Can You Respect the Work of People You Don’t Respect

The other day, I read something that essentially said that modern writers shouldn’t try to emulate H.P. Lovecraft (or, for those who aren’t familiar with his work, the guy who invented Cthulhu), because in real life, the dude was a massive racist.

Now, I’m not necessarily the biggest fan of Lovecraft, but I respect his work. I find that his greatest writing weakness (from a contemporary standpoint) is also his greatest writing strength, which is that he has inspired so many later writers, such as Stephen King and Robert Bloch. At this point, his work feels a little bit predictable, but that’s only because he created so many of the conventions that we see in modern horror and fantasy. In fact, it’s almost a little difficult to write in those genres without drawing a little bit of influence from Lovecraft.

So perhaps that’s part of the reason why I find this statement interesting (after all, how do you contribute to a genre that has roots that you might have a genuine reason to disagree with). But, more than that, this just seems to be part of a larger discussion that we have been having lately.

In 2017, a librarian at Cambridgeport School refused to accept Melania Trump’s gift of Dr. Seuss books, stating that Dr. Seuss was a racist and that his illustrations are “steeped in racist propaganda, caricatures, and harmful stereotypes”. This response drew both support and criticism, the latter coming from people who called Dr. Seuss a “product of his time” and claimed that his racism does not necessarily come across in the texts themselves.

And, personally, I have read countless stories from authors that were incredibly racist. Sometimes this came across in the texts themselves (Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket” is literally about evil black people) and sometimes they didn’t (if you only read L. Frank Baum’s “The Wizard of Oz”, you might not even know that he wrote anti-Native editorials as well).

Even today, problematic people still produce highly respected works. Orson Scott Card’s “Enders Game” is considered a modern sci-fi classic, even spawning a movie adaption in 2013, and yet his homophobia and political views have been a subject of great debate amongst confused readers for years now.

So, what do we do with this information? Can we continue to respect the works of people who might not necessarily deserve respect themselves?

Now, keep in mind, from hereon out, I am merely going to be stating my personal opinion. This is not a definitive answer; all I am trying to do is facilitate discussion.

And, personally, I believe that it is possible to respect the work, even if you don’t respect the artist.

Now, obviously, there are circumstances that make this issue a little bit more complicated. For example, I will go out and spend money on a work from H.P. Lovecraft, but I won’t do the same for Orson Scott Card, primarily because as a consumer, I do not want my money going toward someone who I know is still alive and still actively spreading a message that I do not agree with. Lovecraft, Poe, Baum, Dr. Seuss – all of these men are dead and of a different time period, which doesn’t excuse their beliefs and doesn’t make it okay, but it does put a little bit of distance between me and their political views.

The works that I have mentioned here are all highly influential, and I don’t necessarily think that that should be ignored. Many of these are artists who changed the genre they were working in – that changed storytelling, to a certain extent. I think that that is something that is worthy of respect, even if their political views weren’t.

But even as I say this, there is another layer that needs to be added – their political views shouldn’t be erased or ignored either.

These writers are not heroes. They did not transcend humanity, and they were not above hatred. We need to remember that. We need to respect the people that they hurt with their hate speech. And if we don’t talk about the ways that they failed, just as much as we talk about the ways that they succeeded, then we run the risk of forgetting it. We privilege the good that they did over the bad that they did.

As a result, I don’t think that this is an all-or-nothing scenario. We can’t forget the impact that these writers had on literature, so I disagree when their books are banned from spaces on principal. But we also can’t forget the impact that these writers on society, so I disagree when people take a very “get over it” attitude to the matter.

End of day, I think that the choice to read these works or emulate these writers should come down to the informed individual. It is possible to respect the writing that they produced, but not the person themselves. But if the writer and their political views turns the reader off too much, then that is totally understandable.

Children Who Might Commit School Shootings Are Not “Potential Sickos”

The issues of gun control and school shootings have been heavily conversed in the United States lately, so it shouldn’t be any surprise that Donald Trump weighed in with a number of tweets. The one that I want to focus on right now, however, reads as follows:

Now, there is a lot in this tweet that is concerning. The very concept of teachers being forced to carry guns is terrifying, and I genuinely hope that that never becomes a reality. But, at the same time, I think that this is the issue that the majority of people who read this tweet will focus on, and it is the issue that will be discussed more prominently. And there is something else in this tweet that I find terrifying, and worth discussion.

