Aug 16 2010 11:40am

The Customs Of His Tribe

Each man is his own prisoner, in solitary confinement for life.

    -Robert A. Heinlein, If This Goes On

As Shaw Pointed out, the customs of our tribe are not laws of nature

    -Robert A. Heinlein, Expanded Universe

I'm sorry I've been absent from the site for a while. I was kept away by a filthy migraine, induced by a new antibiotic.

I’ve been on a dozen or two Heinlein panels at cons, and it always devolves to name calling. I will admit I am far from an unbiased observer, but hearing someone call Heinlein a racist or a sexist offends me.

Part of this is the blindness of those who–with blythe certainty and missionary zeal–undertake to tally the color of characters’ skin and the thoughts of every female character in Heinlein’s books.

Perhaps because I’m not American by birth or education (though I am American by choice—more on the Americanism of Heinlein later), I see this for what it is:

The blinkered notion that the American customs, obsessions and–yes–intellectual vices of this place and time are laws of the universe. Heinlein had some things to say about that.

I remember my American Literature professor, a Fulbright scholar from South Carolina, slipping up while teaching a room full of Portuguese women and saying “his” instead of his/hers. He immediately started apologizing while we stared at him in round eyed shock. No, not at his slip but at his apology. I think one of us finally managed to point out to him that in Indo-European languages the masculine pronoun was used to signify both genders. It took the man a while to stop reeling under the impact of having his tribal assumptions questioned. It had never occurred to him that in that time and place female students were more concerned with parity of hiring and salary and equality in divorce laws. We were not wearing ourselves out in a quixotic tilting at linguistic windmills.

To believe Heinlein is a racist–or a sexist–takes ignoring the anti-racist comments in Podkayne and Friday. It takes ignoring the mixed marriage in The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress. It also takes ignoring the existence of “gatekeepers”–editors, agents, publishers–who try to keep the author roughly within the bounds of “saleable,” that is, of what the traffic will bear in his time and place. Heinlein wrote for publication and his publishers worked for remuneration.

Beyond all that, it is to impose on his writing the customs of a tribe: the academic, literary, gender/race/orientation obsessed tribe.

I belong to the tribe, and I can show you the tribal scars in the form of an MBA (plus a bit) in Modern Languages and Literatures. But I never swallowed undigested what was pushed at me as a law of the universe. (And no, not even what Heinlein pushed at me. I don’t care how much he liked the idea, I will persist in thinking group marriage will only work in most cases with all-bisexual angels, or with people on heavy narcotics. The few functioning group marriages I know are the exception, not the rule.)

Already, twenty years after graduation, my literature-major buddies and I make jokes on the subject of “all penetration is violation” (you have NOT lived till you hear a gay man with a sense of humor say it.) Do you want to bet that the laughter will not grow more uproarious as we go? Or that the future will not look at our obsession with race as a pathological symptom? (For heaven’s sake, aren’t there other things to worry about than a marginal melanin increase? Like the content of a man’s character, to quote some famous man or other?) Or that they won’t be bemused at our counting the number of individuals of other races, gay men and lesbians (does Friday count? She had sex with both genders, but fell in love with a woman) in Heinlein’s books?

More importantly–do we really want the topic to be “was Heinlein racist? Was Heinlein sexist?”

Look, we can discuss the treatment of race in his books – as long as we take into account that it reflects his times as well as his beliefs, just like the startlingly homophobic comments in Stranger are probably a product of the time and certainly denied by his later books.

We can even discuss–it’s an interesting topic, and one I intend to pick up either later today or tomorrow early – his irritation at colleges not allowing females to become full-fledged engineers in light of his belief married women should not work. Those topics are fascinating, particularly in the context of his blind spots and contradictions. (Let’s remember we’re, none of us, exempt from those, either).

BUT we do NOT have the right to call him names. Discussing whether he was racist or sexist is the appending of epithets, not a valid topic for interesting discussion. Such names seek to preempt argument by daring anyone to identify himself (or, yes, herself, if you must) with what are–rightly–despised prejudices.

Where I come from it is considered extremely bad manners to call a dead man names. It has been for a long time. The Romans had a proverb about it.

