My opening remarks at Fourth Street Fantasy Convention

This last weekend Fourth Street Fantasy Convention took place.  At the beginning I made an opening statement that has generated discussion, dispute, and even some hard feelings. I have exactly no interest in perpetuating one of those idiotic feuds or convention brawls that plague the science fiction community like aphids on tomato plants, but as the discussion is continuing in various places, it seems appropriate to permit those discussing it to have the text at hand.   Though these conversations often, alas, degenerate into personal attacks, I am hopeful that the issues themselves will receive some discussion.  For those of us who love fantasy fiction, and want there to be better fantasy fiction, it should be obvious that, at least, the issues are important.

(The closing statement, which addresses the same issues from another, perhaps opposite perspective, was delivered by Scott Lynch and can be found here.)

There are two  points I want to make about my remarks:
1) I thoughtlessly permitted my statement to be interpreted as coming from the Fourth Street Board, rather than being my own opinion.  That was a mistake and I regret it, and I apologize to the board and membership for that confusion.
2) I stand by what I said.


Fourth Street Fantasy Convention is not a safe space. On the contrary, it is a very unsafe space. Of course, it ought to be safe in the sense of everyone feeling physically safe, and in the sense that there should be no unwanted harassment, and it should be free of personal attacks of any kind. But other than that, it is not safe.

Your beliefs about writing, and my beliefs about writing, and what is good, and how to make it good, should be sufficiently challenged to make us uncomfortable.

The interaction of art and politics is getting more and more in our faces. Whether this is good or bad is beside the point (although I think it’s good); it reflects changing social conditions, intensification of conflicts. Anyone who thinks art is independent of social conditions is as hopelessly muddled as someone who thinks there is a direct, simplistic 1:1 correspondence between them.

The result of this is that political understanding, unexamined assumptions, agendas, are very much present in the art we create and thus in the discussions of that art.

If no one feels unsafe, or threatened during these discussions, we’re doing them wrong. The same is true in discussing technique, because technique, content, form, attitude toward the creation and role of art, and understanding of society, are all interconnected, and in challenging one, we are liable to find ourselves challenging another. Am I interested in turning a discussion of writing craft into a political dispute? No. I’m here to talk about craft. But I recognize that there is no clean separation, and that the one can lead to the other, and I’ll not shy away from it when it does.

If our primary goal in such discussions is to make sure everyone feels safe, then we must above all avoid the very sorts of passionate dispute this convention was created for. At that point, the convention has lost so much value that I, for one, would rather spend the weekend writing. I come to Fourth Street to have my assumptions and opinions about fantasy writing challenged and threatened; I come here to feel unsafe. If you aren’t here in order to have your assumptions and opinions challenged, then one of us is at the wrong convention.

If no one feels unsafe, we’re wasting our time here.

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122 thoughts on “My opening remarks at Fourth Street Fantasy Convention”

  1. I really feel (and I think I said, that night at the bar) that if someone had had a chance to copy-edit, all ambiguity could have been removed. “Challenged” in place of “threatened,” and “a place where our beliefs and assumptions go unquestioned” instead of “safe space,” as safe space is most often used to specifically indicate a space where one will not be harassed. For “safe” in other places, sub “comfortable.”

    With those changes or something like them made, I think it’s a statement I’d be 100% behind. I knew what you meant because I know you, but if a stranger on the con stage had used the same words, I would have concluded that person was giving official cover to harassment, whether knowingly or not, & probably walked out of the con.

    I’m sad there didn’t get to be a public, clarifying conversation at greater length where the clarifications had a chance to get made, & I’m still outraged that someone contacted your editor over it.

    I’m interested in why you think the closing statement was an opposite perspective; it sounded to me like the same sentiment, worded differently.

  2. I understand your position, and it isn’t unreasonable. The trouble is, we have never had (what I consider) important discussions shut down because they were “challenging.” It was exactly on the basis of keeping Fourth Street a “safe space” that these discussions were squelched. Therefore, changing those terms would have missed the point of the address.

  3. Hm. This is strange to me, because ‘safe space,’ as explicitly and originally defined by many different sources, refers specifically to a place that stands against hate speech and harassment. As a result, I am not sure how to word what you had to say (if it is different than Scott’s Closing Statement), without necessarily condoning harassment (intentionally or not) by decrying safe spaces.

  4. In practice, those enforcing the safe speech can define what hate speech is, and there are topics about literature where difference of opinion is defined as hate speech, or, more precisely, as making people feel unsafe, and on that basis has been shut down. This has, in fact, happened, and has been happening more often. This year I reached the point where I felt I needed to act (or, really, where I felt I should have acted years ago).

  5. Hm. I haven’t seen this happen at 4th Street myself, but I can certainly believe it may have. Whether I’d regard this as a bug or a feature would have to depend on the details, and on discussion with the people who felt unsafe as to why. I think it’s hard to responsibly discuss what boundaries are appropriate without a degree of surety about what the boundaries are protecting against and why, and that discussion has to include the people ostensibly being protected. At the moment, this is the only context I’ve had as to those discussions at 4th Street.

    I want to note that I in no way doubt your good faith in any part of this, only your clarity of expression.

  6. I understand; I feel the same about those with whom I disagree. This is not a case of absolute right or wrong, it is a matter of which trade-offs one wants for a given convention. With Fourth Street, I have strong opinions on which way those trade-offs should go. If I lose (as seems to be happening) then so be it. But I have to try.

    If that’s too abstract to be meaningful I can fill it in a bit.

  7. One of my earliest exposures to the full spectrum of genre fiction was Harlan Elison’s “Dangerous Visions” collection. Which is to say; most of my own fan experience causes me to have no issues whatsoever with these statements. I come here to learn and share; I have no interest is keeping my mind safe. Offend me, go ahead, you have my permission.

  8. skxb, I agree completely with your position on this.

    The corollary is that sooner or later someone will be offended by something someone says. That’s life. This isn’t kindergarten.

  9. No, I have a big enough baseline of conversation with you that (I think) what you’re saying’s clear to me. One of the reasons I’ve felt the need to speak up here and on Facebook is that I have a fairly moderate position.

    I do not want anyone to fear voicing dissent; I want everyone to be challenged, no-one to be threatened or harassed, everyone to be safe. It’s important to me that, inasmuch as is possible, nobody walks away from this feeling they don’t have a place or a voice at 4th Street. How many of these things can be successfully juggled is a delicate question, & all of us need to be mindful that we may be dropping balls.

    I’m very much interested in (here or elsewhere, now or in the future) hearing more about what conversations have been shut down in the past, and continuing to discover what balances are possible.

  10. I am just going to slide by to say I see where you’re coming from, I firmly disagree with your approach, and I would be happy to talk about it over a glass of whiskey sometime not-on-the-internet.

  11. Doylist, I was surprised that when Steve read his speech at opening ceremonies (which I missed), no one noticed that his third line explicitly rejects a common misunderstanding of his meaning: “Of course, it ought to be safe in the sense of everyone feeling physically safe, and in the sense that there should be no unwanted harassment, and it should be free of personal attacks of any kind.”

    But now I’m croggled. People can read the speech at their own speed and still not notice that?

    Okay, obviously, they can. But I’m croggled.

    I continue to have trouble understanding whether people fail to recognize that Steve used a metaphor, or if it’s that the metaphor broke a taboo. I hope there’s a third possibility, but I still can’t see it.

  12. I noticed, then and now. But given what the term safe space means, I still find the disclaimer and the statement which precedes it contradictory rather than clarifying. And short, declarative statements are significantly more dramatic and attention-getting. First lines are important for a reason.

    When someone says something which shocks or alarms you, there’s often a physical sensation of numbness. It would not at all surprise me if many people, at the initial statement which they read in the simplest and literal sense, *did* miss the disclaimer. If the emphasis was meant to be on the disclaimer, it should have come first.

  13. And given how many people have explained to you that they understood the metaphor and still found the statement unacceptable, Will, I’m not so sure you ought to be challenging anyone else’s reading comprehension at this point.

  14. doylist, yes, I realize there’s something wrong my reading comprehension because I read Steve’s actual words while his critics read what they inferred.

    I am increasingly convinced the problem is these words are taboo and may not be used as metaphors any more.

  15. I find the term safe space completely distasteful. It implies either some other place is acceptably unsafe, or any form of disagreement or discomfort is somehow to be avoided. Everywhere should be safe from physical harm or harassment. No public discussion should be free of discomfort or discourse. Writers, I always thought had to have thick skin, get used to criticism and rejection. If you want to be free of discomfort, you really don’t want to be a writer, nor should you try to be a writer.

