Friday, June 20, 2014

A Brain Dump on "Diversity" in SF/F - Part II

Two weeks ago, I published some reflections on diversity in SF/F -- in particular, how hard-left fans get it disastrously wrong. Today, I'd like to attempt to answer the question posed in the final lines of that post:
But how do we promote diversity while also avoiding Marxist sand traps?
First of all, it's critical to properly define diversity. As I suggested at the link above, you can assemble a "rainbow coalition" of authors and fans that still utterly fails to be diverse; all you need to do is create an environment that exclusively caters to folks who hail from America's new clerisy while driving away everyone else. Genuine diversity should - indeed, absolutely must - center on diversity of experience and diversity of thought. Yes -- ethnicity, gender, and sexuality do shape these things, but if you stop there, you've missed an entire universe of other relevant factors. I would venture to say, for example, that in a room full of middle class American academics, a black author who is also a middle class academic will add less in the way of diversity than will a white author from Eastern Kentucky who enlisted in the military instead of going to college and is entirely self-taught. And if those middle class American academics are practical atheists, a gay academic who's also a practical atheist will add less in the way of diversity than will an Orthodox Jew or a practicing evangelical Christian.

Which is not to say that I oppose encouraging black or gay writers, or that I think black or gay writers add nothing to our genre. I believe the fandom should welcome all comers -- and so, I'm convinced, does everyone else who's taken the "conservative" position on this issue. In the end, though, the supposed benefits of ethnic and sexual diversity will only accrue if people are allowed to speak openly when conflicts inevitably arise. And that brings me to my second point: If you want to have true diversity, a vibrant interchange of ideas, and the possibility of positive change in our own community and in society as a whole, you must hold the line on freedom of expression. The illib-progs subscribe to this bizarre idea that if they police what people say and how they say it, they will usher in a new era of racial and sexual harmony -- but in reality, forcing everyone to stuff his or her true opinions and adopt the mannerisms and speech patterns of the aforementioned clerisy on threat of shunning doesn't change minds or hearts. Instead, it hardens old hatreds and resentments.

Growth and change will only arise through conversation. Yes -- that conversation will not always make us feel "safe" and comfy-cozy. We evolved to see "outsiders" as possible threats to our lives, and so we all feel that rush of anger and adrenaline when we encounter people whose worldviews fundamentally contradict our own. But the instincts of our lizard brain shouldn't be afforded instant legitimacy just because they are so powerful and so disturbing. Because we are sapient, we have the capacity to stop, think, and discern the difference between something truly threatening and something emotionally upsetting -- and we should exercise that capacity to its fullest.  Naughty words? A breach of etiquette, but not a threat. A verbal challenge to your ideology, your lifestyle, or your faith? Not a threat. Actions have the potential to be threatening, but notwithstanding the bloviations of Hillary Clinton, opinions can not and do not "terrorize."

And as any family therapist or marriage counselor will tell you, a conversation can only be productive if no one is told to shut up, the participants all abide by the same rules, and everyone argues in good faith. You can't allow people in certain protected classes to act like assholes without consequences and then, as in the latest Twitter-based slap-fight, turn around and attack Larry Correia for calling another author a "pussy." It's funny, actually: In SJW circles, mistreating someone and then scolding them for getting angry is considered to be a form of emotional abuse. Well, how is Larry's situation any different? He has been unjustly libeled as a misogynist, a racist, and a homophobe by people who don't even bother to provide evidence for their assertions despite repeated pleas to do so, and yet these same people attack Larry for responding heatedly like practically any other human being on the planet who's been wronged! If a group of white authors started uttering vicious, racist calumnies against a black author and then subsequently derided that author for punching back, we (rightfully) would never hear the end of it. So why, in Larry's case, has tone policing suddenly become okay? Oh, right -- because social justice warriors aren't actually interested in "justice" or "fairness," but in procuring special status for those whom they perceive to be "victims." They want to exact revenge -- to push people around without fear that the targets of their rage will fight back. It's toxic nonsense, and we shouldn't stand for it.

Thirdly, if we want to have true diversity, we have to go upstream. What do I mean by this? Well, consider the following scenario: One day, as a group of people are walking near a river, someone spots a small child struggling desperately to stay afloat in the river's swift current. The adults band together, create a "lifechain," and wade out into the river to scoop up the boy before he drowns. All seems well -- until the next morning, when, astonishingly, the same group finds another child - this time, a little girl - flailing in the river and gasping for breath. As the days pass, more and more children are dumped into the river, and the rescuers start to lose hope as the demand exceeds their abilities -- until, that is, a man among their number stands up and says, "This is bullshit! I'm going upstream to find the bastards responsible for this so I can kick their asses and stop them from trying to drown little kids!" The moral: We need to be that man. If there are certain groups who are under-represented in the fandom - and I think there are - we need to think hard about the reasons for that disparity and tackle them at the source.

And no -- the source is not that publishers are racist/sexist/homophobic/etc. Are you kidding? Publishers are desperate to take on authors with minority viewpoints. It's also not that the fandom itself is brimming with racists, sexists and homophobes. This is 2014, not 1960. There are a few awful folks hanging around in our spaces (as the recent revelations regarding Marion Zimmer Bradley have revealed), but in a group as large as ours, that's pretty much an inevitability. There are also quite a few more who (correctly) bristle at PC diktats, but in the universe of the sane, that's what is known as a "reasonable difference of opinion" -- which, by the way, has included zero calls to block any minority's entry into the fandom despite the illib-progs' fever dreams to the contrary. We all want authors from under-served groups to feel they belong here; it's just that many of us would rather not sacrifice intellectual honesty and constructive discussion in furtherance of that goal.

Inequities in the fandom, I suspect, stem from inequities in the way we rear and educate our children. Writers are not born; they are bred. My parents tell me that I've always had an imagination and a natural talent for writing, but that talent would've wholly languished were it not for my "word-rich" childhood. In order to write, I had to read first to see how it could be done effectively -- and my parents were educated enough to encourage the habit. What's more, I had to attend strong schools at which I could learn the conventions of my native language and be exposed to literature that was not available in my father's personal library -- and here too, my parents' eternal vigilance ensured that I largely got exactly what I needed.  Unfortunately, not all children are offered these same opportunities -- and that is where the true problem lies.  If you want more minority authors in the fandom, take the long view: Catch good prospects when they're children and make damned sure they are not shortchanged by the lousy curricula and disciplinary chaos that disproportionately impact their communities via the dysfunctional urban public schools. Band together and create after-school tutoring clubs to build proficiency in reading and writing. Start writing groups for inner city kids. Drive around in a truck and pass out books to kids in culturally impoverished neighborhoods. Build literacy and cultural capital wherever they are absent or tragically insufficient.

In sum: Go from the ground up, and the impact will be lasting.    

1 comment:

  1. Nice. I especially liked the river analogy. I was a little confused in the diversity part when you started in with eastern kentuckian military self taught person and the gay atheist and all that, though I got the point, I think. I find it interesting that diversity is enforced with intolerance these days, its an odd combination, but I think the anonymity of the internet artificially empowers a lot of socially awkward folks.