Last week I watched the sci-fi movie Ender’s Game with some friends. I found the movie to be quite entertaining and enjoyed myself. However, it got me thinking. Not about the subject matter but about the attempts to get people to boycott the film. The boycotts were called for because of Orson Scott Card’s (The author of the Ender’s Game books on which the film is based) negative views on homosexuality. So, supporting the film could be seen as supporting someone with views that go against my own and other decent people’s. Is it right to watch it?
This is, of course, just one high-profile example. Tauriq Moosa has two good posts which explain the sort of questions that we need to take into account. His first post addresses the issue of Orson Scott Card and DC Comics while his second post concerns Ian Watkins and Lost Prophets. Ian Watkins was the lead singer of the rock group Lost Prophets but was found guilty of sexual offences against children. Tauriq’s question was whether people should now stop buying or listening to Lost Prophets. I recommend everyone reads both of his posts.
I think that it’s still acceptable to watch Ender’s Game or listen to Lost Prophets. I would suggest that the main reason follows from the way we would approach an argument. That is, that a person’s ideas and positions should be judged on their own merits and not by other views or traits of the person, i.e. avoiding the ad hominem fallacy. So, let’s say a group of people is setting puppies alight and a homophobic bystander goes up to them and tells them that it is wrong to burn puppies because it is causing unnecessary suffering. We can recognise that his homophobia is irrelevant to his position on burning puppies and it would be wrong to ignore or dismiss his arguments on that basis. Similarly, if he writes a book, it wouldn’t follow that the book is bad or should be avoided just because he is homophobic.
On the other hand there is a notable difference between buying something from someone and just recognising the merits of their argument. If we buy a book by a homophobe you will be financially supporting him or perhaps be seen to be lending legitimacy to his ideas. Again, I would stress the need to treat unrelated views of a person separately. If the book itself were homophobic then that would be a different situation. If, however, the book just happens to be written by a homophobe and the proceeds are not specifically destined to support homophobic causes then I don’t think it is a problem.
At times we may need to work with people who we disagree with and we may share other views in common. Atheists find it unbelievable when their donations, which have no conditions, are rejected merely because they are atheists. Should we not be equally shocked when we reject material purely because it comes from people who hold unrelated views with which we disagree?
There are of course many other questions which should be addressed if one still wants to boycott such material. Some of the questions left unanswered by Tauriq were these:
Do we disregard important scientific data, say from a totalitarian regime, because people died cruely? Or do we honour them by using that data to save lives? Should we find out our favourite creators’ political viewpoints all the time, before judging whether to continue supporting their work? What if their work is central to who we are and then we discover they are homophobes or racists?
When discussing the Lost Prophets example he added that these decisions don’t only affect the target person. A boycott of Ender’s Game will have consequences for everyone involved in the film, probably hundreds of people and their families. Not all of them will hold the same views, so why should they be punished? Why should one person’s views outweigh those of all the other people involved in the film? Even when buying a book, the author is not the only person involved in its production. There are editors, printers, cover artists, publicists and more who, again, may not share the author’s views on homosexuality. Then again, why should disagreement on one issue outweigh agreement on others? Should we not value the views we hold in common more highly? Perhaps it just depends on the relative importance of what we agree and disagree on.
The answer to whether we should still watch Ender’s Game or listen to Lost Prophets will not necessarily be the same for everyone. It’s a judgement call, though hopefully each person can provide a defence of their own. From my position, I think it’s important to realise that people are complex, make mistakes and have both good and bad qualities. To live together as a society we will have to sometimes interact with those with whom we disagree. Let’s argue when we disagree but work together when we share the same goals. I don’t want to be dismissed by someone merely because we disagree on an unrelated issue, so I am prepared to put aside those disagreements when someone else does something unrelated to our disagreements.