The religious fundy’s basic lack of empathy

A few people pointed me at this wonderfully abysmal “comment” on the Hunger Games books, which I have not read myself but have on the book-buying list.

The author gets fairly preachy about the terrible violence being done and how there should be another way and, despite allegedly being an editor of a reading-related website, doesn’t understand the entire point of dystopic fiction.

Where it gets interesting is where Bob McCoskrie reposts the article, without comment, on the Patriarchy First website.  One can only assume from this that Bob agrees with the arguments of the author, those arguments roughly being:

  • Who cares about the stated facts of the setting, Violence Should Never Be The Answer
  • Who cares about the stated facts of the setting, Killing Is Always Wrong
  • Who cares about the stated facts of the setting, What About The Children
  • Who cares about the stated facts of the setting, The Protagonist Is Just Making Excuses
  • Who cares about the usefulness of dramatic graphic description in conveying emotion and tension and conflict, Blood Is Icky

And you know what, I can slightly sympathize.  Well, no, not really.  But as an avowed fan of gratuitous gore and bleak futuristic settings, I totally understand there are people out there who just don’t like violence in their media, don’t like dark character development, etc etc.

Those people probably shouldn’t be reading The Hunger Games.

But we’re not talking about a review saying “Wasn’t my cup of tea, will appeal more to people who like X Y and Z”.  The reviewer herself claims she’s not against violence or moral ambivalence.

But I sadly do not believe her.

Because what we have is a sanctimonious whinge by someone whose chief displeasure is that a dystopic novel about children killing each other for food contained, you know .. bad stuff.  Contained conflict.  Contained a main character forced into a shitty situation, submitting herself to humiliation and danger for the good of her whole society, and yeah, above all, justifying it to herself instead of, presumably, the preferable option of an eternity of self-flagellation over acts necessary to her survival.  (And it was all so well-written and compelling that, you know, she enjoyed reading it.)

Oh shit.  There it is.

Modern Christian fundamentalism in a nutshell.  Judge other people according to an absolutely rigid, unforgiving (irony!) “morality” which allows no room for the basic facts of human existence, for individual circumstances; and refuse to acknowledge that when all your options are shit, and you pick the least stinky one, you’ve got every fucking right to come to terms with that instead of beating yourself up over some mythical Perfect Option.

And when they do allow that you might pick something non-perfect, you better not feel okay about it.  You better not acknowledge your situation and accept you had no better alternative.  You better sit the fuck down and hate yourself for not being Gandhi.  Apparently.

And it all makes perfect sense to me.  Because that’s exactly how fundies act about issues like abortion (bit of a swerve there, sorry).  They firstly lack the ability to understand that people can get into shitty situations, that people’s circumstances can be so severe that none of their choices are good, that they can only do the best they can given a crap set of options.

They secondly lack the basic empathy for other human beings to let someone who has made a shitty choice come to terms with it.

They basically refuse to put themselves into another person’s shoes and go, “Well shit.  I’m Katniss Everdeen and my options are (a) let my people starve horribly or (b) do my best to help them, even though I know the people I’m going to kill are in exactly the same spot as me, because if I refuse to go along with the regime I’ll be dead AND my people will starve horribly.  That’s crap, but I’m not going to add to my distress and trauma by hating myself for things outside my control.”

Gods forbid that a person in that situation make a decision, acknowledge it’s not perfect, and live with it.

Christianity: it’s the forgiving religion.  Unless you’re a controlling fundy wanker, then that becomes a little inconvenient.


  1. Sir Ian

    You do have a point. Some people just get angry for getting angry’s sake. Hitchens made some good points about this. However you do have to calculate in that they not necessarily lack empathy, they just lack it for those beyond their community. Sam harris makes this argument in his book “the moral landscape”. Basically a nazi-general could be a fine gentleman, well-behaved and ethical in every way. That is as long as you were part of his moral sphere. The moment you got out of this sphere (Being a jew) you were dehumanized and not worthy of ethical behavior. That being said we can appreciate the irony of dropping people out of this sphere but keeping blastula’s in the sphere.

    • QoT

      That’s a fine point, Ian, but I think it simultaneously over-simplifies people’s personal definition of in-groups/community and trivialises Nazi anti-semitism by putting it in terms of simple hating-the-outsider.

      • Sir Ian

        It’s not about trivializing it at all. It’s not about judgement, it’s about trying to understand the human behavior. Killing people, degrading them, humiliating them. All these things are terrible regardless of the motivations given.

