I hate rumor. Perhaps I hate it more because I grew up in a village.
The people who imagine villages are idyllic and every person in it loves the other like a brother or sister, have no knowledge of people — or reality. Sure, in many villages in isolated places, most of the people there are related to some degree. This was not true where I grew up, because the village was already in the process of exploding into a large-city suburb. It wasn’t visible to me as a child, because it was so slow, and newcomers still took years to integrate, but it it had been going on for so long that the appellation of “aunt” given to any grown woman by any child was just courtesy, not truth. Still, had we been all related, people who imagine that makes for harmonious living must have been only children and the children of only children.
No, never mind, I’m being silly. Those people are actually enormous racists and oikophobes. Hating their own home, they imbue places far away, particularly those inhabited by people who tan more than they do, with the qualities of heaven. They also in the process make those people-who-tan (or as I always think when I’m the object of this type of thought, and yes, I am, it’s what enables them to think themselves my intellectual superiors a-priori “Little browns peoples”) less than human. They (we) are not people with our own agency, and all the virtues and vices of mankind, but sort of little pets, perfect, well behaved and needing both the protection of our masters, the pale enlightened, and their pat on the head for how good we are. (Most of the left’s ideas on “defeating colonialism” envision themselves as benevolent colonial masters. In fact, the colonialism of Marxist ideas in Africa is what has made it hell on Earth, far worse than any colonial overseers could do. By turning their best and brightest into Marxist apostles at our “finest universities” they get to send these ideas back to Africa. There was some idea they would flourish there among people unsullied by greed and the wish to succeed individually (yes, it’s that racism again. It is inherent in the left’s contrived “celebration” of black people, Kwanza, which is really a celebration of socialist principles. And no, is in no way African. It was invented in the US. For one there isn’t such a thing as an “African” holiday. The continent is as or more varied than Europe (because transport was near impossible for most of its existence, tribes and villages were very isolated indeed.)) It didn’t. Instead it has made Africa worse than ever before. And this was done by turning its favorite sons, its brightest sparks into poison pills. Colonialist Marxism is appalling and responsible for the deaths of millions. As is Marxism everywhere.)
Returning to villages: even though most of the people in the village worked with their hands and still conformed to traditional roles; even though most people not only knew you on sight, but could assign you to a family and an ancestor; even though the fields were fertile and most people “got along” one way or another and had for centuries, we were not the happy people of Brutopia. Not even our quaint customs, such as making the roads tapestries of flowers for Easter, or having processions at night, which you watched from your window, or singing traditional songs at wine pressing, could make us like angels or automatons.
Rumor was rife in the village as in the science fiction community. It should be. Both are the province of women. Not that men didn’t gossip/egg women on in the village, as they do in the science fiction community, but the men stupid enough to be seen doing it openly had a special name attached to them “Tricoteiros.” It was not a complementary name. And most men really didn’t get involved. They merely went along with what their wives decided and decreed. People who imagine women powerless in true patriarchal societies are out of their minds. Once the “court of public opinion” which is largely female, makes a decision, men risk falling victim to it, should they not conform to its dictates.
And this is why I loathe and despise rumor, and will stand up for a victim of it, no matter how little I like him or her: or indeed how little I know him or her. I will stand up for the victim, because rumor is a ridiculous way of ascertaining if someone should be “a part of society” (remember the charming moppets who said someone should be “cast out of society” for saying bad things) or if someone should have a job or if someone should be allowed to live somewhere in peace.
Because the one thing rumor is not concerned with is truth or true guilt, or even gradations of guilt. Yes, perhaps everything rumor says is true. Heaven knows it’s been known to happen, which is when people say “no smoke without fire” but they ignore all the times their stories and whispers were ALL wrong.
For instance, before I got married to Dan everyone knew (based on TRUST me little more than a resemblance in coloring) he was a baker from a neighboring village, whom I’d met in Italy. What was true to this tissue? Well, I was getting married and the year before, I was in Germany. (I’m still confused as to how Italy got attached to it.) Which was okay because I had no reputation to speak of. The life I lived in gossip was far more interesting than my real life. Having grown up as the “little sister” of my brother’s group of friends, they (and I) never paid any attention to the fact I was now past puberty. This meant if they saw me trudging towards the train and they happened to be driving, they’d pick me up and take me where I was supposed to go (mostly college or home) and if they were at a coffee shop and I walked by, they’d call me to sit and grab a coffee and a pastry (which they paid for, as older siblings will. Since my brother is around ten years older than I, most of them had jobs while I was in high school.) BUT the gossips knew I was having affairs will all of them (what a busy critter I must have been, what with carrying a heavier-than-full-load of courses and tutoring on the side, all this while having boyfriends/fiances. So when I got married, of course the best I could do was the baker from the nearby, poorer village. (Rolls eyes.) Which fortunately Dan couldn’t care less about, since when I told him the rumors he went off in whoops of laughter at the idea that his geeky, introverted fiance could ever be the village hussy.
