When two bioethicists published a paper exploring the logical and moral merits of infanticide, they and their peers were caught off-guard by the angry response that followed. Professor Julian Savulescu, the editor of the journal in which the offending article was printed, defended it and was highly critical of the response:
“This ‘debate’ has been an example of ‘witch ethics’ – a group of people know who the witch is and seek to burn her. It is one of the most dangerous human tendencies we have. It leads to lynching and genocide. Rather than argue and engage, there is a drive is [sic] to silence and, in the extreme, kill, based on their own moral certainty. That is not the sort of society we should live in.”
As much as I hate the over-used and curiously pretentious quotation incorrectly attributed to Voltaire, I have to admit that “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it” does sound much nicer than a murderous witch-hunt.
That’s why the latest news from the same-sex marriage “debate” is noteworthy, as some SSM activists and sympathisers appear to shift into more of an “I disapprove of what you say, and I hope you die poor, humiliated, and soon” mode, with regard to the popular and successful science-fiction author Orson Scott Card.
Card’s 1985 novel Ender’s Game has finally been made into a movie. But what ought to be a glorious moment for Card and the many fans of his books has been soured by the uncomfortable revelation that Card is a raging homophobe. A quick glance at his twitter feed will show that, having just learned of Card’s unspeakable homophobic bigotry, numerous disenchanted fans have peered into the soul of this “awful human being” and decided his movie must fail… if he won’t just die and take his hate with him.
This attempt at a boycott differs from previous instances such as “cake discrimination” cases where homosexual couples have brought legal action after being refused wedding-related services. Card’s opinion has nothing to do with his book or the movie; the story does not touch on homosexuality let alone same-sex marriage, and it seems to be mere coincidence that the insectoid enemies are known as “buggers” (a term lost on American audiences regardless). Instead, the boycott is designed to punish Card financially and symbolically for promoting his views in the public square and for contributing to likeminded groups.
— Caitlin Galvez (@CaitlinGalvez) July 14, 2013
While it’s true that the internet is, in general, a reeking cesspit that ought to warn its visitors “All hope abandon ye who enter here” it is nonetheless a little disconcerting to see a witch-hunt taken up with such eager contempt by the mob. This is in fact the second time Card’s creative work has been targeted because of his personal views. Earlier this year, an Adventures of Superman story written by Card for DC Entertainment was put on hold after online campaigns and petitions prompted artist Chris Sprouse to withdraw from the project, explaining that:
“The media surrounding this story reached the point where it took away from the actual work, and that’s something I wasn’t comfortable with.”
It remains to be seen how the boycott campaign will affect the new movie. Graphic novels can’t be compared to Hollywood movies in terms of budgets and audience sizes, nor are big-budget movies as dependent on the loyalty of the fan community subculture. Meanwhile the Lionsgate production company is doing its best to appease the campaigners with an LGBT benefit now planned for the premiere of the film, while clinging to the obvious yet seemingly inadequate fact that the personal beliefs of Orson Scott Card are unrelated to the Ender’s Game movie.
Nonetheless, the intent is clear and the influence of such campaigns can surely only increase in the future. Card’s articles on the subject of same-sex marriage ought not to merit the term “homophobic”, but the threshold for homophobia is dropping steadily.
Some argue that an irrational antipathy for people with same-sex attraction is the subtext of all arguments questioning or critiquing same-sex marriage, and that even seemingly dispassionate and logically coherent arguments give succour to the bigoted and hateful within society. In this context, nothing critical can legitimately be said on the subjects of homosexuality, same-sex marriage, or sexual orientation in general, since such critical statements are prima facie evidence of a homophobic attitude.
Let’s put this in perspective. When the infanticide controversy arose, those of us in the field who oppose utilitarian ethics were neither surprised nor outraged. In fact, for philosophers and bioethicists who value human life it is refreshing to see our opponents take the widely accepted views of our abortionist society to their logical conclusion. In the end, we find ourselves agreeing to the extent that abortion and infanticide are, for better and for worse, logically consistent.
More frustrating are those who will not debate, will not reason, and refuse to even consider the possibility that they are wrong; who prefer some ad hoc rationalisation for the status quo. As Professor Savulescu noted, the purpose of his Journal “is not to present the Truth or promote some one moral view. It is to present well reasoned argument based on widely accepted premises.”
For those campaigning against Card, his views are already beyond the pale and unworthy of debate or rational consideration because they contravene a central Truth. David Gerrold, another science-fiction author and screenwriter, epitomised in a Facebook post the perspective of Card’s critics:
“You have no idea of what the issue really is. It’s about the 1138 rights, privileges, benefits, and obligations attendant to the civil contract of marriage. It’s about social security benefits and inheritance and child custody and joint taxation and deathbed decisions and hospital visitation and adoption and community property and all the other things that you and your wife take for granted. It’s about equality in the eyes of the law. […] Our nation was founded on the idea that ‘we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men (people) are created equal, endowed with certain inalienable rights — and that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.’ Your public statements, Orson Scott Card, put you on the wrong side of that declaration.”
For same-sex marriage advocates, their cause is directly analogous to the historic battles for women’s rights and the civil rights of racial minorities; the merits of any arguments in this debate can be hence determined from a single measure: do they advance this equality or not? If your views don’t advance equality, you’d better shut up now.
This doesn’t leave much room for philosophy, not that anyone has ever really cared about philosophy. The fact is that we in the present age don’t need philosophy to tell us that, for example, racism is immoral.
But what worries me, as a philosopher, is that without philosophy the present age does not have the capacity to tell us why racism is immoral, nor to remind us of that fact if we should ever forget it. Abraham Lincoln did not simply repeat “all men are created equal” to justify the emancipation of the slaves. He used philosophy to deconstruct the pro-slavery arguments based on colour or supposed intellect:
“If A. can prove, however conclusively, that he may, of right, enslave B. — why may not B. snatch the same argument, and prove equally, that he may enslave A?—
“You say A. is white, and B. is black. It is color, then; the lighter, having the right to enslave the darker? Take care. By this rule, you are to be slave to the first man you meet, with a fairer skin than your own.
“You do not mean color exactly?–You mean the whites are intellectually the superiors of the blacks, and, therefore have the right to enslave them? Take care again. By this rule, you are to be slave to the first man you meet, with an intellect superior to your own.
“But, say you, it is a question of interest; and, if you can make it your interest, you have the right to enslave another. Very well. And if he can make it his interest, he has the right to enslave you.”
Examining the logic of this campaign against Card and the raw emotion and personal sense of grievance brought to bear publicly against him, perhaps we should expect to see a “blacklist” approach to artists, entertainers, and others who publicly critique the same-sex marriage movement and its goals? Card is most definitely a witch, and his opponents hope to burn him.
Zac Alstin is a free lance writer living in Adelaide, South Australia.