Isaac Asimov, Creep

As the result of looking something up in a discussion with a friend, I came across the section in the Wikipedia article on Isaac Asimov about his sexual harassment of women, which linked to this article by Alec Nevala-Lee for most of its sources.

It’s an interesting article and I recommend reading the whole thing, but one part especially stood out to me:

If Asimov had an empire, it was science fiction, and his acts deserve greater emphasis because of his monumental stature. His collaboration with the editor John W. Campbell produced such milestones as the story “Nightfall,” the Three Laws of Robotics, and the “psychohistory” of the Foundation series, all of which had an incalculable influence on the field. In the wider world, with his trademark sideburns and glasses, Asimov was one of the most recognizable writers alive, and in his familiar capacity as a public speaker, essayist, and talk show guest, he became the most prominent ambassador of science fiction to the mainstream.

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…

Isaac Asimov was a famous atheist and much of his science fiction, from what I can tell, rested on that; it used the blank slate provided by atheism to allow an easy creativity. It never seems to occur to the author that Asimov’s immorality might be linked to the same source.

After all, why should Asimov not take advantage of women if he can get away with it? If there is no God, there is nothing but one’s will and the only question that remains is whether one can enforce it or not.

Consider that Asimov’s biggest contribution to science fiction was probably his three laws of robotics, which as far as I can tell cannot possibly work. The laws are too vague, which requires judgement that implies free will, at which point you have to ask what enforces these laws. The answer, basically, is magic, though from what I understand it’s never explicitly stated or particularly questioned. In essence, the laws of robotics are a con job. They get the reader to pretend that he’s thinking about deep issues when he’s just thinking about nonsense.

Asimov’s other really big contribution, psychohistory—that you can’t predict individual events but can accurately predict aggregate effects—is also nonsense. (In some ways Jurassic Park is the anti-foundation series, as chaos theory is such a central aspect to it.) Again, this is basically taking the atheistic idea that there is nothing free about human beings and then using it to make a story that is superficially plausible.

In both cases, this is just flim-flam. Flim-flam is, itself, nothing other than a means of control. It is getting people to believe something impressive is going on when it isn’t. But why shouldn’t Asimov have engaged in this? What reason was there for him to have any regard for his readers, rather than treating them as a means to his ends—like a gas, something useful in the aggregate? Why should he have cared whether his actions harmed the women he mistreated? Why should he have cared whether it discouraged them from entering science fiction?

One sees this sort of thing all over; atheists make icons out of their favorite atheists, and really hope that their icons will be saints, despite not believing in sainthood. But why should they be? Why shouldn’t their heroes do whatever they can get away with, when the whole reason that these people are heroes is that they preach getting away with whatever you can?

It reminds me of something curious a philosophy professor once pointed out to me. If one person out of a group of people who rob banks together were to secretly take more than his fair share of the money, the rest would be incensed that he stole from them, despite them only existing as a group to steal from others. Some people just want exceptions made for them but not others.

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