  16. doylist, do you think “Of course, it ought to be safe in the sense of everyone feeling physically safe, and in the sense that there should be no unwanted harassment, and it should be free of personal attacks of any kind” does not mean the following?

    1. Everyone should feel physically safe.
    2. There should be no unwanted harassment.
    3. There should be no personal attacks of any kind.

  17. Will, since you are well aware that is not what I (or anyone else) is disputing, and you are completely disregarding and not replying to any assertions to the contrary, I am going to stop engaging with you. If you would care to respond to the explanations you have received, from me or anyone else, even if only to disagree with them, I will be perfectly willing to debate or discuss further, but you have not addressed a single word of my explanations so far. I answered many of your previous questions; it seems only fair to expect that you answer mine.

  18. I don’t go to Fourth Street (I live in Australia, and the cost is prohibitive) but this kerfuffle ended up on my Facebook. I found it interesting because a) I love your books, Steven; and b) outside of your books, this is the first thing I’ve agreed wholehearted with you about. In general I’m almost completely opposed to your views on politics, religion–pretty much anything I’ve seen you voice an opinion on.

    Regardless of my opinion on your opinions, I feel very strongly that you (and anyone else) should be able to express those opinions without being shut down. Especially in a setting where such discussion is (supposedly) encouraged. Unfortunately, more and more discussion is being allowed only if you agree with the majority–another reason I don’t go to cons, because I tend to speak out when I don’t agree with things.

    And regardless of any of the above, I’m honestly baffled as to how anyone could misinterpret the above speech, or in any way think it condones or leads to hate speech. It’s reasoned, well laid out, and extremely clear. If in your discussions about important things, you don’t feel threatened, you’re not discussing with all your heart. The most important changes in my life have been brought about by being threatened with new ideas that made me hugely uncomfortable.

    And in terms of discussion, I have a friend who is bi, feminist, left-leaning, etc (myself almost the opposite, Christian, straight, right-leaning) and the discussions we have are the most interesting, difficult, and uncomfortable conversations. Neither of us will ever convince the other that our position is the correct one–but we’re having conversations and challenging each other. If either of us shut down the conversation because we felt threatened, we’d miss all the common ground and unexpected meeting points there are for us to find.

    Sorry for the screed: TLDR version: I really respect your attitude and this speech, and it’s great to see someone take a stand for this thing, because I’ve seen too many people shouted down when their voices didn’t swell in the exact same melody and rhythm as everyone else for ‘safe spaces’. This is why we have harmony; you need it to make a complete song.

  19. This doesn’t surprise me. No one is listening beyond the first statement. No one is looking for agreement. I’ve been blogging since 1981 and ran bulletin board systems back then. Trolls were out then too, just not in the numbers as they are today. We no longer want to live together. We want to live apart, in our own little world, with none of the downside that reality inflicts upon our individual fantasy.

    Semantics aside, your premise – wanting to be challenged, to understand, to grow – is rejected by most. I commend you for your values, but outside a TED talk, all you will do is light a fire and watch your argument be pecked to death by anti-intellectual vultures.

    Me, I don’t give a shit if you agree or not, so please explain in detail why I’m completely wrong and point out all the grammatical errors I’ve made. Bonus points for the best trolling. Enjoy the circle jerk.

  20. doylist, I try to read what people actually say, and I recommend that you try to do the same. I think this statement of yours is very true: “I still find the disclaimer and the statement which precedes it contradictory rather than clarifying.” I assure you it is not contradictory, but I do not doubt that you think it is.

    You seem to be implying that my disagreement here must come from ulterior motives when you claim I am “well aware that is not what [you] (or anyone else) is disputing”, but as Steve will assure, I’m a Dzur.

    Though I have all the shortcomings of a Dzur, I am capable of recognizing taboos, so I will tread more warily around one that is so powerful it makes people unable to grasp explicit statements like “Of course, it ought to be safe in the sense of everyone feeling physically safe, and in the sense that there should be no unwanted harassment, and it should be free of personal attacks of any kind.”

    Cognitive dissonance is mighty.

  21. “I come here to learn and share; I have no interest is keeping my mind safe. Offend me, go ahead, you have my permission.” —Mark Wyman

    Quoted here for excellence. Do you mind if I share it on Twitter and Facebook? Normally I freely share things that have been shared in public spaces, but there are people who may take offense, so I’d completely understand if you’d rather I didn’t.

  22. Doylist, I don’t doubt that either. It may be we suffer equally from cognitive dissonance; you struggle with Steve’s third sentence and I struggle with the idea that something other than a tribal taboo may explain the uproar over his call for discussing unsafe ideas in a safe environment.

  23. Steve, I have no problem with any part of your speech. I think the intro is appropriately startling, and the overall message seems to me clear and well-reasoned. I’m sorry it was not well-received. It reminds me of the controversy a few years ago when some hapless politician was castigated for (correctly) using the word “niggardly.”
    Speaking as a bit of an outsider (or so I style myself) who has attended three previous 4th Street cons, the recent emphasis at cons and in academia on “safe (intellectual) spaces” strikes me as over-amped and rather brittle, and serves to stifle rather than encourage the exchange of ideas. I see this happening in the kidlit world too, alas.
    My response, mostly, is to disengage, to keep my mouth shut, and to avoid controversial topics. One voice quashed. I’m chiming in here only because I admire your willingness to poke the bear. I’m the guy standing at the back of the crowd cheering (quietly, tentatively, fearfully) you on, and hoping the bear doesn’t eat you.

  24. I’m wondering if there isn’t an elephant in the room. Namely, the assumption that there are a lot of emotionally damaged people involved here and that they need to be treated as “special” because they cannot handle open interactions. Thus the notion of safe spaces and trigger words and I get to define what they are and you don’t.

    I personally would rather hear from someone, who needs to be protected, explain what bothers them, than from a SJW who has appointed themselves as a protector.

    I don’t want to deliberately offend someone, but this thinking can easily get out of hand. It is also asymmetric, where I am supposed to care about offending their feelings. At the same time, there is no reciprocal responsibility to care about offending my feelings.

    This implies that the SJW believes that the ofendees are incapable of defending themselves, so the SJW has to do it for them. This seems pretty demeaning to the very people the SJW claims to protect.

    It is possible that writers as a group tend to include more emotionally damaged people than other professions, but I don’t know. There are lots of damaged people out there and most seem to survive OK.

    This is a very complex issue. I personally lean toward freedom of speech. My very liberal sister in law is a History Professor. She starts the semester saying, ‘this subject matter will offend some people and contain trigger words. You are adults, you need to learn to deal with this. I will not be giving trigger warnings or dispensation to not learn the subject matter.’

  25. Pete, keeping your head down is wise. There’s a culture war going on, and the neo-McCarthyites are especially strong in publishing because it’s a place where privilege in the classic sense of the word and academia intersect.

    David, they have a term for the thing you’re describing: white-knighting. It’s bad when other people do it, good when they do. But they don’t call it that when they do it—then they say they’re using their privilege for people they think are powerless to speak, who are usually people they haven’t listened to. It’s why, for example, they think Native American is the proper term, even though many American Indians don’t like the name and most aren’t particularly concerned about the names English-speakers come up with for them as a group because what matters most is their tribal name.

  26. David, the presumption that the people protesting are different than the people being targeted for harassment is incorrect.

    White-knighting is speaking up in place of the targeted population, and is bad when anyone does it. When people who are targeted speak up, and others defend them – that’s basic solidarity.

  27. bckinney: With a good man it is a pleasure to have a good argument.

    Pete: Thank you; that comment means a lot to me. It’s pretty much what I was going for.

  28. With all due respect, Will, I believe you (and some others) are over-simplifying the problem. Let’s take an event that actually happened. There was a discussion of cultural appropriation some years ago, and when I came out against the concept–ie, saying the entire notion is pro-capitalist and anti-art and utterly reactionary–I was shut down on the basis that my position either could be or was (I don’t recall) interpreted as defending racism, and made some people feel unsafe. The point was not that they WERE unsafe, the point was they felt, or may have felt unsafe.

    The issue is not as simple as, “That’s horrible, they’re shutting down opinions!” The better question is, what sort of place do we want Fourth Street to be? Do we want a place where no one has to face anything that might be interpreted as permitting or excusing racism, or do we want a place where everyone there can feel free to fully exchange ideas even if someone might interpret it as permitting or excusing racism?

    The former is better for certain kinds of community building–see Wiscon for an example–that has considerable value. The latter is better for the sorts of discussion that are of the most value to me and various others. If community is the primary goal, I believe Fourth Street has made the right choice in this day and age. It is not the choice I wanted, therefore I took steps to change it. Too little, too late, I think.

