Monday, April 13, 2015

A post about Loud Voices which is not about Civility

I have something to say about civility.

Except it isn't really about civility. I'm just going to start as if it were, at the beginning.

Civility, the surface: Isn't it nice? Isn't it easy when everyone is polite and quiet? Yay! Nothing is going wrong! (Except it's not; I'll return to this.)

Disturbance, level 1: People complain politely about injustice. These are generally ignored, and no action taken.

Disturbance, level 2: People complain about injustice loudly, angrily, perhaps impolitely. These are dismissed as emotional, angry, ugly. If they cite actual evidence, they are told that they would be listened to if they were more polite, but under the circumstances, no.

Disturbance, level 3: People threaten one another with death or violence. These people are breaking the law. I imagine this can be something people resort to without thinking in cases of extreme anger; it can also be used as a deliberate strategy to cause fear. Without a lot of corroborating information, it's hard to tell any one person's motives (though I will note that in several cases this corroborating information does exist). I think cases of threats are pretty straightforward, though I have yet to hear of any instance in which someone was arrested for them. Called out, in detail, though, yes: see the Laura J. Mixon report on RH. These actions should be stopped and it is highly appropriate to call them out and ask for them to do so.

Next, we filter all this through the idea of "my team" and "your team." Ideally, we shouldn't have to do this. Should we ignore level three disturbance just because someone is on "my team"? I don't think so. Ignoring a person's threats when they are publicly recognized as being on one's own team is wrong. Trying to separate oneself is... understandable, if a bit ex post facto.

Let's look at level 2, though. A lot of level 2 discussions devolve into name-calling and other expressions of anger. A lot of people justify their own name-calling and anger by saying "the other team is also doing it."

I hear people saying "my team"'s expressions must be righteous, while "your team"'s expressions are unjustified, pointless, uncivil. This is clearly an issue that needs to be resolved with evidence. There is thus an important role to be played by people who are going to take evidence and do an analysis. Sturridge is one of these people. So is George R. R. Martin, here and here.

I also hear people saying that all raised voices are the same, and should be weighted equally in the call for a return to civility.

I disagree. It comes back to evidence.

"I feel bad because I imagine I deserve more" is NOT an accurate description of the messages on both sides.

Correia and Torgersen obviously feel bad because they imagine they deserve more. (They cloak it in a lot of language about the state of the genre; George R. R. Martin's post above dissects those arguments in detail.) This, despite the fact that they have achieved all kinds of empirically measurable success. It's because they can't have the feather in their cap that they have decided to cry out and co-opt the voting system for the Hugos.

Women, people of color, and LGBT people feel bad because they have been materially oppressed. There is a lot of evidence for this. A simple statistical look at books published in SF/F, books reviewed, voices mentioned in articles about the triumph of genre, etc. will show the clear, longstanding dominance of straight white males. This is not even mentioning sexual harassment, racist or homophobic behavior and constant microaggressions online and at conventions. (Or the constant tide of same in everyday life outside of genre careers!)

These people feel bad because they have been hurt, over and over, historically and in modern times, in ways that materially damage their lives and careers. And it continues every day.

I've spoken about these issues with people for a long time. I've shared the evidence, over and over and over.

I have even had one-on-one private conversations with people in which I laid all this out, only to be told that my premise cannot be accepted. Naturally, it is frustrating when my efforts fall on deaf ears. I think people who have any inkling of the history of religious persecution should realize that historical events cast a long shadow, and if we are using logic, that should make it pretty obvious that things like slavery and abuse and disenfranchisement of women are not cleanly taken care of in one swoop, but by a long, long process of protest, anger, argument, all of the above. In this process, "civil" voices play a role, but they are never, ever sufficient. (This is of course giving the benefit of the doubt on underlying questions of whether people actually deserve equal rights, which applies only to a subset of the Puppy crowd.)

One thing that really gets me, though, is the way certain people refuse to accept the existence of injustice as though it were an intellectual premise, rather than the everyday experience of millions of suffering people. To that, add the way that people suffering literal tortures across the world are held up as object lessons to attempt to "show" us that what we suffer means nothing.

Just because your non-functioning computer is a "first world problem" doesn't mean that it doesn't infuriate you; how much worse, then, is the abuse constantly heaped on women, people of color, and LGBT people who are daily abused and killed in this country, and then told they should be grateful?

Don't try to tell me that these people simply "feel bad because they imagine they deserve more." Being treated with respect as a human being is not a feather in anyone's cap. It is a fundamental human right. Being chastised for actions others perceive as hurtful does not begin to compare. Publishers are not turning away saleable work simply because they disagree with an author's political views. The world of our genre is getting larger and larger - more authors, more work, more fans. Naturally, that means a lot of different kinds of people exploring SF/F in lots of different ways. I've always seen SF/F as being about looking at the world in different ways, exploring, etc. There are lots of ways to do that, and there's room for everyone who can find a readership. But there are the same number of Hugos, so logically, as the field grows there are more non-Hugo-winners. In any case, that latter category always included an overwhelming majority of people.

If you've been in a position to live your life without a societal system constantly working against you - and by that I mean without anyone telling you how cute you are when you are angry, or constantly interrupting you, or paying you less than your male coworker doing the same job - without anyone calling you a thug for reacting to mistreatment with anger, and without feeling like you might die every time you are anywhere near a police officer - feel lucky. Realize, however, that the silence of civility is only helping to hide you from a larger reality. You were meant to feel comfortable in this system, as it was designed by people like you for their own benefit. Nonetheless, it is still pulling the wool over your eyes. There's been lots of research on this; go read it.

If you are only just now realizing the world isn't all about you, welcome. We've been in that place this whole time.

Note: I have turned on comment moderation. Use evidence.


  1. Nice entry.

    "I've spoken about these issues with people for a long time. I've shared the evidence, over and over and over."

    This quote sums up my experience too. I feel like a broken record, citing the data over and over, and they're either ignored, or I'm told they're not sufficient to banish the null hypothesis (that the playing field is level and any inequality in outcome is due to the incompetence of the underrepresented).

    I think there are different possible motives for people making these claims, some relatively well meaning, and some more sinister or contrived. But it's a maddening problem. Because no matter how one approaches the issue--anger, sweet reason, cold, analytical logic--a sizable number of people are covering their ears with their hands and chanting, "Lalalalala, I can't hear you!"

    1. Yes, indeed, E.L. Thanks for your comment.