The Watchtower of Destruction: The Ferrett's Journal - Once Again, It’s Personality Over Policy, Or: SFWA Politics
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Once Again, It’s Personality Over Policy, Or: SFWA Politics|
So the SFWA politics are reflecting mainstream politics, which irritates me.
Here’s the background, for those of you who aren’t SFWA members: John Scalzi is running unopposed for President again, which is fine because he’s done a good job. Mary Robinette Kowal, however, has stepped down from her position as VP, leaving two people to run: Rachel Swirsky and Lou Antonelli.
Lou posted a blog entry announcing his candidacy, and in his personal bio he said: “Louis and Patricia have two adopted Canine-American children, Millie and Sugar Antonelli.” Author Nisi Shawl (who literally wrote the book on writing about other cultures respectfully) took offense at this characterization, saying, “I, too, am a dog-lover, but I struggle for the words to tell you exactly how and why your flippant trivialization of the ethnic identity movement with this phrasing revolted me.”
Lou replied, perhaps unwisely, “I have no damn idea what your problem is. If I offended some esoteric aspect of political correctness, I don’t care… If this some way of saying your genes are more important than your citizenship, then it’s bullshit…. You obviously take yourself way too seriously.”
…at which point a heated discussion broke out on Twitter and in his comments (and in Jim Hines’ blog) about how a man who responded so angrily to a complaint from a SFWA member wasn’t fit to be Vice President. (Most of the people I saw referencing it fell into the category of “Weren’t bothered by the Canine-American silliness at first blush, but the response was so full of swearing and tone-deaf dismissal that I don’t think this man has what it takes to represent a diverse organization.”)
These discussions brought all sorts of additional scrutiny to his biography – which claims that Lou would bring “diversity” to SFWA by being an older white Baptist. (Which, to be fair, may be a minority among SFWA members, but still.) And many decided not to vote for Lou based on the mini-scandal brought by his blog post.
All valid points. You know, if a fairly prominent SFWA member comes to you with concerns about your tone, swearing at her is not a smart political move. Do we want to elect a guy who can’t Google “Nisi Shawl” and then “Ethnic identity movement” before responding?
This is politics in a nutshell once again, with personality trumping policy. Because the real bombshell was buried in Lou’s goals for SFWA, were he elected:
“I would like to see an amendment to the criteria for a professional short story publication, going back to the three cents a word standard (which I believe was the pay rate over a decade ago).”
In other words, Lou’s main platform is “I would like to lower the minimum pay rate for authors to be considered professional.” Which is a nice way of saying “I’d like authors to earn less money,” because the “pro rate” of five cents a word is what lower-tier magazines struggle to make in order to be called “professional.” They make triumphant blog posts when they do make it. SFWA sets the standard for payment. The second you lower that rate, the marketplace will adjust to three cents a word.
How fucked up is that? For the record, I had three professional short story sales in 2011 - more than most members, I’d wager. And for those three sales, I made a sum total of about $600, two from online markets who were quite proud about finally hitting the “pro” rate. Not exactly a princely sum, you see.
Under the Lou three-cents-a-word program, there’s a better-than-even chance I’d have made $440 instead.
So why would I vote for this guy? His argument is that we’ll get more SFWA members with a lower rate – which is great for SFWA’s coffers, but actually actively terrible for me as a writer. Five cents a word wasn’t really livable back in 1990, and after two decades of inflation we’re going to roll it back?
Seriously. What the fuck?
To my mind, that’s the real scandal. Not to dismiss Nisi’s complaints (though I should note she later accepted Lou’s apology, an apology I think was genuine), but what the blog-o-sphere should have reacted to was the cockamamie proposal on the table, one that would have made the economic realities of struggling authors patently worse.
Once again, we have the real world at work. In a just place, Lou would have been dismissed out of hand for bad policy long before we even thought about writing him off for any political missteps. But because policy is boring and insults exciting, we have the shitstorm raised by personal error, with the policy being raised only once the blog-o-sphere erupted in anger over something Lou did wrong. (And I’m not immune – I didn’t notice the three-cents policy until Keffy pointed it out to me.) I think Lou’s probably well-intentioned overall, not a bad man by any means, but that policy…. oof.
That vexes me. I wish more people paid attention to platforms and got as angry about them as they did the scandals of personal misconduct – me included. But we don’t. Even in the small world of SFWA.
In other news, Rachel Swirsky is a wonderful human being and a very competent woman who has my wholehearted vote for SFWA vice president. She had it before, doubly so now.
Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.
This entry has also been posted at http://theferrett.dreamwidth.org/196812.html. You can comment here, or comment there; makes no never-mind by me.
Tags: i'm a writer, politics
To me, something like "I'm a happy-go-lucky dog-lover!" is personality.