It assumes we know what was in his heart, when he himself might not have known it. It allows us to count coup on–arguably–the most popular SF author who ever lived. It presupposes we can sit in judgement of the giants who came before us and who opened the way for us to be as free as we are.

It only diminishes us in the end.

Sarah A. Hoyt was born in Portugal.  She lives in Colorado.  In between the two locations, she has worked at a variety of jobs ranging from multilingual translator to professional clothes-ironer.  She has sold over seventeen novels.  Her most recent and relevant publication is the science fiction novel Darkship Thieves.  Samples of her work are at

David Levinson
1. DemetriosX
Perhaps another apt Heinlein quote is from Space Cadet: "Pie with a fork". The point being that, regardless of what you do at home, you should adhere to the local customs (as long as they aren't morally reprehensible).

Another error that many of the vociferous Heinlein critics (particularly those who go after his politics) make is to assume that the view presented in any one work is a complete and accurate representation of his personal views. This ignores utterly the fact that it is a science fiction author's job to explore a variety of concepts. From Heinlein's work, we can assume he was a fascist-monarchist-libertarian-communist-anarchist. Larry Niven has a quote to the effect that the technical term for someone who thinks that an author espouses every view he presents is "Fool".
John Adams
2. JohnArkansawyer
This is a fascinating post, with which I'm mostly in agreement.

It's much more interesting to talk about Heinlein's literary uses of race (which I often find lacking, and that's also fair game for discussion) than about whether he was a racist (which I don't believe).

On the other hand, the idea that using various critical tools to take apart the writing and examine it is so closely akin to calling him a racist that it's to be rejected, well, I don't see that.

It's hard to talk about Heinlein's use of race or gender in his novels without doing some tallying up who is what, where. I've never kept a scoresheet, but like most attentive (read: obsessive) readers, I can pull back from memory* much of his cast of characters. What may look in my case to be that sort of counting is my memory ranging over the books. I suspect that's true of many in this discussion.

*I've been having this whole discussion deprived of my library, using just the online concordance for name jogging. Old age is beginning to set in, I'm afraid.
3. Total12
Look, we can discuss the treatment of race in his books – as long as we take into account that it reflects his times as well as his beliefs, just like the startlingly homophobic comments in Stranger are probably a product of the time and certainly denied by his later books.

Uh, "that it reflects his times" is an explanation for why Heinlein said racist or sexist things. It's not evidence that he wasn't racist or sexist.
4. DocDre

I don't care if you're not a naturalized American. I don't care if you have an advanced degree in Langauage and Literature. Neither of those are sufficient analytic bonafides for the argument you're advancing.

Did heinlein OCCASIONALLY write characters that were non-normative in his science fiction? Absolutely. Does the presence of those characters PROVE he's not a racist or a sexist? Not so much. Unfortunately for some of his critics, they don't necessarily prove he was a racist either.

The rhetorical inversion of the term 'racist' aside, let's consider Heinlein from a structural perspective.

Heinlein was very much a man of his time. That time happens to be the era that Jim Crow policies in America were publicized to the world; where decorated Black veterans were lynched for daring to presume equality; where The Supreme Court allowed states to resist integrating schools for 30 years after brown v. Board of education; and where the Kerner Commission briefly opined that the Watts riots were due, in part, to the poisonous treatment of race relations by national media.

American culture is predicated on white privilege; not white racism. Racism just happens to be the least attractive coercive form of that particular ideology. But millions of otherwise nice, 'normal' non-POC Americans benefit from white privilege everyday (including foreign born people who don't contravene American ideals of 'difference').

Arguing about whether Heinlein was racist is kinda useless; it's only real value to this point has been to expose how many sf/f fans and creators are deeply enmeshed in their own white privilege. It's pretty sad, but goes a long way towards explaining why I don't see brown heroes regularly in the genre I love.
5. N. Mamatas
I don't have a strong opinion on Heinlein's politics, except to note that like many people they varied greatly during his adult lifetime. I did get a chuckle out of this little rant, though, especially these bits:

I’ve been on a dozen or two Heinlein panels at cons, and it always devolves to name calling.

Followed almost immediately by:

Part of this is the blindness of those who–with blythe certainty and missionary zeal–undertake to tally the color of characters’ skin and the thoughts of every female character in Heinlein’s books.

