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Asimov’s Empire, Asimov’s Wall (publicbooks.org)
251 points by smacktoward 4 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 256 comments



Asimov gave the world plenty of mind-expanding ideas, many that we take for granted today as staples of science fiction. I'm also amused and a bit humbled at reading his many stories featuring futures with "a world market for maybe five [building-size] computers" on my one-of-billions smartphone.

That said, I've witnessed (and been guilty of) full-throated defenses against character assassinations based on little more than being a fan of the work. It's important for fans, who ought to be more informed than average, to be aware of and acknowledge the works' and creator's flaws. This both gives the fan more credibility, and by reducing the perceived personal protection the creator may feel from their fans, in aggregate should discourage bad behavior.

So thanks for sharing.


Yeah, acknowledging flaws is more useful than ignoring them or papering over them.

> "a world market for maybe five [building-size] computers" on my one-of-billions smartphone

Though in some of Asimov's books' terms, it easy to imagine that the internet would have counted to Asimov as having only one "building sized computer" and we just have billions and billions of terminals. The microcomputer revolution remade what the world calls a computer [1], and it's hard to predict futures when the words themselves shift out from under you. ;)

[1] Just as I like to half-jokingly predict the lasting impact of the smartphone revolution is that it is possible the word phone eats the word computer, bringing about AT&T's 50s retro future visions in a roundabout pathway they didn't foresee.


It was Watson who said "a world market for maybe five [building-size] computers"

Asimov wrote about AI everywhere - positronic brains inside androids, multivac etc...


He probably never understood the harm he did. His writings reveal quite a lack of real understanding of other people. And I guess no one ever sat down with him and tried to explain the consequences for him.

I'm very happy that these things are brought up loud and clear nowadays so no one can continue to be ignorant.


This is why I'm generally supportive of contemporary efforts to call out that kind of behavior as unacceptable.

I think on some level, everyone who finds someone else attractive has at least some instinctual desire to touch them or hug them or kiss them, etc. It's the definition of sexual attraction. If all you've been told and all of your experience says "hey, go for it! It's not a big deal and occasionally they'll reciprocate," why would you refrain?

It's important for people to learn and understand at a very basic level that it's inappropriate, unacceptable, and degrading to the person on the receiving end. When I was in my mid 20's I used to work with a lot of young guys who would catcall and pester women all the time. I'd shake my head and ask them why they did that. Didn't they know it annoyed the hell out of the women (at the very least)?

Their response was usually along similar lines to the one quoted in the article: "well, some of them like it and occasionally it might work!" Without a real understanding of how flawed this logic was, these dudes had been taught that the ideal approach was just to proposition as many women as possible in the hopes that one might respond positively.

Without understanding the flip side, they just didn't consider or grasp the harm it caused to the vast majority of their "targets".


I'm not sure that it's always sexual attraction, although it might have been for Asimov. Look at the Joe Biden case, how he used to hug, touch etc. people all the time in a problematic way. It wasn't sexual, but it was still an overstepping of sensible boundaries, intimacy etc. that we intuitively feel as "creepy".

Whatever the context (sexual or not) it's important for people to learn how to go about that sort of implied social negotiation that ultimately might make these contacts non-problematic and perhaps even desirable. Just telling them "it's not okay" is not nearly as effective. Tell them it's not OK, and then ask them why they aren't doing it the right way. Do they feel that entitled to another person's boundaries?


All people don't have the same boundaries. This makes me think of a guy I went to high school with. He always stood way too close when talking to me (and everybody else). Close enough to smell his mouth and feel his warm breath against my face. When I moved away he moved after. This was certainly nothing sexual; he did it to everyone, males and females of any ages, teachers and fellow students. I tried to talk to him about it once, because no one wanted to hang out with him and I hoped I could help him. He had absolutely no idea that he did anything wrong. He never understood why no one liked him or that all the girls thought he was a creep.

Maybe people like Biden are the same. They just have a different sense of boundaries, and don't react themselves when other people touch or hug them. I don't know how asking them why they do something that feels perfectly natural to them would help.


> All people don't have the same boundaries.

Of course, but that's precisely why that implied negotiation is so important - far more perhaps than most people might realize. It's never okay to "move after" people who are clearly trying to keep their distance; that's creepy, almost predatory behavior. I don't care if it's Joe Biden doing it or just someone in your high school.


I certainly avoid people who speak too loudly. The foundation of politeness is to not make other people uncomfortable. I think there’s an important difference between someone like Asimov who did know that what he did was wrong, but might not have understood the gravity of it, and someone like Biden who (presumably) just behaved in a way that was natural to him.


But a lot of those boundaries are learned, and most people are not as sensitive as they would like to be. While Americans feel uncomfortable with people standing too close, many other cultures feel uncomfortable with people that speak too loudly or smile too much.


These are different levels of discomfort, though. Speaking too loudly and smiling too much are clear violations of politeness; they might mean that people will distrust you or think that you're acting silly (especially the "smiling too much" one). But they aren't going to avoid you altogether like women would avoid Asimov.


In an economic game sense, it is rational behaviour. The costs are externalized on the people who don't want to be propositioned and the gains accrue exactly to the propositioner and the propositionee who wants it.

We're solving it by internalizing that externality (calling out cat callers) and I think that's the right thing to do.

I wonder if there is a mechanism (there probably isn't) which instead rapidly matches folks so that they can catcall exactly the people who want to be cat called, assuming there are any.


> I wonder if there is a mechanism (there probably isn't) which instead rapidly matches folks so that they can catcall exactly the people who want to be cat called, assuming there are any.

Human cultures have adapted all sorts of symbols and codes for social boundary negotiation. One really obvious and ancient one is the Wedding Ring. The fact that Wedding Rings are an "opt out" by default model in many folks' view for what is "fair game" is a problem to redress.

Another example that comes to mind from books I've read is the 70s "handkerchief code": https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Handkerchief_code. That one at least is more opt-in. There are descendants of that coding system still in use, of course.

In several of the real world conventions that I attend there's a growing pin and button culture that tries to encode directly and explicitly in English some negotiations, across a wide spectrum of consent/interest lines, things such as "I'm a hugger" and "Yes, I'm interested in socializing right now" (plus pronouns, and so forth). The advantage of making plain English over some cryptic code is nice for avoiding some forms of miscommunication, and you can do that in constrained settings like sci-fi conventions. They become a useful laboratory for exploring which ideas should possibly grow out into the real world, even though I don't think there are many ideas of how to do that "at scale" just yet.

(They are also laboratory experiments that some of them still fail and various communities are continually learning from them. Almost every broad consent has exceptions and navigating the line, for instance, of "I know I've given broad consent, but right now you need to accept that this particular circumstance is a no" is probably always going to be a challenge.)

Arguably a large part of the evolution of human communications has always been about social negotiation and we keep building new systems to signal/communicate/explore it. We've never perfected it, but maybe a big part of our human drive is that we keep trying.


> Another example that comes to mind from books I've read is the 70s "handkerchief code": https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Handkerchief_code. That one at least is more opt-in. There are descendants of that coding system still in use, of course.

It's interesting that the opt-in signaling culture arose in the context of symmetrically powerful relationships (two members of the same sex) vs a catcall culture (which is clearly between assymetric power relationships - a male and female). I wonder if the power imbalance has something to do with the consensuality of the interaction.


That's definitely a concern. The growing modern understanding is maybe that you cannot have consent in a power imbalance, and sometimes a lot of the "code" work right now is as much finding and signaling possible power imbalances as much or more than establishing even a broad consent signal. Consider pronoun signaling as one first example where it may also signal an unobvious power imbalance (though not necessarily in every case; part of the normalization work behind pronoun signaling is that if everyone does it, for many people it signals a status quo/no change in power dynamics).

Though also an interesting counter-note to me is that the handkerchief code itself was commonly used in BDSM cases intended to signal the consensual creation of a power imbalance and asymmetry, and it is in (mixed gender) BDSM communities where I've heard most of the less publicly documented, but possibly more generally useful, successors to handkerchief code can be found. So asymmetric power structures have always been intertwined in the opt-in signaling, even if yes some of the early symmetry was probably a necessary bootstrap state.


Hey, thanks. I really learned something from this. I'll think on it.


> I wonder if there is a mechanism (there probably isn't) which instead rapidly matches folks so that they can catcall exactly the people who want to be cat called, assuming there are any.

I think this is what dating apps are for to some extent. Except the 'catcall' becomes ... conversation on a date. Although some of the apps are more on the catcall end of the spectrum.


The article does describe Asimov as a loser in romantic relationships, so one should not underestimate the harm he did to his own prospects. It's also true that we care a lot more about these behaviors than we did in the 1950s, and that's mostly for the better. But Asimov seems to have had comparatively little of that narcissistic, overentitled attitude which you'd find in so many harassers, and which perhaps should be of most concern.


> But Asimov seems to have had comparatively little of that narcissistic, overentitled attitude which you'd find in so many harassers

Exactly. I think he would have been horrified if he actually understood the harm he caused. It sometimes amazes me how people who are extremely intelligent in some aspects of life can be so utterly clueless in other.


If Asimov was still living, what do you think he would say about younger Asimov?

The Civil Rights Act of 1991 happened the year before he died. There was a big change in the way people saw this behavior between the 80s and now.

How many celebrities, who lived through that era, would now say that behavior is okay? I honestly think had he lived, he'd say he was wrong.


Great point! The dead may never change. Is it fair to eternally damn them from a modern perspective?

One of the reasons I left religion was principally this eternal damnation practice. It’s extreme. The variety of life and even the universe requires nuance and forgiveness.


There's plenty of nuance and forgiveness in traditional religion.

Speaking of which, Asimov was certainly aware that "thou shalt not covet" and "whoever looks at a woman lustfully..." had been preached for a couple of thousand years, so it's not like he had no idea what he was doing could possibly be wrong.


What do you think Asimov's father would have said about Asimov?

I reject the idea that before the 1990s it was always acceptable to grope women in public. In older, more traditional and more conservative societies it was not acceptable.


