Goodness over Genius

Welcome to (probably) my last blog post of 2017. As we move into the dying days of the year, it seems to be the season of the sexual assault allegation. Many celebrities have fallen from grace as a result, and while I don’t know of any authors who’ve been caught up this time round, I’ve seen debate reignite online about the controversial behaviour and opinions of writers such as Marion Zimmer Bradley (child molester), HP Lovecraft (appalling racist), and Orson Scott Card (outspoken homophobe).

The debate is multi-layered, covering such questions as: Are reprehensible acts morally equivalent to repellent views? Do an author’s acts and/or views necessarily ‘bleed into’ their work or can you separate them? Does it make a difference if the author is long dead and no longer profiting from their work? Do you have a moral duty to avoid works by people you find unpalatable, or do you indeed have a duty to read the seminal works in your chosen genre however unpalatable you find the authors? Does being a genius mean you can transcend the normal bounds of human morality?

These aren’t questions I can answer. Everyone needs to make up their own mind whether or not they will read books by authors they personally dislike, and what – if anything – would cause them to make an exception.

But, for what it’s worth, here are my hot takes on the matter:
Firstly, being a good writer (or a good anything else) doesn’t exempt you from the requirement to be a good human. Nothing does. So far as I’m concerned, if you’re a garbage human, I don’t care how many awesome books you’ve written, you can go take a garbage scow out to the middle of the ocean and live on that giant island made of garbage.

Secondly, from what I can see, talent is cheap. There are hundreds – if not thousands – of unknown people out there who can write (or sing, or act, or play football, or whatever) just as well as the people who’ve become successful. They haven’t made it not because they’re not good enough, but because they were born in the wrong place, or time, or body, or because they’ve been discouraged by the actions of others. If all the talented-but-awful people were to disappear all of a sudden, then there are plenty of others waiting in the wings. I doubt we’d see much of a dip in quality, even a temporary one. We might even see an improvement if overbearing and/or predatory people were no longer in positions of influence, scaring off the good at heart. And I for one would rather we had art made by good people than by bad people.

Of course, maybe someone in the future will decide that they find me unpalatable and want to stay away anything I’ve had my hand in. Which, hey, will be fully within their rights as a reader.

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