Fibbing with Fiction

A reader write in with several unserious comments, but he (perhaps by accident) poses a serious question beneath all his scorn and anger. Honor requires a serious answer, even to a question perhaps not asked seriously. I had complained that Robert Heinlein in STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND wrote a work of propaganda, which was meant to, and in my case did, persuade the reader to adopt a philosophy that was false. On these grounds, I say I was lied to, and called Heinlein a liar. I am called to task for these words:


“You read a work of fiction and claim you were “lied to”? How is this possible?””

I submit that there are two types of fiction: fables told to entertain, and fables told to instruct or persuade. Aesop’s fables clearly have a persuasive purpose; so do parables; so do stories with an agenda or program that they, openly or covertly, attempt to persuade the reader to adopt. It would be foolish to pretend that ATLAS SHRUGGED by Ayn Rand or AMBER SPYGLASS by Phillip Pullman or MEN LIKE GODS by HG Wells do not have a rhetorical purpose. They are an attempt, not merely to entertain the reader, but to change his mind.

Fiction can be used to put across a philosophy and a view of life that is fundamentally false-to-facts. When used to put across a set of false observations about life and the universe, it is a lie.

If Heinlein says, for example, that rape-victims invite rape (which he does), and I read him when I am young and naive (which I did) I believe him (which I did not, not on that point), and if I furthermore meet a real rape victim in life (which I have) his fictional fable has tempted me to be unsympathetic with her suffering. If I took seriously the point behind his fable, if he succeeds in changing my mind when he tries to change my mind, then I have become slightly less than a human being by this: I will say and do all the wrong things, and some of what I might say is horrible. Heinlein did not force me to say those things, it is true. Heinlein, in effect, has spread a libel and invited me to join him.

Fiction can say false things about the honesty and purpose of religion, of government, of the relation between the sexes, of right and wrong. A reader who is both naive and smug can be lured quite easily into a number of false conclusions.

“Did Heinlen [sic] control your brain? “Was he the a Puppet Master?”

I am not claiming Heinlein is responsible for my naivety: but I am claiming he is responsible for his words and their repercussions.

It is bad to lie to children. I was a child. He lied to me then, and in a fashion calculated to flatter my moral vanity. Ergo, he did a bad thing. I hope that is clear enough.  

Lying is wrong because it is lying, not because it is mind-control. When someone lies to you, you have a right to object. In this case, I think Heinlein was merely negligent, not deliberately lying: he was saying what he thought was the case. But what he thought was so patently stupid, that I call it thoughtless for him to have set about to persuade naive youth otherwise.

(Obviously, if lying were wrong when and only when accompanied by psychic super-hypnosis, lying would never be wrong, since there is no such thing as psychic super-hypnosis.)

 “In addition to being a (gasp!) nudist?”

I am not sure what his being a nudist has to do with this conversation. I don’t know whether Heinlein was a nudist or not: I assume he put nude playboy girls in his writings because he was writing to appeal to teenage boys. Nudity also symbolizesan Edenic innocence, and so it is a favorite way for writers to indicate the superiority of their proposed Utopia.


“Why would you assume he was preaching a doctrine?”

There are three reasons to support the conclusion: 1. the book admits of no other interpretation; it is overwhelmingly obvious 2. the author has expressly said that was his intent 3. his other works express the same viewpoint and propagate it.


“And did you start eating your friends as a gesture of respect as a result?”


No, but the libertarian moral-relativism he deliberately (and successfully) persuaded me to adopt, left me without an ability to say what cannibalism was wrong, or polygamy, or incest. His stated aim was to undermine monogamy and monotheism. One way to do this is to feign total innocence when confronted by total wickedness: to ask (with wide-eyed naivety) why cannibalism or incest is wrong, and, if the answer requires any value judgment, to dismiss the value judgment as arbitrary, ergo of no moral weight.

Once one has no confidence in the reasoning about what is morally obvious, those things that are morally obscure become cloudy as well. For many years, I saw nothing wrong with perversion, fornication, polygamy, open adultery, and so on. That was Heinlein’s rhetorical purpose.

Heinlein did not get me to be a cannibal, but he did persuade me to throw away the moral code I used to say cannibalism is wrong. Of course he did not give a tinker’s damn about cannibalism: it was my judgment, my sense of reason, my sense of proportion, that he wanted me to scuttle. 

I submit that the one leads to the other: a moral standard that is neutral on the question of cannibalism is perforce neutral on every lesser standard. I challenge you or anyone to prove me wrong. To prove me wrong, all you need do is give me an argument, starting from a Heinlein axiom that all men should be free to do whatsoever they will, provided it does no violence to another, to show clearly, and without any arbitrary value judgments, why cannibalism of a willing victim is wrong, or incest with a willing daughter, or any other victimless crime.

If you cannot do it, then you have been deceived, and harmed, by the same school of thought that deceived and harmed me: and it is this school of which Heinlein, at least in science fiction circles, was the foremost advocate.

There might be other writers who persuaded other men of this lie, but Heinlein was the one who persuaded me: therefore I have a right to call him a liar.

“My point was that its possible to have read the book, and even enjoyed it, without it being the Necronomicon of the Modern Age.”

If that was your point, I might suggest that you write down your point, avoiding overstatements.

I am sure that there are people who can read John Norman’s TARNSMAN OF GOR books without becoming bondage fetishists as well. That is not the basis of my objection. When Heinlein says women are to blame when they are raped, or John Norman says women actually enjoy being raped, these authors are saying something that is false, and which men their age are under a duty to know is false.

I would say that STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND was part and parcel of the Sexual Revolution, which was an unparalleled disaster for Western Civilization. The degree of its contribution might have been small, even miniscule. I had a coworker who enjoyed spreading the Blood Libel about the Jews. He was not Hitler or Torquemada or even Osama: but what he did do to make the world worse for Jews, even in a small way, was his doing. STRANGER is like him: one more smokestack, even if small, chugging pollution in to the moral atmosphere of the age. If I point at a small smokestack, and say, “It Stinks” it is no counterargument to say that the smokestack did not smother all life on Earth. No one said it did.

Sexual permissiveness almost destroyed my life; mere dumb luck saved me. Some of my friends were less lucky because they were “more lucky”, and it did destroy their lives, or the lives of their children. This includes a relative of mine who killed himself. Do you think we are discussing some abstract topic with no real-world implications? Ideas have consequences. The cheerleaders of the Sexual Revolution told him to leave his wife and small children in order to consummate a relationship with another man. The pursuit of sterile sexual gratification turned out not to be gratifying.

This includes girls once protected by the rules and expectations of society now exposed to the filthy predations of men (including, in one case, the girl’s stepfather) because the moral atmosphere of the age places all the burden for refusing sexual contact on the women, while at the same time robbing them of any moral authority to refuse.

If sex is something no more casual than a handshake, then a woman who refuses to shake hands is being rude, and the predatory male raised in the ‘Sexual Liberated” moral environment has been told no reason why he should not be offended by her standoffishness.

The same cheerleaders of the sexual revolution who tell women just to say “No” also tell men not to take “No” for an answer. Had these same boys been raised to believe that you must offer a wedding ring before asking for sexual intimacy, they would automatically assume that “No” was the answer because “Yes” would not be allowed by law or custom.