Friday, February 21, 2014

Diversity of thought vs diversity of identity: the SFWA Kerfuffles

This is the almost-final-draft of a section from a book about social justice warriors, identitarianism, and mobbing. For more information and links to other chapters, see How to Make a Social Justice Warrior.

Diversity of thought vs diversity of identity: the SFWA Kerfuffles
• The right to offend is the heart of free speech
• Chain Mail Bikinis
• The Reminiscences of Old Men
• When you think social justice warriors can go no lower
• N. K. Jemisin’s Continuum Guest of Honor Speech
• On the female gaze, Vampire Diaries, gothic romances, and SFWA
• On Vox Day and N. K. Jemisin, the feuding heirs of Racial Realism
• Do gun laws make it safe for white people to kill darker-skinned people?
• SFWA’s Petitiongate

Diversity of thought vs diversity of identity: the SFWA Kerfuffles

• The right to offend is the heart of free speech

"Censorship, the suppression of words, images, or ideas that are "offensive," happens whenever some people succeed in imposing their personal political or moral values on others. Censorship can be carried out by the government as well as private pressure groups. Censorship by the government is unconstitutional. In contrast, when private individuals or groups organize boycotts against stores that sell magazines of which they disapprove, their actions are protected by the First Amendment, although they can become dangerous in the extreme. Private pressure groups, not the government, promulgated and enforced the infamous Hollywood blacklists during the McCarthy period.” — American Civil Liberties Union, “What Is Censorship?”

"In America the majority raises formidable barriers around the liberty of opinion; within these barriers an author may write what he pleases, but woe to him if he goes beyond them." —Alexis de Tocqueville

"...the principle of free thought—not free thought for those who agree with us, but freedom for the thought that we hate." —Oliver Wendell Holmes

"What is freedom of expression? Without the freedom to offend, it ceases to exist." —Salman Rushdie

"The idea that any kind of free society can be constructed in which people will never be offended or insulted is absurd. So too is the notion that people should have the right to call on the law to defend them against being offended or insulted. ... The moment you declare a set of ideas to be immune from criticism, satire, derision, or contempt, freedom of thought becomes impossible." —Salman Rushdie, "Defend the right to be offended"

"During the year in which Michigan's speech code was enforced, more than twenty blacks were charged - by whites - with racist speech. As Trossen notes, not a single instance of white racist speech was punished. ... What you don't hear from the hate speech theorists is that the first casualty of the MacKinnonite anti-obscenity ruling was a gay and lesbian bookshop in Toronto, which was raided by the police because of a lesbian magazine it carried." —Henry Louis Gates, in "Critical Race Theory and Freedom of Speech"

"Feminists who oppose censorship…do not have another slogan, another quick solution, another panacea to offer in its place. We do have a comprehensive list of tasks we must carry out to bring sexism and violence to an end. Working on any one of these is more helpful—immediately, not in the distant future—than supporting censorship of any kind today, for these tasks get at the structural basis of sexism and violence, and thus insure that we will have a home." —Varda Burstyn, Women Against Censorship

"There is no feminist code about which words and images are dangerous or sexist. Genuine feminism encourages individuals to choose for themselves. A free and vigorous marketplace of ideas is the best guarantee of democratic self-government and a feminist future.” — Feminists For Free Expression

“Where racist, sexist and homophobic speech is concerned, the ACLU believes that more speech—not less—is the best revenge. This is particularly true at universities, whose mission is to facilitate learning through open debate and study, and to enlighten. Speech codes are not the way to go on campuses, where all views are entitled to be heard, explored, supported or refuted. Besides, when hate is out in the open, people can see the problem. Then they can organize effectively to counter bad attitudes, possibly change them, and forge solidarity against the forces of intolerance. 

