On Canceling Authors and Such

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I watched and enjoyed this video from Council of Geeks on how to respond to the work of authors who have problematic views. I also felt a need to comment on it, and as my comment became rather long, I’d thought I’d archive it here too:

I like a lot of the nuance in this video, the awareness of personal choice, the idea that there are different ways to thoughtfully process and respond. I want to add a further piece of nuance. I feel a tacit premise of the discussion is that the problematic creator must be repudiated as a person. That may or may not involve boycotting their works, but it necessarily involves repudiating them. (Ex. Reading HP becomes about relating to friends and family, not Rowling. Rowling is out.) I worry about repudiating people, as whole human beings, for having problematic views. Honestly, who doesn’t have problematic views about some issue at some point through some historical hindsight?

I’ll take Dickens as an example. Dickens had a lot of problems: he was a hypocrite about sex, who left his wife and carried on with his mistress while crusading to reform fallen women. I think his conservative economic politics were also damaging, for the same reasons they are today: a reliance on personal charity and refusal to fund decent safety nets with taxes will simply perpetuate squalor. That’s the reality. Charity doesn’t get the job done. But he was also an enormous advocate for the humanity of poor people and an astute student of the human soul. A work like “A Christmas Carol” puts his economic politics on full display: the nasty people like Scrooge are the ones who thinks taxes are the way to support the poor. Yet “A Christmas Carol” is a brilliant psychological sledgehammer, simultaneously blasting rich business people for using business as an excuse to let others suffer while also showing profound awareness of how personal pain and loss can transform good people into nasty people while planting the seeds for their further evolution into better, wiser people. I have no wish to repudiate Dickens as a human being, though I am quite willing repudiate some of his views and actions (even by the standards of his own time). Human beings are complex. So are their philosophies and works. If we exclude as simply “bad” anyone who holds a view we feel does harm—even if the harm is real and substantial—we will, sooner or later, have almost no one “acceptable” left, probably including ourselves.

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About the author

Arwen Spicer
Arwen Spicer

Arwen Spicer is a science fiction writer and writing teacher raised in the San Fransciso Bay Area, and Northern California will hold her heart forever, even if it turns into a desert. She wrote her doctoral dissertation on ecology in utopian science fiction and is an educator on the concept of workable utopias. Her novel The Hour before Morning was hailed as “A carefully paced, rewarding sci-fi debut” by Kirkus Indie.

Arwen Spicer By Arwen Spicer

Arwen Spicer

Arwen Spicer

Arwen Spicer is a science fiction writer and writing teacher raised in the San Fransciso Bay Area, and Northern California will hold her heart forever, even if it turns into a desert. She wrote her doctoral dissertation on ecology in utopian science fiction and is an educator on the concept of workable utopias. Her novel The Hour before Morning was hailed as “A carefully paced, rewarding sci-fi debut” by Kirkus Indie.

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