One possible data point is to look at the half-hearted apologies of Robert Crumb. He lived through the 80's and treated women in a similar manner. Now, as an old man in a new era, he has issued some vague apologies. And yet, he also leaves so many transgressions out.

My guess is that Asimov might have done something similar if he were alive in the #MeToo era. Some vague apologies, but no true reckoning of everything.


I'd like to believe he'd be deeply ashamed. I don't have many reasons to believe that, however.

People are flawed. Some people are deeply flawed and fame has been for far too long an enabler foe behavior that should never be tolerated from anyone.


The article mentions Harlan Ellison and his grabbing a Hugo Award host's breast and I thought to myself that surely that can't have been possible a mere fifteen years ago in front of all those people and yet https://youtu.be/Zxd1jFDXzsU that's a video.

I can't imagine someone doing that in front of me. I don't even know how I'd act. Probably just sit there wondering if they really did just do that.


I know nothing about the incident nor about that particular person (except his most famous short story), but what I can see on this video is an awkward and misplaced move that sometime happen in nervous situations to some people. Like someone was trying to pat other person's shoulder and shake their hand (using his left) at the same time while speaking and failing both. If you ever had similar situation, you know what I mean.

Please, mind it, I don't say that's what happened, I just say it looks like it and may be interpreted this way. A person can hide his intentions using awkward behaviour, of course. Prior information and context tip the scale in the end.


Ellison freely admitted to doing it on his web site intentionally at the time and as I recall called it "playing" and asked people not to "lynch" him. (Paraphrasing from memory)


It looked pretty deliberate to me. They always say never meet your heroes - I loved the Stainless Steel Rat.


Ellison did not write the Stainless Steel Rat if that is what you're saying.


Oh man. That’s embarrassing. You are of course right - it was Harry Harrison! Sorry about that.


People do not protect harassers. People protect their own jobs and status. Let someone unimportant to have the same behaviour and it will land in prison. It is the system that rewards the people protecting the harassers. Think about Human Resources in your company. Do they work for the employees, for the company or for upper management? I have seen upper management abusing their positions while damaging people and projects alike. And Human Resources have always protected them. The few times that is not like that, the person that tries to fix the situation get silently fired. We should request from people to NOT protect famous/important/rich harassers. But, we also need to change the system to make sure that they are not protected by people looking for a reward. Without changing the system we are doomed to continue suffering these behaviours.


Yes and no - you will often see people trivialize or make excuses for harassers even if there is noting on the line for themselves. Nobody is scared of Asimov since he is long dead, but just look in this comment section.


You're right, people protect more than their job; they protect their ideologies, too.

There's an interesting story about the early Buddhist monks who, while the Buddha was alive, would squabble and fight over "right view". So, even after giving up almost everything, they were still attached! The Buddha, in classic Buddha way, responded by walking into the forest to meditate alone.

Personally, I wish we'd all just relax and realize what assholes we ALL are, each and every one. There are no exceptions.


I'd go further, people protect their identities, which includes whatever ideologies & personal facets of themselves they've codified.

Where one person shrugs when a family member is insulted, another might come to blows to protect an idea of family. It's cultural, economic and political...it's belief.


[flagged]


> While I expect to be downvoted for even bringing it up

Regardless of the merit of a comment, I downvote on principle when being baited like this.


[flagged]


The idea is to discourage users from setting the bait in the first place, it's not great comment etiquette. Just never say you expect to be down voted.


The idea should be to discourage petty and arbitrary downvoting. That also isn't great comment etiquette, and it's far more corrosive to discourse than discussing downvotes, yet it's encouraged here.


This is a good thread if just for highlighting how people will protect famous/rich/important harassers and abusers if it serves their sense of "self" in some way - whether it be attached to career, ideology, fandom, "coolness", etc. or if it be because of some form of kompromat.


>These two numbers might seem very different, but both are central to Asimov’s legacy

Yeah, I really don't think so. The legacy of people with important contributions (technical, cultural, political, etc) is their work, not what they did in their private life, unless they were also moonlighting as the Boston strangler or something.

In 2500 nobody would care whether he did this or that. But they would probably still read some of his work.


Well his personal issues with women definitely are apparent in his work. His female characters are often shrieking ninnies.

Also I don't think anyone but an academic will be reading his work in a few hundred years. As much as I enjoy his ideas and his easy style he is actually mediocre.


> Also I don't think anyone but an academic will be reading his work in a few hundred years. As much as I enjoy his ideas and his easy style he is actually mediocre.

I don't like to point out and say people's opinions are wrong but The Embire series are cornerstone of science fiction writing and will surely be read in the future. I can't imagine someone studying the history of scifi literature and skipping Asimov at any point in time.


You said it: studying. That's why I say an Academic might be reading it. Some work becomes the preserve of specialists and other work continues to be read by people who love reading. We still read Dickens. Some of that work is almost 200 years old.


He said it, but meant reading.

Regular fans will continue to read Asimov, as they do today, 70+ years after some books where published.

In fact, there is (was?) a TV series coming up on Foundation as well...


Realistically, very few books keep being read for hundreds years and those who do typically strongly influenced politics or art or because they have contemporary ideological message (teaching kids values and political attitudes we want them to get).

Dickens is not read just because it was fun.

Asimov is more in the "for fun" category. They are creative, but you must avoid thinking deeper about those societies and people in them - it breaks those books.

So while it definitely plays role in sci-fi history, it is replaceable by next fun thing (Harry Potter or whatever).


>Realistically, very few books keep being read for hundreds years

Considering his first stories came around 1930 iirc, his books are already close to the "hundred years" mark, and still read, so we're past wondering about that...

People might not read Tom Wolf ('The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test' anyone?) but they'll sure keep reading Asimov and Clarke and Dick and co for a good while...


I have no idea why you would propose Tom Wolfe as an avatar for quality. No-one really knows whose work will continue to connect with generations to come. Tom Wolfe is, in my view, mediocre and a writer whose middle-brow popularity is largely to do with his capturing something about the times he lived in.

Asimov, re-reading him as an adult, is also quite mediocre. He writes space melodramas garnished with some neat ideas. He knew how to popularize scientifically novel ideas. He was genuinely imaginative. But you can't take his sentimental and cliched scenarios seriously.

Philip K Dick on the other hand I think might well be read in 500 years. His work, with its own many defects, often has something profound in it.

As ever these are just views.


>I have no idea why you would propose Tom Wolfe as an avatar for quality.

I have no idea why you think I've proposed him "as an avatar of quality". I gave him as an example of someone who was once widely celebrated, but not that read anymore (much less in a "100 years").

In fact, talk about literary quality didn't enter my comments in this subthread at all. It's about whether people will still read Asimov, or whether they would care about the facts in TFA so that his legacy as a sci-fi leader is in danger, etc.

>Asimov, re-reading him as an adult, is also quite mediocre. He writes space melodramas garnished with some neat ideas. He knew how to popularize scientifically novel ideas. He was genuinely imaginative. But you can't take his sentimental and cliched scenarios seriously.

Well, a lot of well known sci-fi is mediocre, if "garnished with some neat ideas". That doesn't change the fact that it's good and popular for what it is (genre fiction, not high literature with subtle writing and profound truths). Or whether it will be read in 100 or 500 years. And I think Asimov will (well, if people are still around, that is).


Ehhhh. I agree in general but there are so many exceptions to that. Alexandre Dumas, Jules Verne, Mark Twain, et al are all regularly dissected but frankly just read for pleasure.


Note that most of the fairy tales get changed to accommodate whatever message is currently popular. For example, remember the atrocity that Disney did to the original "The little mermaid" fairy tale. The main characters remain for hundred of years, but the story not.


One interesting bit for me was that German censorship during WWI make censored deaths in kids books. No deaths for you children, despite dads dying.


> someone studying the history of scifi literature

would be an academic.


No, could just as well be a sci-fi fan/reader.

I certainly did dug back for most genres I follow to earlier history of the genre.


I enjoy reading older SF too. A lot of SF is responding to older works, expanding or critiquing on their ideas.

Without the Foundation series, I doubt there'd be the Culture novels - or at least not in that form.


You can study things and not be called an academic. For instance if you enter a genre by force, you usually read some sort of chronology of best hits by the decades -- because there are many more books published to discover beyond this year.


> Well his personal issues with women definitely are apparent in his work. His female characters are often shrieking ninnies.

Het also used the word "gay" as simply meaning happy in the Foundation series. Because it's written in the 50's. Remember all of those face slaps to calm down hysterical women you saw up til the 80's in movies? When I see it now I think "waaaaaaaaat" but it was a normal stereotype back then.


IIRC he also used "queer" to describe things as strange. I listened to some audiobooks of his works and it always threw me off.


Queer has always first and foremost meant “strange” or “odd” - “How queer!” was a common refrain in all the literature I’ve read dating back more than a couple of decades.


I hadn't noticed this before about his female characters.. and now i can't unotice it that you have mentioned it


You know it was quite common in those days for Pulp Sci Fi...but for example the character of Jezebel Baley in The Caves of Steel is so bad that it almost suggests actual hatred on the part of the author.... certainly contempt.


If you choose to name your character Jezebel[1] you might have an ulterior motive...

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jezebel#Cultural_symbol

EDIT on the other hand, from the same page -

> In his two-volume Guide to the Bible (1967 and 1969), Isaac Asimov describes Jezebel's last act: dressing in all her finery, make-up, and jewelry, as deliberately symbolic, indicating her dignity, royal status, and determination to go out of this life as a queen.


The characters in the book discuss the symbolism of her name. She goes by "Jessie" because she does not want to identify with Jezebel.

Apparently some commenters here would have us believe that if there's a highly emotional woman, it's because the author hates women. Jezebel's/Jessie's husband and main character of Caves of Steel, Elijah, is himself kind of an anxious headstrong type who's wrong more often than he's right. Of course, this indicates with high certainty that Asimov also hates men.

