That Which Divides by Christopher Nuttall

That Which Divides  by Christopher Nuttall


A house divided against itself cannot stand.

-Abraham Lincoln

One does not join a community by loudly and obnoxiously demanding entrance.  One joins by sharing the community’s goals and working with others to achieve them.

-Jay Maynard

I was actually planning something along the lines of this essay before the kerfuffle over the Google Memo hit the internet, for reasons I will explain shortly.  And while this essay isn’t primarily about the memo – it has more to do with fandom and diversity in general – it does touch on some very important points.

Last weekend, my wife, son and I attended the Nine Worlds Geekfest in London.  For me, it was a chance to meet up with some of my publishers and friends, as well as buying a considerable number of books.  And I came away from the convention with curiously mixed feelings.

Nine Worlds talked – a lot – about inclusivity and diversity.  And I am all in favour of making conventions as accessible as possible.  A fan in a wheelchair is still a fan and a decently-run convention will make provisions for that fan to attend panels or visit the vendors, insofar as it is reasonably possible.  And yet, I couldn’t help feeling – as I read the anti-harassment policy and studied the ‘chosen pronoun’ badges – that they might have gone a little too far. Indeed, some of their policies struck me as ones that could be easily abused by bad actors.

I was particularly dismayed to note that the ‘bathroom wars’ in the US had spread to London, with the most accessible toilets on the vendor’s floor designated as ‘gender-neutral.’  People were specifically warned not to question people using the toilets, whatever gender they appeared to be.  Fans who wanted to use a specifically male or female toilet had to go up or down a level, something that might have caused problems for disabled fans.  These toilets were not designed to be gender-neutral and the prospects for everything from accidental flashing to outright sexual harassment were evidently not taken into account.  My wife – who comes from a very conservative country – stated that she would not be comfortable using a mixed toilet and I find it hard to believe she was the only one.  Furthermore, it would be difficult for someone who was being sexually harassed to use such a toilet to escape their harasser.  Who has the liability then?

A further oddity was a stall being devoted to a bookseller that specialised in LGBT books aimed at young children, placed in the main vendors hall (while at least one small press and a gaming workshop was placed on the second floor, out of sight).  While I did pick up a copy of Interstellar Cinderella for my niece, I do question the selection of that particular bookseller instead of another SF/Fantasy publisher.  (I actually assumed that the con hadn’t had many applicants from publishers or booksellers, but this was apparently incorrect.)  Why was this bookseller chosen when its links to fandom are very limited?

At this point, I’m sure a few readers are wondering what’s my point.  Indulge me for a moment longer.

The problem with ‘diversity’ and ‘inclusion’ programs – however well-intentioned – is that they call attention to differences, rather than celebrating what we have in common.  I don’t care if the person sitting next to me at a panel is male or female, black or white, straight or gay or bi or transgender or whatever.  It makes no difference to me.  Why should it?  As a fan, I should not discourage anyone from fandom.  Saying ‘you can’t join our club because you’re a [whatever]’ is both cruel and stupid.

But, like it or not, humans draw lines between groups of people.  It’s how we’re wired, like it or not.  And the more people talk about differences between groups of people, the easier it becomes to fall into the trap of dislike, distrust, suspicion and even outright hated.  Worse, as I have discussed earlier, the bad actors in a particular group will be used to characterise the rest of that group.  This is not fair, but it will happen.  Humans are more inclined to remember the bad than the good.

It is neither fair nor right to deny someone the chance to visit a convention or join a club because they are [insert inherent attribute here].  But one might reasonably ask just how far a convention or a club should move away from its base to accommodate them, particularly when doing so runs the risk of alienating older fans.

The Google Memo is neither a screed – despite some media outlets insisting that it is – nor is it particularly well-written.  But it does call attention to a problem within Google – the belief, justified or not, that corporate managers are putting social justice causes ahead of practicality and meritocracy.  The fact that some outlets state that nearly a third of Google’s employees – or at least the ones surveyed – agree with the memo suggests that this is not an uncommon belief.  Indeed, given the simple fact that very few people believe that ‘confidential’ responses remain confidential in a corporate environment, it is quite possible that the total number of employees who agree is actually much higher.  This shouldn’t surprise anyone, after 2016.  Trump’s victory surprised the pollsters because, at least in part, people were reluctant to come out and say they were going to vote for Donald Trump.  The social cost was too high.

And while I cannot prove it, I would bet good money that most of the employees who agreed with the memo work in the ‘hard science’ departments.

Google has, in many ways, the same problem as many other institutions, from the media to the military.  The people who make policy are divorced from the realities of life on the sharp end (or shop floor or whatever.)  Worse, the number of ‘core’ workers is actually quite small, relative to the overall workforce.  The policy-makers can therefore blabber endlessly about diversity and social justice, while the people who do the actual work grow increasingly frustrated because their jobs are being made harder.  A computer doesn’t care if the person writing the program is male or female.  It does care about their code actually running smoothly, once it is uploaded.  And the ‘core’ workers know this because it is their life.