Hey lady, if you don't like name-calling, you might want to keep name calling out of the nut graf of your little essay. Maybe you can build up to it a bit, rather than starting off by insisting that all who disagree with you are blind, full of false certainty, and are as irrational as zealous true believers.
Clark Myers
6. ClarkEMyers
where The Supreme Court allowed states to resist integrating schools for 30 years after brown v. Board of education;

I suggest to say allowed shows a strong misunderstanding of both the role and the power of the Supreme Court. I'd also say there is little support for the figure of 30 years and a time frame either much shorter or much longer might be defended but 30 years is more than somewhat arbitrary.

FREX from Wikipedia this date although not terribly accurate a reasonably independent statement of mostly facts. Notice especially the dates for the beginning and ending of court supervised busing in Charlotte-Mecklinburg.

The History of Desegregation
In Brown v. Board of Education in 1954 the Warren Court ruled that school segregation was unconstitutional. One year later, in Brown II, enforcement of this principle was given to district courts, ordering that they take the necessary steps to make admittance to public schools nondiscriminatory “with all deliberate speed.”The term “all deliberate speed” was used by school boards to delay desegregation.

Circuit Judge John J. Parker led many in the South in interpreting Brown as a charge not to segregate, but not an order to integrate. In 1963 the Court ruled in McNeese v. Board of Education and Goss v. Board of Education in favor of integration, and showed impatience with efforts to end segregation. In 1968 the Warren Court ruled in Green v. County School Board that freedom of choice plans were insufficient to eliminate segregation, thus it was necessary to take proactive steps to integrate schools. In United States v. Montgomery County Board of Education (1969), Judge Frank Johnson’s desegregation order for teachers was upheld, allowing an approximate ratio of the races to be established by a district judge.

Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education, 402 U.S. 1 (1971) was an important United States Supreme Court case dealing with the busing of students to promote integration in public schools. After a first trial going to the Board of Education, the Court held that busing was an appropriate remedy for the problem of racial imbalance among schools, even where the imbalance resulted from the selection of students based on geographic proximity to the school rather than from deliberate assignment based on race. This was done to ensure the schools would be "properly" integrated and that all students would receive equal educational opportunities regardless of their race.

In 1997, a parent, William Capacchione, sued the school system when his daughter was denied entrance into a magnet school for the second time based on her race. While the school system opposed the end of busing, Judge Robert D. Potter declared the mandate of a unitary system had been met and lifted the court order on mandatory busing by race or ethnicity. This ruling was upheld by the appeals court in Richmond, Virginia in 2000 and after the final appeal was declined to be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court, federal order of busing was ended in Charlotte-Mecklenburg and it was left in the hands of the city school board to decide how to redo the assignment policy for school attendance.

Although Charlotte-Mecklenburg Education is still under transformation, the fact is clear that segregation has returned and the school system is just as racially divided now as it was before the Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg school system decision in 1971.

7. Tocks Nedlog
In his Mark Twain-cum-Will Rogers style of prose, Heinlein's characters -- and particularly the older male characters that MAY have represented the author inserting himself into the story -- espoused various opinions. In "For Us, The Living" he broke 'the fourth wall' completely, adding authorial footnotes to describe his vision of the ideal economic model for the future. In his later works he's been accused of solipsism; of revealing the wizard behind the curtain, or -- if you will -- declaring himself to be The Puppet Master.

It's this quality, I think, that gets people's dander up about him and his work. His characters are opinionated; therefore (or so goes the logic of some of his detractors) every opinion they espouse comes straight from the true beliefs of their source: the author himself. It's curious that the same kind of accusations don't seem to be made against authors whose characters are less opinionated but truly reprehensible in their actions. Is it the speechifying that somehow "proves" a direct link to Heinlein's true feelings? Is it really impossible to conscience the idea that the character making a certain speech is just that -- a fictional character -- and that the writer doesn't necessarily share the thoughts espoused by that character? When two of Heinlein's characters have a philosophical disagreement, which side is Heinlein on? Both? Neither?

I read "Farnham's Freehold" as a parable about how, given the chance, the oppressed (or any group with minority status) could easily fall into the trap of becoming the oppressors. It's all too easy, although not necessarily accurate AT ALL, to view the book as some kind of racist warning against allowing black people to achieve political power.

