Note: In between the time I wrote this and the time I posted it, SFWA President Steve Gould released a statement to the effect that the thing the petition (see below) is designed to prevent was never going to happen. My point, however, is the nature of the discussion, so I’m posting this anyway.
I think to get involved in this latest SFWA kerfuffle is to demonstrate beyond doubt that one has no sense of priorities, no sense of self-preservation, and, in general, no life. So, of course, here I go.
A petition is circulating concerning God-help-us-all the SFWA Bulletin. Let’s start at the beginning: SFWA is the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, an organization that is the butt of many jokes focusing on how little it does, but that, like a good super-hero, does its real work in the shadows. I mean it–the SFWA Grievance Committee, for example, has solved innumerable problems for a lot of writers, and done so quietly and efficiently. SFWA has provided money for health care to writers who otherwise would have been stuck. And so on. Generally, SFWA only appears to the public when someone is doing something stupid aimed at it, or it is doing something stupid. This one might be both.
Several things happened a few issues ago in the SFWA Bulletin, a publication no one reads. Many people felt that a number of things in recent issues had been offensive and degrading to women, and that feeling isn’t unreasonable. SFWA responded with a discussion of What To Do About It. The idea was to come up with a sort of review board that would oversee what went into the Bulletin to prevent things that would be offensive to groups of members. My immediate reaction was to wonder how anyone could object: I mean, it’s our organization, do we want it spewing, for example, overt racism? Now, something in the back of my head was wondering, “But isn’t that the editor’s job? Why do you need a separate committee for that?” And, I’ll admit, the idea of a review board to watch out for Dangerous Politics in the Bulletin seems chillingly Orwellian. But then, articles that leave huge sections of the membership feeling hurt, left out, and insulted don’t seem like such a good idea either. Hell, I dunno. This is where I am very proud of myself for never having put myself in the position of having to decide this kind of thing.
Others differed. A guy named David Truesdale (amusingly, as I understand it, he isn’t a SFWA member) got up a petition. When I first heard about it, my immediate reaction was to oppose the petition and support the decisions by the SFWA board, mostly on the simple basis of, “We really don’t want to make a bunch of our members feel like the organization doesn’t include them, and many were clearly feeling that way, and we need to do something about that.” I made a snarky comment or two on Twitter about it. There were a couple of versions of the petition. The first draft of it was, to say the least, problematic. There is a discussion of that here.
And that discussion is what has gotten me involved. I mean, my initial reaction, as I said, was something like, “I don’t know, but I’m certainly more sympathetic to those opposed to the petition than the supporters.” That lasted until fairly late yesterday evening when I read the entire discussion.
Here are some highlights:
This from a publisher: “all parties who have signed that petition can go ahead and recuse themselves from any projects (including paying ones) that I control.”
Yes, that happened. A publisher just said, “If you express these opinions, you can’t get work.” Does he have the right to make that decision? Sure. And I have the right to feel a chill down my spine when he does. Worse, throughout the rest of the discussion, no one mentions being the least disturbed by it.
Will Shetterly writes: ‘strongly recommend reading the ACLU’s “What is censorship?” Here’s a bit from it:’ followed by a two paragraph quote. The reply is: “@Will Shetterly: You’re not welcome here. Please do not attempt to comment further.” Again, you get to decide who comments on your page, and for all I know there is a history there; but I get to be disturbed by this response (and no other!) to a discussion of Free Speech by the ACLU. In fact, that’s what convinced me to make my remarks here instead of there.
Also, en passant, while those on one side of the issue often seem confused about where the First Amendment does and doesn’t apply, those on the other side often seem to believe that the concept of Free Speech and Free Expression begins and ends with the First Amendment. Though I am far from a free speech absolutist, I take issue with that belief. News flash: Sometimes it is possible to do something wrong without breaking the law.
But let us return to the discussion.
There is some discussion along the lines of, “I signed the first, objectionable draft, but asked for changes,” “well then, why did you sign the first draft at all?” This one is interesting. The reply is an entirely valid answer to the question, “Why are you mad at me?” but says nothing at all useful about, “is the petition a good idea?” There seems to be some confusion about this.
But what made me suddenly rub my eyes and go, “What the fuck?” was this exchange among four commenters:
Commenter A:”The members complained, overwhelmingly, about lack of oversight for the Bulletin, so the officers promise to take a more active role in overseeing production while a new editor gets started.”
Commenter B:”As for the outcry by an overwhelming group of SFWA members about the original BULLETIN items, my impression, subject to correction by someone closer to the workings of the organization than I am, is that it was a vocal minority that did the complaining, rather than any overwhelmingly large body.”
Commenter C [quoting Commenter B]:’“And if anyone here thinks that my objections to the appointment of a board of advance review constitutes my support for the publication of racist or sexist material in the BULLETIN or anywhere else, that person simply just doesn’t know me. ”
We’re inferring that not just from your objection to a board of advance review, but from other things you say, like this:
“As for the outcry by an overwhelming group of SFWA members about the original BULLETIN items, my impression, subject to correction by someone closer to the workings of the organization than I am, is that it was a vocal minority that did the complaining, rathe than any overwhelmingly large body.”’
Commenter D: ‘“As for the outcry by an overwhelming group of SFWA members about the original BULLETIN items, my impression, subject to correction by someone closer to the workings of the organization than I am, is that it was a vocal minority that did the complaining, rather than any overwhelmingly large body.”’
So if I am to understand you correctly, it is all right to be dismissive of the oppression or subjugation of a group if their numbers are small?’
There. That. WTF?
The level of confusion and disingenuousness here is astounding. A makes the argument that an overwhelming number of members complained. B suggests that, perhaps, it was not an overwhelming number. C and D then turn this suggestion into support of oppression on the part of B (who, for the record, deserves props for being entirely reasonable and gentlemanly while being jumped on by all and sundry).
And then there was the guy who listed all the birth years of those who signed the petition, thus establishing that it was just a bunch of “dinosaurs.” Heh. Nothing offensive there.
Summation: I am not, at this point, signing the petition, because my only objection to SFWA’s policy is from my gut (that “Orwellian chill” I mentioned earlier), not from rational belief; and because I feel considerable sympathy for people who were offended by some things in the Bulletin; and because I recognize that the SFWA president and the board had to do something, and I’m not convinced that there was anything better they could have done; and because, in spite of my comments above about free speech, I’m not convinced that this is a free speech issue.
But the irrationality and personal attacks by many of those opposed to the petition both disgust me and make me deeply suspicious of their motives in all of this.