Orr’s Syndrome

An editorial for the end of the year.

This is in part a reaction to an article by Lisabet Sarai  on the Erotic Readers & Writers Association Blog (which was in turn in part a response to Remittance Girl’s post there earlier this month. Both are worth reading and thinking about, but what motivated me to write at all is the confluence of two disturbing trends. The first is more obvious – the movement toward censorship of erotica in the UK and in online stores like Amazon. There are abundant news articles from many sources regarding both, so I’m not going to provide a link list. Both situations are still evolving.

The second is the concomitant fear on the part of many writers of erotica – especially those dealing with ‘taboo’ or ‘edgier’ subjects that they are somehow on the hook for the behavior of people who read their stories. There are certainly groups of thinkers out there who would like to put the blame for actions taken by fiction readers on the writers of those fictions, but their fight is already won if the writers themselves fear even the possibility of accusation.

In essence, these writers fear that their fiction, by the fact of having been written and read, might somehow be changing reality, and making people do things that are wrong/illegal/immoral/what-have-you. They fear essentially, that they have the power of George Orr in the in Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Lathe of Heaven, to reshape the world by their dreams. It’s actually a bit of hubris to think one might have that power from their writing alone. It is also, perhaps the secret wish of some writers sometimes – to write so well and so powerfully that one affects the world directly from one’s pen or keyboard. But in this case the feeling one might actually have that power becomes a weapon against ones self – and can be taken advantage of by those who wish to silence and censor.

I am not Gorge Orr. Neither is anyone else. Our dreams, the fictions that we write or read, do not change the world. Actions do, and the vast majority of people have control over their actions.

Accusations abound in this world. They, among other things, the language of those who do not wish to accept responsibility for their own actions.

Here’s the clincher:

Even if a given author’s fiction writing explicitly tells people it’s OK to do some [stupid/illegal/immoral/unsavory/socially unacceptable] thing, that is still not license to do so. Fiction is not law, and it’s not permission. The accusation “but you said it was OK” could be true and the author is still not responsible for someone doing that [stupid/illegal/immoral/unsavory/socially unacceptable] thing. The fiction writer is not the reader’s parent, they’re not the law; the authority that gives permission or absolution.

Ideas are sticky, and writers can give them to readers. But a fiction writer can’t make anyone do anything. If they could, I would have written a much nicer planet into existence long ago. Actions are the responsibility of those who undertake them.

I coin the condition ‘Orr’s Syndrome’ as the belief or fear that your dreams – your fiction writing – can materially effect the world simply by the fact you wrote it. It’s false. Your writing does not change the world. People who read your writing may chose to, but that is their choice.

Writers can’t afford to fear the reaction to what they write, if they wish to write challenging things. There will always be people for whom the line between fiction/fantasy and reality is blurry or nonexistent. Some portion of that population will read murder mysteries, horror, extreme action stories, and/or erotica. Some portion of them will use those fantasies as manuals for their own action. Writers of fiction cannot be held responsible for the actions of these people.

Living in fear that somewhere, some unbalanced person will believe you’re telling them it’s ok to steal or murder or rape or injure or fuck unsafely is incompatible with being a fiction writer of those subjects.


Categories: Discussion, Erotica, MonocleTags: , , , , ,


I am the little devil on your shoulder, stroking your neck with my tail, whispering obscenities into your ear, and looking down your blouse. One third of The Erotic Writer blog.


  1. vanillamom

    Well said.

    I have to admit that there are times when I wonder…you read/hear a story about some sadistic idiot who kidnaps someone and …it makes me worry in the back of my mind.

    and it isn’t that I hold myself responsible, or have a “goddess syndrome event” where I believe my words created the monster. Yet, in the tenuous precariousness of an already unsteady mind, did someone take my-or your–or any erotic writer’s work of fiction, think about it so much that they believed it could become ‘real’… and use it to justify their actions?

    That doesn’t make my writing-or your writing-or any other erotic writers work “wrong”. No, the “wrong” holds squarely in the one who did the choosing to act.

    But it would not be true for me to say the thought had never crossed my mind–or that I’d never fretted about it sometimes, that I could plant my twisted ideas somewhere, in some diseased, fertile mind, and have it take root and grow.

    That said? I don’t believe that censorship is the answer. Just like making drugs or booze illegal only boosted the illegal trade of both, denying accessibility only makes people more creative to get what they want.


    • Monocle

      Hi Nilla,
      Those idiots don’t need your, or anyone’s, help to do what they do. If they have control over their impulses, their choice is always their choice. If they don’t, then it is only a matter of time, no matter what their environment holds.

      I understand that it crosses the mind. I don’t think we’d be empathetic creatures if it didn’t. But please don’t let it scare you into silence or self-censorship.