Edit: Also worth noting that Bliss/Gaia in Foundation is pretty much the most powerful character in the Foundation universe. Mayor Branno, woman mayor of the First Foundation, is also revered as an incredibly capable and bold leader by all accounts.

Edit 2: And not to mention the young girl taken from Solaria, who is the only character to potentially rival Bliss. What a laughable claim that all the women in Asimov’s stories are weak or hysterical.


Yes they discuss her name. But if you recall Jessie liked her name and enjoyed the secret thrill of its salacious implication exactly because she is quite a square in real life. However Elijah one day reads the Bible and gives her the more correct interpretation of Jezebel's behaviour as that of a woman protecting her interests and not at all a harlot. This greatly upsets Jessie because it robs her of that secret thrill. She then never uses the full name again. Elijah often regrets this.

Despite its intricacies I found this particular part of their marital back story to be totally unconvincing and ineffective. Sorry Isaac.


Thanks for the expansion. I read The Caves of Steel a loooong time ago, and in translation.

Elijah and Jezebel - a match made in heaven...


>His female characters are often shrieking ninnies.

I don't recall his works. But review the US family TV shows from the 1950s and 1960s and see the 'fond, goofy' portrayal of women -- it was everywhere. Similarly, many cartoons of that era ... shown across the nation in theatres ... cannot be seen anymore. The level of thick-headed, cloddish insensitivity was pervasive. We've changed as a culture in the US, and I'm grateful.


>Also I don't think anyone but an academic will be reading his work in a few hundred years. As much as I enjoy his ideas and his easy style he is actually mediocre.

While I don't agree 100%, that never hurt any artist's commercial success or fan following...

In any case, for the sci-fi field he's one of the classics. Most others in the genre weren't exactly subtle deep literature either, it's the ideas and sci-fi exploration of them that count.


Susan Calvin????????


The legacy of their work is tainted by their person. Two things are independently true:

1) Asimov was a prolific writer who authored many works that were fundamental in shaping science fiction into what we know it as today

2) Asimov sexually assaulted women on a regular basis

But the way people see the first point will be through the lens of the second.


I think we cheapen the word "sexual assault" when we use it like this. Asimov was not Harvey Weinstein, and a unwelcome pinch on the butt is not rape.


Did you READ the article?

> The damage he caused was inseparable from his power. In general, Asimov chose targets who were unlikely to protest directly, such as fans and secretaries, and spared women whom he saw as professionally useful. There were exceptions—he chased the editor Cele Goldsmith around her desk—but he preferred to focus on women who were more vulnerable, which inevitably raises the issue of mentorship.

> Yet many of these encounters were clearly nonconsensual. When the author Frederik Pohl questioned his tendency to touch women “in a fairly fondling way,” Asimov replied, “It’s like the old saying. You get slapped a lot, but you get laid a lot, too.”

He's deliberately finding vulnerable women -- who may be forced to laugh off or allow his unwanted advances in order to keep their jobs (keep in mind the time period also -- women even having some of these jobs was something special in itself), and he's doing it to, ultimately, get sex.

That may not quite be the definition of rape, but it certainly isn't "a[n] unwelcome pinch on the butt."

Sounds to me like Asimov wasn't that far off from Weinstein -- keep in mind for every accusation of rape Weinstein is facing, there were dozens if not hundreds of women who claim lesser degrees of inappropriate actions. It's more likely that the women who would today, in the #metoo era, have reported legal sexual assault or rape, were silenced back then -- I can't imagine we will ever know though; maybe he stopped at just "pinches on the butt," but I doubt it.


The fact that two acts that differ in severity can be considered under the same umbrella does not cheapen the term - everybody recognizes the matter of scale, concrete action and intention that is different in both figures. An unwelcome pinch on the butt isn't rape - but it could be sexual assault. I don't think anybody argued that it is rape.


What about fondling of breasts against their owner’s will?


Would we call fondling male breasts (a "nipple twister" the internet informs me is called) or a slap on their ass (butt slapping, common sometimes after a sport game) against their owner’s will, a sexual assault (much less rape)? What if it had been performed by a stronger man to another weaker man, but in some casual setting?

How serious would we consider it, and how "traumatized" we would consider the person after the incident? (Some would call it "very serious". But then again there are people who suffer trauma over a wrong order at Starbucks).

At best most people would call it a tasteless antic or light bullying or crappy behavior (like farting in public)...


A better example is "tapping": a quick backhand to a male's crotch, trying to hit the testicles hard enough to hurt but not hard enough to incapacitate. Riot Games' COO, Scott Gelb, got two months of unpaid leave after he "repeatedly touched subordinates’ balls or butt or farted in their faces" [0].

I would absolutely describe that as sexual assault; deliberately, just to emphasize that playful male aggression crosses lines that absolutely should not be crossed, including in the workplace. Touch my balls without my consent, and I won't care whether you're horsing around or making an awkward pass. It's assault, and it's sexual. It doesn't cheapen other kinds of sexual assault to draw clear boundaries.

[0] https://kotaku.com/top-riot-executive-suspended-without-pay-...


So, you're saying just a little pinch is not that bad?

Next time you're at a conference, try pinching a woman's butt in the middle of a crowded room. Let me know how that works out for you.


>But the way people see the first point will be through the lens of the second.

Only certain people, who think themselves as saints and that others should be too, and judge creators by their failings.

Most people care just for the work -- the fact they actually matters to them in 2020 and that they get to read --, and they could not give less ducks who some creator was and what they did in their personal lives.


There is only a limited amount of time available to me. I can only consume so much media. If I have a choice between two books, one written by someone with a tainted legacy and one written by someone without a tainted legacy, I'm going to pick the book with a nice author.

Of course you can't really apply ceteris parabus to books, but normally you have to decide what you're going to read on limited information, two very different books might seem close enough given you know little about either. When you choose what to read you reduce all the context and comparison to a decision. "author was a creep" definitely makes me less likely to want to read his work, especially if they are still alive and could personally profit.


>There is only a limited amount of time available to me. I can only consume so much media. If I have a choice between two books, one written by someone with a tainted legacy and one written by someone without a tainted legacy, I'm going to pick the book with a nice author.

The choice should be for the best book. Not the nicest author.

In fact the "nicest author" would probably have the most boring work -- personal failings add spice to fiction writing (and poems, songs, etc).


How can you know which book is best until you read both?

I don't want to read scifi all the time. So when I do read a scifi book, I have tons of good ones to pick from.

I actually recently read Foundation by Asimov and I don't see what all the big deal is about. It presupposes faster than light travel but not the spread of ideas. Also his sexist attitudes are apparent. He basically states that the entire female population planet of the foundation planet isn't important.

That's probably the last Asimov work I will read in my lifetime, based purely on the quality of the work, and nothing to do with his character.


>How can you know which book is best until you read both?

There are reviews, excepts, literary fame, word of mouth, tv adaptations, and several other things to get an idea about that. How moral the author was during their time on earth is hardly on my list of such things.

>I don't want to read scifi all the time. So when I do read a scifi book, I have tons of good ones to pick from.

Sure, but that's neither here nor there as to the point we're discussing. We'd have the same issue with any other genre (or even any other art rather than literature).


>There are reviews, excepts, literary fame, word of mouth, tv adaptations, and several other things to get an idea about that. How moral the author was during their time on earth is hardly on my list of such things.

I don't have time to read all Sci fi books, nor do I have time to read all reviews. I have to make a decision on very limited information. That's why I said between two seemingly equal books, meaning equal reviews, prestige, whatever, if one author is a creep and the other isn't, I'll pick to read the book by the author who isn't a creep.

>Sure, but that's neither here nor there as to the point we're discussing. We'd have the same issue with any other genre (or even any other art rather than literature).

I'm not discussing the abstract concept of separating art from artist. I'm discussing how it applies to me. This topic has pretty extensive treatment in literary/critical theory.

The reason this is applicable to me is that I have a goal to consume all the best scifi, and I don't have enough time in my lifetime to consume all the best scifi. Therefore I can afford to be more picky. I personally choose to limit myself to the best of the best Sci fi that happens to not be written by creeps.

If someone told me the best scifi novel ever was written by Hitler, I would probably read it. But if someone told me Hitler wrote a pretty good scifi novel I would skip it until I read all the really good ones. And then maybe I'll switch to reading a really good book from another genre before reading a pretty good book by Hitler.

Also I find it much, much more important to apply this principle to authors who are still alive. I don't want to financially support authors who are creeps. If they are dead, then it just is really some completely arbitrary selection criteria that I choose to apply to limit the total number of works I could read from some super huge number I could never hope to consume in my lifetime to some slightly smaller super huge number I could never hope to consume in my lifetime.


Which one is good though? Saints rarely make anything that is above mediocre quality. It's sad, but it is empirically true.

Jesus, if we had omniscience into the personal lives of every person, and were to chose to disregard their works if they did things that are objectionable to the taboos of the day, we'd be naked, looking over our shoulders fearfully for leopards.


There are more people in the world than just saints and creeps. There are also a ton of normal people who didn't grope hundreds or thousands of girls.


Normal people rarely make good art. Even Bach, once considered a good family guy, was a heavy drinker and has knifed a few people in his time.

Also, do you by any chance listen to Led Zeppelin or some such band? Speaking of "groping girls", that is.


I never said bad people never made good art.

I personally would rather not glorify those people nor do I go out of my way to take in their art.

I don't feel like I'm missing much.

If I find out art I like was made by a bad person I don't clutch my pearls.


Not "most people". But people without a functioning moral compass, sure. That is not something to be proud of, though.


Behavior like 2 is an important reason we have so few women writing works fundamental in shaping science fiction into what we know it as today. When we tolerate sexual harassment we demean women and make the community not welcoming to them. The article explores that.


I struggle to see the logic behind your assertion. If the capacity for involvement of female creators/contributors is limited by the likelihood of possible sexual harassment, then how do you account for female involvement/contribution in microblogging (specifically Instagram), discos & clubs, and large scale social events. These three types of thing all have the very rich potential for sexual harassment opportunities, yet it would appear a lot of women flock to them all the same. I would argue that the motivation to be involved is the largest factor in involvement, by any party, and consequences are secondary, if even considered, depending on potential status gain.