“College administrators may find speech codes attractive as a quick fix, but as one critic put it: "Verbal purity is not social change." Codes that punish bigoted speech treat only the symptom: The problem itself is bigotry. The ACLU believes that instead of opting for gestures that only appear to cure the disease, universities have to do the hard work of recruitment to increase faculty and student diversity; counseling to raise awareness about bigotry and its history, and changing curricula to institutionalize more inclusive approaches to all subject matter.” — American Civil Liberties Union, “Hate Speech on Campus”

“The third area of concern for us as writers is the use of language to produce identity. In the European context this is particularly crucial, as the economic crisis is immiserating large numbers of people, who are - as always in European history - turning towards xenophobia and atavistic nationalism in the hope of identifying an enemy more tangible than global capital.

“It seems to me that multiculturalism, once a useful and progressive kind of politics, is no longer functioning as well as it did. The limits of identity politics are becoming clear. Instead of a playful, creative blending of the best of host and migrant cultures, the terms of multiculturalism are increasingly used by cultural conservatives of all stripes to police cultural boundaries. A liberal politics of absolute inclusivity, while presenting itself as pragmatic, has the disadvantage of obscuring genuine differences and antagonisms. Identity politics, which privileges categories like race and religion, is wilfully silent about class. Culture is, self-evidently, at the heart of this, and so we as writers have a central role to play. It sickens me to watch European bigots puffing up their chests about the values of the Enlightenment, as a badge of their superiority against poor and marginalised immigrant populations. Again, I say that opposition to this Enlightenment fundamentalism, isn’t moral relativism, but an ethical imperative. At this point, respecting difference is important, but so is asserting our common life across borders of race, class and religion. The fake pageantry of respect is no substitute for a genuine internationalism.

“There are many weapons in the culture war, but chief among the techniques of policing thought and writing is that of offence. We are familiar with the use of the notion of offense by religious and ethnic minorities to gain identity-political purchase – from the Rushdie fatwa to the Mohammed cartoons, the martialling of sentiments of shame and abused honor have generated a lot of heat and not much light.

“I believe that the right to freedom of speech trumps any right to protection from offense, and that it underlies all the other issues I’ve been speaking about. Without freedom of speech, we, as writers, can have very little impact on culture. In saying this, I’m aware that this is a prime example of a concept which has been degraded by the war on terror – that many European muslims misidentify it as a tool of Anglo-Saxon interests, a license to insult them, rather than the sole guarantee of their right to be heard.” —Hari Kunzru, "Address to European Writers Parliament 25th November 2010”

• Chain Mail Bikinis

The subjects of the SFWA kerfuffles of 2013-2014 included the cover of issue #200 of the SFWA Bulletin, which featured a swordswoman in a chain mail bikini. Fandom’s social justice warriors hate skimpy costumes for female adventurers. Though Wonder Woman’s outfit is often criticized for revealing more skin than the canonical male superhero costume, the iconic objectional costume in fantasy and science fiction is Red Sonja’s chain mail bikini.

Ask me if fighting in a chain mail bikini is stupid, and I’ll agree with you. But so are any number of pulp fiction conventions. Shooting from the hip or fanning six-shooters will only increase the odds you’ll miss. The Lone Ranger and the Phantom never take off their masks, which has to get mighty uncomfortable. Why Batman isn’t constantly getting tangled in his cape when he fights, I dunno. But in stories that are not supposed to be realistic, what looks coolest wins.

Ask me if the chain mail bikini is sexist, and I’ll ask two questions: “Why do so many female cosplayers like to dress as Red Sonja?” and “What are the male heroes wearing?”

A video by CollegeHumor, “Female Armor Sucks”, is hilarious because it explores a double standard in many video games and comics: the men get practical armor and women get chain mail bikinis. But when you look for the origin of the chain mail bikini, you don’t find a double standard. Conan the Barbarian and Red Sonja reveal equivalent amounts of skin. Her bikini shows more of her hip and belly, but she usually has higher boots, some upper torso protection, and gloves.

If I was writing Red Sonja, she’d go back to something like the first costume, which had her in shorts and a chain mail shirt. The bikini only makes sense for a circus performer or a gladiator, not a wandering adventurer. I like some realism in my fantasy.

But while stupid and sexist often intersect, they aren’t the same. So long as Conan shows as much skin as Red Sonja, both costumes are sexist or neither is. 