The "product of his times" argument is really a non-starter. Is it true? Sure. Should he have been expected to be so forward-thinking that he would have just naturally included a supremely diverse cast in all of his works? Of course not. Neither he, nor the majority of his contemporaries in the majority of their written works, did so. Is there a point to retroactively criticizing this state of affairs? Have the works themselves become dated beyond the point of readability -- and, by extension, critical failures -- due to this lack of diversity? Nope. It is what it is.

Charlie Stross
8. cstross
* Clutches head *

Speaking as another non-American SF writer, I'd like to note that the American dialectic of Race and Privilege is radically different from that in most other cultures -- even where racism is a major problem, there's no equivalent of the American Black experience of abduction and systematic dehumanization with its subsequent (and incomplete) progress towards full civil parity.

(Nor is the American religious foundational myth of post-Calvinist protestant puritanism -- complete with the doctrine of Original Sin -- routinely bolted on top of other cultures' dialectics on race, so that a mere accident of birth causes one to ipso facto assume responsibility for historic injustices.)

Given that the current discourse on privilege and racism has evolved significantly since Heinlein's death, I don't believe it's useful to apply today's yardsticks to him. Asking where he stood in respect of the issues of racism and sexism at the time (and for a man of his social context) is another matter. However, even there we're blocked from establishing what Heinlein was or wasn't, because he's not around to interrogate.

All we can do is question the texts, and based on my (admittedly incomplete) reading of his work, I think he had a taste for contrarian arguments and a talent for representing characters with viewpoints he didn't agree with, as well as those he did. He's an unreliable narrator, in other words. I also think he changed his mind a lot as he aged, just like many of us.
9. JMS
I don't care if Heinlein was a racist or a sexist, or exactly the reverse, in his private life (well, of course I do, because I love random bits of gossip as much as the next person, but).

But if characterizations or themes in his work strike me, as a reader, as having racist or sexist elements, it is hardly "name-calling" to discuss that.

It's not an either/or situation, where one either embraces every word Heinlein wrote as perfect and unassailable, or shuns him as a Terrible Human Being with Antiquated Ideas.

And saying "Well, he was a product of his time and place" just moves the discussion up one level. If the public discourse of his time and place had racist and sexist elements, that's one thing that is worth discussing, just as other elements of the public discourse of his time and place--optimism about scientific progress, celebration of individualism, etc., etc.--are worth discussing.
10. Foxessa
The Customs of His Time is not an justification, an apology or an excuse. I posted this in one of Mitch's entries. It really applies as a response to your very badly organized and presented sneer.

Here goes, again, with apologies to those who have seen it before, but it does say it all because it addresses the salient factor always left out by those who argue that someone is excused for his or her behaviors that later generations, due to long struggle of every kind to correct. There are always people who know better, that racism, sexism, genocide, colonial appropriation etc. are immoral if not criminal. They fight against it. Or, the rest go along with it because it provides them some benefit or at least perceived benefit.


Current opinion says that giving a pass for wrong doings due to time lived doesn't work. For instance:

"In Ken Burns Civil War doc, historian Barbara Fields argues against giving people an "of their time" pass, because often there are people in that time who are on the right side of history. You can't at once credit the enlightened, without calling out those who stumbled around in the darkness--especially those who did so willfully."

Or as the song goes about Thomas Jefferson, he chose "To live off slavery all his life long."

Jefferson knew better too, judging by his own writings. He knew slavery was wrong and evil. But he couldn't deal in any kind of way with the idea of how he himself and his culture could exist without it, and he had it made.

However, I'm not about to suggest that this was the same deal for RH -- except, that it is always more convenient for the rest of us that aren't personally affected by the lack of liberty and opportunity and the right to choose to make such decisions.

Again, not a criticism of RH, but an observation.

Love, C.
David Dyer-Bennet
11. dd-b
It seems totally obvious that Heinlein was both a racist and a sexist. He was raised and lived in a deeply racist and sexist culture, after all; I know, because our lives overlapped 34 years and we both lived in America. (I'm sure I have racist and sexist attitudes conditioned into me that I haven't managed to spot and deprogram yet, too. And I don't think I've moved nearly as far "beyond" my societal programming as Heinlein managed.)