The relevance to the issue at hand is that science fiction is already a subgenre (though it is on the rise) that has a rather narrow range of fan base with an even more narrow range of potential authors. There are so few people writing good science fiction; I honestly wonder how much the carnal predilections of a now dead but no less prolific author is moving the needle.

If you could magically make science fiction authorship on par with being a YouTube personality in terms of perceived status, an army of Weinsteins and Dworkins couldn't keep little girls and boys out of crafting stories.


It's not about reading his work, it's about being an aspirational figure that generations want to follow and emulate. I didn't know any of these about Asimov and he has written some of the stories that I believe is the finest. But would I say to my kids "look at this great guy, be like him!"?


Honestly I never could relate to this focus I see nowadays on role models and aspirational figures. I think you should at most get inspired by specific actions scoped to the relevant areas of their lives.

Just tell your kids to be themselves. They don't need to emulate anyone.


>It's not about reading his work, it's about being an aspirational figure that generations want to follow and emulate.

People can still "follow and emulate" the achievements he did, not whatever bad side.

Like people still try to follow all kinds of public figures, despite their known bad sides, from Hemingway to Jobs.

Else we would only follow saints.

() not to mention, if the tide turns, even the bad side could be "cool" again. There are even people into things like satanism or self-destruction, or womanizing, or machoism after all, and they too have their idols.


Afaik, everything the article writes about is his public life. None of it is privite dispute with wife or who he dated.


Private as in not in his public output/work, not "private" as in inside his house or with his spouse.


The fuck? Sexual harassment is as much part of his legacy as his novels. It drives out people from your field if your leaders are lauded despite being terrible to others.


No field has any shortage of leaders / people being "terrible to others" in this and other ways.

People could take issue in how their leaders, and people they interact with are today.

If, on the other hand, they take issue for past leaders being lauded for their "within-the-field achievements" despite their personal behavior (as if that has any bearing on the field), especially after 50+ odd years, then those people "driven out" weren't that driven to be in the field in the first place.

Would anybody go off of physics because Einstein was sexist (and worse), and still (rightly so) lauded as the greatest physicist (perhaps after Newton)?

Not sure when people forgot how to compartmentalise...


> Would anybody go off of physics because Einstein was sexist (and worse), and still (rightly so) lauded as the greatest physicist (perhaps after Newton)?

It affected his wife I think (she was actually good in math). I think Einstein behavior was more personal through. He was never in "public figure groping women while everybody knows about it and culture adjusts to accept and enable" category. And like, it is ok to talk about Einstein flaws too, why do we need to pretend that past figures were better then they actually were?

> they take issue for past leaders being lauded for their "within-the-field achievements" despite their personal behavior

Asimov was not successful despite his personal behavior. His personal behavior happened because of his success and escalated with success. It is the way people in power accepted the acts that they would not accept from somebody else.

The lauding of great people is often based on lie - either by omission or direct. The exactly same impulse of "must not criticize him" is what make people enable his behavior and would make people enable next successful person.

> then those people "driven out" weren't that driven to be in the field in the first place.

I think this is nonsense. Of course people take rational decisions about which field they can be reasonably successful in and where they can will be treated badly.

It is like with companies - most capable employees tend to leave faster when faced with toxic management.


> Would anybody go off of physics because Einstein was sexist (and worse), and still (rightly so) lauded as the greatest physicist (perhaps after Newton)?

>It affected his wife I think (she was actually good in math)

Yes, I'm talking about today. Would anybody go off of physics today, because Einstein is still very much lauded (and will probably forever be)?

>Asimov was not successful despite his personal behavior. His personal behavior happened because of his success and escalated with success.

Yes, but I'm dividing the two as the stuff remaining and actually accessible/relevant to people today (the actual work), and stuff where someone to be affected had to be there and present in his private life at the time.

So whether the success drove his personal behavior, the point remains, the public output we have today is the books. We don't care if Marlowe knifed a couple of people when enjoying his plays (in fact, come to think of it, J. S. Bach did too).

> The lauding of great people is often based on lie

After they are dead, the lauding is based on "what's in for us". If there are artifacts from which the future generations benefit, then the "at the time" dealings are not really relevant.

>I think this is nonsense. Of course people take rational decisions about which field they can be reasonably successful in and where they can will be treated badly.

Yes, but not based on what someone dead 30 years ago did 50+ years ago.


If people dropped out a while ago, then it matters for history of genre and past gender imbalance. It matters for the dispute on whether culture inside genre could have influenced gender ratio - or whether girls simply can't appreciate sci-fi due to their nature.

It matters because it influenced what people in gendre think about what is cool and what is wrong. It matters for us to understand how past culture really functioned, because past is used as argument today.

It matters because it shows how much of 1950 nostalgia is pure bullshit.

The full Bachs biography and Marlowe biographies are interesting too. At least for those of us interested in history beyond "cool stories".


"This problem is actually really big, so we should not care about it."


If I understand your comment, you are saying that what people do in their private life does not matter unless it is important enough (e.g. being the Boston strangler): this is tautological (what is important in the legacy of someone if the important things they did, their work and/or their private life if their private life is important).

You are just saying that hundreds of such "incidents" is simply not important enough to be remembered. But murder would be according to you. Where do you draw the line?


I'll drop right in here to say the in their private life argument doesn't fly here. Because the complaints aren't about his private relationships, they're about public and professional behavior.

Frankly the callousness of people like Asimov bothers me. You're left with two possibilities. Either they simply don't care that they are making the other person uncomfortable, angry or scared. Or worse that they're getting off on that.


They will care. His contributions will still be remembered, but history doesn’t forget transgressions. Nor should it.


>His contributions will still be remembered, but history doesn’t forget transgressions

We don't care for the transgressions (including much more serious, down to murder, slave ownership, and other things) for 99% of historical figures...


While I personally believe that you have to understand historical figures in the context of the time and society they lived in and not judge them by modern societal rules (even if these are improvements), I think we are seeing an increase in judging historical figures. For example, in terms of American Founding Fathers, John Adams is rising in estimation and Thomas Jefferson is falling. Obviously a large part in this is that Adams didn't own slaves.


Historical works to a point. There were people who obviously knew that slavery was bad back then. It's more controversial to think that everyone thought it was OK.


Some of us actually do care, and we should actually care about this. Don't put people up on pedestals that don't deserve it.


Then there will be very very few pedestals, and small ones when there are at all. I have no trouble believing that everyone has done or said or caused something that could be called out.

I am not making excuses or forgiving anyone. I'm just trying to point out that using today's "acceptable" to judge the past will devalue everything that's ever been accomplished.

E.g., no doubt Salk had ideas about male/female roles in society that would be considered poorly today. That should be acknowledged as part of his time. Does that affect the success of the polio vaccine?


"Then there will be very very few pedestals"

And? Why does that matter to you?

"I'm just trying to point out that using today's "acceptable" to judge the past will devalue everything that's ever been accomplished"

I disagree, even in the time of the Founding Fathers it was common knowledge that slavery was bad, they just didn't care. Is that not wrong?

And in this case, clearly Asimov knew that what he was doing was wrong. We can call out what these figures did as being wrong, while also acknowledging the work that they have done.


I read his biography about 20 years ago, still one of most entertaining books I've ever read. Don't remember him talking about this stuff, other that his female fans were very rabid. Strangely, was never a fan of his fiction, but the biography is wonderful!


Is this the biography you read? https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00317G7K6


Yap, it sure is, great, easy and entertaining read.


I guess they asked because there are more of them: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Autobiographies_of_Isaac_Asimo...


He mentioned it all constantly. He mentioned his habit ribald talk especially often, but mentioned kissing and such quite frequently too. It was a definite theme of the book.

Mind you there are 2 or 3 volumes. It only really started some time after he was married; could be volume II if you only read the first.


*autobiography


SF has always had a problem. As the article points out, there's a certain irony in going to Harlan Ellison to ask about Asimov being a harasser. I think the list is pretty long. But the "communal aspects of fan culture" of SF - almost groupies in the fandom - has led to some very tight networks protecting all sorts of people.

A particularly horrifying axis is that between Marion Zimmer Bradley and her husband, Walter Breen. Bradley is merely accused (to be clear: I believe the accuser) but Breen was a convicted molester who was known to be problematic for years - with people in fandom just trying to manage the situation.

If this doesn't sound familiar from tech, you haven't been paying attention.

idk what to do about all this; it's pretty easy for me to pass on rereading Asimov or MZB anyhow. But the obvious lesson, still unlearned in many quarters, is "don't keep protecting harassers". To quote a better, or at least IMO more interesting author (please don't let him be a harasser too):

"Papa Hegel he say that all we learn from history is that we learn nothing from history. I know people who can't even learn from what happened this morning. Hegel must have been taking the long view." - Stand on Zanibar, John Brunner


> idk what to do about all this; it's pretty easy for me to pass on rereading Asimov or MZB anyhow.

His books don't become worse because of alleged bad behaviour.


They do. His female characters might as well have been written by an adolescent.

He's hardly unique in that. MZB's Mists of Avalon has similar issues from a different gender perspective.

Asimov looks especially crude now, with the distance of a few decades. I wouldn't be surprised if more recent fiction suffers a similar reassessment in time.

SF is rarely character-led and it may be optimistic to expect depth or nuance from it. Character design is more likely to be an aspect of fan service - give the readers a fantasy they can identify with, maybe add some flaws for spice - and not so much an opportunity for self-reflection.


> His female characters might as well have been written by an adolescent.

I'm not sure his male characters are that much better.

Luckily, I don't feel that his books stand or fall by the characters in them. They are just vehicles used to explore the consequences of the technologies that Asimov presupposes.


> SF is rarely character-led and it may be optimistic to expect depth or nuance from it

I don't agree with this assessment at all.

The best SF I've read has believable characters with real motivations.

