Most of you know where I stand in the current and inane SFWA follies. For those who don’t, I find, as my friend Amanda put it the other day, that a professional organization that devotes itself to the professional well-being of its members, should neither know nor care if its members profess doubleplusungood opinions. And no organization that moves according to rational, representative norms, would spend its time expelling a life-time member for comments uttered in a private forum, comments that the other person chose to take public – and that the other person chose to take offense at.
But SFWA can not do anything about its members careers. It never could. I’ve written about it before – on why SFWA is not a union, on how its attempts to work as a union do not work. Also on why this is a disaster for unions as a model for worker representation because the model of work of fiction writers is where most of the educated workers of the world are going – you can work anywhere, with your own (mental) tools and are free to enter into any contract you find advantageous to yourself. If the union (SFWA in this case) tries to control the employers, the employers go around them and start hiring fresh workers, far away. What are we going to do in response to unfair clauses, to contracts that take our copyright, to reductions in already minimal advances, all the while shrieking you have to act professional (Professionals can totally live and focus on their work on 3k a year, can’t they? Nota bene that all the fields taken over by “progressives” end up with unpaid work where the exploited ones – interns, adjuncts, beginning writers – are told that to complain would be unprofessional and where the weak people are held to much higher standards of behaviors than their masters.)
This flaw in the design of SFWA has always been apparent, and therefore the people inside chose the other route. “Act like we’re a big bad union, but co-opt the employers, make nice to them. We can at least secure good deals for ourselves and our friends.”
Note that everyone they go after, and everyone they pound on are small presses or things their pet authors disapprove of: write for hire, Amazon.
I haven’t been as involved in the SFWA wars as my friend Kate. Part of this is because it doesn’t interest me that much – I dropped them over their idiocy over Amazon – and part of it is because I’ve seen the spectacle SFWA has become often before. I went to a village school, where bullies had full run, and where they were as likely to take aim at the aged teacher as at the first grader. Long ago my reflex to meet them was to grab a desk and march in front of my cowing classmates and teacher, using the desk as a winnowing fan against the bullies. Actually being a target of PHYSICAL bullies was never a problem for me. Those who’ve met my family will understand when I say I am in proportion to my generation in Portugal as big and imposing as my son. A problem for dating – being a giant at 5’6” and wearing a size 7, as I was back then – but oh, so useful to keep me unmolested except by the particularly large and dumb.
Psychological bullying, otoh…
So the spectacle of SFWA insiders acting like school yard bullies in a small and unenlightened village long ago gives me heart burn, and I don’t get involved unless they’re particularly stupid, or particularly funny.
I am not, regardless of what people say, of think, a happy warrior. I’m a happy writer and left to my own, I would be writing novels and short stories and letting the world go by outside my door, heedless of their actions and their insanity except where they might provide story fodder. But I mind me the fate of Archimedes, who at least according to some accounts, was so absorbed in his studies he failed to see his city was invaded, and when going out to go about his business was murdered by an ignorant soldier who didn’t know the great man and who saw only a peasant disobeying orders.
So I am aware of what is going on. I just don’t talk about it much, since it’s a club I no longer belong to, trying to ingratiate themselves with publishers I wouldn’t submit to at this point if they paid me a lot of money. (Yes, Baen is a member of SFWA, but I don’t need to be in SFWA to ingratiate myself to them. I just need to write books that sell.)
Since the protest by members on the right the left and sideways against what is going on in SFWA, and SFWA’s response, which I think amounted to “Neener, neener boo boo, all these writers we used to like are dead to us” I’ve been sure that what they’re destroying is actually their own organization. No skin off my nose, and SFWA hasn’t been useful for anything but as a directory of members since I joined in 1999. And in the age of internet, there are other ways to get hold of a colleague. For one, most of us belong to ten informal email lists.
On Thursday, on her blog at Mad Genius Club, Kate referenced the blogger known as Vox Day by no more than he’s referenced above. She pointed out the current president of SFWA’s first action in office was to expel the one who’d lost the election to him.
Kate attracted a troll. This was not surprising. The surprise is how weak the troll sounded. Dilute drink.
His first comment was as follows:
John Wesley Hardin
Having no other dog in this fight, I would just like to say that Vox Day is a reprehensible human being, and deserved to be forcefully ejected, not only from the SFWA, but from society in general. But that’s just my opinion.
I probably wouldn’t have answered at all, in a normal day – but having spent Friday cleaning and its having been a rather violent sport because of Havelock’s digestive issues, yesterday I felt what is popularly known as “sick as a dog.” Not that I recognized it as such, of course. No. I thought of it as “a bit out of sorts.” And “My brain isn’t engaging.” Feeling much better today, all I can say is that I came as close as makes no difference to catching the thing that has laid the rest of my family low for a week. I don’t THINK I did. I feel – as I said – much better today. (Besides, having spent the evening with Mr. and Mrs. Vodkapundit and the person known at Baen as Speaker To Lab Animals, enough alcohol was consumed to kill anything trying to take hold.)
However, I was this peculiar combination of tired and revolted at his comment, so I answered this:
Oh, how cool. So, you have been given license to decide who gets to live and who gets to die? Great.
Because 100 million dead is never enough. Let’s give it another try.
His reply left me breathless. It also led to this post, because what is going on with SFWA is the sad and pathetic episode of a bunch of creative people destroying their standing in the world and losing touch with what they are supposed to be doing. That is silly and sometimes amusing, and mostly revolting.
But it is also a microcosm of what is happening in society – of how uneducated, semi-literate people, encouraged to think of themselves as so smart and so “right” about everything (easy. When you’ve been indoctrinated instead of educated, you’ll never disagree with received wisdom, and you now you’re “right” because you agree with all of those you think of as your betters.) think they can take on racism, sexism, any other ism you think of, and drive it from the world by shutting up those who have thoughts they think are wrong. Except that the line for what is not permitted as thought or opinion keeps changing, and the number of the ones who should be “expelled from society” grows ever larger and more arbitrary.