    • vanillamom

      thank you Monocle…that helps, actually. And it helped to see in print (as it were) the thoughts that would sometimes flit through my head, and the argument for why what we do isn’t to blame for those sociopaths actions. I admit I had a real issue when the case in the mid-west came to light, even though it started WAY before I came on the scene, Castro did state that he was an avid porn reader. Again, not a justification for what he did, nor saying that what I wrote would create a domino effect. But it did make me cringe, and toss and turn a few nights.


  2. Apropos of the moment, will the Cannibal Cop spend the rest of his life in jail for elaborate fantasies (as well as using NYPD resources to look up women’s addressses)?

    “It’s personal with Andria,” Valle wrote. “She will absolutely suffer.” Later, he added that he’d found a recipe for chloroform online. “I’m in the middle of constructing a pulley apparatus in my basement to string her up by her feet.” …Valle bragg[ed] that his oven was big enough to fit a victim in it if he folded her legs and mention[ed] that he had a place up in the mountains (“No one around for three-quarters of a mile”) where he could bring one woman of their choice.

    • Monocle

      That case is apropos only insofar as the dangerous insinuation that people can or should be prosecuted for what’s in their thoughts. This particular cop looks to have actually crossed legal lines in several places. Up until that point, however, thoughtcrime is not crime. Further, there is nothing in this case to support any theory that the role of fiction was in any way causal to his attitudes or actions.

    • On this subject, I got into it with Maggie McNeill, over at the Honest Courtesan (who, let my opinion be known, I happen to think is a fruity libertarian wing-nut). The case against Valle isn’t *just* about a thought crime — as even the New York Magazine article suggests. I can see it both ways. As you point out, the guy used NYPD resources to track down real addresses. What if one of those women had been my daughter or wife (or yours if you have a daughter)?

      “”I will really get off on knocking her out, tying up her hands and bare feet and gagging her. Then she will be stuffed into a large piece of luggage and wheeled out to my van.”

      Cellphone data revealed that Valle made calls on the block where the woman lives in March, the complaint says. An FBI agent interviewed the woman, who told them that she didn’t know him well and was never in her home.”

      Or (and no longer allegedly):

      “Valle allegedly kept dossiers on at least 100 potential victims, culling federal and state law-enforcement databases for names, photos, dates of birth, height, weight and even bra sizes.”


      “When the pal tried to haggle on the price, Valle refused to budge, writing back, “I really need the money” and added, “I’m putting my neck on the line here.”

      After settling on a $5,000 price, Valle’s collaborator, wrote, “Just make sure she doesn’t die before I get her.””

      The lines between thought and action were clearly blurred and blurring. The fact that he was stalking women and negotiating a price for kidnapping begs the question. Juries aren’t always right, by any stretch, but obviously there was some fairly damning evidence.

    • Monocle

      He was accused of conspiracy, but no money changed hands and no actions were taken. It’s unclear to me whether he abused his power as a cop with his data access to stalk people illegally – that would be a prosecutable action. Everything else is not. And if he were convicted on the basis of what is in his head and not manifest by his actions, then we are, every one of us, in danger of losing our freedom over the thoughts in our head.

      If we live in a world of prosecutable pre-crime, then fiction writers _are_ culpable for putting thoughts in people’s heads, however briefly. If I make a reader contemplate, or wonder about motivation for murder, or empathize with a flawed, criminal character, I’m guilty of sowing premeditation, whether or not you’d ever do the crime. What a dangerous world for freedom of thought an expression.

    • It’s important to remember that calling this a “thought crime” was the way the defense, and those sympathetic with Valle, have characterized his prosecution. However, what he was convicted of was “Conspiracy” to commit murder. The legal definition of conspiracy is:

      “An agreement between two or more persons to engage jointly in an unlawful or criminal act, or an act that is innocent in itself but becomes unlawful when done by the combination of actors.

      Conspiracy is governed by statute in federal courts and most state courts. Before its Codification in state and federal statutes, the crime of conspiracy was simply an agreement to engage in an unlawful act with the intent to carry out the act. Federal statutes, and many state statutes, now require not only agreement and intent but also the commission of an Overt Act in furtherance of the agreement.

      Conspiracy is a crime separate from the criminal act for which it is developed. For example, one who conspires with another to commit Burglary and in fact commits the burglary can be charged with both conspiracy to commit burglary and burglary.

      Conspiracy is an inchoate, or preparatory, crime. It is similar to solicitation in that both crimes are committed by manifesting an intent to engage in a criminal act. It differs from solicitation in that conspiracy requires an agreement between two or more persons, whereas solicitation can be committed by one person alone.”

      Actual possession of chloroform, for instance, is not necessarily germane to the question of Conspiracy to Commit Murder. The jury had to weigh intent and there was enough and strong evidence to establish an “Agreement”, “Intent” and the “Overt Act in furtherance of the agreement” — his use of NYPD records and physically stalking the address of the woman he ostensibly planned on abducting. The $5,000 was to be paid upon delivery of the woman.

      So, I really resist the conflation of this case with “free speech” issues (such as we face as writers). This is, in my opinion, a completely and utterly separate legal issue.

Share your thoughts.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.