Sunday, April 12, 2015

A renunciation of litmus tests

So. Hugo nominations got announced last weekend, and All Fandom Is At War.

One of the better attempts at bridge-building is being conducted by Mary Robinette Kowal, in a post here.  In the comments, Elizabeth Bear (*the* Elizabeth Bear, omg *flails*) responded to a comment I left.

Because I am lousy at saying things succinctly, I am expanding on my reply to Ms Bear here.

I appreciate Ms Bear's candid declaration concerning visible voting slates and her intent to reject all those works, writers, and artists as unworthy of an award.  That's her choice, and I respect her decision to do so.  (I also won’t hold it against her if in the future she changes her mind.) I do however disagree with the logic and utility of doing so, but wait on that until the end.

To me, the slate voting process *could* be discussed in and of itself – but that’s not what’s happening here.  As I have said to other members of fandom, though – I find it curious that rather than focusing on publicity efforts or the existence of slates, the focus keeps slipping to *who* is on the slates, and *who* might be recommending those works.

Bear said: Theo Beale first came after me for no good reason except that I was a woman writing SF in like, 2004–and I have no truck with the man (I’ve also spoken out publicly against Requires Hate’s bullying campaign, for what it’s worth.)

I remember a bit of that, and I remember being a bit surprised at the “going after a woman who wrote SF” bit, because dude – Cherryh? Bujold? Willis? Moon? Aren't you annoyed at them, too?  I don’t remember the details of that squabble, frankly.  (I imagine the incident is a bit more etched in Ms Bear's memory.)

But that does bring to mind 2004, and the ultra-awesomeness that it was to be conservative in on-line fandom during the US election season.  The allusions to Hitler (*see note at the end*), the hysterical accusations that concentration camps were being set up for Muslims and gays, the sneering, the wild exaggerations, the ranting, the accusations of intended genocide against minorities, of disenfranchisement of women – and that was before the Republicans won. Good times, good times.

Which have only gotten worse, of course.  The exaggerations and false accusations are present in the comments of multiple other fans in the comments to MRK’s post – despite it being the best attempt so far to build bridges between SP and trufans.

I expect everyone carries a bit of baggage from back then.  My way of dealing with it, and with the on-going hatchet jobs that have surfaced this week in mainstream media, is this:

Firstly, I pick my fannish interactions with care, I don’t go into liberal areas except in rare occasions, and I hang with fans who – even if they might like somewhat different things than I do – don’t openly disparage other people, and particularly not for their politics or religion.

Secondly, in terms of reading and judging works, I don’t care who people are, what their politics are, or what they approve of. I had me and my works judged on the basis of my politics and of lies and exaggerations about what I said.  I don’t do it to other people, to the best extent I can.  And to that end, I absolutely endorse what Ms Bear said at the end:

(I note that last year’s slate included Requires Hate *and* Vox Day. That’s so politically diverse it starts to come full circle.)

Because the Hugos should be able to do that. We must NOT make it so that the Hugos CANNOT do that.

I appreciate Ms Bear's efforts to reach across the lines with assurances that she rejects RH and all her works. But I don’t care. I’m not even going to ask if that speaking out came while Requires Hate was still just targeting Caucasian guys or after she started going after POCs.  Because I don’t care.

I don’t care if people reject RH.  I don’t care if they reject VD.  What I
reject are renunciations, litmus tests, and assurances of purity in thought or deed.

I strongly oppose all attempts to set up a pattern of public rejections, of dis-avowing, of assertion of rightthink, of the sort of quasi-Inquisitionesque  are you now or have you ever been a nasty person who said nasty things to other people, as a part, of any sort, in the process of assessing the quality of a particular work.

We should not be giving anyone the impression that people are reading, enjoying, and buying their works of art on the basis that the writer/artist “is a good person.”  Or that only “good people” can contribute meaningfully to society.  Or that a meaningful contribution makes that person (scientist, artist, bricklayer) a “good person.”