The suspicion that people are hired and promoted for anything but demonstrated competence is poisonous.  If it is not actually true, employees will still act on the assumption that it is true; if it is true, the good employees will not put forward their best because they will believe, rightly, that there’s no hope of rising up the ladder either.  Google may or may not have been within its legal rights to fire the memo-writer, but firing him does not inspire confidence in upper management.  There was not (so far) any solid attempt to prove the memo-writer wrong.  Instead, the writer was punished for daring to offer an opinion that went against the grain.

People – particularly men – respect demonstrated competence.  A person with a solid track record will not inspire too much resentment, regardless of his skin colour (etc, etc), when he is promoted.  But a person who does not do good work – particularly someone who creates extra work for his workmates – will be widely disliked.  And if he gets promoted, it will not be long before the muttering starts or employees start looking for new jobs.  People who know their own worth very well – and people with solid track records do – are not the sort of people who will willingly stick around when they feel disrespected and/or that upper management is intent on ruining its own business.

The average fan, I think, does not care about the ethnic, racial, sexual, religious or whatever makeup of fandom.  Why should he?

But, at the same time, he doesn’t want fandom to change to the point it becomes unrecognisable.  We are not forced to be science-fiction and fantasy fans.  We are fans because we love it!  We want to read books and see movies and chat endlessly about tiny details that baffle outside observers.  We don’t want to be lectured, we don’t want to be told that we’re horrible people, we don’t want to have our faces constantly rubbed in the fact that people who had nothing to do with us were awful, once upon a time, to people who also had nothing to do with us.

We are happy – more than happy – to include people who want to join.  But why would we want people who want to divide and change us?

And why would they want to join?

20 thoughts on “That Which Divides by Christopher Nuttall

  1. Divide and conquer. That’s what appears to be happening. I have been part of table top gaming communities most of my life off and on. One thing that’s been common is that we have been drawn by good stories and story tellers. My last group was an interesting cross section. Mostly liberal, differing view points and backgrounds, yet none of that mattered. Well there’s the one guy that went total SJW and removed himself from the group rather vocally and divisively.
    Thing is that all these SJW’s are trying to do is break everyone down into smaller and smaller groups probably hoping to defeat us in detail. Not going to work, as the ostracized will eventually be the largest group.

    1. Divide and conquer assumes a conspiracy. This is simply mob action, and those tend to eventually devour itself. There’s already hints of that very thing by not being SJW enough. At this point, I’m wondering how can grease the wheels of the tumbril. After all, they’ve worked so hard to build it, they might as well enjoy the ride.

      1. To my vast irritation, ImagineFX once again did a ‘diversity in the industry’ article (okay, they waited a year before trying again, after the previous backlash of COME ON.) This is especially stupid, given that they feature artists and talk about art produced from literally all over the world, and a vast number of these being either from Asia, Europe, America, Canada, or South America, are of both sexes (the ratio is pretty good too, 50% or more females) and of various ethnic backgrounds.

        The last guy they featured in the article talked about how yeah, diversity is good, but solid stories and characters that the readers really enjoy are better. Also, about how indie is really ‘breaking down’ the barriers. Trololololol~

      2. But, I realized that I forgot to put my main point. I buy – BUY- ImagineFX’s magazine because I like that they feature working artists – both senior, solid oldschoolers in the industry like Larry Elmore and Keith Parkinson, Boris Vallejo and Julie Bell and interview them regarding art – but also new rising stars and folks working in different areas of the industry of artwork. I like the tutorials, and ‘answer the question’ segments, I like their reviews of artbooks and new technologies and programs coming to the world of the arts industry.

        I don’t want to have to READ about the political shit because if nothing else, ImagineFX’s roster of featured artists show that they ARE already very diverse (in terms of skin color / male and female artists, if you want to be grumpy about it) – and with a very wide variety of artistic styles and visions that serve both to inspire and encourage other artists. They don’t need to do that annoying virtue-signaling.

    2. “the ostracized will eventually be the largest group.”

      The Basket of Deplorables beat ya to it. 😉

      I don’t care about your ‘differences’ except maybe as a point of interest. But as soon as you shape them into a club and use them to beat me over the head, I’ll start to regard your ‘differences’ as hostile, with all that entails.

  2. Ah, but we’re wrongfans having wrongfun and guilty of wrongthink.
    For Utopia to exist, we must be silenced.

    1. yep,, and if everyone just is all love and hugs in their little socially approved clusters of a few individuals, then maybe the little brown people won’t drive trucks into us.

  3. Why join? Because then they can pass their screed around to more people and, hopefully, gain more followers. And even if they don’t get more followers, they can at least claim they “spoke truth to power”, even if it isn’t so.