How you respond to a member's concerns, even if you disagree (especially if you disagree) is part of the job he's trying to get.
His desire to change membership requirements is also a part of that job.
I think both of these things are fair game for discussion and debate and disagreement. For me, the former was more important than the latter. (I agree with you that his proposal is a bad idea. I also think there's not a chance in hell of it going through, so it's not something I'm terribly concerned about.)
As "diversity" is also a stated part of Antonelli's platform, I think that adds even more credence to the fact that the discussion is in fact about his qualifications and his platform ... just not the part of his platform you think is most important.
But like I said, I do agree with you that the his proposal on the membership rules is a bad idea, one that would (if by some chance it was taken seriously) waste a lot of SFWA time, damage the progress we've made when we raised the rates to five cents, and run the risk of sending SFWA down the same path RWA followed when they accepted "pre-published" members. While I'm all for supporting new writers, I don't think that would be a good direction for SFWA to go.
I only found out about this after it became a controversy, but I have to say I was appalled by anyone responding to a person's complaint by swearing at the person and saying that he didn't care if he caused offense. I understand that some people love a really high-color style of Internet interaction, but if you're trying for a position of responsibility in an organization that actually has a purpose beyond Internet chat? Not wise. Even if he'd had a wonderful platform, that sort of behavior would give me pause (if I were in a position to have a vote in the election. Which I'm not. Although--how many pro sales do you need to be a member? I should look into that...)
Well, with a platform, a person can try to win me over, can explain their position, can listen to my side and make their own arguments, and we can talk together, like adults, about benefits and drawbacks. I may think they are wrong, maybe even wildly wrong, damagingly wrong, but until I have talked it out with you or really gotten under the hood and looked at the proposal, I will withhold judgment and not assume that the person is malicious, too ignorant to be taken seriously, or too much of a jerk to tolerate. I am open, in other words, to listening to the other person's point of view.
When you behave unprofessionally and attack someone, there isn't really any arguing with that. You have just said something about yourself that, even if you apologize, I will not forget. I will argue in a civilized way over pay rates, I will have a dialogue about what that means and what it will do. I refuse to argue with dismissive, ignorant people who are in or are wanting to attain a position of power. I might engage them personally, to educate, but they have just proven that, for at least the next little while, they don't need to get voted up for anything professionally. They need to go and educate themselves and work on understanding the issues at stake. They need to listen, not be put in a position of leadership. I'm not saying it's unforgivable, but I am saying that they have just shown themselves to be the kind of person I don't want to engage in any way. I am not open to listening to someone's point of view when it is basically "Shut up, god, you people are so humorless, flies, honey, blah blah blah."
That is my opinion, that's how it works for me; your results may vary. I don't much care whether anyone agrees; it's how I approach things, and why I would consider his remarks more distressing than his proposed policy, which admittedly would take some fancy explaining to get me to understand the benefits of. Neither is good, of course.
And this really gets up my nose, but after twenty years of listening to it get thrown back and forth, "political correctness" is a word used by both liberals and conservatives to refer to the way the other side wants them to handle certain issues. It is therefore meaningless. It is a term used only to inflame and dismiss, it lacks precision, clarity, and honesty, and I hate it incandescently. When someone uses it at me, I'm sorry, I stop taking them seriously.
This, pretty much. And actually I've been part of some private conversations about exactly that bit of the platform, with exactly your* reaction, immediately after he declared his candidacy. For my part, I had decided to say nothing about it because the thing you point out is pretty clear, and I suspected that most people were connecting the same dots you were and saying, "Oh, nuh uh, guess I know who I'm voting for" very quietly.
But when he responded the way he did to Nisi, I think some number of people didn't want to just quietly say, "Gee, that's bad" while publicly Nisi had no support. The membership proposal is foolish, but not speaking up doesn't get anyone hurt. His treatment of Nisi is entirely a different thing.
That's where I stand on it, anyway.
edited to add--by "your reaction" I mean Ferrett's. Sorry, the sentence wasn't clear.
Edited at 2012-03-08 03:39 pm (UTC)
I have a policy where, when someone mentions "political correctness" derisively, I get to stop listening to anything they say from that point on. So far, it's working out pretty well for me.
(Also, the "diversity"="more white Christian guys" part of his deal bugs.)
Also, yes. Platforms, especially financial platforms...I can argue with them, but a lot of it comes down to numbers and facts and the way you interpret them, and there are generally more points of "I disagree, but you're not a douche".
Right, it isn't like there aren't whole sub genres of SF that are dominated by white conservative often religious men. Space opera sells well (and I know here are people to whom none of those descriptors apply who write Space Opera. Almost all of the SO I read is by people who don't fit that profile.)
|Date:||March 8th, 2012 03:34 pm (UTC)|| |
When someone says "What you said offended me" and get a response of "How could you be offended, that wasn't offensive" I am constantly flabbergasted by the lack of empathy on display there. People do not get to decide what is "worthy" of offending someone else.