Namely, I want to talk about Trump’s repeated reference to shooters as ‘sickos’.

Now, before I get into this, I want to clarify something: anyone who commits a shooting has committed a terrible, sick act. They have taken innocent lives out of this world, and a very strong argument can be made that that is unforgivable. I am not trying to defend their choice to murder people, because that choice is indefensible.

What I am trying to say is that, especially lately, we have been talking more and more often about what causes people to commit shootings. And the general consensus seems to be that mental health tends to be to blame. Heck, even Donald Trump seems to be aware that mental health is involved in a person’s choice to take up a gun and murder others.

Now, the degree to which mental health is involved in gun violence is debatable. Only 14.8 percent of mass shooters in the United States are diagnosed as psychotic. People with mental illness contribute to roughly three to five percent of all violent crimes (most of which do not even involve guns), and when people with mental illness do use guns in a violent fashion, that violence is typically turned on themselves (in 2013, nearly two-thirds of gun-related deaths were suicides). So when we say that “gun violence is a mental health problem”, we need to remember that mentally ill people are not one gun away from murdering a whole bunch of people.

But there is a video that has been circulating around social media in the wake of this discussion that I would love to draw to your attention now.

This video is an open letter from Aaron Stark, and it bears the very intriguing title, “I was almost a school shooter”. In it, Stark talks about his experience in school, and how he had a “very chaotic and violent childhood”. He describes being bullied, and he describes how, as a result, “I got angry, and I started hiding weapons everywhere”. He states that, the only reason why he did not commit a shooting at his school was because he did not have access to a gun.

“People say mental health is the issue, and that’s true. My mental health was in sad shape. I was severely depressed and suicidal. I felt like I had nothing at all in life to look forward to, and so I literally had nothing to lose. When someone has nothing to lose, they can do anything, and that thought should be terrifying. So, yes, mental health was an issue. A bigger issue was love. I had a severe lack of love,” Stark says.

Mental health is not the only reason why gun violence happens. However, anyone who would be willing to take a human life is not a healthy person. These are people who are deeply pained, deeply rejected by their society, and, as Stark says, severely lacking in love.

These are the people who Trump is referring to as ‘sickos’.

And I’m not necessarily concerned for the men who have already committed shootings; that is an issue far too complicated for me to comment on. What I am concerned about is the young boy who is in pain, who is angry, who is in need of support and love so that he can avoid doing the terrible thing that he has been considering, and yet he is further alienated by his own president, who dismisses him as a potential sicko.

The language that we use when referring to people matters. And ‘sicko’ is a very dismissive word. ‘Sicko’ does not create room for discussion, and yet discussion is absolutely necessary for any young person who is considering this. ‘Sicko’ does not create room for love, and yet love is vital in avoiding this exact problem. ‘Sicko’ is the sort of word that discourages a young man from coming forward and talking about his feelings, because he doesn’t want to be dismissed as a ‘sicko’. So he doesn’t come forward. He just sits with it, and lets it fester. He allows it to progress, until the absolute unthinkable happens.

The truth is, it does not take a monster to do this sort of thing. All it takes is one lost, hurting, loveless child.

It bothers me to see the leader of a country use this sort of terminology, because it gives the rest of us an excuse to follow his lead. And we cannot do this. We cannot think in dismissive terms when it comes to other human beings. We cannot allow our horror of what might be to further doom other children who have not done it yet. These are children who need love and compassion and understanding, and if the president of the United States isn’t going to give it to them, then we need to make sure to give it to them. We need to be there to listen to people who need it. We need to be open-minded and non-judgemental when it comes to what they’re saying. We need to watch our language, and make sure that we are not alienating them further. Because that is so easy to do, when we are so used to doing it.

I am firmly of the opinion that creating stricter gun laws will help to fix this issue. This is something that we need to do; but at the same time, it will not make children stop feeling this way. It will only make them stop killing each other in such great numbers. This anger and this pain and this loneliness is not alright, and it leads to so many other problems – more than just school shootings. So we need to do something to fix it.

