The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Monday, November 09, 2009

God Bless Our Soldiers At Ft. Hood

The slaughter at Fort Hood is absolutely horrific, and I hate to see it politicized, but that's almost inevitable. One thing I wanted to say about the predictable cries of "Muslim" that raged across Right-Wing radio: it is a reasonable cry. No group of human beings that wants to survive can avoid the fact that some of their population will be ultra-sensitive to the "us" and "them". While you don't want your government leaping to a conclusion before thorough investigation, don't tell me that most of you didn't wonder if there was a connection between Hasan's (the accused shooter) religious beliefs, and his actions. If he attended the same Mosque as a couple of the 9/11 shooters it would be crazy not to investigate that.

And if you want the average American to be attentive and scrupulous in investigation, then expect there to be disbelief and incredulity on one side...and angry suspicion or even certainty on the other. That's the way humans are. At times like this, we need both extremes.


Speaking of extremes, it is fascinating to watch the Left and Right fulminate over the health care bill. If you only listened and read to opinions on one side, you'd think that the other got everything they wanted. Extreme Left wingers are screaming that Obama and Capital Hill sold out to Big Pharma and the Insurance companies and are crippled by his insistence on bipartisanship, and is ignoring the will of the American people. Extreme Right wingers are screaming that Obama will bankrupt the country, is a communist... and is ignoring the will of the American people.

The implication is pretty clear to me: he's doing a pretty damned good job of navigating between opposing armies. It really is fascinating to watch the way each side seems utterly tone-deaf to the screaming from the other side, and avoid the implications. The implication? That there is STAGGERING resistance on one side, and a yearning for total nationalized health care on the other. I know of Right-winger who claim everyone who wants health care already has it. I DO hear some Left-wingers say they would like commercial health care to be illegal. But the vast majority are somewhere in the middle. I say cut off the most radical 10% on either side, and let those in the middle work it out. I'm confident they will.

In fact, I wanted to say something that has been increasingly disturbing as the health care debate heats up. I've been seeing so many Lefties turning on him, acting as if if he can't solve all America's problems in ten months, he is an utter failure. It may just be that I haven't been watching politics long enough, or closely enough, but it seems that there are only two settings: Magical Negro, and Sambo. There's no stop in-between for "human." Sort of like Morgan Freeman, who has played God more often than he's been kissed. Truly strange. "We gave ya a chance, boy, and if ya ain't got that nigger mojo, we're takin' ya down." Ugh.


Someone asked if I would rather the publisher of that SF magazine admit to my face that he was racist and wasn't going to cover my material, or that of any black person he could possibly avoid. Of course. I am so sick of the "why aren't there more blacks in science fiction?" panels with whites acting like they are the only group in the world who don't have racial issues. Sick of people looking at me as if I must be crazy, that I'm just making excuses for disappointments in my own career, that the near complete exclusion of non-whites from SF is compensated for by images of aliens and robots. It is emotional stone-walling, and of course I've made LOTS of friends by insisting that something is wrong. And the hidden implication in those panels, as far as I'm concerned? That blacks must be "different". At the least, we have no imaginations. At worst, we're not intelligent enough to read or write SF. We won't come right out and SAY it, but Jesus, have I ever heard that implication often at room parties and such.

So the most important editor in the history of the field, John W. Campbell, believed blacks were genetically incapable of creating an advanced civilization. And arguably the greatest hard SF writer wrote "Farnham's Freehold" with blacks devolving to cannibals and the lead black male character in the entire history of his ouvre betraying his friends (this being a writer who held loyalty above almost all other traits), and the most important non-fiction publisher in the history of the field a bigot...and you know what people will say? I'm misinterpreting. It's isolated. Of course.

We're set up psychologically to believe that we must be "better" or "worse". It just can't be that there are universal issues that create problems. It is irrelevant that my position, that about 10% of human beings are asshole bigots, would literally explain every inequality in American life. That's all right. It must be something else. Can't be "us", must be "them." This hurts, it really does. I have to remind myself to remain centered, to remain focused. To soldier on. But this guy tried to hurt me, and my career, and my family. And smiled in my face as he did it.

OF COURSE I'd want to know where I stood. I wish he'd stood up at conventions and proclaimed to everyone what he thought. And named the names of the other editors and writers who, privately of course, agreed with him. Giving the fans a chance to make a clear, conscious decision which side of the issue they wanted to support.

