Damien Walter recently published a piece at the Guardian entitled, “Science Fiction’s Real Life War of Worlds.” You can and should read the piece yourself, but I think I’m fairly characterizing Damien’s argument when I say it goes like this:
1. SF/F is getting more diverse (with “diversity” here implicitly defined as being more inclusive of, and, in fact including more, women, persons of color, and persons of non-hetero sexual orientation).
2. A group of conservative writers have asserted that a group or clique of liberal writers have somehow boxed them out of awards.
3. In response to the growing diversity in the genre, and in response to this perceived exclusion by liberal writers, we now see this barbaric yawp coming from the conservative “reactionaries,” a response driven by their fear that the once predominately white and male genre they knew is changing into something more diverse.
I don’t dispute the first and second points, but the conclusion represented by the third point is questionable. Here, substitute this for Damien’s conclusion in point three:
3. A group of conservative writers, who have long felt ignored, merely tolerated, or overtly silenced by way of the internet version of the heckler’s veto, have decided to speak up, and ask their fans to vocally support them. In response to that, we now see this barbaric yawp from the Left (as evidenced by Damien’s own piece and those like it), illustrative of the Left’s fear that a large, long-silent majority who hold political and social views at odds with theirs has finally been moved to speak up. Indeed, the fact that these conservative writers were able to get so many of their number on the Hugo ballots in response to their request for votes suggests that this is exactly what is happening.
These are both equally plausible conclusions. I suspect Damien makes the former because it aligns with his hopes and worldview (See! These conservative dinosaurs are on the way out and this is the dying gasp of reactionaries! The genre is moving in a direction consistent with my political and social views! Huzzah!). And those who find his column persuasive probably share his views. A conservative, on the other hand, might draw the latter conclusion because it aligns with her/his hopes (See! We’ve been quiet far too long, but those days are over! You’ve awakened the dragon, Leftists, and now the pendulum shall swing to the Right!). And those who find that view persuasive probably hold conservative views.
Of course, neither adds anything to the genre or to discourse about the genre. Both are just self-serving, self-validating, shit-stirring. Clickbait and little else.
Here, let me give you another possible point three. Substitute in this, which seems to me much more plausible, but much less sexy:
3. SF/F has always been riven by factionalism and arguments about political and social issues. Always. This is little different. It no more represents a “war of the worlds” than has any previous dispute or series of disputes in the genre. It’s just that the internet provides both a highly visible mouth piece and a digital gulf (if not anonymity altogether) that makes name-calling, character assassination, and general assholery much more acceptable and visible than it’s been in the past, and that visibility feeds more of the same, and so we climb ever higher into the outrage cycle.
I suspect that’s all that’s happening here, and the Guardian piece is just another example of it. The unfortunate side effect of this is that we’ve all been made nastier and more intellectually inflexible as a result. I’d wager that ten years from now the same kind of debates will be going on (just as they were ten years ago), and pot-stirrers who need eyes on their work will continue to argue that today — TODAY — is different, that this battle is more important than any that’s happened before, and that, indeed, the very heart and soul of the genre is at stake.
It’s not. And it won’t be (because “genre” is mostly a marketing term, and has little analytical value except at a very high level of abstraction, but that’s a subject for another post).
Here’s an idea: Don’t surrender your dignity to the shit-stirring. In the absence of evidence to the contrary, don’t assume that those with whom you disagree are ignorant, villains, or (as I’ve actually read here and there) evil. Smart, well-intentioned, well-educated people sometimes disagree over fundamental things. If we keep this in mind, our dignity will thank us later.
(Now, someone somewhere is going to respond to this by saying, “Kemp is just making the Tone Argument,” or, “Sit down, White Hetero, Affluent Privileged Male, you don’t know where I’ve been.” Fair enough. Nothing I’ve written here will resonate with you. But I hope it resonates for some, and I suspect it will, based on the emails I’ve received. The behavior I’ve seen online in recent months (always under the auspices of “We’re through being polite” or something similar) has been appalling.)