Off the top of my head:

* Paul McAuley's Quiet War series

* Ken McLeod's Fall Revolution series, "The Execution Channel"

* Bester's "The Stars My Destination" - a recent read, and the character arc is cribbed from The Count of Monte Cristo, but the SF parafernalia is a backdrop for the character.


> SF is rarely character-led and it may be optimistic to expect depth or nuance from it.

I really don't think it's true anymore, see all Hugo award SF nominees and winners from the past few years. They are all character-led.


Everything these days is people-orientated. The rise and rise of reality TV and social media is testament to that.


Mate, everything throughout history has been people-oriented. Almost every famous story throughout history has had a main character, because that's what humans find easiest to identify with: other people.


You are confusing 'character-led' with 'includes characters.' Plenty of stories are primarily about an abstract idea, place, or ethical lesson and the characters only exist to explain the ideas or move the plot along. This is in contrast to 'character-led' fiction, in which the primary focus is the character themselves and their development.


Quite a few early SF stories were gimmick-oriented.

As an example, one old short story - I've forgotten the name - involves a space race from Earth to Jupiter and back (or something like that). The participants usually go full blast 1/2-way there, invert to slow down, then repeat to get back.

The main character starts with an engine problem or something, can't catch up, then in a burst of inspiration realizes he can use Jupiter's gravity to swing around, at speed.

Everyone at first wonders if there's a problem, then when it happens they realize the brilliance of what happened.

My interpretation is the author had just learned about gravity assist ("first used in 1959 when the Soviet probe Luna 3 photographed the far side of Earth's Moon" says Wikipedia) and structured the entire story around that concept.

The people were secondary to the orientation.

While it's true what you said about almost every famous story, most SF is not made of famous stories.

(I would be grateful if anyone can tell me the name of the story I just summarized.)


> anyone can tell me the name of the story

try https://scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/tagged/story-ident...


Sweet! I recognized two of the stories on the first page, and see they have been answered correctly. Thanks!


Science fiction didn't use to be.


> His female characters might as well have been written by an adolescent.

All of Asimov’s characters are broadly drawn embodiments of simple concepts; to the extent his stories have depth it comes from the interaction of those simple characters with each other an the constructed environment, but from subtly drawn, realistic characterization.

This is very much not limited to female characters.


Yeah, but his female characters like Bliss and Dors are especially embarrassing examples of authorial wish-fulfillment. He might as well have given Pelorat and Seldon his own name.


If the voice of an author can be heard through their writing, the act of reading can be affected by one's understanding of the author. "Death of the author" may be a useful critical technique but it's not the way most people emotionally or intellectually connect with art.

Having known this about Asimov for quite some time, it hasn't kept me from enjoying that of his work I really like, but it has somewhat dulled my enjoyment of him overall as an author. In particular, although it's never been a favorite of mine anyway, I can't see myself being able to avoid noticing that _Foundation's Edge_ has a plotline that pairs off a middle-aged professor with a young, pretty, sexually open-minded woman who is "bottom heavy".


Interesting how Robot/Foundation novels from the 1980s are more sexual than earlier ones, like with Dune novels from the 1980s.


I really enjoy the concepts in H.P. Lovecraft's mythos, particularly where horror intersects with science fiction, but I also enjoy it a lot less after learning about his rabid antisemitic and racist views[0], which were extreme even for the time.

I also used to like Piers Anthony's books when I was young, and too naive to pick up on how much the author seemed to like writing about little girls panties and fetishizing pedophilia[1].

Some people can ignore the problematic elements, and some can't. You don't have to read The Shadow Over Innsmouth as metaphor for race mixing, but once you know it's there, you can't unknow it.

[0]https://lithub.com/we-cant-ignore-h-p-lovecrafts-white-supre...

[1]https://litreactor.com/columns/themes-of-pedophilia-in-the-w...


No, they were always bad.

But more importantly, his behaviour kept others out of the field. It stopped them having their voice heard. His fame came at the cost of many other's. And there is no reason why we should allow that to continue. Don't read those who stole the voice others. They did not earn your attention, and you can give it to those who were less fortunate instead.


> No, they were always bad.

No they weren't.

> His fame came at the cost of many other's.

That's true for literally everyone that has ever been in the limelight.

> Don't read those who stole the voice others.

He didn't steal anyone's voices though, he 'just' (allegedly) sexually assaulted them.

> They did not earn your attention, and you can give it to those who were less fortunate instead.

Do you even hear what you're saying? 'Don't read these people because their works are actually good, read them because they're underprivileged!'


No, they probably are good. But you won't know if you just stick to the has-been abusers.


IMO: his later books are pretty weird and have a lot of sexual themes that I personally don’t like.

His early stuff is still absolutely fantastic though.


The philosophy you are espousing is known in literary theory as "Death of the Author".

> argues against the method of reading and criticism that relies on aspects of the author's identity to distill meaning from the author's work.

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Death_of_the_Author

I recommend Lindsay Ellis' video on the subject. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MGn9x4-Y_7A

Many of the golden age authors rage from "just" problematic like Asimov to a lot worse (see for more: http://www.jasonsanford.com/blog/2018/2/golden-age-sf-not-go...). I still read these authors but I for one cannot help see the author in their books, and knowledge of their actions certainly influences how I interpret these books. I therefore don't believe in Death of the Author.


I think they're separate issues. "Death of the author" is a principle in criticism: do we care about the author's intention in creating the text? The older version of this was the "New Criticism", which tried to read the text in a vacuum, not paying attention to the historical and biographical context of its composition. But Barthes took this further by saying that the author had no control over the interpretation, even if s/he explicitly tells us what the text means. (A related idea is "reader-response theory", which begins the criticism with the unique response of the individual reader at the time). A simplified litmus test would be if you think a writer has the right to claim that one of their characters is homosexual, when the text doesn't indicate either way.

What you're talking about is a moral judgment, not a critical one. So not saying "this book isn't good because the author was bad", but saying "regardless of the book's qualities, we shouldn't read it because the author was a bad person".


>I for one cannot help see the author in their books, and knowledge of their actions certainly influences how I interpret these books.

This is part of the reason why I avoid reading about authors. Like the practice of symphonies doing auditions blind in order to avoid bias, I don't want my personal opinions of an author's life to taint my evaluation of their work.


Plato was a racist, had ~50 slaves and was a convicted public masturbator. Should we throw away his phylosophy work too?

How many historical works will we be left with after we've gone through all historical figures up to emancipation? We probably will have to give up even the theory of evolution.


We should not throw it away, but we should keep it in mind when learning from him. Cause if we don't, adopting his values and thinking can slowly lead us toward slave owning and so on. It is related.


> The philosophy you are espousing is known in literary theory as "Death of the Author".

No, it's not. I'm not talking about literary criticism or text interpretation. I'm talking about reading books for fun.


In that case, I would think that reading books by a particular author could become "less fun" once you know about their behaviour. In the same way, I used to have some Rolf Harris novelty songs on my iPod playlist for the kids - and sone Gary Glitter. Listening to those songs once they were convicted, certainly became "less fun".


I didn't care to read any of the Ender novels before or after I learned about the author's personal life. What does that mean about my enjoyment of Asimov books before and after reading this article?


It means you're an adult, capable of simultaneously recognizing the merits of artistic works and complex ethical realities.

Are Caravaggio's paintings less beautiful because he killed someone? I think to suggest so is absurd. It doesn't mean you have to like the artist as a person, but to directly tie the value of a work of art to its creator is dangerously reductive.


Serious question, though - how do you feel about performance art? Would you go to a concert by an excellent singer who beat up his wife, or was a convicted paedophile? Would you feel quite comfortable standing in the crowd and singing along with them? I'd suggest quite possibly not, even though the quality of their singing voice was undiminished.

I suspect that there is a spectrum here where some forms of art or expression are more directly tied to the nature of the creator than others.


Both of your examples are about social / public acceptability of the artist as a person, not the evaluation of their artwork itself. Of course most people would be uncomfortable associating with such a person, but I don’t think that’s inherently relevant to their work.

Nowadays we are in a marketing-focused era where serious aesthetic thought is basically unknown to everyone but academics, so the natural result is that the identity of an artist is often more important than their work.

(Side note: performance art refers to a separate art field, e.g. Marina Abramović. Performing arts is the right term to use for music, singing, etc.)

But yes, of course there are various approaches to aesthetics and certainly some would say that the artist as individual plays more of a role in some genres than others.


SF is still a reflection of the world in general. From business to politics, to religion, to the entertainment industry, the "important" people have and still do get away with doing things they shouldn't, and that community will often cover for them as long as possible.

What may make things worse is that the SF community does still attract a larger percentage of socially awkward young people, mostly men, who are also extremely passionate, so seeing that type of behavior normalized can have a larger impression on them.

This behavior needs to be stopped, but it needs to continue to be addressed in all communities.


I agree with all you said, but I may put it in the past tense.

I only started visiting Worldcon in the few years, but from what I see, there is huge awareness for it there, and these phenomenons do not exist there nowadays.

They probably exist in other sff events, the sad/rabid puppies didn't disappear yet sadly, however, since Worldcon is the face of the field, I wouldn't define it as a "problem of contemporary SF"


  > SF community does still attract a larger percentage of
  > socially awkward young people, mostly men
So does gaming. You know, where often what you do is going around shooting people.

Should this be stopped too?


If you go to a gaming convention and see someone literally shoot people, yeah, I guess you should stop that too. There's a difference between fiction and reality, and this sexual harassment is taking place within the scene in reality.


> "don't keep protecting harassers"

it's not just people protecting bad behavior, omerta within a social circle is often a failure of the state/society to safely protect people in the circle from being outed when they speak up while the problematic person gets away scot-free. you need to reach a critical cultural mass before people are confident in speaking up, because the fear of retaliation is often the motivation before the need to protect the circle, see i.e. the harvey weinstein case.

> If this doesn't sound familiar from tech, you haven't been paying attention.

this is an overly broad generalization, there's plenty of techies outside the big flashy companies built on top of the silicon valley hero cult pattern.