No. People have a pathological need to deny that the evil they see in the world lives within their own hearts. Science fiction fans want to believe they are a bastion of tolerance, when the most cursory examination of the material, covers, or character lists would reveal the opposite. Blacks would like to think "it's America." Yeah, right. And what other country in the world has black superstars? And groups that are on top (for instance...white heterosexual males) like to complain when special interests try to band together to increase leverage. But let them get old, and they can't wait to join the AARP. One of the most fascinating things humans do is to use guilt as a tool against whatever they consider the dominator group.

Blacks, of course, use slavery, Jim Crow, and segregation to lambaste whites. Jews use the Holocaust to lambaste gentiles. Women in America use the status of women in third-world countries to lambaste men. Gays use gay-bashing to lambaste straights. Every group is jostling for power, and position, and the question of whether the the accusations are "fair" is less important than "is it effective." And the more in denial you are about the fear and anger boiling in your heart, the easier it is to be effectively guilt tripped. Just never forget that no group is really trying to achieve "equality." They all want more. They all want to control the discussion, because deep in the hind-brain there is the sense that there isn't enough freshly killed zebra to go around, and I'm gettin' my haunch first.

I don't know quite what to do, honestly. I wish I could believe that Mr. X was isolated, but looking at a century of SF it is clear that his magazine was popular because his tastes were mirrored by his core audience. Otherwise his magazine wouldn't have survived.

What can I do? Oh, I'm a little spun right now. I'll regain my balance. But I remember a line spoken by Larry Fishburne in "Tuskeegee Airmen": "what do I think about my country? And what does my country think about me?" I love science fiction, despite what I regard as clarity about her issues. What DOES my field really think about me? I'm afraid that for far too many, if they embrace me it's only because they think I'm an "Oreo"--black on the outside, white on the inside. That was the deal I was offered so many years ago: "you're not one of Them, Steve. You're one of Us." A devil's bargain. A soul-stealing bargain.


Recent controversy about sex toys in the news. I forget where this was, but masturbation tools were made illegal, and some religious figure claimed that such tools were bad for marriages.

Well...if you're lousy in bed and don't want your wife to know what an orgasm feels like, yeah. But I know a number of women who are non-orgasmic in their marriage bed, and not one of them masturbates. Personally, I wouldn't want to be in a sexual relationship with a woman who didn't know how to turn herself on. How in the hell could she help me understand her needs, if she doesn't? Men are easy: sex with a guy (according to people I know who go both ways) is like blowing up a balloon until it explodes. Sex with a woman is like opening a safe, in the dark, wearing gloves, and the combination changes every day. Oh...and sometimes even the owner doesn't know the combination. I'll take all the help I can get.


Scott Masterton said...

Steve -

Do you think that racism in science fiction is more prevalent than in other literary genre? If so why do you think that is? Just curious.


Anonymous said...

Does the post kind of indicate that one particularly influential racist is why?

Anonymous said...

Leave figments of your imagination out of this. GOD can't bless them, and it was another's God that compelled him to do this

AF1 said...

Working the middle isn't a good thing in this case for Obama if it's going to get a half assed health care bill that no one is happy with it.

Far better to please the people that elected him and gave him a Democratic majority in Congress than to try to appease the Republicans.

Lynn Gazis-Sax said...

"Far better to please the people that elected him and gave him a Democratic majority in Congress than to try to appease the Republicans."

This may be the ideal; as a Democrat myself, I'd prefer a health plan that winds up as close as politically feasible to what liberal Democrats are arguing for.

But the Democratic majority in Congress includes "Blue Dog" Democrats, who are far less liberal than you and me. The reason there's been so much time spent, in the Senate, on seeing whether a satisfactory bill could be produced that wins Olympia Snowe's vote is that there are maybe half a dozen conservative Democrats whose votes are uncertain if that last bit of "bipartisanship" goes away. Harry Reid is now trying to see if he can cobble all of those votes together, in order to keep the opt out public option instead of the triggered public option (getting the votes for a straight out public option in all states is apparently out of the question). Without Snowe, he needs all 60 Democrats to at least be willing to beat a filibuster (he can manage with fewer than that actually voting for the bill).

Similarly, in the House, it was conservative Democrats that drove the things that Pelosi bargained away, not the sole Republican vote that they managed to win.