What's of interest, it seems to me, is the degree to which he attempted to overcome some of the social programming he got. That degree is considerable. And the degree to which he succeeded in overcoming them; a lesser degree, I think. And the ways he tried to spread his subversive anti-racist and sometimes anti-sexist views.

People always seem to like to focus on ways people, especially celebrities, fail. I don't think that's generally terribly interesting. People are of their time and place, and only move past that in moderate increments (with the possible exception of "saints" and crazy people). What's interesting is how people react against their society, and where it takes them.
Madeline Ferwerda
12. MadelineF
I don't usually agree with Nick Mamatas's ways, but he's dead on the money here. Perhaps all the Heinlein discussions you've ever been in have devolved into namecalling because you call people names if they haven't hit on your One True Interpretation. It is kinda funny.
will shetterly
13. willshetterly
Foxessa, I agree with your point, but isn't that spamming?

DD-B, if you're curious about your implicit beliefs, try the race test at Project Implicit:

I'd always assumed I had some subconscious racism going on. Turns out that's so. I have an implicit bias for black folks.
14. seth e.
I've never really felt strongly about Heinlein's books either way, and I've never been a part of organized fandom, which is maybe why I'm not sure what the big deal is about Heinlein's attitudes towards race and gender. I'm happy to believe that he was progressive for his time--which, as always, means for a straight white man of his time--and it's hardly news that that time doesn't really measure up to our current ideals. So yes, comparing Heinlein's individual virtues against our modern expectations is doomed from the start. But discussing Heinlein's motives honestly doesn't seem interesting for very long, whether that means attacking or defending him. And I don't really know that I've seen people attacking him on, so much as locating him in context.

What's interesting about Heinlein is his affect as a writer, the way that his virtues have been built upon and his weaknesses have been reproduced in science fiction. The most interesting part of the last few days' discussion to me was the idea that Heinlein's vision of the future was rigorously assimilationist; there may be people of all colors in his stories, but they all act the same. That speaks to both his strengths and his weaknesses, and to the virtues and vices of modern sf as well. Whether this Really Means that Heinlein himself was a racist, or exhibited racist behavior, well, yes and no, same as most people. His attitudes may have been pleasant or frustrating for the people who knew him, but I didn't know him; his writing is the thing.

This has been said before here, but there's an overwhelming urge in this kind of conversation not to take a focus on the writing far enough--"questioning the texts", like cstross says. I realize we're talking about a biography, but really, do we read a writer's biography to discover the writer's own motives as an end in itself, or to better illuminate the effect he had on his larger context? And that has to do both with him personally and with his time, so it's perfectly valid to talk about both of those things in a critical way. If things we perceive as weaknesses in Heinlein's writing were only and completely due to the time he lived in, they're still worth discussion. Why not?
15. ohagyo
Ms. Hoyt: FWIW I entirely agree that the discussions of sex/gender and race both seem to degenerate quickly. I do think that part of the problem is how the questions are framed, which is really just a more general restatement of your thesis: that debating "was he racist/sexist?" – as if a universal judgment could ever be made – just isn't very fruitful. Perhaps better to invest more effort in reframing questions in a way that does not ultimately lead back to the same "racist? YES/NO and answer quickly dammit" trap.

FREX, with regard to The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, let me try to frame some questions re race/ethnicity that I hope could be explored without blood pressures automatically rising.

Overarching: Heinlein clearly made a choice to give Manny, Wyoh, Prof, and virtually every named secondary character a specific race/ethnicity. Regardless of how well or badly he did it, why did he do it? What theme was he thinking to advance by doing so? When Heinlein did not assign an ethnicity, does it seem there was a point to the omission?

Characterization: Heinlein gives Manny – Manuel Garcia O'Kelly-Davis – a name including obviously different ethnic origins, and further mentions he has a South African grandfather and a Tatar grandmother. What in the way Manny is characterized during the book evokes any of the ethnicities he is from (if anything)?

Heinlein names the revolutionists' Terran insider LaJoie. Did Heinlein simply want to allude to French assistance given to the American Revolution, or are there other ways that the name LaJoie was meaningful? Did anything in the way LaJoie was characterized evoke his ethnicity?