        • QoT

          Yet it does trivialise the Holocaust, as far as I’m concerned, to use it as an off-hand example of people’s empathy when discussing a random columnists’ dislike of a young adult fantasy series.

          • Sir Ian

            I can see how you think that. I’m merely saying it was not my intent. Perhaps I shouldn’t have given the example without the context of the book. I can assure you sam harris does not trivialise it. Or at least that wasn’t my impression at all. My point still stands to be honest : People can be total dicks with a sense of superiority merely because they do not consider somebody human enough.

        • QoT

          And your point would stand just fine without using one of the great genocides of the 20th century to add weight and shock value to it.

          Further, I am advised by my conscience that you deserve at least one warning to the effect that intent is not magical.

          • Sir Ian

            To be honest it was just a quote of sam harris. His whole point was that completely sane people could commit atrocities with a sense of moral superiority given the wrong circumstances. I honestly don’t see how that is trivializing it. It’s an example that stuck, and that’s why I used it. I even find it offensive you’d imply I would use it for shock value rather than because it illustrates a point.

            • QoT

              To be honest, I don’t care. *His* whole point used the Holocaust as an example (which in addition to trivialising it is seriously lazy) and you found it appropriate to use in this context. I find it hilarious you think I give a crap about offending lazy thinkers who want to throw around powerful analogies with no regard for their context. Ciao.

  2. Draco T Bastard

    I’ve read the first book and, after all the hype on the net about it, was actually surprised about how non-violent it is. All the situations that lead Katniss to kill are well articulated and so are the parts where she shows compassion. Like when she kills the guy who just stuck a spear into her ally then sings to her ally while she dies and places flowers around the body.

    As for her complaining about the wasp nest that was dropped on the people at the base of the tree? Well, Katniss had to get rid of the nest else the wasps would have killed her and she needed to get rid of the grou at the base. You know, the ones that were looking forward to killing Katniss, the ones that were enjoying the killing which was painted as both immoral and unethical. She didn’t seem to have much to say about that.

    As you say, the whole story was about a young person in a difficult situation making tough decisions not about a young person in tough situations being able to make ideal decisions.

  3. annanonymous

    My very gentle-natured 10 year old daughter took me to the movie after reading the books (which I haven’t read), warning me first that it might be a bit violent for me – bless. But I felt that the violence was not included to be revelled in at all. I interpreted the movie as a comment on the pyschologically brutalising nature of violence, its use as part of repressive regimes, and how these regimes can be ethically resisted.

    This is a movie targeted at young girls, assuming they can think and act politically – I don’t recall seeing anything like that before, and it’s pretty subversive. Maybe that’s why the fundies are shrieking. I don’t see them outraged by Israeli violence against Palestinian civilians, but violence is difference when it’s got God-clearance and upholds the natural order. Maybe if Katniss’s parents had just smacked her more, she would have thought twice about living in a repressive regime beyond her control. (And remember: when you’re hitting your children, an open hand is fine, but not a fist, or they might not understand you’re doing it because you love them.)

    I’m getting frustrated with the ‘don’t portray violence’ critiques of Hunger Games that draw no distinction between violence for titillation and violence as a form of critique or way of politicising people. It’s basically a call to tune out, do nothing and accept the status quo. I bet the good people of Syria wish they could just change the channel, but as you rightly point out, not everyone has that option. Ironically, the theme of putting your head up your own arse and ignoring other people’s suffering because it’s convenient is well made in the Hunger Games.

    How did I wake up so bitter this morning?

    • QoT

      Bah, I say it’s not bitterness if it’s righteous annoyance!

      We definitely need to stamp out this notion that young women can have agency, though. Could threaten the whole nature of our society.

  4. The Urban Maori

    Having seen an eerily similar but far more excessively violent (yet strangely not over the top) Japanese movie called Battle Royale, I seriously doubt the Hunger Games are that bad.
    Besides I remember when a gratuitous piece of torture porn called Passion Of The Christ came out these same religious zealots went all Jehova on us and tried to get us to watch it. Suppose violence is okay if god’s involved?

    BTW, good to see you posting again you gotta do it more often. And watch Battle Royale, seriously it’s awesome

    • QoT

      I have seen Battle Royale, many moons ago. And yeah, I found the ultraviolence somehow not overdone or gratuitous, but that may say something about my cultural expectations of Japanese action cinema more than anything else …

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