In patriarchal societies, women publicly showing skin is a transgressive act. Part of the appeal of costumes like Wonder Woman’s or Red Sonja’s for cosplayers is the thrill of flouting a social convention. Most cultures have holidays when people are allowed more freedom with their flesh than usual.

While there’s a sexist double standard in the amount of flesh most superheroes display, anyone talking about the issue might want to remember that nearly-naked male adventurers range from Tarzan and the Sub-mariner to the Silver Surfer and the Thing. The tradition of fantastic heroes who show a lot of skin goes back at least to Tarzan, Jane, John Carter, and Dejah Thoris. Or maybe it goes to Adam and Eve.

If I had to be in a swordfight and my choice of costume was a furry diaper or a chain mail bikini, I would take the bikini in an instant. Are there women who would prefer the diaper?

• The Reminiscences of Old Men

Mike Resnick is on the list of writers who should be respected by people who value racial diversity. He has traveled to Africa and used his interest in the continent in his fiction. His short stories, the African-based “Kirinyaga” and the anti-imperialist “The 43 Antarean Dynasties”, won Hugo awards.

But he’s an old white man.

He may have had his first clash with warriors in 2010. At Michael A. Burstein’s “Mike Resnick and Africa”, N. K. Jemisin entered the comments to disagree strongly with Burstein’s praise of “The 43 Antarean Dynasties.” I had not read the story and her assumptions about it seemed odd, so I read it that night. I thought its premise was slight if you know anything about tourists, but the conclusion was nice. Yet Jemisin’s assumptions made her see “whiteness” that wasn’t in the text, and most strangely, made her claim the narrator was “inscrutable” even though the reason the story works is because the narrator is so very scrutable.

For years, Mike Resnick and Barry N. Malzberg had a discussion column in the SFWA Bulletin. In issues #199 and #200, they had a two-parter titled “Literary Ladies” to share their admiration of women in the genre. Though the cover of issue #199 was innocuous, #200 had a cover of a swordswoman in a chain mail bikini, which put everything inside it in the worst light for people who hated mail bikinis .

Malzberg wrote, “Almost synchronous with [Catherine Tarrant's] entrance was that of Beatrice Mahaffey as Raymond Palmer's assistant editor when Palmer left Amazing to originate a series of his own magazines (beginning with Other Worlds) and I will leave it to you to introduce her; you knew her from the SF community of your early years and were, with so many, an admirer. She was competent, unpretentious, and beauty pageant gorgeous ... as photographs make quite clear. Tell succeeding generations all about her, please.

Resnick wrote, “Ah, Bea Mahaffey… She was the only pro I knew in Cincinnati when we moved here from the Chicago area more than a third of a century ago. She was incredibly generous with her time and reminiscences, and I spent a lot of time with her, on the phone and in person, during the first few months when I was learning my way around town. Anyone who's seen photos of Bea from the 1950s knows she was a knockout as a young woman.”

Their old-fashioned use of “ladies” was mocked by people like Aliette de Bodard, Tempest Bradford, Kate Elliott, Lavie Tidhar, and E. Catherine Tobler, who were especially obsessed with the mentions of “beauty pageant gorgeous” and “a knockout as a young woman”, even though Mahaffey was also described as competent, unpretentious, and generous.

In issue #201, C. J. Henderson wrote about the need for writers to reinvent themselves over the course of their career. For an example, he pointed to the evolution of the Barbie doll and said,

The reason for Barbie’s unbelievable staying power, when every contemporary and wanna-be has fallen by the way-side is, she’s a nice girl. Let the Bratz girls dress like tramps and whores. Barbie never had any of that. Sure, there was a quick buck to be made going that route but it wasn’t for her. Barbie got her college degree, but she never acted as if it was something owed to her, or that Ken ever tried to deny her. 

She has always been a role model for young girls, and has remained popular with millions of them throughout their entire lives, because she maintained her quiet dignity the way a woman should.