> idk what to do about all this; it's pretty easy for me to pass on rereading Asimov or MZB anyhow.

Then you probably can't read any great books, look at any great art, watch any great movie, listen to any great music, laugh with any great comedian, admire any great leader/politician, etc.

I hate to break this to you but there really aren't any saints in this world. And if you do find a saint, it just means he was just better at hiding his true self from the world.

Can you study physics after learning that Einstein was a racist bigot just like hitler?

"It would be a pity if these Chinese supplant all other races. For the likes of us the mere thought is unspeakably dreary."

https://www.usatoday.com/story/life/2018/06/13/albert-einste...

Einstein worried about the "chinese" ( and by chinese he most likely meant asians ) taking over the world like hitler worried about jews taking over the world. Granted Einstein never did anything about it, though he indirectly helped in the nuking of the "automaton spiritless and obtuse 'chinese' children" in hiroshima and nagasaki.

If you were wondering, Newton wasn't any better.

Can you enjoy the Christmas Carol knowing that Dickens was a racist bigot?

Or maybe you should do what we are all taught in philosophy and the arts and learn to separate the art from the artist. They are not one and the same. You can appreciate the art and despise the artist.


> Can you study physics after learning that Einstein was a racist bigot just like hitler?

Thankfully to us, Einstein was not just like Hitler. Einstein was an asshole to his wife and had few personal flaws, but he very conclusively did not displayed same behavior nor same opinions as Hitler. Einstein had also some good redeeming qualities like pretty strong anti-racism.


[flagged]


> What, exactly, are you talking about? I happen to have done a double major (computer science and philosophy) and don't recall any "separate the art from the artist" unit there.

You never took a "philosophy of art" or aesthetics course? You never learned about "art qua art"? I distinctly remember discussing whether artists from tupac to roman polanski should be appreciated, whether their art should be banned, whether they should even be credited, etc.

> In any case, your sophomore-level tirade is moot

Thanks for the ad hominem. I hope your philosophy course taught you about that.


Interesting article, but doesn't this come back to the age-old question of whether you can divorce a person from their art?

Isaac Asimov, Michael Jackson, Roman Polanski - can you enjoy their work knowing what you know about the creator?


I personally can, maybe that says something about my moral code, maybe not. Orson Scott Card's works are some of my favorite books to read, and it puzzles me how he was able to write a book like Speaker for the Dead while holding the xenophobic and racist views he did. Mel Gibson also holds some pretty reprehensible views, however that doesn't stop me from watching the Lethal Weapon films.

Contextualizing works of art is important in some cases, and moreso if the art is political. In cases where author bias either isn't present or doesn't matter, however, I don't think it matters.


I think the point about Card is particularly interesting. Card's writing can be terrific, and in particular some of it is terrific because of the nuanced way it questions religious orthodoxy and/or the role of religion in society. As an anti-religionist, I greatly appreciate how Card's writing has both acknowledged my concerns and also raised counterpoints. It is indeed hard to reconcile that with what we have heard about his personal positions. Good on him, I guess.

I note that he's not the only Mormon SF writer I've thought that about, though the other one that comes to mind has evolved his public politics over the last decade. But making that connection ("Mormon SF writer") may be an invalid cognitive bias.


I like to reframe the question. Can I divorce the person from the art? Of course. But should I?

I don't think so. There are so many books, movies, song, games, etc. that I could never consume them all so there is still a near infinite list of works for me to enjoy by creators who aren't known to be terrible people.


My philosophy is a bit different. I have found that although there are a lot of things to consume, a fraction (maybe even %1-%10) is even top shelf and worth your time (I wish I had the ability to delete books from my memory, not to re-read the book, but to never experience it ever) -- as time for those hobbies is limited and, well, why not optimize life for great works and skip the bad ones. I'm still having Foundations on my reading list but my opinion of the author is less no doubt.


For what its worth I found Foundations pretty forgettable :)


I find it hard to believe that such behavior was socially acceptable; I mean was there really no way at the time to complain about advances like this? I mean I was born in 1970 but that was never part of my experience.


I expect one could complain and it seems apparent at least some did, but in the context of the environment it would have seemed out of place, it's very hard to apply contemporary moral values to historical times, morality is not a fixed thing, our lives are entwined with social convention that for the most part is invisible until viewed from the future. Try and consider now, what things we do that in the future could be seen as abhorrent, it's hard, eating meat maybe, not including externalized costs in commercial endeavours, but, history shows, it's probably true that something we do now will fall 'out of time' and be viewed as a moral deviation in the 'new contemporary'.


FWIW I don't think Asimov's behavior would have been broadly accepted in "historic times" in general. If you think that groping another man's wife in public has generally been acceptable in the past, see "thou shalt not covet" and the Sermon on the Mount. Of course men, especially powerful men, have often ignored such restraints, but the sexual revolution of the 20th century gave them a lot more license.


That's not my point, my point is about the agency any particular individual has in any particular situation to take action against something they find offensive needs to be taken in the context of that time. Without that context, 'offensive' is hard to define.


'Out of place' means they would not have followed up on a complaint. Isn't it?


Exactly.


Things haven't changed much. For example, look at the response Christine Blasey Ford got when she testified against Brett Kavanaugh.


Not so very long ago the New Yorker was routinely running cartoons showing an executive chasing his secretary around a desk. It was socially acceptable, at least on some level.


The real dilema though is everyone has done something wrong. Everyone.

So why do some people get called out and lambasted while other continue (right now) to get away with it?

I think there is a mob mentality out there that controls the media and wants to take down a very specific set of people and leave the others standing.

Edit: To not be misunderstood I have personally suffered molestation as a kid/teen, and even the single photo of Asimov trying to kiss that girl is sickening. Power, fame and narcissism corrupts.


That's not how this works. That's not how any of this works.

If you see someone doing something wrong, call them out. Like this article does. Otherwise they will simply keep doing it.

If you have a problem with someone not getting called out, call them out. Otherwise you are simply protesting the act of calling out because you're afraid to do so yourself.


>If you see someone doing something wrong, call them out. Like this article does. Otherwise they will simply keep doing it.

Yes, thank God: this article (and the outrage it creates) will save young women from being groped by Asimov's corpse.


Mob justice benefits no one in the long run. Hypocritical mob justice is the worst of it's kind.

It simultaneously enrages one side against another while claiming it's actions are justified by it's own group, but no other group can act the same.

The accused should be taken to court.

But mobs don't like court, they want a lynching.


How on earth would you take a dead man to court?

And how do you take someone to court for "being an asshole"? If you knew someone who is constantly doing extremely shady things, like screwing over their business partners or repeatedly cheating on their spouses, there's no way to "take someone to court" on those counts. Does that mean their shady dealings should never be exposed?


How do you get justice by accusing those that can't respond?

True justice requires a defence, even if you don't like it.


Mob-whitewashing, to coin a term, is also terrible.

We cannot seriously talk about Columbus-the-brave-explorer without also talking about his acts of slavery and genocide.

We cannot take Asimov to court. We cannot take Columbus to court. But we can talk about them as real people, and look at their entire history, rather than as a single facet of their lives.


It seems we have two separate issues. Mob justice against the living vs the dead.

Mobs are still mobs. It's socially justified insanity.

They will remove Asimov books from libraries now, just wait. If we did the same for every author there would zero books left except propaganda from the controlling mob.

Asimov is obviously wrong, but mobs don't want a reasonable solution, they want blood.


The "mob" you see is a figment of your imagination.

If it were real, why is Lovecraft still on library shelves? Lovecraft is sure to go first.

If it were real, can you point out any of them?


You're writing this as if courts and justice systems are perfect, when they often fail women, and victims of sexual assault.

Many things in the past have been legal that shouldn't have been. And many people have gotten away with wrong things, like Asimov.

So you think we should ignore the historical truth, the people he harmed? I absolutely disagree.

We can't even talk about the harms people caused without "mobs" getting mad about the conversation.


>They will remove Asimov books from libraries now, just wait. If we did the same for every author there would zero books left except propaganda from the controlling mob.

They're going to remove all of Asimov's books from libraries now because someone wrote an article about his behavior, despite that behavior being known about for decades, and not exactly uncommon within the community?

Please stop with the pearl-clutching concern trolling. There's no "propaganda from the controlling mob," no one is out for blood, no one is burning books en masse because mob justice.


I'll never forget how, when MIT removed Walter Lewin's widely loved lectures after undisclosed accusations, people on HN were agreeing with that decision because "hitting a physicist right in his legacy" is apparently the best way to teach him.


Well, that was ignorant of those HN readers. It's not like Lewin couldn't host his own lectures. Like on his YouTube channel https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCiEHVhv0SBMpP75JbzJShqw , where you can watch them right now.

When you write "undisclosed accusations", you mean that in addition to the disclosed ones, right? https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2015/01/23/complainant-u... describes Faïza Harbi's accusations.

> It would take almost a year before Harbi, with the help of MIT’s investigators, said she came to understand that Lewin’s interest in her was not motivated by empathy, and that their first conversations included inappropriate language. Shortly after contacting her, Harbi said, Lewin quickly moved their friendship into uncomfortable territory, and she was pushed to participate in online sexual role-playing and send naked pictures and videos of herself. After about 10 months, Harbi said, she resumed self-mutilating after seven years of not doing so.


You're right on the second point, I misremembered. On the first point, I agree with Scott Aaronson's position in this post and comments: https://www.scottaaronson.com/blog/?p=2091


Scott Aaronson makes several points, and says the more important is:

> I wish to register that I disagree in the strongest possible terms with MIT’s decision to remove Prof. Lewin’s lectures from OpenCourseWare—thereby forcing the tens of thousands of students around the world who were watching these legendary lectures to hunt for ripped copies on BitTorrent.

Since those lectures are online, from multiple sources, I don't think that objection has much weight. Indeed, comment #3 points out one source (other comments point out other sources), and Scott Aaronson in comment #5 says it would be acceptable for MIT to host them on YouTube.

