Isaac Wrote Letters

In an earlier post I mentioned that John W. Campbell, Jr. was an unabashed racist, sexist, and fascist, as well as a purveyor of pseudo-science.

You don’t have to take my word for it, at least for the racist part. Here is a letter that Isaac Asimov wrote to him on 30 September 1963. It was printed in the volume of letters that his brother Stanley edited, Yours, Isaac Asimov.

I fear that Isaac was a little bit too optimistic.

Dear John,

You want the Negroes to “earn” their rights, and there are lots of answers to that. I could say that:

1. Negroes were brought to this country against their will, brutalized in vile slavery for 250 years, stripped of their dignity in so-called freedom for another 100. Perhaps the white American has to do something to “earn” a clear conscience.Johnwcampbell1965

2. Groups don’t have to earn their group rights. Individuals have to earn their individual rights. The Negroes want their chance to earn rights as individuals. They want an equal chance at schooling, at jobs, at decent homes. Not equal schooling, equal jobs, equal homes; equal chance.

3. A Nisei’s intolerance is not made sacred by the fact that he is a Nisei.

However, maybe you’re right. Maybe there’s something to this “earning” bit.

There are a whole list of far-out ideas that you and I have talked about over the years: psionics, Dean drive, dianetics, dowsing, Krebiozen. Lots more. [Note: Campbell supported these far-out pseudoscientific ideas, and Isaac thought they were nonsense.]

They have to EARN their right to be heard, John. The AMA won’t give them a chance? Tough!
The Food and Drug Act turns its back? Tough! Big Science wants to be worshipped as Authority. Tough!

Those outside ideas simply have to make their way against the tide, like the Irish did. Then they, too, will be President of the United States someday. If they don’t make their way and get themselves lynched, that just shows they’re inferior. And I, for one, won’t waste any tears over them.

It strikes me, John, that when the heel is on the face, it depends on whether it’s the heel that belongs to you or the face.

Now when we deal with ideas, I’m tough. I own the heel. The new idea has to prove itself against the very harshest opposition. That’s the only way we can shake out the good from the crud in the long run.

But when we deal with men, I’m soft. Men have feelings and nerve endings and hearts and minds. They even have constitutional rights. I own the face in that case. You may disagree with me and prefer to be soft on ideas and hard on men. That, of course, is your privilege, but exercising your privilege doesn’t make you right.

In fact, when I come to think of it, I don’t believe that you are soft on ideas and hard on men.

You will cheerfully reject a bad story, but you don’t go around rejecting authors. You don’t ask: Is the author a sober man? Is the author a moral man? Is the author a colored man? All authors are the same to you. You ask only: “Did he write a good story?”

But before you can do that, you have to agree to read the stories. Suppose you don’t read any stories written by Negroes. In that case, you never know whether one of them has written a good story, do you?

And suppose the NAACP demanded that you read stories submitted to you by Negroes, and you responded that it was unfair to be asked to accept bad stories. And they said, “We’re not asking you to accept them, we’re asking you to read them and judge them by the same standards by which you judge stories written by white men.”

And suppose you said, “Well, the chances of a Negro writing a good story are so small, I won’t waste my time looking at them.”

And they said, “How do you know?”

And you said, “Well, that’s what they think in Alabama, and that’s good enough for me.”

It doesn’t sound like you, does it?

In fact, John, I think you’re on my side and as soon as you get through your head that the Negroes are the way-out people facing the authoritarianism of Big Whitedom, you’re going to come charging out to fight on the side of the Negro, as you have staunchly borne the standards for everything from dianetics to Krebiozen.

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