Saturday, June 7, 2014

Dear conservative science-fiction writers of America...

UPDATE: I am no longer taking comments on this thread. What I've received so far doesn't inspire me to hope for a meeting of minds, so I'm stopping it here before an exchange of views becomes an argument.

Hello there.

You don't know me, but I'm a guy with a blog the other side of the Atlantic who loves science-fiction.

I'm not anyone in fandom. Heck, I'm not even no-one in fandom.

I am a fascinated and appalled rubbernecker at the ongoing, overlapping disputes in science-fiction fandom - the infighting in the SFWA, the various Hugo award dust-ups, and the ongoing furore on diversity and gender in speculative fiction, most recently over at the Grauniad.

I haven't seen this kind of ring-a-ding since studying the British Labour Party's internecine struggles in the early eighties. Which may or may not mean anything to you, but trust me, it's really saying something.

I'll be open with you - I'm not your political bedfellow at all and would take different positions on a lot of these issues. But I think we could at least agree on the value of SF as a genre and a way of seeing the world which has meant so much to many.

And it's across that common ground that I reach out to American conservative SF writers, bloggers, fans and say: stop shooting yourselves in the foot by giving house room to people making racist statements.

You won't get anyone outside of your corner to listen to you if you don't.

Seriously.

I don't think you fully perceive how the words and deeds of your self-appointed spokespeople are being understood by readers with no dog in this fight.

So let's have a look at the corner you seem to be at risk of painting yourself into.

As you probably know better than I, the conservative slate proposed by author and polemical blogger Larry Correia for nominations for the prestigious Hugo Awards included a novella by Theodore Beale, better known online as Vox Day.

Beale is on record with some shocking statements - here's one beyond-the-pale example aimed at fellow author N K Jemisin - and had been expelled from The Science Fiction Writers of America (SFWA) last year.

Now, there's a conversation to be had about how and whether to read authors with detestable views. I'm not pro-censorship, I'm pro-context. But putting someone making offensive outbursts on a conservative voting slate for the shortlist for the prestigious Hugo Awards - that sends an entirely different message to the one I think you hoped it would.

Would Beale have gotten onto the shortlist for Best Novella - which he succeeded in doing - if he hadn't had this kind of support? We'll probably never know. But the point is that the Beale-boosting contaminated by association the conservatives-and-libertarians-overlooked-in-SF position the slate was intended at least in part to raise.

Correia mounts a mainly art-for-arts-sake defence for the inclusion of Beale on his slate (it's a long post so I'd suggest scrolling or searching for it). Unfortunately, he presses onto to defend Beale's record on race, which seems at best naïve in light of his public utterances.

It's important - and welcome - that Correia clearly states on his blog that he's not racist himself. But this shielding of Beale further damages the slate and any message you wanted to carry beyond people who agree with you. It starts to look suspiciously like trolling the Hugo's, and it's highly disrespectful of people who were rightly offended by Beale first time around, not least  N K Jemisin.

If you want to talk (and listen), come away from the walls and into the centre of the room. If you don't want only the loudest and angriest voices to be heard, speak up.

You're experienced and successful writers, for goodness sake. You have the talent to take part in the debates rocking science-fiction in a respectful way. You can hear and be heard.

There is another way.

8 comments:

  1. Uh, Tim? A word of advice: Probably not wise to accuse others of coddling racists in a post where you cozy up to Jemesin.

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  2. Hi Escher,

    I'm sure Jemisin doesn't need anyone to defend her - I've mentioned her case simply because it's the most high-profile racist statement made by Beale.

    I could say many things about her address to the Australian con which occasioned Beale's remarks, but the key ones are these: it isn't racist, and it in no way justifies or excuses his response.

    I return to my main theme - there's a world of difference between practicing and celebrating - even defending - a traditional model of SFF on the one hand, and on the other risking tacitly endorsing racism.

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  3. What's with the bigotry? Is that your go-to? To assume that conservatives are racist? Prejudge much?

    M

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  4.    In the long-running feud between VD and Jemisin, it seems to me that the latter has said far more things displaying much severer racial bigotry (“racism” has become a term-of-art so I will avoid that word) than the former.
       And while Beale delights in being inflammatory, a careful reading of his words tends to show they’re not nearly as racially-bigoted as seems at first glance. Take his “half-savage” comment: this was not aimed at Jemisin for being black, but for identifying with street criminals over Western civilization. (So why does he write in such a way that a cursory reading seems to indicate racial bigotry? He seems to be doing this deliberately, inviting his opponents to misread him so he can later mock their lack of reading comprehension. It’s a somewhat trollish debating tactic, but perhaps suitable to opponents who look for excuses to dismiss one’s words.)
       Particularly relevant to this discussion the is comment Larry Correia left on his blog [link]:
       “When [Vox Day] first started getting dog piled I got curious and emailed him about it. We ended up having a very long email discussion back and forth arguing about various topics. […]
       “I came away from this discussion with the honest belief that Vox isn’t a racist. He believes there are genetic differences between human groups (duh, that’s basic science) but doesn’t believe in the superiority of any of them (because define superior), and then it turned into a big discussion on culture.” (Slightly edited, emphasis added.)
       Regarding “support”, see the main post in the link above, particularly this bit:
       “Public declaration of support? By that Damien means I failed to join his lynch mob? Sadly I couldn’t find my jack boots in time.
       “I enjoyed Vox’s story and I put it on my slate, that doesn’t make me his spokesman. The guy is capable of defending his own beliefs. My only public declarations of support have been in favor of free speech.”
       You may well disagree with my understanding, and Larry’s, of Beale’s racial bigotry or lack thereof. But concern trolling over Larry’s supposed support for racists is going to fail on the dual grounds that (a) Larry is explicitly not supporting VD and (b) Larry doesn’t think VD is actually a racial bigot. And calling someone’s judgement “disingenuous” because your second- and third-hand reports, and hastily-skimmed readings of his own words, lead you to a different conclusion—that’s tendentious at best.

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  5. Your article is a threat. You accuse people who disagree with being racist, a typical liberal tactic used to stifle dissent.

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  6. Some replies - dealing with the simple ones first.

    Mark Philip Alger: I think the post makes a pretty clear distinction between conservatives and racists.

    Walter Knight: Again, I'm pretty clear that I don't think the people I'm addressing in this post are racist, even if I might disagree with them.

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  7. Joel Salomon:

    On Theodore Beale - a racist, offensive remark wrapped in an ironical debating device is still offensive, even granting your premise. Character references - which effectively Correia is offering - don't cancel that out.

    I have been clear, I hope, that Correia is not supporting Beale over and above putting him on his Hugos slate and is on the record that he himself is not racist. My key point is that putting forward such a divisive, controversial figure (to put it mildly and in terms you might find acceptable) risks contaminating by implication conservative/libertarian positions in science-fiction.

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  8. UPDATE: I am no longer taking comments on this thread. What I've received so far doesn't inspire me to hope for a meeting of minds:

    - two mildly hostile misunderstandings
    - two wrong-headed attempts to establish equivalence between Beale and Jemisin's comments.
    - a discussion about whether Beale's comments were offensive or not.

    As I think the one thing all parties would agree on is that this is not getting any of us anywhere, let's stop here.

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