How he sees “quiet dignity” in a Barbie doll, I haven’t a clue, but dolls are symbolic figures, so it’s not surprising that he sees what he wants to see there. While I completely disagree with his notion that writers should treat fiction as a purely commercial endeavor, his critics missed something essential to any charge of sexism: He was advising commercial pragmatism to all writers, not just women. People who believe in “quiet dignity” for women like the same quality in men so much that “strong, silent type” is a clichĂ©.

But for an audience already inflamed about sexism, his words were only more fuel.

In issue #202, Resnick and Malzberg responded to the furor over their earlier discussions, and Jim C. Hines wrote an article titled “Cover Art and the Radical Notion that Women Are People.” Hines’ article was ignored by people who were furious about Resnick and Malzberg’s response in #202:

Resnick said, “So, Barry, just off the top of your head, what’s your opinion… of a writers’ organization that will let me say ‘fuck’ in these pages… but has some members that want to censor the word ‘beautiful’ and the thousandth painting of an absolutely generic warrior woman?”

Malzberg said, “But then again, if they want to shut us down… no more Woman Warriors and no offensive description of a beautiful woman as beautiful, well then there is a problem.”

And later, “Our Warrior Woman protesters and enemies of the adjective… fall into the category of what Right Wing radio talkers call ‘liberal fascists’, and I cannot disagree with that description.”

The warriors especially mocked Resnick and Malzberg for suggesting their goal was censorship. But the outrage drove the Bulletin’s editor, Jean Rabe, to resign, and the magazine was put on hiatus. What happens next isn’t known as I write, but it seems unlikely Resnick and Malzberg will return.

As usual, I stayed out of the opening battles, then stepped in when my sense of self-preservation failed me. At the comments on Chris Gerwel’s “The SFWA Bulletin, Censorship, Anonymity, and Representation”, I said, “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.”

Arclight disagreed about the nature of censorship, and Gerwel said, “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.”

I answered:

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.

So far as I could tell, Jean Rabe worked well with the resources she had. Her approach in #202 seemed right: Jim Hines’ article was part of a dialogue, which was 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 let SFWAns write freely about the past do not.

When SFWA President John Scalzi wrote about Rabe’s resignation in “Presidential Statement on the SFWA Bulletin”, he said,

By our organization’s current bylaws, the president of SFWA has unilateral control of, and therefore is ultimately responsible for, the organization’s publications. This includes the Bulletin. This means that when all is said and done, I personally am responsible for the Bulletin and what is published between its covers.

As publisher, I was aware that there would be two articles in Bulletin #202 about the cover of issue #200, one by Jim C. Hines and one by Mike Resnick and Barry Malzberg. I did not read Mr. Hines’ piece and glanced cursorily at the Resnick/Malzberg piece but did not give it a significant read; I do not as a matter of course closely read the Bulletin before it is published. It’s possible if I had more closely read the article I might have alerted Ms. Rabe to portions that might be an issue. She might then have had the opportunity to take those concerns back to Mr. Resnick and Mr. Malzberg, who I have no reason to believe would not have taken editorial direction. 

This did not happen. I as publisher gave the go-ahead – and once again, the responsibility for the event, and the offense it caused, falls on me.

Rabe’s critics interpreted that as Scalzi being polite. But he was right to take full responsibility. As Medievalist noted in “The Latest SFWA Controversy”, “If you look closely, you’ll see she did not have editorial control; hence the content was passed on to the Publisher i.e. the President of SFWA, i.e John Scalzi who did not read the articles.”

• When you think social justice warriors can go no lower

Joe McCarthy’s witch-hunt ended soon after Joseph Welch asked him on public television, “Have you no sense of decency?”

I keep waiting for that moment to come with the social justice witch-hunters.

Welch’s question was rhetorical. Witch-hunters have no sense of decency. They’re hunting witches, after all. To holy warriors, decency is only weakness.

In July, during the SFWA Bulletin kerfuffle, a tumblr called Speculative Friction began sharing posts from SFWA members’ private sites, sites that are not available to internet search engines and which have an explicit privacy statement. Warriors claim they respect privacy, but they only respect their own.

