Friday, June 02, 2006

Ungrateful

This is from a wikipedia article on Robert Heinlein’s STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND, which I here quote at length:

To modern readers, some statements in the book may seem to convey a sense of misogyny or homophobia. For example:

...[Jill] had explained homosexuality, after Mike had read about it and failed to grok -- and had given him rules for avoiding passes; she knew that Mike, pretty as he was, would attract such. He had followed her advice and had made his face more masculine, instead of the androgynous beauty he had had. But Jill was not sure that Mike would refuse a pass, say, from Duke -- fortunately Mike's male water brothers were decidedly masculine, just as his others were very female women. Jill suspected that Mike would grok a 'wrongness' in the poor in-betweeners anyhow -- they would never be offered water.

Another passage concerns the mail that the man from Mars receives:

After looking over a bushel or so of Mike's first class mail Jubal set up a list of categories: ... G. Proposals of marriage and propositions not quite so formal ... Jill brought a letter, category "G," to Jubal. More than half of the ladies and other females (plus misguided males) who supplied this category included pictures alleged to be of themselves; some left little to the imagination, as did the letters themselves in many cases. This letter [from a woman] enclosed a picture which managed not only to leave nothing to the imagination, but started over by stimulating fresh imaginings.

One critic writes:

These days the "heresy" is centered more on the characters' provincial attitudes towards gay men ("poor in-betweeners" whose "wrongness" denies them water-kinship) and all women ("Nine times out of ten, if a girl gets raped, it's at least partly her own fault," Jill says to Michael, when instructing him not to defend her too strenuously against such an assault). (Tasha Robinson, "Humanity, through a glass brightly")

However, these passages both deal with the prudish character Jill, who is used as a dramatic foil for Mike and Jubal's less parochial views. A major thread of the story is Smith's gradual persuasion of Jill to grow beyond her inhibitions, embrace her previously suppressed exhibitionistic nature, and learn to understand other people's sexuality (e.g., Duke's interest in pornography). The passage about the letter deals with Jill's inclination to shield Mike from it, and she is overruled by the wiser Jubal (additionally, the "misguided males" could be misguided only in that they are unaware that Mike is strictly heterosexual). The quote concerning "wrongness" in the "poor in-betweeners" likewise portrays the unenlightened character Jill's speculation about what Mike would think of homosexuality, not Mike's actual attitudes.

On the other hand, just because some of these negative views of homosexuality occur in the thoughts and words of the characters, rather than coming from the authorial voice, that doesn't mean that they were not intended to express Heinlein's views. As Brooks Peck put it, "Heinlein loved to pontificate through the mouths of his characters," and Jubal is clearly often acting as a mouthpiece for Heinlein's own views. Also, the remark about "misguided males" is part of the book's exposition, not its dialogue or the representation of a character's thoughts.

Later chapters in the novel, depicting the workings of the Church of All Worlds, in fact have a number of references, some more obvious than others, that the sexual bonding that occurs between water-brothers is not limited to male/female. Ben, who has become a water brother but who has not received the training that normal church members receive, comments at one point that two men are kissing, but nothing about the act seems out of place or unmasculine. By the novel's end, it seems to promote a kind of general bisexuality, implying that sexual bonding can occur between any water-brothers, regardless of gender. This is, however, not directly stated so much as implied, and other interpretations are possible.

End of Quote. My comments follow:

It is safe to assume that this passage was not written by someone on the conservative side of the political spectrum.

The mere fact that “modern readers” might find Heinlein “misogynistic or homophobic” is a sufficient clue that we are dealing with a Leftist archly dropping the hint that Heinlein has committed thoughtcrime. “Modern readers” is a code word for Leftist, who congratulate themselves on being the vanguard and inheritors of the future; “misogyny” means not being a politically correct feminist; “homophobia” (a technical term meaning a psychopathological fear of being alone) is here used to mean not being a politically correct pervertarian.

The problem is, of course, that Heinlein is a pervertarian: the greatest and clearest voice for sexual liberation, for the trashheaping of all sexual mores, comes from Heinlein, and, specifically, from this very book: a satire where a man from Mars shows how all human social conventions concerning sexuality and religion are bogus and uproariously absurd.

But Heinlein’s unambiguous support for libertarian, libertine, and sexual liberation in all its forms, is insufficient for the thought police of the modern age. The book is clearly and explicitly pro-fornication and pro-pornography. It is filled with hostility and mockery toward marriage, fidelity, or other norms of sexual behavior.

The book strongly hints at being pro-homosexual. There being a scene where Ben Caxton is sternly criticized for fleeing from the naked man trying to kiss him. The gentle tone with which the author discusses homosexuality, calling it a ‘wrongness’, but otherwise passing over it as if it were merely a mildly risible personality quirk, was about as strong and clear a pro-pervertarian message as could be managed or imagined in the time when the book was written. Remember that STRANGERS was penned before the Viet Nam war. This book, indeed, was one of the great victories of the Culture Wars, bringing the norms and values (such as they are) of the counterculture to the forefront of American popular ideas. This book therefore should be reverenced by the sexual liberators, counterculturalists, and pervertarians everywhere: it is their Gospel, their clearest and strongest enunciation of their credo.

Good Lord, even cannibalism is praised in this book. Objections to feasting on human flesh are dismissed as Neanderthal. One cannot imagine a more clearly antinomian tract. It is perfect in its opposition to all traditions of decency and norms of civilized behavior.

Instead this Gospel of the Left is condemned. By the Left.

This is a sad commentary on the Left, but it is not unexpected. Radicals are always replaced by radicals even more extreme, and the new radical condemns the old as reactionary.

Leftists are not known for their sense of gratitude.

The Leftist is in the unenviable posture of being in continuous rebellion against all authority figures, father figures, and establishments. The Left exist in an eternal “now” like an infant, and know nothing of history. It is always Year Zero to them.

This means that any victories, where their own philosophy becomes part of the establishment, are welcomed only with condemnation. A Leftist cannot make a mark on history, or establish a legacy, begin a movement: because the next generation of Leftists will treat him with the same contempt and disdain he treated the generation before. Heinlein’s radical libertarianism in sexual matters, since it was not sufficiently explicit in its adoration of the perversion of homosexuality, is now condemned as a psychopathology; a ‘wrongness.’

The philosophy of eternal rebellion cannot be passed from generation to generation: it is self-defeating. Only a philosophy that teaches respect for prior generations can expect to be passed to the next.

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