be produced instead of such a vague derogatory word.”
    No, I don’t have to “provide evidence” that Card has said hateful and bigoted things. That is a matter of public record. Nor do I have to justify calling someone “despicable” if he says hateful and bigoted things. That one is axiomatic, unless you want to argue that hateful bigotry is not a thing to be despised.

    “I am simply stating that it can be valuable intellectually to understand why a person believes what he does, especially in situations where there is no empirically correct answer. …”

    That, of course, is not at all what you originally stated, but I’ll let that pass, And yes! It can be valuable to understand why a person believes what he does. And to shut yourself off from that understanding, without examining what that person believes and why he believes it, is indeed “close-minded,” as you said. So congratulations! You _almost_ said something that was rational and correct.

    The “almost,” comes in due to the fact that your accusation of close-mindedness could only be valid if you had a reason for thinking that I had decided on my opinion of Card without examining and considering what he has said — without listening to his explanations of his beliefs. Unfortunately for you, you had no reason for making that assumption, and the assumption was wrong.

    “In what way is this “despicable?” At worst, he is wrong.”
    I beg to remind you that the underlying issue here is not something that has no moral weight, no effect or bearing on people’s lives. Card is not “wrong” about some abstract intellectual exercise. He is “wrong” in that he wants to harm people — to limit their rights and their freedoms. He is “wrong” in the same way that a racist is “wrong,” and he is despicable in the same way that a racist is despicable.

  31. BTR
    at 11:07 pm on June 1, 2013

    @Karl,

    “It has the value, as I stated, of helping to make my moral position clear.”

    I disagree. “I vehemently disagree with Card on X” would have been much clearer.

    “No, I don’t have to “provide evidence” that Card has said hateful and bigoted things. That is a matter of public record.”

    I see nothing hateful or bigoted in his public record. Perhaps we are looking at different records? Or perhaps you simply do not understand the value of precision or justification and thus are fine throwing around what are quickly becoming in your posts meaningless meaningful words?

    “Nor do I have to justify calling someone “despicable” if he says hateful and bigoted things. That one is axiomatic, unless you want to argue that hateful bigotry is not a thing to be despised.”

    I think we have very different conceptions of bigotry.

    “That, of course, is not at all what you originally stated, but I’ll let that pass,”

    It actually is exactly what I originally stated in different words.

    “The “almost,” comes in due to the fact that your accusation of close-mindedness could only be valid if you had a reason for thinking that I had decided on my opinion of Card without examining and considering what he has said — without listening to his explanations of his beliefs. Unfortunately for you, you had no reason for making that assumption, and the assumption was wrong.”

    There is perfect reason for assuming that you are not aware of his explanations and his beliefs, and I do believe my assumption is correct. I am sure you will relish the chance to prove me wrong, and I will relish the opportunity to actually engage with evidence about instead of insults at Mr. Card.

    “I beg to remind you that the underlying issue here is not something that has no moral weight, no effect or bearing on people’s lives. Card is not “wrong” about some abstract intellectual exercise. He is “wrong” in that he wants to harm people — to limit their rights and their freedoms.”

    Rights and freedoms, of course, that not everyone recognizes or values, and that are based on unverifiable assumptions. Just so long as we are clear on that point.

    “He is “wrong” in the same way that a racist is “wrong,” and he is despicable in the same way that a racist is despicable.”

    Again with the vagueness. Am I a racist if I say white children perform better on standardized tests than white students? Am I racist if I say that I am sexually attracted to Asian women but not Latina women? Am I racist if I say that white individuals were are and will be smarter than black individuals?

    How on earth can you compare opposition to gay marriage (+sex, etc.) to racism, besides your distaste of both? Do you not understand how these are categorically different issues and the moral and social implications of the two are completely different? Are you interacting with such an uneducated group of persons that the justifications for opposition to gay marriage and racism are the same? If not, why pick racism?

  32. Karl
    at 11:30 pm on June 1, 2013

    @BTR:

    Aha! Very good! Up to now you’ve just been spouting insults and meaningless blather, coming up with new blather every time I point out to you how meaningless your last batch was. Now you’re moving into the realm of actual substantive argument. So congratulations; that’s real progress, at least in terms of conducting a rational argument. (Granted, your latest comment also contains a large helping of further meaningless blather, utter nonsense and outright dishonesty, but I’ll overlook those parts.)

    But unfortunately, your first real substantive argument — that Card has not in fact made statements of hateful bigotry — is not one that I’m interested in pursuing with you. To do so would require extensive quoting and analysis of his various statements on the subject, discussion of how these statements might be interpreted, with attendant further discussions of what is and is not bigoted and homophobic. Pursuing that line of argument would be boring and a lot of work, and it would also be pointless for me, since I’d be arguing something that virtually every thinking person on this planet accepts and recognizes.

    So, if you want to live in that fantasy world, where you pretend that Card’s homophobic bigotry is not an established fact, you have my blessing.

    This discussion is really and truly over. I’m unsubscribing from notifications on this thread. Do please enjoy having the “last word.”

  33. Gary
    at 11:35 pm on June 1, 2013

    @Alan
    I appreciate your response. While I definitely don’t think we need a rehash of Card’s embarrassing views on homosexuality and climate change (as it’s been done to death elsewhere), it seems a bit odd that you avoid any mention at all of the Superman controversy. It’s the only reason he’s been in the news the last four months and you don’t even raise the issue! Maybe you emailed him the questions before he definitively got yanked from the project, but it’s a curious oversight in my opinion.

    I’m not singling you out (I did read your linked piece about Card’s controversies) but this may be the one time Card will be eager to do press (to be able to promote a movie he has a huge financial interest in) and it’d be nice to see journalists giving him a bit more push back regarding his public political advocacy.

  34. Indiana Jim
    at 10:50 pm on June 3, 2013

    “If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all… except, y’know… on the internet.” At least I think that’s how that goes.

    Anyway, thank you for contributing an imminently more interesting interview than the trolls would request. Thank you for asking questions I wouldn’t have thought to ask.

  35. No Wasted Ink Writer’s Links | No Wasted Ink
    at 12:06 pm on June 10, 2013

    […] Politics, Art, and the Practice of Writing: A Conversation with Orson Scott Card […]

  36. How I Edited Dan Gillis’ Sapling Novels | The Write Group
    at 1:00 am on February 25, 2016

    […] at the beginning. In this, I intended to emulate Orson Scott Card’s 1990 description of a wise reader (third question […]

  37. Ioan Aurica
    at 4:30 am on August 20, 2016

    It’s a bit late to be commenting on this, but thank you for this interview. It was fascinating. And refreshing that it did not focus on Card’s views on homosexuality. I’m sorry some of the other commenters took this as an opportunity to signal their own virtue by condemning you.

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