Monday, June 3, 2013

diversity of thought vs diversity of identity: a little about the SFWA Bulletin brouhaha

The most objective account I've found of the basic events in the Great Flamewar about Mike Resnick, Barry Malzberg, and the SFWA Bulletin is in Russell Davis's Sexism and SFWA—but it should be noted that, as always happens in war time, partisans see attempts at objectivity as collaboration with the enemy, and Davis has already felt it necessary to apologize in What I Learned Yesterday.

His account has its quirks—he seems to think there's no difference between sexist and sexual, so he keeps saying everyone's the former when he seems to mean we're the latter. But even if he does mean we're all sexist sometimes, he seems to mean it in the sense of making generalizations and jokes based on gender. Anyone who's ever said anything about men should nod and agree with that.

(Resnick and Malzberg's column from the most recent issue was posted online by Radish Reviews as six jpgs: 123456. If the earlier parts are available online to give people more context, please let me know.)

As with most of these kerfuffles, I stayed out for the opening shots, then stepped in when my sense of self-preservation failed me. My only comments so far have been at Chris Gerwel's The SFWA Bulletin, Censorship, Anonymity, and Representation. Here's the lightly edited version. I began:
I’ve criticized SFWA for many things during the many years I’ve been and not been (currently, not) a member, but I’ve always taken for granted the inclusive nature of The Bulletin. Calling for someone to make sure it only holds views of a particular sort is a call for an editor to become a censor. Gerwel considers that view progressive, but limiting speech is traditionally regressive, no matter what cause is cited when silencing others.

It is true that no one has an obligation to provide anyone with a forum. But once a forum has been offered, removing it is censorship, regardless of the nature of those who withdraw the opportunity to speak. When Norman Finkelstein’s speech was canceled at Clark University, Sarah Wunsch, a representative of the ACLU wrote, “…the cancellation of his speech violates the basic principles of freedom of speech and academic freedom which are so fundamental to an institute of higher learning. The existence of an opportunity to speak at another time or in another location does not remedy the wrong of censorship.”
Then I responded to quibbles by Arclight, who disagreed about the nature of censorship, and Chris Gerwel, whose response included “The complaints voiced about Resnick/Malzberg’s dialogues is that the attitudes articulated therein misrepresent the attitudes/values held by the organization’s broader membership. Presented as they are in the SFWA Bulletin, a reader can justifiably come to the conclusion that SFWA as an organization and its broader membership endorse the attitudes espoused in the R/M dialogues.”:
Chris, I should probably add that I’m not defending Malzberg’s or Resnick’s politics. I’m a socialist, and I’m perhaps too proud of the fact that the feministsf wiki notes that I write strong women and people of color. I wouldn’t discuss these issues using language anything like theirs.

That said, there’s a huge difference between allowing old people to speak of the past in the terms they know it and changing a semicolon. You’re asking for someone to vet the language they use. You’re asking for every writer in the Bulletin to “represent the attitudes/values held by the organization’s broader membership”. But a broad membership, by definition, has people who disagree about many things.

And you did notice that their discussion piece or interview or whatever—it certainly wasn’t an essay—had a byline? That’s who should be held responsible for what’s expressed in what follows.

Arclight, the line between censor and editor may be messy, but it exists. A magazine devoted to Democrats, for example, would not be faulted for excluding socialists and conservative capitalists. SFWA’s Bulletin has been a magazine for f&sf writers. Whatever you may think of their work, Malzberg and Resnick have a long history as f&sf writers. Dictating how they should discuss the field they’ve known for so long would cross from editorial guidance to censorship.
Then, to Jon Marcus:
No, I don’t think anyone’s entitled to a forum forever. But I don’t think anyone should have their forum canceled over political disagreements about how to talk about the accomplishments of women*. Cancel their column for being irrelevant, and I’d shrug. Like most of the people discussing this, I haven’t been reading their part of the Bulletin.

* Did they suggest Bea Mahaffey was incompetent, or that women were?
Then, to Kate Fall:
Though I let my membership lapse, I’m rather proud to have been a member of a group that included Octavia Butler.

And I find it a bit odd that people are focusing on one article in the Bulletin by a couple of old guys reminiscing about the old days and ignoring articles in the same issue like Jim C. Hines’ “Cover Art and the Radical Notion that Women Are People.”

A truly diverse group has diversity of opinion.
And finally:
Chris, I think it’s time to agree to disagree here. I’ll just add that if this shakes up The Bulletin, it could be a good thing, because the magazine’s been in a rut for decades. I’ve long thought it should be cancelled, but it could also be improved.
In the same comment thread, I recommend Felicity Savage's contribution.

I do have one thing to add: I don't think Jean Rabe should be blamed for The Bulletin's shortcomings. She worked well with the resources she had. Her approach in #202 seems perfectly right to me: Jim Hines' article was part of a dialogue, which is being missed by people who don't grasp that the proper response to words are more words. People who discuss what Resnick and Malzberg said understand this. People who say the SFWA Bulletin should not allow writers to write freely do not.

See also: the First Amendment protects private censorship, but opposing free speech is still wrong: a few points from the ACLU, Popehat, Salmon Rushdie, and others