I've cut the word "retarted" out of my vocabulary, because it is offensive to a lot of people, and there's no reason why I can't use a different word. I don't think most people who use it mean to offend, but again, that's not the issue - the issue is that people are offended, and in a situation like this it takes next to no effort to find a different way of expressing yourself.
This can be taken to extremes, sure, as I'm sure someone will point out. Yes, there are people who are constantly offended by everything. But in situations where there's a pretty clear cut explaination for being offended, it's not that difficult for people to think about what's coming out of their mouth. Or fingers, as the case may be.
On the subject of his rate-lowering proposal, I wonder if he did math similar to yours and said, “With this change, authors won’t lose very much money in real terms, but we’ll have a lot more authors eligible to join the SFWA, and that’s good for the long-term health of the SFWA“. Not that I’m dismissing a 40% pay cut out of hand; it’s steep, and ignores long-term price inflation for starters. But I wonder if that was his thinking.
Part of the logic of the pro paying rate is not just the 5 cents per word, it's lasting as a business long enough to be considered by SFWA to be a pro market. Lowering the standard makes a pay cut, a disincentive for the threshold markets to pay more and puts a downward pressure on encouraging new writers. Having more members at the cost of damaging the business seems a bad move.
I do have one major problem here.
Nisi Shawl's behavior was not reasonable. It is not reasonable behavior to tell someone that what they have said revolts you, that you have checked with others, they agree, that you will now be campaigning against them because of what has been said, but that you're not going to explain yourself (but someone should explain it to you sometime). She didn't need to explain it in depth - I think I could've have been satisfied with an additional sentence. But as-is, what she produced is rather deeply flawed.
That said, if Mr. Antonelli can't deal better with unreasonable people, he's not ready for the VP slot. I think his reaction is understandable and not inappropriate from a reasonable human being. I don't think it's OK from a SFWA VP or a prospective one.
|Date:||March 8th, 2012 10:11 pm (UTC)|| |
"that you will now be campaigning against them because of what has been said"
Except she never said that -- and this isn't the first time I've heard this around this issue.
Here's her comment
, reposted on her site. I think people are conflating "I asked others if my opinion is out of bounds" with some kind of boycott or campaign.
She's expressing her opinion. Perforce, by saying "I won't vote for you" she's influencing others, but that's a far cry from an ongoing effort.
As for the rest, I submit that, like with the OP, I have to agree to very, very vehemently disagree.
Me, I'd interpret posting that comment as campaigning, at least to some extent. So she DID. :P
That said, I think you're right: Mr. Antonelli attributed that interpretation to it in one place, and I suspect it stuck in my head.
I don't think that makes it much more reasonable, though. Reasonable people explain themselves, even if they're upset, even if they have good reason to be so. If you can't agree with that, I'm not sure there's much to be said.
She explained that her problem was the "flippant trivialization of the ethnic identity movement". I read her comment about not having the patience to explain the details to mean that she didn't feel like having to be the one to educate him on the details of the ethnic identity movement. It gets tiresome having to explain your grievances, in detail, over and over again, every time some new person stumbles over them - though I agree she could have at least linked him to a page where he could read more about the problem.
That said, this controversy is the first time I've ever seen the phrase "ethnic identity movement" - and yet I immediately grasped the core of Nisi's problem. It's not hard to see how co-opting the language that ethnic minorities in America frequently use to define their identity, just to create a cutesy way to say "I consider my dogs to be people", would be at the very least troubling to someone who takes those ethnic identities seriously. And then I remember that various iterations of "Foo-American" (where "Foo" is something that definitely doesn't indicate an ethnic background) have been used to belittle the idea of minority groups trying to control their own identities for at least two decades.
If you're telling someone that you found something they said to be offensive, you do not automatically bear the onus of educating that person on the entire background of why that thing was offensive. You can choose to explain it, of course, but I don't see anything beyond providing them with enough details to work it out for themselves to be a requirement for "reasonableness". I certainly think those details were there - taking ten or fifteen seconds of thought to piece together the situation and obtain even the slightest idea of the problem is really not too much to ask.
And if the problem was that Antonelli still didn't know why she considered the statement to be offensive - assuming he didn't or couldn't work it out for himself - she still looks like a bastion of reason next to a response that includes phrases like "I don't care" and "it's bullshit" and "you obviously take yourself way too seriously". I don't know how you consider any part of his reaction (beyond his admission that he doesn't understand the problem) to be "not inappropriate".