    I guess I’m saying: I was right to do what I could to attempt to change things; and they were also right to say, “No, that isn’t what we want to be.” Where do we go from here? I don’t know. It remains an excellent convention.

  29. doylist, I was not talking about harassment. Using a word somebody doesn’t like in an appropriate context is not harassment. Also, harassment can be accomplished quite well using only politically correct words.

  30. skzb, I agree that cultural appropriation is a perverse concept. It is not clear to me how it benefits in any way the culture that is supposed to have been appropriated. If anything, it harms the culture by putting up barriers between people and cultures.

  31. That last comment was very thought-provoking and fair, Steve; thank you for saying it. (And also for posting the remarks, since I was in a goddamn airport shuttle during opening ceremonies and saw nothing except for ominous tweets.)

  32. kinda reminds me of when colleges shut down a speaker because a group is offended. so much for free speech, understanding others, intelligent discourse or having your assumptions challenged. everyone gets a participation trophy and a cookie.

  33. Steve, I fully support everyone’s right to create echo chambers—there are times when it’s appropriate. I’m just sorry to see a literary convention take that path. I’ve always thought writers and readers should be the ones who try hardest to understand what people with different beliefs are saying.

  34. Will Shetterly, the correct term for Native Americans is First Nations People. That acknowledges the fact that as a whole there are many tribal names that were here long before white people pushed white culture onto them.

  35. Steve, I’ve attended exactly 2 cons, with 4th Street 2017 the second. The first was in 1993 in Buffalo. One of the panel’s description for the Buffalo con was centered around whether SF/F needed more religious figures like the priest in Connie Willis’ Domesday Book. After a twenty minute diversion that went down a rabbit hole that had nothing do do with the description of the panel, I spoke up from the audience saying I thought Connie Willis had done a good job portraying the priest and that I’d like to see more of the same in other SF/F books.The ensuing discussion quickly became a free-for-all about how intolerant Christians are. After that, it quickly devolved down to basically a Hit List for all things Christian.

    I was stunned. I experienced people treating me with their own prejudice, the type of prejudice they were accusing Christians of having towards them. I wouldn’t have spoken up at all if I’d realized the room was packed with people who hated Christians. The only person who was kind and tried to steer the conversation away from hate rhetoric was Nancy Kress.

    I left after that panel and never went back to another con. I decided that if that was what cons were like I wanted nothing to do with them ever again. If I hadn’t been encouraged by you and others at VP to attend 4th Street, I wouldn’t have.

    So for me, I’d rather have a place of community, a place where I will never have to experience what I experienced in Buffalo, i.e., a safe place.

    I came away from 4th Street with several new story ideas, found several panels intellectually stimulating and had a great time with old friends and making new ones. It was a good fit for me. It wouldn’t have been if I’d been challenged like I was in Buffalo.

  36. Steve, because stories change as they are told, there is one person and may be more saying the speech here is incomplete. Did you add any impromptu remarks or did you stick to the text? Emma’s impression is that you read this speech, answered a few questions, then sat down when Alex told you to.

    Some of this is inevitable, given the faulty nature of memory and the unreliability of eyewitnesses, of course. But is your memory that what you read was what’s here?

  37. Will: Yeah, me too.

    Will: My memory is that I stuck to the text as well as one can when using a text for notes rather than reading from it. I think it was pretty close, and I don’t recall adding anything.

  38. scallywag195: I’m sorry, bashing Christian-bashers isn’t permitted here…er…wait. Never mind. Seriously, thank you letting me know how things look from your perspective. And from my perspective you make a strong and important point: However much Fourth Street isn’t the convention it used to be, or that I wish it still were, it remains an outstanding convention that has great value for a lot of people.

  39. The idea that any of this could be taken to be offensive is scary. More than that, it’s deeply alienating to me. As a non-American, transcultural individual who writes in English, I used to look forward to some day turning from game writing to also writing novels (I’ve been working on one for a decade or so; it’s complicated and I have so much other writing work that writing keeps me from writing). Now the idea of having to join an environment where any deviation from the frankly racist, sexist and frequently deeply imperialist ideology of American liberalism is utterly taboo, where the whiff of Marxism turns you into a rape-apologizing brocialist… I’ve already seen how that affected the games scene, creating a ping-pong of doom between reactionaries and outright fascists, and if anything, it seems to be even more personal in sf/fantasy. The fascists don’t scare me because fighting fascists comes naturally to a Marxist, but that you can’t even question a segregationist concept like “appropriation” without being labelled a racist (even when you’re a foreigner, when your culture gets “appropriated” more than any other, when the obsession with division and purity would preclude your very existence) genuinely makes me feel like abandoning writing in English altogether. After all, the demand to stop appropriating is functionally identical to demanding “white culture for white people” or “English culture for English people” – it’s pretty much a huge GET OUT sign for people like me, even as the same people go on about being inclusive and loving diversity. I am not going to self-exoticize to appeal to the fans of purity and authenticity. Literally everything that makes me me is appropriated.

    Now that I have that out of the way, a comment regarding Native North American terminology: it’s not possible to get it entirely correct, because no-one entirely agrees. First Nations, however, has a very specific meaning, and can’t even be applied to all native peoples living in Canada. In the US, the most popular term (according to polls of native populations) has generally been Indian, as in the American Indian Movement. The only actually correct way of referring to an individual would be by tribe, but collective terms are very difficult. (There are also cases where even the correct term for an individual is tricky.) The long and weird legacy of colonialism.

  40. “David, the presumption that the people protesting are different than the people being targeted for harassment is incorrect.”

    And the presumption that they are different might be incorrect.

    In general, in environments where the protests come up, like 4th Street, the “people being targeted for harassment” are fairly small minorities, and the people protesting are large minorities or majorities. It’s statistically more likely for them to be different than the same.

    Unless it’s women. Or the 99%.

    The difference between “protest” and “harassment” in this context depends on whether you believe they are right.

    If they are *correct* to do it, then it shouldn’t be called harassment when they harass people who use the wrong word or the wrong concept.

    It might be better to announce that, when harassing harassers.

    “I myself am Inuit and I object to your use of the derogatory word ‘eskimo’.”

    “I myself am heterosexual and I object to your use of the derogatory word ‘straggot’.”

    “I myself am a Social Justice Warrior and I object to your use of the derogatory term ‘white knight’.”

    Of course if you call somebody a White Knight you are harassing them.

  41. A long time ago, the anthropologist Edward T Hall wrote a popular book _The Silent Language_. One of his observations was a comparison of Americans and Austrians.

    He said that often Americans will express some sort of ideal, and then they grade everybody by how close they come to the ideal. Nobody is perfect, but the people who are closer are considered better.

    But Austrian society will sort of draw a big circle. Anything is OK if it’s inside the circle, and there are severe punishments for going outside it. They tend to be relaxed and cheerful because they are all inside the circle together, where Americans are often antsy and concerned that they don’t measure up.

    An Austrian man explained it to me. Once as a schoolboy he jumped up and took an apple from a tree on his walk home. The owner saw him do it. That night his father asked him whether he stole the apple and he had to admit that he did. He was sent to the man who owned the apple, and agreed to work after school for the man until he had paid for his crime. After two weeks he had done enough. “See we are all together, snug as bugs in a rug. All happy together as long as you don’t leave the rug. If you leave it then you are alone, and nobody will stand with you. We do not steal.”

    We would do better if we were more like the Austrians. We draw the circle for what’s acceptable, or maybe we draw the circle around the unacceptable things, and we can challenge each other however we like inside the circle. Obviously we don’t want to allow actual racists, or sexists, or bankers, or polluters, or classists, or ageists to speak.

    Instead we have a competition to see who is best at avoiding any hint of being similar to racists, sexists, etc. Anybody but the very best at that game can become a target at any time.

    It makes people nervous, and ready to lash out at someone who makes a mistake because better him than me.

  42. The demand for bigotry – thanks to postmodernism, critical theory, and those whose livelihoods depend on keeping themselves and especially others victims – has now far outstripped the supply. Continuing Hall’s Austrian analogy: The boy stared lustfully at the apple wishing to steal it, walked away, told a friend of his wish and subsequent denial of it who then reported him to the owner, and the boy was punished anyway with just under two weeks of work.

    Thought crime… and even worse, thought crime without so much as a set of rules defining it. The circle’s border shrinks and oscillates according to the whims of everyone and no one, as the gaggle of outwardly well-meaning sods scramble to be holier than their neighbors.