• N. K. Jemisin’s Continuum Guest of Honor Speech

• On the female gaze, Vampire Diaries, gothic romances, and SFWA

On June 8, 2013, in her Continuum Guest of Honor speech, N. K. Jemisin said, “two of the genre’s most venerable white male writers made some comments in a series of recent articles which have been decried as sexist.”

In “Is it too late for SF?”, Jemisin began, “So yesterday I went to Crunch Gym to take part in my first Cardio Sculpting class. The instructor was a handsome young man...” The relevance of the instructor’s looks is never established. Jemisin simply noted it.

Because she, like most of us, notices attractive people.

Unlike Resnick and Malzberg, she begins by mentioning the man’s attractiveness and only gets to his competence later.

I’ve been thinking about the female gaze because The Vampire Diaries is clearly shot with the female gaze in mind. The men are often unclothed, and the women rarely. (Yes, some gay men undoubtedly enjoy the show for that reason, but they’re a secondary audience.) The visual sensibilities are very reminiscent of illustrations for the various women’s romance genres, which makes sense, since The Vampire Diaries is a gothic romance.

I was a boy who always had friends who were girls, so I learned early on that girls notice boys’ looks. I was painfully aware in second grade that all the girls adored my friend Johnny, so I tried combing my hair like his. When I was a teen, I heard girls comment on boys’ butts, stomachs, shoulders, and biceps. I don’t think I heard female friends comment on men’s genitals until I was a young man—while women will disagree about whether penis size matters, many women will notice it.

All of which is to say that any discussion of the “male gaze” without the “female gaze” is nonsense. We’re talking about variations of the human gaze. There are many male and female gazes, all influenced by culture and sexual orientation. The terms are useful in art, which is where they come from: in a story by a skillful artist, the “gaze” will always be that of the POV character, while the “gaze” in the work of a naive artist will usually be that of the artist. How useful the terms are in understanding sexual dynamics, I don’t know. Those of us who have eyes and sexual impulses will have gazes that we will control to the degree we think our culture requires.

• On Vox Day and N. K. Jemisin, the feuding heirs of Racial Realism

In N. K. Jemisin’s Continuum GoH Speech, she called Theodore Beale, aka Vox Day, “a self-described misogynist, racist, anti-Semite, and a few other flavors of asshole.”

As you might guess, Jemisin does not believe in tone policing. A reviewer at Amazon called Jeremy said about her The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, “In a book about a political power struggle it is frustrating to see the protagonist refuse to act with any sort of civility or tact.” I haven’t read the book, but I suspect that’s accurate. It follows from her philosphy.

Beale rejected her characterization of him in “A black female fantasist calls for Reconciliation” and called her “an educated, but ignorant half-savage, with little more understanding of what it took to build a new literature by “a bunch of beardy old middle-class middle-American guys” than an illiterate Igbotu tribesman has of how to build a jet engine.”

“Beardy old middle-class middle-American guys” is a phrase Jemisin used for writers of the 1950s, few of whom were bearded or living in “middle America”, and in the cases of writers like Leigh Brackett, C.L. Moore, Andre Norton, and Zenna Henderson, were only guys in the Midwest gender-inclusive sense.

Jemisin and Beale are remarkably similar—they were members of SFWA, they graduated from expensive private schools, they’re quick to respond to disagreement with insults, and their very different views on race were both known at one time as “Racial Realism.” By standard dictionary definitions, they’re both racists, but the kinder and more accurate thing to say is they’re devout members of two secular cults about race.

Beale’s “scientific sub-speciesism” can be traced through Ku Klux Klan Grand Dragon David Duke’s idea of “racial realism” and 19th-century scientific racists like Samuel Morton. The quest to prove scientifically that light-skinned Europeans and North Africans are superior has taken many names: racialism, race realism, racial realism, human biodiversity (aka HBD), and “scientific sub-speciesism”. “Scientific” racists are remarkably subject to confirmation bias: they become obsessed with trivialities to rationalize their preferred racial group’s superiority. Inconvenient facts, like the evidence that differences between high-scoring and low-scoring countries are diminishing, are hastily waved away.