In other words, while you can argue that Obama's compromised too much, I don't think it's fair to say that he (or Pelosi or Reid) made those compromises just because, despite a Democratic majority, they all have some irrational desire to please the Republicans. They're making political judgments, well or poorly, about just how much they can get and still keep enough Blue Dog Democrats on board to pass comprehensive health care reform.

Steve Perry said...

Most people have no idea how politics works. Cobbled-together and compromise are the key words to getting anything done. It ain't now, nor never has been Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.

Much as I'd like to see the D's run rough-shod over the R's as the former R administration did the D's, that's not the way to get anything done in the long run.

How it works is, both sides work on a bill until they get it to the point where nobody is happy with it, then they hold their noses and vote.

And as more than one wag has said, all politics is local: What you see going on in the U.S. Senate is pretty much the same way it works on the local library board, too ...

Steven Barnes said...

I think that Science Fiction has a vulnerability to racism beyond SOME other fields (romance is TOTALLY segregated, for instance. Mystery is more integrated by far). And I think that the reason is:
1) It is fantasy, and doesn't have to reflect our world as much as the deep-seated wishes of the writers and readers.
2) The mythology of any culture exists to connect them to the divine and place life and death in context. SF is our modern mythology, and its dominant images and tropes are those of Northern European genetics, mythology, philosophy, and cosmology. In other words, "God made us first and loves us best"--the same game all other cultures play. I don't take it personally, but it still stings to be on the wrong end of the stick.

Marty S said...

Lynn: Your on the right track, but its more than the "Blue Dog Democrats" that are of concern. Its the Democratic majority that is of concern. Obama won and the Democrats got their huge majority because a lot of middle of the roaders were pissed at the the Republicans and voted Democratic. The Democrats need to keep their votes in 2010 and so must consider their middle of the road views.

Lynn Gazis-Sax said...

The Democrats need to keep their votes in 2010 and so must consider their middle of the road views.

Yes, what will keep a Democratic majority in office is another factor. But I think the way it practically has its effect in the legislature is still "liberal Democrats cobble together a compromise with Blue Dog Democrats." It's human nature to see "what will win our party the election" as being something close to "what I and the people around me want," whether that's "stand by the base that elected you," or "swing to the middle," or "swing to the middle specifically on those issues where I swing to the middle."

If you're a politician, of course, you have a professional incentive to pay some attention to where going for your dream goals could lose you votes. But the votes you attend to most are bound to be the ones in your own district, so liberal districts vote in liberal Democrats who think that the best way for the Party to secure its position is to deliver, darn it, on all those progressive goals like universal health care, and best that it come with a strong public option. Meanwhile, though the Blue Dog Democrats presumably have different starting convictions than the more liberal ones, they also tend to be the ones in seats that the Democrats would be more likely to lose, if they don't work the middle.

AF1 said...

"Much as I'd like to see the D's run rough-shod over the R's as the former R administration did the D's, that's not the way to get anything done in the long run."

It seems like Democrats are always the only ones who play by this rule though.

Bush pretty much had his way, for better or more realistically for worse, during his eight years.

Shady_Grady said...

Per discussion on honesty I also would like people to be honest with me but there are limits. One person's "honesty" is another person's "insult" or "discourtesy". It is one thing to know where someone is coming from but it's quite another to be subjected to daily racial/sexist belittling/insults because someone feels the need to vent and share their honest feelings.

In the workplace I think we have to place limits on what people can say or do in order to have a fair or decent working environment. Some people will feel constrained and forced to be "dishonest" but that's tough. There are things that people were able to say to my grandfathers that they probably wouldn't say to me. I think on balance, that's a good thing. It's a question of respect. This also depends on whether you actually own your means of production or work for someone else.

I was raised in the Nation so growing up that gave me a completely different sort of psychic armor and expectations about certain things. If you have low expectations going in, you are much less likely to be surprised by certain things. It's just par for the course.

Of course people do vote with their feet which is probably why there aren't a lot of Black or Hispanic workers or editors at the NY Post.

NY Post Lawsuit

Shady_Grady said...

I agree that some people place too high or unrealistic expectations on Obama but then again the President knew that coming in.

It is fair to question why Obama has been weak on gay marriage-if that happens to be a red line issue for you. If you are bitterly opposed to the war in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq and Obama is increasing involvement rather than stopping it then you need to make your voice heard.

