Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Two privileges of attending science fiction conventions, and a little about Jon Del Arroz's law suit

Before conventions began banning people, the fundamental privilege of attending science conventions wasn't discussed because, by capitalist standards, the privilege was fair: anyone who had money could go, and anyone who didn't, well, capitalist fairness is never about people who don't have money.

But now that conventions have begun banning people, it's time to acknowledge the second privilege. Though the genre has grown enormously, it's still a small community at the top. If you hope to become a professional, it can be enormously helpful to attend WorldCon, the World Fantasy Convention, and literary conventions like ReaderCon, WisCon, and Fourth Street Fantasy. Once your career has begun, you need to be able to attend the Nebula Awards too. Obviously, only the very privileged can go to most of those conventions regularly, but anyone who wants to make a career in this field should, every year, pick one from from Column A (WorldCon, World Fantasy, Nebula Awards), one from Column B (ReaderCon, WisCon, Fourth Street Fantasy), and one from Column C (local convention, regional convention, major commercial convention like DragonCon).

Being banned from any convention is an enormous blow to a writer's ability to be a writer, and especially to a new writer's ability to last in the field. It keeps you from meeting fellow professionals and getting useful tips, and it keeps you from making new fans.

I hadn't known anything about Jon Del Arroz until this week. Based on what's in Jim C. Hines' Jon Del Arroz’s History of Trolling and Harassing, Del Arroz and I have nothing in common. I'm a socialist who tries to follow the advice of St. Peter and Malcolm X to respect everyone, I want Muslims to enjoy the freedom of and from religion that the First Amendment promises and everyone should have, I think you should refer to people in the ways they would like to be referred to....

But Hines may be mistaken in some of the things he's claiming about Del Arroz. Hines seems like a fundamentally nice guy, but he is an identitarian whose ideological filters give him trouble with metaphor. He said at Shetterly Banned by 4th Street Fantasy Convention: "I blocked WS after he “joked” about punching me in the face." I wish he had quoted me, because I don't remember the incident, but so far as I know, Hines never objects to the violent metaphors his community endorses, like Tempest Bradford's "cut a bitch".

More significantly, in the same comment, Hines said, " I’ve never really understood the whole, “He’s an asshole online, but he’s a nice guy in real life” dichotomy."

Understanding the dichotomy between online and offline behavior is essential to understanding why Del Arroz may win his law suit. Being banned from a physical place says the organizers believe that person will physically misbehave if they don't take the extreme step of issuing a ban. It's easy to point to examples: Rene Walling was banned from Readercon for trailing after Genevieve Valentine at the conventionJim Frenkel was banned from WisCon for propositioning several women at the convention. But what misbehavior has Del Arroz committed in the physical world that could justify keeping him from being physically present at WorldCon? Hines does not offer any.

He effectively acknowledges that when he says,
I’m not saying Del Arroz is pure evil, or incapable of niceness. I know some people have had nothing but great experiences with him. One person I have a fair amount of respect for talked about how Del Arroz picked him up when he was stranded in the rain, and took him the rest of the way to a convention. That’s a cool thing to do. I’ve seen Del Arroz shut down one of his followers who suggested doxxing SJWs. Sure, not doxxing is a bare minimum of decency, but good on him for taking that stand.
I will point out that fandom's SJWs periodically fail to meet that bare minimum of decency, but it's not like I expect Hines to acknowledge his side's shortcomings. We all tend to magnify the sins of our opponents and minimize those of our allies.

Ah, well. It may be that fandom is simply so large that it will have to splinter. The people in charge of fandom for the last thirty years tend to be identitarian neoliberals, just like the people who have been in charge of the US for the last thirty years. Having fandom break on those lines may be inevitable.

Oh, lest anyone think I'm remembering a golden age that didn't exist, I remember very well being part of the new guard who was frustrated with the old. Fandom's "one big happy family" always fought constantly. But we understood the dichotomy that Jim Hines does not. Was anyone ever banned from a convention for things said in an apa or a fanzine?

If things do not change, a statement like this will be inconceivable in fandom:
"Poul [Anderson] knows that I am a “fuzzy-minded pinko” and I know that he is a “narrow-minded hardhat” (not that either of us would ever use such terms), but we love each other anyway, and our relations with each other in these last couple of years have not suffered at all." —Isaac Asimov

1. How much going to conventions helps writers is impossible to measure. If you can't afford to go to conventions, don't agonize--keep writing. And if you can afford to go, don't focus on promoting yourself--you'll just alienate people.

2. Fans were banned from the very first WorldCon for what they wrote. See "The Great Exclusion Act of 1939" by Dave Kyle. It is not a proud moment in fandom's history.

ETA 2:

On Facebook, a writer who rarely goes to conventions asked if going to more would help or have helped him. I told him I can't guess. Conventions are most useful for conventional writers.

ETA 3:

Exclusion Act - Fancyclopedia 3:
There have been three Exclusion Acts at Worldcons, two major/one minor, all of which ultimately drew negative responses from fandom.

ETA 4:

Identitarians Don't Do Metaphor, or Why Jim C. Hines Banned Me