Jemisin’s version of anti-racism comes from Critical Race Theory. As formulated by thinkers like Derrick Bell, it was effectively a secular take on the Nation of Islam’s approach to race, complete with an insistence that all whites are racist. Some CRTers have modified that notion, but many have not. Around the time of this kerfuffle, Kate Elliot, a white science fiction writer, tweeted:

My dad the educator says “when you grow up in a racist society you are a racist” 

so yes I am a racist because I grew up in a racist society which means I have to work every day to be alert & to become better

The Critical Race Theory endorsement of subjectivity, personal narratives, and story-telling keeps its believers from looking for objective verification. If they did, they would find tests like Project Implicit and The Police Officer’s Dilemma which show many Americans of all races have a bias for people of a different race than their own, and some have no bias at all. While white CRTers may be accurately recognizing their own racism, they’re only projecting it when they say it’s true of everyone.

Though Beale and Jemisin have incompatible understandings of race, they share a conviction that their righteousness justifies their love of invective.

Since Beale claims a Christian tradition, I’ll remind him of 1 Peter 2:17, “Respect everyone,” and Galatians 3:28: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female.”

Since Jemisin claims to be continuing the work of civil rights heroes, I’ll remind her that Malcolm X also said “Respect everyone,” and, a few days before his death, stated, “I believe in recognizing every human being as a human being, neither white, black, brown nor red.”

This should be an easy message to understand: Respect everyone because we’re all equal.

But it’s a message that threatens many people’s worldview. It’s no surprise that people like Jemisin and Beale haven’t gotten it yet.

• Do gun laws make it safe for white people to kill darker-skinned people?

In her Continuum GoH Speech, N. K. Jemisin said, “Right now there are laws in places like Florida and Texas which are intended to make it essentially legal for white people to just shoot people like me, without consequence, as long as they feel threatened by my presence.”

Malcolm X and the Black Panthers would’ve disagreed. In “Power Anywhere Where There’s People” Fred Hampton wrote, “Huey Newton went and got Bobby Seale, the chairman of the Black Panther Party on a national level. Bobby Seale got his 9mm, that’s a pistol. Huey P. Newton got his shotgun and got some stop signs and got a hammer. Went down to the intersection, gave his shotgun to Bobby, and Bobby had his 9mm. He said, “You hold this shotgun. Anybody mess with us, blow their brains out.” He put those stop signs up.”

Adam Winkler wrote in “The Secret History of Guns”, “The Ku Klux Klan, Ronald Reagan, and, for most of its history, the NRA all worked to control guns. The Founding Fathers? They required gun ownership—and regulated it. And no group has more fiercely advocated the right to bear loaded weapons in public than the Black Panthers—the true pioneers of the modern pro-gun movement.”

Tell me there are problems with Stand Your Ground laws, and I’ll agree with you in a second. George Zimmerman should’ve been found guilty of second degree murder, and it’s a tragedy that the jurors felt Florida’s law prevented them from convicting him.

But the idea that those laws are racist misses the point. So long as the US’s class system is racially disproportionate, teasing out what’s racism and what’s class-prejudice is difficult, but what’s clear is that Stand Your Ground laws favor property owners. George Zimmerman’s killing of Trayvon Martin is presented as a narrative in white and black. What’s missing is the full-color story: A black youth was killed by a Hispanic adult in a multi-racial gated community suffering from many foreclosures. Say it’s about race, and you miss three-fourths of the story.

• SFWA’s Petitiongate

On February 10, 2014, Dave Truesdale, a former editor of the SFWA Bulletin and former member of SFWA, began a petition at TangentOnline under the title, “SFWA President Endorses PC Bulletin Censorship”. His concern was with three items in the job description for a new SFWA Bulletin editor:

“Solicit topics and columnists that fit within vision of the Bulletin”

“Choose cover art for each issue that is line with SFWA standards”

“Participate in proofing and review process with select volunteer and board members”

After some preamble and the inclusion of correspondence between Truesdale and Steven Gould, the new SFWA president, the petition concluded:

In light of the preceding correspondence we, the undersigned, object to the new SFWA requirements for editor of the SFWA Bulletin, as set forth on the SFWA website. Specifically, we have the following objections:

 A "review board" implies a group of persons, as yet unnamed, who can veto content submitted by members if the board deems it "offensive" to a sub-group of SFWA. This opens the door to censorship of opinions that do not jibe with the personal beliefs of those on the review board, whereas SFWA should be open to the airing of many varieties of opinions, especially on such sensitive subjects as sexism, racism, religion, and politics.