    “Instead we have a competition to see who is best at avoiding any hint of being similar to racists, sexists, etc. Anybody but the very best at that game can become a target at any time.”

    Call this insanity what it is – a cult. Considering how widespread this is and the struggle of certain parts of ‘academia’ towards codifying rules, religion might be more accurate. I suggest the ouroboros as the symbol… or considering recent events, perhaps the evergreen.

  43. I was going to make some joking, snarky comment about how I find your opening remarks unsafe, but then there was this whole dialog on here in the comments, and I felt it would detract from them. So I wrote this instead. (:

  44. I keep intending to go to Fourth Street and the timing keeps not working. Both Steve’s and Scott’s statements seemed very similar and fine to me. I’ve always heard good things about Fourth Street. Hopefully it will continue to be energetic, fun and thought provoking.

  45. “After all, the demand to stop appropriating is functionally identical to demanding “white culture for white people” or “English culture for English people” – it’s pretty much a huge GET OUT sign for people like me, even as the same people go on about being inclusive and loving diversity.”

    It’s different. It isn’t a transitive relationship.

    The theory — which I think is partly correct — says that mass culture is like the Borg. It absorbs whatever it can commodify. There’s money in predicting what the next fad will be. There’s more money in creating the next fad. Any fad that can be copied from other cultures is fair game.

    Saying that foreigners shouldn’t be allowed to be exploited by mass culture by being fed it, is not at all the same as saying that mass culture should not be allowed to exploit foreigners by feeding their culture to us.

    Your kid’s toybox might have a plastic boomerang copied from australia and a grass finger trap copied from china and a rubber bolas copied from argentina. Plus a hula hoop, a football, a badminton set, etc.

    If you don’t clean out your closet you might have a Nehru jacket that you don’t wear any more, a bolo tie that you don’t wear any more, bell-bottom pants that you don’t wear any more, a daishiki that you don’t wear any more, possibly a Jesus scarf. Maybe a Yucatan hammock, handmade by a man in a Mexican jail. Etc.

    Mass culture turns everything into monetized fads and then discards them.

    Pretty much every American marinates in mass culture most of each day. If you came here from Greece and you want some spanakopita you probably can’t spend a half hour preparing it and an hour waiting for it to cook. You will buy it frozen from mass culture.

    Mass culture will monetize you when it’s your turn in the barrel. It will romanticize Greeks — wise, crafty, extra good at invective, people who really know how to live life, etc. Lots of people will want to sit down with you and a bottle of Metaxa and listen to you talk about the Trojan War. If you get upset that so many of them ask you to be their guru and you start calling them shit-gargling ass-weevils, they will be charmed by your mastery of invective.

    It’s understandable that lots of people want somebody to be protected from this. The chthonic people, who wear vraka and karagouna, eat their trahana and paximadia, who get by without electricity and never hear pop music, who put olive oil in their hair and eat real lamb that they raised themselves, the people who really know how to live life. It’s too late for most of us — we have no culture but mass culture. Our food comes from groceries, our shoes come from shoe stores, etc etc etc. The idea that there’s somebody somewhere who isn’t caught, who actually has a culture…. they want it preserved.

    And of course mass culture monetizes that. They sell unspoiled native people as something particularly good, that they can make money from.

    I took a vacation in Lancaster PA last month. Amish people live there, and the entire tourist industry is about them. Early in the morning I could look out my hotel window and see a man plowing the field next door with his horse. Toward sunset somebody else was plowing that field. I thought plowing season was over. It’s possible that the hotel pays people to plow that field half the year, for the tourists. We ate in an expensive Amish restaurant, that had a horse and buggy parked in back. The more I saw, the more I hoped that the people I met dressed up as Amish selling things to tourists were regular employees with a dress code, and not actually Amish….

    The problem is, we can’t save much by insisting that only native sell-outs get to be the ones who sell their native culture to us. And attempts to protect remnant cultures themselves become monetized and another dissonant flavor-of-the-month in mass culture.

  46. “It’s understandable that lots of people want somebody to be protected from this.”

    No, it’s not. You’re privileging the theorists over the people. Most people are flattered when strangers in other cultures imitate them, so long as the imitation is clearly flattering, as it is when they appropriate clothes and food and art.

    When in doubt, do some googling to see if there are polls to tell you what most people think.

    What I find most offensive about the people who believe appropriation is a problem is their only solution is segregation.

  47. “What I find most offensive about the people who believe appropriation is a problem is their only solution is segregation.” -Will

    Cannot agree more. Mass culture is a direct consequence of America’s “melting pot”… they’re trying to have it both ways, diversity while maintaining separation of cultures, and the only way to attempt that juggle is through segregation.

    I find it strange that so many of those who cry appropriation think of culture – something of infinite supply which comes through inheritance – as something to be privately owned and protected from ‘theft’ will also stridently call for redistribution of property – something finite which comes through labor.

  48. Steve, I love your books and evangelize to everyone in fandom, but you may be having a failure of empathy here.

    There’s a parallel to the All Lives Matter fallacy here that might be illustrative. Women are telling us that they do NOT feel physically or psychologically safe at cons, and those feelings are legitimate and well-founded. When you say “of course no one should be harassed or feel unsafe but cons shouldn’t be a safe space” it is similarly blind to context to saying “of course black people shouldn’t be killed by police, but no one should be killed by police.” You’re minimizing a specific and urgent concern by subsuming it in a larger and less specific issue, and people are telling you with their words that to them it sounds like you’re saying “I don’t care that you feel unsafe.”

    Now, I understand that that’s not what you said, and I believe that you are a good man. But who cares? Language is not purely semantic content, it’s a social construct. We’re not compilers, we’re apes, and everything we do exists entirely within social context. When the option to say “I’m sorry, that was not my intent, here’s what I meant to convey” exists, responding to “your words made me feel bad” with “I stand by them” communicates “I wanted to make you feel bad.” I’m not telling you what you can say- say whatever you want, of course. I’m just telling you that people get to feel how they feel about what you said, and it’s not fair to say “but my syntax!”

  49. “No, it’s not. You’re privileging the theorists over the people.”

    If you accept that mass culture is fundamentally evil, then it is not so important whether potential victims realize how bad it is when it offers them addictive drugs etc.

    If we hope to save somebody’s culture from the swamp of mass-market culture, it would have to be somebody’s culture that has not already been engulfed by it.

    I don’t see that this is a bad goal. The trouble is, I also don’t see how to do it. I don’t see that the people who want to help keep the bad situation from getting worse have any idea how to get the results they want.

    It looks like another lost cause, as much as the Confederacy.

    Also, SJWs who take a close look at the cultures they want to protect are likely to get upset that those cultures typically have strong elements of sexism, racism, ageism, etc etc etc. The same people who want to protect other cultures tend not to speak out in favor of arab muslim cultures that are intensely sexist and do FGM, slavery, etc. Most of the others are also bad, if you look at them with a critical SJW eye.

  50. There seems to be some misunderstanding of words going on (I’m guilty too). When skzb says the con should be “unsafe”, he isn’t talking about threatening people. He made it clear that “ideas” need to be challenged. Hopefully we are capable of hearing an idea without feeling physically threatened by it. If we can’t, then maybe the problem is ours, not the speaker.

    There are also real threats. But that is a different issue.

  51. “I’m just telling you that people get to feel how they feel about what you said, and it’s not fair to say “but my syntax!””

    Isaiah, the first part of your sentence is one of those things people say, apparently not noticing that no one has ever said people don’t get to feel how they feel.

    But as for the second, do we really want to start damning people because of what a listener felt rather than what a writer wrote?

  52. Of course a convention is not a place to go rock climbing or jump out of airplanes, or duel with real swords.

    But what are you, really? You will still be you if you lose a leg, or an eye, or even a jaw.

    But if you became a dedicated Randite, who constantly told people the right way to live according to Ayn Rand’s philosophy, would it still be you?

    If you become a dedicated Scientologist, putting as much money as you could make into the org and continually proselytizing business contacts and people you meet on mass transit to join, would it still be you?

    Well, but the person you have become is different from who you were in high school, say. I remember analysing various situations according to Rand and according to Eric Hoffer, the longshoreman philosopher. I don’t remember what he said but I remember judging everything by his rules. I supported the Vietnam war because if we didn’t stand together the communists would win, and we had to trust the generals who really knew what was going on, they were the ones who had the secret information.

    If I met my then self I’d probably want to punch his teeth in. And I wouldn’t trust him not to punch my own teeth in.

    Anyway, people want to keep on being the people they are. When you get them to doubt the ideas they think are them, you are getting them to doubt themselves.

    That probably feels more dangerous than jumping out of an airplane.

