Does the Conflict Come With the Genre, or Do I Have To Pay Extra?

I never thought I would find myself on the cusp of entering the science fiction and fantasy literature world as a professional, yet here I am.  I’m starting to get integrated into circles of other writers, publishers, editors, businessmen and entrepreneurs in the writing art form.  It’s not a place I’m familiar with at all, and the few cons I’ve gone to have put me in some new, interesting, and sometimes awkward social situations that have taken a lot of social ninja-ing to get through without stepping on anyone’s toes or creating enemies.

So it came as a bit of a shock to me that, when I started reading professional blogs and reading Facebook posts from other authors, I found so much vitriol, conflict, and otherwise highly volatile arguments going on.  Gun control.  Women’s rights.  Racism.  Politics.  Politics.  Also, politics.  It seemed the more I dug into the writing world, the less it became about writing.  Some people hardly post about storytelling at all, instead lending their blogs to topics that inevitably stir controversy.

I generally avoid them like the plague for a number of reasons that are tangential to my point here, but I’ll mention them quickly: first, I am anti-absolutist.  If you think the world is black and white and you have no open mind to other opinions or thoughts, I don’t want to talk to you.  In any argument worth having, BOTH parties must be willing to change their opinion and accept information.  If not, it’s not an argument; it’s two people just saying things, and it’s one of the reasons why American politics is broken.

The second is it’s f@#ing scary.  People are exceptionally rude and disrespectful, sarcastic, and downright mean.  That’s no way to carry on a conversation about highly charged topics that are actually important.  Worse, it’s not the way most people would carry on a conversation in person.  The shelter of the internet has done bad things for mutual respect.  If you would really lurk in a room and say something that has no other purpose but to attempt to embarrass someone, that’s not cool, dude.  That’s not cool.

Tangent complete.

Yet, when I think about it now, it should have come as no surprise at all.  Artists in general have been some of the most socially and politically aggressive people in the history of mankind.  After all, it’s all about communicating, right?   Those who can communicate are those that rule (except in monarchies, then it’s just about making babies), in one way or another. And artists are on the forefront of social change.  Even if it’s just through the stories they tell or the pictures they paint, artists always have something to say.

But – is this new form the same, and do I really have to do that?  Do I really need to participate in this in order to be a well-known author in these circles?  Or will I relegate myself to obscurity by simply wanting to tell stories?  I don’t know.  But right now, with SFWA doing tumbles over issues about sexism, and so many posts on my Facebook wall that feel like they’re baiting me, it feels like there’s a subculture inside SF/F (and I only say this because I’m not that familiar with other genre’s circles) that I don’t want to join.  At least not yet.  I’m not ready to make enemies in a world in which I have few enough friends already, and it seems that people are much more ready to become enemies than friends.

Do I think these issues are important?  Yes.  Do I think we need to talk about them? Yes.  Do I think that spending hours a day on Facebook troll-slaying is going to do anything except raise my blood pressure and create the potential for me to make enemies in a world where I have few enough friends?  No, I really don’t.  I think it takes away from valuable writing time, of which I don’t have enough to begin with, and puts me in a state of mind that is not conducive to storytelling.  Facebook absolutely can spur social change – Hello, Arab Spring, how are you? – but there’s a part of me that just doesn’t feel comfortable jumping into the rampant sexism/racism/political snake pit.  Maybe I’ll come to terms with it someday, but right now it feels a bit like a barrier.

What are your thoughts?  Is the SF/F genre a good forum for social change and those topics?  How do YOU deal with building a career and trying to keep your nose clean at the same time?  Or do you think it’s selfish to think only of your career, and spurring social change is much more important for you?

 

***  If I’ve had an argument with you on Facebook recently, don’t think too much about this post.  The kinds of arguments I’m talking about here are the ones I haven’t entered because they are too volatile to be worth anything.

7 Comments

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  1. No, I don’t think the conflict between artists is inevitable, nor do I think it’s more prevalent than the conflict between plumbers or veterinarians.

    I follow a lot of writers on various social media platforms, and while I frequently have to ignore certain posts, in general the people I follow talk about writing and publishing and promotion–topics of interest to me.

    There are topics that I don’t post about and topics that I don’t comment on and it’s not because I don’t care about them, it’s because they don’t have anything to do with why I am social media.

    I work the internet, I use it to learn more about my craft, to sell my work, to network with other independent authors. I’m not on the internet to change the world or to convince anyone of the validity of my thoughts on the issues of the day, nor do I have much patience for those who are.

    I write fiction. I’m not in the polemic business. As the saying goes, “If you want to send a message, call Western Union.”

    • “I’m not on the internet to change the world or to convince anyone of the validity of my thoughts on the issues of the day, nor do I have much patience for those who are.” — Some days I kind of feel very similarly to this. Some days I want to jump in and give people a virtual slap on the back of the head and yell “OPEN YOUR MIND!” But that usually just rolls into hours of wasted time and frustration.

  2. I think it’s nice to know where people are coming from. If none of us felt free to express our opinions and/or prejudices, others would not know what we stood for or stood against and how passionate we are about things. That information is very useful for the purpose of–as you said–“social ninja-ing to get through without stepping on anyone’s toes or creating enemies.”