I am very liberal. I am for health care reform. But the current House bill is a giveaway to the insurance industry. There are no cost controls. There are increased restrictions on abortion coverage. There is no real public option. The federal mandate to purchase health insurance has never been done before. In my opinion such a mandate is unconstitutional.

Liberals need to ask themselves what they expect from a president and what they are willing to fight for. Sometimes liberals may be wrong but I don't think that we can always just split the difference and find a fair or just outcome. As the Republican party has moved more to the right and conservatives have moved even further to the right, just splitting the difference will give an outcome that would have been thought conservative just a few years before.

Marty S said...

Shady: I agree with you about splitting the difference. Since the Democratic party has moved to the left and the liberals even further to the the left splitting the difference would be unacceptable.

Marty S said...

"Of course people do vote with their feet which is probably why there aren't a lot of Black or Hispanic workers or editors at the NY Post."
Interesting, but according to the link Sandra Guzman didn't vote with her feet. From reading the article most of Sandra Guzman's complaints about the Post stretch back long before her firing, but she continued to work there. Apparently they only became serious enough for her to pursue when she was terminated.

Lynn Gazis-Sax said...

Liberals need to ask themselves what they expect from a president and what they are willing to fight for.

Sure. I figure I can see the reasons that cobbled together compromises drift toward something well to the right of what I'd want, but that doesn't mean I shouldn't fight for what I want, or that people like me can't win by pushing back. (In some cases, as with the single payer system, I personally may decide that something I'd consider desirable is practically unlikely enough that I'm not going to fight for it, but that's my judgment to make, not something I'll take second hand from someone whose politics differ from mine.) Not my job to assume that each drift to the middle must be a correct judgment by politicians of the most they could pragmatically get, or to preemptively give up.

A couple of months ago, pundits were saying the public option was dead in the water. At the moment, it's weaker than what liberal Democrats might want, but still in play.

The Stupak Amendment is going to be fought out again in conference committee, and may or may not survive (it would be foolish to take either possible outcome for granted at this point).

Ultimately, if a health care reform bill passes at all, it will be one that has some features I don't like, because that's the nature of the beast. But what and how many features I don't like will be in the bill is still in play.

Mike Ralls said...

>Bush pretty much had his way, for better or more realistically for worse, during his eight years.<

Um . . . no. Off the top of my head, social security reform and immigration reform were both two major programs he pushed and pushed hard for, and he didn't get them.

AF1 said...

Yes, Bush didn't get 100% of what he wanted.

That's why I made sure to say that he "pretty much" had his way.

Shady_Grady said...

"Not my job to assume that each drift to the middle must be a correct judgment by politicians of the most they could pragmatically get, or to preemptively give up."

Exactly. That is my point exactly.

Shady_Grady said...

"Apparently they only became serious enough for her to pursue when she was terminated."

That's always the argument made when someone sues. Sometimes it's valid; often it is not. Most people are not heroes and especially in the current economy are going to do everything they can do to hold onto a job by their fingernails if they have to.

She did make complaints about things at the time.

There's not a lot of black or hispanic editors in the white media in general but the NY Post has long has a reputation as a particularly unwelcoming place. If I worked in that business and had a job offer from the Post or somewhere else, I'd choose "somewhere else".

Shady_Grady said...

Marty I don't see how you can say that the Democratic Party has moved to the left. Would that that were the case.

The Democrats today are about where Nixon or Ford were in the seventies. Under Clinton and Obama the Democrats have moved right. The Republicans have moved WAY to the right.
The additional abortion restrictions in the proposed health care bill are things that would not have come out of a Democratic controlled house four or eight years ago.

Both parties have a so far unshakeable devotion to the big banks, the defense industry and an interventionist foreign policy. They may disagree on how to implement policies to reach those goals but that's about it. Obama voted for the FISA bill and as President has endorsed or kept Bush policies that horrified constitutional/civil liberties devotees on the Left (and right). Those are not actions of a President or party beholden to the Left or much worried about it.

The supporters of gay marriage feel betrayed by Obama. Some feminists are really outraged by the Stupak amemdment to the health care bill. Whether or not you think these people have a point or are out to lunch the thing is that there are people on the Left that are not wildly happy with the President or the general path the Party has taken over the past 20 years. Many of them vote Democrat only because they're convinced the Republicans are far worse.