    Maybe it’s important that people not be subjected to more of that than they can handle. When you have a place where people share dangerous ideas, maybe there ought to be a custom that anybody who feels too unsettled or too squicked can just back off without it meaning they lose etc.

    When you’re exploring dangerous ideas, there’s no shame in backing off and getting more prepared, and approach them later.

  53. short response: well, yeah
    You avoided one of my own strongest bugbears, ALL and ONLY. It seems pretty obvious that art cannot be entirely separate from the culture in which it was created, and so must have traces of the culture, whether positive or negative images. But ALL art is not ONLY political, not even political art. Nor is “non-political” art necessarily non-political.

    Will, you can wave flaming railroad flares in each hand and a couple of people in the audience will still be in the dark.

    And as for the “cultural appropriation” digression, I think one of the main problems is a lack of complexity and nuance. I’m Jewish. All you people raised in Christian culture culturally appropriated us. And badly.*
    *(The punchline of an entirely different joke.)

  54. “you can wave flaming railroad flares in each hand and a couple of people in the audience will still be in the dark.”


    As for appropriating, Jews appropriated monotheism from the Zoroastrians. The appropriation turtles go all the way down.

    What is this “complexity and nuance” you speak of?

  55. “But as for the second, do we really want to start damning people because of what a listener felt rather than what a writer wrote?”

    We don’t want to.

    But in fact we do, a lot.

    I think that’s what he’s saying.

    “I’m just telling you that people get to feel how they feel about what you said”

    They’re going to do it whether we like it or not. That’s how it is. Not that anybody said they wouldn’t. But in fact they will.

    “it’s not fair to say “but my syntax!”

    I don’t know whether it’s fair or not, but it won’t do much good. They will respond to what they feel and not to what they should have heard or read.

    It seems like only a few years ago that the SFWA had a big uproar because some old SF writers tried to write about the old days, and they used some vaguely sexist words to describe a definitely sexist era. A loud group practically wanted to throw them out of SFWA for being such horrible people. They didn’t think they were horrible people and neither did the women who lived through those times with them, but the counter-argument was that people who had sexist ideas while living in a sexist society were horrible people who should not have a voice.

    As all that gets worse, it could happen to you.

  56. Will, go ask any woman chosen at random if she’s been told not to feel the way she feels.

    For your second point, it’s a weird leap to go from “Hey, Steve, I like you a lot and I think you’re a good guy but I think you’re wrong here” to “damning people.” But let’s get specific.

    1. Women have been asking for more attention to their safety at cons because of assaults and harrassment.

    2. A common response to these requests from guys who either feel that their historically masculine domain is being invaded or who feel defensive about their own questionable behavior has been to mock requests for “safe spaces” as frivolous complaints from SJWs.

    3. Steve, in an attempt at a provocative but insightful metaphor, also mocked the idea of safe spaces. Yes, he wasn’t talking about that specific kind of safe space, and yes, he followed up with a non-specific disclaimer about safety from harrassment, but by using the same rhetorical technique as those who make women feel unsafe he made women feel unsafe. Especially since Steve is admired and respected in the community (myself included!).

    4. He should have known better. This dynamic is not a secret, and part of an author’s job and a speaker’s job is to know his or her audience.

    5. This does not make Steve bad. We’ve all made boneheaded mistakes, and we’ve all had a metaphor not land. One reasonable way to respond when someone says “hey, that made me feel bad!” is to say “oops, that’s not what I meant! Let me try again.”

    6. Where it does stray into “c’mon, dude. Really?” territory is where instead of saying “shoot, I misread the situation,” you say “that’s not what I said- y’all need to read better.” We’re not bad at reading. We can see what he said, we see the disclaimer, and it came off as jerky because of context that is real and has real consequences.

    Does any of this make sense to you? I don’t think anyone thinks Steve wants women to feel unsafe, but I do think he’s misjudged this situation and is kind of being a jerk about it. Which, again, none of us are immune to. But, you know… maybe when people tell you “hey, you made me feel shitty” believe them and say you’re sorry whether or not you think they should feel that way. Then approach your point from a different direction.

  57. Jonah, it’s true. In witch-hunting time, no one gives a damn what an old woman said or did. It’s all about the girls who insist she tormented them.

  58. Oh, hey, he updated! Good job, Steve. I knew your heart was in the right place.

  59. This kerfluffle could all have been easily avoided by admitting the existence of context around the term “safe space” and focusing on challenging one’s assumptions about the best way to write fantasy. You could have started with the second paragraph and left out all the references to politics and saved us all a whole heap of trouble.

    I do understand the way that “good writing” can get twisted up in politics but I don’t think this speech did a good job of analyzing that connection, which is a lot of what led to people being upset, outside of the poor choice of metaphor.

  60. Secondly and separately in response to the comment thread, calling the concept of cultural appropriation pro-capitalist is pretty ridiculous given that half the point of the concept is to critique earning social and economic capital by exploiting a marginalized culture to which one does not belong.

  61. Isaiah, I asked the nearest woman. Emma says she thinks all people have been told not to feel the way they feel. And she adds, “How many small children have been told to stop crying and be a man?” That’s certainly true in my case.

    I do see the confusion though: I meant no one *in the current discussion* has ever told… But I was writing hastily there. I haven’t seen it, but maybe someone has.

    And I did not mean you were damning Steve. I meant the principle that you seem to be espousing is the logic of witch hunters: to them, what a witch actually said is irrelevant when it’s time to burn one.

    1. Is anyone denying that?

    2. Steve’s third line was “Of course, it ought to be safe in the sense of everyone feeling physically safe, and in the sense that there should be no unwanted harassment, and it should be free of personal attacks of any kind.” Does that seem like mocking?

    3. Did you sincerely think Steve was saying he was going to prey on women at 4th Street? Emma was there. She did not think that.

    4. “He should have known better.” Which is to say he should have understood that the words are taboo? Why should he have known what he did not know?

    5. He did not get the opportunity to do that because the safety co-ordinator shut him down. Emma had a comment on that: ” Alex as Safety Coordinator, would have been an excellent person to ask those clarifying questions and be a calming, mediating​ influence. Instead she raised her voice and issued an ultimatum–behavior warned against in conflict resolution training as likely to escalate the situation. Instead of diffusing the situation, she increased the feeling that convention attendees were at risk.”

    6. People keep saying they’re good at reading, and yet they misunderstand what Steve said. I first thought this meant they did not understand that it was a metaphor. Now I think the metaphor was taboo.

    And how do you think he’s being a jerk about this? By not agreeing with the people who insist he said something he didn’t say?

  62. Will, it was a very poor choice of metaphor. Very poor. As I said in my comment above, he could have avoided this by not trying to be too clever. “The failure mode of clever is asshole.” after all.

    I’m not saying Steve is a shitty person, I’m just saying I think he screwed up in this specific instance.

  63. What is the metaphor people are talking about? The “aphids on the tomato plants”? If so, why is that so horrible?

  64. It’s the use of “safe space” that’s in question. The first people talking about this were saying they felt he was literally threatening them when he said, “Fourth Street Fantasy Convention is not a safe space. On the contrary, it is a very unsafe space.”

    But now they say they understood it was a metaphor, but they still felt threatened.

  65. “Secondly and separately in response to the comment thread, calling the concept of cultural appropriation pro-capitalist is pretty ridiculous given that half the point of the concept is to critique earning social and economic capital by exploiting a marginalized culture to which one does not belong.” -atsiko

    I assume you’re referring to my comment. I implicitly called it anti-socialist, which does not necessitate pro-capitalist. I’ll explicitly state now: as far as I’m concerned, it’s anti both.

    The concept of cultural appropriation hinges on the farce that culture can be given and taken like goods or money… like there’s a finite amount of it, only to be used by those who ‘earned’ it by birthright. People can be exploited and marginalized, but culture? What loss can happen to a concept?

    One of the greatest things about the U.S. is the “appropriation” of culture. Think of what the soundscape of music today would be, for example, if black people hadn’t been allowed to play ‘white’ music and vice versa. The mixing and blending of culture, experimenting, finding what works and what doesn’t makes America so amazing, resulting in more connection and less racism, yet you and those like you seem to agree with white supremacists in that cultures should stick with those who ‘inherit’ it.

    A couple quips on what happened to the two ladies who started a burrito truck in Portland: “These privileged white women appropriated Mexican culture, oppressing POCs and deserved to be shut down” and “These lily ladies have been infected by disgusting non white culture and were rightly prevented from spreading it”. Six of one, as far as I’m concerned.