But yeah, there was truth there at the root of it, since I had traveled a lot. I had boyfriends/fiances, and I spent a lot of time with my brother’s friends. None of which justified the tissue of lies attached to it. And of course I could never justify/explain/tell them they were out of their rocking minds, because this was never said to my face, but was passed around the village in whispers, growing in the telling. (They usually came back to me via cleaning ladies, or the cleaning ladies of friends. Or grandma, when the rumors came to her attention and she dressed someone one down and told them they were out of their rocking minds.)
Take, for instance, the last time I went to Portugal and my mom was full of news that a gentleman in the village — one with four children, who had been married 30 years — was gay. I was rather taken aback and asked how she knew this. In this day and age, I’d expect something like “left his wife for his boyfriend” or, at the very least, “set his boyfriend up in a pink apartment with shag carpeting.” The second of which, btw, could still be just rumor. But no. As I dug through to figure out where gossip started, the ENTIRE base of the rumor seemed to be “He bought cologne at the village pharmacy.”
Here you see, local prejudice, that is that real men don’t wear cologne, though teen boys might, plus rumor inflating into this man’s having a secret life/sexuality. Now, while I don’t — unlike village biddies — think being gay equals moral turpitude, what this man was being accused of was not only being unfaithful to his wife, but being an awful father, who would subject his children to the type of opprobrium the village would rain on them, should this become known.
Is it possible the man is bi? I don’t know. I think I knew him growing up, but after the age of about 12 I spent most of my time in the city and in school, and at any rate, I have a LOUSY memory for faces. I remember the people who were close to my family and constants in my life, but the far reaches of the village scene never interested me enough to remember names and faces. So the man might have lisped, dressed in pink with flounces, and fulfilled every stereotype of gay. I don’t KNOW. What I know is that the only thing solid they had to indicate he was gay (despite marriage and children, and yes, I’m aware gay men have married and had families, but in this day and age most don’t bother) is that he had bought cologne in the village pharmacy. (Which is more like a drugstore.) Now on the basis of that, he, his children and his wife were looked at askance, and if his job had depended on the village biddies (it might. I vaguely remember he was some sort of a tradesman) he would slowly lose his livelihood. All without having the slightest clue why.
I pointed out to my mom that my dad wore cologne (old spice — still wears it. So does younger son) his whole life, even if he had the good sense of not buying it in the village. Did I convince her? I doubt it. You see, all her friends KNEW he was gay, and they knew his mannerisms, which they only now noticed, meant he was gay, and hadn’t he always dressed way too carefully? And now they thought about it, his wife was ugly and had been an old maid when they married, so he must have wanted her as a beard.
Mom is not stupid. But when her whole circle is saying something “there is no smoke without fire.” Which is how people are “judged” in the “court of public opinion” from which there is no appeal, and where they never even get to confront their opponents.
Now if you cross that “court of public opinion” with the SJW’s Will To Power and desire to declare what is good and sound, and the “cause of the week” that must be supported and the “offenders of the month” who must be shunned, what you get is the nightmarish situation we have in SF/F.
I won’t say that rumor in sf/f is a thing of the current idiotic left. It has always been that way. If you add up every professional who has ever sold enough to qualify as such — one novel or three short stories — you only have a few hundred people. Even if you add in the people who qualify as pros under indie rules, you’re probably under five thousand. Which is why the community of writers has always behaved like a village. Rumors go around, whispered, hinted. “So and so said this about you.” “So and so is not a nice person.” “So and so welshed on a promise” and “So and so is the wrong political color, don’t be seen with him/her.”
Like in the village, you’d find a desert around you, and you’d have no idea why.
In that sense, it is better now, with the internet. Because we can at least know what we’re accused of, and as hard as it is to combat, at least we’re somewhat aware.
Take the case of Sunil Patel. Yep, he’s a puppy kicker. Nope, I pretty much don’t agree with much of what he has said, and if I look closely, I might not agree with any of it, including “a” and “the.”
However, should he be losing work and a place in an anthology on the basis of rumors? At the time the “scandal” broke some friends dug through it, and there seemed to be nothing in it except he “encouraged some female writers but couldn’t come through with contracts or career advancement.” There was no hint that he had ever used promises of advancement for sex. And the “gaslighting” seemed to be limited to “he told me I was good and should continue working.”
As with village rumors, I haven’t looked closely at it, but if my friends who in general don’t like the guy couldn’t find anything more substantial, that is probably all there is. He “bought scent at the pharmacy, so we know” is what it amounts to, but with a feminist mean-girl spin. And on such things a man is to be shunned and deprived of work.
And yep, he apologized, obsessively, if slightly confusedly, because he had no idea exactly what he was apologizing for.