Marty S said...

Shady: A while back I mentioned JFK with respect to some issue. I don't recall what. One the liberals on the site argued with my example because JFK; "was a conservative". Well in his day JFK was considered a liberal Democrat. So I would say the Democrats have moved left. Frankly from my point of view, if you think that the Democrats have moved right under Obama, then you are as far left as the right wing conservatives are right. While, I didn't like Bill Clinton as a person, I thought he did a decent job as president, and was not so far left as to not represent the middle of the country, so I can see why you might put him the same category as Nixon, who was also ethically challenged but towards the middle of the spectrum. But, Bush senior was as center as Clinton. I regard OBama so far as more left than Bush jr. was right so both parties can be viewed as moving or not moving depending upon your point of view and who their latest president is.

Pagan Topologist said...

I agree that Obama is left of Bill Clinton. But not by much. They are pretty much equivalent, as far as I am concerned. They are both too far right for my tastes. Certainly not progressive enough to move the country forward in any meaningful way.

Shady_Grady said...

Marty I could write an essay on the Democrats and their move to the Right and why it's bad for them (and for the country).

But just in time here is a column from a conservative libertarian anti-war site that does a good job in explaining liberal/progressive disappointment with Obama and the specific things he's done or not done that are similar to the previous President.

Winds of Change

Nixon also started the EPA and further institutionalized affirmative action in federal contracts, signed an extension of the Clean Air act, tried to replace welfare with a guaranteed annual income, expanded the reach of the government to deal with sex discrimination and did several other things which today would get him the honored spot at an auto da fe presided over by today's conservatives.


And Nixon was considered very conservative by the standards of 1970. Frightfully so.
The political parties have both shifted very far to the right. I don't think this is a good thing.

The Wednesday NYT oped by Kate Michelman and France Kissling draws a line in the sand. Their particular issue does not impact me but I think it's long past time that what remains of the organized left stand up and say enough.

Marty S said...

Shady: I find nothing in the two articles that convinces me that the Democrats and Republicans have both moved to the right. The articles are clearly written by individuals on today's left that look at particular issues and evaluate them based upon their own context. We could spend hours discussing the issues in these two articles and why they prove or don't prove the direction of the two parties. But to take one issue,race, the state of race relations and discrimination in the U.S. was a lot different and a lot worse in the sixties and early seventies than it is now. So the need for certain actions was compelling. But the country has moved forward in this area in the nearly forty years since Nixon was president. So the question of what actions are appropriate in this area are starting from a different base.

Marty S said...

Shady: One more point on this issue. The "right-wing conservatives" in the Republican party are the old "Southern Democrats". So when they left the Democrats they moved the Republican to the right, but by definition they therefore also moved the Democratic party to the left.

Shady_Grady said...

Marty, the author of the first column (Winds of Change) is Justin Raimondo. He's a lot of things but "on the left" he's decidedly not.

Raimondo describes himself as a "conservative-paleo-libertarian", actively supported Patrick Buchanan in his presidential bids, is the author of the book "Reclaiming the American Right" , writes regularly for "The American Conservative" and is a somewhat fanatical devotee of the right-wing economist Murry Rothbard.

Shady_Grady said...

I don't think the Democrats "moved left" because a bunch of literally unreconstructed bigots decamped en masse and started voting Republican.

I think the Democrats moved right because a comparison of actions by Democratic Presidents or Congress of the past twenty years to those in the sixties (or for that matter the forties on some issues) show that today's Democrats would have been yesteryear's Rockefeller Republicans.

On issue after issue the Democrats have tacked pretty hard right and told their base "we're the only game in town and anyway the Republicans are worse".

The Republicans have been successful at moving the acceptable terms of discourse FAR to the right. The Democrats have mostly gone along with this and tried to triangulate. Clinton was a master at this. As I said if Nixon were around today he'd be insufficiently conservative for the current Republican base. That says a lot considering that Nixon really was the Prince of Darkness to seventies era liberals and the great hero to seventies conservatives.

The increased restriction of abortion in the health care bill may just be the catalyst for the Left to draw a line in the sand and stick to it. I doubt it but am hopeful...

Pagan Topologist said...

Shady Grady, I think you got that exactly right. Thanks!