The proposed requirements are so vague that they leave many critical questions unaddressed. Several among them: Given that it is our strong belief that there should be no “advisory” or “review” board, who would hypothetically sit on this board and how would they be chosen? Would advertising copy (book or magazine covers) be subject to review as well, especially in the high dollar advertising rates the Bulletin charges for its special Nebula issue?

The editor of the Bulletin should have discretion over its contents; that is why he or she is chosen as editor. There should be no advisory or review board.

In view of these considerations, we ask that SFWA (1) withdraw this slate of requirements for the Bulletin and (2) open a discussion where all viewpoints can be considered on this matter before drafting any further sets of guidelines for SFWA publications.

It cannot be emphasized too strongly that the issue here is most decidedly not one of Left vs. Right. The only issue here is a First Amendment issue that both those on the political Left and Right should without hesitation embrace as one. What may happen to the Bulletin and SFWA as a viable organization if the current SFWA President has his way is unthinkable, especially as an organization of writers.

One thing the Bulletin should do is provide an outlet (its Letters column) for anyone to express his like or dislike with anything printed within its pages. This is the true essence of free speech.

“Political correctness is tyranny with manners.” ― Charlton Heston, (actor, early civil rights activist who marched with the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King.)

It is our hope others will add their names to this call for SFWA President Steven Gould to kill any proposed advisory board or any other method designed to censor or infringe on any SFWA member their First Amendment right to freedom of speech in the pages of the SFWA Bulletin. Active or Associate SFWA members wishing to support this effort may send email directly to SFWA President Steven Gould at: Active or Associate SFWA members wishing to add their names to this petition may do so by sending an email to Dave Truesdale at: Signatories will be added to the list below.

Signed by

Linda Addison

Cyd Athens

Gregory Benford – Nebula winner

Marilyn Brahen

David Brin – Nebula winner, Past SFWA Secretary

Amy Sterling Casil – Nebula nominee, former SFWA Treasurer

C. J. Cherryh – Nebula nominee

Lillian Csernica

Jack Dann – Nebula winner, former Bulletin Managing & Asst. Editor, past member of the Publicity Bureau, Nebula Rules Committee, and Grievance Committee; current member of the Anthology Committee

Harlan Ellison – Nebula winner, SFWA Grand Master, Past SFWA V.P.

Sheila Finch – Nebula winner, past SFWA V.P, and Western Regional Director

David Gerrold – Nebula winner, Western Regional Director

Janis Ian

Nancy Kress – Nebula winner

Mercedes Lackey

Dr. Paul Levinson – Past SFWA President

Barry N. Malzberg – Five time Nebula finalist, appearances in six of the annual Nebula volumes, editor of the Bulletin in 1969, Eastern Regional Director for two years in the late 70s and Grievance Committee 1980-1984.

Todd McCaffrey

Jack McDevitt – Nebula winner

Larry Niven – Nebula winner

Dr. Jerry Pournelle – Past SFWA President

Mike Resnick – Nebula winner, past SFWA ConAlert (8 yrs.) and Anthology Chairman (6 yrs.)

Ralph Roberts

Chuck Rothman – Past SFWA Treasurer

Darrell Schweitzer

Susan Shwartz – Five-time Nebula nominee, member of Nebula Jury (2 years); on committee exploring reinstatement of film Nebula

Robert Silverberg – Nebula winner, SFWA Grand Master, Past SFWA President

Norman Spinrad – Past SFWA President (twice)

Allen Steele – Three time Nebula nominee, Past Eastern Regional Director

Brad R. Torgersen – Nebula nominee

Harry Turtledove – Two-time Nebula nominee, Past SFWA Treasurer

Mary Turzillo – Nebula winner

Vernor Vinge

Jay Werkheiser

Gene Wolfe – Nebula winner, SFWA Grand Master

A few days later, Gould replied,

While this petition has not been formally presented to SFWA, I have seen versions and they express concerns for something that does not and will not exist:

Specifically, the editor of the Bulletin will not have to go to any selection or editorial review board to approve material.