Did this poor creature read anything – a biography of Mao, say, or any of the very good books on how Hitler came to power? Or maybe about Lenin? Stalin?
This was the reply:
John Wesley Hardin Feb 15, 5:02 pm
Live and die? Hardly. I’m sure the ruff, tuff libertarian Vox Day could, if he were ejected from society, single-handedly hack a Randian utopia out of the wilderness and show the rest of us namby-pambys how to really go Galt.
And this is my reply to him – written here because I needed room. The post be linked there as soon as I put it up.
Little boy, I am fifty years old, but you make me feel like I am a thousand. Little boy, how old are you, and who had the raising of you?
Did you ever read the horrors of the 20th century? The first step is ALWAYS to expel the victim from “society” – which of course makes it a non-human, who can then be expropriated, killed or have all manner of evil perpetrated against it.
Little boy, I don’t have any particular interest in Vox Day – we’ve exchanged a few emails, some of them arguments – but I’ll tell you this: when you tell him he’s wrong he doesn’t seek to “expel” anyone from society. Instead he says “I might be, but…”
Yes, I know the double plus ungood comments the honorable (and reading comprehension impaired) female author who started this leaked about him. None of them were as abusive as what you’ve done to him. No, not even if you take them at face value. (And with him you never should.)
Objectively, what has Vox Day done to you that you are so full of hatred for him: He expressed opinions you don’t like. Yes, some of those might be objectively despicable, if taken at face value. But then again, Little Boy, the opinions many members of SFWA express – say the ones who think we should give communism another try – are objectively despicable, because encouraging the return of a regime that has led to mass graves everywhere it was instituted is objectively despicable. However, you don’t see anyone howling for the ejection of communists from SFWA. EVER.
What has SFWA done to Vox Day: You have maligned him in public. Your anger at him has spilled from blog to blog, magnifying his offenses and blackening his character. Worse, you’ve expelled him from an organization in which he had a lifetime membership.
And now you’re saying he should be expelled from society – and in the way you mean it, you mean from human society.
Because he doesn’t think like you. Because he has ideas people (yes, me too, with some of them) find offensive. ALL THE WHILE embracing to your bosom people who think using state power to control what people say and how people think is a positive – and this last, btw, is far, far, more offensive than anything that Vox can have said. (I don’t know. I don’t read him every day or even every month – but I can’t imagine any rational human being, not blinded by ideology wanting someone expelled “from society” for having incorrect thoughts.)
Do you believe in evolution, child? Because I do. I know, it will totally blow your mind that someone who is self-avowedly religious believes in evolution – but I do. This is because most of us don’t take our beliefs off a shelf like little indoctrinated sheep. We evaluate, we choose and we take this and not that, and sometimes take that even though we know on its face it conflicts with this because we know our intelligence isn’t perfect and there might be a higher knowledge that reconciles the seemingly ireconciliable.
It is possible to think outside a group. It is possible to form your own opinions.
Unfortunately the clay that humans are formed of makes this very difficult, particularly for the weak willed and insecure. This is why it is so important to study simian group dynamics. This is where we come from, and if you think we’ve got so far from it, you should look at kids (particularly girls) on the playground, bullying one of them who committed the unpardonable offense of sticking out. Or look at SFWA. (Now I understand why Kate has been so hot in pursuit of this. I was never bullied, but she was. I’m fairly sure that’s where her wish to fight back on behalf of anyone a group unreasoningly turns on comes from. Which makes her a hero because most bullied people just break.)
Any human society that says “you can’t belong to us because you think the wrong thoughts” is on a very dangerous path. Particularly when “wrong thoughts” are no more wrong than those expressed freely in the association.
Any human association that listens to people who continuously shriek offense and hurt is on its way to expelling people for thoughts and words. SFWA is already there. The spectacle of the expulsion of Vox was followed by the maligning of Resnick and Malzberg for using the horrible word “ladies” and talking about an editor they respected as having been beautiful. Then there is the eruption of the blogger who thinks everyone should write “non gender binary characters” because science fiction is – apparently – a school and we need to choose the curriculum. This is only marginally associated with SFWA (I don’t even know if the woman is a member. Her credentials are thin enough) but it’s the type of thought that drives SFWA “writing is an instrument for education and our organization is the most important thing evah and therefore it can by itself root out the ancient evils of racism, sexism and the tendency of humans to turn on anyone who is different and outlier.” (They’re apparently going to do this by turning on anyone who is different or an outlier in a way not approved of.) And now we have the truly unedifying spectacle of SFWA turning on old members, (many of whom DO hold statist beliefs I consider reprehensible, but SFWA doesn’t) for standing up for freedom of the press in the form of the Bulletin.
And SFWA is forming committees to determine what its members may think and say…
Can self-denunciation sessions be far behind?
SFWA doesn’t have armies or enforcers. Actually most of its nebbish core would run screaming when faced with most people getting tired of its antics. All it’s doing is committing suicide.
But you Little Boy, with your wish to ingratiate yourself to the bully-group, your blithe inability to understand the group mechanics driving this, your running back to tell them how you showed those ungodly oh, sorry, those double plus ungood things… you Little Boy worry me. Because there are many like you, and they are all ready to do anything to be in the “in group” and the “cool people” – follow any charismatic leader, ostracize anyone, denounce your neighbors, cheer at executions of “bad thinkers.”
While you confine your antics to SFWA you’re merely pathetic and ridiculous. But there are a lot of you, willing tinder to a fire that threatens to consume civilization.
Little Boy, with your little toys – what you’re really playing with is death.