    Also, does language count? Do we need to send all French loanwords back over the ocean? What about Christmas, stolen from the pagans? Shall the U.S. set fire to all its okra crops, the Italians their tomatoes? Rename Michigan to ‘Biglake’?

    When I think of people railing against cultural appropriation, I see a horde of busybodies waddling up to Buddy Rich and smacking the drumsticks out of his hand for exploiting African rhythms, then accosting Miles Davis and slapping the white man’s trumpet out of his mouth.

  66. Let White People Appropriate Mexican Food—Mexicans Do It to Ourselves All the Time:

    I’ve been meaning to trace the history of cultural appropriation. All I know for sure is it was a nonjudgmental term in anthropology that was appropriated by identitarians who insisted it was bad thing. My suspicion is the Critical Race Theory crowd appropriated it. They tended to be anti-socialist or completely indifferent to socialism.

  67. Good link, Will, and thanks (though I would argue that cross-cultural exchange in music is at least as great as in food).

  68. First, I was responding to a comment by @skzb. My bad for not using proper attribution.

    Second, your comment kind of ignores one of the key points of cultural appropriation, being that it involves a power dynamic where the appropriator has greater social power than the culture being appropriated. Third, cultural exchange and appropriation are different. But as I’ve already had this debate with will numerous times, I’m not gonna get further into than that.

    For the record, I am neither anti-socialist nor indifferent to socialism, as Will perhaps can attest.

  69. Atsiko, I don’t mean everyone who has adopted the segregationist approach to cultural appropriation has problems with socialism. I was only talking about its historical roots. Some young socialists have adopted the theory thinking people in other cultures care more about cultural appropriation than they do.

  70. Oh, that’s my misread of your comment, sorry.

    On the second topic, many people outside of mainstream culture do care about it. Not all of them, certainly. Just like not all women agree on what constitutes sexism.

  71. Nathan S — “I assume you’re referring to my comment.”

    No, Steve explicitly said that the cultural appropriation concept is pro-capitalist and anti-art and utterly reactionary.

    When he presented that at an earlier talk, he got shut down on the basis of it being possible to interpret his comment as pro-racism.

    When he mentioned the earlier conversation he didn’t give details of the actual argument, so I don’t know whether he actually thought the concept was specifically pro-capitalist, or whether that was for him a shorthand to say it was a bad idea. (Because pro-capitalist = bad idea.) But from context it looks like the earlier discussion was about appropriation in fiction writing, and not in general.

    I think either side of the appropriation argument can be pro-capitalist, which tells me it’s orthogonal to capitalism.

    Maybe part of the problem is that we all assume capitalists will try to exploit any opportunity to make money. So they will exploit cultural appropriation, and they will also exploit attempts to prevent cultural appropriation. Attempts to stop capitalists from exploiting, turn into quantitative arguments about which way they will exploit *less*.

    “The Capitalists will sell us the rope with which we will hang them.” The assumption is that in this particular case capitalists lose by their attempts to exploit the revolution.

  72. I’ve said this elsewhere. “Cultural Appropriation” as a bad thing, is usually attributed to white people stealing culture from minorities. As if that somehow takes away culture from the minorities. This concept feels like a really great “shiny” idea thought up by a right wing think tank to drive a wedge between minorities and the white population. Specifically the liberal white population. It is too shiny to resist for some people.

  73. Of course the concept of appropriation is pro-capitalist: it treats culture, inherently diffuse, messy, mixed up and impure, as an ownable good available in limited amounts. It’s an even more extreme version of the logic applied to software piracy. It’s turning everything into a product.

    Even the excuse that the point supposedly is to protect people from that culture (and not to police cultural borders) comes purely in capitalist terms – the function is to protect those artists who make a living by selling a purist fantasy. And usually, to be clear, these are Americans who have some ancestral connection to that culture, not people from another country. Because people from those countries are rarely threatened by “outsiders” taking on elements of their culture; in fact, they celebrate it. In Greece, when some element of Greek culture becomes popular worldwide, it tends to make the news. As a good thing. As in hey, we’re poor and miserable and everything is shit, but at least we’re still relevant in the world. People like our stuff! If you all start loving the bouzouki, we’re not suddenly going to run out of music over here.

    And the irony is, of course, that this demand for cultural purity actually *diminishes* opportunities for artists from these countries. If certain elements of their culture become part of the global mainstream, that’s actually a chance to have an impact! It makes you more easily understood, makes what you have to offer more accessible. It builds bridges. But the anti-appropriation argument actually just has the effect of limiting “cultural authority” to the tiny minority of English or American middle-class artists who take on the role of “authentic” representative/consultant and perpetuate these rigid Maoist-style ideologies to safeguard their position.

    The people outside the US most likely to be against appropriation, i.e. against the mixing of cultures, are fascists. The people most likely to make a big deal about “their” culture are extreme conservatives. That’s what you’re supporting on a global scale when you fight against appopriation – the very worst parts of society, the equivalent of your very own white supremacists. The rest of us are deeply opposed to nationalism, to cultural chauvinism. We’re not insecure about “our” culture. We’re fighting against borders, against segregation, for unity and understanding between cultures. Cultures which, incidentally, simply cannot be ranked in some convenient hierarchy – our histories are way too messy for that.

    Why American leftists insist on supporting the extreme right, the worst enemies of the very oppressed you claim to want to help, will never make sense. We could really use your solidarity, but that would require an internationalist, transcultural perspective.

  74. Will, at first I suspected some motivated misreading on your part, but then I realized you’ve provided a perfect illustration of what I’m talking about.

    When I said “Steve, I like your work and respect you but I think you’re wrong here” you read “I have a giant pile of logs in the town square, and Steve looks like perfect kindling.” I don’t think this was because you don’t understand what I’m saying; I think it’s because you’re bringing different context to the conversation that I am. For you, the most salient context is what feels like a war on free speech, and my criticism of Steve’s speech feels to you like part of the larger assault on the free exchange of ideas. None of that is contained in the strict syntax of what I said, but it’s not wrong for you to bring your context to your understanding- language is meaningless without context.

    The most salient context for someone who has not historically felt physically safe in a particular environment, though, is his or her safety. In that context, it’s not weird for them to feel attacked regardless of Steve’s intent. In that situation it seems reasonable for Steve to apologize and take note for the future, which he did! Yay Steve! I no longer think he’s acting like a jerk.

    (Note- if you want to play “point by point argument” I’d genuinely and without rancor enjoy that. It’s a favorite game. I question the wider interest in this venue, though.)

  75. “First, I was responding to a comment by @skzb. My bad for not using proper attribution.”

    No, no, apologies for my faulty assumption.

    “Second, your comment kind of ignores one of the key points of cultural appropriation, being that it involves a power dynamic where the appropriator has greater social power than the culture being appropriated.”

    This point is only relevant if one can prove appropriation is a terrible thing to begin with. It also reinforces the white nationalist parallel – ‘white culture’ is a fine thing to export, but whites shouldn’t import anything. “Social power dynamic” I’ll have to examine in more detail, but if the unit of measurement isn’t hoarsepower*…

    “Third, cultural exchange and appropriation are different.”

    All cultural exchange starts out as appropriation, as those from one culture try aspects of the other, sometimes badly, perhaps even offensively to some. Think of those hiccups as growing pains for wider appreciation and understanding.

    Another analogy: It’s like a patent dispute where the people suing for redress are doing so on behalf of people of the same race or community as the inventor who overwhelmingly don’t agree with the action. Also there is no patent, and the inventor is centuries dead or unknown.

    *I claim that pun as mine. And that only people from the Midwest can use it.

  76. A question (it is unclear to me from any of the comments to date): Did anyone feel physically unsafe or did people presume that someone might feel physically unsafe?

  77. (Late to the party as always)

    I’m glad you posted this.

    I wasn’t going to comment, because others have already more eloquently said what I was going to. But I have to pick you up on one thing:

    “If community is the primary goal, I believe Fourth Street has made the right choice in this day and age.”

    The problem with that is the definition of community. Up until this year, I considered myself a part of the 4th Street community, and that was something I valued tremendously. Now, I might consider myself part of the intermediate writers community, or various other subsets, but I am part of 4th Street no longer. The official voices of 4th Street have made it clear that I am only welcome if I sit in the back and keep my mouth shut, and that’s no kind of “community” that I can encompass.

    If one is driving out members of the community in order to create a community, I think perhaps one is going about this community thing all wrong.

  78. Isaiah, “motivated misreading” is a new one for me, but I have noticed that people who have belief systems which they believe everyone should agree to will often use phrases like “willful misunderstanding” to suggest anyone who doesn’t agree with them must be putting additional effort, either subconsciously or deliberately, into doing that. Misreading is usually just misreading–or a failure of the writer to be clear.