> If MIT no longer wants the videos hosted “in its name,” they could upload them to YouTube right now. They could even add a disclaimer at the beginning like, “These lectures by Walter Lewin are being provided for educational purposes. Lewin is speaking as an individual, and is no longer endorsed by MIT.”

I see little difference between MIT hosting them and Lewin hosting them on YouTube, and a cursory reading of Scott Aaronson's other comments suggests that Aaronson is okay so long as the videos are available, and there is a discussion forum. From comment #92:

> So maybe finding a separate entity to host the lectures and discussion boards really is the best solution, and I hope that happens soon.


Sorry, I'm not made of straw, your attempt to expose what you believe to be my hypocrisy and secret book-burning agenda has failed.


> If you see someone doing something wrong

I think it's here where you may get hoisted on your own petard and that's the price society pays for moral relativism...

Case in point, these days one who thinks abortion is obviously wrong is more likely to be scorned for calling it out than those they're calling out.

One can't sanely wish for, while at the same time deny the existence of absolute truth.


Pro-abortion people generally don't argue that abortion means ending a life. They argue that women should have the same control over their bodies that men enjoy (i.e. almost total control).


Dave Chapelle had what seems like the proper response to this:

"If you [women] have the right to kill it, men should have the right to abandon it."

Seems fair to me. Though I think murder is horrific.


I too find this whole thing really confusing. I am not saying anything he did was right, I just don't get why people can't separate art from artists or deal with any possibility of nuance in any of this. Ultimately, I have to ask, why does anyone care, doubly see when Asimov has been dead for almost 30 years and other people are doing this today?


The article is pretty good in separating them, appreciating the books while not whitewashing behavior or pretending it did not happened or was not known.


He was a product of his time. For all his intellect, cultural imprinting resides at a deeper level, and is hardest to shake.


Even his contemporaries thought that his behavior was exceptional and worthy of comment, though. It's less that such behavior was accepted in his time than that it was tolerated of a "great man".


It's important to understand that his attitude and behaviour were common at the time, but also that the means of condemning it and punishing it were much more hidden then (and invisible to us today): whisper networks among women to keep their distance because he was "handsy"; his male friends telling him that he should be careful because one day an angry husband or boyfriend might punch him out for his behaviour. It was handled quietly and informally, and with very limited effectiveness. Mad Men didn't get into this side of it.

Low status men might notice they don't get invitations to dinner that other men get, but high status was effectively immunity: Asimov was important; you couldn't not invite him to a con or a party.


I find myself angered by the negative reactions to my comments here. Are people seriously suggesting that Asimov's attitude was unusual for the time? Actions, perhaps, but attitude?

I will defend my comments! Men of that era, in that society, were incredibly sexist. Women suffered through that, and continue to suffer today.

If people here can only react emotionally without comprehending what they're actually reading, there's not much hope to improve anything.


OK, I'll clarify. His attitude was a product of the time. I love that his fiction had strong female protagonists, but his everyday attitude toward women is typical of the era.

Mad Men illustrated this very well (slight spoiler: especially consider what happened to Peggy, by Pete, early in the series..). Women were expected to take a lot 'on the chin'. After all, guys will be guys, right?

If others raised eyebrows about his behavior, it was only because it was more risqué than normal, but not out of any consideration for the victims.


His female protagonists were mostly sex objects. The only exceptions I can think of are Susan Calvin (who is portrayed as hardly a woman at all) and Arkady (too young, just).


Wanda? Bliss? Bayta?


I haven't read "Forward The Foundation" so I don't know about Wanda.

Bayta was reasonable, I'll give him that.

Bliss was embarrassing. Sexy goddess implausibly falls for elderly academic man ... can you say "authorial wish fulfillment"?


I don't believe you. Come on. In what time was it considered normal to shake a woman's breast? Was your father like that? Your grandfather?


Normal not, but widespread and tolerated by society at large yes. Pinching, grabbing, hugging, making lascivious comments and cat calling had the same treatment as swearing, it was considered rude, but nothing more than that...


very little of a writer survives with time; asimov had interesting world building but his characters are a little flat. the surviving great works of literature deal with human beings rather than the world they find themselves in. there is also the problem today of new authors breaking through and having to compete with a giant cannon of golden age sci fi or fantasy, and it can be overwhelming. if you read genre fiction, you could continue to do so for another 20 years and never leave the 20th century. there is a similar problem in literature, but there you get a lot more adventurous readers and experimental writers so novelty is sought out.

the general problem is a massive bloat of amassed and received works. record keeping is almost exhaustive so new books, movies, shows and songs just keep piling up, and the immensity of choices is overwhelming. i wonder how many people are subscribed to dozens of channels on youtube but just never find the time to catch up with more than 2 or 3 videos a day, and their backlog just keep growing and growing.... overcommunication and data creep. i can see a near future where the virtual you goes off and tests entertainment products then comes back and offers recommendations. in a primitive way this is already happening it's just past-you helping make selections for present-you.

it reminds me towards the end of the middle ages, when chroniclers amassed hundreds of manuscripts and began creating world history by condensing it down into something readable and understandable. maybe the essence of the age we live in is that of the neo-chronicler, tools that will reconnect people with the passage of time.


Dupe of https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=21989855 from yesterday (where there was 0 interaction with the subject)


This happens all the time. It's usual to link to the old post when it had a lot of attention. (The thresholds is not clear. 20 upvotes? 20 comments? 20 upvotes + comments? 40? ...)

An exception is when the older post has a very good comment. And in those cases I sometimes quote the comment partially.

More (less?) details in: https://news.ycombinator.com/newsfaq.html


Asimov is on record as saying he didn’t help new writers because he wasn’t good at it. If the claim is that his behavior cost the speculative fiction world many young women writers, who exactly are the young men who were gained?


The article doesn't claim that the harm to women was just from lack of mentorship. It states that Asimov's (repulsive) behavior made the sci-fi community inhospitable for women, particularly given his unique position as an incredibly popular author.

From the article:

> From an early age, Asimov was drawn to the communal aspects of fan culture, but he made it more difficult for women to experience that sense of community. Women have long occupied an ambiguous place in science fiction, where they have been alternately welcomed, dismissed, and harassed. Asimov took advantage of what he called the rising percentage of “shrill young girls” at conventions in the 1960s, and his unique position at such events—he was invariably the center of attention—made his example especially insidious. His admirers looked to him as a model of how to behave, and fandom was complicit for years in his serial misconduct in ways that have never been fully acknowledged.

> Asimov has always meant a lot to me, and the best qualities of his work—his rationality, curiosity, and imagination—changed thousands of lives for the better. Yet the visible edifice of his hundreds of books needs to be balanced against the unseen wall that he built around the heart of science fiction. His actions had a negative impact on an untold number of women [...]


> From an early age, Asimov was drawn to the communal aspects of fan culture, but he made it more difficult for women to experience that sense of community. Women have long occupied an ambiguous place in science fiction, where they have been alternately welcomed, dismissed, and harassed...

There's a common refrain heard recently regarding basically any historically male dominated domain, that women are not welcomed or encouraged. This is unfortunately all-too-common in software engineering. As a male software engineer, I feel as though no-one is welcomed or encouraged. I feel as though women are reacting to industries that have always been harsh and unwelcoming and feeling uniquely victimised.


> As a male software engineer, I feel as though no-one is welcomed or encouraged. I feel as though women are reacting to industries that have always been harsh and unwelcoming and feeling uniquely victimised.

Have you ever had someone grab your ass or try to kiss you without consent in a professional context? Ever had a corporate officer seem interested in hiring you, call you in for an interview, ask you on a date, and then decide not to hire you when you rejected them? Ever been told on the first day by a new boss about their open relationship with their spouse, and their search for new sexual partners? Ever had a coworker make an overtly sexist joke about your gender to your face? Ever been propositioned for sex by a stranger at a conference? Ever heard a friend explain that “I would never work for a woman boss. No offense, you’re not like most women.” Ever been denied a new job or a promotion because the decision-maker thought you might have a child within the next few years? Ever been the clear expert or authority in a meeting with multiple people and been repeatedly interrupted by someone asking the clueless novice next to you to explain what you were just trying to say? Ever had a novice badly try to explain the content of your own book to you, even after you mentioned you were the author? Ever gone to speak at an event and had someone ask you which speaker was your spouse? Etc. etc. ad nauseam.

If none of the above, then you probably are misunderstanding what people say when they claim to feel frequently unwelcome.


> Have you ever had someone grab your ass or try to kiss you without consent?

Yes

Someone has grabbed my cock without my consent as well.

> Ever been denied a new job or a promotion because the decision-maker thought you might have a child within the next few years?

Yes


> Someone has grabbed my cock without my consent as well.

In a professional context? Yeesh. Sorry to hear that (whatever the context). Sexual harassment/assault of anyone anywhere should be unacceptable.

I’m not asking whether this has ever happened to any man ever though. I’m asking if the specific guy claiming that nobody of any description feels welcome in the tech industry (and that women who claim that there is specific gender discrimination are just imagining things) has had any of those kinds of experiences.

As a man, I have had conversations about this topic with various male and female friends in the tech industry over the years, and anecdotally few if any of the men ever experience gender discrimination or sexual harassment in professional contexts while essentially all of the women do at least occasionally (some regularly).


Yes, men are also the victims of sexual harassment, assault and rape. It's surprising that acknowledging this is frequently presented as evidence that women don't have it that bad in this respect.


Imagine how awful that felt and how shitty it was. If it wasn't that bad, imagine having to deal with it frequently.


I guess we should not even talk of the ruthless female on female psychological (and even physical!) harassment and violence that happens every day at many working environments.

Nah, let us focus on a caricature of the dominant evil male and let us live in a world of perpetual victimization while spewing lots of ideological Indoctrination.


Let’s be clear:

(1) My impression (as a man myself) is that the vast majority of men in the tech industry are well meaning and respectful. It only takes a few – especially a few in positions of power – to make the whole culture feel unwelcoming.