And she didn't do much to explain what the ethnic identity movement was. As you say, that's the first time I've seen the term. I googled it. What you get is not particularly helpful, IMO. If you're going to make up terms (or use terms Google can't define for readers), you have to define them at least minimally. As I said, I don't want her to explain them in detail. But "I think you're trivializing identities people had to struggle for a long time to have accepted" is a lot clearer than some abstract blather about the "ethnic identity movement".
I frankly don't care if she's tired of explaining her grievances. Reasonable people explain the problems they have with other people. They don't have to explain them at length, but they do have to at least make an effort. She didn't. To paraphrase you: taking ten or fifteen seconds to explain yourself with even minimal effectiveness is really not too much to ask.
As to her looking reasonable: I think 'looking' is the operative term there. Her language looks more reasonable, but the actual content of her message is basically: "You made me mad. I asked my friends, and they said I was right. I hope someone explains how stupid you are for making me mad."
On the other hand, the first paragraph of his reply convinced me he'd interpreted her words at least partly as an attack on his relationship with his "children" (note the various details, too). On that basis, his reply makes complete sense. I think he wrote in anger or offense himself, like Ms. Shawl. The distinction is that he explained himself.
As to not caring, bullshit, and her taking herself too seriously: she does take herself too seriously (she reposted her comment to her blog, not to mention that her feelings are so important she doesn't have to explain them), bullshit is a PG-13 profanity at worst, and I wouldn't care about someone who didn't explain themselves to me either. Also, I give him heavy points for explaining himself.
None of this explains how a dismissive, profane reaction is better than one that seeks to understand what the problem is.
Antonelli had (at least) two choices: blow up at the person making the complaint, or engage in the dialogue he claims to be trying to foster in order to actually comprehend the perceived offense. He chose the former. This was a bad idea. If you think it was a good idea, I don't know what more I could say to convince you otherwise.
(Incidentally, this is why it gets so tiring trying to explain these kinds of problems. It frequently turns into a discussion where the offender, or those seeking to defend him, try to pick apart the explanation bit by bit so as to arrive at the conclusion that, actually, saying Offensive Thing X was really okay, and the offended party should just get over him/herself.)
...I never said that his reply was the best it could possible be. I said it was "understandable, and not inappropriate from a reasonable human being". Which it is. However, I also explicitly said it wasn't appropriate for a VP candidate.
As a VP candidate, I think his choice was flat-out wrong. As a guy responding to a perceived criticism of his family, I think his choice was OK. As a guy responding to an unreasonable person on the internet, I think he was OK as well. Not great, or even good. But OK. He hardly "blew up".
I really hate the phrase "takes their ethnic identity seriously" since that's pretty much what led to the genocides in Rwanda and former Yugoslavia. The Serbians took their ethnic identity seriously and they murdered their Muslim neighbors by the hundreds to prove just how seriously they took it.
Hell, white Americans have been taking their ethnic identities seriously for centuries which is why they perpetuated slavery.
It is not reasonable behavior to tell someone that what they have said revolts you
I disagree. Telling people "This revolts me, and I don't feel like explaining why" is reasonable. She was willing to go into more details when asked...
...but given that the majority of people you tell that you're offended actually don't give two shits, no matter what sort of explanations you DO give, then I can completely understand the unwillingness to explain. Most of the time it's useless.
She explicitly said she wasn't willing to go into more details. Twice, as I recall.
Explaining at length would be futile, yes. But some explanation is necessary (and explanation that actually explains, at that). Otherwise, I think you're creating the impression that what really matters is that you, personally, were offended. Which isn't a particularly reasonable attitude to take.
|Date:||March 8th, 2012 06:14 pm (UTC)|| |
Oh holy HELLS. Even I know the last thing I would bring to *any* organization in the United States is 'diversity.'
A different POV, perhaps. But I'm a classic - absolutely CLASSIC - example of the majority of people here. I know it, and some days the white people truly scare me regardless of it.
And props to you for getting to the real issue - and raising it up.
Edited at 2012-03-08 06:14 pm (UTC)
|Date:||March 8th, 2012 06:42 pm (UTC)|| |
|Date:||March 8th, 2012 06:46 pm (UTC)|| |
Seriously, though -- the nice thing about this is that Antonelli made it EASY for everyone. Look. Policy ideas are vitally important, of course, but you can DISCUSS policy ideas. You want to know people's IDEALS, more than their IDEAS.
The IDEA of lowering professional rate to 3 cents a word is something you can argue about. The IDEAL of "more people being professional writers is more important than people making a LIVING at being professional writers" is a belief, and is therefore not subject to debate.
But Antonelli made it so that people didn't even have to parse it out that far. He demonstrated, "I am not inclined to listen to people or debate about ideas AT ALL," which works just fine.