Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Running a Genuinely Inclusive Con

Because I am the Right Geek, I've caught wind of several online controversies regarding local con-coms and their choices regarding programming, guests of honor, codes of conduct, etc. And yes -- I do have opinions on these matters that I would like to share.

As I remarked on a related Facebook post, I don't think you can successfully run a con that's "apolitical." First of all, science fiction is a literature of ideas, and ideas have important political implications that should be examined. Secondly, a con at which political topics are actively avoided is a con that would be boring as hell. Looking back over my thirteen years of continuous con attendance, I can recall several well-moderated "political" panels that were among the most interesting panels I've ever watched. If we cut those out, what do we have left?

The problem is not that we are discussing politics at cons; the problem is the lack of balance that one often sees in those discussions. And in my view, the reason we see this heavy slant is that a small but vociferous minority has, with malice aforethought, made it extremely unpleasant for anyone who doesn't toe a particular party line to participate.

I'm not talking about simple disagreement. Believe me, I can take people challenging my Christian, right-leaning, classically liberal worldview if they do so civilly -- and I think anyone else who happens to occupy my region of the political coordinate plane would certainly say the same. In reality, we're fairly used to challenge and typically have spent many years practicing the art of taking the good and critiquing the bad every time we turn on the TV/go to the movies/go to school/etc. What bothers us so much - and what, in many cases, has made us allergic to any mention of race/gender/sexuality in our programming guides - is the abject failure on the part of the aforementioned vociferous minority to engage us in good faith.

To wit: We have been repeatedly smeared as racist, misogynistic, homophobic bigots just because we doubt that the hard-left fans have it right -- and why bother getting involved if that's all we're going to get for our trouble?

If you don't see that this is a serious problem that demands remedy, then you, quite frankly, have embraced toxic irrationality. The vast majority of us don't want to electroshock the gays, lynch blacks, or send women back to the kitchen. On the contrary, the viewpoints that most of us hold are the result of both careful thought and real lived experience, and we deeply and rightfully resent being portrayed otherwise by those who've promulgated a highly disordered definition of the word "inclusive."

It all goes back to what I've said in the past about love and respect. Love is wanting what's best for a person, respect is treating him like a functional human being, and both concepts are rooted in truth. It is neither loving nor respectful to tell a child that everything he does is just gravy, for if you do so, you will most assuredly set that child up for failure and pain later on. Similarly, when you tell a grown adult that he has no obligation to control his own emotions or to tolerate the free expression - hell, even the mere presence - of people who don't 100% affirm his beliefs about himself, you render that adult unfit for contact with the outside world. Worse, you are treating him like a dumb animal, not like a man. You are patting him on the head and saying, "It's okay. We know you're incapable of being emotionally continent. Just let us protect you from the badthink that will make you upset. It's not like you can actually use your words."

I personally have more faith in people than that -- and that's because I know women, people of color, and LGBT folks who absolutely hate this implicit condescension and want to be treated exactly like everyone else, not like helpless babes. Indeed, I happen to fall into this category myself. As a woman - and a disabled one at that - the very last thing I want is to be awarded prizes just for being a girl. I want to know that I was held to the same standards as the boys and that I beat them on their playing field.

So no -- being "inclusive" does not and should not mean that anyone who dissents from SJB orthodoxy should stuff his opinions or else be verbally abused, libeled in the geek press, or excluded from a convention space for having the audacity to think differently. Being "inclusive" should mean that we recognize the irreducible humanity of each individual and converse with him on those terms. It means we don't judge anyone based on the group(s) he belongs to but instead judge him based on his personal conduct and the talents he brings to the table.

We should like a minority author because his story is good, not because boosting his work makes us feel confident in our own moral rectitude. And rather than expecting this minority author to fall apart the moment someone disagrees with him, we should trust that he is wholly capable - both emotionally and intellectually - of defending himself when he is contradicted and explaining, in words, how his own experiences have shaped his views.

On the flip side, we should also refrain from assuming that all right-leaning creators and fans are awful beasts whose speech should be controlled through draconian applications of vague codes of conduct that seem designed to muzzle non-leftist trains of thought. Further, we should refrain from assuming that these right-leaning members of the fandom are all "white, heterosexual cis-men" who can be safely dismissed. I'm here to tell you now that this just ain't so.    

If cons can be "inclusive" in this liberal, reasonable way, I think many of us will be happy to countenance panels on hot-button issues that leftist fans wish to highlight. But if you really want us to listen to you, you have to fix your shit.


  1. Great thoughts. Balance is impossible to attain when publishers and organizers are imposing their own bias onto the writers.

  2. --- To wit: We have been repeatedly smeared as racist, misogynistic, homophobic bigots just because we doubt that the hard-left fans have it right -- and why bother getting involved if that's all we're going to get for our trouble? ---

    This is not only the problem; it’s the reason the problem is insoluble. The Left has abandoned argument via evidence and reason. Whether it’s done so because it can’t support its positions rationally or because viciousness toward those who disagree simply gets better results is immaterial. They will not meet us on the field of civil discourse.

    Thomas Sowell noted this “assumption of differential rectitude” in his book The Vision of the Anointed. Inasmuch as merely for disagreeing with its positions the Left has consigned us – whether sincerely or otherwise – to an unacceptably lower moral plane, we cannot hope for the restoration of civil discourse while that condition lasts. Since that belief in its superior wisdom and virtue is self-reinforcing and independent of any actual wisdom or virtue, it will be a long, long time before it can burn out...if it ever does.

  3. The left is open minded and inclusive if you agree with their world view..... if you don't, they you're an evil N@zi that must be destroyed.

  4. Sci Fi is going to run classically liberal because you're usually writing a story about an individual that makes a difference. Something drifting in the force of history is going to be boring as hell.

    1. Unless your name is Asimov.

      Annnnnnd, you realize that your basic premise is boring as hell, so you toss some chaos (i.e. an individual who makes a difference) into the mix. Then you get to have your virtuous assurance that there IS a "right side of history" to be on, while still having a decent enough story. Note that this is the same sleight of hand that Star Trek:TOS and especially Star Trek : TNG employed.

  5. By an "Inclusive Con" and mention of Heinlein (a contemporary of Hubbard) I assumed you were talking about Scientology.

  6. This dispute between Left and Right, where the Left employs belligerent irrationality to enforce conformity to its tribal values, can be boiled down into a battle between reason versus barbarism. I don't hold much hope for the barbarians to reform themselves. I fear the civilized people will be tempted to adopt the barbarian tactics, losing the battle by becoming what they oppose. I recommend the Right stick to sweet reason and let the barbarians of the Left defeat themselves by making themselves insufferable in debate by pushing irrational arguments poisoned with insult, the lowest form of argument.

  7. The problem is that you assume the other side wants an inclusive con, they don't. During the Puppy Wars they made it quite clear they were happy with the idea that the appeal of their conversation was, like Spinal Tap, becoming more selective. In fact, they said the same thing of literary SF as well. Oh they were careful to make the Orwellian argument that they were expanding the appeal by making a good portion of fandom feel uncomfortable, but they really wanted a smaller pond so they could pretend to be bigger fish.