Writing: How did Heinlein establish Manny as a character with a particular ethnicity? What were Heinlein's own experiences with those ethnicities (friends, acquaintances, reference books, what?) that could have influenced his choices in creating Manny?

How did Heinlein change Standard English to construct the argot spoken by Manny, and were any of those changes identifiably similar to then-existing cultures or ethnicities? What experience did Heinlein have with those cultures?

I am not expecting anyone to answer these questions on this thread; my point is more to try to construct interesting questions about Heinlein's handling of race/ethnicity that do not automatically lead into the same old conflicts. If my questions don't seem interesting, or are still going to provoke a shouting match and epithets, I would welcome other people's examples of possible good ones.
Greg Morrow
16. gpmorrow
If I may, a note on language. English is, of course, an Indo-European language, and the masculine most certainly does NOT signify both genders. "He" is masculine. In uses where it does not refer to a specific individual, it stands for a generic masculine individual. Compare "Someone forgot to turn in his test" to "Someone has a run in ?his pantyhose" -- "his" is clearly masculine and is strange in environments where the feminine would typically be expected.

The assertion that "he" is generic in English only dates back to the 18th century, by the way, from the grammar prescriptivists who got so much else wrong.

Cf. discussions of "singular 'they'" at Language Log. English speakers have a thousand-year history of seeking ways to deal with English's lack of an animate gender-neutral third-person singular pronoun.

Other IE languages may handle things differently. (Hindi, for example, does not have gendered personal pronouns at all.) But the English masculine pronoun is masculine.
17. Raven Daegmorgan
It occurs to me that Mr. Mamatas is using the same rhetorical trick Christians use when confronted by atheists about overbearing or rude/bigoted behavior: they claim the person describing their behavior as rude or bigoted is actually the one who is the rude bigot. This is used to deflect criticism away from the statement about their actual behavior and effectively silences the critic by putting them on the defensive.

While deflection is a clever tactic in social situations, calling out actual behavior--or calling someone rude who is acting rudely--isn't name-calling. No matter how much one hates the idea that their side is behaving blindly or irrationally (and no matter how attractive the defense of saying "well, you're worse than I am, so there!").
18. N. Mamatas
Amazingly, Raven makes an expansive claim while forgetting a step: demonstrating some example of "their behavior"—in this case being sooo upset about Heinlein's supposed politics due to personal blindness or heedlessness—that I've engaged in. Good luck finding an example or two.

Note, that suggesting that one's rhetorical opponents are blind or heedless is not the same as pointing out their rudeness (this is Raven palming a card, the seventeen of clubs no less!); it's actually Hoyt suggesting that the people whose opinions she disagree with only hold them due to personality flaws.
David Dyer-Bennet
19. dd-b
ohagyo@15: I like those questions! Some of them would nearly certainly prove interesting.

One of them, I think, I can say something that interests at least me about: How did Heinlein establish Manny as a character with a particular ethnicity?

One of the points of the book is that Manny's true ethnicity is "Loonie". Establishing it starts in the first line of the book, when we meet Loonie argot for the first time; it's Manny writing in the first person, and he's not sounding like anybody we've ever heard before!

There's all sorts of other stuff running through the whole book. The details of his polite response to Wyoming when first introduced (which would be terribly rude on Earth today, but was clearly at that point mostly-meaningless ritual to both of them). How he got his schooling. All the details of his family. And so forth.
20. ohagyo
@19 dd-b: Thank you! Your response touches on almost all the questions of the book, really. I agree that Heinlein was definitely making a point that all his characters, for all their ancestral diversity, were now Loonies, and a new cultural/ethnic group forged out of their previous backgrounds.

I think that, in addition to many other things, Heinlein was writing about the creation of cultural self-awareness in the Loonies. Formerly they were culturally different from groundhogs (note the lumping of all Earth's diverse cultures into one group) but did not recognize themselves as a unified group. They knew they were different in the specifics: linguistic shifts; ethical and moral standards and societal values adapted to a new environment; economic structure; etc. They also knew where they came from and held onto ancestral differences: pride in ancestry (the more ancestral criminals the better–I loved that!), recognizable differences between HK Luna and Luna City; etc. But not until the revolution (and propaganda) did they start thinking of themselves as a common people.