    No, I did not assume anything about your statement about liking Steve and his work. I thought it was completely sincere. You were saying it in the same way the best Christian might tell a Muslim that he likes him and his work.

    You seem to be speaking for all women when you say a convention’s opening ceremonies is a place where they have “not historically felt physically safe”. There are women who were at the convention who did not feel that the Steve’s comment made them unsafe. This isn’t meant to imply that the ones who felt unsafe were wrong to feel unsafe–feelings are feelings. It’s only to note that your statement has implications which are more extreme than you may realize.

    Yes, Steve has said he’s sorry his word choices upset some of the audience. If I learned I’d used a phrase that was very upsetting to the people I was addressing, I would apologize and try to avoid it too. Few of us write to upset people emotionally. Some of us write to challenge people’s assumptions, which can upset people emotionally, but that’s not our intention, in part because we know a strong emotional response can prevent them from considering our meaning. Only the cruelest and stupidest writers want to hurt people–I add “stupidest” because that only limits your audience, which makes it harder to write in a capitalist society if you’re not a member of the privileged classes.

  79. Will: Sure, no problem. I’m sure someone will see it and add me to their list of Bad People, but I’m pretty sure you’ve linked to stuff of mine before, so I’m almost certainly already on plenty of people’s lists. Plus, you know, the whole Marxist foreigner who doesn’t have the right ideas thing. (But that this is even something to think about, that you might become a persona non grata through something so simple… that tells you a lot about how inviting a space the scifi/fantasy field has become.)

    Regarding the overall discussion, it’s very important to keep in mind that groups are not monolithic, and that the statements made by one individual may *actively contradict* the opinions, needs and desires of another. And the people speaking up the loudest are not necessarily the most oppressed or most in need of your help. In making one person feel safe, you may be alienating someone else – and I don’t mean “white cis males” here, I mean people you’d classify as marginalized/oppressed/etc.

  80. Isaiah, I believe the most important thing you said was this:

    “it’s not wrong for you to bring your context to your understanding- language is meaningless without context.”

    Conservatives very often argue that “Words have meanings” and then they spell out the meanings of the words that prove they are right and whoever they are arguing against is wrong. Not because they have observed in reality that particular consequences follow from particular beginnings, but because the very structure of the english language means that the other guy is trying to say something that cannot in fact be said.

    But in objective reality, words have many meanings. No two people ever have the same meaning for a word. I can prove this easily in my context.

    Meanings happen inside brains.
    No two functioning brains are ever in the same place.
    Therefore the meanings are different meanings and not the same meanings.

    So when people think they agree, it is due to happy accidental misunderstandings. Like successful marriages. And when people think they disagree, it is due to usually-unhappy accidental misunderstandings.

    “Steve, in an attempt at a provocative but insightful metaphor, also mocked the idea of safe spaces.”

    You asserted that you understood what he was saying.

    “He should have known better.”

    You asserted that Steve should have understood how other people would understand what he said. That they would misunderstand, and he should have known how they would misunderstand rather than the usual which would be to misunderstand their misunderstanding.

    ‘instead of saying “shoot, I misread the situation,” you say “that’s not what I said- y’all need to read better.”’

    In actual reality, everybody misunderstands everybody else every time. But when people notice there has been a misunderstanding, it is polite to say it was your fault for not saying things in a way that people would understand (which they never do) rather than saying they should have understood (which they never do).

    We are talking about who to blame for the universal misunderstanding, and it’s polite to accept all the blame yourself.

    If only you present your words more skillfully, they really will understood — this next time. Like Lucy and the football….

    “But, you know… maybe when people tell you “hey, you made me feel shitty” believe them and say you’re sorry whether or not you think they should feel that way.”

    Like Abbot and Costello. “Now look what YOU made ME do!” If they think YOU made THEM feel shitty, you can say “Hahaha, that’s what I wanted to do!” or you can say “I apologize, that isn’t what I wanted” and either way they will not understand what you are actually saying — but there are socially-conditioned responses expected, and usually the result of “I want you to feel shitty” will not be pleasant. (Unless you think you have all the power and you want to revel in it until you find out you’re mistaken.)

    Anyway, I like the way you usually said things. Like it wasn’t about what’s really true but only about making good responses to their moves, where no one is right about the meanings and nobody knows what the other guy is thinking, and still there are ways we can on average get along better versus worse. It’s just occasionally you slipped and talked like your own understanding is the truth that others don’t see.

    Will more often said or implied that he understood reality.

    “I realize there’s something wrong my reading comprehension because I read Steve’s actual words while his critics read what they inferred.”

    Like reading the actual words will reveal the true meaning!

    “I fully support everyone’s right to create echo chambers—there are times when it’s appropriate.”

    As if there’s an objective meaning for ‘appropriate’ beyond the 7 billion meanings in 7 billion brains!

    “When in doubt, do some googling to see if there are polls to tell you what most people think.”

    As if a multiple-choice answer on a poll actually reveals what someone thinks!

    “do we really want to start damning people because of what a listener felt rather than what a writer wrote?”

    As if we ever stopped! People never know what the writer meant anyway. But they hold the writer responsible if he makes them feel bad.

    “People can read the speech at their own speed and still not notice that?”

    It isn’t like there’s one meaning they will get if they read carefully. They each read in their own context, different from all others.

    When I think about this I’m tempted to stop trying to communicate. But aphasia is a symptom which often has severe social consequences….

    I myself am talking like there’s an objective reality that I understand. It probably comes out sounding conceited and condescending. Probably I ought to heavily revise this whole thing and come out with something much shorter and harder to misunderstand. But I lack the time.

  81. Jonah, you talking like there’s an objective reality is your subjective reality, so don’t worry.

    Wait, me claiming your subjective reality is talking about objective reality is subjective to me, and thus conceited and condescending in itself… Oh my, this could continue ad infinitum. It’s conceit and condescension all the way down, Baudrillard help us.

  82. David Hajicek: “This concept feels like a really great “shiny” idea thought up by a right wing think tank to drive a wedge between minorities and the white population. ”


    LizV: Thanks for jumping in. And, yeah, I over-simplified, and I recognize what you’re saying. I feel some of the same things, of course.

  83. Liz, I clicked your name and saw your public Dreamwidth post about Fourth Street that deserves more attention, even though it’s not about Steve’s speech:

    Jonas, posted it, and someone on Google+ has shared it, so you only have admirers so far.

    Nathan, I really like “It’s like a patent dispute where the people suing for redress are doing so on behalf of people of the same race or community as the inventor who overwhelmingly don’t agree with the action. Also there is no patent, and the inventor is centuries dead or unknown.

  84. Thanks, Will, that means a lot to me, and believe me when I say I greatly admire your comments regarding free speech here.

    One last thing I feel compelled to say: A group where there is no chance of anyone getting their conceptions directly challenged, their ideas snarkily rebuffed, or their emotions bruised isn’t a community, it’s a nursery. Or a cult.

  85. Jonah: Oh, yeah. I see your point. I was totally doing the thing I was talking about without realizing it. Man, communication is _hard._

  86. “Man, communication is _hard._”

    So say we all.

    Steve recently reminded me of one of my favorite writing quotes:

    “A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” ― Thomas Mann, Essays of Three Decades

    This is why it’s important to try to read charitably.

    But it’s true fandom’s gossips would have much less fun if everyone did that.

  87. I honestly do not see how anyone could construe these remarks as being about the lack of physical safety at a con, when it is so clearly about the importance of allowing ourselves to be challenged by ideas and views, and contributing (mindfully) to the challenges.

    But it is also true that when our sensibilities are inflamed, as many women’s are by experiences of abuse/intimidation, or as many people are about race, then we become hyper-sensitized and construe almost everything as an insult. If only we could take holidays from our programming – and our self-programming.

    I was considered very weird as a kid because when classmates tried to insult me I’d gaze at them as I analyzed their comments and method of delivery, and then, if I discerned any truth in their words, thanked them.

    As for changing abusive atmospheres to Safe ones, that happens, when and where it happens, on many, many levels. There is, for example, a call for the chivalry of men and boys who make it directly clear to other men and boys that they will break at least the kneecaps of anyone who bothers their sister/daughter/friend/SO/etc.