In compliance with the by-laws and the will of our members, there will be regular oversight of the Bulletin to ensure that it is inclusive of and reflects the diversity of all our members, and that it continues to address the changing needs of professional writers.

What that means has not been established at the time I write. The job description still refers to a board, and when I tweeted Gould for clarification, he said, “Any advisory board would simply be a resource for editor to consult at the editor's discretion.”

In the brouhaha, some warriors insisted that when silencing people was legal, it was not censorship. I pointed out that there are two kinds of censorship, legal censorship and illegal censorship, and therefore there are legal ways to suppress speech. No one was disputing that what they wanted to do was legal.

Some warriors declared that the petition signers did not know what First Amendment rights were. At Jim C. Hines’ “Final Thoughts on Petitiongate”, I answered, “Many people in my generation use “first amendment rights” in a very broad sense, as a shorthand for anything involving speech. Y’all take a far more literal approach, so people on both sides end up talking past each other. I doubt anyone who signed that petition thought this was a case that could go to the Supreme Court—people like Gene Wolfe do know what words mean. But it’s very likely the signers of that petition did not realize how little your group of writers care about private censorship. What I see is a clash of two completely different issues. For you, censorship is a way to end sexism and racism in the field. To the signers of the petition, censorship is censorship, regardless of the ostensible end, and bad means should not be condoned, no matter how admirable the goal.”

Some warriors declared that free speech has consequences, which no one had disputed. As noted in “ACLU History: Taking a Stand for Free Speech in Skokie”, the ACLU knows that very well: "In 1978, the ACLU took a controversial stand for free speech by defending a neo-Nazi group that wanted to march through the Chicago suburb of Skokie , where many Holocaust survivors lived. The notoriety of the case caused some ACLU members to resign, but to many others the case has come to represent the ACLU's unwavering commitment to principle."

John Scalzi said, ““Political Correctness” is a catchphrase which today means one of two things. The first is, “I have done no substantial thinking on this topic in at least twenty years and therefore anything I say past this point cannot be treated with any seriousness.” The second is “It is more important for me to continue my ingrained bigotry than it is for you not to be denigrated or offended by my bigotry, because I am lazy and do not wish to be bothered.” If in fact you do not intend to convey either of these two things, you should not use, nor sign on to a document which uses, the phrase “political correctness.””

But Scalzi oversimplifies.

Doris Lessing wrote, "Does political correctness have a good side? Yes, it does, for it makes us re-examine attitudes, and that is always useful. The trouble is that, with all popular movements, the lunatic fringe so quickly ceases to be a fringe; the tail begins to wag the dog. For every woman or man who is quietly and sensibly using the idea to examine our assumptions, there are 20 rabble-rousers whose real motive is desire for power over others, no less rabble-rousers because they see themselves as anti-racists or feminists or whatever.”

George Carlin said, ”Political correctness is America's newest form of intolerance, and it's especially pernicious because it comes disguised as tolerance. It presents itself as fairness, yet attempts to restrict and control people's language with strict codes and rigid rules. I'm not sure that's the way to fight discrimination. I'm not sure silencing people or forcing them to alter their speech is the best method for solving problems that go much deeper than speech.”

The arguments in support of censoring the Bulletin’s content consistently boiled down to "If you support their right to speak, you support them.” Every age has its share of people who can't think critically. The Critical Race Theorists are only the latest. Their inability to understand the difference between supporting an idea and supporting the right to speak about any idea explains their love of subjectivity—if you have nothing objective, you either admit your mistake or double down, usually with mockery because that’s the only tactic left. It reveals another difference between civil rights workers and social justice warriors. Civil rights workers want the right to speak. Social justice warriors want the right to silence.