‘Fake News’ And The Problem With Bias

Fake news‘ is an idea that has been around for a long time now, referring to any news that was overly exaggerated or distorted or, in some cases, fabricated, so that it does not resemble reality and is, therefore, misinforming. This idea was popularized, however, when in 2016, Donald Trump accused the media of being filled with ‘fake news’.

When Donald Trump initially did this, he was criticized by many people for trying to discredit media that does not approve of him, as it is (conveniently) the press that disagrees with him that tends to be dismissed as ‘fake news’. Trump has been accused of trying to attack the press, and of spewing misinformation himself.

And yet, despite the criticism, Donald Trump’s use of the term ‘fake news’ has sort of affected the way that people view the news. More and more recently, I have been noticing people distrusting the news, or disbelieving the news that they do not like.

Maybe these are people who think that things are not as bad as the news makes it sound – such as those who maintain that Donald Trump saying “grab them by the pussy” is not him confessing to being a sexual predator. Maybe these are people who are confused by the multiple perspectives that the media might give to a singular event, such as the 2018 women’s march, which most news outlets maintained was an event to protest against Trump, while Trump himself maintained that it was a celebration of him. And, oftentimes, when people are confused, they choose the option that they like best.

And here’s the thing: I think that there is a little bit of truth to this idea of ‘fake news’ being prevalent nowadays. A little bit. I don’t agree with the assertion that most news is completely fabricated, but I do think that it is difficult if not absolutely impossible to report news that is unbiased.

I think that a lot of us depend on our news outlets to deliver the news to us completely unbiased. And I have heard many talk show celebrities, such as Ellen Degeneres or Stephen Colbert, criticized for presenting the news with a political bias. But I think the thing that many of us forget is that the news is reported by… people. People who have something to lose or gain by the news being reported in a certain way – whether that be public support, such as in Trump’s case, or political change, such as in Degeneres’s case (I mean, she is a gay woman, so of course she’s demanding political change; I don’t even know why that’s surprising to people).

And even when reporters don’t have anything to gain by presenting the news with a bias, they still come to the news with their own understanding of it. With every story, they have to decide what’s important and what’s worthy of omitting. With every story, they have their own opinions, and these opinions can creep up in endless, subtle ways, whether it be the language that they use, the way that they format the article, or even the picture that might accompany the article. For example, when reporting the Brock Turner sexual assault story, Turner would frequently be referred to as a “Stanford swimmer” rather than as a rapist, turning public attention away from the horrific crime that he committed, and toward his so-called ‘promising career’ as an athlete.

This is biased. And I really don’t think that we can get away from this, as human beings: we can only switch from one bias to another. I have to admit, I cannot write any of this without bias. I simply feel too strongly about a lot of news stories, and I think we’d all be lying if we said that we didn’t all feel strongly about one thing or another.

And the problem (the problem that I think is exasperated by this idea of ‘fake news’) is that, when we see bias that we don’t agree with, we want to close ourselves off. We don’t want to hear anything that is being said. We want to think that the entire story is a lie.

And when we have this idea of ‘fake news’ to fall back on, we have a great excuse to ignore the entire article. We don’t agree with the bias, so we don’t agree with the story. So the story isn’t true. It’s fake news.

And this becomes a problem when people are ignoring real facts, picking and choosing what they believe based off how they feel. Because, sometimes, the way that we feel isn’t necessarily the best indicator of what actually happened. Sometimes, the way that we feel is informed more from our own bias than from truth.

So then, what do we do? How do we find out what truth is, when truth is so frequently hidden amongst bias?

Well, there is no easy answer to this, because bias will always exist, no matter where we look. It is everywhere, in every article, in every perspective, in every individual involved in the story itself. The only thing that I can suggest, the only thing that I have found that works, is being as informed as possible before putting forth an assertion or opinion. And what this means is doing a lot of research. A lot of research on the story itself, written about by multiple reporters, and a lot of research into the history of the story. For example, if you are trying to form an opinion about the Brock Turner sexual assault story, then it isn’t enough to just read a little bit about the story itself; a lot of additional research needs to be done into the history of rape culture and the statistics around the issue.

And this research is time-consuming and difficult. It isn’t as easy as being told what happened and how to feel about it, which is why I think many people would rather not do it. But the problem is, when we don’t do this research, we don’t fully understand the issue. We only know one perspective on it, and that isn’t enough. It most certainly isn’t enough when what we are doing is passing opinions on a story that affects our entire culture and the way that people live.