The whole thing reminded me of the comment by Synova, some years back, about the Requires Hate situation,
“Some of the comments by people who had been subject to the full treatment just made me want to cry. I didn’t think it was funny because the guilty parties and enablers aren’t the ones who are hurt. Yes, we can scoff at Scalzi when he makes a rational counter-argument and is made, ultimately, to retract and abase himself and agree in public and start proselytizing in public that no… you really can’t trust your own brain and if something seems wrong to you or you feel like defending yourself it is simply proof that you’re guilty.
But there were people who reported rather severe PTSD type reactions to even sitting down at a keyboard to write because they were so terrified of offending… again. Because *rationally* they’d done nothing wrong the first time, but they were forced to an irrational acceptance of their guilt. So now they’ve “accepted their privilege” and “checked it” and confessed and repented (they could come to the Dark Side and be welcomed, but they don’t know that, and have been taught that the Dark Side is evil, and that’s why shunning is so very evil within closed communities… being exiled is a horrific punishment) but since they had NO IDEA how they could have done something wrong in the first place, they also have no idea how to avoid it the next time.
Imagine doing this to a child.
The kid is walking through a room doing nothing much and suddenly POW… and then you tell the kid… well that was YOUR fault. You screwed up. You stepped on that spot on the floor.
So the kid looks at the spot and it looks like every other spot. But the kid is told that, no, the fact that she can’t even SEE the spot is what the problem is. You can’t SEE the spot… that’s why it is YOUR fault. Also, a good child will try to learn. You’re a good child, aren’t you?
So the kid says, yes… it was my fault. I could not SEE the spot. Not seeing the spot makes this my fault.
Afterward, it’s still impossible to see the spots, and walking across the room becomes fraught with danger. Sitting down at the keyboard gives this very “good” person the shakes and panic attacks… where are the spots? She still can’t see the spots but she MUST agree and believe that those spots exist.
I have a LOT of sympathy for those who were hurt, just like I have sympathy for any abused person.”
Having grown up in the village, I TOO have a lot of sympathy with anyone who finds themselves on the receiving end of “the court of public opinion” where justice is not so much blind, as drunk, taking meth, and whoring on the side, all the while deciding your case.
Is it possible Sunil Patel really is a terrible misogynistic abuser? Sure. Everything is possible, within limits, and so many “liberal” males are awful to women. BUT we have no evidence he was so. Certainly not evidence firm enough to kick him out of anthos.
BUT the rumor has been repeated and repeated, until “everyone knows” he is a horrible person, whose presence would taint other authors.
Is the fact that he’s falling victim to something he encouraged a consolation? Nope. Because every time this happens, the social fabric is weakened, and in the case of our field, the art of writing science fiction is weakened. If we’re picking people on the basis of being protected from rumor, we’ll publish/promote only those mean girls at the top of the pile. For some reason malicious, power-hungry people are rarely the most creative.
Fortunately there is indie. And my advice to anyone caught in this vicious rumor mongering is “leave the village. And when you must be there, ignore them.”
It’s what I did, back in the literal village. And it worked. Mostly I had no idea who people were, thanks to my spectacular memory for names and faces. And when I heard the rumors they were so far fetched the only thing I could do was laugh at them. (Still do. I mean, some of those that have come back to me, about me, from the SF/F community are, not only counterfactual, but in one case would require me to be 20 years older, as it refers to my “motives” for coming to the US. I mean, it’s like me meeting a baker from the next village in Italy where I’ve never been.)
The best revenge is to ignore them, write, and — if no one else will publish you — bring out your own stuff. Believe it or not I know indies who are both more financially successful and have a greater fandom than traditionally published authors. And my one indie books seems to prove it.
The reading public doesn’t care if you eat babies for breakfast. They care if you can entertain them with a tale. Or lift them up. Or edify them. Or, really, make them feel something strong that they REMEMBER. And the authors who are remembered will survive to be read by future generations, while those who pulled themselves up by bullying tactics and “rehabilitated” themselves by kissing the right behinds, like, say, Requires Hate, will be deservedly forgotten. Because the public at large also couldn’t care less about your stand in the tiny village of your profession.
So when rumor enters, painted all in tongues, send him to the right about. Rumor has been weaponized by the left, to gain power an make sure opposing views aren’t even heard. Ignoring them robs them of the power to do either, and sets us free. Indie publishing is just the icing on the cake.
Let Madame Defarge and her cronies hiss and spit. Living well is the best revenge.
They will come for us. They already have and they’ll continue to do so. But unlike those on their side, we are immune to the poison. What are they going to do to me, after declaring me the worst person in the world? What do you do for an encore after that?
So when they come for you, point and laugh and make duck noises.
This is all they have. This is all they are. This is all they can do. They are rumor, painted all in tongues, and if we don’t fear them, they become figures of farce and theater.
And we carry on. Because we build. We write. We live.
And we have a future to create.