Perils of Division and Conflation
The Dragon Award winners have been announced – and congratulations to all of them – which has led to some unseemly behavior in the comments of Dave’s latest post. I’m not call anyone out by name, because that’s not what this post is about. It’s about the all too human behavior that’s behind the actions.
We all tend to focus on the things that divide us from those who disagree with us. We also all tend to group everyone who doesn’t agree with us into a bucket labeled “the enemy” or more often simply, “them”. Last year, I deliberately crafted Sad Puppies 4 to try to bridge that divide. I chose to enter what might be considered (if you use enough irony) the heart of the enemy stronghold and attend last year’s WorldCon.
I made those choices because I was as close to certain as it’s possible to be without having the evidence laid out in front of you that most of the people who would be there would be just… people. Science fiction and fantasy fans celebrating our genre. I did not go there looking for enemies, which is just as well because I would have been dreadfully disappointed if I had. I didn’t find any enemies. I did find several new friends, not all of them from the lachrymose canine side of the fence.
Now, as I said, it’s human to band together into groups and assume that everyone in those other groups follows everything the loudest or most obnoxious members of said groups happen to say. The problem with fandom is it simply doesn’t work that way. We fans are horribly vulnerable to a power-hungry maniac because for most of us our inclination is to say something like “eh, so long as the books are good who cares?”. Fortunately we’re probably also frustrating as all heck to said power-hungry maniac for much the same reason. Power-chasers can’t get far without dedicated minions, after all.
The thing is, the Hugos and WorldCons are a very loose alliance of multiple different groups. The Hugo administrators I met last year were all the kind of people I can respect, and many of them objected to the proposals aimed at keeping “unwanted” works out of the ballots. Once those proposals are voted in by the membership at large, the administrators of the current Hugo become obliged to uphold them as best they can. This is rule of law and democracy. It doesn’t mean the administrators are in any way corrupt.
Nor, when people who have devoted much of their lives to the awards (and taken little if anything in recognition or compensation) choose not to speak about their misgivings, does it mean that they are doing anything more than avoiding damaging an already tarnished reputation further. At this point, airing the dirty laundry in public isn’t going to help anyone, and it could be seriously detrimental.
It’s easy to conflate the Hugo administrators – who collate the votes, hold the meetings, and follow the rules – with the WorldCon administrators (who, yes, run the WorldCon – including the Hugo ceremony) – but it does both groups an injustice. The Hugo award ceremony is pretty much entirely the work of the subcommittee in charge of it and the appointed toastmaster. It’s got nothing to do with the Hugo administrators (who I suspect don’t want it because they’re generally too busy dealing with other matters as well as their everyday lives which have to be factored in there somewhere).
For that matter, how often have folk on this blog bitched about being conflated with some of the more… ahem… outspoken (or in some cases, unhinged. Not that we’re without sin in that regard – we are the Mad Genius Club, after all) of Vox Day’s supporters? It doesn’t help.
And when it comes down to it, most folk who read and comment here or go to DragonCon or follow the Dragon Awards have much more in common with most of the fans who go to the WorldCons and follow the Hugo awards than we do that’s different. With relatively few exceptions we’re more interested in finding science fiction and fantasy that speaks to us and leaves us enthralled than we are in playing politics or arguing over (to borrow from Pratchett) the third sub-clause in the twenty-fifth subsection of point five of our respective reader manifestos.
So can we please stop and check whether we’re conflating things that aren’t the same or widening small differences before we hit Send. Because we all know that once we’ve hit that button it’s out there for all eternity to embarrass the living heck out of us.