    Frankly, there is also a benefit in being able to take certain advances, even some of the crude ones, light-heartedly. To quote Smee, “In a way, it’s a sort of compliment.” Of course Hook’s reply is “I want no such compliments!” and he means it. Yet if I wish to be respected by people who have a heard time respecting what they perceive me to be, it is good practice to respect the rudimentary effort at communication the advances sometimes represent. “Thank you for the compliment,” (optional: “but I am already in a relationship”), “Back atcha!” or telling a joke can de-escalate a dicey situation. And yes, I speak from experience. On the left side, one does not wish to misread a situation as badly as Aldonza does in Man of La Mancha.

  88. Mr. Brust, after reading some of the comments on the file770 article, I’ve come to the conclusion that an ultimatum is in order – either Fourth Street is a SFF convention or it’s a group therapy session. It cannot be both. It would be terrible as either one if it tried.

    I noticed four types of people who take offense to things as innocuous as your speech, in descending order of needing empathy:

    One, people who have been actually victimized who have not come to grips with what has happened to them. These people need help, and not help that comes from a large gathering of any type of people but personal, professional help.

    Two, people who have been actually victimized who HAVE come to grips with what has happened to them yet feel the unfortunate, sometimes unavoidable urge to continue to bask in despair. To that, I say they need Al Swearengen:

    Three, helicopter parents, who are not parents, just like the children they seek to hover over and protect are not children. These people, well meaning but ignorant, need to actually speak to successful victims (type two but after the Swearengen epiphany) and realize what they are doing is really just more abuse.

    Four, I guess I’d classify as chaotic evil. Trolls who just want to see things change for the worse, or people so sociopathic, narcissistic, or both that any chance to see you squirm gets their rocks off.

    If you decide on giving any further apologies I would think making a point to direct it towards the first two groups, making sure to let them know you will listen to them, might be a good move. Telling the second two groups to send their complaints c/o Barlen’s thorny ass would a net benefit to society.

    My apologies if you hate getting unsolicited advice as much as I hate giving it. I’m sorry I couldn’t hold it in.

  89. I would like to butt in and add, there’s something desperately wrong going on, when the main piece that gets linked in the file770 article that, I cite

    > articulated her negative response to Brust’s opening speech in “The Rules: A Memo for Every Man in My Life”

    does not actually address anything that was said by Mr. Brust, while instead moving on to pompously demolish a strawman nobody has actually invoked, and that’s at best, marginally related to even the topic of the speech. Bluntly, the author might as well have filled the article with “Lorem ipsum” (or Loiosh ipsum), or the recipe for carrot-filled trout, and the preface would still have worked. (I vehemently disagree, I won’t articulate why)

    While, from the effect it seems your choice of words might not have strategically been the best, the people raising a circus over them seem to play wilfully stupid – they can’t really find compelling arguments to say why their ideas should be safe from scrutiny, so they try to portray you as giving a free run to creeps and those physically violent, since there isn’t much argument to need winning there.

  90. “I would like to butt in and add, there’s something desperately wrong going on, when”

    It may not be particularly about Steve at all.

    Maybe it was just his turn in the barrel.

  91. Nathan S. you probably saw it created its own brouhaha, which may be why you avoided it, but for anyone who hasn’t seen that brouhaha, the common term for the helicopters is “white knights”, which can be verbed. Both the right and the left use it—it’s especially easy to find examples of brown women who are fed up with white people who claim to be acting for them. I like this example:

  92. I was thinking matronizing, but white knighting… interesting. “And reap his old reward: / The blame of those ye better, The hate of those ye guard”

    It’s for their own good, don’t you know.

  93. I would just like to say that I think provoking these responses is exactly what was needed and I hope will lead to the outcome you were looking for , though not likely for your Fourth street group.
    Also I don’t get enough well reasoned thoughtful debate on any issue so thank you to all who contributed.

  94. A lot of people have been coming to 4th Street for a long time and feel like it’s theirs. They think they have a right not to be exposed to bad stuff.

    If a new meeting got set up that was explicitly devoted to what we want, people who don’t want that could just stay away. They wouldn’t be missing out on *their* con that they think should be there for them.

    There might be people ready to start an organization who would be interested in filling that niche. I’m not sure how to contact them.

  95. Jonah, interesting observation. Probably true. My wife and I attended only once. I doubt we will ever go again after the way she was angrily attacked (not advised or instructed) by a SJW on the podium, for telling a story involving an N-word variant. The assumption appeared to be that if an N-word is spoken, it means you are some kind of racist. Context is not part of the discussion.

    If that is the kind of Con that they want, fine. But we thought it was primarily about writing. Truth be told, there was a lot of good discussion about writing. Just a sad outcome for us.

    Perhaps they needed to post a list of forbidden words on the door, if it was that important. Words that can never be used in any context.

  96. Interesting, David. I remember that incident, and, let’s say, it caused a bit of controversy. I had no idea the woman had any connection to you. I’m sorry that happened, I don’t think it was deserved under the circumstances.

    To be clear, I think the word carries a lot of weight, and if it had been up to me, I’d have talked to her about it quietly and said, in essence, “I get what you were doing, but let’s not.” But I do not approve the holier-than-thou self-righteous fury with which she was attacked. Please convey my apologies on behalf of, at least, some of the convention. And I was a board member at the time, so the apology is at least quasi-official, sort of, I think.

  97. skzb. Thanks for your sympathy and apology (not your problem, but appreciated). I’ll pass it on.

  98. @David Hajicek

    The most amazing instance of this I have seen when someone told off a writing advice blog in an anonymous PM, because in a list of iirc cliches to avoid, she listed and linked the “Magical Negro” trope from TvTropes.

    Given that nobody was actually addressed with the term, that this was a citation of the actual name of something, and given the trope itself explains an overdone, often unconsciously, stereotype, one doesn’t know whether to laugh or to cry.

    These people remind me of the lord whose servant came to him.

    “Lord Norton! We must hurry! The river Thames…”

    “Get out, James, and come in like the servant of a british lord.”

    James walks out, minutes pass, then the door open with a deluge of water flooding in. In the middle of it, the drenched servant announces:

    “Thames, my lord!”

  99. @David Hajicek – If that’s the incident I remember (and I only remember the one): I thought she made a cogent and entirely relevant comment about code-switching, and I thought it was a damn shame that the panel ignored her input and went on the attack because she didn’t have the “right” academic vocabulary. And here I thought we were supposed to pay attention to the content of what someone said, and not discriminate based on how they said it!

    I sometimes wish we’d declared the revolution right then and there.

  100. LizV, I hear you. Middle-class moralists care more about words than content.

  101. LizV, Thanks. Sandy will be pleased to know that somebody was actually listening to what she was saying and got it.

  102. I’m late to the game — just didn’t have time to read it all earlier, and still don’t have time to read all the comments — but I think this works better as an essay than a speech. As a speech, people reacting to the first sentence could easily not really hear the third, clarifying sentence. You have a valid and non-malignant point, but the phasing was not optimal for the context, IMO. (and I think the aftermath supports my opinion)

  103. (Blog nav is weird! I expect “next” to go forward in time, not back!)

    Then I am in good company, and only regret my limited available reading time.

  104. Very interesting opening remark and subsequent chain of events and voluminous editorializing.

    Oh, sorry . . . very late to the party . . . er . . . discussion. Life, and all that, had me just hear about this during a VP XIX video chat.

    As such, I’m not looking to either reignite the conversation, condemn it, or applaud it.

    That said and notwithstanding, I write this because even with as little as I personally interacted with you (er, this is directed at Steve Brust, I should clarify), it was still enough to take a measure of the man. As such, I understood the intent of the opening remark.

    Then again, I would have understood the intent and meaning even if I’d never met or heard of you.

    Like others have, I could voice my incredulity at the reaction by some, but instead, I’ll remark that my incredulity has been supplanted by sadness for — and acceptance of — the fact that as human beings we are poised to halt our intellectual progress as thinking animals and supplant it with the intellectual stagnation of emotional animals. That’s the optimistic view. The pessimistic view has humanity degrade, and not just stagnate.

    It’s a harsh accusation to make and were I anyone of note, I would — without doubt — be subject to similar treatment that you have received.

    I would defend it by saying that if human behavior could be changed by just refusing to hear it, we would already be problemless. We solve problems through open discussions.

    Anything else masks problems and allows them to fester past the point where they can be addressed.

    That’s my general view of this, and in that regard, I wonder if in part my views are driven by the fact I’m old. I don’t know if that makes me wiser or senile.

    There is a peripheral concern that this new attitude about speech and —by extension — writing is detrimental to my chances of ever getting published, but as that could also be due to a lack of talent, I won’t go into it here.

    I will say this . . . more and more I’m thinking that instead of science fiction being the conduit for the exploration of the current and future human condition, I should look to other genres as possibly offering more freedom of thought and expression. I hope there is such a genre out there.

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