    I personally find it important to try and understand other peoples’ points of view and enjoy a good discussion with others that have different or opposing views, but if they offer me nothing that I consider valuable enough to change my opinion in their arguments, I am quite happy to remain with my previous position(s). Now if something is said that causes an epiphanic moment, then it will surely change the way I think about things, no doubt about it. And I look for those moments. 🙂

  3. I think SF and F are going to get a lot of this, because it’s a genre that’s always been about imagining how the world could differ from what we actually have. It’s impossible to do this without being at least somewhat aware of the role of politics and social change in society and about having an opinion about the goodness or badness of such.

    I think social justice issues are huge in SF and F right now, because the demographics are changing. They were once considered to be male bastions, and while there have always been woman fans and authors, they’ve often been regarded as aberrations who were lucky to have a seat at the table at all. The numbers are increasing, and women are no longer token members of the community, but this means they now want more than just scraps, and there has been a metaphoric circling of the wagons that’s happening in some quarters.

    Sexism is a real thing, and as a woman, seeing “both sides of the issue,” let alone compromising with it, isn’t terribly appealing. The same goes for racism and hetero-chauvanism. What may seem as a strident, unceasing focus on something negative from the perspective of someone who hasn’t experienced the ill effects from sexism, racism or heteronormativity first hand, is a reasonable reaction to something that’s pretty horrible for a lot of people.

    • I understand that the issues are important, definitely. My concern was that vitriolic, pointless debate seems to be inextricably tied to the genre in a way that I don’t see in other social circles. There are good, constructive ways to discuss sexism and raise awareness. I’m just not sure I’m seeing them all the time.

  4. Hmmm. Maybe the nature of storytelling itself is sharing these ideas? You have antagonists that have many principles you are against in politics. You have heroes who follow many of the same policies you do. The ‘bigger picture’ is a large part of writing, and I can see why people want to hash it out in the writing community. But if your focus is on telling other people why they are stupid and ignoring every word others say, then that`s not constructive, and it doesn`t really make sense in a world of creative people who have often experienced enough exclusion or confusion from the rest of the world.

  5. I agree that certain highly contentious socio-political issues have been making a lot of waves over the past several years in the SF&F community. I get the sense, however, that these waves are not new – they’ve been going on for a long time within both the inner and peripheral circles of the genre. Some of us have only more recently been made aware of them.

    I do think it’s possible to largely avoid addressing these issues directly, thereby avoiding alienating anybody in an overt manner, and still be successful. Take, for example, Brandon Sanderson. I don’t see a lot of statements from him on political issues, and when he does speak on them, he’s usually very reserved. Frankly, I couldn’t with any certainty tell you where he stands on any number of the socio-political discussions that have been bouncing around of late. I can make assumptions, but mostly that would just be me projecting. His lack of a strong vocal stance on such issues doesn’t impact my enjoyment of or desire to buy his work.

    On the other hand, there are some who have made waves with some socio-political utterances – sometimes intentional and sometimes implicit – that makes me either more or less inclined to be interested in their work than I otherwise would have been. Taking a “stand”, then, can cut both ways.

    But given the fundamental nature of some of these discussions, I’m not sure if it’s entirely desirable to avoid taking a stance. You’re largely right that the world as a whole and individual people themselves are rarely ever black-and-white in their clarity. But frankly, some issues really are black-and-white. Frequently, in such circumstances, your internal beliefs and biases are going to come out whether you mean them to or not. There’s something noble in standing up for the right side of something.

    The vitriol is another thing that I wonder about a lot. On one hand, vitriol is clearly in the eye of the beholder. If I agree with something you say, what you are saying will naturally sound less vitriolic and extreme to me (though for most people there’s still a threshold where you say “Whoa, buddy, you know we’re on the same side, but what you said was not okay.”). And vice versa, if I disagree with you, I’m more inclined to notice how extreme and obstinate and vitriolic you are. That’s confirmation bias at work, and it’s extremely difficult to wash that out of our thinking and perceptions. Which means that from any given perspective, not all vitriol is created equal.

    In the case of some of the recent discussions on, for example, sexism in the SF&F genre… I get the distinct impression that those fighting against sexism have been trying the polite, calm, reasoned discussion tact for a long, long, long time largely to little or no avail. And they’re tired of not making headway. And they’re not wrong. And so, many of them have started to say things that sound extreme, and this startles those who are unused to this heightened level of criticism. And arguments and heated debates get started. But the thing is? From my layman’s perspective, the tactic seems to be working, because the glacial pace of change in favor of more equality is starting to quicken. We’re getting off the part of the long arc of history that looks like a straight line and getting to the part that actually starts curving toward justice. I don’t think this is something that would’ve happened if those who are sick and tired and loud and angry were not there to make a stand and make a case.

    Myself, I handle it this way. I’ve no fear of speaking my mind or aligning myself with a particular side of these discussions. As I said, I really think that in some cases there is a right and a wrong. I also try to recognize and appreciate my own privilege – most of these discussions and arguments are things that don’t directly impact my experience, but have profoundly negative impacts on others who lack some of demographic advantages I have. So, mostly, when I post on a topic, it’s backwards-looking. I’m not on the forefront of the battles, I’m not out there punching the bad guys in the face. Maybe I’m more like logistical support or something like that. Anyway, I don’t believe I’ve earned the right to have a loud-speaker on most of these issues. But as the dust begins to settle, I’ve no doubt I’ll be found standing on the right side of the line nine times out of ten – because during the discussion, vitriol and all, I’m learning and growing and my view of the world is expanding, and that tends to have a good effect.

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