  4. 1. Target a respected institution
    2. Kill & clean it
    3. Wear it as a skin suit, while demanding respect
    From the Iowahawk blog
    This is why they demand entrance to institutions they loathe. They hate what those institutions stand for, but lust after their influence.

  5. Yeah, I see this stuff and shake my head. They’re going to make fandom so inclusive it’s exclusive.

  6. Your feelings about the con going to far mirror my own, at least about the panel I got roped into attending at Boston Comic Con a few weekends back: “Queers in Comics,” was the panel name, IIRC.

    The panel’s message was pretty much what you’d expect: Trump is literally Hitler and is going to put all queers in extermination camps, all cops are homophobic Nazis who get off on killing queers (especially the NYPD), it should be legal to beat up Trump supporters, queer writers and artists should only write/draw for queer-friendly publishing houses and their works should only be aimed at a queer/queer-friendly audience, all non-queer/non-queer-friendly/Conservative talent should be forced out of the industry, you should write, draw, and/or read characters who are 100% exactly like you, if you disagree with us then you’re part of the problem, etc. and so on. You get the idea. Typical extremist SJW crap.

    Leaving the panel, I was surprised to discover that the extremely liberal (and, I’m almost certain, bisexual) member of our group who’d convinced us to attend the panel was extremely put-off by the message, especially about forcing “dissent” out of the industry and only reading/writing characters that are exactly like you. We both agreed that that’s a surefire way to kill both your own career (since you’ll be lucky to get more than a dozen readers) and the industry as a whole.

    Granted, my experience is a sample size on one, but nonetheless, based on that, I think the Social Justice Warrior Movement, or at least this part of it, is in its death throws. They’re losing the very people they claim to want to help because a) those people are thinking/realizing that the Movement is going way too far, and b) as a result, the Movement is trashing them and throwing them under the bus for “not being ideologically pure enough” or because “they’re not really [INSERT OPPRESSED MINORITY GROUP HERE].”

    Bottom line, if my friend (and I do consider her a friend despite our differences) could walk into that panel super hyped and excited and walk out very disgusted, upset, and troubled, than the SJ movement has almost certainly come off the rails.

    1. That is somewhat heartening, at least. But I fear it will only get worse before it improves.

      1. Agreed. If you’ll forgive my quoting the end of the first Terminator movie, there’s a storm coming. And I fear that it’s going to be very, very ugly.

  7. “The problem with ‘diversity’ and ‘inclusion’ programs – however well-intentioned – is that they call attention to differences, rather than celebrating what we have in common.”

    Must respectfully disagree. The real problem with “diversity and inclusion” programs in SF is they’re not about diversity, they don’t attempt to include more people, and they have nothing to do with science fiction. At all.

    It is an assault on fandom by people who want to use our genre for propaganda.

    Next time you’re at a con where they made a Big Deal about accessibility, count the wheelchairs. The problem with people who rant endlessly about Accessibility, with a capital A, is that they don’t make any effort to advertise to disabled fans, or go get more disabled fans to enjoy the con. They make life miserable for the con-runner with absurdly expensive demands for facilities and equipment almost no one will use, they hector and scold able bodied people, and that’s all they do.

    They don’t care about the disabled fans AT ALL. What they care about is pushing -you- around and getting money out of you. It is political.

  8. The con I considered home ever since it became the first SF con I went to 14 years ago, Penguicon, has gone pretty much full SJW, the point that I publicly said I wasn’t going back. It sounds like Nine Worlds Geekfest went almost exactly the same way.

    One of the incidents that turned me off was someone publicly gushing “I love how inclusive we are!” after announcing that a particular space needed to be kept clear for a guy in a wheelchair. She was genuinely shocked when, on the con mailing list, two disabled people told her they found that kind of thing offensive and wished that people would be accommodating but not make a big deal of it.

    (And I got quoted by Somebody! Yay!)

    1. On your recommendation I read Umair Haque’s articles, and it was indeed interesting – interesting to see how an erudite, well-spoken, intelligently manipulative asshole is able to make his left-wing I Am A Victim whining sound utterly legitimate by taking some actual problems and facts and then twisting them to suit. He’ll cheerfully blame the right-side spectrum of politics and name names, but only note in passing, ‘the Left has some blame’, describe only very briefly how, but not condemn anyone specific.

      I came away from it feeling like I’d just had a brush with the well-dressed version of someone so two-faced that he’s completely soaked in the lessons for Rules for Radicals and feeling that the man behind the mask is a sweet-talking serpent.

      But since he’s a Bernie Sanders flag waving Leftie from (according to some articles) London… well. I guess I repeat myself.

  9. There’s a very odd Sheri Tepper novel called The Revenants (which I’m very confused about as a title, since I’m not sure any of the characters in the novel fits the description.) The world in the novel is increasingly segregated, to the point where the group of protagonists are basically cast adrift since they don’t fit.

    It’s a fairly old novel of hers; I wonder what she thinks of it now.

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