Your example of Loonie standard "polite response" is what I really love about Heinlein. He not only had thought about what could be polite but also had recognized that the behavioral origin of a polite response might be considerably different from its current use (like a handshake or other open-hand greeting initially being proof that one wasn't holding a weapon). Then he takes it even further with Manny's giving Wyoh the "full treatment" when he sees her in the red dress for the first time (finger-snapping, moans, "a scan like mapping radar" and so forth). In these seemingly throw-away lines Heinlein conveys not only meaningful information about the characters' current society but also implies its origins and gives the reader an emotional sense of a real society that has changed over time.

Anyway. I truly had not intended to derail this thread into these kinds of discussions. But I think the above could lead to better discussions of ethnicity that tie into Heinlein's life. Why did he choose that particular form to make a "polite response?" What are the real-Earth cultural antecedents he drew from? Obviously Heinlein brings an American-ness to the wolf-whistle style, but the U.S. is hardly the only country with such behaviors. Did he draw at all from, say, Italian or Mexican cultural standards of openly admiring a woman's looks in public?

And treading into perhaps more difficult territory: What might indicate that Heinlein actually thought such behavior is or should be acceptable? What evidence indicate more to the contrary, that it was simply his literary construct for the sake of the story?

Again, I am not really looking for answers (here). I just hope that if/when posts, or perhaps articles the Heinlein Journal, address these issues, we can frame the conversation in a way that keeps us all talking together about Heinlein.
21. John_A_Armstrong
As suggested by one of the posts above, we all seem to fall into two camps quite naturally - those of us who read Farnham's and can't help but see it as a riff on Lord Acton's truism, and those who immediately read it as a warning in re: The Coloured Menace

I think you have to work awfully hard at it for the latter to bear scrutiny .... I will concede that the cannibalism is over the top. My take on Farnham's is that it's failings are in the writing and in the central conceit, not in the author's soul
Robert James
22. DocJames
I've published an extensive article on Farnham in the Heinlein Journal.

What everybody seems to miss is that RAH is suggesting that cannibalism is precisely what whites had done to blacks; they consumed their lives, their substance, their freedom.

What he is saying is that freedom is essential to all human beings; to deprive it of another is cannibalism, even if the body is not literally cooked and eaten.

Seen that way, the entire novel snaps into focus. One could have suggested that there be a character who says something to that effect, but I suspect Heinlein thought he had made the point clearly enough. Perhaps the fault lies with him, perhaps with us.

In any case, fifty years later, we are still arguing about that book.

This is why it is art, and not disposable fluff like most of what gets published. The test of time is the only objective arbiter of greatness.
23. Raven Daegmorgan
@18: Ahh, my mistake. I only meant to indicate you appeared to be engaging in a deflection response, not that you were one of the "raving blinded zealots", but I obviously wasn't clear enough and I can see why you took my description of the reasoning-behaviors in the example group as being applied to you as well. Apologies for my lack of clarity on that point.

However, Mr. Mamatas, I think if you reread Ms. Hoyt's statement, you'll find she isn't making the broad claim you believe she is: that everyone who argues with her is simply blinded by zeal.

"Part of this is the blindness of those who–with blythe certainty and missionary zeal–undertake to tally the color of characters’ skin and the thoughts of every female character in Heinlein’s books."

I refer to these bits: "Part of this" and "those who". It is apparent to me she isn't tarring everyone who disagrees with her, but a selected subgroup engaging in a particular behavior set. It is obvious that there are other "parts" to why these arguments happen, and other "those" than just those affected by blind, missionary zeal and bad post-modernist logic (but I repeat myself).

Now, my reading may be incorrect, she may indeed have meant "everyone who disagrees" rather than a certain sub-group. However, based on what's here, I stand by my claim that your earlier argument was a deflection and distracted from the existence and behavior of those sorts.

(Also, Mr. Mamatas, you seem to be acting overly familiar with me for someone I don't think I've ever met -- how are we on a first name basis? -- and specifically, "Amazingly, Raven makes an expansive claim...", which I'm interpreting as a sort-of snarky "here we go again"? Though I recognize there's certainly another way to take that, too, as a commentary on critics who make expansive claims generally.)

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