Being a crap writer does not make one a crap person any more than being a crap welder makes one a crap person.  And having a beautiful singing voice does not an angel make.

If Fandom remains a single tent, we will have people inside it who are frightful to each other.  We will have – as we have had before, and doubtlessly do now – people who are rapists and child abusers.  We will have thieves, bigots, scoundrels, rabble rousers, trolls, malcontents and liars.  We will have our Mark Twains. We had Arthur C Clark and Isaac Asimov, and we had Harlan Ellison, Vox Day, and Samuel Delaney.  We had MZB, and we have Requires Hate, Kameron Hurley, and K Tempest Bradford.  And twenty more I could name, and forty more you could name, and a thousand people we don’t even know about yet.

In the end, it doesn’t matter if we storm Castalia House and drag Vox Day to the gallows to be hung, drawn, and quartered, or just shoot him in the street.  It doesn’t matter if we exile Requires Hate to the far Antilles or place her in the stocks and hurl rotten produce at her until she breaks down into a catatonic quivering sobbing mess.

Even if we were right in doing so, the blood and tears would scarcely have dried before the shout went up to do the same to John C Wright and NK Jemisin.

Fandom will not be cleansed by these actions.  We will always have despicable people amongst us. And unpleasant people. And people that others say are despicable, or not pleasant, or Communist, or evangelicals, or who chew with their mouths open.

Criminals should be arrested and charged with crimes. Rude people should be told that they are being rude, and not invited to tea by people who don’t like their rudeness.

Works should be read, or seen, or heard, and not judged based on their creators.

SP came about because a huge chunk of fandom is reacting to another huge chunk of fandom applying extraneous litmus tests of politics and lifestyle – approving of some, disapproving of others – to both authors and works in the course of assessing the quality of work. (And generally shutting out the authors and works now represented by SP.)  SP1 & SP2 demonstrated that this was happening.

SP3 is happening because we – we-as-fandom-we – failed to call for stopping the application of those litmus tests.

Voting No Award for anything other than the quality of the work on the slate is continuing the application of those tests.  And voting No Award is not going to stop SP4, because what we – we-as-SP, as far as I can speak for SP, which is not very far -  want is to be able to push for recognition of the work we like – just like everyone else, with everyone else – to get the awards we think it deserves.

And here’s why I reject the idea that No Award voting slate-sponsored works is in the best interest of Fandom.  Firstly, because even if a majority of fandom agreed with that, all it does is cement the use of extraneous litmus tests in the assessment of works.  I reject the utility of assessing works on the race or gender of the author, or on the skin color of the protagonist, or on the faith system (or lack thereof) in the work.  And I reject assessments based on who recommended it to me, or on what webpage I first saw it.

Secondly, because No Awarding works based on visible, known-to-you slates will only return us to the quasi-sub rosa conditions of 2012.  Slates will go underground, passed from hand to hand and not discussed openly – until someone wants to expose someone else for ‘slating’.  Or commit slander against someone else.  Or start a whisper campaign against someone else.

I’ve been there, done that.  I don’t want that sort of thing affecting “the most prestigious award in SFF.”

Let’s do what should have been done a decade ago, and reject the application of extraneous litmus tests to the Hugo process, and all other award processes.

Two notes:
1) I am not “equating” any authors mentioned by name in this post.  They each are singular persons who have enraged different parts of Fandom.  (There are many horrible people in Fandom.  Such is the crooked timber of humanity.) I think there is some value in publicly addressing assertions of the harm we do to each other.  We are not required to like or approve or tolerate all of each other, nor all that each other does.

I also think that when we have stooped to the point where we take seriously the assertions by grown writers and artists that “someone wrote a mean poem about me!!!!” we have gone well past the point where “harm” has any legitimate definition, and a serious look at what we are considering “intolerable” is in order.

2) I rejoice in the evolution of popular culture, fandom, and internet discourse that now references to Nazis are not only considered unserious, but required in any discussion of sufficient length.  Take that, you genocidal monsters – you’re now the punchline for every mockery of hysterical over-reaction, ever.

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