I’m sorry that this is another post where I have to fight my own, but here goes. I just came across an infuriating review on salon.com about Orson Scott Card’s book “Speaker for the Dead.” The review is by Noah Berlatsky.
Now don’t get me wrong: though a great author, Orson Scott Card has plenty of flaws, and I’m not writing to defend his political positions. In this review, however, Berlatsky skewers the book for daring to give a backstory to a character who beats his wife. The backstory, as is sadly all too common in life, is that the abusive character had also been chronically abused as a child. Berlatsky tells us this narrative is unacceptable. In his (of course “his” – I just love it when men speak on behalf of women on major news sites; I’m sure you women don’t find that condescending in the slightest) words, which in context are dripping with sarcasm:
“What we’re supposed to get from this is that everyone, even the most despised, most violent person, is understandable. Even a wife beater deserves empathy.”
…yes. That is EXACTLY what you’re supposed to get from it. Because empathy is not the same as approval. And explaining something is not the same as excusing it. But if you want to change people, if you want to reduce terrible things like domestic violence, first you need to understand that such monsters do not usually come out of nowhere. They are usually created, in a stream of abuse that can go back for generations.
The irony – and the reason this upsets me so much – is that by suggesting that it is forbidden to examine the reasons why bad people act the way they do, the reviewer is harming his own noble belief that abuse of any kind is unacceptable. Because unfortunately, you don’t solve problems by shouting about them. You solve problems by identifying the cause, and working to eradicate that cause.
Do you think that maybe, more often than not, abusers were once abused themselves? If so (and it is so), do you think maybe that’s something we, as a society, should talk about? Or do you think that lambasting a believable backstory for a fictional character is more likely to solve the problem?
Too often, the abused become abusers. This does not excuse their actions in the slightest. But it does teach you about the responsibility we have, even as children, to be loving and kind to everyone, because we each carry the capacity to hurt people, and when those people find themselves in a position of power, they are very likely to pass that pain on to someone else. And so the cycle continues.
This review was sad on a number of levels, and it demonstrates what I, as a proud progressive liberal, find so embarrassing about the insanely far left: namely, when they are so smugly and irrationally opposed to meaningful, nuanced conversation that might actually lead to meaningful change that they attempt to shut down the conversation entirely. But I ask you: what great social change was ever brought about by silence?
So a few more words to the far left: your hearts and intentions are genuinely noble and pure. You seek to lift up the oppressed, and to create a more equal and just society. I honor you for that. But too often, your methods and actions actually accomplish the exact opposite of those noble goals. And in the process, you can become the very enemy you despise.
Think about it.