Why We Can’t Let Hope Die In These Difficult Times

I don’t know if there has ever been a point in history where the world-wide news couldn’t be described as … depressing.

That isn’t to say that the world is a terrible and awful place. But terrible and awful things do happen in it all the damn time, and lately, I’ve personally found myself more deeply affected by it than usual.

And trust me, I’m usually affected by it. Outrage and desire for change are not unknown emotions for me. But, lately, a new emotion has been creeping up: hopelessness.

I have a few reasons for feeling this way. But as I don’t have all day to list them all, I’m only going to focus on one: the most recent shooting to occur in the United States.

It’s frustrating. It was frustrating from the moment I first heard about it on the news, because the way I see it, there are many countries that have proven one surefire way to avoid mass shootings by enforcing stricter gun laws, and yet the States simply refuses to do it. And because of that, people are still being murdered. Children are still being murdered. And I don’t understand. I don’t understand why the States seems to be engaging in this war on its own people. I don’t understand why the right to bear arms matters more than the right to live. I don’t understand, and I’m beginning to lose hope that this change will come about in the near future.

You might disagree with my view on this matter, but I’m not necessarily asking for you to agree with me. I’m only trying to explain where this hopelessness comes from.

And the reason why I am using this example to explain my hopelessness is because I recently watched a video posted to Facebook that featured a woman talking about this tragedy. In the beginning of the video, the woman echoes my own hopeless feelings, making such statements as, “Congress will do nothing to change this bloody course.” Yet, as the video continues, the sentiment begins to take a turn toward the optimistic, ending with such statements as, “Congress will not change, so we must change Congress.”

My initial reaction to this video was something akin to: “well, I agree with the first part, but the last part isn’t going to happen”.

How long has this been going on for? How many men, women, and children have already lost their lives, and received nothing but thoughts and prayers in return? We have gotten so accustomed to this endless cycle, of hearing about shootings, getting upset, demanding action, and then forgetting about it when action doesn’t come. Will we ever actually do anything different?

But the more that I thought about this video (and trust me, it stuck with me), the more that I realized that there was no other way that it could end but on a note of hope. And I don’t simply mean that in the sense that the video couldn’t gain traction on social media if it wasn’t hopeful: I mean it wouldn’t have served any purpose if it wasn’t hopeful.

If it ended where my recent thoughts have been ending, on this idea that change will never happen, then it would become a self-fulfilling prophesy: change would never happen. Nobody would be fighting. Because people don’t fight for things that they don’t imagine will ever happen. And if people aren’t fighting, then change will never happen. There will be no reason for it to happen.

Change won’t happen. People will continue to be murdered. It’s the same thing, every day, and we let it continue.

No, if there is any possibility of change in this world, it comes only from hope.

If you tell people that there’s a chance, then you open their minds to the possibility that you might be right. You make them see the possibilities. You make them want to fight to make it happen.

And maybe the steps we take are small, but they are still steps. Maybe the world isn’t made right in one day. Maybe there are still causalities along the way, and maybe that is a terrible tragedy. But an even worse tragedy would be to allow it to keep happen, to give the message to the world that this is alright. We accept this.

Because I don’t accept this. I can’t live with this. And from what I’ve seen of my community, I’m not alone in this thought process.

And it is very easy to lose hope in times like this. It’s very easy when you’re throwing yourself into the issue, full-force, motivated for the change and frustrated that you’re not seeing it. It’s very easy when you’re distanced from the issue, and you simply don’t understand why this is happening. It’s easy, but it’s also dangerous.

We need hope. Hope motivates action, and action motivates change. It just motivates change slowly. At a glacial speed, at times. But the small victories are still victories, and if nothing else is accomplished, keeping the fight going is at least a victory. Whenever you allow the fight to die, that is when the goal dies as well.

So whenever you are starting to feel hopeless, remember this: you are not alone in this. Even when it feels like you are surrounded by people who don’t understand, who aren’t listening, there are always going to be people in there who do understand. People who are afraid to speak up. People who need to find the courage to say something. And if you keep talking, if you keep fighting, you will eventually find these people. And together, you will be heard. You will create change.