(2) I have not called anyone “evil” here. Something can be inconsiderate, unprofessional, make someone feel unwelcome, be directly harmful, or have pernicious systemic effects when perpetuated at scale, while still not being profoundly depraved or irredeemably malevolent.

(3) Nobody is defending “ruthless female on female psychological (and even physical!) harassment and violence”.


(4) The problem isn't all men. It's all women have to deal with this shit.


This comment shouldn't be downvoted: It gets at a low level asymetry in the problem. Only some men are actively problematic, but the combination of some problematic men and most non-problematic men tolerating or excusing their behaviour, puts all the women in the group in a position of dealing with the bad behaviour of "the problematic some".

In the past, this meant what's identified in the article: they would avoid the harasser when possible, and the presence of harrassers like Asimov was a deterrent to participation. Also, as with Harvey Weinstein, Jian Ghomeshi and others, there was a whisper network around him to ensure that women were warned of his behaviour. Male scifi writers would happily spend an evening drinking with him at a convention, unaware of any risk; females kept their distance as much as professionally possible.

Asimov knew, and was proud of, his status as "lech" (his word); I wonder if he was aware of the extent to which women tried to keep their distance from him.

This is a common theme that recurs amongst various forms of oppression: the oppressor's group doesn't have to think about the problem (this is a big part of privilege, btw), while the oppressed are forced to be aware of it and at least prepared to deal with it constantly.


Why would you not talk about that? Do you think one form of harassment somehow cancels out another form of harassment?


[flagged]


Safe spaces aren't a substitute for a just and equitable society, they are a coping mechanism for the lack of one. They are to an unjust and inequitable society as a cast is to a broken bone -- necessary, but not sufficient.


Why should there ever be a just and equitable society? If there never will be one, a safe space is not a substitute but your best option.


1) Because that's a shitty situation to be in for all the women who want to contribute to STEM 2) The current system is notoriously male (especially in VC circles), so effectively if you want safe spaces women would somehow have to enter these spaces to secure capital. There's an imbalance at the top that can't be corrected easily but can be changed with time.


Every rich man leaves a widow behind and with some probability a heiress. There is enough money under female control to start a company with female values.

Maybe women don't have access to the top VC circles but likewise many men also don't get access and still continue. The situation is not made for them, but why should that be an issue? It's not necessary that they have the best circumstances. The situation just has to be good enough and I think that's given.

There will never be balance at the top, simply because of the higher variance in male iq. The most intelligent humans will always be predominately men. And those men will never create equal opportunities because people thrive for the top to have an advantage. Why give away that advantage when you are there? Some will, but the overall system will be imbalanced.

So, why wait for better times instead of making the best out of now?


Society needs to change. It's not about "men vs women". Men have to take responsibility partly because most often we are perpetrators, partly because we are most often in power. If there is a women dominated environment, I would expect the same vice versa.

Why do we create startups that cater to the needs of abusive people by tolerating or even excusing their behaviour?


Do you really think that men most often are perpetrators? Shouldn't it be: most perpetrators are men?

I am not arguing for startups to cater to the needs of abusive people. Quite the contrary, I am arguing to create startups that offer an opportunity for decent behavior.


> Shouldn't it be: most perpetrators are men?

Yes, you're right. That's what I wanted to say.

> I am not arguing for startups to cater to the needs of abusive people.

Then I stand corrected.


Ten years ago, previous place of employment, we had a guy leave the team. The idea was to replace and recruit internally. There was this young woman, junior consultant in a different team, early 20s, that had caught my attention due to her drive and general fearlessness.

Upon strongly suggesting hiring her my then manager replied: “but she’s a girl!”.

Granted, he was almost 60 at the time (different generation and times) but my jaw dropped... This guy who I really appreciated as a manager could have such views? I had no idea up to that point.

I’ve never personally known this happen to a “boy” in our industry.


The main claim in article is the huge amount of women groped including odd example of shaking left breast instead of hand. Which leads to women finding excuses to not be in building when Asimov comes around.

This sort of behavior makes community aspect of it all much different for both genders.


This is perhaps a good read to understand why your claim 100% not the case: https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2017/04/why-is-...


[flagged]


I know and knew dozens of women in computer science degrees, this did not ever happen to many of them. We’re not harsh or unwelcoming to women here, yet the women stay away.


I think people mix "unwelcoming environment" and "X out of Y of the group Z have been subjected to A" questionnaires a bit too much. Maybe the women you know/knew had one or two uncomfortable encounters, but don't project that to judge the entire workplace, and therefore wouldn't mention it even if you ask.

As an anecdotal example, A coworker made some very uncomfortable racist remarks regularly to me after I (mistakenly) told him about my ethnic background. I left that job and the guy who took my position (middle-eastern) also experienced same thing already in his first two-weeks. We would both not consider the workplace (or the group) an unwelcoming environment, but would probably answer "yes" to the questionnaire asking of workplace discrimination.


It's certainly not evenly distributed. I moved from a undergraduate school with tons of stories like this to a graduate school with very few, and, as far as I know, the undergraduate side was not problematic either.

You also may not have heard everyone's stories. I also have known probably orders of magnitude more women in CS than would necessarily be comfortable sharing unpleasant stories of harassment and discrimination with me. I think it's remarkable, of the women I've known fairly well, how many had stories like this (the civil eng one was really out there, to be clear).


Isn’t that an example of survivorship bias? The women that any of us meet (including those of us who see one in the mirror each morning) in software engineering are necessarily the set which have not found their environments so bad that they left.


Your comment is anecdotal. If that is the case, then that's great, keep up the good work, be an example to others. But if it's anecdotal, it doesn't deny the issues elsewhere.


These kind of "Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence" arguments in social-justice topics constitute a Kafka-esque trap from which the accused cannot argue their case any further in a reasonable manner.


I know and knew dozens of women in computer science degrees, this did not ever happen to many of them.

They didn't tell you about it, at least.


Even if that were true, crab-in-a-bucket mentality doesn't do anything good.


Don't imply that I have a crab-in-a-bucket mentality. I don't want my industry to be unfriendly and unwelcoming. I didn't tell you how it has affected me personally either.


Yea, it's always someone else's fault.

Too bad they couldn't cruise through life with the social status of science fiction/fantasy nerd. Doors threw themselves open.

We need some real social scientists to step in and quantify exactly how wronged everyone has been. Then we can sort ourselves out and defer to those who have scored more offense points than ourselves.

Or we could stop prosecuting 40+ year old rage on behalf of other people.


Or we could learn from the past, like human beings have before. By acknowledging past mistakes and reassessing behaviours so we don’t repeat them. It’s called progress not rage. If anything, the tone I got from the author (and which I get reading it, as a fan who didn’t know this about Asimov), was one of profound sadness.


And assaulting women at conventions is cool and normal because it’s what Asimov did, right?


Yes.

Young men emulate high status older men, that is what I have seen.


One of the reasons for calling out Asimov like this is to establish that the norms that allowed him to get away with his behaviour are no longer acceptable, and to prevent this generation from pointing to them as models or excuses. There's a thoroughly practical reason for disinterring the greats like this.


Is my memory failing me, but I seem to recall in one of the Foundation books one of the female characters is interrogated and assaulted during the interrogation, but she just shrugs it off.

It seriously disturbed me when I read it.


Also in the Foundation books: Sex as a weapon (for men), sex as a reward (for men), sex as payment by the (suddenly irresistible) main character to get concessions out of an amazon politician.


I only read the first Foundation book and noticed that there were basically no female characters. I did read that he was made aware of that and was sure to have female characters in subsequent books but I didn't care enough about the books to read any more of them. This makes me glad I didn't take the time to do so.


An aside about the article's author. His blog is very interesting and full of fantastic articles that will delight a science fiction fan, especially for those who like their SF combined with "high" literature. He writes thoughtfully also on the craft of being an SF writer, showing discipline and care. Given all of that, I was really looking forward to read his first novel. Well, I wish I hadn't done it. It was terrible in almost every aspect: Pace, dialogue, characters, plot, and prose. It goes to show for the n-th time that to theorize about a topic is a very different skill that to practice it well.


Often theorizing about something makes it much harder to do it, because you get bogged down by constantly thinking about how bad what you're doing is.


What sets science fiction apart from high literature is that it tends to emphasize the novum, that new idea or technology that distinguished the setting from the real world, at the expense of characterization. It’s any ideas, not people.

Literary fiction is the opposite. It’s about people, their relationships and struggles, situated in reality. It tends not to deal with high concept counterfactuals which are the bread and butter of science fiction.


isn't slap in the face an appropriate response to a unwanted ass grab? Sex is everywhere, and each person have their own approach to sex. This is too deep in the rabbit hole for me, collecting opinions of opinions of opinions


So imagine this scenario: A big fat guy with a creepy smile follows you around and grabs your ass. What would be an appropriate response?


I find it very bizarre that the building of the great wall of China seems to be considered by the author an achievement.

I'm rather confident that the folks involved in the actual piling of stones and likely forced to do so at sword point would have begged to differ.

Also, building border walls is apparently an unfashionable endeavor these days, I'm not sure why one built a 1000 years ago should be treated different.


The author of the linked piece doesn't really ascribe any moral value to the Great Wall that I can see. Something can be monumental without being good.

Borges certainly doesn't describe the building of the Wall as a good thing:

> Herbert Allen Giles relates that those who concealed books were branded by a red-hot iron and condemned to build the outrageous wall until the day of their death. This information favors or tolerates another interpretation. Perhaps the wall was a metaphor, maybe Shih Huang Ti condemned those who worshipped the past to a work just as vast as the past, as stupid and useless.

Borges isn't comparing a good act and an evil one. He's comparing a great creation with a great destruction -- the building of an enduring historical artifact with the destruction of recorded history.


> Borges isn't comparing a good act and an evil one.

He is a bit -- at the end of the article there is a suggestion that they two acts cancel each other out, and we can agree that the burning of books is an evil one.


That doesn't mean they cancel each other out as acts of good and evil, though. They cancel each other out as acts of historical creation and destruction.


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